“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 35:5-6)
“He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:37)
Jesus is doing a bit of a tour of sort, going from the coastal regions of Tyre and Sidon to the region of the ten cities, the Decapolis. He seems to be avoiding Galilee for the moment. It might have been the crowds and his spreading celebrity. Or it might have been Herod Antipas whom Jesus was trying to avoid. Whatever the reason, Jesus was moving through non-Israelite territory, Gentile country. The Messiah of Israel is also the world’s messiah, and here Jesus shows it.
They bring a man to Jesus who could neither hear nor talk. A deaf mute. The people beg Jesus to lay His hand on him, the usual gesture of the healer. In other words, the people have a plan, a preconceived notion as to how Jesus is supposed to work. He’s supposed to do what every other healer did, lay hands on the sick person and pray. But this is no ordinary healer. This is the Lord of all healing.
We sometimes approach Jesus the same way as those people of the Decapolis. We not only present the problem, we also present the solution. Here’s what we want Lord, and here’s how we think you should do it. A little bit like the kid who specifies his Christmas present by printing off pictures from catalogs on the internet. The more you specify a gift, the less of a gift it becomes. It turns into more of a transaction, really, a bargain, which is how the old Adam in us would love to deal with God. Transactionally. Lord, give us what we want exactly in the way that we want and thank you in advance for your cooperation. Give me patience, but don’t let me suffer. Give me wisdom, but spare me the pain of experience. Give me healing, but spare me the doctors. You know how it goes.
Jesus doesn’t go that route with this man. He takes him aside privately, away from the crowds. This poor man’s plight is no circus side show for the curious masses. He has lived his entire life on the fringes of his society. Unable to speak, unable to hear. Imagine a world like his where you never heard the sound of laughter or music or your children’s voice or any human voice. Imagine that you couldn’t speak clearly. Your thoughts are there, clear enough, you have feelings you want to express, ideas you want to exchange, but you can’t get the words out. They refuse form on your tongue.
People who have had a stroke know what this is like, the futility and frustration of not being able to communicate. I remember visiting a man in the hospital (his famlly asked me in the lobby if I would talk with him). He was a little older than I am and had suffered a rather serious stroke. It was obvious he could understand every word I was saying to him. And it was equally obvious that he couldn’t say a single syllable of what he wanted to say to me. The frustration on that man’s face was overwhelming, almost too difficult to bear. It was like words were imprisoned inside of him and couldn’t escape.
To be deaf and mute is to live in a world without words. You can read, but you’ve heard what those words sound like. And you’ve heard your own voice say them. It’s a picture of our spiritual condition before God. We are born deaf to God’s Word, unable to hear it, unable to discern the will of God in it. We are born mute to God’s praises, unable to open our lips and loosen our tongues so that our mouths may declare the praise of God. It’s a spiritual deafness. We can hear the world just fine; it’s the Word that our ears are not naturally attuned to. It’s the Word that our lips do not naturally conform to.
God must act if we are to hear and believe and speak. Jesus takes the man aside private and He does a strange thing. He puts his fingers into the man’s ears. He spits, yes spits!, and touches the man’s tongue. He looks to heaven, to the Father who sent Him. He sighs a deep sigh and said a single word “Ephphatha.” Be opened
The incident has a lot in common with an exorcism – the spitting, sticking the finger into the ears, touching the tongue, the sighing, and the word of command. And while the text doesn’t say that the man was demon possessed, it’s all part and parcel of the same thing, the fall of man and the fall of creation, the subjection to decay and disease and death. Christ came to set things back in order. And he takes this man’s deafness and muteness and absorbed it with a sigh into Himself and speaks a word into the man “Ephphtha.”
Notice the earthiness of it all. Fingers in ears. Spit. Tongues touched. Not hovering hands and incantations. God comes down to us, reaches down to where we are, sticks the fingers of His Word in our ears, grabs hold of our tongues and says, “Ephphatha” to our deafness, “Ephphatha” to our stammering muteness.
And the Word of Jesus does what it says. It has that power to do what it says. Just as in the beginning when God said “Be light” and light there is. Immediately, the man’s ears were opened to hear, and his tongue was loosed to speak. Words were his again by the power of that Word sighed by Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah had seen and foretold this day: “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. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” Those are the messianic signs, the signals of the age when God would come with a vengeance to save.
I’m sure there were plenty of deaf mutes in the Ten Cities. But Jesus didn’t simply come to provide health care to the Decapolis. He came to be bring ultimate healing, to reverse the ravages of sin and death, the flex the mighty arm of God to save and redeem. This man became a messianic sign, a visible, historic sign that Jesus was indeed the Messiah of Israel, the Christ, and that He is the creative Word in the flesh come to bring the new creation by His own dying and rising.
He opens the man’s ears and looses the man’s tongue and then tells everyone, “Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone!” What!? Did we hear that right? What’s the point in opening the man’s lips if his mouth isn’t supposed to tell everyone about Jesus? Why the secret? Simply, because Jesus knew all the ways the people would get this wrong. They would see Him as nothing more than a wonder worker, a source of free health care, a vending machine for blessings. They would think “messiah” and conclude that Jesus was going to use His power to overthrow the Romans, to put Israel on the map, to lead a revolution, to wipe out hunger and disease and poverty in this world and become a great king ruling by the power of God. They would get all the wrong ideas about Jesus, and so He keeps it all quiet.
But the truth is, you can’t keep quiet. The more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They said, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” And they hadn’t seen anything yet. Wait until they see Him lifted up on the cross, bearing the world’s sin in His own flesh. Wait until they hear the cry from His own lips, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” as His prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. Wait until He becomes deaf and mute with our sin and death. But then there were no crowds, only a handful of disciples. But there the price for this healing was paid. “By His wounds we are healed.” There on the cross, was the ultimate show of God’s might. There on the cross, was the recompense of God Isaiah spoke of. God did justice that day in His Son who became deaf and blind and mute and lame in died to save you.
Jesus wants to do for you what He did for that man in the Decapolis that day. He wants to stick His Word into your ears, to cut through deafness, to open your ears, your minds, your hearts. He speaks His Ephphatha to you. “Be opened.” He wants to grab those tongues of yours, tongues that don’t naturally know how to pray, to praise, to give thanks, to confess, and He wants to loosen them for His praise. He wants to turn our tongues into instruments of worship and witness, declaring the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His light, who raised you from the grave of your sin, who shed His blood for you that you might live under Him in His kingdom, who glorified you at the right hand of God in HIs own glorious flesh.
And it’s OK to talk about it. No commands of silence now. The work is done. It is finished. Jesus has accomplished His mission. He has died and risen and reigns. Tell everyone. If He healed your deafness and cured your muteness, you’d be talking about it. You couldn’t stop yourself. Jesus has healed your sin and death. He has given you eternal life. He has baptized you and placed His Body and Blood on your tongues and opened your ears with His forgiving words. There is much to tell, and much to praise, and much to sing. He has done all things well.
In the name of Jesus, Amen