Lessons: Isaiah 29:17-24, 2 Corinthians 3:4-11, Mark 7:31-37
Hymns: LSB 908, 820, 620, 713, 704
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Evidence of living in a fallen world is all around us. We sin and we are sinned against. There is sickness and suffering. We are all, in a sense, dying, for with each new day as bright as it may be, we advance another day closer to the grave.
When Jesus was born, He did not bear in His body the effects of sin, for He was sinless. But His life and ministry were carried out in our fallen world. He saw sin and sickness all around Him, and He suffered from being sinned against. Of course, He was sent here to bear our sins in His Body and take away the sin of the world through His sufferings and death on the cross. That was His primary purpose for His incarnation.
In today’s Gospel, we hear of true human misery brought to Jesus. A man is deaf, and he cannot speak. The world of sound is closed to him. He cannot hear the voice of his family, the beautiful songs of birds, or the lovely sounds of music. He can see the lips of others move in joyous conversation, but he does not know what they are saying. When he thinks of something, he cannot speak his thoughts. He must act out his thoughts to hopefully convey his message. How miserable he must be. And to top that off, he cannot hear the Word of God, which is able to save his soul.
What are God’s intentions when He afflicts us with illness or suffering? Or does this all just happen by chance, as if God is powerless over such matters? Our afflictions and trials do not happen by chance. Remember Jesus teaches that not even sparrows fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father (Matt. 10:29).
God is truly in charge of all things—even as He sends affliction. Yes, God sends affliction. How can this be so, when He is good? In two weeks we will boldly sing, “What God ordains is always good: He never will deceive me; He leads me in His righteous way, And never will He leave me. I take content What He has sent; His hand that sends me sadness Will turn my tears to gladness” (LSB 760:2).
Psalm 6 begins with these words, “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.” Commenting on this verse, Martin Luther wrote, “In all trials and affliction man should first of all run to God; he should realize and accept the fact that everything is sent by God, whether it comes from the devil or from man. This is what the prophet does here. In this psalm he mentions his trials, but first he hurries to God and accepts these trials from Him; for this is the way to learn patience and the fear of God. But he who looks to man and does not accept these things from God becomes impatient and a despiser of God” (AE 14:140).
We have to recognize that God sends affliction. We heard these truths in the hymn I cited and the Luther quote. However, if this is all that I have to convince you, you would be right for not being convinced. For true Christian proof is always to be found in the Word of God. Therefore, listen to the Scriptures, which declare, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Heb. 12:5) And even more clearly is Psalm 119:75, “I know, O Lord, that Your [judgments] are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.”
Why would God afflict us? Well, sometimes reproof, correction, or discipline are sent by God due to certain sins. If we were to refuse to work and then we’re afflicted with hunger and have no shelter, we should see that we are bearing the consequences of our sins. Or if we should shun the pure Word of God and refuse to support our church through our offerings and attendance, we should not be surprised if God would withdraw His presence and allow the church to close.
But not all afflictions are the clear result of something specifically done wrong. The deaf-mute man is an excellent example. He was likely born that way. His affliction could not have been the result of something he had done; instead, it’s an indication of the fallen state of our world. On another occasion, the disciples asked Jesus who sinned, the man who was born blind or his parents. Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” and Jesus proceeded to heal the blind man (John 9).
The reason for our affliction is sin. But when we are randomly afflicted, we do not try to find the hidden will of God, ascertaining what we did to bring that on. Instead, we recognize our fallen nature, our weaknesses and sinfulness, and our need for our Savior.
Jesus describes our sinful condition earlier in Mark 7 when He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23).
Recognizing that this is our sinful condition, we confess our sin and receive Christ as our advocate. Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19). Jesus uses our afflictions to bring us down from any form of self-security, to lead us to repentance, and, above all, to draw us to Himself to be clothed in His righteousness and be granted His forgiveness.
We see this in today’s Gospel. “They brought to [Jesus] a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him” (Mark 7:32). Jesus took the deaf-mute aside from the crowd privately, showed him what He would do, and spoke Ephphatha, that is, “Be opened.”
Through this man’s affliction, he was brought to Jesus. What could be better? Had he not been afflicted, it is possible he would have never seen Jesus. Jesus was, as St. Mark reports, in the region of the Decapolis, that is a region southeast of the Sea of Galilee with about ten cities that were highly Hellenistic (Greek). He was in a place that was largely Gentile, making the Jews a minority. And now this deaf-mute man is brought to Jesus who miraculously heals him.
God certainly has power to avert affliction. He can prevent, stop, or reverse the afflictions we face. He reversed the affliction of the deaf-mute man. And God may choose to leave us in our affliction, but that does not mean He leaves us. God never left Job, yet for a time Job suffered immensely.
Just a few verses after our Epistle, the Holy Spirit guided St. Paul to write, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). The main point of our affliction, then, is to be drawn to Jesus—something we don’t always see.
If it weren’t for God’s providence, we would suffer far more than we already do. We may sing “But for us fights the Valiant One, Whom God Himself elected,” but do we consider how much He fights for us, what life would be like should He not be fighting for us, or how blessed we are that Jesus is constantly fighting for us?
In our day, when people are afflicted with sickness or injury, they are brought to physicians. That is good. We are blessed with caring doctors and nurses and advanced medicine. We should thank God daily for them and the sacrifices they make for our wellbeing.
But should not the afflicted also be brought to Jesus? What do they need more? The temporal relief provided by medicine, or the eternal relief provided by Jesus?
So how do we bring the afflicted to Jesus? After all, we cannot do as they did for the deaf-mute man. (This is how we may do it.) We tell them about Jesus and remind them that He is our Great Physician of both body and soul. We tell them that He loves them and will get them through their afflictions. We tell them that Jesus died on the cross for their sin. We tell them that Jesus rose from the grave and will make all things new. We pray for them, and we pray with them. We make sure the pastor knows so he can be praying and visiting, for he is Christ’s under-shepherd. He can bring the afflicted Holy Communion, giving them the very Body and true Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for their forgiveness. Sadly, many do a great disservice when they choose to forgo pastoral care, assuming their primary needs are simply healing and relief from their affliction.
When God afflicts us, He primarily has our spiritual treatment in view. Afflictions become lessons for our souls. For through affliction, we learn to trust in Christ alone. For He alone faced the enemies of sin, death, and Satan. He swallowed up death in victory through His Resurrection. He defeated Satan and holds him powerless over us. And He has washed our sins away as Jesus served as our ransom payment on the cross. He uses all things for our good (Rom. 8:28), ultimately taking us from this veil of tears to Himself in Heaven.
And so, in sickness and sadness, health and happiness, we say with the psalmist: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” (Ps. 103:1-4). Truly, He does all things well. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen