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Filling Empty Hearts with Hope

Filling Empty Hearts with Hope

The evangelist, St. Mark, brings a message to the jaded and cynical Roman world. He opens a window, as it were, to the true Hope of the World. He shows them the uniquely divine worker of miracles, who (as Isaiah promised) would come and bring hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind. Is there anything in the Roman age or in our own that can do the same? In an age of empty, despairing hearts such as our own, the true Savior fills such empty hearts with hope.

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, August 30, 2020, Pastor Edward Bryant. Faith & Our Savior Lutheran Churches, Medford & Grants Pass, Oregon.

Mark 7:31–37 (CSB)

31 Again, leaving the region of Tyre, he went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had difficulty speaking and begged Jesus to lay his hand on him. 33 So he took him away from the crowd in private. After putting his fingers in the man’s ears and spitting, he touched his tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed deeply and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”). 35 Immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak clearly. 36 He ordered them to tell no one, but the more he ordered them, the more they proclaimed it.

37 They were extremely astonished and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Dear fellow redeemed: The events detailed here are fairly simple. People brought a deaf man to Jesus and begged Jesus to heal him, and He did. He doesn’t set an example for us, because what he does is uniquely divine. The significance of this text is found in what Jesus does in the circumstances.

And what were those circumstances? Briefly, Jesus touches people whose lives are empty of meaning, and so …

JESUS FILLS EMPTY HEARTS WITH HOPE

  1. Born and Living with Empty Hearts
  2. Uniquely Divine Fulfillment
  3.  Jesus Still Fills Empty Hearts with Hope
  1. Born and Living with Empty Hearts

The gospel of Mark was written especially with a Roman audience in mind, an audience similar to our own day. He emphasizes the divine power of Christ, something significant to the Romans. But the Romans were also cynical and jaded. They had filled their pantheon in Rome with multitudes of conquered divinities. They were skeptical of any supposed divine power, and of any religion, except maybe the religion of power. Not surprisingly, they worshiped the emperor as divine, after all, who else Had life and death so much in his hands?

As their civilization waned, life seemed to have less meaning. Virtues and aspirations became like dust and ashes. Wisdom, noble deeds, service,  civitas, the glory of Rome’s law, citizenship, and the worship of the gods (if there were any) didn’t seem worth sacrificing for. Pornography (it’s not a new thing), drunkenness, spectacle, gluttony, and glorification of self was the order of the day. What meaning did life have?

Where in such a world could hope be found?

In light of recent events, we might ask, “What kind of a world is it where hope can be found in burning cars and businesses, demanding people give the communist salute, and seeking to kill policemen? Or is there any hope or meaning there?

What kind of a world is it in which no truth is acknowledged, only a narrative fueled by envy, resentment, entitlement, hate, revenge, and a lust for power?

Human beings are born with empty hearts, which is to say, hearts without faith and without the knowledge of God, and ultimately without lasting hope – only a false hope. We have a sense of higher things, but we cannot find them, except fleetingly. We know there is truth, beauty, love, faithfulness, goodness, fidelity, companionship, comfort, peace, compassion, and joy. There is a natural law, written on the heart, that tells us this; there is righteousness, but we cannot achieve it.

This is the world invaded by God in the person of Jesus Christ, a world broken, sinful, and hoping vainly in itself. You can see the futility of it in the empty demands for a world that cannot be, and in justifying nihilism, destruction, rebellion, and fear. I like the way C.S. Lewis put it, “Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” –Mere Christianity

2. Uniquely Divine Fulfillment

This is the world “invaded” by the Divine Son. Hidden in His humanity, He brought divine light and truth into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:10–14, CSB)

Now here in our text Mark shows Jesus doing what only God can do. He turns back the effects of death and sin. This is not some kind of “magic,” it is returning things to the way God intended. It is true healing and restoration. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had difficulty speaking and begged Jesus to lay his hand on him. 33 So he took him away from the crowd in private. After putting his fingers in the man’s ears and spitting, he touched his tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed deeply and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”). 35 Immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak clearly.

This is a miracle. We speak of miracles a lot, like the miracle of birth, or the miracle of things working out in a wonderful way. Properly speaking, those are not miracles, they are God’s providence, the blessings of life that work out well for us and reflect His goodness. “although he did not leave himself without a witness, since he did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.”” (Acts 14:17, CSB)

Miracles are different. There is no natural way to do what miracles do: Feeding thousands with a handful of food, healing blindness, deafness, withered limbs, or palsy. Raising the dead. They are not “magic,” they are not illusion. They are both supernatural and real. They turn back the curse of sin and death itself

What Jesus does here is unique, he fulfills the hope of the (otherwise) hopeless man and his friends.

3.  Jesus Still Fills Empty Hearts with Hope

By including this account, Mark is telling the cynical and jaded Roman world that their false hope in emperor, in empire, in philosophy, in administrative power, in pagan deities, in nature, –in humanity– is vain and empty, but there is hope in the ONE who has entered this world from the heavenly realms to wage victorious war against sin and death.

He conquers sin. We humans have always regretted sin, but we could only make weak promises to do better. He greets our repentance with full forgiveness because He atoned for sin, and perfect righteousness because of His perfection.

He conquers death. We humans have always, finally, surrendered to death, but Christ has risen, and in the resurrection extends life to all believers.

He raises up the human condition. Mark and the other evangelists record how Jesus gives a preview of our glory. Paul put it this way: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, CSB) What Christ did for this man and for others, He does for us.

He does it in the resurrection. As you have heard me say before, when He comes in His glory to remake this world, He will come in judgment. He therefore comes now in mercy through His word. It means that the world still stands. It means that this world is still dying. It means that the afflictions of this world will continue. But it means that those lost in unbelief may yet come to know and believe in him, and find salvation.

Again, what Christ did for this man and for others, He does for us. He does it now through His church. Contrary to the anti-Christian narrative rampant in the world today, the Christian church has been the source of much good. Hospitals, orphanages, care homes, respect for women and children, adoption, the rights of the individual, the scientific revolution, and so many things that have led to the life that we now enjoy are the result of Christ’s people carrying out their vocations in His fear and love.

And even now, He secures us in hope. He speaks to us through His word. He invites us to speak to him about what is in our hearts, and he promises to hear and bless according to His will and our good. (See the quote from U.V. Koren.)

He comes to us now and gives us what we most need, we who are dying: He gives us forgiveness, faith, and righteousness, so that we can live in the hope of the resurrection.

He come to us relentlessly in His word. You can always know where to find Him, and can always, hear His guidance, His wisdom, and especially His saving promises.

Not much has really changed since Mark’s day. Human nature is the same. The needs of a dying humanity are the same. But most importantly, the hope is the same, the hope of the conqueror of life over death, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  AMEN.