Throughout the church Year, at various times we will hear these healing miracles worked by Jesus. When they come up, the question is always, How do I apply this to my life? Does Jesus tell us about healing a deaf and mute man so that we look for our own similar miraculous healing? While we would all love to be healed of the things that plague this body, healing here-and-now is not what the miracles are about. The Holy Spirit caused the Evangelists to record Jesus’ miracles to teach us their spiritual application in our lives. Yes, Jesus can and does work miracles still today and He completely and in ways that defy logic heals the deaf, mute, paralyzed, cancer patients, and all the rest. But He hasn’t promised that kind of healing for us before this mortal body puts on immortality. Instead, He has promised us the same kind of healing—the true healing—He gave to this man in the Decapolis.
Before we get into that, we have to ask how is it that, in the midst of Gentile territory, someone even knows who Jesus is or that He heals people? If you go back two chapters in Mark’s Gospel you’ll find Jesus here in this same region. His first time here, He healed a demon-possessed man who lived in the region’s cemetery, and drove his demons into a herd of swine. The man wanted to follow Jesus, to remain with the Lord who had healed him and given him saving faith. But Jesus told him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (Mk. 5:19). So the man did the work the Lord had given him. And when Jesus returned to the region, the healed man’s preaching of the One who does all things well had borne fruit. Even if their belief is imperfect or incomplete, they still know that Jesus has power unlike any human. So, they beg Him to do something for their friend, this deaf-mute man.
Jesus takes the man aside and communicates with him by signs, the only way he can communicate. Jesus touches his ears, to tell him that he will be able to hear. He touches his tongue with His saliva, showing that his tongue would be loosed. He sighs and looks to heaven, telling the man that He was going to pray for him. Then Jesus does what only God can do—He speaks a Word and it happens. Just as His Word rang out over the chaotic darkness of the world before Creation and spoke into being all that is, His very Word, ephphatha, be opened, caused the man to hear and speak without any limitations.
Healed by the strong Word of Jesus, the man speaks. Even though we heard from the Gospel that he spoke “plainly,” St. Mark says the man spoke orthos, the Greek word that means “rightly.” This is the same root word as the word “orthodox,” which means “right praise” or “right doctrine.” This man speaks the praises of God, thanking Jesus for what He has given him and telling everyone around him what great things God has done.
So, what does this healing have to do with us? It is a picture of our Christian life. You have seen the same thing happen right there some 100 times in the last 25 years. People, both young and old have come to be recreated, to be brought to life by the powerful Word of Jesus. Every person who has come to this font was spiritually dead. They were brought here to Jesus and asked for His healing, for His eternal life to be made theirs. And Jesus took them in His arms, placed His hand on them, and spoke His Word to them, a Word which declared them righteous, forgiven, heirs of His salvation, children of His heavenly Father. Now they have a lifetime to be like the man in the Gospel, children of God who bring others to Jesus that they might experience the same healing, the same new life that they enjoy.
And this was all of us, too. Whether as infants or adults, whether here or in any church or hospital room around the world, each of us were carried to Jesus, He was asked to heal us, and He did, and He still does. By Word and Sacrament Jesus has unstopped our ears so that we might hear His saving Word. He has opened our lips that our mouths might show forth His praise. We are recipients of the Ministry of Righteousness, that is, the Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in our place.
So now, given saving faith and filled with the Holy Spirit, we are sent out. The faith that fills us overflows, it cannot be contained. So the Holy Spirit causes us, once spiritually deaf and dumb, to look like those men who brought the deaf-mute man to Jesus. We go out from this place and tell others about the Savior who has taken away the sin of the world by His death on the cross and His glorious resurrection after three days. We tell of the Savior who has given us a washing of rebirth that kills the Old Adam and raises from the waters a new creation, one free of guilt and sin. We tell of a Savior who has spread a table with Food that gives eternal life, who has a Book whose Words burn in our hearts and fill us with the joy of the Spirit of God. We call others, invite them, bring them to our Savior, and pray for them, that Jesus would open their ears to hear and believe His Word, that He would give them lips to sing His glory, tongues His mercy to proclaim.
Our Lord doesn’t send us to do that work of opening. He simply sends us to do the inviting, the telling of the story, and His Word, and His Holy Spirit active in that Word, does the work. We are merely recipients, receiving all that the Lord gives to us, doing His job of opening ears to hear His Word and mouths to speak His holy Name.
We invite, we shout the hope that fills us, praying that all may be recipients of that great mercy which we have received. We do it because we are eager for the day when the One who does all things well, who makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, will free our lowly bodies from the sin-wrought maladies that plague them. We confess that the day is coming when this physical healing will come to these lowly bodies, bodies redeemed by the Blood of Jesus Christ. Until that day, He comes to us through His Word and Spirit to keep our faith strong, our ears opened to His Word, and our tongues loosed with His praise continually in our mouths.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.