Friday, February 23, 2007

Sermon on Mark 7:31-37, 16th Sunday after Pentecost

...this sermon was preached as part of a "Children's Sunday" service in which our school children participated in the service through their singing and prayers....

Jesus Has Done All Things Well
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text is the Gospel reading from Mark 7, the healing of the deaf and mute man. Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thinking back on the Gospel reading, I’d like you all to consider about a question: “Does God groan?” More specifically, “Does God groan for us?” The other week in Sunday Bible class, we had a good talk about the passage in Romans that says “the Spirit intercedes for us in groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). It’s comforting to know that the Holy Spirit groans and prays for us, when our words fall short or fail us. So we know God groans in this way. But does God groan in other ways?

As humans we think of groaning as a deep expression of sadness and pain. Something that expresses our hurt, but beyond what words can say. Kids in school might groan when they find out that a test is coming up, or when homework gets assigned, but as we grow older, life teaches us the hard lesson that there are many other things to groan about. Groaning not in the sense of complaining, but groaning about the real sadness and sorrows in life. We’ve had our share of groaning with sadness and sympathy these last few weeks, as we’ve been saddened by the deaths of Russ Hayashi, Filbert Carvalho, and Jeannette Goetsch, whose funerals were held yesterday. The effects of sin and death are all around us.

And yes, God does groan at this. God groans at seeing His creation, which He made to be perfect, now corrupted with pain, disease, and death. He groans to see sin, and how it has hurt and damaged our lives, twisting the once perfect creation into something broken and dying. You see, God doesn’t just stand off and observe our suffering from a distance. In Jesus Christ He entered into this world of suffering and literally groaned for us as He saw the sad state of affairs. This is the sympathy Jesus expressed in today’s Gospel reading when they bring the deaf and mute man to Him. It says He let out a groan, or a deep sigh when He looked up to heaven. How heart breaking it must have been, for Jesus to see the effects of sin on this poor man. How sad to see the creation He had spent so much time and effort on, was now ruined by sin, broken, not working. Ears that couldn’t hear the sounds of life, the sounds of laughter and song, the sound of the Word that Jesus was speaking. And the man’s tongue, unable to speak clearly, to talk with friends, to speak and sing praises to God—none of this was possible for him, with a tongue-tied by the bonds of sin.

So also Jesus sees us, in our pain, in our suffering, and He groans for us. He sees how sin has corrupted our lives, and how its effect hurt us. Some of it’s by our own making, our own sin. Sometimes we’re spiritually deaf—unwilling to hear the Word of God, closing our ears to His Word. Sometimes we live on in sin, as if God’s grace did not really matter, and don’t repent of our wrong. Sometimes we’re spiritually mute, holding in the truth when it should be spoken, or failing to worship God as we ought to. Our tongues are tied by shame or guilt, or fear.

But sometimes we suffer the effects of sin because of others, or even just from living in a sinful and fallen world. Cancer, AIDS, heart and lung problems, all types of bodily illnesses burden us with grief that often seems unbearable. Or tragedy strikes us and takes away what we hold dear. We may suffer unjustly from crimes committed against us. It truly is a messy world we live in. But God did not turn His face away from our suffering and broken world, but rather He entered into it in Jesus Christ.

God wasn’t afraid to get “down and dirty” so to speak, to fix His creation. Think about it this way—do any of you garden? I know some people go to a lot of trouble to keep beautiful gardens in their yard. The pride they take in their garden probably isn’t just in the beauty of the flowers and landscaping, or the fine produce they grow—but also because the garden is a work of their hands. Now imagine some kids rode their bikes through and completely trashed the garden. Do you think the gardener would hesitate to get down on hand and knees to repair the damage, just because they might get their hands dirty? Of course not.

In the same way, God didn’t hesitate to get “down and dirty” with His creation, entering the world to mend the broken pieces. Some of us might be grossed out by the fact that Jesus put His spit on the man’s tongue to heal him. Why did He have to touch him, to put His fingers in his ears and His spit in his mouth? We probably can’t fully understand except to say that God works in and through His creation along with His almighty Word, to restore the creation. He doesn’t stand off in disgust, but comes near to us to heal. So when Jesus groans over His creation, He doesn’t groan out of helplessness, as we do, but He is able to cure and mend, and He does it! He healed the man’s ears and tongue, making new what was broken. But His work was not yet finished. The healing was far from complete.

But the crowd gathered there was completely astonished by the miracle, and said, “He has done all things well!” They knew Jesus was fulfilling prophecy, as they echoed the words of our Old Testament reading from Isaiah. Look again at today’s reading and how it says, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” What they said was very true, but they didn’t realize that this was not His last or greatest work!

He told the people not to tell anyone about the miracle. Sometimes, to our shame, to my own shame, you and I as Christians act like this command is still in effect. But why did Jesus want them to keep silent at first? The healing was not His main purpose. He had a larger reason for being there, and that was to die on the cross. This healing was just an appetizer to His main work; it was a small reversal in the order of death and disease. The real entrée, the real restoration was to happen in His death and resurrection.

Jesus had been trying to teach them this. But when the time actually came, even His closest 12 disciples seemed to completely forget what Jesus foretold concerning His death and resurrection. But even with this greater purpose in mind, Jesus’ endless compassion moved Him to continue healing again and again. He couldn’t bear to see the effects of sin twisting the creation He made to be perfect and whole. But He knew that the temporary healings of the body were no substitute for His real work of healing on the cross. There He accomplished the full restoration of sinful mankind by purchasing us with His precious blood. Then He began the reversal of death by His resurrection!

What seemed like a senseless murder of an innocent man was really God working behind the appearances to restore the broken creation. God shed His blood for us in Christ Jesus, and died to forgive our sins. Here was the true restoration of creation, the setting things right again. First He had to set about fixing our relationship with God by forgiving our sin. This He did by suffering for our sins in His death. Then in His resurrection He reversed the order of death, breaking its bonds, just as He broke the bonds of the deaf and mute man’s tongue—only this was far more monumental.

But we question: “Why is there still death and suffering in this world? Was Christ’s restoration incomplete?” No, Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil was complete; but the coming of the new creation, where all things are restored, is delayed till His second coming. God patiently waits so that more people may be brought into His kingdom by hearing the good news about Jesus. God isn’t slow in keeping His promise, but is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but that all people would come to repentance over their sins and a knowledge of the truth. And in God’s good timing, Jesus will return and create a new heavens and a new earth. On the last day, the perfect order of creation will be fully restored, and we will never again suffer sorrow, death, disease or sadness.

So how has Christ restored us? He has brought our bodies back from sin by His forgiving death, and He has prepared for us the resurrection of the body on the last day. He has healed our tongue, setting it free from false speech and lies—setting it free to proclaim the wonders He has done. “Give us lips to sing thy glory, Tongues thy mercy to proclaim, Throats that shout the hope that fills us, Mouths to speak thy holy name!”—as the hymn-writer puts it. He has healed our tongues to speak clearly and rightly about God.

So also he has healed our ears from spiritual deafness, opening them to hear God’s Word and believe His name. For His Word is life giving and true. Seeing all this great wonder, we can with all boldness and truth confess that “Jesus has done all things well!” Looking back on all He has done for us, and on the promises He will do, we can truly say “He has done all things well.” The people who saw the deaf and mute man healed said it without having seen His ultimate work on the cross. But now we can say, “Jesus has died for my sins, He lives again to raise me also from the dead, He has prepared a new heavens and earth to fully reverse the effects of sin and death, to bring about the perfection that was once lost in Eden. He has opened my ears to hear His Word, and loosed my tongue to speak, sing, and tell of His wonders! Truly, Jesus has done all things well! Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

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