Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, 9/4/2022. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity12 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
This morning Jesus makes it is as simple as it can possibly be: salvation is a matter of being closed or being open.
The man brought to Jesus was closed. At least, that is how St. Mark describes his ears and his mouth. This was not a metaphor for unbelief. He was deaf, and he was mute. He had physical impediments that he and his friends wanted Jesus to miraculously cure.
But pay attention to the way Jesus went about the healing. Jesus did lay his hands on the man, in a manner of speaking. Jesus did touch him. He even touched the exact parts of the man that were afflicted: i.e., his ears and his tongue. But this did not heal him.
Whatever else these gestures were, they were not the miracle. They said something about the miracle, of course: as signs, they communicated to the deaf man what was going on. But they did not accomplish it. Thus, these gestures were essentially a ritual. And as a ritual, these gestures were there to support and communicate the real divine work.
We use rituals the same way. Incense, for example, is not the same thing as your prayers ascending to heaven, but as a ritual it does call us to remember that that’s precisely where our prayers are going, and that God delights in them the way children delight in the smell of fresh-baked cookies. You can say something similar about pretty much any other ritual in the church.
So, the rituals informed the man of what was happening. But if they did not accomplish the miracle, then what did?
And looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. verses 34-35
It’s the same miracle as in the beginning. The Word of God did everything. Not the ritual; not the good intentions of his friends, and certainly not the man’s best efforts. The Word of God did everything. Also notice the order in which the miracles occurred. First, the man’s ears were opened. Then, the man’s mouth was opened.
And he wasn’t just speaking plainly so that people could understand. The Greek word “ὀρθῶς” could be better translated as “rightly.” The man whose hearing and speech came from Jesus spoke what was true and beautiful.
So, then, why the call for silence? Why wouldn’t Jesus let them tell anyone?
For starters, we should note that Jesus charged “them” not to talk about it. The healed man may be included in “them,” but the clear reference is the crowd.
They didn’t understand. They had not heard rightly, and so they were not able to speak rightly. Their message amounted to Jesus being awesome and being a miracle worker. That’s not wrong, of course, but it’s incomplete, and it isn’t the one thing needful. That’s not the message that opens what is closed.
That message would not be understood until the third day. When the crowd sees Jesus crucified and risen, when the tomb that was closed is shown to be open. Then would come the call to proclaim the message to the whole world.
By His death and resurrection for you, Jesus has opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers. What was closed, Jesus has opened. Moreover, Jesus has done this for you.
Jesus spoke to the deaf man with a tough, a bit of spit, and a single Word. At your Baptism, Jesus touched you and spoke to you with water and the same Word. Be opened. And just like that, you were able to hear. This is why the Psalmist praises God with these words:
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Psalm 36:9
As God’s light enables us to see everything else, even light, so also, His Word enables us to hear. This is what Luther meant when he said that “The Gospel creates its own hearing.”
What we see and what we hear is not what the world suspects. It is not the Law, what St. Paul calls a “ministry of death.” It is what he calls the “ministry of righteousness”, the “new covenant,” the Holy Gospel; which God has appointed unworthy men to proclaim, since that’s the only kind of men there are. Pastors whose sufficiency and competence come from God alone.
The glory of the Gospel is superior to the glory that accompanied the Law, because it gives life and not death; because it saves from sin, death, and the devil; and because it lasts forever.
Your ears have been opened to hear the glory of the Gospel. Your mind has been opened to contemplate it. Your heart has been opened to meditate upon it and to treasure it. Your mouth has been opened to speak rightly and plainly. So, this is what you, dear Christian, are to be doing.
This shouldn’t feel like a wag of the finger, any more than telling someone whose lungs work to please continue breathing.
There is more than one possible outcome for the man in today’s Gospel. It’s not hard to imagine him and his friends 10 years later.
They rode the wave of excitement for a while, some of them even gave away their stuff, thinking Jesus would come back any day. But when He didn’t, and Pastor James was killed, and friends were being rounded up…
It didn’t seem to matter. Staying home on the Lord’s Day was an easy way to stay safe and keep others safe. Paying lip service to Caesar was a get-out-of-jail-free card. He missed the voice of his friends. He missed the sound of the Psalms, the hymns, and the prayers…for awhile.
But having fully functioning ears, there was no end to the things he could hear: gossip, crude jokes, the cheers of the colosseum. He heard them day by day, as he became deaf to the Apostles’ teaching; he remembered the names of all the popular gladiators, and forgot the name of His Champion, and the sound of the Voice that said “ephphatha,” be opened.
Thus, a man touched by Jesus, opened by the Gospel, became closed. He sold his inheritance for a pot of stew. He fell and hit his head one day, and went down to Sheol with perfectly good ears. And a perfectly good mouth, that had lost the ability to speak rightly.
That is not who you are. That is not who God has made you to be, and it is not who God has remade you to be.
Hear the Gospel. In this place, and in your home. Go to Bible Study and Sunday School to grow in wisdom and understanding. Pray to God to know and keep His Word. Pray that the ears He has opened would stay open. Pray that the mouth He has opened would keep praying.
Speak rightly; not as one who is angry or afraid or conceited, or self-righteous. Speak rightly, as one who has made good use of his ears. Speak rightly, as one who has listened to God’s Word and heard the anguish of his neighbor. Speak rightly, as one who has received God’s love and desires that same love for his fellow man.
Everything is open to you know. Eyes and ears, mouths and hands, the grave and heaven: all open. If only you would have it. Praise be to Christ. He has done all things well.