August 14, 2016
I want to invite you to a party this morning. I do so, because you’re invited – you’re on the guest list. We arrive today at a passage in our study of the book of Mark that, on the surface, is going to look very familiar – perhaps even redundant. The chorus of encouragement may reach a fever pitch – come on, Scott, let’s finish this gospel and move on to something else. But before we dismiss the passage too quickly as stuff we’ve seen before, we need to examine it a bit more closely. Read it with me, Mark 7:31-37.
Utterly astonished – hapax. Beyond all measure amazed. Why? Jesus had raised people from the dead – what’s the big deal about this miracle? And do you see what I mean? It’s another healing story – we’ve seen them all over the Gospel of Mark. I mean, follow the flow:
- In chapter 1 – Jesus’ first healing in Mark is actually an exorcism – He drove out a demon in a synagogue. Still in chapter 1, He healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and He healed a leper.
- In chapter 2 – He healed a paralytic – a man brought to Jesus on a mat by his friends.
- In chapter 3 – He healed a man with a withered hand, on the Sabbath – that irritated a few people.
- In chapter 4 – we take a break from healing, but He still calms a storm.
- In chapter 5 – He healed a man of remarkable demonic possession, the guy was possessed with a legion of demons. Don’t forget this guy – he likely plays a part in the story we just read. Still in chapter 5, He healed a woman with a twelve-year issue of blood, and He also raised a twelve year old girl from the dead.
- In chapter 6 – He sent the Twelve out to do the same things He was doing – exorcising demons, healing the sick, and preaching the Gospel. He also did this little miracle of feeding 5,000 with a little boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish. Oh, He also walked on water.
- In chapter 7 – our chapter – last week, He healed a Syrophoenician woman’s daughter – actually, driving out yet another demon.
And I suspect about halfway through that list – you zoned out. Been there, done that. Heard these healing stories before. There are so many, they’re starting to sound the same. In fact, dare I say, Mark got worn out recording all of them, so he started giving summary statements:
In chapter 1:32-34, we read:
32 When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed.
33 And the whole city had gathered at the door.
34 And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.
In chapter 3:9-12, another summary:
9 And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him;
10 for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him.
11 Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!”
12 And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was. [That’s interesting – both of those summaries remind us of this secret.]
In chapter 6, here we go again:
53 When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore.
54 When they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him,
55 and ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was.
56 Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.
Every couple of chapters or so, Mark gives us a summary of Jesus’ healing ministry. We get it, Jesus healed people – let’s move on. Even John said in his gospel, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing, you may have life in His name.”
John figured it out – get a clue, Mark. Let’s move on. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason for each of the miracles Mark records. Maybe there’s a reason he recorded this story – after all, he’s the only one who does. This healing isn’t found in Matthew, Luke or John – it’s only here. Why? It has to do with that utter astonishment. I’ll answer that question at the end.
As we make our way through the passage, I think you’ll be encouraged, because we’re beginning to get a clearer picture – this party is for us. We’re beginning to get a more audible invitation – we are invited to become His followers. Who’s the we? Well, non-Jews.
You see, last week, we saw, in His attempts to get away for some much needed rest, Jesus and His disciples withdrew to the district of Tyre. Upon arriving, a Gentile woman heard He was there, came to the house where He was hiding out, and began pleading with Him incessantly to heal her cruelly demon-possessed daughter. We made our way through that rather troubling passage – first, Jesus ignored her. Then, when His disciples began pleading with Him to do something for this lady so she’d leave, He said, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Lady, I didn’t come for you – I came for Jews. To which this woman of great faith responded, “Yes, Lord, that’s true, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.” All I’m asking for is a little crumb – please help. And Jesus did. In so doing, He reminded us there is a priority, a functional chronology of the spread of the gospel. The gospel did start with the Jews, but it didn’t remain there. It spread throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Once His ministry was complete, the disciples’ ministry had just begun – go therefore, and make disciple of all nations. The good news of that passage was the gospel is for everyone who believes, Jew and Gentile alike. You’re invited.
And so now, in this story, Jesus continues giving us, a glimmer of hope – the gospel will make its way to us – we’re invited. After all, we have three stories in a row – the Syrophoenician woman, this deaf man, and the feeding of the 4,000, who are largely Gentiles. These stories, far from boring, should thrill our hearts. That’s what we’re going to see in the passage today. Let’s look at the outline before we jump into the text:
- First, we’ll see this odd travel itinerary in verse 31.
- Then, we’ll see this odd healing in verses 32-35.
- Then, we’ll see the familiar but odd Messianic Secret in verse 36 and 37.
Let’s begin with the first one, Jesus’ odd travels in verse 31. Mark says, “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis.” If you’re not familiar with the geography of this verse, you’d likely skip it. But it’s a strange way to travel from Tyre to Decapolis.
You remember, He left Capernaum, went to the region of Tyre where He healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. From there, He goes about 22 mile north through Sidon, then back toward the Sea of Galilee. But, He travels around the Sea and to the region of the Decapolis, which means ten cities – originally ten city-states throughout this area which were independent of the rule of the Herods in Palestine. They were pagan cities, for the most part, worshipping Greek deities. But Jesus had been there before – this is where He drove out that legion of demons from the nude dude in a rude mood. Not only that, while in the Decapolis, a predominantly Gentile country, He feeds the 4,000 – that’s next week. From the Decapolis, He’ll get in a boat and make His way to Dalmanutha, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Then, He’ll travel north to Caesarea Philippi.
Why do I point that out? Because with the exception of Dalmanutha, once He leaves Capernaum and travels to the district of Tyre, for the next couple of chapters, He is primarily in Gentile country. And to travel that far by foot, this period of time covered several weeks, if not months. So I would suggest Mark did exercise some restraint, because no doubt Jesus performed healings in Sidon, along the way to Decapolis, and in the Decapolis. In fact, in Matthew’s account, at this point after the healing of the woman’s daughter and before the feeding of the 4,000, Matthew gives us one of his healing summaries – which would have taken place throughout this Gentile area. Don’t miss that. These stories take place among Gentiles. Salvation if for all who will believe – Jew and Gentile alike. We’ve all been invited to the party.
Now, why do I say party? Read Matthew’s summary of these travels with me – Matthew 15:29-31:
29 Departing from there [Tyre], Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee, and having gone up on the mountain, He was sitting there.
30 And large crowds came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them.
31 So the crowd marveled as they saw the mute speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.
And then the next story is the feeding of the 4,000 in the Decapolis. Will you think about what was taking place. Imagine the scene in all of these summaries. Word spreads – the miracle worker, the healer named Jesus they’d heard about over in Galilee for the past couple of years has come to Tyre, to Sidon, to Decapolis. So people come out in large numbers to see Him.
Look at this summary. As we become, dare I say, bored with these stories, look who came to Jesus: lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many other sick and diseased people. This was a ragged group. And Matthew’s says, those who were healthy laid them at Jesus’ feet. Now, that’s not really what Matthew’s says. Literally, he uses the word rhipto, which means they threw them at His feet. Get that picture in your mind. They were desperate – as quickly as they could, they flung people at Jesus, meaning, whatever else was wrong with them, He had to heal them from being thrown, too.
And as He healed them all, I’m suggesting, this became a party. The crowd marveled at what was going on – they were struck with awe and wonder; they were utterly astonished – there was no explanation for what they were seeing. The mute were speaking. The crippled – which speaks of those with some body part that was deformed or useless or missing altogether – those people, were restored. If they didn’t have an arm, He gave them one. If they didn’t have a leg, He gave them one. If leprosy had claimed appendages, an ear, a nose, He gave them one. The lame were walking, the blind were seeing.
Put yourself in the middle of that crowd. What do you hear? I can hear laughter, can’t you? I’d be laughing if I was blind, helpless, and all of a sudden, I could see. I see dancing, can’t? If you were lame, then you could immediately walk, what would you do? Stand there? No way, I’d dance, I’d run, I’d jump. I can hear shouting. Isn’t that what you’d do if you were mute, and your tongue was suddenly loosed? This was a party. People everywhere we dancing, shouting, laughing, talking, marveling, hoping. It is suggested Jesus virtually eliminated sickness and disease in Galilee and the area around Galilee while He walked on the earth. This is a health care program both Republicans and Democrats could support.
Look around some more. Over in the corner, you hear, you see …crying, trembling. A mom clutches a daughter who had been demon possessed. A father hugs a son who had been blind. A wife embraces a husband who had been leprous. I hear crying – sobs of joy – I see trembling of disbelief. This was a unique party. Because as you look around some more, you see something else in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ healing in Gentile territory. Something different took place this time in his summary statement. It began softly over there. People began bowing, they began kneeling, some even fell to their faces. Others raising their hands. Some praying silently, others loud, still others singing praises. And it began to spread quickly throughout the crowd: Matthew says, “they glorified the God of Israel.” That’s what happened in these healing parties. They became worship services. Matthew says, because these were Gentiles, they were glorifying the God of Israel. That can be the only response to the mighty works of God on our behalf – praise, glory, honor and worship. That’s why He does what He does – to receive worship – for the glory of His name – because He deserves it. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and these people were doing that.
And so now, as you look around, let your gaze go, not to those healed. That’s usually what we see when we read about healings. But don’t see those healed – see the Healer. Don’t see the worshippers, see the One worshipped. Cast your gaze on Jesus. See Him standing there. See Him soak it in. You see, I think Jesus liked healing people, meeting needs. See Him smile. See Him inhabit the praises of His people. He deserves it; it is due Him. You see, Revelation 4 says:
8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.”
9 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,
10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11 “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
For all eternity past, Jesus had rightfully heard and deserve that praise. But…“although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
He emptied Himself. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And for a moment, on the side of a Gentile hillside, they glorified the God of Israel, and gave Him the praise and worship rightly due Him. It can be the only response from people who have received much. This was a party – a worship service, to which we are invited. So, when we read of these events, when we come to worship such a great God, don’t do so with disinterested apathy. He raised you from spiritual death to spiritual life – He deserves greatest praise.
Well, back to Mark. Of all the miracles Jesus did in these travels, Mark gives us just this one story. Why this one? That brings us to our second point, the odd healing.
Upon arriving in Decapolis, the crowds show up. Now, how did these Gentile crowds know about Jesus? Likely from the testimony of the man Jesus had delivered from a legion of demons back in chapter 5. You remember, the man wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him to stay and share what God had done for him. So most suggest he had done just that, and made Jesus known. So we read they – we don’t know who they are – likely friends or family of the man – they brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and spoke with difficulty (mogilalos). These are common maladies seen together – even if you’re not mute, deaf people often find difficulty in speaking without the sense of hearing. So this deaf man spoke with great difficulty – don’t forget that word – mogilolos. They begged Jesus to lay His hand on their friend, to heal him.
So at this point, Jesus does some interesting, unusual things. First, He takes the man aside – that is, away from the crowds. That’s not unusual – He often healed people quietly to minimize His popularity and growing Messianic expectations.
So He takes him aside, and puts His fingers in his ears. Why? We can just surmise this was the area needing healing. And since the man couldn’t hear, Jesus used other senses – tactile senses – to deal with him. We read Jesus then spit, and touched the man’s tongue – presumably with His saliva. Another tactile effect. Now, lots of discussion as to why Jesus did that – especially since, at this time, important people’s saliva was thought to hold mystical, magical powers. I really doubt that’s why Jesus did it – why He did so is just guesswork. Interestingly, in chapter 8, He’ll to the same thing with a blind man, only spitting in his eyes.
Jesus then looks up to heaven – a prayerful glance so everyone knows this is not magical power, but divine power, and with a deep sigh – stop there. What was the deep sigh? Again, lots of discussion – a groaning without words Romans 8 talks about? A prayer? A sigh of sorrow because He understood this man’s condition was the result of humanity’s sin? Who knows – the point is, Jesus is about to heal this man. He uses the word Ephphatha – an Aramaic term. Mark tells us it’s a command. In fact, he even translates it for us non-Aramaic speaking people. Be opened! Now think about that – this man was deaf – but he heard when God commanded his ears to be opened.
And verse 35 says his ears were indeed opened – he could now hear. And the impediment of his tongue was removed. The Greek is much more colorful – the bands that bound his tongue were loosed (tongue-tied) – and he could now speak clearly. Think of the magnitude of that miracle. He had been unable to speak clearly because he couldn’t hear – now, he could hear – and Jesus went beyond that and gave him immediately the ability to speak clearly. No wonder they said of Him, He does all things well.
That brings us quickly to our third point – the familiar but odd command to keep quiet. Just a couple of thoughts as I close. After the healing, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone. Which is interesting, earlier He told the guy delivered from Legion to go tell everybody. And apparently, he did. But now, Jesus swears them to secrecy, this Messianic secret. Why? Probably because messianic fervor had even risen in Decapolis, and He didn’t want His mission, which He’ll begin declaring clearly in the next chapter – to be compromised. He swore them to secrecy, but as usual, the more He ordered them, the more widely they proclaimed it.
And just what did they proclaim? Verse 37 – they were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” And you say, okay, that’s fine – so? Why were they amazed at this? Whether they realized it or not – Mark got it. Do you remember Mark’s purpose? To prove Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. So why is this story here? Remember I asked you to remember that word in verse 32, that this man spoke with difficulty – mogilalos? It’s one word in the Greek, and it only appears Here in all the Greek NT – it’s called a hapax legomena. Well, the word actually appears in one place in the Greek translation of the OT – in Isaiah 35, which is a prophecy concerning God’s restoration of Israel. You may know Isaiah is full of prophecy about coming judgment against Israel – and in fact the nations around her. But, there was coming a day, a glorious day, when God would restore all things. Look the text with me – Isaiah 35:
4 Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute [that’s the word – mogilolos] will shout for joy.
The tongue of those who speak with difficulty will shout for joy. It’s the same word. And whether the people there that day got it, don’t know. They were amazed Jesus opened deaf ears and loosed bound tongues. But make no mistake about it – Mark got it and wants us to understand – the only place this word is used in both testaments – is here and Isaiah 35. God would come, and open blind eyes, unstop deaf ears, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. This God has come – His name is Jesus. That’s why this story is here – so you know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.