Preached on August 22nd, 2010
2 Corinthians 3:4–9
St. Mark 7:31–37
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is the twelfth Sunday after Trinity, the completion of the first half of the Trinity season. This has been a period focused on Love, Duty, and Grace, and last Sunday was particularly devoted to the matter of our need for Divine Grace. Today we see that all our needs are met by God’s grace alone.
Our Epistle lesson from the third chapter of St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians presents a description of the glory of the New Dispensation under the Gospel in contrast to the Old Dispensation under the Law. Consider first what is said of the Christian ministry, 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; 6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament. This does not simply mean that the Christian priest is a man of ability, but rather the point is that the Christian priest is a man who has been particularly divinely enabled. The sufficiency of God is the enabling agent here, enabling the priest with the Divine covenant of grace to be ministered to his people. A better translation of the sentence has been offered as, “Not that we are able of ourselves to regard anything as proceeding from ourselves, but our ability is of God, Who also hath enabled us as ministers of a new covenant.” There is nothing at all personal in this superior position, but it is all by grace, grace given for the accomplishment of a higher work.
The Christian priest is commissioned to preach a more generous dispensation, one free from the demands of the Law. He is to call all men to live in a new relation to God Who has already established Himself in a new relationship through Grace toward men. The superior position of the priest is only because of his message and call to proclaim it; it has nothing at all to do with the priest himself.
The Law of Moses was an external law, a written law, that had no power at all to be written on the hearts of men. If you think back to the time of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, there was no mention of the Holy Ghost. Now the Holy Ghost was undoubtably present as He always was in the Holy Trinity, but that was not a time, under the Old Dispensation of the Law, when the Holy Ghost was particularly operative.
On the one hand, we look at the fundamentals of the Law, the Ten Commandments, as the basic rules for living. We say, “if we would just follow the Ten Commandments, everything would be fine.” And it would, if we could, and for that reason they are most worthy guides. But we know that even these ten simple statements are beyond our ability to keep because of our fallen nature. Thus under the Old Dispensation, under the Law, we can be sure that there were many who were made aware of their sinful state because they had the Law and they realized that they had not kept the Law. The real purpose for the Law, then as now, is to make man aware of his sin so that he may seek repentance. The Law itself could not save, but it could point to the need for repentance and salvation. Under the Old Dispensation, for those who repented, they sought forgiveness of sins through burnt sacrifices on the altar in Jerusalem. This action in a hidden sense points to the coming sacrifice of Lamb of God that would come to take away the sins of the whole world.
There was indeed a certain glory to the Old Dispensation in the way that it could bring men to God by compelling them to see their sins in the mirror of the Law and then providing a means of release from sin through the mechanism of repentance and sacrifice. This glory, however, fades and passes away, rather like the glory of the face of Moses, when compared to the New Dispensation. We are certainly not to look askance at any dispensation of God, and the Old Dispensation enhances the glory of the New Dispensation. The Old simply pointed out the needs of men, while the New Dispensation fully provides for them, a vastly more glorious solution! If there was glory in simply making man aware of his sin and letting him find his own solution, how much greater glory is there in there in a Dispensation that provides acceptance and grace through the sacrifice already made by Christ Jesus our Lord!
Turning to the Gospel lesson, consider again the matter of human need. Outward need takes many evident forms such as lack of food, clothing, shelter, money, etc., … the necessities of life. No one questions the necessity of these things, and to see them lacking is a sad thing. But there is something far worse that many suffer. The deaf and dumb man in our Gospel lesson is representative of the spiritually poor, those who are deaf to conscience and to the call of God’s providence, the Holy Ghost, the Gospel, and the Son of God. By nature, we are all deaf, we are all dumb, we are adverse to prayer, to confession, to praise. We are dumb to God, dumb for God, and dumb about God. Fallen man is closed off, shut in, contracted upon himself, with eyes, ears, heart, hands, and will sealed in isolation against God and other men. Sin blocks communion and fellowship and can only be restored by Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel lesson, our Lord uses sight and feeling, two remaining senses, to reach this fellow who is deaf and dumb when we read Mark 7:33 And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; Jesus first takes him out of the crowd to concentrate the man’s attention, then He touches the seat of the man’s need, his ears and his tongue, and then Jesus looks up to heaven to indicate to the man where the miracle is coming from. As we recall, the man’s physical deafness and dumbness were cured at that moment. The point is that it was the grace of God that was sufficient to enable this man to be able to hear and to speak again, to restore him fully.
One of the things we learn from this miracle is that the power of Christ goes on ahead of where is is sought, not waiting to be asked. The man most surely had not asked to be healed by Christ; the man himself was unable to speak! But Christ did not wait to be asked; He knew the problem, He knew what was needed, and He performed the miracle needed to restore this man to wholeness. Just imagine how much more Christ will do for us if we do in fact ask!
A second lesson here is found in the closing verse, Mark 7:37 And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak. The crowd has come to perceive the fact that the power of Christ is omnipotent. He can deal with any sort of problem, He has power to accomplish all things. He is able to renew that which is deteriorated, either by the actions of the devil, or simply by the frailty and foolishness of man. They are gradually coming to realize who Jesus really is.
The idea of Divine sufficiency is reflected in the Collect for the Day. God’s bounty towards us is not measured out to us at all by our sense of need, by our desires, or by what we deserve. Rather, we receive what He sees that we need. We ask for God’s mercy in all abundance. In particular, we ask for mercy to relieve our consciences when we are afraid to pray, and to give us mercy and grace to ask for that which we know we are unworthy to ask. We ask that our sense of need not lead us to despair thus preventing prayer altogether, and that we may receive the blessings of the Gospel Covenant as described in our Epistle today. With these thoughts in mind, let is pray again the Collect for the Day:
Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give us more than either we desire or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen