Pentecost 15 – "Ephphatha" – Mark 7:31-37 – 9/6/15

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“Then He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.”

When the Romans conquered and occupied Israel, they divided the territory up into several ‘regions.’ There was the ‘region of Judah’ which included Jerusalem and the Temple. The ‘region of Galilee’ which wrapped around three sides of Sea of Galilee. And there was the ‘region of the Decapolis’ on the east side of the Sea of Galilee.

Unlike the regions of Judah and Galilee that were predominately Jewish, the ‘region of the Decapolis’ was predominately Gentile. So for the Jews, it was the ‘wrong side of the Sea.’ Or as the gospel writers call it, ‘the OTHER side.’

This is where our gospel reading for this morning takes place.

So the Hymn of the Day that we just sang isn’t quite right. “O Son Of God IN GALILEE, You made the deaf to hear, the mute to speak…” (LSB #841). It’s actually in “the Decapolis” that this happened. But “O Son of God IN DECAPOLIS” doesn’t sing as well, and Mark does say Jesus came to the Sea of Galilee, and it’s a pretty good hymn otherwise, and that’s good enough for us.

This is actually the second time that Mark has reported that Jesus went to the ‘region of the Decapolis.’ He’s going to ‘the gentiles,’ to ‘all nations’ that He might be “their God” and they mighty be “my people.”

The first time was in chapter 5. “They came to the OTHER SIDE OF THE SEA, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.” (Mark 5:1-2).

This is the episode where Jesus commands the unclean spirits to come out of the man and they go into the pigs and the pigs all “rushed down a steep bank into the sea and were drowned.” (5:13). When the people hear what happened they all come to check it out they “beg Jesus to depart from their region.’

The man whom Jesus healed on the other hand, begs Jesus to let him come along with Him. And Jesus replied, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you!”

So, if you’ve ever doubted what impact just one believer can have on an unbelieving community, think again. He did what Jesus COMMISSIONED HIM to do. He “told them how much the Lord did for him and how he had mercy on him.”

And they must have LISTENED TO HIM. They LISTENED TO HIM WITH EARS THAT WORKED. And faith was created in their heart. That’s how it happens. And fortunately or unfortunately, the bible doesn’t tell us ANY OTHER WAY that it happens but by the hearing of the gospel. To the Romans, Paul writes, “So faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” “And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Rom.10:17).

So, I wonder how many times this FORMERLY DEMON POSSESSED MAN had tried to tell this DEAF AND MUTE MAN about Jesus? Maybe he was the husband or the son or the brother of someone who HAD heard the gospel and believed that Jesus Christ is the ‘one, true God.’ How much they wanted him to “hear the word of Christ.” How much they must have suffered because they couldn’t get the massage into his ears.

I think you know what I’m talking about.

The sense of hearing and speaking are closely connected to each other. The ability to hear is related to the ability to speak. Was he deaf from birth and so how would he ever know what the words were supposed to sound like? Or was it a neurological problem? All that Mark tells us is that this man had a “speech impediment.”

Both Matthew and Luke give the report of an episode about a man who had a demon that made him mute. Jesus cast out the demon, and the man spoke plainly. Maybe this man had a ‘demon’ caught in his throat too.

Whatever the cause, Paul writes, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Rom. 10:10) How much his friends and loved ones must have longed to hear this poor man say, “I believe…” “Jesus is my Lord.”

I know you know what I’m talking about.

When they hear that Jesus is in the region, the same people who had previously ‘begged Him to depart from their region,’ now welcome Him. “They brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.”

This is the right way to welcome Jesus when He comes to visit. He doesn’t come to ‘check up on us’ or ‘see how we’re getting along,’ or to ‘collect what we owe Him.’ He is the ‘SERVANT OF THE LORD’ and He comes to be your servant. He wants to cast out your demons and take away your sins and cure your diseases and fix what is broken and make you whole.

So, when He comes, you bring Him your problems and troubles and suffering and grief and pain and all of your sin. Jesus loves to be greeted like this. He is honored when you greet Him like this. And you bring Him your loved ones and friends and neighbors with all of their problems too.

“They begged him to lay His hand on him.” I doubt that they had to beg much really.

If I may take the liberty of paraphrasing our Epistle reading from James, James writes, “If a brother or sister is deaf and mute, and one of you signs to them, ‘have a good day,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have good works, is dead.” Far be it from the Lord, Jesus Christ to give this man a blessing when He has exactly what this man needs for his body.

“And taking him aside from the crowd privately…” He was going to help this man. But this was not going to be a show or demonstration. Jesus come down from heaven and entered the region of ‘the Decapolis’ just for this man. Just as He came just for you in your baptism.

He communicated with this man in sign language that even the deaf and dumb man could understand. ”He put his fingers into his ears,” as if to say, “I understand your problem. You have ears that do not hear. “And after spitting touched his tongue” as if to say, “I’m going to fix your tongue too.”

And the sign language continues. “And looking up to heaven…” Jesus is telling this man where His power to do what He is about to do comes from.

And then Mark reports, “He sighed.” This was certainly not for the man’s benefit. In his deafness he would not have heard this. But it must have been loud and deep enough for the friends standing at a distance to hear. What is the meaning of “he sighed?”

In the Greek, the verb “to sigh” is sometimes translated “to groan.” In 2 Corinthians 5:2, Paul writes, “For in this tent we GROAN, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling…” To the Romans he writes, “And we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, GROAN inwardly as we eagerly wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom. 8:22-23).

“To sigh” or “to groan” is the expression of our longing and readiness to enter our ‘heavenly dwelling’ and be with the Lord. God’s Word makes it clear that “THIS TENT,” our physical body, is as much a part of the redemption won by Jesus and His cross as is the redemption of our soul.

On the Last Day when Jesus comes again, He will raise our PHYSICAL BODIE and reunite it to our soul and we will BE WHOLE, like we’ve never been WHOLE. “To sigh” or “groan” is the universal language that even those who are mute speak in the longing to be made WHOLE.

So, JESUS SIGHED and WE SIGH. In His love for this man and for all mankind, He takes up all of our sighing and groaning into Himself and sighs and groans with us. He takes all of our longing for the restoration of the world and our humanity and longs for it with us.

So, having told the man what He intends to do for him, there is nothing left for Him to do but to speak the word. “Ephphatha.” By giving us the actual Aramaic word that Jesus spoke, Mark brings us so close to Jesus.

“And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”

Don’t you just wish Mark had told us what the man “spoke plainly”? Something along the lines of the Psalm we sang I hope. “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live. I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” (Ps.146:1)

Luther says that one of the best parts of this episode is that “they,” whomever “they” are, brought this man to Jesus. “By this both faith and love are shown to us.” They believed what they heard about Jesus. And their faith shows itself in love by bringing him to Jesus. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have good works, is dead.” Here though is a great example of ‘LIVING FAITH.’

Mark’s report of the miracle that Jesus does is meant to convince us that this Jesus is who He says He is. He is the Son of God who’s Word is the very Word of God that always does what it says. And so we should HEAR HIM with our ears and CONFESS HIM with our tongue.

But Mark’s report of the people who bring this man to Jesus is also meant to encourage us to imitate them and do likewise. Lots of people have perfectly fine hearing but are deaf when it comes to ‘hearing’ the gospel. As Jesus sadly says, “hearing they do not hear.”

And lot’s of people speak ‘plainly’ and yet may be completely ‘mute’ when it comes to confessing the name of the Triune God with their tongue.

“They brought him to Jesus.” The most faithful and loving thing we can for a deaf-mute, is to bring them to Jesus. Bringing them to church with us is always good, since they come to where Jesus is present to forgive and heal and make us WHOLE AGAIN through His Word and Sacrament.

But if they will not come, we who have access to the very throne of God by virtue of being made a child of God in our Baptism, can bring them to Jesus through our prayers. Not being able to speak for himself, his friends spoke to Jesus for him. “They begged him to lay his hand on him.”

That’s the ‘POWER OF PRAYER.’ We can bring others to the Son of God and beg Him to lay his hand on them. It’s the FAITHFUL and LOVING thing to do.

And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’

Just wait till they see what He can do with the dead.

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