Our senses, our vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, allow us to acquire and experience the world around us.  Our senses allow our minds to develop and understand such things as small as sensations of freshly cut grass or as large as the felling of a tree. 

Sensing our physical world shapes and informs our minds and creates within us a desire to know what cannot be experienced through our senses. We want to know is all life created and lived by chance or is there a higher power, a greater being, a creator. We want to move from what we know in the hope of understanding what we do not know.

We have spoken of such things the last two weeks as we explored how our physical sense of sight and our sense of taste have helped us move from what we know to discover more fully that life is not by chance but flows from a creator, God.  We cannot see God.  We cannot taste God.  We cannot touch God.  We cannot smell God.  But we can hear God.

Our capacity to hear, the ears given to each of us, allows people to hear God.  The ancients believed that of all our sense, the capacity to hear was the superior sense in developing intelligence.  Aristotle wrote, “For rational discourse is a cause of instruction in virtue of its being audible, which it is, not directly, but indirectly; since it is composed of words, and each word is a thought-symbol.” 

Words spoken are thoughts-symbols.  Thoughts lead to understanding.  The ancient thoughts on hearing and understanding make the words of John’s Gospel even more powerful, “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…17bgrace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:1-2, 14, 17b).  The Word of God, the voice of God, became flesh and lived among the people. In hearing that thoughts of Jesus Christ, our understanding of God leaped greatly.

John would later write, “1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:1-4).  In both passages, John spoke about God sending Jesus so that God could be heard most clearly. 

Over the years, many people have commented to me that there seems to be two God’s of the Bible. There is the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament.  There is one God who seems vengeful and one God who seems loving. There is only one God.  But God looks different, sounds different, when He vibrates through a living person.  God was heard through Jesus most clearly and called for us to come to faith in Him less for what faith in God might make us think of God but more so that faith in God might make of us. 

John understood that God spoke through Jesus as Himself, and that Jesus disciples heard the words of life coming from Jesus.  That is the reason John and others wrote the Gospels.  The disciples heard and knew that they must share the words of Jesus so that others could come to life and could live.  Therefore, our capacity to hear the Word of God or the words of God is a gift that moves us and shapes us in tangible ways now and forever.

To hear is a powerful instrument.  When I was undergoing training to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children, we were encouraged to hear the children with three sets of ears.  One set of ears we were to use to hear the words the children said.  A second set of ears were to be used to hear the words the children would not or could not say.  And a third set of ears was to be used to hear the feelings being expressed by the spoken and unspoken words of the children.  The mindset offered by that training in listening to the voices of children is something we would do well to follow when listening to the voice of God. We should be fully engaged when listening to God.

What then is the message God wants us to hear?  The Apostle Paul put it this way, “13b Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’  16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:13b-17).   Paul was emphatic.  Salvation comes from hearing the good news of Jesus Christ and responding to Jesus’ words of life.  That hearing comes about through preaching, let’s call it speaking, that comes from moms, dads, brothers, sisters, teachers, friends, strangers, and yes, even pastors.  Each one of us is called to share the good news message of Jesus who came and shared by living the words and voice of God.

So, let’s consider for a moment the first part of our conversation today, hearing. There is one specific example of a person healed of deafness found in the gospels.  I found it interesting that there was only one example.  We might think to ourselves, “If hearing was so important why aren’t there dozens of examples in the Gospels?”  That is a good question.  But perhaps just one example is better to emphasize its importance because that example stands out and things that stand out usually draws our attention.  We are more oft apt to see the uniqueness of a particular tree when it stands alone instead of standing among a forest of trees.  Today, we have that one tree of Jesus healing a man who was deaf.  That story is found in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 7.

“31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis” (Mark 11:31).  Jesus and his disciples moved from the city of Tyre, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea to the Decapolis.  The word Decapolis, means “Ten Cities.”  Jesus was in the region primarily east of the River Jordan comprised of ten cities founded by the Greeks, under Alexander the Great and his successors.  These cities were under Roman rule and outside the kingdom of Israel.  Jesus was in a non-Jewish territory.

Mark continued, “32 There (in the region of the Decapolis) some people brought to him (Jesus) a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him (the deaf man)” (Mark 7:32). There are a couple of things to note here.  First, there was a man who could not hear, he was deaf.  He could communicate slightly with a few sounds to express his most urgent needs.  Second, Jesus’ reputation as a healer had spread throughout the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.  Third, some people brought a deaf man to Jesus.  Hearing matters.  The “some people” heard about Jesus.  The man who could hear no words had no way of knowing about Jesus.  The “some people” who had heard about Jesus understood it was their responsibility to bring this man, a family member, friend, or stranger who was deaf to Jesus, that this man might hear.  The “some people” who brought this man to Jesus begged Jesus to place his hands on the deaf man.  The people had faith in Jesus.  The people believed that Jesus had the ability and the compassion to change this deaf man’s life forever.  These people believed Jesus could save this man.

Mark continued, “33 After he [Jesus] took him [the deaf man] aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He [Jesus] looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” [eff-a’-tha] (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he [formerly deaf and mute man] began to speak plainly” (Mark 7:33-35). 

What do we make of this scene?  First, we see that Jesus removed the man from the crowd.  The first sensation of sound and the first words to be spoken clearly by this deaf man were to be between the man and God.  The first feelings of a transformed life were to be between the man and God.  The man’s first response of faith by this man would be expressed to God.  What a wonderful blessing Jesus had set up for this man in simply removing him from the crowd. 

Second, we see that Jesus allowed the man to participate in his own healing.  Jesus always asked people who were blind or crippled to express their willingness to be healed.  But here this man is deaf and unable to speak.  Jesus knew that and the man knew that.  So, Jesus placed his fingers into the man’s ears as a way of showing the man that Jesus’ understood the source of the man’s difficulty.  There is no indication the man recoiled from Jesus. Instead, the man did the only thing he could do to communicate his acceptance of Jesus, he stood still and allowed Jesus to place his hands in the man’s ears.

Third, Jesus spit.  Why? We cannot be sure except that it seems likely it was the only way the man could understand that Jesus was going to also deal with the man’s ability to speak.  Mark tells us that after spitting, the man then allowed Jesus to put his fingers on the man’s tongue.

Fourth, Jesus looked to heaven.  Jesus did not need to do that for this healing to occur, but the deaf man needed to see that Jesus was doing the work of God.   As Jesus cast his gaze to heaven, Jesus sighed, not in frustration or anger, but perhaps to have Jesus’ breath fall upon the man and feel the breath of God, the touch of the Holy Spirit, float across the deaf man’s skin.

Fifth, Jesus said, “‘34b Ephphatha!’ (which means ‘Be opened!’)” (Mark 7:34b).  I believe it is most likely that as Jesus sighed the man’s hearing was restored and the first word the man then heard was “Ephphatha!” For immediately the man’s ears were open to hear Jesus and the man miraculously was given not only the ability to speak words plainly but also a vocabulary of words.  We do not know what the man said but it would be hard to imagine that he did not praise God and express gratitude to Jesus and then to his friends.

Mark said the people were overwhelmed with amazement at what they had witnessed.  Even though in faith they brough this man to Jesus to be healed, the healing of his deafness, the ability to speak, and to speak not just sounds but words plainly was more than they could have imagined.  Despite Jesus’ request that they not share this news, the people were unable to contain themselves.  They had to tell others what had happened.

What then does our sense of hearing help us understand God and live our lives?  There are two things we should consider. 

First, we understand the physical experience of the senses of deafness and hearing.  In Mark’s account, people knew the man could not hear them and they asked Jesus to help. Jesus met the needs of the people and this man and transformed the man from deaf to hearing.  People could know that.  The physical scene gives us the experience to comprehend the spiritual scene that was also playing out.  Jesus came to end the spiritual deafness of the people and gave them the ability to hear God directly.  Jesus put it this way:  47 “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. 49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:47-50).  Jesus’ words are God’s words.  Jesus came to speak to us in a way that we could hear God.

Secondly, with our spiritual deafness over and the Spirit of God within us, two things should happen.  One is that we should be unable to keep quiet about what we have discovered about God through Jesus.  The news is too good for us to be quiet.  By that, I don’t me we should see every Christian on the street corner yelling and shouting about salvation in Jesus.  But we should hear ourselves moving God into conversations at the dinner table, while walks in the park, and rides in the car.  Wherever we are we should have the opportunity to let others know in appropriate ways that we are no longer deaf to God’s voice.  The second thing that will happen with the end of spiritual deafness is that we will be given vocabulary.  Even in the most trying circumstances, Jesus promised us, “Don’t worry how you’ll respond, and don’t worry what you should say. 12 The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say at the moment when you need them” (Luke 12:11b-12).

Today, let us be grateful that we can hear God through Jesus Christ and that through those words we learn that we are not condemned but we are saved. What a joyful sound those words alone make!  Let us be thankful that Holy Spirit has given us a full vocabulary to use that we can speak plainly about God.  We are equipped to speak so that others who may need encouragement will be encouraged and those who have not heard the words of God will hear them first through us. What an amazing privilege to pass along the words of life to another person.  May God bless us in our hearing and in our speaking.  Amen and Amen.