Mark 7:31-37: Not Only What, but How

Deaf Hear, Mute Speak 2The entrance and exit for our words—hearing and speaking.  Into our ears, words enter; out of our mouths, they leave.  For our vocal cords to form coherent sounds, our eardrums need those sounds to vibrate on them.  By listening, we learn to speak.

A little child makes many random noises, later mimicking the pitch, timber, and intonations of speech.  First syllables, with words and sentences soon dancing on the tongue, with a lifetime of all-encompassing conversation to follow.

Now, if the ears aren’t working as designed, the mouth will not flower in fine speech.  Those who are born deaf find learning to talk an almost impossible task.  So, should we be surprised to find being deaf and mute coming together in an unwanted pair?

On a bit of journey, walking from the coast toward the ten cities, the Decapolis, Jesus makes His way through Gentile country.  For Israel’s Messiah also becomes the world’s, which Jesus shows by visiting those whom the Jews call “Goyim,” foreigners.

Some people brought a deaf man to Jesus, for word about this Rabbi spread fast.  The One who displayed power over demons should be able to heal this man.  “Please lay your hand on him and make him better.”

The people come with a preconceived plan, some notion about how Jesus is supposed to work.  The people expect the Rabbi from Galilee to do what other healers did, take His hands, touch the sick person, and pray.  Little do they realize He is no ordinary healer—no, He’s the Lord of all healing.

Ponder a moment.  For we do the same, approaching Jesus in the same way.  Like them, we not only present the problem but the solution, as well.  Here’s what we want Jesus—and what You need to do!  The strangeness is this: The more you specify, the less of a gift it becomes!

The way we approach God turns into a transaction, a bargain.  For the old Adam in us loves to haggle with God.  All right, Lord, give me what I want, in the way I want.  Oh, and thank You ahead of time for cooperating.  Give me patience, but don’t allow me to suffer.  Grant me wisdom, but spare me the pain of experience.  Cure me, but don’t make me go to the doctor.

With the man deaf from birth, Jesus doesn’t play their game.  No, He takes him away, sheltering him from the crowd.  This poor man’s plight will not become a circus for the curious masses.  Not able to speak and hear, Jesus wants to deal with him in private.

Though being deaf doesn’t kill you, a world of silence is isolating.  A life without words is a one with limited communication, at best.  The substance of our communication is words, and words are at the heart of communion.  The fellowship with others flows from words, given and received.  A person connects with someone else using words.

So, in unveiled compassion, Jesus pulls the man aside, away from the crowd.  To us, we find Jesus’ next actions as strange, sticking fingers into ears, spitting and touching the tongue.  Next, He lifts His eyes toward heaven.  The Lord will not let this turn into a performance, so Jesus heals him, secluded, not in front of the clamoring crowd.

Ah, Jesus is using sign language, which this man can understand.  The heavenly Healer is also using the language of exorcism, which is what exorcists did to cast out demons.  Now, being unable to hear is not proof of demon possession, but Jesus treats the affliction in the same way.

Why?  The man’s deafness hails back to the devil’s deception, the fall of man and creation, now subject to disease, decay, and death.  For Christ came to make right what sin made wrong.  So, our Lord touches this man’s sin-encrusted ears and mouth, and speaks, “Ephphatha.”

To be deaf and mute in the world is to live without words—a picture of our spiritual condition before God.  Are we not born deaf to God’s Word?  Yes, our ears are born blocked to the Spirit’s working in the Word, incapable of receiving.  Without hearing, we are voiceless to confess God, powerless to open closed lips and loosen our tongues to repeat what God gives us to say.

Oh, we can listen to the world with no problem; not so with the Word, which our lifeless ears cannot take in.  So our lips, likewise, cannot conform to the Word God furnishes us to speak.  A Word from Jesus is what we need.  For the Word of Jesus does the doing.  In the beginning, God said “Be light,” and the light came into being where only darkness earlier resided.  So with the man’s ears.  “Be open,” and the blockage is gone—unclogged ears can now receive, with the tongue soon to follow.

Next, Jesus tells everyone, “Shhh!  Don’t tell anyone!”  Help me make sense of this!  For what’s the point in opening his lips if his mouth is to remain closed to tell everyone about Jesus?  Why the secret?  The Lord of all recognizes how many will mistake His miracle.  Amazed by this mastery over creation, many will view Him as nothing more than a wonder worker.  Hey, this Rabbi is a source of free health care, a vending machine for blessings.

To respond in this way misunderstands Him.  The Savior of the world now turns into someone who will mend this fallen creation, not call a new one into being at the end of time.  The current world only needs a tweak here and a tuck somewhere else.  The fallen world can be repaired and made well, only needing reformation, not recreation.

Oh, and while You’re reshaping the world, remove the Romans and put Israel back on the map.  Rid the world of hunger, disease, and poverty, and become our food king, multiplying bread and fish.  So, Jesus tells him to keep quiet.

Born as children of Adam, we are deaf and mute, thick of eardrum and bereft of speech.  Stone deaf to God’s Word, powerless to pray and praise Him.  With blocked ears, we don’t realize when God speaks to us.  With tied tongues, we lack the faith-filled words to form on our lips.

So, something else fills our ears.  Each person relishes in himself.  The words we want are our words of wisdom and self-justification, all the ways we build ourselves up.  Those are the sounds tickling our itching ears.  Spiritual noise is moving on our mouths and delighting on our lips.  The new song of salvation is far from us.  The songs I want, uplift and magnify me, not the Lord.  Such is our fallen nature.

So, your divine Doctor descends to do for you what He did for the man in the Decapolis long ago.  Here, He comes to stick His Word into your ears, to cut through deafness, all to open our minds and hearts.  “Be open,” rings out, and He grabs your tongues so you can pray and give thanks, as He wants.

So, we need Jesus.  For He loosens our language to celebrate Him, becoming instruments of worship, declaring Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  For He raised you from the graveyard of your sin, shed His blood for you so you can live under Him in His kingdom.  On the Last Day, He will raise you to the right hand of God in His glorious flesh.

To hear, believe, and speak requires God to act.  So Jesus breaks into our silence, sticking His fingers into our ears, not scratching our particular itch but beating His rhythm of redemption on to our eardrums.  The Lord spits—His baptismal spit of contempt against the devil, corruption, and death, which seeks to enslave and destroy.  To His Father, He gazes, as He sighs His Spirit and speaks, “Be open!”

With His enlivening Word, Jesus creates faithful ears.  The Scriptures reveal, “Faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17).  Now, our lips can release a torrent of thanksgiving and confession.  “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise” (Psalm 51:15).  For if the Lord doesn’t release our vocal cords, no prayers and adoration will be coming out.  No, only a litany of curses, self-justifications, and judgments denying the truth, insulting what God created us to be.

Away from the crowds, Jesus cures the man.  The hiddenness of this miracle shows He didn’t come to start a movement but to save the world.  The Father’s Son leaped from heaven’s royal throne to be born in humility, not to become a wonder-working celebrity (Wisdom 18:15).  So, to the cross He trudged, not with fanfare or spectacle, but what we forced Him to endure.

The healed ear and freed tongue testify to what Christ came to do—bring us life unending, without the sin but all the glory.  The incarnate Son blazed the path so, like Him, our death will lead to resurrection.  So, Jesus still comes to touch the untouchable.  Into ears, He sticks His fingers, grabbing hold of tongues, taking death by the hand to grasp what wrongs ruin our flesh.

The eternal Healer becomes the disease for your healing.  In His death, He becomes deaf so You can hear.  A shroud covered His face, becoming mute so you can respond in faith.  Most of all, He takes in your sin so you can become righteous, going into the darkness so you can walk in Light.

Only our Redeemer does everything well.  In Him, we receive what He is, which is the only reason you can rejoice in God’s presence.  Only Jesus justifies, raises the dead, baptizes, feeds, and forgives you.  With ears open to His Word, He unshackles your speech to sing His new song of salvation.

How can I say this?  Dear baptized believer, you are the living proof, for You trust in Jesus.  Amen.


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