The Twelfth Sunday after Holy Trinity – Mark 7:31-37
Ignatius of Antioch, one of the Apostolic Fathers—basically the direct successors to the Apostles—coined the phrase, “medicine of immortality,” to describe the Lord’s Supper. We also confess this in our small catechism:
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking [of the Lord’s Supper]?
These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
In other words, the Lord’s Supper is a big deal. It’s why we attempt to be so reverent during the Service of the Sacrament, the second half of the Divine Service. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus, visits us in the flesh and delivers the wonderful gifts of forgiveness of sins and life and salvation in, with, and under the bread and wine that are His body and blood.
This is a wonderful gift that comes with a warning. St. Paul gives us a clear, direct warning about those who take the Lord’s Supper unworthily:
“For anyone who eats and drinks [the Lord’s Supper] without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30)
We would be foolish to think that people who take the Lord’s Supper unworthily are not still plagued with weakness, illness, and yes, even death. This is the primary reason we practice closed communion. Pastors are charged with the responsibility of safeguarding both the Lord’s Supper and those who partake of it. As St. Paul says,
“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1)
It’s obvious from the context that Paul is talking about the office of the Holy Ministry. And Pastors are driven by love to safeguard both the Lord’s Supper and those participating in it to the best of their ability. A steward is someone who manages and safeguards someone else’s resources. The Lord’s Supper is not my supper but the Supper of Jesus.
We also exclude the Lord’s Supper from those who are Christian, yet confess a different doctrine. It’s obvious that Lutherans and Baptists do not believe the same thing about the Word and Sacraments. To commune together would pretend to be in agreement over things like baptismal regeneration, the presence of Christ in His Supper, or the end times. Not communing together is only acknowledging that we have a different confession of the faith and nothing else. We in no way think of Baptists as non-Christian. But that is a topic for another day.
In our LCMS circles, we are recovering a God-pleasing reverence for the Lord’s Supper, but it wasn’t always that way. The generations that came before this generation didn’t have a high regard for the Lord’s Supper. They were fine men who served our Lord well; they certainly preached better than the current generation, but for some reason, they had a blind eye when it came to the Lord’s Supper.
Thanks be to God, a much richer appreciation for the Lord’s Supper is resurfacing. I say resurfacing because, if you read our confessions, you see that Lutherans have always regarded the Lord’s Supper highly. Consequently, you will see a variety of practices at different Lutheran churches. And this is unfortunate. When someone walks into any of our churches, they should get the sense that we love Jesus and His Word and love His Sacrament just as much. The Divine Service should always be treated reverently and that should be obvious to any visitor at any LCMS church. Sadly, this is not the case in every LCMS church, but we will do our best to be reverent so that it’s obvious what we believe about the Lord’s Supper to any visitor to Grace.
You’ll notice I’m wearing a chasuble today. This is one of the amazing gifts that Trinity, San Dimas bestowed on us for our benefit. The chasuble is worn by the celebrant of the Lord’s Supper. So when I’m preaching and Pastor Holm is conducting the Divine Service, he’ll wear the chasuble. The reason we wear it is a way of showing reverence for the Lord’s Supper. This is no mere supper we are administrating, but the richest, most special feast we will ever go to. Just as we would wear our Sunday best when meeting the president of the United States, the celebrant, or steward, of the Lord’s Supper wears something special for such a rich occasion. We’re not trying to be “high” church or any such thing. We are merely trying to give the Lord’s Supper the respect it’s due. And this is because we truly receive the medicine of immortality in it.
And I don’t mean some fake kind of immortality that you see portrayed in books and movies with vampires and zombies. They are a grotesque copy of the Christian concept of eternal life.
Consequently, vampires and zombies are detestable creatures who only have an imitation of eternal life and not the real thing. Even thought they have been popularized nowadays, the Christian knows that they are detestable creatures not worthy of our veneration.
Christian immortality is something else. Something wonderful. Even unexplainable. Paul says,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
God has prepared a new heavens and new earth for you. The Bible describes heaven in a limited way in various places:
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
“But for you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2)
“[Jesus] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
We see a foretaste of this in our Gospel reading today!
We see a deaf man with a speech impediment healed by Jesus. We learn three important things from this account. First, Jesus is the Messiah. Second, Jesus cares about our physical plight. And third, Jesus has solved the real problem we face.
First, we learn that Jesus is the Messiah. We can tell from the first chapter of John that the Jews are expecting messengers from God. God sent John the Baptist as a witness to Christ. John the Baptist’s greatest work besides baptizing Jesus is to point to Jesus and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The Jews, and especially the religious leaders, were expecting either the Christ, which means Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet. There are many prophecies of the Christ coming, including one from our Old Testament reading, “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.” (Isaiah 29:18) By healing the deaf, including the man in our Gospel reading, and the blind, Jesus shows that He is the Christ. Elijah coming was prophesied in Malachi, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” (Malachi 4:5) Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the Elijah to come, even though John wasn’t aware of this himself. (Matthew 11:14) Moses prophecies the coming of the Prophet whom the people will listen to in Deuteronomy 18:15.
When Jesus confesses, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has Himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49) and
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37), He is identifying Himself as the Prophet that Moses spoke of. And this is Good News. Jesus is God’s promised Messiah who will save us!
The wonderful comfort of the Lord’s Supper is that Jesus is the Messiah who won the victory over sin, death, and the devil, and gives you that victory through faith!
Second, we see that Jesus cares about our physical plight. He indeed heals this deaf man as a sign that He is the Son of God, but He also does it because He cares about the well being of this man. We don’t know why God made or allowed this man to be deaf and mute. We know from another account of a blind man being healed that the man born blind was blind to show the glory of God when Jesus healed him. But God rarely reveals to us why he gives us certain crosses. There’s a beautiful general prayer for “pardon, growth in grace, and divine protection” in the hymnal. (LSB 309) I frequently use it during shut-in visits. This is my favorite line from that prayer: “Grant that we may with faithful perseverance receive from You our sorrows as well as our joys, knowing that health and sickness, riches and poverty, and all things come by permission of Your fatherly hand.” It rightly confesses that God is in control and that He gives us both joys and sorrows to conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus. (Romans 8:29)
But we know from today’s Gospel reading that Jesus cares about us when we’re suffering. Typically, Jesus uses the means of daily bread to take care of our physical needs including healing. And as we confess, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone… even to all evil people.” (SC.4th Petition)
God created you and cares about you just as He cares about the deaf man. When you are sick, God uses the daily bread gift of medicine to cure you. Sometimes He intervenes directly, but this is rare. Sometimes, He allows us to suffer for awhile and even unto death to teach us patience and reliance upon our Father in heaven instead of medicine.
Regardless of what you are suffering or not suffering, the Lord’s Supper is a tangible assurance that Jesus is with you. Just as Jesus touched the deaf man’s ears, He touches your tongue with His very own Body and Blood!
Third, we see that Jesus has solved the real problem of sin, death, and the devil. The deaf man we hear about today died. You and I will die unless Jesus comes first. Death is why Jesus came. He came in the flesh to defeat death in the flesh. As the sinless Son of God, death couldn’t hold Jesus. Paul confesses that “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.” (1 Corinthians 15:56) Jesus, as John testified, is the spotless or sinless Lamb of God. When death swallowed Jesus, it bit off more than it could handle. Death no longer has any power over Jesus. Death no longer has any power over you because you are baptized.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3)
And since you share the death of Jesus in baptism, you share in the life of Jesus. Eternal life.
If this is so, why are we so afraid of death?
Well, death is rarely pleasant. Some may die peacefully in their sleep, but that seems rare. Most of us will die a painful death. And it may even be drawn out. We don’t like to think about it, but we would be better off if we did. Instead, we distract ourselves by all means possible from considering death. Most of us do not come into contact with death like rural people can and do. Many rural people are reminded daily of the reality of death. This is actually a good thing. We should think about our deaths. And then we should ponder how that will change the way we live. What sort of people ought we to be knowing that we will die? Knowing that we may die at any time? Knowing that there’s so much more to life than this short physical existence on earth? The Psalmist rightly petitions God to “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
Death is indeed scary. The beauty of the Lord’s Supper is it strengthens your faith in the resurrection of the dead. You are receiving the same body and blood that hung on the cross. You can know absolutely that death is defeated.
The Lord’s Supper is truly the “medicine of immortality.” And that’s a good way to think about it. Every day, the world and Satan and our sinful flesh beat us up and try to scare us with our sin. Many times, we are rudely reminded of the reality that death is ugly. God has given us this wonderful gift in His Supper that acts as medicine so that we no longer need fear our sin or our death. Let us continue to receive it with reverence and joy and thanksgiving. And God will continue to forgive your sins and strengthen your faith so that you persevere to the glorious end, which is not the end, but a glorious new beginning! God be praised. Amen.