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God's Nearness, Our Response

Matt Blackwell    /    Nov 18, 2012


Matt Blackwell speaks on Mark 7:31-37

Series: The Gospel of Mark


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Sermon Transcript

Mark initially discussed geographic regions. This was very purposeful. Jesus was moving out of the region of Tyre and into the region called Decapolis. He was moving out of an area of Jewish religious culture and into a region of irreligious Gentile culture. He was moving towards and chasing after the overlooked and overwhelmed sinners. 


This is good news for us, because we are also the irreligious.


We are about to celebrate Christmas, which is the celebration of God coming near to us. This is the way of God. He moves toward people, toward the wayward, the ones who are lost and far gone.


And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. Mark 7:32 (ESV)


Think about this man and put yourself in his place for a moment. He was deaf and mute. He never had the opportunity to hear music or his kids laugh or someone say they love him. He never had the privilege or joy of singing or speaking his opinion. He easily got skipped over and left out.


There are two things to point out in this passage:


• How Jesus engaged with him personally and powerfully.

• How the crowd responded to what Jesus does.


How Jesus Engages


And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. Mark 7:33 (ESV)


There was a huge crowd of people begging to be healed, but Jesus went toward the deaf and mute man, who couldn’t beg Him like the others. He pulled him away from the crowd and spent one-on-one time with him. 


Jesus is about people, not just populations.


He is about individuals and the needs of each man.


What would it be like to spend one-on-one time with Jesus? 


Then Jesus stuck His fingers in the man’s ears, spit on the ground and touched his tongue. At first, this comes across as weird. Why would He do those things?


Jesus was communicating to the man in a way that he could understand. He was using non-verbal cues in order to say what He was about to do. 


Not only that, but He was also touching the very places that were his deepest felt needs. Jesus understood his ears didn’t work and He was going to fix that. By touching his tongue, He was telling him He understood he was mute and was going to change that for him also.


Jesus personally engaged with this man in his deepest and most felt needs.


That is the way of God toward us too.


And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Mark 7:34 (ESV)


Jesus looked at the man and sighed. We could pass by this quickly. But there is something to this sigh. It was communicating something about the intimacy of God. Consider why we sigh. When we sigh, there is something that’s welling up inside. There’s an emotional connection.


Jesus could have said, “You’re healed,” and it would be done. But He didn’t do that. 


He sighed. 


He was having an emotional response to what was happening. 


God is not cold or callous. He is engaged in the deepest and most broken places within us. When Jesus saw those parts of this man, it caused an emotional response in Him.


Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed.


There is a discrepancy, a brokenness, between what is happening in the kingdom of heaven and here on earth. 


That is why Jesus prays, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 (ESV).


There will be a day when the sighs cease, when the kingdom is complete. There will be no more tears. No more deafness or mutes. No more sin or brokenness. But that day hasn’t yet come, and this caused an emotional response in Jesus. It left him hoping and longing for that day to come.


This isn’t the first time we see this idea of sighing used in the Scriptures.


For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23 (ESV, emphasis added)


There is a longing in us that things would be made right; that our brokenness would be healed. Jesus felt this too. So it caused Him to sigh.


For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses... Hebrews 4:15 (ESV)


Jesus gets it; He feels our pain and brokenness. Not only does He feel it, but He engages it and changes it. It’s not just with empty empathy, but rather with a conquering compassion. 


And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Mark 7:35 (ESV)


Jesus changed this man’s reality. His ears were opened and he was able to speak. Why does Jesus heal him like this? Wouldn’t it be more efficient if He just healed everyone all at once? 


God is not necessarily into efficiency, but rather He is into people. 


When you look through the gospels, you see Jesus doing all sorts of miracles in all sorts of different ways.  He touched the untouchable leper. He healed a guy that wasn’t even in the same place as Him. He healed one blind guy by putting mud in his eyes. He healed another blind guy by telling him to go wash in a pool. Why?


Jesus was personally engaging with each individual. 


We understand the idea that God loves the world. So we logically infer that if He loves the world and we’re apart of the world, then He has to love us. It makes sense logically, but doesn’t do anything for our intimacy and passion toward Him.


I love my children, because they’re mine. Not just because I love kids. I love them each individually for specific reasons. They’re mine and I know them. 


This is how God loves us. Not just because we’re a part of the world that He loves. He loves us each personally as individuals. We are His sons and daughters. He wants to engage and touch the deepest place of our needs as individuals. 


I get tripped up sometimes when I’m thinking through this. I want God to love me and I want to experience His love. But there is a part of me that wants a little safe distance as well. With love comes vulnerability. When you love someone, there is a level of intimacy where you can no longer hide the broken parts of who you are.


When God begins to move toward us in intimacy we want to keep him at a safe distance, because if He sees us for who we really are, surely He will turn away and pursue a more worthy object of His affection. 


We are afraid that if He sees all that we are, He might not love us. 


He already knows all that stuff about you and engages with you in spite of it all.


The Crowd Responds


And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:36-37 (ESV)


The man came back to the crowd and the people were blown away at what had happened. They were filled with astonishment at what God had done and they proclaimed it zealously.


When you’re astonished, you want to proclaim. When you’re immeasurably astonished, you want to proclaim zealously. That is how we’re wired. The more astonished we are about something, the more zealous we are in proclaiming about it.


And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:37 (ESV, emphasis added)


The word mute is the Greek word, alalos. But Mark didn’t use the same word when he was describing the mute man. He used another word, a unique one, mogilalon. This word is only used twice in all of the Scriptures. Here in chapter 7 of Mark and in Isaiah, chapter 35. It’s a messianic prophecy of what will happen when God comes.


Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”  Isaiah 35:3-6 (ESV, emphasis added)


Mark is sending us way back to a prophecy that happened hundreds of years before. He is saying that prophecy is happening now. The blind are seeing, the deaf are hearing and the tongues of the mute are singing. 


God has come near to us.


The prophesy of Isaiah was being fulfilled.


Isaiah said God was going to come with vengeance and the recompense of God. Jesus’ first coming wasn’t to bring the vengeance of God, but to bear the vengeance of God. He came to absorb the wrath that we deserve because of our sin.


Jesus came and was healing people, setting them free. He ultimately identifies with us in our deepest felt need, sin that leads to death.


Jesus engages with our deepest places, our hearts, and meets our needs there. He bears the recompense of God, so that we might have life.


Our Response


We see a man healed. We see the crowd respond. We see our own lives healed. The question is, how do we then respond? 


For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)


What kind of astonishment should that bring up in us? What kind of proclamation should it bring up in us? Instead, we focus on how we don’t feel God, that we feel detached from Him. We ask how we know that God is near.


We know He is near, because He came and destroyed the distance between Him and us. At the crucifixion, He destroyed that distance by redeeming and restoring us. At the resurrection, He destroyed that distance eternally. Now we get to be with Him forever.


He has drawn near to us, died for us and rose from the grave so that we can be with Him forever. My hope for us is that we might respond with immeasurable astonishment that leads to a zealous proclamation of how God is good.