And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
Do any of you know someone who is deaf or mute? Have you ever encountered someone with whom you couldn’t communicate? Have you ever met anyone who spoke a different language? What were your reactions? How did you feel? Inadequate? Inept? Incompetent?
During the second summer while I was at the seminary, I visited with a young man who was deaf. It was very difficult to communicate with him because I didn’t know, and I still don’t any sign language. I had to motion to him or act things out at first. If it was something complex that I had to communicate, I had to write it out on a piece of paper. Later, he tried to teach me the alphabet in sign language so that we could communicate better. But still, I had to spell out every word. I felt very inadequate, inept, and incompetent. But imagine what he feels like every day not being able to communicate with so many others.
Today’s Gospel gives us an encounter Jesus had with a person who was deaf and mute. Jesus is completely adequate for this person’s needs. His use of sign language goes beyond anything I could ever try. Let’s take a look. Jesus had just come out of Tyre, after healing the Syrophoenician woman. Passing through Sidon, He came to the area of Decapolis on the southeastern side of the Sea of Galilee. There, some people brought to Him a man who was deaf and mute. They begged Jesus to lay His hands on him and to heal him of his infirmity.
We, like this man, are deaf and mute. By nature, we can’t hear the Lord calling us to do His will. We don’t listen and obey very well. We go off and do our own thing instead of listening to what He wants us to do. We get so wrapped up in our own self-centeredness that we can’t hear Him. We don’t take the time to hear from Him about the wonderful promises that He makes to us in His Word. We don’t tell others about the wonderful Savior we have in Jesus. Maybe we feel inept and inadequate. Maybe we feel as if we’re unable to share with others the saving Gospel. For that reason, we don’t share with others the hope that lies within us. We don’t invite others to church with us. We don’t explain to others how Jesus has set us free from our bondage. We are deaf and mute.
She had gotten off the school bus and run straight for the front door. As soon as she got through the door, the tears just gushed out as if the flood gates had opened. You were doing some housework or reading the paper. You heard your daughter crying and dropped everything you were doing. Somehow, whatever you were doing wasn’t so important anymore. Your daughter needed your acceptance and love. She needed you to put your arms around her. Later, she might need someone to listen to her but at that moment all she needed to know was that you cared about her.
In the same way, it says in our text that Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself. Jesus was going to do something very important for this man. Jesus wanted him to know that nothing else mattered but him. Jesus wanted him to know that he was loved and accepted. Jesus wanted him to know that He wasn’t doing this for the crowd. He wasn’t just showing off for them. He wasn’t trying to get the crowd to Oooh and Ahhh. This was just for him. This was Jesus showing him, you are important to me. Even if the world has pushed you aside or marginalized you, you matter to me. I value this time that I have just with you.
And that’s how Jesus feels about you. He’s always ready to hear your prayer. He’s always interested in hearing about your day and to dry your tears. He’s always ready to receive your thanks and praise. He’s always ready to hear about your disappointments. He’s always there for you. He’s always ready to comfort and uphold you. In fact, even when you don’t pray, He prays for you.
Pulling him away from the crowd by himself, Jesus wanted to make sure that the deaf and mute man saw everything that was about to happen. He didn’t want him to get distracted by the crowd. This was going to be a big event. The biggest he had ever seen, and Jesus didn’t want him to miss a thing. Not just that he could sell his story to the “Jerusalem Times” but so that he knew exactly who it was that was before him.
You laid him down to sleep a few hours ago and then went to bed yourself. You awake to hear him screaming. You look at the clock. It was one o’clock in the morning. As you enter his room, the high-pitched screams get louder. You pick him up from his crib. You can’t explain to him that it was only a bad dream. You can’t reason with him that he needs to go back to sleep so that he can grow up strong and healthy. He needs you to hold him in your arms. He needs to feel that his mom or dad is there to protect him. He needs to feel that you care. How do you tell somebody that you are going to help them when they can’t hear or understand you? How do you convey to them that they can trust you? You talk to them in the sign language of love.
Jesus had taken the first step. He gently pulled him to the side away from the crowd. The man was deaf and mute. So, Jesus stuck His fingers into the man’s ears. He touched the man’s tongue with his finger. By doing so He confirmed for the man that He understood his problem and wanted to fix it.
So, He also does for you. Jesus knows your problems. He knows what your biggest stumbling blocks are. He knows what ails you. He knows you inside and out. As God said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” God’s relationship with you goes back a long way. He has known you from the time of your conception. He knows you better than you know yourself and He is always ready to help.
Jesus continued His sign language. He looked up to heaven to show the man where the help was rooted. To verify for him that this was no regular man. This was no prophet or rabbi. This is God. This man who he just saw for the first-time only moments before is the one whom the prophets foretold, the Messiah. The person of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke. When He comes, the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped, the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.
Do you remember it? Do you remember when it happened? Do you remember hearing those words? I love you! Will you marry me? I’m pregnant. Happy Birthday! Happy Anniversary! It’s a boy! It’s a girl! Do you remember what you felt? Joy, exhilaration, astonishment, overwhelmed? Do you remember what you thought? Wow! Amazing! Oh my goodness! Imagine if the first words you ever heard were spoken by Jesus Himself.
Jesus sighed a deep sigh and said to the man, “Ephphatha” (Be opened)! As He spoke the world into existence, so His word again performs what He says. Imagine if the first words you ever heard were spoken by Jesus Himself. What would you feel or think then?
Jesus cares about our physical ailments. He cares that our car doesn’t work so well. He cares that we don’t have very much money in the bank. But He cares about us more deeply than that. We have a bigger problem that our physical ailments. We have a spiritual problem. We sin. We sin a lot. Not only when we do evil things to our neighbor or fail to make it to church. We think or speak evil of others and we don’t love God perfectly as His Law demands. In fact, we sin more than a lot. We sin all the time. And only He can fix it. And fix it He did. He demonstrated the sign language of love for you. He humbled Himself. He came to this earth to be born of a woman. He suffered at the hands of the Roman guards and the Jewish crowds. He took their insults. He hung on a cross and cried out, “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?” (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”) He bowed His head and said, “It is finished.” He rose from the dead, on Easter. He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you.
Because Jesus has given us the sign language of love, expressed in His life, death and resurrection, we express this sign language of love to others. We show our wives that we love them with hugs and kisses. We demonstrate to our husbands that we respect them by obeying them. We indicate to our children that we care about them by listening to them and talking with them. We express to our co-workers and acquaintances that we appreciate them by offering our assistance to them. We tell them about what Jesus has done for them. We show others our concern for them with the sign language of love.