Astonished Beyond Measure
15th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 18) LSB #820
Text – Mark 7:37
And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear & the mute speak.”
ASTONISHED BEYOND MEASURE
As St. Mark wrote about this miraculous healing, he used the Greek word for ‘deaf’ that can also be translated as ‘dull’ or ‘blunt.’ A dull knife is one where the edge has been blunted. A blade ends up that way when it’s used & used & used but never sharpened. If you actually cut things with that favorite knife of yours eventually someone will have to sharpen it.
The same thing happens to our faith in Jesus as we live in this sinful, & thus broken, world. That’s why St. Paul wrote, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV) Bad company dulls our faith. Our faith gets blunted. Our ability to trust in Jesus ends up like a dull knife.
Your faith, my faith, they end up needing to be sharpened because sin does real damage to you & to me. It corrodes away at the godly heart given to us by the Holy Spirit. Then our ability to follow Jesus gets blunted as well. Our ability & even willingness to hear the Word of God becomes blunted. We end up being deaf to the Good News that Jesus brings.
Our soul needs something to counteract that deafness. Our faith in Christ needs to be sharpened & given back its edge. If you actually use that faith of yours eventually it will need to be sharpened. Last Sunday’s sermon was about withstanding evil & the fact that even right here in God’s house there is evil within our own heart & we need to stand against that.
But standing against evil is difficult work. It is abrasive work. It is never-ending work that wears us down & tires us out. A fair number of successful movies have worked that theme. At the beginning, the eventual hero is found tired, worn down & reluctant. He’s given up. Then someone, or some cause, comes along that re-sharpens his edge. He gets back in the fight & winds up being the hero who saves the day. In the eyes of the world, the odds are that none of us will end up being fantastic heroes who save the day, but that doesn’t mean our efforts to withstand evil are insignificant or useless.
That we may never slay the evil dragon doesn’t mean we have no purpose or calling in life. Yet living in this sinful world has a way of wearing us down slowly but surely such that we don’t even realize it’s happening.
Take for example the undercover videos of the Planned Parenthood directors & doctors. They’re shown casually discussing the alteration of abortion procedures so they can obtain more specimens for sale. Initially, people were shocked & astonished. So inflammatory were the videos that a restraining order was issued against the organization that released them.
Now, after 8 or 9 videos have been released, the politicians have stopped holding their press conferences. They’re no longer issuing statements about how appalling the practice is. Concerning the selling of these organs of aborted children, one presidential candidate has even stated that to oppose this practice is to be worse than a terrorist.
That a politician could make such a statement & still be leading in the polls shows how depraved the electorate, the media & the politicians of our nation have become. When the videos were released there was shock & dismay. Now, it’s tailed off such that it’s no longer news. However, lest we pat ourselves on the back for being upright, we should first consider our faith.
Are you still astonished at everything Jesus has done in your life? When is the last time you were, “…astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘[Jesus] has done all things well’”? Sadly, it isn’t just our astonishment at the evil in this world that diminishes with time. It is also our love & commitment to the Lord & Savior of our life that fades away as the days go by. In those action movies, in order for the broken down hero to get back in the game, he needs to see a different reality than the one in which he has given up hope. If you are a believer, you exist in a new reality, but that doesn’t automatically mean you are consciously living in that new reality. We do that by faith, not by sight, but it is very difficult not to see with our eyes.
As children of God, we are not of this world. Yet, in this life, we are very definitely, at times painfully, living in a sin-filled world. There is nothing here that is not broken. Even the very best moments in life bring along with them the temptation to be anxious because we know they will come to an end.
So it’s not uncommon to find people waiting, with much anxiety, for the other shoe to drop. Back in the early 1990’s, I wrote a poem, part of which describes that scenario:
I went for a walk
in the early sunlight;
Everything was covered
with frost last night.
This morning as the sunbeams
were scattered and tossed,
I went for a walk,
hoping my tension would be lost.
I had no appointments,
no schedule to meet,
I let my mind daydream,
just followed my feet.
I came to the train tracks
and walked them for awhile,
my shoulders began to lift,
my face began to smile.
I’d been living my life
with my head hanging down,
always focused on work,
never looking up or around.
God is still in charge
of this whole planet earth.
I’d been overlooking His design
of value, and worth.
The moment was brief,
but the pressure was gone,
my worries set free,
like the sunbeams at dawn.
I wanted to stay,
for the moment to last,
but I knew it was over,
the moment was past.
So I regretted its passing
and a shadow was cast.
Now even these blessings,
that God gives us each day,
are twisted and turned
by our old sinful way.
Our Lord & Savior certainly does bless us each & every day, but our sinful nature twists
& turns even God’s blessings. We should be astonished beyond measure that God’s Son would die for us while we were yet sinners. Instead, we take it for granted, or become anxious that God will not follow through on His promise! Then, we start living our lives out of fear. We end up afraid to be generous, afraid to love, afraid of joy, afraid of reaching out to others.
Like the action movie hero, we shrink our lives down to what we can manage with our own effort & strength. If we just keep everyone at arm’s length we won’t get hurt anymore. For the broken down hero to get back in the game, he needs to see a different reality than the one in which he has given up hope.
Jesus, our Savior, has given us a view of that different reality with the healing of this man. The Almighty power to set everything right had broken in, to time & space, as the man’s ears were opened & his tongue released. And this was in the region of the Decapolis, a place primarily inhabited by pagan Gentiles.
The miracle is a sign of Who this Jesus is, & of the new reality He creates. That reality exists where people have faith in the Son of God. If your faith is dull & blunt & deaf that reality shrinks down to what you can manage with your own strength & effort. Then, life is anything but astonishing beyond measure. It’s like a casting a shadow over what God wants to bless.
Then, life ends up like this: “I wanted to stay, for the moment to last, but I knew it was over, the moment was past. So I regretted its passing & a shadow was cast. Now even these blessings, that God gives us each day, are twisted & turned by our old sinful way.”
The healing of this man by Jesus, was never meant to be an end in itself. It was meant to demonstrate that it is in Jesus Christ that the new reality of eternal life has broken in to our time & space. It’s why John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb, when Mary came to visit Elizabeth. It’s why the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds as they were keeping watch over their flock by night. It’s why the centurion who was overseeing Jesus’ crucifixion, announced, when our Savior died, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” It’s why the pagan Gentiles of Decapolis, “…were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear & the mute speak.’”
This man had been isolated from the fellowship of his community. He’d been cut off from the normal interactions of daily life. Then, he was restored by the same powerful Word that created heaven & earth. When Jesus utters the word, Ephphatha, it is not simply the man’s ears that Jesus wants open, but the entire man himself, open to God’s mercy & love.
The people of Jesus’ day had been waiting for Messiah ever since Adam & Eve were promised a Savior – about 4000 years of waiting. Hope in Messiah had all but died out. Already in Elijah’s day, he thought he was the only one left, but Yahweh assured him there were still 7000 faithful Israelites who had not bowed the knee to Baal.
They were all that was left of what once was several million believing Israelites. Sin has been eating away at the sharp edge of your faith. It has dulled & blunted the faith you have in Jesus Christ as your Savior. That’s why you have difficulty remembering the last time you were astonished beyond measure by how well Jesus has done all things in your life.
Jesus’ promises are still strong & eternal & true. When you have a sharp knife, it cuts through things with ease. When the blade is dull, you can hardly cut anything at all. In the same way, when our faith is blunted & dull, it loses its power to be amazed by what our Lord has done for us. Going to church, attending a Bible study, even reading the Word become a chore.
We feel imposed upon when asked to serve in some ministry. Our conscience no longer troubles us when we do wrong. We’re no longer bothered when we leave undone the good works our Lord has prepared in advance for us to do. Our heart becomes deaf to God’s mercy, & to the sacrifice Jesus made in order to pay for our sin. Every one of us has noticed times when our faith was going “deaf,” becoming blunted & dull. God’s Holy Spirit is the One who re-sharpens our edge & gets us back in the fight when we’ve grown cynical, tired & worn. When faith is not constantly being sharpened by the Word, it gets worn down by the brokenness of life.
When we refuse to put into practice God’s gift of repentance, our sins corrode away the sharp edge of faith. But our Lord does not leave us without remedy. In Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he writes: “…faith comes from hearing, & hearing through the word of Christ.”
Martin Luther wrote: “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition & repentance be drowned & die with all sins & evil desires, & that a new man should daily emerge & arise to live before God in righteousness & purity forever.”
It is the Holy Spirit’s work in Baptism which enables us to repent & turn back to our Savior. As the Old Adam dies the new one, our saintly nature, arises. That nature sees the new reality Jesus is creating even now, every moment of every day. God is at work restoring us to the kingdom of heaven. Yes, we see it dimly, but then, we live by faith, not by sight.
The ‘action movie’ hero needs to see a new reality before he gets back into the fight. The Word of God, Holy Baptism & the Lord’s Supper create our new reality & through them our heavenly Father gets us back into the fight. We do battle against our sinful nature by the simple means of contrition & repentance. As we do so, we will see astonishing results. Amen.
My soul, now praise your Maker! Let all with in me bless His name Who makes you full partaker of mercies more than you dare claim. Forget Him not whose meekness still bears with all your sin, Who heals your every weakness, renews your life within; Whose grace & care are endless & saved you through the past; Who leaves no sufferer friendless
but rights the wronged at last. Amen.
 Mark 15:39 ESV
 Romans 10:17 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet