Jesus, The Divine Healer, Takes Us Aside
In today’s Gospel account from Mark 7:31-37, we meet a man who might have struggled with the concept of offering his whole life to God. But Jesus changed all that. These verses show us that “Jesus, the Divine Healer, takes us aside.” September 9, 2018.
The massive grill stood four and a half feet high, seven and a half wide and long. You could see the smoke rising from afar, carrying the delightful odor of searing meat, bringing smiles to the faces of all who watched and waited. But this wasn’t a grill for Texas brisket on the Man, Fire, Food show of the Cooking Channel. There weren’t any TV cameras. It was set in the courtyard of the Israelite worship facility thirty-four centuries ago. For most sacrifices on the bronze grate of that grill, portions of an animal were offered. But the burnt offering was different. The whole animal, carved into pieces and hoisted onto the altar, was sent up in flames. The message? “Lord, just as we offer this whole animal to you, so we offer our whole lives to you. All that we have, all that we are, every part of our body and soul belongs to you.”
In today’s Gospel account from Mark chapter seven, we meet a man who might have struggled with the concept of offering his whole life to God. “How can I dedicate my whole life, body and soul, to God when parts of me don’t work? My ears can’t hear, and my tongue can’t speak.” But Jesus, the Divine Healer, changed all that. What may seem at first glance to be another miracle simply highlighting the Savior’s power, brings us more. We are going to walk through this Bible account verse by verse (it’s on page one thousand ten in the pew Bibles), showing us that “Jesus, the Divine Healer, takes us aside.”
To open our ears
The crowds grew surly and then turned away. They wanted Jesus to fill their bellies and bank accounts, but he insisted, “You need me to pay for your faults not your food bill.” Only a few of the faithful remained. So, Jesus used the remaining months before his final trek to Jerusalem as a training period for his close followers, equipping them for the time when he would be invisibly with them. That meant withdrawing from the hostile crowds to the relative peace and quiet of non-Israelite territory. Verse thirty-one: Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and [southeast across the Jordan] into the region of the Decapolis. There is already a lesson here. Did you catch it? Jesus is not just the Savior for a few. He’s the Divine Healer for all, regardless of skin color, mental ability, physical strength, geographical location, or social standing.
My grandfather had hearing aids, having suffered severe hearing loss at age twenty-one because of the measles. But he was an expert at disguising his lack of hearing with lip reading and a knowing nod. The only time we knew that his hearing was bad was when Grandma would scold. He would keep his eyes on the Packer game and just smile. In many cases, unless a person tells you, “I’m hard of hearing,” you wouldn’t know. Even people born with hearing loss can hide it, that is, until they have to speak. As you know, people born with limited or no hearing have difficulty forming accurate sounds because they don’t know what the sounds should be.
All of that explains what happened next. Verse thirty-two: There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. When a crowd gathered to see what was going on, Jesus did not want one of his disciples to shout out, “Hey! This guy can’t hear! Listen to his garbled speech!” So, to avoid any embarrassment or confusion and especially to focus the man’s attention, the first half of verse thirty-three: [Jesus] took him aside, away from the crowd. He took the man aside. That reminds me! Just like covering up hearing loss, there are little pet sins and not-so-little guilt trips that each one of us has carried to church today. Normally worship in a crowd like this is safe. There’s a certain degree of anonymity and safety in numbers. You don’t have to reveal your deep, dark secrets and open up closets to expose personal skeletons. But today the Divine Healer is taking each one of us aside and talking to us personally. “I know your weaknesses,” he says, “I know your secrets. Come! I am the Divine Healer! Let me handle all of that!”
And handle it he did for this man. Verse thirty-three again: Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. The first time I heard this I thought, “Gross! What’s with the fingers and the spit?” But remember what was happening. Jesus could have healed without touching as he did at other times. But this man was deaf, and he may not have known that Jesus is God. So, Jesus was using sign language to communicate, “I’m going to fix your hearing and your speaking!” And how could the Divine Healer convey, “This healing comes from heaven, and I’m praying to the heavenly Father”? More sign language! Verses thirty-four and five: [Jesus] looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). Then the powerful word, the same word that made the world, went to work. At this, the man’s ears were opened.
If you have hearing loss, don’t expect it to be cured by a miracle. God doesn’t promise that will happen. But he does promise a greater miracle. Jesus, the Divine Healer, takes us aside to open our ears with the powerful message of his forgiving love. Can you say, “Jesus is my Savior”? Do you believe what you are saying when we speak the Creed right after this sermon? Then a miracle has happened to you. We were born thinking, “I’m not so bad. I’ve got some potential.” But God the Holy Spirit convinces us that we are worthless on our own and then convinces us that Jesus gives us worth. He takes us aside and opens our ears with the powerful message of his love. That’s a far greater miracle than if you were born deaf and somehow were given physical hearing because eardrums last seventy, eighty, or ninety years, but spiritual ears keep hearing here and hereafter.
To loosen our lips
Solomon once wrote, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin” (Ecclesiastes 5:2,6). The apostle James wrote, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). This week the message is the opposite, “Let ‘er rip!”
The last half of verse thirty-five: [The man’s] tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. It was as if his tongue had been chained. The Divine Healer broke the chain, and immediately the man began, and obviously continued, to speak. No speech pathologist was necessary when the Divine Healer completed this miracle. The Bible doesn’t tell us what this man began saying. What do you think he said? “My feet hurt!” or “How’s the weather in Jerusalem?” or “When’s dinner?” No! I think it is safe to say he praised God and told others what Jesus had done for him.
All of that was perfectly natural. If you have had trouble cranking up the excitement to praise God, if you feel you haven’t got much to sing about, then go back and read again the confession of sins from the beginning of the service, and ask yourself if you meant it when you stood before God and said for him and all around to hear: Holy God, gracious Father, I am sinful by nature and have sinned against you in my thoughts, words, and actions. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved others as I should. I deserve your punishment both now and forever. If that puts the fear of God in you, good. It’s supposed to. But now listen again to what followed: Our gracious Father in heaven has been merciful to us. He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, who gave his life as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Therefore, as a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins. Ponder the wonder of it all, and I guarantee that will loosen your lips for praise.
But then verse thirty-six: Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. Why? Well, for one thing, he didn’t want to be known as a magician. The miracle was not as important as the message. For another, remember when this happened. This is the last year of Jesus’ public ministry. His enemies already had plotted to kill him. Word of more miracles would increase the pressure, and his time had not yet come. The last half of verse thirty-six: [But] the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. The people of the Decapolis couldn’t help it. Their tongues had been loosened for praise.
You’ve heard encouragement to witness for Christ before. But have you ever thought, “I don’t know what to say.” Actually, you do know what to say because you can say what these people did. Verse thirty-seven: People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” The flooding to the west and north in our state has left some homes and churches a mess. Imagine if Jesus showed up and restored what had been destroyed, putting everything back perfectly and at no cost! Do you think word would get out? Do you think folks enjoying the restoration would tell others? That’s what Jesus did for our relationship with God. Our sin is like an overwhelming flood that wipes out the house of happiness God wants us to live in. But Jesus has reconstructed the house. We live in the home of God’s love. Ponder what he has done, and your lips will be loosened for praise to sing out, “He has done everything well!”
A lot of us aren’t too keen on going to the beach. We’ve got nothing against swimming. It’s just putting on that suit and having people see our scars, imperfections, and bulges. It’s bad enough when the nurse tells you to disrobe for the annual physical exam. We’d just as soon cover up. But we can’t hide anything from the Great Physician, the Divine Healer. Even our Sunday best won’t help. He knows all our imperfections and all our secret sin. But here’s the great news I want you to take home today. We pray, “Dear Lord Jesus, open my ears with your promises of love! Loosen my lips for your praise!” and the Divine Healer takes us aside, puts his hand on our shoulder, looks us in the eye, and says, “That’s exactly what I have done.” Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on September 9, 2018