"How Will They Hear?" - The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
[Matthew 7:31-37] Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
How Will They Hear?
Deaf ears opened for hearing. Tongues loosened for confessing. “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified – justified by faith alone in what Jesus has done for you, not by your works or worthiness – and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame… For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” [Romans 10:9-13]
But, “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?” [Rom. 10:14]
How can they be justified by faith in Christ when they don’t believe? How can they believe when they haven’t heard? How can they hear if you aren’t telling them? Deaf ears need to be opened by hearing so hearts can believe and be justified.
To be justified means to be absolved, pardoned, forgiven – declared righteous – acquitted. Each person’s wrongs have been righted by Jesus stepping in and paying the price with His own life and death. You are justified – acquitted – by the offering He made.
That you are acquitted because of what Jesus has done in your place is called “good news”, the Gospel. Because Jesus has earned this acquittal for you, you trust in Him for it (faith) and call upon His name in every trouble.
Brothers and sisters, you know this because you’ve been told it. What a gift you have, that you’ve been told this good news. But are we being a good neighbor if we don’t share this good news? We are each our brother’s keeper. How well are we our brother’s keeper if we are not telling him the one thing he needs to know?
So, what are we each called to do? Are we each called to be a preacher? An evangelist? “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!’” [Romans 9:14-15]
But also, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” [Ephesians 4:11]. Not everyone is called to be a minister of the Word, a pastor. Not everyone is sent across seas to be an evangelist. These are specific offices established by Christ to which only some are called.
You are not all called to be pastors and evangelists. You are not all called to be elders or Sunday School teachers. But you are all called to have those beautiful feet which bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those places where you are called.
Family, close neighbors, people at work, friends who are trusting you to be true friends – sons and daughters who know you as dad or mom no matter their age – just as you are called to care for them regarding so many earthly matters, you are also most certainly called to care for them regarding the one thing needful.
“Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” [Matthew 7:12]. What we have, let us share. You yourselves have it by hearing it. We are all, on our own, deaf and tongue tied regarding the things of the Gospel – we are by nature sinful and unclean. Our sin-fallen flesh doesn’t by nature believe and confess Jesus. Faith comes by hearing His Word.
In our Gospel today, Jesus unstopped the ears of a man who was deaf so that he could hear. And He loosened that man’s tongue so he could speak. It is Jesus that has the power to open ears for hearts to believe. It is Jesus that has the power to free tongues to call upon His name and confess Him to others.
Jesus healed this deaf and tongue-tied man in the Gospel through physical means, through the means of prayer, and through the means of His spoken Word.
“They brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him” – they knew it was Jesus Himself, even the touch of His hand, that would help – “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, Jesus put His fingers into the deaf man’s ears, and after spitting touched his tongue” – Jesus uses His own saving-body to restore this man’s body – “And looking up to heaven, He sighed” – He prayed with groans too deep for words – “and said to him” – spoke His effective Word – “’Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened” – God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. Jesus, God-made-flesh, says here, “Be opened”, and this man’s ears are opened – and “his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”
By Holy Baptism – through the Lord’s physical means by which He got His hands on you – Jesus has put your deaf and tongue-tied nature to death and has raised up a new hearing-and-speaking-man within you.
You have faith in Christ, not by your own power or decision, but by His Word spoken to your ears – ears which He opens by the very Word He speaks – “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” [Romans 10:17].
And Jesus is giving you His Body and Blood – physical means – the same saving-body that healed the deaf man – given to you here for your bodies to receive, to benefit body and soul – ears, tongue, and faith.
On our own, it was impossible for you and me to believe and speak the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection – just as it was impossible for that deaf man to hear and speak rightly. He couldn’t do it. But then, because of Jesus, he could.
Because of Jesus, you can. Because of Jesus working through His Word and Sacraments, you can and do believe in Him and are justified through faith. Not because our faith is strong – “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:24] – but because Jesus is strong.
And because of Jesus, working in you through Word and Sacrament, you also have a tongue to confess this faith to others – and you can be instructed in His Word to know the faith more.
Because of Jesus, you can give others what you have received. And the effect won’t depend on you. Their faith will come by hearing His words. [Romans 10:17]
Pray. Pray with sighs and groans. Come to receive Jesus’ Word and Sacrament with deliberate intention – asking in fervent prayer that through these means He would be opening your ears and would be loosening your tongue to speak. Come as you are, and put your confidence in His ability to make you more what you ought to be.
And, in all you do for Him, as you seek to do His will, know that you do it as a forgiven sinner. You stand pardoned, forgiven, absolved at all times of all the debt you owe. You don’t stand in a hole of debt of past faults to make up for. You stand on even ground because Jesus paid the price.
The crowds that witnessed Jesus’ healing work “were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” They couldn’t be kept silent about it – even when they were told to tell no one.
May the Lord grant that we, who have been commanded to speak, would not be silent about the good news we have received and witnessed. Amen.