Life has always been full of trouble. After Adam sinned, God told him work was going to be hard. Part of that could be that our bodies aren’t perfect anymore. We age. We try to fight it, but we still get older and can’t escape the changes that go along with it. Death comes for us. Our bodies can’t live on and on. It may come late, or it may come early, as I was reminded this week when I attended the funeral of a pastor’s wife in Michigan who died of cancer.
Sin has affected us in so many ways. If we weren’t sinful, we wouldn’t get angry or want all sorts of bad stuff to happen to people we think are bad people. But there’s more to it than that. Sin has made us sick, weak, infirm, and feeble. If sin weren’t in the world, we wouldn’t have to deal with physical or mental disabilities. If it weren’t for sin, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’d all be perfect students and athletes, employees and spouses and parents, all our days.
But we aren’t perfect at anything. I was reminded of this last week at the church picnic as I did my usual poor job of shooting the basketball and also a couple weeks ago as I attempted to golf. All sorts of things in our lives remind us of this. We are not perfect and the people we love are not perfect. We all have little complaints and big ones too.
The man Jesus healed in today’s Gospel had much to complain about. He was deaf! And because he wasn’t able to learn to speak by listening to others, he wasn’t able to speak OK. To use the language of the Scripture, his tongue was chained and his ears were closed. God made us to be able to hear and talk, just like He hears us and talks to us. But the sinful nature took those abilities away from him.
Jesus had been in Gentile territory. The people of Tyre and Sidon, the Phoenicians, were descended from people Israel failed to throw out of the area of the Promised Land. He went from there to Decapolis, an area to the south and east of the Sea of Galilee where Gentiles lived. Since Jesus spoke an Aramaic word these people were probably Jews. They probably knew from Synagogue School Isaiah’s promises that Messiah would heal people of all sorts of diseases and disabilities, and they had certainly heard of His miracles. They figured it was worth it to get their friend or relative to Him. Perhaps He’d heal him!
They were right. He would heal him. But He didn’t just speak a word. The Greek says He threw His fingers into his ears. Then He spit on a hand and touched his tongue with that spit. Our sense of etiquette is quite offended by this! But it should remind us that when God created Adam, He shaped him like a potter makes a pot. He didn’t just say a word and Adam came up out of the ground. A potter gets covered with clay. God took some mud and shaped and formed Adam out of it and breathed life into him. Jesus showed what He was going to do. It was like He was poking holes in his ears and pulling loose his tongue. Then He said the word that did that: “Ephphatha.” “Be opened.” Their prayers were heard. He could hear well now, and he could speak correctly.
Why did Jesus heal him? We can’t expect miracles like that today. Jesus doesn’t work that way. He works through doctors to heal us. After all, since all good things are from Him, He’s blessed them to have the knowledge they need to help us. But Jesus did heal him. He healed many people of illnesses and diseases and disabilities. He cast out demons and raised the dead. Why did He do all this? Why did He do all things well and make the deaf hear and the mute speak? He did it because He made Adam perfect and holy. He did it because He wants to remake us perfect and holy when He comes again. He was demonstrating the fruits of His Death and Resurrection. He did not come just so our souls could live forever in heaven. He came to raise our bodies from the dead that we might live, body and soul, no more mental or physical troubles, forever with Him in New Jerusalem.
Therefore He says to you, “Ephphatha,” “Be opened.” When does He say that? It’s not in the hymnal! Once upon a time, these words were in the baptismal rite. In the middle ages, the minister, after they prayed the Lord’s Prayer, would imitate our Lord. He would take some spit and touch the ears and nose of the infant saying: “Ephphatha, that is, Be thou opened. But thou, devil, flee; for God’s judgment cometh speedily” (LW 53:99).
We don’t do that anymore. Luther took it out of the baptism rite when he worked on it in 1526 to shorten it and focus it especially on Baptism itself. This little rite wanted to teach the people what baptism does. Baptism opens our mouths and ears. It frees us from the judged devil’s chains and God judges us innocent of sin. It makes us able both to hear God’s Word and believe it and to say what He says before men. We don’t just recite it but we proclaim what we believe and trust.
Graham has been baptized today. We’ve waited a long time for this. He has heard God’s Word from his parents and in church and is now baptized. Now Satan has to admit that Graham is God’s own dear child. His sins are washed away in Jesus’ Blood. Eternal life belongs to him. The devil can’t claim him to be his own anymore. God has adopted him into His family, just like John and Sarah have adopted him. He’s officially a Driscoll, and he’s officially a Christian. He belongs to Jesus. The devil can no longer claim him.
It’s the same with you. Before we were baptized, the devil laid claim to us. We belonged to his kingdom of wickedness and sin, of unbelief and hatred toward God. But Jesus baptized us. He declared us to be His own. He ripped us out of the devil’s hands. He securely holds us now in the hands pierced for us. We belong to Him. He wants us to stay His unto life everlasting.
That’s why those hands were pierced. That’s why He still has His battle scars. The hands that touched the blind man’s ears and mouth were later nailed to The Cross for you. The devil cheered them on as they nailed Him to it. He inspired them to do it. He was happy to sink his fangs into God’s heel. What he didn’t notice was God at the same time crushing his head.
You kill a snake by crushing its head. Christ died and crushed the devil’s power. The devil has no claim to you. He must let you go when Jesus orders him to. That’s what He did at Baptism. You rejected the devil and all his works and ways and confessed the Holy Trinity. You did this not on your own; Jesus led you to do it. He brought you in, put His Word on your mouth, and washed you clean of sin.
You have passed through the waters. You are freed from the chains of sin, death, and Satan. We leave this font to live like it, and we come here to receive strength to continue to live like it. We go out from the font and from the rail in order to faithfully serve our God in this life. We go out to bless the Lord at all times with His praise always on our lips. Our souls boast in Him, for He makes haste to deliver us in order that we may attain His heavenly promises.