Jesus didn’t sigh when He saw the deaf-mute’s miserable condition. We sigh in exasperation or weariness. We groan in pain or anguish. “Groan” is a better translation because it captures the emotion of Jesus’ response to the deaf-mute. Jesus did not sigh at the man’s predicament. He groaned in anguish. The deaf-mute’s condition pained Jesus. The corruption of sin had so marred this man that he couldn’t even hear or talk – he was excluded from participating in what is truly human.
God created ears to hear the voice of His Son and lips to sing His praise. God created man to hear His word and to speak to Him. God did not create man to live without Him and His word, to be trapped inside His own head. That’s why Jesus groaned when He saw this man. He groaned because life without God’s word is miserable. A life spent without hearing God’s word and speaking about it is no life at all. It’s a stunted life – as undesirable as going through life without hearing or speaking at all.
That’s why Jesus wanted to heal this man. His desire was not to open this man’s ears and mouth so that he could live successfully in this life. That’s all people think about today when they help people with disabilities. Society uses its medical solutions to help the deaf and mute so they can live normally, as our society defines normal; they get the privilege of complete independence. Society’s goal is to help them hold a job and live in their own homes.
It is wonderful that in our day society is able to help the disabled. But society’s reasons for helping them and God’s purpose for helping them are entirely different. In their blind arrogance, people in society want the disabled to do as they do in this life. They want them to be autonomous individuals who can live by themselves for themselves. God, on the other hand, wants something else. Although God has graced our society with all these clinical and surgical and therapeutical advances in medicine that release the disabled from some of their suffering, He has allowed this release precisely so that the disabled have more opportunities to hear the Gospel and live not for themselves but for God and their neighbor.
Jesus did not cure the deaf-mute so that he could live normally as the world defines normal – living for himself, building a career for himself, realizing his dreams, and indulging his desires. If Jesus freed the deaf-mute from his horrible afflictions so that he could live that life, a “normal” life, then Jesus didn’t help that man at all. He would have plucked him out of the frying pan and tossed him into the fire. “Normal” life in this world is corrupted by sin. It’s not a step up from being disabled. Sin permeates the entire creation. Man is sinful through and through. Anything he does in life apart from God’s counsel through His word is tainted with sin.
Normal life is a life of disability. People are completely spiritually disabled. Everything in creation is subjected to futility and is corrupt through and through. The physical blights of sin – ears and mouths and eyes that don’t work as they should, deformed limbs, chronic illnesses and weak constitutions – are obvious, but they’re only the outward signs of a deeper inner corruption afflicting not just some people, but all of us. People pity the physically and mentally disabled because they can see that something is very wrong with them. But the entire human condition must be pitied: even if every man on earth had ears to hear and a mouth to speak, if there were no deaf-mutes or disabled or sick people, but people never hear God’s word or sing His praise, then their lives are wasted, and everything they do is futile and corrupted by sin.
St Paul says that the natural man, that is, the sinful man living in unbelief, is so corrupted that he cannot understand spiritual things. Though the natural man has ears that hear and a tongue that speaks, the natural man is as oblivious to his true spiritual state, to the full extent of his corruption and sin and his need for forgiveness, as a deaf man is to sound. The natural man goes through life vainly without knowing his true purpose. He goes through life shut off from the voice of God telling him how he ought to live. He listens instead only to himself. He’s stuck inside his own head swimming with a thousand sinful desires and impulses and unbridled passions which torment and rule him.
What can the natural man ever do on this earth that won’t amount to vanity and striving after wind? His life will pass away: he will be cast into the grave, and nothing will remain of all his thoughtless toiling. Such a life is wasted. No man was intended for a life so futile. But this is the sad reality of this corrupted world.
This is the sad reality that Jesus saw displayed in the deaf-mute, and He groaned to see it. He groaned to see this poor man lost to sin, spiritually dead, incapable of hearing God’s word; so He healed the man. He did not heal the man so that he could go out and toil away in this vain life without understanding. He healed him so that his ears would hear God’s word and his mouth declare God’s praise.
Taking him aside, looking Him in the eyes, Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears, He put His spit in his mouth, and He looked heavenward. Jesus looked heavenward to show the man that He came from heaven and had the power to help him. Jesus touched his ears and spit in his mouth to show the man that He had come in the flesh to bear the man’s infirmities in His own body. With these actions, Jesus signed simply to the man that he was about to be healed. Jesus said “Ephphatha,” “be opened!” and immediately the man could hear and speak clearly! All the people marveled at this! They said that Jesus did all things well! They went out proclaiming what He had done. The man was freed from his inner misery and was now able to hear God’s word and speak with Jesus Himself.
If Jesus wanted to heal the man with a touch, He could have. But He didn’t. Jesus spoke to him, and the power to open the man’s ears and to lose his tongue was in Jesus’ word. Just as God created the world through Jesus speaking, so He sent Jesus to restore creation through His words of power. And it’s also through His spoken word that Jesus plants faith in everyone, whether people who stood before Him or you today who have the written word preached to you. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. God creates faith in no other way. The only way Jesus enters your heart to enkindle faith in you is through clear, intelligible words which turn our unbelieving, hardened hearts of stone into living hearts of flesh.
Jesus opened the man’s ears so he could hear Jesus speaking to him. Obviously, “be opened” is not the Gospel. Hearing Jesus say “be opened” did not save that man from his sin. Opening his ears allowed the man to hear the Gospel. By healing the man through His word, Jesus demonstrated to everyone, to the man He healed, to all the people present, and to you also, that His word is powerful, and therefore we should pay attention to it. Jesus wants you to understand that His word does what it says, so that when He says to you “your sins are forgiven,” you will believe Him.
St Matthew records that when Jesus healed a paralytic, the first thing He said to the man was “yours sins are forgiven you.” People were angered by that statement, so Jesus said to them, “Which is easier to say: ‘your sins are forgiven you,’ or ‘arise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” – Jesus turned and said to the man, “arise and walk!” And the man arose and departed to his house! If in the beginning Jesus said “let there be light,” and there was light, if Jesus said “arise and walk!” and the man picked up his bed and walked, if Jesus said “Ephphatha! be opened!” and the deaf-mute’s ears were opened, if Jesus said to a little girl “Talitha cumi!” and she arose, if Jesus said to dead Lazarus “come out!” and he came out of the grave, then when He says to you, “your sins are forgiven, “ they are forgiven.
Now, it’s important to realize that Jesus doesn’t speak your salvation into existence. The word He uses to enkindle faith in your heart is not a command. He does not just say to you “believe” like He said “be opened” to the man. The word He uses to create faith in your heart, the word that He uses to assure you that your sins are forgiven, is the history, the facts, of what He has done for you. Jesus came into this world to get rid of sin and to save sinners. God groaned to see His creatures stumbling about in unbelief, deaf and mute, oblivious to their true calling. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life. He sent His Son to save His poor, miserable creatures, to open their ears so that they could hear His loving voice, to give them words to sing His praise. His Son, Jesus, did all things well, even to the very end. God sent His Son to the cross to take every sinner’s place, to face the impending judgement over sin and to suffer sin’s punishment which every sinner deserves. He sent His Son to bear the weight of every man’s sin upon His innocent shoulders, to offer up vehement groans and tears over the futility and brokenness of this corrupt and sinful world, to suffer all the consequences of this world’s futility, even death itself, for your sake.
It’s because of His death for sin that He can forgive your sins. He has taken every sin you have ever committed upon Himself and died in your place for every one of those sins on the cross. He has put them in the grave, so don’t let them rise to trouble you. The futility and corruption sin brings into this world, the futility and corruption which ruin the life of every human, which ruin your life, Jesus put into the grave forever, so that He could bring you to true life, a life free from the guilt and shame of sin, and a life that is valuable, meaningful, worth living. That’s what’s recorded in the bible. The bible records the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus for your sake. These things were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.
Jesus commanded His disciples, who were eyewitnesses of His life and death and resurrection, to tell the world about what He did for all men. He sent His Holy Spirit to inspire them so that their testimony would be true. It’s this word that Jesus opened the deaf-mute’s ears to hear, and it’s through this word, the holy scriptures, the bible, which is read to you and preached to you, that Jesus implants faith in your heart.
So today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, like the Israelites in the wilderness, who put God to the test, though they had seen His mighty works. Do not harden your hearts to His word and turn from Him, but hasten as a bride to meet Him, and with loving reverence greet Him. For with words of life immortal, now He knocketh at thy portal. Haste to ope the gates before Him, saying while thou dost adore Him, “suffer Lord that I receive thee, and I never more will leave thee.”
And if you have His word, then you really will never be without Him, you will never leave Him, no matter what happens in your life.
Because they don’t have His word, or refuse to heed it, unbelievers live for themselves, without understanding, and their lives are wasted. But your life, no matter how challenging or hard it may be, no matter how unappealing or even pathetic it seems in the eyes of the world, is lived meaningfully if you abide in Jesus’ word, because you live by faith in the Son of God. So fill your life with God’s word, because it is the only way to live. It’s better to have our minds filled with God’s words then our own selfish thoughts. Just being able to talk about God’s word is wonderful enough in itself! God has called you to know His word so that you can counsel your fellow Christians and give grace to those who hear, as it fits the occasion. As St Paul says in Colossians, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Comfort one another with Jesus’ words and be comforted yourself by them. Learn from them, let them instruct you, think about them, pray about them.
When you work, don’t think about serving yourself, about serving your own ambitions like the unbelievers of this world, don’t care about the status and success the world offers. Instead, work always to serve God and your neighbor cheerfully, singing God’s praises because He allows you to help and serve your neighbor with the talents He has given you. When you eat and rest and talk with your family at the end of the day, give thanks to God that He gives you such wonderful gifts, and go to bed cheerfully to rest in His mercies until He awakens you to serve Him anew in this life and the next. And no matter what happens in your life, whether there’s prosperity and peace and joy and laughter or sorrow and tribulation and hardship and tears, take comfort that Jesus is with you until the end of the age, because He has given you His word to live by.
As we sang this morning, bless the Lord at all times, let His praise be continually in your mouth throughout all your life, no matter what God sends your way. When He gives you good times and laughter, gives thanks to Him whose mercy endures forever, and when you are sad and anxious and overwhelmed and tired, flee to the Man of Sorrows who gives rest to your soul, peace to your troubled conscience, who still yours fears and doubts, who bears all your infirmities upon His cross and forgives all your sins.
Live by the word of God. That’s the life Jesus has called you to in this short time before He takes you from your labors in His service to Himself in heaven. This is the life He led that poor deaf-mute into. He opened that man’s ears and his mouth so that he could hear the word, that it would fill his thoughts and pour out of his lips. Jesus restored that man to a meaningful life, to real life. And in the next life, you’ll always use your ears and tongue as God intended them. On the day of resurrection, you and a host from all tribes and nations and languages will come before Jesus to praise Him for bringing you out of death and into life eternal. What you hoped for through the word you shall see in the flesh on that eternal day. You will see your Jesus. And you will spend an eternity praising the work of your beloved Jesus. When that day begins, we will talk ceaselessly, we will be in continual conversation, about Jesus’ work of redemption, about all He did to bring us safely through our troubled lives on earth to our true home. We will marvel at how He sustained us through His word, even when we weren’t always aware of it at the time. We will listen eagerly to our brothers and sisters when they recount all the ways Jesus guided them by His word through their earthly journeys before He brought them home to Himself.
On that day, you will see your Jesus face to face, and your face will shine with the glory of His light. All the joys you experienced in this life will be but shadows of the joy you will feel before Him, all the shame you felt over sin in this life will be banished, all the tears you shed in this life will be wiped away, all the sorrows that troubled you in this life will be forgotten, because you will hear the voice of your Good Shepherd calling your name, and you will open your lips to sing His praise as you run to be at His side and listen to Him and talk with Him forever.
In His Name,