Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Word of God is a powerful thing. In fact, it was powerful enough to bring you here this morning. This is a rich blessing which we have received from our heavenly Father. God’s Word goes in your ear, and then it comes out of your mouth. God speaks to us in His Word, and we speak His Word back to Him. We listen as the Word is read and preached in its truth and purity; and once we’ve heard the Word of God, we respond with thanksgiving, prayer, praise and song. Faith compels us to respond to God’s Word. In fact, as the Apostle Paul tells us, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
This was the literal truth for the deaf and tongue-tied man who was brought to Jesus in the region of the Decapolis. As you sit here this morning, you can do two things that the man in our text was unable to do before Jesus opened his ears and released his tongue: you can hear the Word, and you can speak and sing praise to God. This man was isolated both from God and from his fellow man: unable to hear, unable to speak intelligibly, unable to comprehend the Word and respond to it. In our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah tells us that one of the signs of the coming of the promised Messiah is that “the deaf shall hear the words of the book”. It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus not only has the power to heal this man, but that He also has the compassion which compels Him to heal this man. Mark tells us that Jesus “put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.'" And from that moment, the man could hear and speak plainly.
This is a vicious attack against the power of Satan. The devil would like nothing more than for God’s creation to be unable to receive and respond to God’s Word. The devil would stop up every ear if he could; he would paralyze every tongue. For some, he has been all too successful. After all, we are, by nature, deaf to God. We are, by nature, mute, unable to call upon His name, unable to confess His might and mercy, unable to praise Him. Satan would have us looking selfishly to our own worries, our own thoughts, our own strength. Satan would plug our ears with the garbage of this world: horoscopes and psychic network commercials, the constant drone of those who would have you believe that you can find peace in the things of this world, the deceptions of false teachers who would have you believe that you can make peace with God through ten simple steps. We hasten after these things; yet we are slow to listen to God’s Word, slow to praise Him, slow to call upon the Lord in the day of trouble, slow to glorify Him when He has brought our tribulation to an end. God created us in His image, in perfect righteousness, so that we could hear Him and call upon Him as children call upon their own dear fathers. But since we turned away from Him, since we stopped our ears to Him, since we decided instead to listen to the father of lies, we have become deaf and silent to the Word. We refuse to hear the Word; we cast it away and chase after lies. Even now the Old Adam in us wants nothing to do with the Word of God. He rebels against it! He sticks his own fingers in his ears and makes unintelligible noises to shut out God's Word, like a petulant child who has been told to finish his vegetables. We are comfortable in our sinfulness, comfortable in our silence, comfortable in our isolation from God and our neighbor. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge this sinful condition, anyone who does not regret this isolation from God will not be freed from that condition. They will remain in isolation from God.
To see and know and hear God can only happen through the Word. The Holy Spirit doesn’t work any other way. If our silence before God is to be broken, it must be the Lord who breaks it, just as this man could not open his own ears, just as he could not unleash his own tongue. If we are to proclaim God’s glory, He must first loosen our tongues. And that is precisely what He does. We are bound in the silence of sin as we are carried to the baptismal font. It is only through the faith we receive in Holy Baptism that we first hear the Word, when the Lord touches us with His Word in the water and speaks over us saying, “Ephphatha—be opened!” It is in Holy Baptism that we first receive the ability to hear the Word of God. Before we were baptized we were spiritually deaf and mute. We had no faith to know what that Word of God was, and so we were lost in a deadly silence. But in our baptism we received the Holy Spirit as a free gift. And the Holy Spirit and the faith we receive in Baptism allow us to pray with the psalmist, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.” This is a prayer He graciously answers, giving us His holy Word and teaching us to speak it back to Him. There is an apocryphal story in which a lady says to her pastor, “Pastor, the liturgy doesn’t say what I mean.” And then the pastor responds, “Well, dear lady, then you must learn to mean what the liturgy says.” That is precisely what the Holy Spirit does: He guides us to God-pleasing words, words which speak back to God what He has first said to us. That was the meat of the promise we heard in the Old Testament reading: “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The humble also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. For the terrible one is brought to nothing, the scornful one is consumed.”
It is because Satan is indeed consumed and brought to nothing that this man’s tongue was set loose to speak plainly and truthfully about the goodness of the Savior. In fact, it is not just the deaf mute who now speaks; all those who were with him speak out as well. And although Jesus commands them not to tell anyone, they cannot hold it in; they are driven to speak of it. The more He commands them, the more widely they proclaim what He has done. Is that not how it is with the Gospel? It cannot be restrained or bound but proceeds ever onward in the ears and on the lips of His Church, even as it is to this very day with you. Having experienced the awesome wonder of the Lord putting His Word in your ear and setting His very body on your tongue to loosen it, you too confess the Lord far and wide.
God grant, then, that you who have had your ears opened and your tongues set loose by Christ may confess before all the world, with these people in the Gospel reading: “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.