As Jesus heals the deaf-mute man, He sighs. This is an intriguing action by Our Lord, and through the centuries has been the object of a great deal of analysis and guesses as to why and what it means. If you follow the word “sigh,” or “groan”—the other way the Greek word is translated—throughout Scripture you begin to see that Jesus’ sighing is not a small thing. As Jesus sighs, He expresses His anger over sin and the destruction it brought in His once good creation. He reveals His compassion for His children, His desire that they be free of sin and experience the new heaven and new earth. And by His sigh He intercedes for the deaf-mute man, indeed, for all of creation, praying for him and us all in ways which we cannot because sin keeps us from praying for what we ought. The sigh of Jesus reveals the love which He has for us, the love which sent Him to the cross and now preserves His Church for the salvation of the world.
Sighing comes about as a result of sin. Scripture shows us that women sigh at childbirth, a result of sin’s curse of pain and anguish in the delivery. Individuals sigh as they suffer under disease and heartache, death and destruction, all things that were never intended to be a part of God’s creation. People sigh as a sign of penitence and to express deep distress. Sighing never indicates anything good. As we sigh, we indicate that we know what we are experiencing is far from perfect. When Jesus sighs, it reveals His anger over sin. He witnesses things like what this man in the Gospel experiences, and He experiences righteous anger. Sin gave birth to diseases and mutations in the human body that resulted in the death of senses. When God created man’s ears, He created them to hear His own voice as He walked with them in the beauty of Eden. When God created man’s tongue, He created it to declare His praise, to confess His great love for His creation. But sin took away these chief functions of man. Now this man could not hear the Words of the Book, the very voice of God recorded for the edification of His people. Now this man could not confess his sin to God, to thank Him for the forgiveness afforded him, could not make known God’s mighty deeds on behalf of His people. Jesus sighs in anger at the destruction sin has brought about. Not anger at that man, but anger over his situation. And in this man we must see ourselves because he represents all of us, as we have all been marred by sin and stand not only with souls defiled by sin, but bodies broken by it as well. Jesus’ agony over that man is the same agony He has over every ache and pain, every disease, every trouble your body experiences. He hates that it has affected the body He created; that it has had the potential to harm faith as you wonder if God even cares about your affliction.
But therein is Jesus’ compassion as well. Jesus isn’t like us in the twenty-first century, deluded by social media activism, equating anger with action. Just because you’re angry doesn’t mean you’ve done something to fix the situation. We think that because we share a news article, put a special filter on our profile picture, use a special hashtag, or some such thing we’ve done something to help the cause. No! Putting an “I stand with Texas” filter on your picture didn’t do a single thing to help anyone affected by the hurricane. The money you sent to LCMS Disaster Relief does do something real. Don’t equate gestures with activity, because they are not the same thing! Sorry to be cliché, but real action is putting your money where your mouth is, putting into action what you say is important.
And that’s exactly what Jesus’ sigh does. It reveals His compassion because after it He acts, and acts in a way only God can. He speaks the powerful word, Ephphatha, be opened. And then with the same power His Word had at Creation, Jesus speaks this man into perfect hearing and speech. Faith, which makes him righteous and which comes by hearing, is his as he hears the Word of God from the very mouth of God, and his tongue is loosed to proclaim the mercy of God, something he and the crowds cannot help but do. This is exactly what faith does! It declares the mighty acts of God to all who will hear because faith cannot help but confess its Source and what good things He has done for His children. Jesus’ sigh and action here looks ahead to the greater miracle He will perform when His breath leaves Him, not in a sigh, but as He breathes His last and yields up His spirit on the cross as He dies to forgive the sin of the world. Here the man receives merely a foreshadowing of what awaits him because of what awaits Jesus. If he and the crowds cannot help but sing Jesus’ praise at this miracle of restored hearing and speech, imagine their elation and their new song of praise today as they stand in heaven, witnesses and recipients of Jesus’ greater miracle! Now their tongues truly are loosed for the tongue’s chief and greatest purpose: singing the new song of all the redeemed before the Lamb for all eternity.
And that is exactly the reason why the Holy Spirit gathers you here this day and every Lord’s Day. He knows the sin from which you need to be freed. He knows that the only thing that can save you, that can reclaim you from the devil’s snares is the strong Word of God. So He brings you to this place to hear the most powerful word Jesus speaks: “I forgive you all your sin.” By that strong Word of Absolution all your sin is washed away and your tongue is loosed to sing the praises of God, to join with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in their song of “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the one whose glory fills the heavens and the earth.
Because you have heard the Word of God at your Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection and then again and again in the Divine Service and other places, heaven is opened to you. Your ears have heard, the Holy Spirit has worked, and faith is created, faith which clings to all the Words God speaks to His people. Because the Holy Spirit has converted you, opened your ears and loosed your tongue, one day you will be free from the sighing you know all too well. In the new heaven and the new earth, sighing is a thing of the past, for “the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Is. 35:10). There you will experience life the way God intended it to be—in a body free from death, disease, and all of sin’s effects, in perfect relationships with your neighbor, and in unbreakable communion with God.
For all this, for undeserved love and healing of body and soul, we give God highest praise. Because He has sighed, hated sin and its effects and then destroyed them by Jesus’ cross, you will be free from sighing, and your sighing will be replaced by praise. Until you are taken from the sighing of this world, until the Lord makes haste to deliver you, may His Holy Spirit keep you in the faith, in the sure and certain hope of all that lies ahead.
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.