Mark 7:31-37 “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 him to place his hand on the man. 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. 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.'”
This miracle is described by the evangelist Mark alone. It is only recorded in this seventh chapter of his gospel. There is a curious detail to be found in this opening sentence which none would appreciate unless he knew the geography of Israel. We know that the Lord has just been near Tyre where he granted the Greek woman’s request to deliver her daughter. Then we are told, “Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis” (v.31). Why is that strange? Tyre, you might remember, is on the coast of the Mediterranean in what today is Lebanon. Sidon is also on the coast twenty miles further north, while the sea of Galilee is fifty miles south and the region of the Decapolis another twenty to thirty miles or so away to the southeast. So what you have here is a horseshoe-shaped itinerary about 120 miles long. It is a very perplexing route to take. It would be like walking from Aberystwyth south to Swansea and the villages of west Glamorgan but doing so via Machynlleth – that little town twenty miles north of us – the very opposite direction.
So what we have here is another slow itinerary of maybe eight or nine months’ duration in which the Lord Jesus was constantly interacting with the twelve, spending ‘quality time’ with them, answering their questions and teaching them, but also preaching throughout that period to increasingly Gentile crowds and healing the sick. Many of the well-known incidents that are recorded in the other gospels took place during this period. By the conclusion of this period the Lord had become the topic of conversation throughout the Decapolis area so that 4,000 men came to hear him. He feeds them with loaves and fishes (as you see at the beginning of the next chapter), just as he’d done with the 5,000 men of Galilee (who’d been stirred by the nine months of the preaching of his twelve disciples). So this is the middle portion of the three years of the public ministry of Christ. After this period is over there are only a few months left before the cross. So Mark tells us that the Lord arrived at this location called the ‘Ten Cities’, Decapolis, the area which includes the Golan Heights, all the area being east of the Sea of Galilee and the river Jordan. It would be approximately the size of our own county of Cardiganshire. So the Lord was somewhere in that locality and there took place this incident which we are now going to consider. We are told, “some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk” (v.32).
Reading these words I thought of a man in our own congregation from the West Indies, called Carlos. He is a fine man, and has his own unique contribution to make, and these words of Mark seem to be describing his very condition, but Carlos in addition to those handicaps is also partially sighted and illiterate. He is here this morning but he can’t hear me as I say his name. I could preach with the Holy Spirit set down from heaven, but he’s never heard me utter a single word. He has never called anyone by his or her name. He cannot enter into the singing with us. He cannot join in a discussion, or a Bible class. Carlos lives in Plas Lluest, the home for those with learning difficulties, and he has a secure and fulfilled life, but his handicap is fearful, isn’t it? To go through life deaf, and dumb, and partially sighted is an enormous deprivation. What must it have been like 2,000 years ago in Decapolis? It would have been miserable. But this man had friends, even as Carlos has friends. They brought him to Jesus, as Carlos’ friends bring him here where the same Lord Jesus meets with us each Lord’s Day.
What is most fascinating of all is the unique way in which the Lord Jesus dealt with this man. It is quite an elaborate procedure and there is obviously a kind of parable and prophecy in the manner in which Christ delivers him. You can imagine a title under the account of this miracle which says, “Jesus of Nazareth – the Messiah.” Seven hundred years earlier the prophet Isaiah was describing the age of the Messiah and he said that when the Christ came, “the ears of the deaf would be unstopped . . . and the tongue of the dumb [would] shout for joy” (Isa. 35:5-6). As Peter at Pentecost said about Joel’s prophecy of the outpouring of the Spirit, “This is that.” So here in Decapolis those Scriptures of Isaiah were actually being fulfilled in the healing of the deaf mute. The friends who brought him to Jesus were on the spot when God’s prophecy through Isaiah took place: “This is that!” This man, made to glorify and enjoy God and his great creation, made to speak the praises of the Creator, did none of that, not only through his sinful nature but by this sickness (which is one of the effects of the fall). He was a part of the fallen groaning creation. Then he is brought to Jesus Christ, and the Saviour starts the process which will make him whole. Grace begins to restore what sin had ruined. After Christ begins a good work in this man he is transformed. No wonder the people proclaimed that Jesus ‘has done everything well’ (v.37).
This transforming of this deaf man is one of those foretastes of what the Son of God will do when he returns again. This man would spend the rest of his life boring his friends and family to death by retelling them of that never-to-be-forgotten day when he met Jesus of Nazareth, and how Christ had unstopped his deaf ears so that he’d heard the brook, and the singing of the birds for the first time, and even his own mother speaking his name. He could also praise with his loosened tongue the wonderful grace of Christ who had transformed him. Of course, he knew a day was bound to come when his tongue would again lie silent in the grave, but he was prepared by Christ’s promises for that event. He would tell people, “I will see Jesus again, and when he raises my dust from the earth and glorifies my body I shall use my tongue to sing his praise. The first sound I want to hear in that tremendous day will be his voice saying to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Until then this man could have gone on singing these words,
“Lord! I was deaf, I could not hear
The thrilling music of Thy voice;
But now I hear Thee and rejoice
And sweet are all Thy words, and dear!
Lord! I was dumb, I could not speak
The grace and glory of thy name;
But now, as touched with living flame,
My lips Thine eager praises wake!” (William T. Matson, 1833 – 99)
What are these New Testament healings of the Lord Christ? Are they simply stories of men coming and showing Jesus what’s wrong with them, getting a cure, so that a few weak areas in the machine called the human body are patched up, and then, ticking over for a few more years? The biblical miracles can’t be just that. Here, the Lord’s healing is a pre-vision that the great Creator God who made and sustains this world loves his people who live in this painful and death-ridden world, and he is going to do something magnificent about it all. One day he is going to cast death into hell. He is going to make a new heavens and new earth, and there will be no sickness and no grave there. That is the next great event on the calendar of God, when Christ is to be revealed to the whole world, and then our poor lisping stammering tongues will praise him more gloriously than the angels praise him now.
So what you have here is an example of the amazing grace of God to dying sinners. This deaf mute is the kind of man Jesus Christ saves, and looking carefully at how the Saviour approached him and proceeded to help him will surely teach us how to deal with people, and deliver them from their lostness and need. I want to show you that the Lord Jesus did five things in restoring this man, and I believe that today, when we deal with people we should learn from the Lord.
1. THE LORD JESUS TOOK HIM ASIDE.
“He took him aside, away from the crowd” (v.33). There were hundreds of peasants, full of curiosity, wanting to see a miracle, and when this little group turn up accompanying the deaf man the crowd get to their feet and press in on Jesus from all sides to see the fun. The Saviour disappointed them. He probably escorted the man into a house and closed the door, (or he took him somewhere private like that). Whatever Jesus did, “he took him aside”, so that there were just the two of them, Christ and the man. How different from the healers you see on television in their hyped up rallies, with the cameras projecting on screens behind the stage close-ups of the sick weeping, and the laying on of hands, and the swooning, and the claims to be recovered. What doctor would ever treat a sick person in such a manner? How vulgar it all is! What charlatans, fakes and liars they all are! Such a plague on the name of evangelical Christianity. Money-making rogues! Quenchers of the Spirit! May God arise and scatter his enemies! Such men need to think of those words of C.S.Lewis:
“From all my lame defeats and oh much more,
From all the victories that I seemed to score,
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf,
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh; . . .
Lord of the narrow gate, and needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery, lest I die.”
How different are men from Christ. Have you noticed how they always want to manipulate an audience and give them moral dilemmas by asking people to stand up and come to the front. It seems an absolute obsession with them, getting them to move from point A to point B. “Stand up in front of everyone, walk down the aisle and have hands laid on you while everybody looks on.” That is supposed to be the religion of the New Testament, the religion of the Holy Spirit. How different was Christ; he took the man aside and virtually no one saw what he did. He treated him privately with dignity and seriousness. He brought him tenderly and considerately into his presence and dealt with him as an individual with deep needs. He took him away from the rude gaze of the madding throng. The crowd wasn’t interested in the deaf mute as a man. They weren’t concerned for his recovery. They wanted him as a show, some excitement, a healing, a seven day wonder with all the accompanying emotions. A sinful and adulterous generation is always wanting signs. But Christ wouldn’t put on a performance for them. This man wasn’t a problem; he was a person. He wasn’t a case; he was an individual. Here was a man made in the image of God, made by God and for God, someone who would live as long as God. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself! Let each deem the other better than himself! Honour one another above yourselves! There is always a private place we could find in this building to talk at the end of any service.
Remember how Jesus dealt with the woman taken in adultery, how he first spoke to the crowd of men who had dragged her to him. He ignored her until he had convicted all of those men of their sin and they all walked off and left her alone with him. Then he spoke to her. How gracious is the Saviour in dealing with us. Teachers can humiliate a boy before the whole class. A husband can humiliate his wife over some slight mistake. A preacher can humiliate a churchgoer, but Christ says, “Come unto me, for I am meek and lowly of heart and ye shall find rest to your souls. A bruised reed I will not break, and I won’t quench a smoking flax.” Some of you are shy and rather private individuals; you needn’t be afraid of dealing with Jesus Christ. He’ll never humiliate you. We have to apologise for our silly ways when we embarrass you, but the Son of God will never do that.
Isobel Kuhn was a Canadian whose parents were Christians but her trust that the Bible was true was undermined by an atheist professor. A two-timing boy-friend shattered her confidence and at 20 she was desperately unhappy and dramatically thought of ending her life, but she thought of how it would destroy her beloved father. One night she lay in bed sleepless. She says about it, “I turned and sat down on the edge of my bed and faced the darkest moment of my life. I didn’t want to live, and I couldn’t die.” It was then that the Lord Jesus began to deal with her in another way. He brought to her mind these words, “In God’s will is our peace.” They might have come from a hymn or poem she vaguely remembered, and then she began to stammer out her first real prayer. That is how God deals with people, inwardly and quietly, in the privacy of our own rooms. Even when we are in a crowded congregation, he is speaking personally to our souls and no one else knows. At this moment, as you are listening to these words, the Lord is speaking one-to-one to you, but no-one knows except him and you.
2. THE LORD JESUS LOOKED TO HEAVEN.
“He looked up to heaven” (v.34). The sick man saw him look to God in worship and intercession. Only God could change this man, and if he were healed then it would be the Lord who had done it. Let this man know it. Let him be assured that it was not an itinerant healer who was responsible. It was the God Jesus called his Father. Do you know of a plant which is called the prayer-plant. You simply brush its leaves and the slightest touch will result in its leaves folding together, just like a person putting their hands together in prayer. The Lord was touched by this helpless man, deaf and hardly capable of speaking, and it sent him to prayer. Do things great and small touch us and drive us to prayer? Jesus lived in communion with God. There was never a day growing up in which he dismissed God from his consciousness. His Father was constantly in his thoughts. He prayed without ceasing, and yet there were times when he devoted himself to pray. Jesus looked up to heaven.
Do I need to exhort you or myself about this? Most certainly so for a number of reasons: First, all our strength as Christians is borrowed strength and needs to be sought for conscientiously each day. Every week I have two important public examinations to sit, and they require hours of preparation. They are these sermons, and I have never prepared for them as much as I do these latter years. Last Sunday’s strength is a week too late for today. I need to appropriate the energy of God to prepare and to preach each Sabbath. Secondly, we need to be exhorted about prayer because, as Maurice Roberts points out, “as the habit of grace grows stronger so it is God’s way with us to match our providences to our strength.” In other words, as you mature as a Christian so your testings are certainly greater than when you were a novice. The enemies are stronger, the challenges tougher, the discouragements sharper and falls more bitter. Thirdly, we need to be exhorted about prayer because the Bible shows us that the falls of God’s people were more frequent in their maturity than in their spiritual infancy. Think of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and Peter. Think of how temptations came to them when they were mature men, and down they went! The Lord had warned Peter to watch and pray, but he slept.
I can imagine the sad truth to be this, that many preachers do not pray, and that thousands and thousands of professing Christians are failing to keep up the practice of daily looking up to heaven. Observation and experience tell us this, when good habits are left off for any length of time they are very hard to recover. The only safe way to maintain a good duty is to keep it up always. In other words, let a day go by without secret prayer and it will become easier to let a prayerless week go by, and then a prayerless month . . . “Ah,” someone says, “but we ought not to pray to God with a reluctant spirit. We ought not to come to the weekly Prayer Meeting reluctantly.” True! But better by far to pray reluctantly than not to pray at all, better to come to the Prayer Meeting in the wrong spirit than to cease coming.
I will state this, that we are all looking to someone or something. Every single one of us. We cannot live independent lives. God alone depends on nothing. If you are not looking to God then you are looking too much to your parents, or to your wife, or to your husband, or to your priest, or to your preacher, and one day there will be an inevitable ending of that relationship. One day death is going to separate you. You had been looking to them at the expense of looking at God, and what then? A day came in the life of John Newton the hymn writer that he had always been in dread, and that was the day when he lost his beloved wife. Those of you who know the remarkable life of John Newton will remember that even in those evil days of his youth, he always thought of that girl back in England, if only he could marry her. Then they were blissfully married for many years. There were just the two of them, no children. And the one day he dreaded was when he should lose his wife, and at last that day came. And, you know, his dearest friends feared for him. He grieved deeply and mourned his loss and loneliness, so that his friends wondered if he would be able to preach. They felt sure that if he ever did preach again, it would be a long time before he did. But when the Lord’s day came, he went into the pulpit. And when the time for the sermon came, in a sweet confidence of faith, he announced as his text these words that come at the end of the book of Habakkuk: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Hab. 3:17&18) His beloved friend, William Cowper the poet, wrote this verse in the hymn, “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings:”
“Though vine and fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear,
Though all the field should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there.
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.”
What does that tell us Newton and Cowper? That they often had looked up to heaven.
As Christians we are faced with many things we cannot alter, evils of our modern day which grieve our spirits. We cannot, though we would dearly love to, reverse much modern legislation, to attend to matters of law and order, to rescue the unborn child, to close so-called sex shops, to protect women and children who are exposed to violence We can do little about international terrorism and the drug trade and slavery and prostitution and fraud. There are many things we would do if we could but we have no power to do them, but the Christian can and must take great pains to watch over his own soul in this sensual and slippery age, when the best of men are finding it hard to keep to the path.
There is no new or golden formula for safety. There is none promised and none needed except such as these: Look up to heaven! Men should always pray and not faint. Watch and pray. Praying always. This is such elementary and familiar advice, easily scorned and ignored in favour of more exhilarating and exotic experiences, but what we have here is this. This man was God the Son, the incarnation of the covenant of Grace, the one who had made the universe, the man who had raised from the dead Jairus’ daughter, the one who once said to God, “I know that you always hear my prayers.” Here is the one of whom God says, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” If ever there was one person in the world who didn’t need to pray it would have been the Lord Jesus. If every there was someone you imagine could heal ten people before breakfast it would have been him. It was not like that. It never is like that. He needed to look up to heaven, and so do you. If we would give sight to the blind sinners we need to be looking up to heaven The source of the help that can change you is in the living God.
3. THE LORD JESUS SIGHED.
“He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh . . .” (v.34). Mark doesn’t often refer to Jesus’ expressions of emotion, but here we are told that the incarnate God gave a deep sigh. He was really involved in this man’s predicament. It wasn’t another case for him to cure. The Lord ached for this man. He was touched by the feeling of his dreadful infirmities. This is a very poignant reminder of the pity and the compassion that lies right in the depths of the being of God himself. It is perfectly proper that Christ, even as a divine person, should be portrayed in this way, because sighing expresses so admirably the depths of his compassion for this man, and also his sorrow and anger at the ravages of the Fall in the lives of men. Of course, alongside of that, it is in perfect accordance with the humanity of Christ that he should be portrayed as one who sighed because our Lord had the same kind of affection, and attachments, and loyalties, and emotions as we ourselves possess as human beings. Jesus was a real man. Computers don’t sigh. Animals don’t sigh. Only men sigh. How many hymns in Grace Hymns begins with a sigh, that is, with the word ‘O’? There are seventy-three of them. “O . . . for closer walk with God . . . for a heart to praise my God . . . for a thousand tongues to sing . . . happy day that fixed my choice . . . Jesus king most wonderful . . . the deep deep love of Jesus . . . Thou who camest from above . . . worship the king all glorious above.” And so on. The language of worship is the language of the religious affections. If Christians sigh in their worship it would be odd to find a silence in Christ.
I am sure that Christ did not sigh his way through life. Too much is made of the claim that Christ is said to have wept, but never said to have smiled, or to have laughed. You bear in mind that the fruit of the Spirit is joy, and that there is the constant emphasis in the New Testament on the body of Christ rejoicing, and that that is to be the believer’s dominant emotion. Joy was an indispensable part of the Lord’s authentic humanness. He was a profoundly contented person, notwithstanding all the deprivations of his earthly existence, he knew the heights of joy. In his heart there was a melody to his Father, but there were times like these when he sighed, when it would have been a sin not to sigh. He wept at the grave of Lazarus and over Jerusalem’s rejection.
It is obvious that Christ didn’t sigh for the benefit of the man himself who couldn’t hear him. There are preachers who would have us all know that they have a problem with their breathing and they milk it dry, pausing after any burst of animation in the pulpit to look away into the distance to regain their breath, breathing heavily. “Poor man! If only he was strong, what a mighty preacher he would be,” his fans mutter to one another. That is the impression wants to he cultivates by his quiet sighs and pauses. There was nothing of that theatricality in our Lord. The Son of God looked at this man, at his deafness, and his inability to speak, and the helplessness of anyone to change him. The man was just one of thousands all over the land who were in pain. Our Lord knew of the broken homes, the abandoned children, the mental illness, demon possession, the poverty, every kind of degradation and every form of evil. He had observed at close hand so much of it, more than anyone else. People were coming to him day and night in great weakness and pain, and it must have been overwhelming for him to see the constant arrival of the seriously ill and the dying, young and old, and hear the sobs of their loved ones as they pleaded for their lives. We are not surprised that Jesus sighed.
Surely today the church which is Christ’s body, as it contemplates our own civilization, is touched in the same way. Let’s make sure that we don’t try to make a church a sigh-free zone. Then it wouldn’t be a very Christlike place. In this congregation today there is the heartache, the bereavement, the separation, the estrangement, the frailty of the elderly, the lostness of the adolescent, the loneliness, and bitter regrets. It is so easy to cocoon ourselves in our own domestic security, in the coziness of our own family lives, and be blind to the misery and sense of despair that is right beside us. But Christ got to grips with it. A miracle like this wasn’t simply the fulfilment of prophecy and a foretaste of the great day of resurrection, it was also the Lord’s assault on the misery that he found all around him. He had come to destroy the works of the devil.
Now no church today has the gift of the miracle worker. There is no one at all in the whole world whom we can E-mail and take to the home on the hill where all the residents with their learning difficulties would be instantly healed by his presence. Of such things fantasies are made of. We cannot raise the dead or feed the 5,000 with the loaves and fishes. We are awaiting such a time at the end of the age, and until then we always meet around the miracle of the Scriptures, God’s own word, which is Spirit and life. Do we do nothing then? No! Take the sick to God in prayer! Healers are no more needed than priests. But we are called upon never to forget the Lord who is in our midst here and now, the Head of our assembly. He is himself full of compassion for each one of you, and so his body, the church, which is joined to him, must be a community of affection, and a fellowship of friendships. It’s a place for the lonely to find acceptance and comfort. It is to be a place where its members don’t measure you, or ask if you are clever, or prestigious, or wealthy, or morally attractive, but where there is acceptance for Christ’s sake, and mutual help, and healing. The Christ who has brought you here is a personal Saviour, touched by the feeling of your infirmities and he sighs over you. Come to this compassionate and tender God.
4. THE LORD JESUS TOUCHED HIM.
“Jesus out his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue” (v.33). In other words, Jesus came right up to him. He was smelling his breath and looking right into his eyes. He was really involved in this man. He came right into his situation, as they say, right up to where he was ‘at’. He came into the closest contact with this man’s sufferings. He felt his ear holes – closed up, preventing any sound entering, and he touched that tongue that couldn’t speak. He was there, right with him in his suffering. Our Saviour was ‘hands on’ with this man. “I am going to unstop your deaf ears,” he was saying. “I am going to loosen your tongue to speak.” He put his own spittle on the man’s tongue. It was almost a holy kiss. You remember how like that it was when God made Adam out of the dust of the earth, and he came so intimately close to that lifeless body and he breathed right into his nostrils and man lived! The Son of God could hardly get closer to this hurting man.
The politically minded man has to be careful that he is not a practitioner of isolation and detachment, that he sees the needs, he passes laws and finds a way of paying for their implementation by taxing the people, and then he prides himself that he’s a practical and a compassionate man, unlike those religious people. Yet all the time he is absent from the pain; he never visits the darkness. King Herod was like that, and the chief priests Annas and Caiaphas were like that, and above all Caesar was like that, but the Son of God was not like that. He came where men blasphemed, and swore and argued and wept. He came where they plucked the hairs of his beard, and blindfolded him, and hit him in the face.
I am saying to you that it is a great privilege to be where Christ was, surrounded by unbelievers, where there is no respect for the Christian faith or sympathy towards it. Don’t envy my isolation from that. My life is a Christian aberration; your life surrounded by men and women of the world, is the norm. That is where my Lord was. That is where he spoke of the kingdom of God, and the love of God, and that is where I must be. I must speak the language of that place. I must live within earshot of the groans, and the frustrations, and the cries, and the sorrows of the darkness. I must be conversant with its oppression, because otherwise I can never speak to the heart of the poor man and the suffering man. That is where Christ came. He made himself so accessible to this man. He could have tabernacled with the Caesars in Rome. He could have been shielded from the common gaze by a private army. He despised such attitudes.
Let the preachers hang around the church on Sundays and after the midweek meeting. Let them not insist (as if they were popes or monarchs) that everyone must remain seated until they have left the building and gone home, and then people may talk to one another. That is the mark of the cultist. How different was Christ from that. He made himself approachable. Let everyone in the church know that the pastor is always available and that they can go to him. That is the most basic pastoral gift, accessibility.
This same Christ comes close to us today. He avoids the self-righteous. He comes to those who know that their lives are in a mess. He sees the Pharisee who is praying to himself, and he walks past him, but he comes right up to the man who hangs his head and won’t look at heaven, sighing, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Immediately Jesus is there, right alongside him. He is reaching out to you now. You feel his hands touching your soul, opening your ears to hear of everlasting life in him.
“Come ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power. He is able, he is willing; doubt no more.” (Joseph Hart 1712-1768).
5. THE LORD JESUS SPOKE TO HIM.
“He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha’ (which means, ‘Be opened!’)” (v. 34). “Open up,” Christ says to the man’s ears. Peter was probably there with James and John and again he remembers the Aramaic Jesus used, just as he did when he raised Jairus’ daughter. In all Peter’s preaching when he told congregations of everything he had seen and heard he would tell them of this deaf mute and how Jesus came so close to him and put his fingers in his ears and spittle on his tongue, and then he said . . . “Ephphatha.” When the Greeks and Romans would look blank Peter would say, “Open up! That’s the word of Christ to that man.”
It was the first word the man ever heard. Think of that miracle of sound entering his ears, and his being able to classify and distinguish and understand language which he had never heard. Think of all that was needed to condition his brain to understand that words had meaning, that a tone of voice might change the meaning. Soon he was to be surrounded by his friends and all of them shouting and weeping and laughing and rejoicing as they hugged him, and the miracle of his being able to absorb it all without going crazy. Mark tells us that this man straight away began to speak plainly.
The Lord spoke to the totally deaf, and he commanded this deaf man to hear. So it is with you today. The Bible is pessimistic about men’s ability to understand the gospel. “Ears they have, but they cannot hear,” Isaiah says, and that is true of everyone outside of Christ. Yet to everyone of you the Lord is speaking, and he is saying, “Open up!” Stop resisting the message. Stop shutting your ears to what God is saying. You are not able to hear because you are a sinner, yet you will hear in the obedience of faith. You cannot . . . but you can! In other words, as you determine, “I will hear the word of Christ. I will listen to God. I will pay heed to his word,” you actually do. As you cry to God, “Unstop my deaf ears,” you are clearly hearing God. Jesus spoke to the man with the withered hand and asked him to do what he could not do, “Stretch forth your hand.” As he obeyed the Lord he could obey him. God commands the blind, “See!” God commands the paralysed man, “Get up and walk!” He commands the dead man in his grave, “Lazarus, come forth.” Whether they can or cannot, when the Lord speaks they must! The grace of the mighty word enables us to obey. So today the Lord speaks to you in your helplessness and he tells you to come to him. No man can come to him except it be given him by the Father, but in the command of grace grace is given to obey the command. J.C.Ryle says, “The Lord can give the chief of sinners a hearing ear. He can make him delight in listening to the very Gospel which he once ridiculed and despised.”
Be opened! “At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly” (v.35). James R. Edwards says that the original Greek is very vivid and concrete. It says, “The chain of his tongue was broken.” Christ had come to break the fetters than bind men and women. This miracle is God’s sign that he can break those chains that are binding you. J.C.Ryle says, “When Jesus pours forth his Spirit, nothing is impossible. We must never despair of others. We must never regard our own hearts as too bad to be changed. He that healed the deaf and the dumb still lives.”
You understand that when Jesus commanded the man and his friends and his own disciples not to tell anyone he is aware that the transformation of this man would be impossible to hide. The Saviour is asking just this, that the actual details of how he personally dealt with the man be held back. You see, Jesus is not simply a healer. He has to go to the cross and die and be raised on the third day. You do not understand who this Jesus is until you’ve grasped that he is the suffering Messiah, and the resurrection and the life. The Lord is pleading for a bit more space and time to travel around, and teach his disciples and the multitudes, but such time is running out. Crowds demanding signs are going to dog his footsteps from now on. The more Jesus commanded them to not to tell anyone, “the more they kept talking about it” (v.36).
Their great theme was this, “He has done everything well” (v.37). A woman called Alice Brade was taken to hear William Gadsby preach in Preston. She had been raised amongst the Methodists and a group of them went to hear the Baptist minister. She was deeply affected by what she heard and she went to her class-leader to ask him what he had thought of Gadsby. “Well,” he said, “he certainly gave Jesus Christ a good name.”
People don’t give Jesus Christ a good name today, do they? The leading South American novelist, Isabel Allende, was in London in October giving interviews to mark the appearance of her new book, and she was telling journalists her own muddled life-story. She said, “I hate Christianity – all that guilt.” I don’t know what her understanding of Christianity is, but I do know that those who have had their guilt taken away and receive forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name say about him, “He has done everything well.” How can we help Aberystwyth sinners to say this? It comes as we give him a good name – the Saviour, the Prophet, Priest, King. Good names for the altogether lovely one, and there are many more. Then do what Jesus did, take them aside, reach out graciously, and modestly in the name of Christ: an upward look of prayer, a heartfelt sigh of compassion, a loving touch upon the hurting and never neglect the gospel command to repent and obey the Saviour by coming to him. Then some healing will come to our sick society.
2nd November 2003 GEOFF THOMAS