Mark 7:31-37; Rally Day; September 26, 2012;
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA;
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34And looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:31-37 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Did you hear that little word about Jesus? You know the one that shows his compassion, his care, his love, his humanity? And looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed… Jesus signed. It’s such a tiny point right in very middle of the text, and yet very important. Jesus signed. The Greek word is “στενάζω.” And it means just that, to sigh or groan. You understand from the text what it means. Standing before Jesus was this deaf man. He couldn’t speak correctly because of his hearing. It is an out in the open showing of the effects of sin on the world. That is, not what a particular sin has done, but exactly what the curse of sin on the world is. You know all about this, you know it every time you run into a situation that make you say, “This is not the way that things should be.” You’ve given this very same sigh. You’ve had standing in front of you out-in-the-open things that are not the way they should be. Your child, suffering from a scraped knee, crying for you to do something to make the pain stop. Your spouse, breathing the last shallow breaths as death claims them. Late night in the ER hoping against hope that the accident was not fatal, that there is something the doctors can do. Sitting in the nursing home, disappointed that your loved one doesn’t recognize you again today. This is the sigh of Jesus. This man has been affected by sin. He can’t hear. He can’t speak clearly. His friends beg Jesus to do something to make it stop.
St. Paul describes the sigh to us saying in his letter to the Romans that creation was subject to “futility.” That is bound to the sin of its most important creature. God created the world for people. They were bound to it as a perfect place to live and work and grow and multiply. He put the first people in a beautiful garden called “Eden.” They had everything they could ever want. And yet, they desired the one thing God told them they could not have. So they took the fruit from that tree and ate it and subjected themselves, and you and me, and indeed the whole creation to “futility.” That is, death and decay, and pain and sorrow. They were given the garden as a place where work would be rewarding and pleasant. I’m sure the first sighs were heard when the first thorns appeared. Thorns and hard work are a part of the curse that the first couple brought to the land. Adam and Eve lived some 900 years. Imagine all they saw, imagine the depth of their signs as the perfect world they knew began a steady spiral into “futility.” Imagine the sigh as they discovered the body of Abel, their son, murdered by his own brother. Imagine their sighs as their “many other sons and daughters” spread across the world taking with them the rebellion against God that they started.
And all these years later, generations and generations we’ve suffered and sighed. Although Adam and Eve began it all they are not solely to blame. Cain killed Abel in a fit of jealousy. The monstrous, selfish nature of sin was revealed very clearly with Abel’s blood soaking it to the earth. Every person since Adam and Eve has the same capacity for that kind of evil. Sin is a selfish turning into oneself, holding yourself as more important that all else; believing that you are the final judge of right and wrong. This is the only real gift we give to our children. It is the only real gift we received from our parents. It spoils our world. Generation after generation the perfect creation is subject to our sin. Generation after generation our bodies and minds are subject to our own selfishness. Death and disease and suffering, thorns and thistles and hard work, cancer and pneumonia and gout, droughts and tornados and floods, the “futility” of the curse is right at hand for us to see. And we sigh. But don’t blame Adam. Don’t blame Eve. Look at your own heart and see what you know is there. Sin crouches in you. You want what you want, and you want it now. You put yourself above all else, even those you love most dearly. When you see all of this, the dangerous world around us, the blackness of sin in our hearts that’s when the sigh reaches is apex. That’s because there is nothing to be done. No human struggle can end the “futility.” You can’t prevent death, even if the cancer subsides. It is the curse of the Garden. We know it well, and we sigh.
But, into this sin filled futility steps Jesus. I said no human effort can do anything, but Jesus is more than human. That’s what he show us. That’s what we hear in his Word, Ephphatha. Ephphatha, does what it says. Jesus makes signs to the deaf man. He pokes his ears and spits on the ground. “I’m going to open your ears!” He looks up to heaven, from whence he came and sighs. It’s a prayer. “Father, This is why You sent me. They have done this to themselves. But I am about to set everything on the path to redemption.” He says to the man, “Be opened! Ephphatha!” It works. The deaf man hears and speaks clearly. The “futility” of his ears is reset. He sings praises to God, praises to Jesus, God in human flesh standing in front of him. That’s when we know our sigh has an answer not in our effort but in Jesus.
But there is more that Jesus has to do. That formally deaf man is dead. In fact, Adam and Eve are dead, too, and all their children, grand children, great grand children all the way to you and me. That wasn’t the only person Jesus healed. And yet they are all dead too. The futility goes deeper. Death is the enemy. Death is the final result. If we sigh about anything we sigh most deeply over death. We know that it is not the way things should be. What does Jesus sigh, what does Jesus healing, what does Jesus have to do with death? That is the whole question of life on earth. What about death? If Jesus did nothing more that open a deaf man’s ears, and a few other miracles, the futility remains. And our sighs have no answer, and we may as well go home.
That is not all that Jesus did. All his miracles and teaching in fact, point to another greater, futility ending, sigh answering miracle. It is also what Jesus’ sigh is about. Way back in the Garden under the first signs of sin, God answered the sigh of Adam and Eve with a promise. Humans subjected the world to futility that cannot be undone by humans. God promises he is the one, who would himself, answer for their sin. He would pay the penalty, the just sentence, the forever punishment that would make everything right again. He would make a new creation, like the first, that was perfect without sin’s corruption. God is in Jesus Christ, reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). That is, removing the futility. Jesus is God born in human flesh. Man and God bound together in a way that only God can understand and accomplish. He is fully, completely human subject to all that humans are subject to, with one exception. Jesus is without sin. He is who Adam should have been. He is who you and I should be. He lives and speaks and heals and feeds. But he also dies. He subjects himself to that futility for us. He allowed his enemies to hang him on a cross. This sinless, perfect, God-man suffers a humiliating, brutal execution (born out of the sinful corrupt human heart!). He hangs naked, beaten, bleeding out on the ground, stretched out toward heaven. And guess what, he sighs…
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15:33-37 ESV)
There he hangs in futility, rejected by God. There he hangs suffering what is ours to suffer. There he hangs and sighs out his last breath.
And again, if this is all that Jesus does we may as well go home and weep for him, and sigh again for ourselves. There is more. The life that Jesus gives up is the life that he once again takes up. In a way that only God can do and understand, three days after he was laid in his grave, Jesus lives again. This is no wives tale, no vain hope either. There is ample, tangible proof that it happened. Jesus sighed out his breath on the cross and breathed it in again in the grave. He makes the futility of death empty. His death reconciles human sin with God, that is pays the punishment. The answer to our sighs is in his death and resurrection. It is the answer to the promise in the Garden. The answer to the deaf man’s friends. The answer to Jesus sigh. It is a promise to us. Death is coming but Jesus can and will breathe life into you again. You will live in a perfect, newly created body in a new creation, a perfect creation, a creation where there will be no sighs saying “that’s not the way things should be.” Again I direct your attention to the Font. In ages past the word Ephphatha was used in the Rite of Holy Baptism. It emphasizes that through the work of God in this washing, deaf, dead, sinful, futile ears are opened and hear the promises of God. Jesus word does what is says. The promise in the Garden, the promise of the Cross and resurrection is made personal here. The sigh is answered for those who have had their ears opened, have heard and hold on to Christ in faith. In light of the promise made by God in the resurrection St. Paul sighs for us:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:20-25 ESV)
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.