Imagine that you are in desperate financial need. Maybe you have hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical bills and you cannot pay them. You simply don’t know what to do about it. Then you find out that some billionaire has heard about your plight and this person has decided to help you out by paying all your medical bills. But even more, one day he quietly arrives at your home, sits down and talks with you a while so he can understand what you’ve been going through. He listens to you and then quietly leaves again. No one knows other than you that he was even there. In fact, he asks you to not tell anyone that he has done this for you.
As Mark continues to tell the story of Jesus, he tells of Jesus’ encounter with a man who was deaf and mute. What is striking is the quiet and intimate way Jesus heals this man. In fact, he once again tells the man not to say anything to anyone. The man’s response to Jesus’ healing him gives us an example of what we should do in response to all that Jesus has done for us. Let’s read Mark 7:31-37.
Jesus leaves the area of Tyre and goes toward the Phoenician republic of Sidon which was located on the coast some 20 miles north of Tyre. Jesus then turned southeastward and stopped on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This once again brings him into the region of the Decapolis. Mark vaguely describes this route and we don’t know what happened on the way. But it begs the question: why did Jesus go this way? It seems that Jesus did this to avoid going back through Galilee. It may be that Jesus wanted to remain in an area with strong Gentile identity. Still there were large populations or colonies of Jews in nearly all the cities. And the crowds coming to Jesus were likely a mixture of both Jews and Gentiles.
Jesus’ action in itself is an encouragement to interact with people who are not like us. We have a strong tendency to be with people who are like us in as many ways as possible because we are comfortable with them; they know us and they get us. Jesus’ brief journey through this region should encourage us to extend our comfort zone and be with and talk with others who are different from us. And that includes people who are not Christian and who may need to see and hear firsthand the good news of Jesus.
Steve Brown tells of a pastor friend of his who served a church near a major university in England. This pastor was eager to make an impact in this potentially hostile community and so hosted a wine-and-cheese-tasting party and invited the university’s entire theological faculty to attend. One professor, a liberal woman who had long since given up her “childish” views of God, got a bit tipsy. She leaned over to the pastor, who had earlier that evening expressed his orthodox views about God, and said, “You know, I don’t believe that stuff is true.” And the pastor replied, “I know, but don’t you wish you did?” This pastor went outside of his comfort zone to be a bold witness for Jesus. Let’s go outside our comfort zones as well so that we can engage others for Christ.
As soon as Jesus arrived at this new location, some people brought him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk and begged Jesus to help this poor man. He had apparently become deaf later on in life perhaps as a result of disease or an injury and could now speak only with great effort. Mark uses a very rare word to describe the man’s physical condition. William Lane says that Mark almost certainly does so thinking of Isaiah 35:5-6 – “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy.” Mark is saying to his readers that God has now come to unstop the ears of the deaf and to provide a voice for the ones who cannot speak.
This prophecy, which anticipates what the coming Messiah will do, is now fulfilled. By this subtle allusion Mark is telling his readers that Jesus is the Messiah and that God has now acted in bringing the Messiah to his people. These points forward to the powerful doxology and confession of faith in verse 37.
Jesus took the man aside from the crowd in order to have personal contact with him. Jesus shows again that he wants a personal relationship between himself and the sick. In this case, he wanted to communicate personally with a person whose communication had been cut off from others because of his condition. This man had become socially cut off and Jesus brings him back into community. Jesus continues to show such tender care by touching the man’s ears, literally putting his fingers into the man’s ears. I love that picture of Jesus as I think of our needs. Jesus doesn’t just heal and help but he does so personally and powerfully.
Then Jesus spits and touched the man’s tongue. Now to our modern ears that just sounds gross. But in the ancient world, spit was considered to be a healing substance. You who are mothers knew this already, right? Mother’s know that their spit has amazing grooming properties which washes away food from a child’s face or holds a child’s hair in place. In fact, some research has shown that a mom’s sucking on a baby’s pacifier to clean it actually helps the baby ward off future allergies. There is something oddly cleansing and curative about saliva and that may been believed to be true in Jesus’ time as well. More importantly, this underscores the intimate contact Jesus is having with this man. Jesus literally stretched open his ears and then made it clear to him that he wished to make his tongue alive with his own life. Jesus is being very close and intimate with this man.
But what Jesus does next is just as powerful: he prays, but notice how he prays. He looked up to heaven because Jesus knows that it is God who heals. And then Jesus sighed deeply expressing his strong emotion. We can feel Jesus’ deep compassion and love for this poor man. But even more, Jesus’ actions made it clear to the man that he could expect to be healed by Jesus.
The act of healing itself was accomplished through a liberating word: “Be opened!” Notice that this was said not to the man’s ears but to the man as a whole person. Jesus wasn’t just healing a condition; he was healing a person and the intimate touching and healing makes that very clear. The result of Jesus’ actions is described quite simply by Mark. His ears were opened, his tongue loosened and the man began to speak clearly. His normal speech is in sharp contrast to his former stammering.
Jesus’ intimate care for us in our needs is so powerfully taught here. Whatever your needs – physical or emotional – Jesus knows them and wants to be in relationship with you as he heals you. That may mean that your burden, whatever it is, is lifted. It may be that your burden remains but Jesus is still right there with you to walk with you and assist you along your way. Jesus is not just a concept or idea; Jesus is a real person who loves you and desires to touch you with his hands and hold you with his arms. His desire is to heal and his death and resurrection mean that someday you will be fully and completely restored.
III. Again the response is one of praising and witnessing as we see in verses 36-37.
Jesus again tells the man and his friends not to tell anyone. And once again, Jesus’ instructions are completely ignored. Those who had witnessed the healing were overjoyed and were telling everyone. They could not help but proclaim the good news of what Jesus had just done! This same thing happened in Mark 1:45 and 5:20. But it is important to note that the word that Mark uses is “proclamation.” This is the technical term used for proclaiming the gospel. Jesus apparently intended to remain in the region of the Decapolis for a period of time and he did not wish to be regarded as a miracle-worker. But these people could not help but proclaim what Jesus had done! Think of it: if someone healed Claire, we would be so amazed and so happy! What do you do when you have such news? You have to tell others! But we have to do so with the right motivation and with the right message.
And that is what Mark makes clear in the last verse of this passage. This passage concludes with a confession of faith on the part of the people which focuses on Jesus as the Messiah. They likely heard of Jesus healing others and now draw their conclusion. Now what they had heard was confirmed by what they had seen.
But Mark also likely intended another reference to Isaiah 35:5-6. Yes, Jesus is the healer, but don’t ever forget that as he heals he is proclaiming that he is also the Messiah who will save the people from their sin. The exclamation of the crowd is the response of faith which recognizes in all the works of Jesus the promised saving intervention of God! God through Jesus is making the deaf hear and the mute speak! What Mark is doing here is building up to the climax that Peter gives in Mark 8:29 where Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. We aren’t quite there yet but the crowd anticipates it by almost in unison quoting the passage from Isaiah 35. This is Jesus the Messiah and that is whom we must always be proclaiming.
The crowd’s amazed response is what I want us to reflect on this morning. When we think of all that God has done for us we are to praise him! Knowing that God has rescued us from sin should cause us to be amazed! Knowing that God will rescue us from the effects of sin should cause us to praise God. Our entire lives should be filled with expressions of joyful gratitude, even when we face the most challenging difficulties. God is changing us and preparing us to live with him! Let’s praise him!
But let’s never forget to proclaim as well for we are to be witnesses in our actions, in our words and in our attitudes to those around us. People around us should see joy and peace in everything we do. Our lives should always be proclaiming who God is and what he has done.
That’s the nature of our response to grace seen in the amazing things Jesus does for us. Our deep sins, whatever they may be, should bring us to the point of guilty tears. But the good news of the Gospel is that when we confess our sin, God is always there to say, “Don’t despair. I will still love you anyway and always.” And that is worth praising God and proclaiming to others.