Walker, MN

15th Sunday after Pentecost            “The Savior’s Sign Language”

September 5, 2021                                   Mark 7:32-35


Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

Let me share a true story  to lead us into the work of Jesus  we’ve just heard about in Mark 7.   After the First World War ended,  in late 1918,  The Prince of Wales,  Edward VIII,  went to a military hospital  which was taking care of 36 seriously wounded soldiers.  In the first ward, the Prince went from bed to bed,  saying a word or two to brighten the mood;  thanking each soldier for the sacrifice he had made for King & country.  After talking to the last man,  Edward said to the administrator,  ‘there are only 29 soldiers here.  Where are the other seven?’
The director told the Prince that the others had such severe injuries  that they were not pleasant to look at,  so they had been moved.   And he said,  “It would probably be best for all,  if we left them alone.”   To his credit,  the Prince asked to see the men.  And without flinching,  he visited with each man,  encouraging him,  assuring them all  that their service & their lives still had great value.  But Edward noticed that in that second ward  there were only six soldiers.
So, once again the Prince asked,  “And now, sir, where is the missing soldier?”   With some hesitancy,  the director said,  “Ah, Your Majesty,  that soldier is in a little room by himself.  His terrible injuries have left him blind, deaf & mute, and completely paralyzed.  We make him as comfortable as possible,  but no one can do anything for him.  You needn’t take the time.’

Undeterred,  the Prince of Wales opened the door  and entered the small, plain & dark room.  With an ache in his heart,  he looked upon this poor man  who had given himself for his country.   The man was deaf,  so the Prince couldn’t speak to him of his country’s gratitude.   The man was paralyzed,  so he wouldn’t feel the grip of an encouraging handshake.   The man was blind,  so the Prince couldn’t make a sign or write a note  which would inform the man that his nation was proud of his sacrifice.
There was no written ‘royal code of conduct’ for this situation;  for a man who was cut off from everything around him.   So,  Edward simply did something that was humane = from one human to another.  The Prince bent over that mangled body,  took the man’s head in his hands  and kissed his forehead.  There was no media there that day to playback the event for the 6-o’clock news.   And except for one or two witnesses,  the brief encounter wouldn’t even be known.

But God sees all,  doesn’t He?   It was a noble & heartfelt gesture,  made out of respect & compassion  for a person in pain.  It was a sign that someone important  cared about a broken, helpless, forgotten man.   I don’t know this,  but I’d like to think that Prince Edward-the-8th  learned how to behave well  because he had been taught by the life & ministry of the Son of God;  who had once taken a man’s head in His hands,  and showed compassion for his pain.

As we heard in Mark 7,  Jesus was in the region of the Decapolis.   Just as we have ‘the twin cities’,  and Iowa & Illinois share ‘the quad cities’,  so South-East of the Sea of Galilee  there was a collection of ‘ten cities’  or ‘The Decapolis’.    You might remember that Jesus had been in this region before.  It was when He had cast-out a ‘legion’ of demons  from a man who had to live among the tombs  because he was so uncivilized.   Jesus cast those demons out of that man  and into a herd of pigs,  and that herd immediately ran over a cliff  and drown themselves in the Sea of Galilee.  The people there were ‘seized by fear’  and asked Jesus to leave.   So,  Jesus & the disciples got in a boat & left.
But,  now Jesus is back in the region again,  and a deaf man was brought to Him.  We often like to know the back-story of people;  but Mark leaves out many details.  We don’t know how long this man has been deaf,  or how he came to be that way.   We don’t know how often he felt unwelcomed in a crowd,  or forgotten or useless or unloved.  We don’t know how many times people made fun of him;  we don’t know if he was able to work for a living.  We can only perceive that this man had some family or friends that  -maybe- had heard the story of how Jesus cast-out those demons into those pigs,  and had decided to see if Jesus was willing to help a deaf-mute.   We can suppose that his friends tried to tell him where they were taking him;  that maybe there was hope of healing from ‘that prophet from Galilee.’  Mark just says:  ‘they brought to (Jesus)  a man who was deaf  and had a speech impediment,  and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.’ 
Many people,  who have to live their life  getting clobbered & thumped by troubles,  will conclude that God doesn’t care about them.  They might say something like:  ‘God’s too busy and doesn’t have time for a nobody like me.’   Sometimes those thoughts come into OUR heads, too.    It happens when an injury hits us,  or when a disease creeps up on us,  and we think:  ‘where was God?’  ‘What did I do to deserve this?’

When some family,  or a friend,  turns against us,  we think God should’ve stepped in to prevent it.   When our loved one dies,  we accuse God of being cruel,  or that He made a mistake in His timing to disrupt & change our lives.

Evil & heartache & trouble is so common in this world  that we need a reminder every day  what God  has & has not  promised to us in this life.   We need a reminder each day  that He has not forgotten us = He can never forget his people;  but His perspective is bigger than the various troubles in our lives.  People are sinful & can hurt us,  and that’s not God’s fault.  God tells us what’s right,  but we can all behave independent of what God wants us to do.  This means that people can be cruel,  and nations will go to war,  and creation itself can produce natural disasters in rebellion against its Creator.

And we need a daily reminder that God’s plan to fix all these things  is a plan OUT of this old world.  That plan is centered in the one Savior God sent.  When we see that Savior revealed in Scripture  we can see how God values each single person  when we see Jesus give his attention to hurting people.  That’s the reminder we need  to believe that God values each one  of us.   He knows our troubles,  and He cares about us.

In the Bible,  /the sick were brought to Jesus  and He comforted & healed them;  /mothers brought their little children  and He blessed them;   /curious scholars came to Him  and He taught them the deep truths of God & life;  /the proud came to Him  and He scolded & corrected them;   /when He confronted the disobedient,  He called them to repent,  to fear & trust God,  and to turn & do what was right & good.    The Son of God came to earth to show us that the Almighty does care for each & every one of us;  He sees & knows what’s going on in our lives.   In good times & in bad times,  He knows what we need.   Sometimes we need patience;  sometimes we need correction;  sometimes we need healing & sometimes we just need strength. At all times,  He is loving us  so that we will trust Him & His will.
That’s what we see here  on that day  when some people brought a deaf man to the Prince of Peace.   In an instant,  Jesus saw this man’s ailments,  and how he was probably confused by all the commotion around him.  So the Savior gives His undivided attention to this man.  We might think that Jesus should’ve called for the crowd’s attention,  and waved His arms around;  that could’ve been some good advertising & promoting of His ministry & purpose.

We think that IF those crowds would’ve seen this miracle,  THEN all of them would’ve believed in Him.   But -so often- that’s not how God does things;  so that’s not what Jesus does.  Jesus is concerned for just that one lone man  whose life is bound-up in silence;  he’s one of many people  who might’ve given all he had  just to know that God had not forgotten him.

So, Jesus takes him aside & away from the crowds.   That’s a message & a sign  that this man could understand.  With the crowd gone,  so is the rowdy confusion;  and this man could now focus on the Savior’s strong & gentle face.

That reminds me of American Sign Language.  Sign language is a group of hand gestures that speak words or phrases & ideas for deaf people.   For example,  a deaf person might sign the phrase  ‘Lord, hear my prayer’  like this:  (   )      But sometimes,  a deaf person might sign the word ‘hear’ or ‘listen’  like this  (  )  that’s  ‘listen up’  or  ‘pay attention.’    So after He has taken this man aside,  Jesus speaks a language he can understand.   Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears,  one hand on either side of his head,  like Jesus was saying:  ‘your ears need to pay attention to me.’

Then Jesus shows him the action of spitting ( ),  and touches the man’s tongue.  This is followed by a look to heaven,  a sign to show where this man’s help is from;  and then  a sigh = (  )  a sign of yearning, surrender,  or a calm preparation for the next step.   And finally,  this little sermon-with-signs  ends with a single word:  eph-pha-tha = ‘be opened.’   As we review these signs of Jesus,  we can picture this man understanding the message  as he sees & feels Jesus speak to him.    With Jesus’ help,  this man could’ve thought:  ‘I understand that my life’s troubles are not because God doesn’t love me;  but because I’m a sinner in a broken world.

I understand that my Creator is perfect, holy & good;  He never designed this life with such pain or sorrow.   I understand that my Heavenly Father is paying attention to me  and I will accept His will for my life.

Ok Jesus, I’m in your hands.’  If that’s what he was thinking,  those are faith-filled thoughts.

Sometimes God’s care & healing takes a while;  sometimes God uses other tools = such as surgeries & therapies,  medicines & time.   Here Jesus simply used His will  and a word:  Eph-pha-tha = be opened.    And immediately this man became an ex-deaf man  and ex-mute.    Mark says,  ‘The deaf man’s ears were opened,  his tongue was released,  and he spoke plainly.’ No hearing aids;  no retraining his mouth muscles to form words, or relearning vocabulary.

This is not usually the way the Lord heals our troubles,   but it IS a picture of the complete healing  promised to each one of God’s baptized children  the instant we wake up in heaven.   Our whole life will  forever  be healed & complete.
This time,  the reaction of the people of the Decapolis is much different.  They are not ‘seized with fear’  but overjoyed.   Mark tells us:  “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying,  ‘Jesus has done all things well.  He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.'”   

He has done all things well = sounds like an exaggeration,  but it’s true;  & it’s always true.   But sometimes  you & I have to speak that phrase by faith  and not by sight.  Sometimes we can say that  because the Lord immediately takes away our pain,  or our sorrow,  or our sickness,  or trouble.   And sometimes  we will say that truth without any evidence;  we say it on the promise that the Lord has made to us  that it will be true  one day = truer than any other truth we can think of.
That’s because God’s Word and Spirit has spoken into us that faith in Christ.  That’s how we know God cares about each one of us.  He has called us by our name to be His own.

At times  we wonder where our miracle is.   But  the greatest miracle there is  has already been given to you.  That is,  this same Son of God came into the world to save sinners,  including you and me.   Since the ‘wages of sin is death’,  and ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,’  it means that,  from conception,  we have needed the biggest of miracles;   we have needed God’s mercy,  God’s forgiveness,  and God’s salvation.

So God sent His Savior = for you.  It’s a miracle that God would love sinners;  it’s a miracle that the Lord Jesus & His cross still covers all our sins.  It’s a miracle that the Bible is God’s Word to convey to us His Spirit of faith & life.  It’s a miracle that your place in heaven is reserved.   No matter what illness or injury or sorrow you have  -which could be healed-  the greatest miracle is having the promise of God  thru Christ  for an eternal life in His heaven.

In the Bible we get to read & learn about the earthly life that the Son of God lived; it’s like ours.  The world troubled Him,  caused Him sorrows & pain;  He saw wickedness & greed,  and tyranny & death.   And in His life,  he shows us how to look ahead,  and look beyond.

Jesus gives us healing  or patience;  he gives us health  or the promise  that He will take us to   the place where sickness can never touch us again.

He has given us His sign  that His love & care for us is never-ending;  it’s the sign of   the cross.   That’s the sign that God truly does care for you.
At the beginning  we heard the story of the Prince of Wales,  Edward the VIII,  giving a kiss of compassion to a wounded, dying soldier.   I said it was a noble thing  for an important Prince to do.   But *how does that compare to what the Prince of Peace continues to do for you?   Edward spent a few minutes of his attention;   Jesus gave His entire attention & life  to restore your life to your Creator.   Jesus can make the deaf hear and the mute speak.  That’s a sign that proves to our faith  that Jesus is still doing all things well  for you & me.