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Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, September 12, 2021


Lord, Open My Ears and Release My Tongue


Text: Mark 7:31–37

For the past several months many Christians have been increasingly alarmed about the level of evil and immorality throughout our country and how much of it is being embraced by those in the current administration. Suddenly issues once on the extreme fringe of society now are being presented as desirable for a unified country. Abortion rights, LGBTQ+, Critical Race Theory, and many other terms describing who or what we have become as a society actually are showing how far we have plummeted into godlessness and mindlessness.

I know many Christians who are dealing with culture shock because they no longer recognize the cultural environment that they have lived in most if not all of their lives. The fact is that it can feel overwhelming and lead to an attitude of hopelessness and fear for the future.

Although I can understand that conclusion, and need to be careful myself, I don’t believe for a moment that is God’s plan for us, but I am persuaded that this is the conclusion that our enemy, the Devil, wants for us. The more fearful and despondent we are the better he likes it. He loves an enemy who cowers but hates a Christian who knows who they are in Christ.

With that in mind, my goal this morning is that God will speak to us through his word and Spirit as we wade through all the chaos and civil insanity that we read about and observe every day. I want us to be able to see what is going on all around us through the lens of God’s promises and assurance. Paul wrote in Romans 8:38–39 that…

we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What we are seeing in our culture and around the world is what happens when men and women choose to follow their own pride and arrogance and the desires of their flesh instead of honoring the creator God and His commandments. The good news is that this is not a new problem but is as old as the Garden of Eden. In other words, mankind has a history of this, and throughout history God has shown himself faithful to forgive and restore those who will come to him by faith, trusting in His word and bowing their will to His.

However, when God is moving to bring correction and sometimes judgment to people and nations He almost always raises up those who have a desire to see God glorified and the lives of men and women transformed by the power of the cross and the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The question concerning what this might cost them personally is not a consideration. If they are diligently seeking the Lord in prayer and feeding upon His holy word they will see that their highest calling and greatest joy is found in living their lives for the glory of God and the good of their neighbor. They join the Psalmist in Psalm 146:5–7,

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever, 
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free;

Often it’s helpful to look back at examples of how those who have gone before us in faithfulness persevered in similar situations.

As some of you know I have a great deal of respect and interest in studying the lives and examples of godliness of many of the Puritans.

J.C. Ryle, a 19th century English evangelical Anglican bishop in his Introduction to the Works of Thomas Manton, wrote this concerning the Puritans.

The Puritans as a body, have done more to elevate the national character than any class of Englishmen that ever lived. Ardent lovers of civil liberty, and ready to die in its defense—mighty at the council board, no less mighty in the battlefield—feared abroad throughout Europe, and invincible at home while united—great with their pens, no less great with their swords—fearing God very much and fearing men very little—they were a generation of men who have never received from their country the honor they deserve.

Recently, we finished the “Behold Your God” series for the second time. Some have asked if we can do it again. If you’re interested let me know because I’m willing to do it if people are willing to come. It really is quite a wonderful and life-changing study. Each week we began by focusing on the life of a man or woman who in the past showed themselves to be an example of faithful surrender to the Lord.

The final two weeks were spent considering the life of John Bunyan. Bunyan was a powerful Puritan preacher and prolific author, but he spent a great deal of time in prison for preaching without the permission and licensure of the Church of England.

In early 1661, Bunyan was arrested on the charge of preaching without official license from the crown. He was told that he would be freed if he would stop preaching but his reply was, “If I am freed today, I will preach tomorrow.” He remained in prison for 12 ½ years with no formal charge or legal sentence because he would not cease preaching the gospel and declaring the Church of England as not willing to reform from their Catholic roots.

He wrote his famous book, Pilgrim’s Progress, while in prison as well as many other works. The major theme of the book is the cost of salvation. As Christian, the main character, continues on his journey on the road to Heaven he finds dangers and obstacles all along the way. There are times when he feels discouraged and doesn’t think he can make it. He admits that he is full of sin, but that will not keep him from glory if he will stay the course to the end. At one time this book was second only to the Bible in popularity. Published in 1677, it’s still the most famous Christian allegory still in print.

In 1672, about fifty miles northwest of London in Bedford, John Bunyan was released from over twelve years of imprisonment. He was forty-four years old. Just before his release he updated his spiritual autobiography called Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. He looked back over the hardships of the last twelve years and wrote about how he was enabled by God to survive and even flourish in the Bedford jail.

He quotes 2 Corinthians 1:9–10 where Paul says,

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

Bunyan wrote,

By this scripture I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can be properly called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyment, and all, as dead to me, and myself as dead to them. The second was, to live upon God who is invisible, as Paul said in another place; the way not to faint, is to “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

John Piper wrote in his introduction to the reprinting of The Pilgrim’s Progress,

The phrase that I have fastened on for the title, and focus of this study of Bunyan, is the phrase, “to live upon God who is invisible.” He discovered that if we are to suffer rightly we must die not only to sin, but to the innocent and precious things of this world, including family and freedom. We must “live upon God who is invisible.” Everything else in the world we must count as dead to us and we to it. That was Bunyan’s passion from the time of his conversion as a young married man to the day of his death when he was sixty years old.

In all my reading of Bunyan, what has gripped me most is his suffering and how he responded to it—what it made of him, and what it might make of us. All of us come to our tasks with a history and many predispositions. I come to John Bunyan with a growing sense that suffering is a normal, useful, essential, and God-ordained element in Christian life and ministry—not only for the sake of weaning us off the world and teaching us to live on God, as 2 Corinthians 1:9 says, but also to make pastors who are more able to love the church (2 Timothy 2:10; Colossians 1:24) and make missionaries who are more able to reach the nations (Matthew 10:16–28), so that they can learn to live on God and not the bread that perishes (John 6:27).

The goal in this is to see our lives from this perspective, that God in Christ is our greatest treasure even if all the treasure of this world was offered to us. In light of that let’s briefly consider our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 35:4–10 and our gospel reading from Mark 7:31–37.

Let’s read Isaiah 35:4–6,

Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert…”

The Book of Isaiah is the story of the prophet bringing God’s word to those in Israel who were already in exile in Assyria and to those in Judah who some would later be exiled to Assyria and then most to Babylon. The beloved temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed and all the wealth plundered by their enemies. The people of God in Israel and Judah both turned away from God by embracing the gods of the other nations, so God brought judgment upon them. God gave Moses His Law on Mt. Sinai and made it very clear that there would be blessings and peace from their enemies if they remained faithful to God, but if they turned away from God there would be curses and God would pour out His judgment.

During the middle ages of the eighth century BC, Assyria became a dominant power in the ancient Near East. They were conquering and enslaving nations all over the known world. During this time Isaiah began to speak out accusing the leadership in Israel of hypocrisy, greed, self-indulgence and godlessness as they led the people into moral ruin. Isaiah warned them that God was going to bring judgment upon the northern and southern kingdoms through the armies of Assyria.

In our passage from Isaiah 35, the setting is God has brought judgment and Israel was once again in captivity and this time servants of Assyria, but hope is not lost. Isaiah delivers a word of encouragement from the Lord that he will deliver them from their oppression. What would it look like when God brought deliverance?

God would bring justice back to the earth and deliverance to the oppressed. When God's salvation came there would be no doubt because it would come with miraculous power. It would be a miracle for the blind would see, for the deaf would hear, for the lame would once again run, and the mute would be able to speak.  When God's salvation comes, miraculous provision comes with it. What was dry and useless before becomes well-watered and fruitful.

Isaiah 35:8–10,

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

You’ll notice that only those who are clean and redeemed will be able to have the joy and privilege to walk on the road to salvation that led to Zion.

Charles Spurgeon wrote concerning the Highway of Holiness,

Engineering has done much to tunnel mountains, and bridge abysses; but the greatest triumph of engineering is that which made a way from sin to holiness, from death to life, from condemnation to perfection. Who could make a road over the mountains of our iniquities but Almighty God? None but the Lord of love would have wished it; none but the God of wisdom could have devised it; none but the God of power could have carried it out.

Using the pictures of this chapter, it is as if we come to God barren, dry, blind, deaf, weak and crippled. Then the miraculous power of Jesus comes to change us, heal us and provide for us. That isn't the end of God's work though; He then goes on to make a Highway of Holiness that the transformed man can walk on. The highway would be helpful to one who was barren, dry, blind, deaf, weak and crippled; but when the highway is provided for the one who is healed and provided for as we are in Jesus, the blessing is even more amazing.

It’s through the lens of this passage that we can appreciate our gospel passage from Mark 7:31–37. The prophet Isaiah told those in captivity what it would look like when God brought deliverance to His people. Both Israel and Judah were allowed to return to their own land and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, but they never did seem to learn from the mistakes of their fathers. It’s because their fathers neglected to teach their children the law of God, the stories of the prophets, and about the God who is merciful and patient.

When Jesus came as the Messiah, God incarnate, the Spirit of God had long ago left the temple and all they had were their traditions and the law. The New Testament refers to Isaiah more than any other Old Testament book to indicate how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament expectations of the Messiah. In our Gospel we see the evidence of how Jesus revealed that he was the fulfillment of God’s promise to come and save those who were in captivity and oppressed.

Jesus returns to the region of Decapolis and the people bring him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. He healed the man of both things and the “people were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” Those who claimed they knew the law and the prophets failed to pick up on the reference that should have been so very clear.

When John the Baptist was in prison, he became discouraged and was wondering if Jesus was really the Messiah that he had proclaimed Him to be. John's disciples brought this question to Jesus and his answer was,

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

If Jesus didn't use the exact words of Isaiah 35, he certainly used the idea. Jesus, the Messiah, had come to bring God's salvation, and that would be accompanied by miraculous power. That was the promise foretold 700 years before the coming of the Messiah, but it was a promise that God kept, and Jesus was and is the fulfillment of that promise. That promise is to be our greatest comfort and strongest source of joy. It was true for Israel in the time of Isaiah, and nothing has changed.

How do we know that? Our Epistle reading from James 1:17–18 answers that question,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

In other words, God doesn’t change. So if we want to see change then we must allow his word and Spirit to change us that we might be fruitful in building the kingdom of God.

This was the hope and passion that burned in the hearts of many of the Puritans who desired the church to be zealous for the glory of Christ above all things.

I would like to close with a prayer from The Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers. It’s entitled “Christlikeness”:

Father of Jesus,

Dawn returns, but without thy light within no outward light can profit;

Give me the saving lamp of thy Spirit that we may see thee, the God of my salvation, the delight of my souls, rejoicing over me in love.

I commend my hearts to thy watchful care, for I know its treachery and power;

Guard its every portal from the wily enemy,

Give me quick discernment of his deadly arts,

Help me to recognize his bold disguise as an angel of light, and bid him begone.

May my words and works allure others to the highest walks of faith and love!

May loiterers be quickened to greater diligence by my example!

May worldlings be won to delight in acquaintance with thee!

May the timid and irresolute be warned of coming doom by my zeal for Jesus!

Cause me to be a mirror of thy grace, to show others the joy of thy service,

May my lips be well-tuned cymbals sounding thy praise,

Let a halo of heavenly-mindedness sparkle around me and a lamp of kindness sunbeam my path.

Teach me the happy art of attending to things temporal with minds intent on things eternal.

Send me forth to have compassion on the ignorant and miserable.

Help me to walk as Jesus walked, my only Savior and perfect model, his mind my inward guest, his meekness my covering garb.

Let my happy place be amongst the poor in spirit, my delight the gentle ranks of the meek.

Let me always esteem others better than myselves, and find in true humility an heirdom to two worlds.

In the matchless name of Jesus.

Amen


©2021 Rev. Mike Moffit

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