Some of you may remember the radio and television ad
campaign from several years ago for a company called Nationwide Insurance. With
all the shakeups, mergers, and failures in that industry in recent years, I’m
not sure they’re even in business today, or at least operating under the same
name. Like any human creation, companies come and companies go. Cars and
houses, clothing and computers, nations and church bodies, sales and ad
campaigns—all these things of mankind’s doing will sooner or later pass away.
Even heaven and earth will pass away, Scripture tells us. Only the Word of the
Lord—that is, what He has promised to us and to all people—will last forever.
The ad campaign for Nationwide Insurance was memorable
not just because it had a catchy little tune to its jingle, but also because of
the words that went along with it: “Nationwide is on your side.” It appealed
to the very real, very human need in all of us to have an ally, an advocate,
someone to care for and support us in a world where danger and disaster lurk
around every bend in the road. We want some want to step in and help when we
cannot help ourselves, and to speak up for us when we are at a loss for words.
Today’s Gospel lesson describes two miracles. Jesus
performs these miracles for people who cannot speak for themselves. The first
is a demon-possessed daughter, and the second is a deaf man. In each case someone
has to intercede for them. The first account focuses on the conversation which
takes place between Jesus and the mother of the demon-possessed daughter. The
second account focuses on the means through which Jesus gives hearing and
speech to the deaf man.
These two accounts have something else in common—something
subtle but very, very important. The Holy Spirit inspired Mark to include in
these accounts an itinerary of Jesus’ travels. This helps us understand that
Jesus meets these two people in Gentile territory. Mark tells us that the
woman who pleads for her demon-possessed daughter was a Gentile, a
Syro-Phoenician by birth. In the second portion of the lesson, Jesus is in the
in the region of the Decapolis when He restores the man’s hearing, so it is
very likely that he too is a Gentile. These two accounts—along with His clear
command later to go to all nations and make disciples—show us that Jesus did
not come just to serve and save the Jews, but also to serve and save Gentiles,
including you and me.
There is much to learn from the account of the woman
who pleads on behalf of her daughter. Jesus wants her to learn more about the
great gift of faith that she had received from the Holy Spirit, so He tests her
faith. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right
to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” With these words,
Jesus not only tests her faith, but He also gives insight into the cruel
attitude that many Jews had toward the Gentiles. It is very likely that some
of the people following Jesus agreed with His words and hoped that the woman
would now be discouraged and leave.
Those people did not know about the kind of faith that
the Holy Spirit was supporting in this woman. She was not going to give up. She
answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s
crumbs.” The Holy Spirit had created a deep faith in this woman, and He
continued to preserve it. If the Lord said she was a dog–well, then she would
willingly take a dog’s share of the Lord’s blessing. She would gladly and
humbly take whatever crumbs the Lord sent her way.
When Jesus drove out the demon that possessed this
woman’s daughter, He was not just driving out a demon. He was opening
salvation to people of every tribe and nation. He identified many of the
barriers that we have in our lives. Then He broke them down. He was saying
that He was for all people in all times and in all places. For if, by grace
through faith, He would drive sin and evil out on behalf of this one Gentile,
the constancy of His love and holiness would do so for all people by grace,
From our point of view, a deaf man might not be as
dramatic as a demon-possessed daughter. Nevertheless, the man’s inability to
hear was still the result of sin in the world. The devil knows that the Holy
Spirit plants faith by the Word of God. That same Holy Spirit inspired Paul to
write: [Romans 10:17] “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing
through the word of Christ.” Since the deaf cannot hear the proclamation
of the Word of Christ with their ears, they must hear it with their eyes.
Someone must make the proclamation of Christ’s Word visible for them. Deafness
is one of many barriers that our sin places between us and God.
The true tragedy for people who do not hear is not in
those who are physically deaf, but in those who are spiritually deaf. Many
people have physical hearing that is just fine, but they choose not to hear
God’s message anyway. The excuses for this vary. Some people think they
already know everything God has to say to them. Others just don’t care what
God has to say. Still others are afraid that they might discover that what
they think God’s Word says is not what it actually says; they are
afraid that they might discover that they don’t agree with God’s Word. There
are many, many other excuses, but there are no good reasons to
ignore God’s Word.
Ultimately, spiritual deafness comes from the unholy
trinity of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. These forces of
evil want to separate us from God’s Word so that they can separate us from God—for
it is through that Word and only through the operation of that Word in our
lives that we become connected and remain connected to God.
The evil within and around us hopes to destroy our
faith, and the faith of our children. Their weapon in this war is to keep us
away from God’s Word and Sacraments.
But you heard in last week’s Epistle lesson and in
Pastor Nuckols’ sermon of the tremendously powerful weapons with which God has
equipped you for this battle. Most of them are protective weapons—helmet,
shield, breastplate, and so on. They will—for a while, but only for a
while—help keep you from injury and from being lost and becoming eternally
captive to sin, death, and hell. Yet only one of those weapons of God allows
His people to fight back: The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. We
can’t lift and wield that sword alone, however. It must be given to us, and it
must be proclaimed to us.
Thankfully, God has promised that He will always
provide faithful people to proclaim His Word. These people are like the
friends of the deaf man who brought him to Jesus or the mother who pleaded for
her daughter. These people might be faithful parents who bring their children
to baptism and then daily share the teachings of Christ as their children grow
up. They might be friends and associates who confess their faith as they live
out their vocations in this world. The Holy Spirit works through parents,
teachers, friends, neighbors, co-workers, sometimes even through a faithful husband
or wife to an unbelieving or wavering spouse, to proclaim God’s Word and so
bring people to Christ—once and again, and again, and again. For we all
stumble and fall.
There was a time in each of our lives when God worked
through others to bring each of us to Christ. As these people confessed their
faith to us, Jesus’ words worked in us as they did with the demon-possessed
daughter and the deaf man. In the case of the demon-possessed girl, a simple
word from Jesus drove the demons from her. In the case of the deaf man, Jesus
combined His word with His fingers in the ears and on the tongue to give
hearing and speech to the man.
For us, God places His Word in our ears. He touches
us in Holy Baptism and continues to keep us in our baptisms as we repeatedly confess
our sins and unceasingly receive His forgiveness. He actually comes to us and
gives us His own body and blood in the bread and wine of His Supper. God uses
these means to which He has bound Himself and His promises to give us
forgiveness, life, and salvation. These and these alone are the means through
which the Holy Spirit bestows Christ’s gifts.
The Holy Spirit uses these means because these means
all connect us to the cross of Jesus Christ. The crucifixion of Jesus happened
almost two thousand years ago and more than six thousand miles away from us. No
matter how much we might wish or try or pray, we cannot surmount the barrier of
time, distance, or culture that separate us from that cross and what the death
of sinless Jesus accomplished upon it. Nor can we break down the barrier of
our own sinful nature. Just as Jesus broke down the barriers of culture,
separation, and communication in today’s Gospel, so God breaks down all the
other barriers that stand between us and God. The Holy Spirit uses these
external means of Word and Sacrament to transcend these barriers, so that the
benefits of the cross—and the empty tomb which followed it—can be yours and
The Holy Spirit eliminates barriers with the Word and
tells us of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross. As the Holy
Spirit works through the Word we learn that our sin separates us from God, but
that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross takes away our sins. We learn that His
resurrection from the dead opens for us the way to everlasting life. Through
the Word, Christ reveals Himself to us. In that revelation, He also reveals
the Father and the Holy Spirit and shows us God’s salvation. The Holy Spirit
uses this knowledge to make that salvation personal through His gift of faith.
When the Holy Spirit joins the Word to water and
drowns us there, He joins us to Christ’s death, too, so that the price He paid
for sin is credited to us. Joined to Christ’s death, we are joined also to His
resurrection. We become brothers and sisters of Christ and children of God. We
have the privilege to come before God, confess our sins, and receive the
enduring comfort of the forgiveness of our sins. We become heirs to eternal
life and princes in the kingdom of heaven.
When the Holy Spirit joins the Word to bread and wine,
Jesus Himself comes to us in the body He gave for us and in the blood He shed
for us. As we take Him into our mouths, He feeds our souls. He strengthens our
faith in Him. He has promised us that this sacrament is ours for the
forgiveness of sins, and with the forgiveness of sins comes life and salvation.
Through these means, the Holy Spirit brings
forgiveness, life, and salvation directly from the cross to us. Without these
means, we would have no faith, no forgiveness, no salvation, and our eternity
would be more terrifying than anything you could possibly imagine. How
thankful we can be that the Holy Spirit works through God’s people—through you
and me—to bring the word to others, and to administer these means. As Isaiah was
inspired to write: [Isaiah 52:7] How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good
news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God
God’s process for sustaining Christ’s church in this
world is amazing. Just as the mother pleaded for her daughter – just as
friends brought the deaf man to Jesus, so also God works through His people to
bring His Word into our lives. He brings this word to our ears. He uses the
wet Word of Baptism to join us to Christ. Then the Word made flesh comes to us
at the Lord’s Table. The Holy Spirit works constantly through this Word to
work faith in us and bring us into the Church.
As the Holy Spirit sustains us in the one, true faith,
He sends us into the world to confess the faith he has given to us and so in
this way to spread His Word throughout the World. We also live out our faith
in love and in good works, as St. James’ epistle teaches us today—not because
these works save us, but because they demonstrate what God’s love does in the
lives of His people.
As we confess and live out our faith in word and deed
to family, friends, associates, and all the other people in our lives, He has
promised to use our confession to bring others before Christ for healing – the
healing that produces faith and delivers forgiveness.
In this way—in this amazingly crazy, incomprehensible,
but true and faithful way—Jesus has promised that His message will travel
through the entire world, and that His church will grow. In this way, He will
bring many from all over the world into heaven to live with Him forever. Amen.
And now may the peace of Christ, which surpasses all
human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.