The grand theme of Scripture is the kingdom of God. God has always intended an earthly kingdom inhabited by His obedient worshipers who glorify and image Him and who cultivate His world into a robust civilization overflowing with art and culture and music and food and rich relationships and joy. Some spiritual and material aspects of this kingdom are here in its present, initial form, as Jesus draws sinners to Himself from among the nations while He rules from heaven, but they will be completed to glorious fullness in that final day when He returns in power and glory.
Understanding how the world is intended to be God’s kingdom and how His rule brings restoration in both the spiritual and material realms on every level gives us a unique insight into this lovely narrative in Mark 7. The Lord in compassion heals this man’s physical aliment to demonstrate the fullness of physical life that will flood the future phase of His kingdom, and to demonstrate that that same kingdom is here in its initial form. And He does so both out of genuine compassion for the man’s illness, as well as to make a point about the spiritual redemption for unworthy sinners He provides that lays the foundation for everything else.
A. The Setting (v. 31)
The Lord has just demonstrated His omnipotent power and hinted at the salvation that will come in fullness to Gentiles by His act of mercy to the Syrophoenician woman. He continues on His way and ends up back at the region of the Decapolis. You will recall this area from His dazzling healing of the demoniac men, who became the first people our Lord ever commissioned to proclaim Him—and to do so in a thoroughly Gentile area (Decapolis was a cluster of ten Greek-dominated cities on near the Sea of Galilee). Gentiles from that region have already heard His glorious Sermon on the Mount explicating the rule and reign of the kingdom He inaugurated and will fulfill in the future (Matt. 4:25), and it is possible some were saved at that point (I like to think so). The point is people of the region are already thoroughly acquainted with our Lord and His ability to heal.
Given that these people are all Gentiles, it stands out to me that this is a picture of what we Gentile believers are now inclined to do by God’s grace. Do we not bring the needs and concerns of our hearts to Him, including those of the people we love? Is this not because we know of His power and have seen it displayed in our lives and those of others? Surely this is the fulfillment of the ancient promise that all nations would be blessed in the Seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:3) and hinted at in Solomon’s prayer at the temple that even Gentiles would come to the temple and pray and the Lord would answer them that all the earth might know God’s name and fear Him (1 Kings 8:41–43). Truly, in His name will all the nations place their hope (Matt. 12:21, quoting that great Messianic promise of Isaiah 42:1-4). Dear believer, appeal to our Lord Jesus for all of your needs, spiritual and material. He loves to answer prayer and wishes to display His power to and through you, that all the earth might know His glorious name and fear Him.
B. The Deaf Man (vv. 32-35)
Here, we see the specific need the people brought to our Lord. (Note that this same circumstance is described more generally by Matthew in 15:29-31, so this is an excerpt from a larger event.) The people, likely his friends and relatives, bring a man who is both deaf and mute. Of course, we know that impairments of the hearing directly influence the speech, so the man’s ailments were likely received at the same time and influenced each other. We are not told why he was this way, but we do know that he would have been an outcast and likely considered insane. At least blind people could talk and communicate. This man would have been unable to express himself in much beyond muffled groans and thick enunciation. And he would not have been able to hear any response. He likely kept to himself, a man of solitude and reflection. A novel I read years ago described it this way: “He has few words in his mouth to share. But many more in his heart.”
The Greek behind “implore” carries the idea of calling out, begging, with urgency. These people care for this man and beg Jesus to make things right for him. Jesus agrees, but does something most interesting and unusual. Recall that from Matthew’s account there are large crowds surrounding Jesus. Many are pressing on Him desperate to be healed and shown mercy. Jesus takes the man by the hand and leads him away from the crowd. Our Lord knows this man is desperate for human kindness and contact, and that his uniquely severe ailment will make him the brunt of jokes and ridicule. So our Lord shows him the kindness he has probably not received in a very long time.
Then, the Lord does one of the kindest and most personal things we see Him do in all of Holy Scripture. He takes His fingers and paces them gently in the man’s ears. I am sure He was looking at the man intently, searching his face to see if he understood. He would receive his hearing today! Similarly, our Lord spits on His finger and taps the man’s tongue with His wet finger. This latter image is easy enough to understand—He is communicating to the man that his specific need will be met at the point of that need—but why spit? This initially seems gross and weird to us. But it is easy to grasp: Jesus is graphically portraying His identification with the man—His saliva is now touching the man’s own mouth—as well as His personal absorption and assumption of the man’s illness into His own person. Just as Jesus assumed our physical form so He could redeem our bodies unto glorious resurrection life on a renewed earth, so also He has to redeem and assume every part, and that includes taking sin and all its effects upon Himself.
Our charismatic brethren are correct that physical healing is provided for in the atonement—on what other basis could the Lord be gracious in any way to sinners? But they make the mistake of assuming it is always God’s will to heal in this life. But, because Jesus took upon Himself our curse and our sin, He also took upon Himself all of the effects of sin, and that includes physical illness. How wonderful to know we have a certain basis upon which to appeal for this demonstration of gracious power, and how wonderful to know the prayer will certainly be answered in this life or the next!
But because the kingdom has drawn near, and because that kingdom answers to both physical and spiritual redemption equally, the man’s time of healing has come. Our Lord is both Savior and King, and both identifies with and has the power to conquer and redeem the man’s personalized effects of sin and the Curse. (Note I am not saying the man was sick because of some unconfessed sin. Rather, I am saying that all sickness is the result of sin in the sense that it is the result of living in a fallen, cursed world. Sickness is how human bodies express the effects of total depravity and the Fall. By redeeming sin both personal and positional Jesus can also redeem its effects. Our sickness, like every other weakness physical and spiritual, is always an occasion for the glory and works of God to be displayed through us, John 9:3.)
This shows how personal and attentive the Lord is to us. The image is unmistakable: Jesus gives the man personal, needed attention, says he is worth taking the time, knows his need and, in a way the man can understand that is personally tailored to him, communicates His willingness and ability to meet him at the very point of that need. This is still what He does with all of us, if only we have “eyes to see.”
Having touched the man, the Lord looks up to heaven with a deep sigh—an inarticulate groan that once again identifies with the man as well as communicates the Lord’s deep pain at the effects of sin and the Curse on His image-bearers; the looking upward indicates that it is God who will come down in power and mercy and heal the man—and says one word. While Jesus likely preached and taught publicly in Greek, He was almost certainly bilingual, and Aramaic would have been His heart language, the one He grew up hearing and speaking at home. Interestingly, there is no reason to think the Gentile man knew Aramaic, and even if he did he wouldn’t have been able to hear it—that is why the Lord used His improvised sign language. But when the Lord is expressing His heart to the Father and to others, it is most interesting that He immediately uses His mother tongue—another detail that indicates our Lord’s genuine and rich humanity!
As our Lord from the depths of His soul commands the man’s ears and tongue to be opened, immediately—immediately!—the man can hear and speak perfectly. I wonder if they hugged, if Jesus laughed aloud at the man’s joy—how wonderful for the first thing one hears to be the Lord’s laughter!—what the man’s first words were. Doubtless they were shouts of joy and praise and thanksgiving to God.
C. A Man Who Can’t Be Quiet (vv. 36-37)
Jesus restores the man to his family and friends, and tells them not to tell anyone what has just happened. This initially strikes us as odd. First, surely some in the crowd of people saw Jesus heal the man, regardless of how far away they were. Second, and more obviously, wouldn’t everyone know the man was healed?
And I think that’s part of the point. We know of course that our Lord regularly told people not to tell anyone He healed them, to prevent others from getting the wrong idea about His kingship and ministry—and that this was a command people were perfectly abysmal at following. But besides this I wonder if our Lord wanted the man’s staggering physical wellness to speak for itself, though I do wonder what he was supposed to say when people asked him what happened!
But as usual, these dear people completely ignore Jesus’ instruction. Overcome by joy and awe, they tell everyone the wonder of Jesus—He has done all things well and even has power over deafness and dumbness. He is that wonder to us as well. We can appeal to the King for anything on our hearts, most importantly for divine rescue from sin, and He will answer, and we can use our loosed, redeemed tongues to tell the world who He is and what He can do for those who will trust Him.