Be Opened

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Mark 7:31-37 (Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man)

INTRODUCTION: We are back to Mark after a short break, and today we come to another one of Jesus’ miracles. This particular incident is recorded for us only in the Gospel of Mark. You don’t find it in Matthew, Luke or John, so without Mark, we would not know about Jesus’ encounter with this deaf and mute man. As with all portions of Scripture, God had Mark record this incident for a reason, so let us take a look at it carefully. (Read and pray.)

I want you to imagine that you are the deaf man in this passage. You are completely cut off from the world of sound. You cannot hear the sound of your loved ones’ voices; you cannot hear the laughter of children, the wind in the trees, water rushing, birds calling, music or singing. That would be a difficult adjustment for any of us to make.

Deafness can be an isolating experience. It is one thing to lose your sense of smell or taste, but to lose your hearing presents many challenges in life. Praise God there are so many more opportunities and resources for people who are deaf today, but those who were deaf in Jesus’ day did not have any of those advantages. They did not have schools or training or a fully developed sign language. And so while deafness can be a real challenge for people today, we need to remember that it was extremely debilitating for people in the time of the New Testament.

I. The problem (verses 31-32)

Today’s passage presents a healing miracle of Jesus. We have looked at some of Jesus’ other healing miracles, but this incident presents some unique aspects for us to explore. And it begins when Jesus leaves the area of Tyre and makes his way back to the Sea of Galilee. Verse 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. (Mark 7:31)

We saw last time that Jesus took a trip north to the area of Tyre and Sidon. This was in Phoenicia, which is the same as modern day Lebanon. Tyre was about 35 miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus usually ministered. Once again, we don’t know why Jesus made this particular trip, whether it was for a break from ministry or some teaching time with his disciples. But it was unusual for him to leave Israel and to spend some time in a foreign country. This was actually the farthest north Jesus traveled that we have on record.

After casting a demon out of a young girl in Phoenicia, Jesus made his way back to the Sea of Galilee, but this time he went into the region of the Decapolis. “Deca” is the Greek word for “ten,” and “polis” is the Greek word for “city,” so the word literally means “ten cities,” and that’s exact what it was. The Decapolis was a group of ten cities located on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. These were Gentile cities mostly inhabited by Gentiles and under Gentile rule.

So Jesus is still on “break” so to speak, and has not yet returned to his preaching mission to his own people in Israel. However, even though Jesus was not teaching and preaching publicly in the Decapolis, people there still knew about him. You might remember when we studied the demon-possessed man in Mark chapter five, Mark tells us that after Jesus healed him, he went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. So Jesus arrives in the Decapolis where people have already heard about his miraculous powers, and while he is there some people bring to him this deaf man. Verse 32:

There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. (Mark 7:32)

This man was both deaf and partially mute, which means he was cut off from communication on both ends. He could not hear, and so people would have difficulty communicating with him. And he could hardly talk, which means he would have a hard time communicating back. As we mentioned before, he would not have had the many advantages that deaf people have in our own day, and so this man would have been extremely isolated and lonely.

He probably would not have known that Jesus was in town or even who Jesus was, he was that cut off from the world. Fortunately he had some family or friends who heard that Jesus was around and who brought him to Jesus to intercede on his behalf. They believed in Jesus’ ability to heal, and so they begged him to lay his hands on the man and heal him.

II. The healing (verses 33-35)

And the healing that follows is very interesting. Jesus didn’t just say, “Okay, you can hear and speak again now,” but there were several things that took place first.

    A. Jesus took him aside.

First, Jesus took him aside. Verse 33 says:

After he took him aside, away from the crowd … (Mark 7:33)

I find it interesting that Jesus took the man away from the crowd before he healed him. I once attended a youth conference where the guest speaker brought a young boy in a wheelchair up on stage. The boy wasn’t attending the conference. The speaker had met him and his parents in a public park during a break. The boy had a permanent injury and was unable to walk. The speaker invited the parents to bring their boy back to the conference where he would pray for the boy’s healing in front of the whole gathering. So there we were in a crowded auditorium, and the speaker was on stage with the boy and his parents, and he led us all in a prayer of healing for this young boy in the wheelchair. And then when he had finished praying, he invited the boy to get out of his wheelchair in front of us all and walk across the stage.

Before I tell you what happened next, let me tell you some of the things I was feeling at the time. On the one hand I was praying fervently for this young boy and his healing, because who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t want a crippled boy to be able to walk again? On the other hand, I found myself fighting some conflicting motivations. Was I truly praying for healing out of compassion for this boy, or was there a part of me that was just hoping to see a miracle? And then I was thinking about the parents. What were they thinking about all this? Were they even believers? Was it right to raise their hopes so high by bringing them into a crowded auditorium to pray for a dramatic healing like this? And then I wondered why we were being brought into all this. If God wanted to heal the boy, couldn’t the speaker have just prayed for him in the park and healed him there? And then of course I was feeling guilty for thinking all these things and would go back to praying for God to miraculously heal this boy.

Okay, back to the stage. The speaker invited the boy to get out of his wheelchair and walk while we all watched and waited in anticipation. The boy shuffled in his chair as he prepared to rise. And he … tried. He really tried. But he was not able to get out of that wheelchair. God had not healed his physical disability. Perhaps God healed him at a later time. I don’t know. I certainly do not doubt God’s power to heal. And I don’t want to judge the speaker’s motivations or whether or not God was directing him to do what he did. But I do question the appropriateness of intentionally praying for a miraculous healing in a public setting, especially when we find Jesus doing the very opposite.

Granted, not all of Jesus’ healings were private. There were times during his public ministry when the crowds brought him their sick and he healed them all in front of everyone. But when it came to individual healings, we do see a pattern of Jesus avoiding the crowds and taking the individual aside. I believe part of this was Jesus’ concern for the dignity of the individual. Jesus did not want to make a spectacle of anyone. Part of it was Jesus’ humility. Jesus was not looking for the admiration of the crowds. And part of it was also Jesus’ mission. Jesus came primarily to preach and to teach. His miracles backed up his teaching, but he did not want the miracles to distract from his teaching. Jesus took the man aside, away from the crowds.

    B. Jesus used physical touch.

Secondly, Jesus used physical touch. Look at the rest of verse 33:

Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. (Mark 7:33)

Jesus often used physical touch in healing. Usually he would just lay his hands on the person. This was more for the people’s benefit than for him. Jesus didn’t need to use touch when healing. There were times when he just spoke the word and the person was healed. But the laying on of hands was a personal touch. It demonstrated Jesus’ compassion, it helped the person with their faith, and it identified Jesus as the channel through whom God was working to bring the healing.

In this case physical touch was extremely important because the deaf man could not hear Jesus speak to him. And so to communicate what he was doing, Jesus first put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit, and touched the man’s tongue. And so Jesus touched the two specific areas where this man needed healing – his ears for hearing, and his tongue for speaking.

    C. Jesus looked up to heaven.

A third thing Jesus did was he “looked up to heaven.” (Mark 7:34) This was an act of prayer and a sign of dependence on God. Although Jesus was God and the Son of God, he chose to live his entire human life in dependence on God the Father. Jesus spoke about this in John 5: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19) And so Jesus looked up to heaven as a sign of his dependence on and submission to the Father. Although Jesus had authority to heal on his own, he deferred to the Father in prayer.


    D. Jesus sighed, and he spoke.

And then finally, Jesus sighed and he spoke the words of healing. Verse 34:

He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). (Mark 7:34)

This sigh was a deep sigh, more along the lines of a groan. I believe it is revelation of God’s heart concerning all sickness and sorrow and suffering in the world. God is not a God way off in the distance, far removed from the sufferings of man. He is a God who cares for us and feels our pain. He is the God who shares our burden. He is the God who took on human flesh himself in order to free us from sickness and suffering and sin.

Jesus gave a deep sigh, and then he said, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”) Jesus gave this command to the man’s ears that were shut and could not hear. He gave this command to the man’s tongue that was bound and could not speak clearly. He spoke to the man’s condition; he spoke to the man’s need: “Be opened!” And verse 35 tells us:

At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. (Mark 7:35)

This was an amazing miracle. Not only did Jesus heal the man’s deafness instantly, but Jesus also gave the man the ability to speak clearly. His ears were opened; his tongue was loosened. This man was healed instantly and completely at Jesus’ word. (Do you wonder what his first words were?)

III. The response (verses 36-37)

And what was the response to Jesus’ miracle? Look at verses 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.” (Mark 7:36-37)

As we saw earlier in our study in Mark, Jesus often told people after he healed them not to go around telling others. This was mainly to keep the focus on his teaching ministry and also to avoid a premature confrontation with the leaders in Jerusalem. But good news is hard to keep quiet, and the people just couldn’t keep it to themselves.

They were overwhelmed with amazement at Jesus’ power, and I love what they say about him here. First, they say, “He has done everything well.” That echoes the language of Genesis 1 which affirms God’s work in creation: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) When God does something, he always does it well. He never does sloppy or substandard work. What he begins he finishes, and he always does it to perfection. That is good news for us, because if you are a believer, God is in process of working on you. And as we read in the book of Philippians, you can be confident of this: “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) God does everything well.

And then the people also say this: “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” That echoes the language of Isaiah 35 which we read earlier in the service. “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come … to save you. 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 35:4-6) These were verses that were prophetic of the Messiah to come, and so in healing the deaf and the mute, Jesus was demonstrating that he was indeed the Messiah who had been sent into the world. Jesus is the Messiah; he is the Christ who does all things well.

CONCLUSION: So how do we apply this message to ourselves today? I would like to go straight to your relationship with God this morning. Are you walking in relationship with God? Are you listening to him? Are you talking with him? Are you obeying him? Or are you cut off from God, like this deaf and mute man who was cut off from the people around him?

At one point we were all cut off from God, separated from him by our sins. And we were as helpless to change our condition as the deaf and mute man in our passage today. But if you are a believer today, somehow God got through to you, just as Jesus got through to the deaf man. You had a heart of stone and your ears were deaf to spiritual things, but Jesus spoke to your heart, “Be opened!” and your heart was opened to God. It was a miracle! You think healing the deaf man was an amazing miracle? It’s nothing compared to the miracle of salvation.

Perhaps you have been a believer for some time now, but you have slipped in your walk with God. You are not talking with him like you used to. You are not listening to him like you used to. This morning Jesus says to you, “Be opened!” Open your ears to the wonderful truth of God’s word all over again. Open your mouth! Confess your sin to God, and let your lips speak forth his praises. Say aloud for the whole world to hear: “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, who died and rose again!” Confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord.

Is God calling you to do something, perhaps to step out in faith or to trust him in new ways? Then hear Christ say to you: “Be opened!” Be open to God working in your life; be open to God’s Spirit working in you; be open to God’s will whatever that may be.

That’s our word for today. Be open to God. Be open to Jesus. He is the Christ. He is the Messiah. He has done all things well, and he will do all things well. And when Christ is leading your life, no matter how rocky the path that you walk, the end is always good. All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well, because Christ is God and Christ is good. “Be opened!” Be open to God and his amazing love for you.

© Ray Fowler

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