In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This hardly seems the wisest course for healing the deaf. In the first place, God should not even waste His time becoming man. But worse yet it is that it is so inefficient, bringing each sick person to Him one by one. And why does He expect confession and repentance? Why does He look for faith? We know full well they’ll only slip and sin again. Their expressions of regret and sorrow are suspect.
What God should do is sit in heaven and think us all clean, heal us with a word, bestow paradise for free and then make it so, make it right and good and happy, and ask nothing of us in any way. He should probably act a bit more like Santa Claus or Grandpa or Superman, and a whole lot less like Socrates or a school marm or Himself.
Does He know nothing of modern man and how he so dislikes being lectured or told what is right and wrong? Does He not know how sophisticated we are? How tolerant and kind and polite, and that we never want anyone to feel small?
The case of this deaf man with impeded speech is strange. The Lord takes all that time, pulls Him out of the crowd, invades his space, sticks His fingers in his ears, spits, and touches his tongue, and then says, “Ephatha,” that is, “be opened.” Sure, the man can then hear and speak clearly. But what a fuss, what a wasteful effort, what unnecessary ceremony! He could have healed the man as He healed the centurion’s servant across the distance with a word. He could have blinked the whole crowd healed or given them a fancy potion or simply given them the power to heal themselves.
Why does God refuse to act like us? He is our flesh. Why become a Man only to refuse to dance when we play a jig and also then refuse likewise to mourn when we play a dirge? Why must He always be the opposite, so obstinate, so steadfast? Why must He turn everything on its head?
There are so many other ways that make more sense, that seem more reasonable, for Him to act and to save. For one thing, He could make some distinction between people, the way we do, liking some and disliking others. Who among us doesn’t love our families and hate our enemies? Or do you have the same affection for Osama Bin Laden as you have for your grandchildren?
God could, reasonably, save only those who mean well or try hard or make some effort. It is not that they’d have to be perfect. It is just that they’d have to have something in them, something that set them apart. He could save those who were somehow marginally better than others, in an outward way, say those who haven’t gotten divorced or filed for bankruptcy or called in sick when they weren’t. Or He could save those who are willing to come to Church, to serve on committees, who give money to the poor. Why in the world should He love Adolf Hitler and Papa Doc? Why should He love those who simply refuse Him outright and choose to go to Hell? Why should He love those who hate Him? Why shouldn’t there be a reward for hard work, for effort? Wouldn’t that be more just?
And if He really is no respecter of persons, then why isn’t everyone saved? Why won’t Joseph Mengele be in heaven? Either He should set up some merit system, make some distinction, or He should just restore the garden of Eden as though it never happened and make everyone come in, whether they want to or not, even Satan and Charles Manson.
But of all the things He might do, all the ways He might exercise His power and be generous and merciful, surely taking up flesh and making Himself a sacrifice, walking about the earth preaching to people too thick skinned and small minded to understand or care, and healing, one-by-one, and that rather sporadically, is a waste of effort and time. If He comes to heal the deaf, mute, and blind, why are there still deaf, mute, and blind people? And why doesn’t He visit our cancer wards and burn centers and Aids clinics? Why is there famine and war and crime?
Repent. These blasphemies are old friends. I can scarcely imagine I’ve raised a single new idea. You’ve thought them plenty, and in your vanity you’ve thought them as though you knew things that God did not, that you were somehow not only wiser than He is, but also more gracious, more kind, more loving. Repent.
It is the the Kingdom of God that comes in the Man Jesus Christ, not your kingdom. It is within you but it is not yours. It is a mystery, and foolish to the ways and thinking of men. The Lord Jesus Christ is far wiser, kinder, gentler, and more gracious than you are. He comes in peace, for mercy’s sake and does not force Himself. He comes as King, and as Priest and Prophet, but not as conqueror. He does not take what is His. If a man wants to go to Hell, if he wants to be judged by his works and faith, if he wants a god like that of Mohammed or Baal, then he can go where that god rules, he can go to Hell.
It is a strange and almost unimaginable thing, but He takes the time with the deaf man because He loves the deaf man. Before He meets the man, His Father has already counted every hair on his head, followed him throughout his life, listened and answered his prayers. We might speculate about how else He might have healed this man, but what we know is that He did it the best way, the way best for that man and for us. His actions are not accidental. He reveals something of Himself and of our fallen nature and our needs in the account.
Our ears are clogged with selfishness. They roar with the sounds of our hungers. All we hear is what we want. That is why you daydream so much about being rich. You would like to place yourself into the role of provider instead of the one provided for. How can you hear the Word of God when you are imagining the speeches you would give, the way the media would fawn all over you? You hear your belly grumble and complain and think of what it is you think you need. You think you are wise enough to know. Repent. That is what you really need. You need to be emptied, to have the Stone the builders rejected fall upon and break you.
Your tongue is likewise impeded. You use your tongue to gossip, lie, brag, and manipulate. You can hardly give a compliment or say “thanks” without pointing to yourself, attempting to show how smart or clever or good you are. Here is a little secret that may shock you: you really aren’t that important or significant. Your wife, your employer, your children, they could all get along just fine without you. Repent. You are replaceable.
What you need is need to be pulled aside, away from the crowd. For you are like a teen-age boy well aware the girls are watching. You are always thinking of what others think of you. You need to stop thinking of yourself and your reputation. You need to submit, to be shamed, to be emptied. Perhaps the Lord spits in disgust, to get the taste of your ego out of His mouth. 1 But for all of that, He pulls you aside in perfect kindness, not for His sake but for yours. He exposes to remove. He opens the man’s ears. He loosens His tongue. He shows Himself merciful. For all our sins, the scheme that would make the most sense, is not our ideas of universalism or works righteousness, but that which the devil proposes: God should just leave us alone, to ourselves, to Hell. Why bother with us at all? We are ungrateful, repeat offenders.
Yet He not only bothers, He is intimately involved. He doesn’t stay in heaven and think us right. He doesn’t mass us together into a generic humanity and get it all over with one fell swoop. What does He do? He heals the centurion’s servant one way, this man another. His love is precise, deliberate. His love for you is for you specifically. He has called you here today, baptized you into His Name, put His Word into your ear, spoken you forgiven and clean. You never quite know what He will do. He can’t be controlled or manipulated. He is God. You are not. We know He is good, merciful. We know He keeps His promises. Sometimes He gives us exactly what we ask. Sometimes He provides before we ask. And sometimes He simply knows something altogether better.
For all our vanity, the truth is shocking: the Lord God made you and loves you, on purpose. You are more important than you know. You are the topic of conversation in the inner council of the Holy Trinity, the cause of angelic rejoicing. God does not delegate the answering of your prayers to some minion, but He addresses each one Himself, even intervening before you think to pray. You can’t call the president or the governor or probably even the mayor of this city. But the Creator is at your beck and call. The world’s opinion of you is wrong. They do not recognize your royalty, for you belong to God. God is interested in you.
It is no small thing that He counts the hairs on your head. He came to be a sacrifice, to die for your sins. And to make sure that was complete, that there would be no doubt, that you would not fear you were left out or weren’t good enough, He went ahead and died for everyone, even for those who will not have Him, who insist on their own way, who go to Hell. He pays for everyone that you would be His, would be brought home. He reconciles all humanity to the Father, gives us everything He has, submits to the devil’s cruel sodomy and worse, so that you would be spared and free and not face the accusations of your sins, but be declared His perfect, immaculate, clean, and lovely Bride, a princess in heaven, the beloved of the Father.
And He has not stopped. He did not simply come to earth and preach a while, allow Himself to be killed as a Substitute, and then rise up the Victor, and now He is done and gone and you are left to try and follow Him. No. He is still a Man. He is still flesh of our flesh, husband of your promise. And He still comes to earth to open your ears, to touch your tongue. He is still wiser than us, still custom making crosses and situations for us, for you, and still chastening and encouraging, speaking and hearing.
Yet we still think we know better. We think that more money or better health, a more attentive spouse or a fat inheritance, or maybe a new kitchen or a new Sunday School curriculum, would do the trick, and make things better, happier, more successful. We still fail in this way.
But He is faithful despite us. He knows what is best. He provides. Here He is: constant, faithful, steadfast, present in His Body and Blood, that you might be joined to Him, have fellowship with Him, the Father and the Spirit, be clean and welcome, free, that your ears might hear and your tongue might taste and then, with the grace of His Body and Blood still upon your breath, sing His praise.
Indeed, He does all things well.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.