“He Has Done All Things Well”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Why do bad things happen to good people? That is the title of a popular book from several years ago. And it is a question that weighs on a lot of people’s minds. Why do bad things happen to good people?
But the question makes a false assumption, namely, that there is such a thing as good people in the sight of God. The Scriptures declare in Romans 3, “There is none righteous . . . there is none who does good, no, not one.” So maybe the better question to ask would be, “Why do good things happen to sinners?” Why are the bad things held in check as much as they are? It is only because of the goodness and love of God who protects and sustains those who don’t deserve it.
Bad things happen because this world is no longer in its originally created condition. What was in the beginning declared by God to be “very good” has now been corrupted by the rebellion of the devil and of mankind. Our bodies and this entire world are under the curse of death. The image of God is now lost. And Satan continues to attack us in an effort to destroy us entirely in both body and soul.
Spiritually he attacks the world with false and deceptive teaching which leads people away from the saving truth of Christ to false beliefs which do not give life. The devil seeks to bring chaos and pain and disharmony to marriages and families, to the workplace, to government, to whatever good God has established. Satan attacks us physically, too. Jesus says that the devil has been a murderer from the beginning. He brings disease and bodily ailments and sickness to tear down God’s good creation.
Now to the world, these things seem to be merely normal natural events with purely scientific explanations. For the world knows nothing either of the devil or the hurt he performs in an attempt to rob people of their joy and leave them in despair. We heard in the Old Testament reading that things like deafness and blindness are the work of the “terrible one” and the “scornful one.” Martin Luther comments on the situation of the man who is deaf and mute in today’s Gospel reading by saying: “The fact that this poor man is so handicapped that he is unable to use his tongue and his ears like other people must be traced to the troublesome devil’s stinging blows.”
Bad things happen, then, because of the curse of sin and the power of Satan. And we should be thankful to God that we are not more severely tormented by them; we should be thankful that God restrains and holds these things back as much as He does. However, the truly good news for us today is that God sent His Son Jesus to break the power of the curse and to overcome the devil. Christ is He who sets us free from the shackles of our enemy and restores us to wholeness and life.
That is what we are given to see in today’s Gospel. The people bring to Jesus a man whose ears and tongue are imprisoned, who is deaf and who therefore cannot speak rightly. This deaf-mute, who had certainly suffered much grief at the hands of the devil, was taken aside by Jesus. For Jesus is not going to do this in order to impress the crowds or use the misfortune of this man to draw attention to Himself. This is no PR stunt, no televangelist healing, as if Jesus needs good publicity to accomplish His mission. Jesus’ attention is fully given to this man in need.
Jesus uses a bit of sign language. He puts His fingers right into the deaf man’s ears. And then He spits and touches his tongue. Jesus isn’t hands-off but hands-on. He isn’t above lowering Himself to the point of making contact with this man’s ailment. He literally touches the deaf mute’s problem as if to draw it out of him and absorb it into Himself. When Jesus touched this man, God Himself was touching him.
Spitting and grabbing tongues and sticking fingers in ears doesn’t sound very spiritual. But that’s the earthy, messy, ordinary way in which Jesus deals with us fallen human beings in order to save and restore us.
Jesus looks up to heaven, and by doing so He sends the message, “That is where your help comes from.” “The Father who sent Me is at work in Me to heal you.” Then Jesus sighs. He groans. He knows how deep is the brokenness, and what price He will have to pay to fix it. He knows the cost of this healing: a cross and His death. Jesus knows our human suffering and sorrow and weakness. When He groans on our behalf, they are the same groanings with which the Holy Spirit prays for us in our weakness.
Jesus sighs and says to the deaf mute, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened,” Be released.” Immediately his ears were opened and the impediment of his tongue is loosed, and he spoke plainly. Jesus was not simply speaking to the man’s ears and tongue but to his whole person: “Be released!” Jesus is releasing and freeing this man from his bondage to Satan. He is liberating him from that prison. Jesus’ miracle is more than just evidence of his power over bodily ailments; it is evidence of His victory over the devil. Jesus’ words shatter the chains by which the evil one holds his victim bound.
You and I are in the same position as the deaf mute in today’s Gospel – not simply because some of us have or will be needing hearing aids. Sin and Satan attack our bodies in various ways: we have failing vision, degenerating bones, and painful diseases. And even when we think we are in perfect health, our bodies and minds are only a shadow of what they once were in paradise. But especially spiritually speaking, the Bible says that we are all deaf and mute. By nature we cannot hear or grasp or understand God’s Word. It is written, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them” (I Cor. 2:14). And if we cannot rightly hear or understand God, then neither are we going to be able to talk about Him or speak to Him rightly, either, for speaking flows from hearing. From birth we are spiritually deaf and mute.
All thanks and praise be to God, then, that He has sent His Son Jesus to open our ears and loose our tongues, that we may believe in Him with our hearts and confess the faith with our mouths and be saved. Did you know that Jesus still sticks His fingers into your ears? For in the Scriptures the term “finger of God” is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when Christ preaches and teaches His words to you, when He speaks His words of absolution, the finger of God is being put into your ears, the Holy Spirit is coming to you to open your ears and your hearts and your minds, that you may believe in Christ and receive His life and salvation. St. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom. 10:17)
And Jesus still spits and grabs your tongue, too, in the Sacraments. After all, what is baptism but water and words from the mouth of God? This divine water and words are applied to you at the font to rescue you from your bondage to the evil one and to set you free as a child of God. When you were baptized, Jesus said His “Ephphatha” to you: “Be opened, be released.” You were marked with the sign of the holy cross by which Jesus destroyed the devil’s work and broke the chains of hell for you. Released and liberated, the body and blood of Christ are now placed on your tongue for the forgiveness of your sins and that you may endure in the faith to the end. How fitting, then, that both our Matins and Vespers services begin with these words from the Psalms, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.”
We praise God because we know and believe that whatever ailments the devil might yet inflict us with, he can do us no real or lasting harm. And that is because our bodies, together with our souls, have been redeemed through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus is Lord over death and the devil, and therefore all those who are baptized into Him will be fully restored in the resurrection on the Last Day, just as He was on Easter. Even when it seems like age or heart disease or cancer are getting the best of us, even as we take our last breath, we say confidently with St. Paul in Philippians 3, “Christ Jesus will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body by the power the enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.”
“He has done all things well.” That is what we say in faith, even in the midst of the ups and downs of our life. Even the troubles God allows into our lives we can call good, for it is written, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens” (Heb. 12:6). The Lord uses even Satan’s destructive schemes to accomplish His own righteous purposes. You may recall that the Apostle Paul had what he called a thorn in his flesh, a bodily ailment of some sort which he identified as “a messenger of Satan” to buffet him. Three times Paul pleaded with God for this to be taken away from him. But the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
It is precisely when we realize how weak we are of ourselves that we will rely all the more completely on the Lord’s grace and strength in Christ. In this way the devil’s onslaughts are turned upside down so that they cause us to cling more tenaciously to the Lord’s promised salvation. No matter what the devil does, God works it for good to those who believe in Jesus. And so Paul actually boasts about his troubles. He says in II Corinthians 12, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Truly, Christ has done all things well. Even in this place He has made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. By God-given faith, trust in Him to do all things well for you.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.