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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Lord Jesus Clears a Way for the Word
Text:Mark 7:31-37 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 146:1-3
Hymn 7:9 (after the law)
Psalm 40:1,4,7
Augment Hymn 26 -- "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing"
Hymn 52:3 (after offering)
Psalm 146:4,5

Reading: Isaiah 35
Text: Mark 7:31-37
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,


Rev. Marten Kleyn was the pastor of a Dutch refugee church in London, England.  Rev. Kleyn is better remembered today by his Latinized name, Martin Micron.  Because of heavy persecution in the Netherlands, many Reformed believers fled to England and they established a Dutch speaking church in London.  Martin Micron was one of the pastors.  In 1552, he wrote a catechism for the instruction of the small children of the church.  In this catechism at a certain point he mentions those who are deaf.  He says that those who are born deaf cannot believe because they cannot hear the Word of God.  Nevertheless, like the infant children in the church, for the sake of Christ, the deaf are blessed, they are regarded as holy, righteous, clean, and faithful.


Now you might be thinking that Micron was a bit extreme in saying this because, after all, there is such a thing as sign language.  But sign language was not invented until 1620.  And without sign language it would have been nearly impossible to communicate with a deaf person – also virtually impossible to teach someone how to read.  In the sixteenth century, if you were deaf, you were cut off from communication in so many ways.  You would also have been cut off from the Word of God.  Of course, that would also mean that there would be no way for you to speak of the riches of God and of the gospel, no way to sing God’s praises.


And if that was true in the 1500s, it was just as true in the days of the Lord Jesus.  To have been born deaf would mean to be an outcast in many ways.  You wouldn’t have been able to communicate in any meaningful way with the people around you.  You wouldn’t be able to know what they’re saying to you, apart from some basic hand gestures.  They wouldn’t be able to understand what comes out of your mouth either because you’ve never heard people speak.  That would create problems in society, but it would also be a barrier in relation to God.  You could never hear God’s Word.  And then you would never be able to share God’s Word with others either. 


Today those who are born deaf and those who become deaf have a lot more going for them.  Sign language and lip reading have been enormous blessings for the deaf.  Today many churches provide signing for their deaf members.  The RCUS, the Reformed Church in the United States, one of our sister churches, even has a congregation made up entirely of deaf Reformed believers.  Things are much different.  Today it’s possible for those who are deaf to hear the Word of God in their own language. 


But in our text, we encounter a man who lived long before these advances.  Here was a man who lived his life in utter silence.  Here was a man for whom the way was blocked for the Word of God.    Then the Lord Jesus came and a way was cleared for the Word.  That’s our theme as I proclaim to you God’s Word:

The Lord Jesus clears a way for the Word


In our text we see:


1.      A broken man

2.      A bizarre cure

3.      A bewildered crowd

In the passage before our text, the Lord Jesus healed the daughter of a Syro-phoenician woman.  Christ was in a Gentile region and he revealed further that he restores and redeems not only Jews, but also Gentiles who believe in him.  Our text begins by telling us that Jesus left this Gentile region, travelled around a bit and then eventually ended up back in the region of the Decapolis.  The Lord Jesus had been in this region before – this is where he healed the demon-possessed Gerasene in Mark 5.  The important thing for us to note is that this too is a Gentile region.  Building on what he says in the last passage, we could say that the children have had their fill.  The spoiled children don’t want the bread he has to offer.  And so now he continues giving it to the dogs.  He continues to go to the Gentiles.


The Decapolis is where he does this.  The Decapolis was a region located towards the southeast of the sea of Galilee, on the eastern side of the Jordan River.  There were some Jewish people living in this area, but most were Gentiles.  They were unclean, uncircumcised, foreigners to the promises of God and his covenant. 


In verse 32 we encounter this broken man.  We’re not told whether he was Jewish or Gentile, but from the context we can safely assume that he was a Gentile.  Mark tells us that he was deaf and that he could hardly speak.  In other words, this means that he was born deaf.  As I mentioned a moment ago, if you’re born deaf, it becomes difficult to speak properly.  Most likely, this man didn’t know how to speak at all – he could probably just make some sounds.  This man was broken in so many ways. 


When God created Adam, he created him with the ability to hear.  Adam could hear God’s voice in the garden.  Adam could hear the voice of Eve his wife.  When God created Adam, he created him with the ability to speak.  Adam named the animals.  When Eve was presented to him at the first wedding ceremony, he rejoiced at seeing the bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh.  He spoke and called her “woman.”  This was the way that it was designed to be:  human beings who can hear with their ears and speak with their mouths.  Human beings who can live in relationships and communicate in meaningful ways.


Sin changed all that.  Eve used her ears to listen to the serpent.  She used her mouth to speak the lie to Adam.  Adam used his ears to listen to the lie.  When God confronted him, he used his lips and tongue to blame his wife and even to blame God.  The fall into sin introduced the abuse of the ears and the mouth – it introduced spiritual deafness and slurred speech.  After the fall, without the Holy Spirit, people cannot and will not listen to the voice of God.  They are deaf to him.  Often their speech is slurred and if they do make beautiful noises with their mouths, it’s in spite of themselves.  So, there is spiritual deafness, and spiritual slurred speech after the fall.  But then it also introduced disease and dysfunction into the world.  After the fall, we see men and women whose physical ears don’t function the way they were designed to.  After the fall, because of the fall, we see people who can’t speak properly with their physical lips and tongues.  We live in a broken world and there are broken people all around us.


This man was one of the broken.  His life had been vandalized by the fall.  While he was surely a sinner, there’s nothing here to suggest that his condition was caused by any particular sin of his own or of his parents.  Mark presents him to us simply as a man living in a broken world, suffering the horrible consequences of the fall.  He’d never heard the sound of beautiful music.  He’d never known the joy of singing along to a beautiful melody.  He’d never heard the laughter of children.  He’d never known the joy of hearing a good friend tell a hilarious joke.  All of that was lost on him.  But above all, in this condition he would never have been able to hear the preaching and teaching of Jesus Christ.  It is now established in Mark’s gospel that Christ is also for the Gentiles and now this Gentile man comes into the picture and he has a physical condition that excludes him, that blocks him from hearing the good news and believing it.


Though he was missing out on so much, he still had people around who cared about him.  Some people bring this man to Jesus.  Who are these people?  Mark doesn’t tell us, but we could guess and say that they’re either friends or family.  They bring him to the Lord and they beg Jesus to place his hand on the man.  They beg him – that means that they recognized his authority and his power.  You don’t demand things from the Lord Jesus – you beg him, you plead with him, you request, but you never, ever order him around.  He is the Lord and they recognize that.  And they beg him to heal the deaf man.  Their hearts break for him and they can’t stand to see him like this for one day longer.  The deaf man can’t speak for himself, but they speak for him and ask Jesus to fix what is broken, to restore and repristinate what has been vandalized.


At this point in his ministry, the Lord Jesus is moving towards a greater and greater emphasis on his preaching and teaching – which is a central focus in his work on earth.  He didn’t come to be a famous miracle worker who takes centre stage everywhere he goes so that people can fawn over him for all the tricks he can do.  So, he takes the deaf man aside to a quieter place away from the crowds. 


Then he does something that seems really bizarre, at least at first glance.  He thrusts his fingers into the man’s ears.  Then he spits on his fingers and touches the man’s tongue.  Why does Christ do these things?  Probably the best explanation is that this was a kind of non-verbal communication.  By putting his fingers in his ears, Jesus was saying, “There’s something wrong with your ears, but I’m going to fix it.”  Saliva was often considered to be like medicine in the days of Jesus.  By applying saliva to the man’s tongue, Jesus was saying, “There’s something wrong with your speech, but I’m going to fix it.”  So, what appears bizarre to us, might not have been so bizarre to the deaf man, to Jesus or to anybody watching or hearing about it afterwards.


Jesus then looked up into heaven and sighed deeply.  These are words that are easy to glance over, but they’re actually full of meaning, full of the gospel.  He looks up into heaven – that’s the posture of prayer.  The Lord Jesus looks up to his Father in heaven.  He does the very thing that every child of God should do and he does it in the place of every child of God, obediently following God’s will for his children.  As the Son of God, he looks to his Father and he sighs deeply, expressing his utter frustration with the brokenness that exists in this age.  He became a human being and lived among us and he sensed profoundly the destructive results of the fall into sin.  He saw it with his own eyes – he saw this sorry man and the awful pain in his life.  He heard it with his own ears – he heard the pleading and begging of the man’s friends.  The Lord Jesus then opened his mouth and did what any true man with an ounce of compassion would do:  he sighed.  He was saying, “Father, what a messed up world this is!  What a broken man stands here in front of me!  I’m so frustrated and upset by what I see and hear.  Please do something about this.” 


Loved ones, that was our Saviour then and he continues to be our Saviour now.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Today the world continues to exist under the curse, under the destructive results of the fall.  We see it in our own lives:  brokenness all around us.  Disease, death, dysfunctional relationships, family and marriage breakdown, economic troubles, unemployment, addictions, and the list goes on and on.  What does the Lord Jesus do today when he sees his younger brothers and sisters, when he sees us living in the midst of this?  If he sighed to his Father for this Gentile man, how much more do you think that he would sigh for you, for you – for one for whom his blood was shed on the cross?  The Lord Jesus is our great high priest, and that means that today he constantly intercedes for us, he prays for us before the throne of our Father in heaven.  And our Father always listens to his Son.  He hears his sighs for us and he promises to bring us restoration and deliverance at his appointed time.  The human flesh of Jesus Christ at the right hand of God is the iron-clad guarantee.  He promises that the age is coming when he will wipe away all our tears and all the brokenness and hurt that we’ve experienced in this world will be a distant memory.                     


He sighed deeply.  After sighing deeply, the Lord directed his attention again to the man and then he spoke to him.  He spoke to a deaf man who had never heard a word in his life.  He spoke to a deaf man in a language that he had never heard.  While Aramaic was the common language in the Decapolis, this deaf man had never heard a word of Aramaic.  Jesus says in Aramaic, “Ephphatha!”  That means “Be opened!”  Suddenly, miraculously, the man was able to hear.  His ears were opened.  Not only that, but the chains fell off his tongue and the slurred sounds disappeared – to be replaced by clear, correct speech in a language the man had never learned.  The man who was deaf and tongue-tied is now able to communicate clearly and distinctly.  This is actually the first instance of speaking in tongues that we find in the New Testament.  Here we see a man suddenly speaking in a language that he had never learned – it is truly amazing!   


It is prophetic of the mind-blowing work the Lord Jesus would do among all the nations of the earth.  He would send his apostles with the message of the gospel.  The Holy Spirit would go with them – the almighty Holy Spirit of Christ.  And everywhere, throughout the nations of the earth, the Holy Spirit would open ears and restore speech.  Through his Spirit, the Lord Jesus would open the way for the Word everywhere.  Today we continue to need this work of the Spirit also among us.  We need the Spirit to open our ears, so that the gospel can enter in.  We need the Spirit so that when the gospel enters in, it is believed and taken hold of.  We need the Holy Spirit so that our lips and tongues would clearly sing the praises of our God and King.  We need him so that God would restore our speech to be what it was designed to be: so that we can return to glorifying him with every utterance.  Brothers, sisters, young and old, we need to constantly pray for this work of the Holy Spirit among us.  Without him, we would be spiritually deaf and our speech would be slurred.  For open ears and plain speaking, we depend entirely on the Spirit of Christ Jesus.  If we are to hear the Lord Jesus, we need him to open our ears.  If we are to praise the Lord Jesus, we need him to untie our tongues. 


That’s what Christ did that day in the Decapolis.  The last time he was in this region he told the man he healed to go and spread the news among his friends and family.  But here in verse 36, we find that Jesus now wants things to be kept quiet.  There was a time for telling and a time not for telling.  It seems here that the time for not telling has a lot to do with his approaching date with suffering and death.  Also, he didn’t want his healing activity to take center stage.  What has the highest priority is what he preaches and teaches, and as we’ve seen, this miracle serves that end, that purpose.


But no matter how much he told people to keep it quiet, word still got around.  In fact, the more he told them to keep quiet, the more they disobeyed him.  There was no way to win, even in the Decapolis – fame and reputation would follow him everywhere.


Verse 37 tells us that the crowds were bewildered and amazed at him.  “Overwhelmed with amazement,” says our translation.  Remember that these were Gentile crowds.  In Mark 2, we read of a similar reaction among Jewish crowds.  We hear people saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  But when he came to his hometown in Mark 6 and tried to teach and preach, he found that people weren’t interested in his words.  The same pattern seems to be happening now among the Gentiles.  Like many today, they’ll be happy to have him as an emergency room for their physical ailments, but they don’t want the life-saving services of a spiritual surgeon.


Mark reports some of their comments at the end of verse 37 and these are worthy of some deeper consideration.  First they said, “He has done everything well.”  What they meant was that everything Jesus touched turned to gold.  But without realizing it, these Gentiles were also pointing to Christ’s role as the restorer of creation.  “He has done everything well” could also be translated, “He has made everything good” and that is strongly reminiscent of what we read about God’s work in creation in Genesis 1:31.  The Lord Jesus was there too – through him all things were made.  Now through him, all things will be recreated and restored.  What happens here with this deaf man is prophetic,  it points ahead to what the Lord Jesus will do at the dawn of the age to come.  There will be neither physical nor spiritual deafness on the new heavens and new earth – everything will be as it should be.  God’s people will hear him gladly and their mouths will be used in perfect harmony to sing praises to him forever. 


That’s also what’s prophesied in Isaiah 35.  That’s alluded to in the last part of verse 37, “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  In Isaiah 35, the deaf hearing and the mute speaking was a sign of the inauguration of the Messianic age.  The Messianic age would put an end to sighing and frustration with the brokenness of this world.  When Messiah would come and rule, the Jews expected all these things to happen.  And now they are, if only in a small measure!  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  The restoration of all things is just around the corner.  Mark’s message, better:  the Holy Spirit’s message to the Jews here in Mark 7 was to recognize what was happening in Jesus’ ministry and embrace him in faith.  The first readers of Mark would have been reading this after his death and resurrection, after his ascension, after Pentecost.  They had to look beyond Jesus the miracle worker, Jesus the emergency room.  They had to see Jesus as the Saviour of the whole person – the one who heals both physical and spiritual defects, who raises both the physical dead and the spiritually dead.  They were called to see that the Lord Jesus was the fulfillment of all of God’s promises and to rest and trust in him. 


Loved ones, this text has exactly the same message for us.  The central theme or question of Mark is:  who is Jesus?  Specifically, who is Jesus to you?  Mark and the Holy Spirit who inspired him, they both want you to answer that question this by saying (you need to say this with me in your heart), “He is my Lord and Saviour.  He is the one who has opened my ears so that I can hear, understand and believe the gospel of what he has done for me in his life and death.  Jesus is the one who has untied my tongue so that I can clearly express how thankful I am for what he has done.  He is the one who has unsealed my lips so that I can sing out my love for him, so that I can tell the world how impressed I am with my Saviour and his person and work.  I am overwhelmed with amazement that I can be his.”  Brothers and sisters, that’s where the Holy Spirit wants to take us and that’s where he will take us as we continue to fix our eyes on Christ in faith.


Let’s pray together:


Our Father,


This world is so filled with brokenness and we echo the sighs of our elder brother Jesus.  We long for it to be all over and for him to return so that our redemption can be complete.  We thank you that we have the hope that springs eternal in Christ.  Please help each of us to continue looking to him, and to trust your promises in him.  Father, we pray also for those around us who are still deaf to you, for those whose speech is slurred and indistinct, whose mouths do not sing your praises, whose lips never make much of you.  Please work with your Spirit to clear a way for the Word to penetrate and to take root.  We pray Father that you would do the same for each of us and do it for your glory, so that we would always stand in awe of you and never hold back our words which magnify your worth.  We pray in Christ our Saviour and Lord.  AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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