8-27-23 Trinity 12

August 27, 2023
Passage: Mark 7:31-37
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Jesus healed many people during the few years between His baptism in the Jordan and His ascension into heaven. There are multiple times in the records of the Gospel when large crowds came to Jesus, by day and by night, bringing with them those who were sick or demon possessed. And Jesus healed them all, sometimes with a touch, sometimes with a word, sometimes with both. Jesus saw fit to perform many healings on the same occasion and the Holy Spirit saw fit to have this recorded for us. It’s good that we see Jesus’ almighty power. He wasn’t worn out after one healing. He didn’t need to rest between restoring sight to a blind man and raising a paralytic. Jesus could heal any number of people and cast out any number of demons. The only reason the crowds went away was because there was no one among them left to be healed. No one went away disappointed. As many as came for healing received it.

But there are other healing events in the New Testament that don’t focus on large crowds, but individual people. These healings certainly still show Jesus’ almighty power, but they also generally give us more insight into Jesus’ heart and mind toward us. When the four men lower their paralyzed friend down to Jesus in the house, we see how Jesus cares about the soul as well as the body, forgiving the man’s sins and then restoring his legs. When Lazarus dies Jesus weeps, and shows how dear in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. We certainly see Jesus’ compassion as he heals crowds of sick people. But we see His compassion particularly well when He deals with an individual.

The healing in today’s reading took place as crowds had gathered around Jesus. Matthew records the more general setting of this event: “Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them” (Mt. 15:30). But Jesus wants to deal with this one deaf man individually. This is the only time this sort of thing happens. At times Jesus is with one person and heals him. At other times Jesus is with a crowd, and heals all those in the crowd. But in this healing alone does Jesus take a single man away from the crowd to deal with him privately. This is unique, it should catch our attention, and it should make us wonder why.

The man is deaf and has a speech impediment. To heal him, Jesus does not simply lay His hand on the man or speak a word. But Jesus puts His fingers into the man’s ears, and after spitting touches his tongue, and looks up to heaven and groans and says, “Be opened.” And Jesus does not do this for the sake of ceremony or to put on a show. He does it to express His great compassion for mankind and to show us our deepest need.

Concerning Christ’s compassion, note what part of the healing wasn’t actually part of the healing. Jesus touched the man; He’s healed people with a touch. Jesus spoke a word; He’s healed people with a word. But Jesus sighed, or groaned. That wasn’t a word. It wasn’t a touch, or even a prayer. That groan was a lament, by which Jesus showed us His gracious heart and His compassion for us.

Now we know something of compassion. We know what it’s like to see someone mourning and feel sadness, because we’ve been there, and we know what it is to mourn. We know what it’s like to see a child fall and skin his knee, and to have a pang of sympathy and say, “Oh dear, I’m so sorry!” not because we’ve done something wrong, but because we know that pain and would never wish it on a child. But our compassion has its limits, especially when the person suffering brought it on himself. There are times at school when, say, one of the upper level boys gets hurt, and the best I can say is, “Oh, I’m so sorry you were acting like an idiot.” And that’s generally where we draw the line with compassion. Our compassion diminishes significantly when someone is suffering according to his own folly. Our compassion also doesn’t extend well to things of which we have no personal experience. A child has no idea why mom is holding her arm and sucking air through her teeth at the stove. The child has never been spattered with hot oil. In short, our compassion is imperfect and limited.

But what about Jesus’ compassion? He has always been able to have compassion on us, that is, to know what it is that we’re feeling and experiencing. For the Lord, there is nothing outside His realm of knowledge. Whereas we may have a lack of compassion because we don’t understand what someone is going through, the Lord knows what everyone is going through at all times. Even though the Son of God did not from eternity have a body, but rather assumed a human nature when the fullness of time had come, nevertheless, He was still able to have compassion.

And yet He didn’t want only to have the compassion that comes from perfect knowledge, as perfect as His compassion was. But accomplishing our salvation meant that He would become man, would be under the Law as a man, and would go through all manner of human experience as a man: hunger, thirst, joy, sadness, weariness, temptation, pain, loss, delight, and so on. The Lord who stands there in front of the deaf and mute man knows what it is to have His hearing obstructed. Even though according to His divine nature He is the God who hears every whispered prayer of every saint on earth, He was in His mother’s womb for nine months and His human ears were muffled. And He would be beaten on the head and surrounded by a screaming crowd and again not be able to hear. The Lord who stands before the deaf mute also knows what it is to have his tongue bound. Though He is the Word through which the heavens, earth, and sea were made, and all that is in them, as a baby He did not speak, and His tongue would be silent again for a time after He cried out, “It is finished!” His compassion for the deaf and mute man was not only the compassion of perfect knowledge, but the compassion of having experienced what the man was experiencing.

Think what a gracious Lord we have! He wants to have compassion on us, not just pitying our plight from afar, but joining us in it, as it says in Hebrews 4, “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15). Just think how many times we hear of Jesus’ compassion in the New Testament: “when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Mt. 9:36), “when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick” (Mt. 14:14), “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat” (Mt. 15:32), and there are many more instances. Jesus knew what it was to need care, He knew what it was to be sick, He knew what it was to be hungry. And so He had compassion on us. He has known us perfectly, and has even experienced our human condition, save without sin, and so His compassion for us is infinitely greater than the compassion we can have on one another.

And there’s an even greater way in which the Lord’s compassion differs from ours. When someone has brought his suffering on himself, we tend not to feel compassion. We might feel a sense of justice. We might even feel indignant if the person who brought his troubles on himself expects us to feel sorry for him. But the Lord acted differently toward us. As Jesus stood face to face with the deaf mute, Jesus beheld the consequence of sin. He saw that the man’s body was not how it was created to be. It was malfunctioning, and it was malfunctioning because of sin. Jesus could have looked at the work of His hands, the body He had formed and that man had ruined, and He could have been justly upset. “What have you done with the creation that I called ‘very good’?” And the deaf mute wouldn’t have heard the rebuke and couldn’t have answered, so deeply are we steeped in the corruption of sin.

But Jesus didn’t rebuke the man. He groaned and sighed over him. Jesus lamented over mankind. Our condition was gut-wrenching to our Lord, and though we were suffering by our fault, by our own fault, by our own most grievous fault, Jesus had compassion anyway. He saw that we had been deceived. He understood that the devil had lied to us. Certainly we had God’s command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and we must acknowledge our disobedience. But Jesus is merciful beyond anything we deserve. As it says in Lamentations, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23). How great is the Lord’s compassion! He sees a race of rebellious sinners and instead of condemning us as we have merited and punishing us eternally, He becomes a man and counts our sins against Himself and suffers punishment and even death for our sake.

Remember the Lord’s compassion, recall His sympathy. “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses,” and so, as the very next verse in Hebrews says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). The same Lord who groaned and sighed over the deaf mute in the reading groans and sighs over your troubles and hardships and sins and pains, and He stands ready to help. As surely as He opened the ears of the deaf man and loosed his tongue, so the Lord has compassion on you, and forgives your sins, and bears your infirmities, and indeed bears you up, that you might withstand temptation and have peace in tribulation. He is your refuge from all harm and danger.

We can apply the Lord’s compassion in this general way, knowing that He cares about all matters of our lives. But we were going to look at the specifics of this event, and meditate on why our Lord, only this one time in the New Testament, brought a man away from the crowd to heal him privately. Notice what specific things prompted the Lord’s compassion in the reading: the man’s ears didn’t work right, and the man’s tongue didn’t work right. This unique predicament receives special attention. Jesus shows that He is particularly concerned with ears and tongues. And this is still a matter of the utmost importance for us today, for the kingdom of Christ is founded on the Word and spreads through ears and tongues.

By nature we don’t hear the Word of God rightly. And just as the man who does not hear rightly does not speak rightly, so also when men listen to lies, their tongues confess blasphemy and false doctrine instead of the truth. This problem goes back to the Garden of Eden when man listened to the devil’s lie instead of the truth of God’s Word. Now our fallen nature more easily heeds and speaks lies than truth. Paul warns in 2 Timothy 4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). This was our natural state before the Lord rescued us. Now, thanks be to God, the Lord has opened our ears to the truth of His Word, and as He was grieved by mankind’s deafness, so He delights in our hearing, even more than He delights in anything we could offer Him, as David confesses in Psalm 40, “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear” (Ps. 40:6). You have given me an open ear. If you hear and understand the Word of God, if you delight in it and seek to listen to it, if you find comfort in it, this is the fruit of the Lord’s compassion. He has said to you, “Ephphatha, be opened,” and now your ears work as they were made to work: to take in the Word of God as your source of life.

We therefore take care to hear the pure Word of God, lest our ears be clogged once more with the backfill of Satan’s falsehoods. When the deaf man couldn’t hear, he didn’t need to worry about misusing his sense of hearing. When the mute man couldn’t speak, he didn’t need to worry about sinning with his tongue. But now that his hearing and speech are restored, he must be on his guard not to sin with his new faculties. When Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda and granted him the ability to walk, He warned him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” So it is with us. We take care how we use what Jesus has restored to us. Since Christ has graciously given us the gift of hearing, we use it to hear His Word, to listen to the needs of our fellow Christians, to take in what is good. Since Christ has loosed our tongues, we use them to pray, praise, and give thanks, to comfort our brethren, to teach children, to confess the truth.

And besides the gifts of hearing and speech, Jesus has also granted us His compassion. We experience His compassion in the forgiveness of sins, and we experience the great joy that accompanies it. We also, as recipients of His compassion, exercise it toward one another, as the Apostle Peter writes, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous” (1 Pet. 3:8). The Apostle Paul writes similarly, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). When our brother in Christ stands before us, suffering by his own fault, especially when he suffers a guilty conscience because he has sinned against us, we remember that we were the deaf mute, and our Lord stood before us and, even though our troubles and malfunctions were entirely our own doing, He had compassion on us and was willing to join us in our plight. This doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as rebuke. Jesus rebuked His disciples regularly. This doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as calling to repentance. Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” But the compassion of Christ makes us tenderhearted toward one another to forgive one another’s sins and to have mercy in time of need. For “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:8-9). Thus we praise the Lord with the words of the crowd, saying, “He has done all things well” (Mk. 7:37). Amen.

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