Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Couldn't God have saved us another way?


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And He took him aside from the crowd, and placed his fingers into his ears, and spit and touched his tongue and looked upward into heaven, and sighed and said to him, Ephphatha, which means, Be opened! And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue loosed and he spoke plainly. Mark 7:33-35

Beloved in Christ, we can never praise the incarnation of our Lord highly enough. It’s theoretically possible that God who is omnipotent could have made some other arrangement to deal with human sin; that He could have saved us from a distance, or conducted a spiritual transaction in the heavens, away from our sight and without our knowledge -- but that’s not what He did! Instead, in a show of great love and solidarity with sinful man, He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to be our Savior. And so our Lord Jesus assumed human flesh, took on the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5ff)

All that the incarnate Lord did, He did for our benefit. In His earthly life He took up residence in Nazareth, a city of Galilee, which was far removed from the religious capitol of Jerusalem. From there He used His feet to take him to still more out of the way places like Tyre and Sidon where the glory of God’s Word had never been heard, where people lived alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12) There He expelled demons, healed the sick and preached the good news of the Kingdom so that people who otherwise had no expectation of blessing would see and learn first hand, the love that God has for all men, a love we can still rely upon today and always. From there His feet carried Him to the region known as Decapolis where a deaf and mute man was presented to Him for healing. His friends brought the man to Jesus requesting only that the Lord should touch him with His Holy Hand, and it would be enough.  We read in St. Mark’s gospel that Jesus graciously received the man, without an appointment, without charge, and without any stipulations or demands. How different that is from the signs posted on telephone poles around town that warn: Jesus is coming, clean up your life. We can no more clean up our lives, than rotting flesh can stop stinking, but Jesus has cleansed us to our very core by His Word. (John 15:3)

We learn that He employed His fingers to open the man’s ears, and even saliva from His sacred tongue to open the mans lips, so that his mouth might show forth God’s praise. And He utilized His eyes in performing this miracle as well. He turned them heavenward because the Beloved Son had come from there to do the will of His Father, which was to release sinners from the curse that sin incurs. He used His mouth to speak the words of healing, “Be opened!” Because Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, the utterances of His lips are all-powerful. When He says to deaf ears, “Be opened!” they open. And when our Lord says with His dying breath, “it is finished” we should be fully persuaded that the struggles of our soul are over and the Day of our deliverance is here. Neither should we miss the significance of what the Evangelist reports in verse 34 that the Lord “sighed.” We Confess in the Athanasian Creed that our Lord not only had a human body but also a “reasonable soul.” This means that He could think, reason, and understand things even as we do. That He could comprehend human suffering and identify with it. The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) As our Lord wept over the death of His friend Lazarus, and shed tears of sorrow over the lost city of Jerusalem, so here He sighs over the immense conglomeration of misery that sin has visited on the world and all its inhabitants.

Was there more to His sigh as well? Was our Lord also churning over in His mind His own future suffering and death? Was He thinking that for every sin He forgave and every disease He healed, He who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows would be stricken, smitten of God and afflicted on the Cross, where He would pour out His sacred blood so that sinful men might obtain fresh joy in the Lord? (Isaiah 29:19 and 53:4).

But the faith we Confess isn’t merely a recalling of the historical events of our salvation, as prized and amazing as they are. As we can never acclaim our Lord’s incarnation highly enough, nor can we sufficiently exalt the Blessed Sacrament. As Jesus once came in the flesh to save us from our sins He still comes to us today and gives us His true body and blood in Holy Communion. He doesn’t come in human form to be sure, but neither is His Sacramental Presence among us only imaginary or symbolic. In holy communion we receive the body and blood of Christ as He deigns to give Himself to us today, for the forgiveness of our sins, life and salvation.

As His mode of presence is different, so are the benefits. The holy communion we receive at the altar today doesn’t open deaf ears, balance brain chemicals or kill cancer cells within us. But it does put our sin, which is the cause of all our ills, into permanent remission. As Christians we should never ask: what did I do to deserve this, or, why is this happening to me? We won’t like the answer. We deserve all the bad things that happen to us, and more besides, if the Lord God decided to mark our iniquities, or treat us as our sins warrant, but He doesn’t! Instead, in the Eucharist He comforts us with the assurance that sin and death have been conquered and will one day be nothing but a distant memory. Or as the hymnist Sigismund von Birken wrote four centuries ago, “and the fears that now annoy, shall be laughter on the morrow. Christ I suffer here with Thee, there O share Thy joys with me.” (TLH 409)

God grant that our ears be opened to His Word and that we praise and value it as the highest good. And God grant that our tongues be loosed to rightly confess the holy Christian faith that Jesus does all things well. For indeed He does. He heals our diseases, forgives our sins and gives us reason to sing. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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