There are beautiful connections that we find between today’s OT and Gospel readings. One is prophecy and fulfillment and so shows us exactly who Jesus is. In the Gospel, we heard that Jesus healed a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Notice: Jesus doesn’t just say a word and heal the man, like He did other times. No! Here Jesus takes the man away from the crowd. He put His fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spit and touched the man’s tongue. After He looked up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha!” This deaf man certainly didn’t know who Jesus was--after all, he couldn’t hear what anyone said about Jesus. This deaf man didn’t know what was going on. But by His actions, Jesus made it very clear that He was doing something to his ears for hearing and to his tongue for speaking. Not only did Jesus heal him, but showed the man care and compassion.
Yes, this is a beautiful account of Jesus healing a man. And yes, each of Jesus’ healings show Him to be the true God and Savior. And there’s also another beautiful connection: we get the full significance of this healing when we hear it in light of today’s OT reading: Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unplugged. The crippled will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy. Notice all these healing miracles Jesus did! But what does Isaiah say before this prophecy of the healings? Look! Your God will come with vengeance. With God’s own retribution, He will come and save you. Vengeance and retribution! That’s what this healing miracle shows us? Absolutely! Because what are we seeing here? Jesus--the very God Himself--is coming to destroy and undo the devil’s kingdom. God’s beautiful and perfect creation the devil has corrupted and destroyed--and here specifically the beautiful gifts of hearing and speech. Does God just sit idly by and let the devil have his say and run the show? Hardly! He comes in vengeance, to set things right and overturn the work of the devil. Jesus shows this with each of His miracles of healing--and each of them point to His great and ultimate work of destroying and undoing the devil’s work: His holy, innocent, suffering and death and His glorious resurrection! --All for us and for our salvation.
With Jesus’ coming and work, there will be that complete reversal of all that the devil has worked; in Jesus there is now life and fullness. Isaiah depicts it this way in today’s reading: Waters will flow in the wilderness, and streams in the wasteland. The burning sand will become a pool, and in the thirsty ground there will be springs of water. Where before there was nothing but spiritual dryness and death, with Jesus’ coming there is life--full, rich, abundant, spiritual life.
And now think of this poor man Jesus healed. The devil had attacked him in such a way that he couldn’t hear that good news about Jesus, that he couldn’t come to faith in Him because he was deaf. But what did Jesus do? He healed him so that he could hear the good news. Jesus healed his speech so that he could now tell others the good news of Jesus. This is that complete reversal Jesus comes and brings when He--your God-- comes with vengeance and retribution to save us.
What happened that day to the deaf man with a speech impediment physically, happens to us spiritually when Jesus comes to us in baptism and the word. There is a great reversal in us spiritually; we go from spiritual death to spiritual life; we go from prisoners to sin and death and slaves to the devil to now being God’s dear children and heirs of heaven. There is a great spiritual rescue and healing that takes place in us. And it is all the work of Jesus for us--He came with vengeance and retribution and destroyed the devil and his kingdom. It is all the work of the Holy Spirit who came and worked in us faith in Jesus and His work; and that faith which receives it.
Now we come to a very important point--the devil does not want to lose us out of his kingdom; he does not easily and willingly surrender us; he is always trying to destroy our faith in Jesus and His work--faith that trusts in Jesus and receives the fruit of His saving work; faith through which that reversal happens to us. And one way he does that is to try to get people to think they have faith, when, in fact, it is not true, saving faith they have.
The simple fact is: not just any faith saves. And that’s the point St. James brings out in today’s epistle: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says that he has faith but has no works? Such “faith” cannot save him, can it? This is a very direct attack of the devil on the main teaching of the Bible: we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus apart from the works of the Law; we cannot earn heaven or salvation by what we do because Jesus obtained it for us by His life, suffering and death. The devil puts before us a very interesting thought and one which is very appealing to our old sinful nature: since salvation is by God’s grace through faith and not by works, then works don’t matter. Notice how slyly the devil works--if he can get us to think: “Faith! Faith! It’s all I need. Works don’t enter into it, so I don’t have to care about my works”, then he has won the battle and we have lost our salvation, because not all “faith” is the same; not everything we call faith is faith.
Notice what St. James writes: if someone says that he has faith. Note the word “says”. This is a faith that is boasted about with the mouth, but where is the evidence of faith? Talk is cheap. Dear fellow sinner, we must be on guard lest we think: oh, I have faith--or what I call/ boast of as faith--and so I don’t really have to worry about how I live, the works I do or don’t do; my passport to heaven is stamped! We dare never take sin lightly; we dare never think our works don’t matter. If we don’t care about sin and about our works since we have what we boast of as faith, we are lost. It is a false claim that faith and deeds can be independent from each other. No! Faith and works go together. Again our text: “faith,” if it is alone and has no works, is dead….Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
What is the lack of good works? What is a life of sin? It is a life of service to self; it is a life spent serving our old sinful nature. Is that/ can that be in accord with a right faith that knows God rightly and recognizes Him as God and Savior from sin, death and hell? Can one who knows God rightly and in faith receives every heavenly and spiritual good and blessing from Him, then not care about doing His will and what pleases Him? If we know God rightly in faith, wouldn’t we strive to do His will and strive to put down our actions and desires that are contrary to it?
The vital thing to remember is that true, saving faith is faith that trusts in Jesus alone for salvation; it receives His gifts of forgiveness of sin and eternal life. It is trust, confidence and reliance in Jesus. True faith is not merely a general faith that in a general way believes that there is a God and thinks Christianity is “the way to go”. True faith is not merely a historical faith that knows the outward facts of the Gospel history and does not deny, for example, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that He went around preaching and doing miracles, that He suffered and died on the cross and even that He rose again. That’s history; that’s knowing facts. But true faith says, for example: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that God became man for me; that He lived a sinless life and died on the cross for me, on account of my sin; that He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to open it to me and all believers. True saving faith doesn’t merely know doctrine and may even fight for it; but true saving faith says, for me God became man; in baptism God washed me from my sins and brought me into His family; in Holy Communion Jesus gives me His body and blood, forgives my sins and unites with me. True saving faith is not mere empty persuasion. Instead, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit; and where the Holy Spirit is, He is leading and guiding us and empowering us into a life of faith and good works. What did Jesus say [Jn 15.16]? You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit... A false faith, a self-imagined faith is still centered on self and does not bear the fruits of good works because at its root it lacks love of God, our Savior, which then flows into love of our neighbor. Our text: If a brother or sister needs clothes and lacks daily food and one of you tells them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but does not give them what their body needs, what good is it? So also, such “faith”, if it is alone and has no works, is dead. Saving faith without any proof of its presence is delusion and vanity. Pious sounding blessings do nothing and do not reflect faith. Where the needs of someone are immediate and obvious and we do not help if we can, that’s not faith at work. Faith is looking outward toward God and neighbor; where there’s no faith, there is only looking inward, at self, turned in on self and so can neglect dire necessity and works of mercy.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says that he has faith but has no works? Such “faith” cannot save him, can it? The false, self imagined faith-- “Faith! Faith! I have faith! I’m saved by my faith!”--will not stand the test on Judgment Day. Our works now--works that flow or don’t flow from faith--provide the evidence that Jesus will point to in the Judgment. Where there is faith, there will be the works of faith; where there is only imagined faith, there will be no truly good works.
What a call to examine our own hearts today! Is there faith? --True saving faith or an imagined faith that cannot save? Is there the evidence/ proof of that faith? The thing is, faith is invisible. Its presence is known as we confess that faith in word --like we do in church or as we tell others about Jesus, for example--and in deed, that is by a life of good works, works that are in accord with the will of God. Again, it’s not that the works save us; it’s that they are evidence of faith. They are evidence of faith because only where the Holy Spirit is, can there be faith--like St. Paul writes [1 Cor. 12.3]: no one can say that Jesus is Lord [that’s faith!] except by the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is working faith, there He is working that desire to do the will of God; there He is working the love of the other. By the Holy Spirit in us, that true saving faith that He works in us produces works; faith cannot be separated from faithful living. Again, faith is not just the mind accepting certain truths; instead, saving faith is a complete faith--not just of the mind and tongue: someone says that he has faith but of the whole person. If we compartmentalize our lives between our spiritual life and our secular/ life in the world, that is not saving faith that we have--a faith worked by the Holy Spirit. Instead, the Holy Spirit and the faith that He works in us transforms our lives, our whole lives so that we become more and more like Christ in our thoughts, words, and deeds; so that we show the same love and mercy to those in need as He does. Where there is faith that clings to Christ, there He is dwelling in us. How can we then not become more like Him in every part of our lives? Yes, we will still sin; yes, we will fail miserably. But we don’t use our faith as an excuse to continue on in sin, to not care about sin. Instead, in faith we run to our dear Lord seeking His forgiveness and holiness; and forgiven our sin we then strive all the more to be without sin; and we strive to show others that same love and mercy we ourselves have been shown. That’s faith at work; that’s saving faith. It is simply and quietly living out our lives as we are led and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. Maybe our good works are not grand but they are good because they flow from faith. On the Last Day, in the Judgment, Jesus will point to them as the evidence of faith--a saving faith that looked to Him for forgiveness and salvation and joyfully received them. INJ Amen