When Jesus Spits (Mark 7:31-37)

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Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling Sunday, September 5, 2021 Mark 7:31-37 When Jesus Spits Introduction: This story speaks to two very different views of the world. On the one hand there are certain Christians who are only concerned about spiritual matters. For them, to be a Christian means that when you die you go to heaven. This world and this life are just a big waiting room or lobby where we hang out until Jesus takes us away. Oliver Wendell Holms once said, “There are some people who are so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good.” On the other hand, there are people who believe that the material world is all there is. There is no such thing as a supernatural realm. People don’t have souls. There is no God. In the words of John Lennon, “No hell below us, above us only sky.” This story in Mark invites us to ask:
  • What if reality is something more than either of these views?
  • What if the spiritual realm and the physical world were intended to kiss?
  • What if heaven and earth were made for one another?
This is a short passage, only 8 verses, so we’ll just walk through it a couple verses at a time. v.31-32 31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 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. Two observations about these verses:
  • Mark reports the geographical journey of Jesus.
He travels from Tyre to Sidon to the Sea of Galilee to the region of the Decapolis. If Jesus were wearing a Garmin watch with a GPS, it would show that he took a circuitous route to get from Point A to Point B. It would be like us going from here to Livingstone by traveling through Helena. Not really the shortest distance. And this is precisely why Mark reports Jesus’ trek. These are not just random places on a map. Tyre, Sidon, and the region of the Decapolis were all places where Gentiles (non-Jews) live. Jesus’ message is not just for people like him—the Jews. He is launching a global movement. He goes out of his way to move toward people who need to hear the gospel. It’s worth pausing and asking: If you could look at a map of all the places you went this past week, what would the map look like? Where did you go? Who did you go and see? Was it only people who are like you? Who believe what you believe? Jesus’ journey shows that he moved toward people unlike him.
  • Jesus returns to the Decapolis
This region was called the Decapolis because it was an area with 10 different cities. Jesus has been here before. In Mark 5:1-20, Jesus enters the Decapolis and meets a man possessed by multiple demons named “Legion.” Jesus casts out the demons and sets the man free spiritually. But here, in this story, when Jesus returns to the Decapolis, he meets a man who suffers not from a spiritual disability, but a physical one. This man is deaf and unable to speak. And so already, in just these first two verses, we begin to see some sort of collision between the spiritual (a demon possessed man) and the physical (a deaf man). We wonder, “How will these two worlds come together?” V.33-34 33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). Jesus carries out no less than 7 different actions with this man. Let me list them and explain what he’s doing.
  • Jesus takes him aside away from the crowd
Jesus has no interest in turning his ministry into a 3-ring circus. He wants focused one-on-one time alone with this man. He plans to give him his undivided attention.
  • Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears
This man is deaf. He can’t hear Jesus’ words, so Jesus uses a form of sign-language. He points in his ears as if to say, “I know where you hurt. I’m going to take care of that.” He enters this man’s world.
  • He spits
Interestingly, this isn’t the only time Jesus spits. In Mark 8:23, a blind man is brought to Jesus, and we’re told that Jesus spits on the man’s eyes. I remember once when I was only 5-6 years old, I was getting ready to head out the door to play and my dad said, “Jeff , come here; you have something on your face.” He then licked his handkerchief and proceeded to rub the food off the corner of my mouth. I said, “Dad that’s gross! You rubbed your spit on me!” He said, “Well, my spit is good spit, ok?” I thought, “No! No spit is good!” I think most of us would agree. But in the ancient world, saliva was thought to have medicinal properties. It was considered a healing balm of sorts. Far from being an act of disrespect, Jesus is entering this man’s world, his beliefs, his customs—to communicate “I’m going to heal you.”
  • He touches the man’s tongue
Jesus once again uses non-verbal communication so the man can understand. Jesus is signing, “I’m not just going to heal your ears, but your tongue as well.”
  • He looks up to Heaven
This is a gesture of prayer. Jesus is revealing the source of his power—His Father in Heaven who has the ability to make all things new.
  • He sighs
This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus is said to sigh. It can be translated as a “sigh,” a “groan,” or even a “moan.” Jesus is expressing grief for the way this man’s body has been ravaged by the fall. He empathizes and identifies with his pain. This same word for “sigh” is used in Romans 8:26: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” The Spirit of God groans and grieves for your pain just as Jesus grieves for this man.
  • Jesus says to the man, Ephphatha.
What’s about to happen is so astounding that Mark decides to leave the original Aramaic word here: Ephphatha. It means “Be opened.” In Genesis 1, God says, Let there be light—and lights explodes into existence. Later, Jesus will say to Lazarus—dead in the tomb: “Lazarus come forth.” And the tomb burst forth with life. Jesus words are powerful because they are the very Words of God. It’s why we stand in our church services when the Word of God is read. It has the power to unleash new life to all those who hear. As we consider each of these 7 actions by Jesus, we get a picture of the extraordinary measures Jesus takes in order to enter this man’s world. To reach him and rescue him.
  • He used sign language and saliva to speak this man’s language.
  • But to do that, Jesus had to become human—take on a physical body. A body with saliva glands, toenails, intestines, and eardrums.
  • But not just any body would do. He became a Jewish man in the first century.
  • He even identified with him, empathized with him, and felt his anguish.
  • He entered his world.
One gets the idea that there is nothing Jesus wouldn’t do to reach this man. And the same is true for you. Throughout your life, Jesus will relentlessly purse you so that you might know his grace. But it is also a picture of what we ought to be to those around us. We are to enter people’s world.
  • If you’re a parent and you feel like your kids is always on the screen, playing video games or watching teeny-bopper movies. Instead of just saying, “you should go outside more.” Maybe play some of those video games and watch some of those movies with them.
  • If someone you know expresses a view about vaccines or face masks that a different from you. Don’t just tell them how they are wrong. Enter their world and understand, given their background and story, why they think the way they do. (don’t just sigh a sigh of disgust—sign like Jesus and enter their world)
Jesus pursues us by embodying our world. v.35-37 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. 36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” How ironic that this story begins with a man who cannot speak but ends with people who can’t stop talking. Jesus’ command to be silent falls on deaf ears. Why does he tell them not to speak about it? Perhaps one practical reason is that Jesus wants to continue to fly under the radar a little longer before he calls greater attention to himself and is arrested. There is still more work to do before he dies. But there are two additions reasons.
  1. This healing is a parable of what Jesus will do for his followers
Up to this point in Mark’s Gospel, the disciples really don’t understand Jesus’ message. They don’t heave ears to hear. And because they can’t hear it, they can’t proclaim it. They are unable to share the gospel. Just as Jesus takes this man away from the crowd, throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus continually takes his disciples away from the crowd to explain his teaching. But no matter how much Jesus explains—they still don’t have the categories to comprehend what Jesus has come to do. Talking to them about a Messiah who will die on a cross is like trying to tell someone from the 1950s about the upcoming iPhone 13 release. This is why Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd not to tell anyone. But once Jesus dies, rises from the dead, and appears to them—suddenly their eyes will be opened, they will hear Jesus’ words and understand them for the first time. They will speak about the gospel for the first time. What Jesus did for this deaf and mute man, he will also do for his disciples. And it’s what he can do for you. When you hear the Gospel and the message of God’s grace, through that message Jesus says to you: “Be Opened!” In that moment, you come to life spiritually. This story isn’t merely reporting a healing miracle. It’s a parable of spiritual awakening.
  • This healing is a parable of what Jesus will do for all creation
After Jesus says, “Be opened,” v.35 says, “At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened.” The word “loosened” stands out to me because in seminary pastors have to learn Greek. And the first Greek word that you learn is the word, λύω. That same word, “λύω” is used in 2 Peter 3:10. It says, But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. When it says that the elements—the world—will be destroyed by fire, it doesn’t mean that the world will be annihilated so that there is nothing left. We know this because the word that for destroyed is the word, λύω. The world will be loosened—just like this man’s tongue. The physical word—God’s creation will be set free. Romans 8:21 says it like this: The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. This story in Mark is not just a parable of how Jesus will set us free spiritually. It’s about how God will set the physical world free. Jesus told the crowd and the disciples not to talk because they couldn’t comprehend that Jesus would accomplish this…
  • Not by spiting, but by being spit upon on his way to the cross.
  • Not by healing someone’s ears, but by allowing his ears to be clubbed by Roman soldiers and filled with mockery.
  • And not by touching someone’s tongue, but by being led like a sheep to the slaughter, he did not open his mouth when he stood trial.
He did it to make his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. To make ALL things—the spiritual and the physical—new.

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