Sunday, September 6, 2009

“Ephphatha!” (Mark 7:33-34)

S-1137 9/06/09 14SAP/3B Hymns: (O) #5; (S) #39; (C)#45

Texts: Isaiah 35:4-7a; James 2:1-10, 14-18; Mark 7:31-37

Theme: “Ephphatha!” (Mark 7:33-34)

Question: “Have You been Amazed Lately?”


Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen! Indeed! Alleluia! The text for our meditation this morning is the Gospel lesson: “And [Jesus] taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into His ears, and after spitting touched His tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to Him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened’” (Mark 7:33-34).


Saints in Christ, in a book titled “1001 Arabian Nights” is a story about Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. The story revolves around a poor man who comes across the hideout of 40 thieves. While chopping wood in the forest Ali Baba heard their horses approaching and hid in a tree. Right below him was their hideout place where they have been storing loot. He heard them say, “Open Sesame!” With that the cave door opened and the thieves entered. All the while Ali Baba was watching and listening to all that was taking place. Finally, when the thieves left, Ali came down from the tree and spoke the secret words “Open Sesame!” and the cave opened up and he helped himself to some of the stolen treasure.

Of course this is nothing but a fable. But today, St. Mark tells us another story. This story is not from 1001 Arabian Nights but from the personal experience of the Heaven-sent Savior who walked the dusty roads of Palestine. This is not a fable but fact. This is not just a story, but a salvation story dealing with a real human being who has suffered due to a hearing and speech impediment.

Mark’s astonishing account tells us of some caring friends who bring one of their own to our ever-caring and compassionate Lord Jesus and who in turns heals the man who was deaf and slow of speech.

Listen to how Mark describes the events of this opening that took place in the Northern part of Palestine:“ And [Jesus] taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into His ears, and after spitting touched His tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to Him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened’”.

Jesus did so away from the crowd, personally, privately, and completely. He touched the man, lifted His eyes heaven-ward and sighed and said, ‘Ephphatha!’ And immediately the man’s tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

“Ephphatha!” is the Word spoken by the Rabbi from Nazareth. That word opened a whole new life to the deaf and mute man. “Ephphatha!” was spoken that day and all who witnessed the event were amazed at what took place. They should have been amazed, for they were witnessing the Messianic age spoken by the prophet Isaiah which is our reading of the Old Testament today: Here is how Isaiah tells it: “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, Your God will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’ T[HEN] the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy
(Isaiah 35:4-6).

Did you get it? That is what was promised by God to His chosen people. The promise was a day is coming when the Messiah will arrive on the scene, and when He does, He will usher a new age—eyes will be opened, ears and tongues loosed, lame people will walk and the dead will rise again. But they didn’t get it.

The crowd that day was absolutely blown over by Jesus. The poor man had never heard a sound since birth. He spoke with difficulty, but Jesus took him aside and healed him. Pretty impressive, all right. The man was healed through remarkable means. First, Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears; then Jesus spit and touched the man’s tongue. Finally, Jesus spoke a word: “Ephphatha!” The crowd saw what Jesus did, but they didn’t see who Jesus was. They saw the gestures, but didn’t get the message: God had come down to planet earth in human flesh, and He has come to save.

They stood there with mouths wide open, eyes gawking, and tongue-tied because they didn’t know what was going on. Even though they were amazed and said, “He did everything well” they still didn’t get it. Even Jesus’ cousin John didn’t get it. When John was in prison he sent a delegation of his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the Messiah: Matthew tells it this way: “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them’” (Matthew 11:2-5).

Jesus was saying to the crowd, to John the Baptizer and to us, that He is the One. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy. He is the One sent from heaven to heal the sick, raise the dead and save them from eternal damnation. He is the One who is caring and compassionate towards His people. He is the One who shows mercy to one and all; those who are brought by friends and those who come to Him alone and seek His help.

“Ephphatha!” What a fitting watchword for Christians. God’s care and concern are so totally focused on us. Touched by the personal healing of Christ in our souls, freed from eternal death, blessed according to our most detailed, intimate, and specific needs, how can our response be anything other than praise, adoration, thanksgiving and telling forth what great things God has done for us? PAUSE.

But we, too, are just like the crowd, the disciples and John the Baptizer. We DON’T GET IT EITHER. We think that God shows mercy to those who deserve it or those who follow Him. We think if we are good enough then God will have compassion and mercy on us. But that is not the case.

Beloved in the Lord, so often we, too, live as though it’s all up to us to handle the hassles and burdens of life all on our own. But Jesus teaches us otherwise—“I Am with YOU always! But our ears are deaf to His promise. So often we live as though we have been abandoned, salving our pain and loneliness with self-pity. Take heart,” Jesus comforts us. Your sins are forgiven.” But so often we lug around the burden of guilt we’ve accumulated over the years, our private, ugly collection of it, which the devil uses to undermine our hope and drive us to despair.

Ephphatha!” “Be Opened!” Jesus says to us today as well. For we have ears that so often fail to hear the message He addresses to us. We have eyes that so often fail to see the power of Jesus revealed in His Word and Sacraments. Jesus still uses remarkable means for healing. The water of Holy Baptism to open our blind eyes, our deaf ears and our dead hearts; He uses the bread and wine of the Holy Supper as the very vehicle of Christ’s full and complete forgiveness. Together with the preaching of the Gospel, these sacraments extend the power of Jesus to apply all that He has earned for us in another place and time to us right here and now.

Today, dear saints in Christ Jesus speaks to us a very special Word Ephphatha!”Be Opened! He endured the cross and grave so that He could speak that Word. And He gives us ears to hear His Holy Word and hearts to believe His promise. He gives us tongue to speak in witness to His loving-kindness and He gives us hearts to care for those friends who are hurting not only from physical ailments, but from not knowing the Savior’s love that took Him to the cross for their sins.

What a caring and compassionate Savior we have. What a blessed opportunity Christ gives us on this blessed and beautiful day to be in His house of worship to hear Him anew say to each of us, Ephphatha!” “Be Opened!” and by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel ears are suddenly open to hear again. He loosens our tongues and opens our lips to sing His praise and tell of the great and glorious events of our Savior who brought us out of darkness and silence into His marvelous light.

Ali Baba had a simple word open the door to treasures untold in a mere fable. But we have had a simple word, the Word of God in the Flesh Jesus Christ open the door to an incomprehensible treasure. When Jesus speaks to us, we have our own Ephphtha moment. The Gospel opens our ears and loosens our tongue. Our treasure is that of forgiveness of sin and life eternal. And, with loosened tongue, it is a treasure that we freely share. Ali Baba’s words are “Open Sesame!” and a cave opened. Jesus’ word, “Ephphatha”, is more than a cave opening, but a grave. But that is not all. It also opens hearts, eyes, ears and mouths and of course heaven itself. Amen.

Now the peace of God...

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