Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Twelfth Sunday after Trinity + September 8, 2019
Text: Mark 7:31-37
Jesus performed many healings in His ministry. He raised Peter’s mother-in-law when she was sick with a fever, He healed lepers, cured lame and swollen limbs, and made the blind to see. What the people say is true: “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” But among the healings He did, this is one of the strangest: He puts his fingers in the man’s ears, spits and touches his tongue, and speaks a word in Aramaic (which the Evangelist does the favor of translating for Christians of following generations).
We can relate with the desire for miraculous healing. We often expect that from the doctors, with mixed results. Sometimes they get it right and a new medicine will really alleviate your rheumatoid arthritis. But as many of you know, there are times when the doctors either can’t do anything, or make mistakes. Test after test, scan after scan, but no relief. Like the woman with the flow of blood in Mark 5, “who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” (Mark 5:25-26)
I’m sure somewhere in history there has been someone crazy enough to emulate what Jesus did here, as if it were a magic formula. How gross that would be, and I suspect the only result was copious amounts of ear wax and sprayed spittle. But the key is not found in what Jesus did, as if He were a wonderworker. The key lies in who this man has been brought to.
Jesus says, “Ephatha! Be opened!” He is the Creator, of Whom “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). He speaks, and it happens. He who formed the ear and the tongue [Ps. 94:9] has the ability to reform what was malformed by sin and death.
But how He restores His broken creation is not just with a word (although He does say to the leper in Mark 1:41, “Be clean,” this is not all it takes). It takes the Creator Himself coming in the flesh of man, into the wretched and sin-filled world. As Matthew mentions, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” (Matt. 8:17) He not only took them, but He took our trespasses and shed His blood as the one sacrifice for the sins of the world. The Creator Himself lay in the grave, and thereby overcame the sway that sin and death have over each of us.
We wish that God would enable doctors to take away our cancer, give us relief from our chronic aches, and undo our foolish mistake that landed us in physical therapy. And sometimes He does, but our hope must not be in healing in this life. Jesus says in the next chapter of Mark, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34-36) If we follow Him, let us deny ourselves the physical healing we would wish, and accept each cross that He has laid upon us—the cross of memory loss, of arthritis, of seizures, of physical pain—and follow Him. He is able if He wills to give us relief at the proper time.
We live in hope, because this is the same One who stood at Lazarus’ tomb:
32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”…38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:32, 38-44)
This is what He is going to do for the bodies of us all, when we are nothing but breathless dust. He will say to us at our tombs, “Come out,” and the dead will be raised imperishable, immortal—no aches, no aging, no wrinkles, no defects—for eternity.
But even while we live in hope of the Last Day, our hope is in the Word He speaks now, for He does speak powerful Words of life to us. He speaks in the words, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Together with the water, these are the words of rebirth, birth from above.
He speaks in the words of the absolution on His servant, the pastor’s, lips: “Peace be with you, I forgive you all your sins.”
He speaks in His Word to you, which His Spirit carries into your heart, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12-14) It convicts you and puts your sinful flesh and all its desires to death, and raises you with Christ to new and eternal life.
Even if He doesn’t take away the ailments in this life, He has healed you with a healing that will last through death. That is the Christian’s hope, in which we are saved. Amen.