(Twelfth Sunday after Trinity.)
Mark vii.34, 35. And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.
Why did the Lord Jesus look up to heaven? And why, too, did he sigh?
He looked up to heaven, we may believe, because he looked to God the Father; to God, of whom the glorious collect tells us, that he is more ready to hear than we to pray, and is wont to give more than either we desire or deserve. He looked up to the Father, who is the fountain of life, of order, of health, of usefulness; who hates all death, disease, infirmity; who wills that none should perish, body or soul.
My friends, think of these cheering words; and try to look up to God the Father, as Christ looked up. Look up to him I say, if but once, as a Father. Not merely as your Father, but as the Father of the spirits of all flesh; the good God who creates, and delights to create; who orders all worlds and heavens with perfect wisdom, perfect power, perfect justice, perfect love; and peoples them with immortal souls and spirits, that they may be useful, happy, blessed, in keeping his laws, and doing the work which he has ordained for them. Oh think, if but once, of God the perfect and all-loving Father; and then you will know why Jesus looked up to him.
And you will see, too, why Jesus sighed. He sighed because he was one with the Father. He sighed because he had the mind of God. Because God, the Lord of health and order, hates disease and disorder. Because God, the Lord of bliss and happiness, hates misery and sorrow. Because God made the world at first very good; and, behold, by man's sin, it has become bad.
Why did he sigh? Surely, also, from pity for the poor man. His infirmity was no such great one; he had an impediment in his speech, and with it, as many are apt to have, deafness also: but it was an infirmity. It was a disease. It was something out of order, something gone wrong in God's world; and as such, Christ could not abide it; he grieved over it. He sighed because there was sickness in a world where there ought to be nothing but health, and sorrow where there ought to be nothing but happiness. He sighed, because man had brought this sickness and sorrow on himself by sin; for, remember, man alone is subject to disease. The wild animal in the wood, the bird upon the tree, seldom or never know what sickness is; seldom or never are stunted or deformed. They live according to their nature, healthy and happy, and die in a good old age. While man -- Why should I talk of what man is, of how far man is fallen from what God the Father meant him to be, while one hundred thousand corpses of brave men are now fattening the plains of Italy for next year's crop; while even in our favoured land, we find at every turn prisons and reformatories, lunatic asylums, hospitals for numberless kinds of horrible diseases; sickness, weakness, and death all round us? Only look up yonder to Windsor Forest, and see the vast building now in progress there before your eyes, for lunatic convicts -- the most miserable, perhaps, and pitiable of human beings, -- and let that building be a sign to you, how far man is fallen, and what cause Jesus had to sigh, and has to sigh still, over the miseries of fallen man.
Yes, my friends, not without reason did the old heathen poet, who had no sure and certain hope of everlasting life, say, that man was the most wretched of all the beasts of the field; not without reason did St. Paul say, that if in this life only we have hope in Christ, then the Christian man, who dare not indulge his passions and appetites, dare not say, Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die: but must curb himself, and give up his own pleasure and his own fancy at every turn, is of all men most miserable.
If Christ's work is done; if his mercy and help ended when he died upon the cross; if all he did was to heal the sick for three short years in Judea a long while ago: then what have we to which we can look forward? What hope have we, not merely for ourselves, who are here now, but for all the millions who have died and suffered already? Yes: what reasonable hope for mankind can they have, who do not believe that Christ is Very God of Very God, the perfect likeness of the heavenly Father?
But what if that which was true of him then, is true of him now? What if he be the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever? What if he be ascended on high, that he might fill all things with his almighty power, and declare that almighty power most chiefly by shewing mercy and pity? What if he be for ever looking up to his Father and our Father, to his God and our God, interceding for ever for mankind; for ever offering up to the Father that sacrifice of himself which he perfected upon the Cross, for the sins of the whole world? What if he be for ever sighing over every sin, every sorrow, every cruelty, every injustice, over all things, great and small, which go wrong throughout the whole world; and saying for ever, 'Father, this is not according to thy will. Let thy will be done on earth, as in heaven.' And what, if he does not look up in vain, nor sigh in vain? What if the will of God the Father be, that sin and sorrow, disease and death, being contrary to his will and law, should be at last rooted out of this world, and all worlds for ever? What if Christ have authority and commission from God to fight against all evil, sin, disease, and death, and all the ills which flesh is heir to; and to teach men to fight them likewise, till they conquer them by his might, and by his light? What if he reigns, and will reign, till he has put all enemies under his feet, and he has delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, that God may be all in all? What if the day shall come, when all the nations of the earth shall thus see Christ's good works, and glorify his Father and their Father who is in heaven? and by obeying the Law of their being, and the commandment of God, which is life eternal, shall live for ever in that glory, of which it is written, that a river of water of life shall proceed out of the throne of God and of the Lamb; and the leaves of the trees which grow thereby shall be for the healing of the nations; and there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in the city of God, and his servants shall serve him; and the Lord God shall give them light; and they shall reign for ever and ever.
What those words mean I know not, and hardly dare to think: but as long as those words stand in the Bible, we will have hope. For God the Father, who willeth that none should perish, and Jesus the only- begotten Son, who sighed over the poor man's infirmity in Judea, are the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.