Super Natural is a sermon series on the miraculous works of Jesus in the Bible. The Deaf Hear — On a road trip, Jesus healed a Gentile who was deaf and speech impaired. What do we learn from this encounter? Healing happens in uncomfortably close proximity to Jesus. Healing comes from and results in the ministry of the word. Recorded on May 2, 2021, on Mark 7:31-37, by Pastor David Parks.
All year, we’re focusing on the Person and Work of Jesus. And today, we’re continuing a series called Super Natural. Everywhere Jesus went, he did three things: he preached about the kingdom of God, he called men/women to follow him as his disciples, and he did miracles. In Matthew 11, When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Jesus expected the miracles to authenticate his ministry, to prove that he was who he claimed to be. But also, these works serve as living parables that teach us about the character of God and his desire for us, his people. So today, we’re considering the statement, “the deaf hear.” What does that mean? Well, if you have a Bible or Bible app, please open it to Mark 7:31.
Mark 7:31-37, “31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. 36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
So Mark’s gospel was written by John Mark in the mid-60’s AD. Mark was an assistant to the Apostle Paul and Peter and here, we have Jesus taking a road trip and being amazing. Let’s start back with v. 31 and try to uncover the meaning of this text.
Mark 7:31-32, “Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.” So Mark describes this road trip that Jesus, and we’re assuming his disciples, take which would’ve taken weeks if not months. Let’s look at this on a map. To walk from Tyre up to Sidon and then looping back down around the Sea of Galilee to the Decapolis is 100-200 miles. Now the Decapolis was a region to the east of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, named after 10, Greek-speaking Gentile cities. In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul wrote that the gospel “is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Jesus’ ministry reflects that pattern as well, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. So it’s here, in this Gentile context that some people brought a man who was deaf and could hardly talk to Jesus. And they begged Jesus to place his hand on him, meaning to heal him. How would Jesus respond? v. 33.
Mark 7:33-35, “After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.” So in Mark’s gospel, the crowds are not always seen in the best light. Usually, the crowds are people who don’t really get Jesus and are pictured, over and against the smaller community of his actual disciples. Often, it’s away from the crowds, in a room/house, where Jesus reveals more about himself or his mission or the meaning of his teaching to his disciples. Now, we know that Jesus can heal in the crowd, but he chooses to take the man aside and deal with him one on one. This shows the personal care that Jesus gives people. He doesn’t ever deal with people the same way twice; he honors every individual. But also, I think this detail gives us a clue as to the meaning of this miracle. The context for the healing is in uncomfortably close proximity to Jesus. Mark says that Jesus goes on to put his fingers in the man’s ears, and spit and touch his tongue. Why does he do this? As I mentioned last week, we know that Jesus doesn’t have to be physically present to be able to heal someone. So why would he touch the man and why in this unusual way? Again, I think it’s a clue to the meaning. Jesus will heal this man but he has to get uncomfortably close in relationship to him.
Looking up to heaven implies that the healing will come because of the power of God. The deep sigh might reflect God’s heart for his people in response to our need for healing or it might foreshadow the coming of the Holy Spirit. But either way, Jesus gives the command in Aramaic, “Ephphatha!” which Mark translates as meaning “Be opened!” At this, the man was healed and as v. 35 says literally, “the chain of his tongue was broken” and he began to speak plainly. We don’t know if the man had been deaf from birth or if an illness or accident had been the cause. We don’t know if his speech impediment was caused by his hearing impairment or not. But imagine being this man and living your life without knowing the sound/speech/music/laughter of another. Imagine not being able to talk with a friend or hear the voice of your spouse say “I love you.” How difficult would life be? But at the powerful word of Jesus, the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, and the deaf hear. The man is healed and can hear the voice of Jesus. He was healed and can speak the name of Jesus. So what happens next?
Mark 7:36-37, “Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” The people were overwhelmed with amazement. This is how you would’ve felt if you would’ve been there. But how curious is it that Jesus commanded the people not to tell anyone? I mentioned this last week as well. At this point in the ministry of Jesus, before his death and resurrection, he doesn’t want too many people to run with the idea that he was the Messiah, because they would’ve misunderstood what he was all about. But even with his warning, the word got out on what Jesus was doing and they said, “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” One of the reasons I think Mark makes this observation is that this is a direct fulfillment of Isaiah 35:5-6a, “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.” Isaiah saw a future time after the judgment and pain of the exile, a time of salvation and joy where, you guessed it, the deaf will hear and the mute will speak. Isaiah had been writing about Jesus. So Jesus took weeks of travel to be able to minister among the Gentile cities of the Decapolis. And he met a man who needed to be able to hear/speak, and he healed him before returning to Galilee and continuing on with his ministry. So what do we learn from this encounter? How might we apply this to our lives today? First, I would say very briefly, have you let this miracle sink in as an authentication of the person of Jesus? Here again, Jesus is saying/doing things that only God could say/do. Do you see that? Is that convincing for you? Do you see that Jesus is doing what God said he would do in Isaiah 35? But for me, there are two big lessons from this encounter and are uniquely why this story is included in the canon of Scripture. And this is where we’ll spend the rest of our time today. The first lesson is this:
Healing happens in uncomfortably close proximity to Jesus. Did you notice that? Where do we see this in the text? Jesus couldn’t get more in this guy’s bubble. Putting his fingers in the man’s ears is one thing, but then touching his tongue? It’s also not clear how exactly Jesus used his spit either, which is just kind of gross to me. But wait a second. Who is Jesus? If Jesus is the son of God, sent from heaven, then Jesus is the Creator God himself. Is God embarrassed by any part of our bodies? No! He made our bodies. He must be ok with them. Plus, at the incarnation, Jesus voluntarily took on a body himself when he became a man. After his resurrection, Jesus kept his body; in fact, Jesus has a body in heaven to this day. Bodies aren’t inherently bad/shameful. All of our body image issues are part of the fall to sin and the brokenness of this world. As both his Creator and as his compassionate healer, getting in this guy’s bubble doesn’t bother Jesus at all. It’s not shameful for him or all that unusual for a medical procedure. In fact, I think part of the meaning of this encounter, is that Jesus wants to be uncomfortably close. Healing and freedom and life and joy peace, all these things grow brighter/stronger/truer the closer you get to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t heal and remain separate, removed, and at arms-length from your life. He comes in and immediately starts changing things around. It’s like the TV show Hoarders. It’s very possible that Holly loves the TV show Hoarders. What’s the first thing they start doing on Hoarders? They bring in the moving truck and the dumpster and they start clearing space in a house that is full of things that someone thought they couldn’t live without. This is how God works as well. He comes into your home, he starts clearing space and throwing things out of your life that you thought you couldn’t live without. For those of us who have been Christians for a little longer stretch of life. We know that we are rescued and saved into the family of God, into a community of people. We are not only individuals, we’re part of a huge group of people. And yet, at the very same time, God deals with us one on one, as individuals. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard someone say that they thought I was preaching right to them. Like no one else was in the room like I planned my sermon around what was happening in your heart/life. Now, to be clear, I don’t really know what’s going on in your head right now. That’s just God getting uncomfortably close to you. Pressing certain truths deeper into your heart/mind because that’s exactly what you need to hear at the moment. Applying certain things in a unique way to your life. Bringing conviction to our spirits about things that only God knows about. But also speaking gentle assurances to our hearts, reminding us when we need it that we are truly God’s children. There’s nothing we can do to make God love us more and there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less. He knows everything about us. That’s why he knows that we need healing/forgiveness/life. It’s in this discomfort, it’s from this position of exposure, that God does his best work of healing and forgiveness and restoration and newness of life. You want to stay comfortable, stay in the crowd. You want to be healed and transformed in every way? You need to take a risk and walk with Jesus. Healing happens in uncomfortably close proximity to Jesus.
Healing comes from and results in the ministry of the word. First, healing comes from the ministry of the word. It was at the word of Jesus that this man’s ears were opened and his speech was healed. Healing comes from the very words of Jesus. Nothing in all the world is more powerful than the word of God. We are told that of all the ways God might have created the heavens and the earth, it was an act of divine speech that did it. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” By God’s word, the heavens were made and everything in it, the earth was made and all the plants, animals, and human beings in it. God’s word is creative/alive/active; God’s word results in life. God’s word not only caused life, but it sustains life as well. The author of Hebrews says that it is by a word of his power that Jesus sustains all things. Without the sustaining word of God, our particles and atoms wouldn’t hold together. Our matter and energy would cease to exist. Every moment in created space/time is a miracle of God. So is it any wonder then that it would take another act of divine speech to bring healing to the brokenness of this world? Is it any surprise that the word of God would be needed to restore life? Healing comes from the ministry of the word. This is why hearing is such a big deal. The man didn’t need fingers in his ears, he needed to hear the voice of Jesus. This is what the Apostle Peter wrote about in 1Pe 1:23-25, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.” The ministry of the word brings new spiritual life so that the followers of Jesus are born again by hearing and believing this word. This was the Apostle Paul’s conclusion in Romans 10 as well, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Healing, which in this case is a picture of salvation, comes from the ministry of the word.
And finally, healing results in the ministry of the word. It’s almost comical how Jesus commands the man to be quiet about his healing. But the more he did so, the more the people kept talking about what he had done. There’s this Jewish man named Jesus. And he has the power of God to heal. Come and see what type of man he is. Come and see what he has done. I was deaf. I was mute. But he opened my ears and he healed my speech. Of course, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Jesus had a new command for his followers: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations. Tell everyone about who I am and what I have done. Healing happens in uncomfortably close proximity to Jesus. And healing comes from the ministry of the word about Christ, that is, the gospel. But healing results in a multiplication of the ministry of the word. You would not believe what God has done for me in Christ. Come to him. Let him in. Let him do his work of healing, applying his powerful word of love and joy and peace to every part of your life. And then join our brother in testifying to his goodness. For he is good.