Seeing the Servant King – Mark 7:31-8:30
So far in these first eight chapters, the one question that keeps popping up is, “Who is Jesus?” The demons get it, but the Pharisees, Jesus’ family and the disciples, sadly, don’t. The Syrophoenician lady got it last week as she realized He satisfies all those who come to Him (Mark 7:28).
Mark wants his readers desperately to see the greatness of Jesus in their lives. Sometimes it’s hard to see Him when our problems and sins seem so much bigger. He gets lost in the background. What we will do today is go over six paragraphs from Mark 7:31-8:30. They do not seem related at first, but this is a Five Guys monster burger with a lot of meat connected together. We will study the text and at the end, glean out some things for us in what it means to see Christ clearer, nearer and deeper in our lives.
Today we are going to hit the climax of this question: “Who is Jesus?” This is the middle of the book of Mark and it will be found in Mark 8:27-30 from the lips of Peter, who has divine revelation, for a second. But first, let’s look at Mark 7:31. Jesus stays in heavily Gentile territory. He has come to include those who were excluded from God, according to Jewish minds.
By the way, sometimes we have this misconception that every day with Jesus in the Gospels was this miracle-fest. This is especially easy to see, if you are reading Mark, because he is super fast-paced. Even the word “immediately” is used over 40x in 16 chapters.
But I don’t think this is the case. For instance, this journey mentioned here is about 120 miles.Walking that far would take a long time and nothing happened. What we read are some highlights, organized not just historically, but theologically, meaning that Mark is trying to prove something about Jesus by the way he organizes the story. Did you also notice that when there is a miracle, the disciples are always amazed? If it was just another day in the neighborhood, that would not be the reaction.
Notice in v.32, that some people bring to Jesus a man who was deaf with a speech impediment. He wasn’t born deaf and mute, but it happened through disease or injury and now it took him great effort to articulate his words.Interestingly, Mark’s use of this word for “speechimpediment” is mentioned only in Isaiah 35:5-6.
5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
Mark is alluding to the prophecy that one day God…[will come] in order to unstop the ears of the deaf and to provide song for the man of inarticulate speech. Who is this Jesus? God has come!
He personally takes Him aside, puts His own fingers into His ears—literally “thrust,” and then to our shock, Jesus probably spits on His hand or finger (normal to them,weird to us)and then touches his tongue.
Have you noticed that whenever Jesus heals, he does it differently every time? In a few verses He’ll spit again. Sometimes he says something. Sometimes he says nothing. Sometimes he does it from a distance. Sometimes Jesus can heal with a thought. I am glad there are such a variety of methods of healing. Imagine if Jesus healed only by spitting? You know for sure today we will have a whole denomination called the Holy Spittite Church or something. People will be googlingfor churches who are “spittite” and who are “Anti-Spittite.” Don’t worry, we have no plans to adopt Jesus’ method here for any of you who desire prayers for healing.
He looks up to Heaven, so the man knows where the source of healing comes from and he sighs, maybe “groans” is a better word as an expression of the “deep sorrow and anger our Lord felt at the ravages of the Fall in the lives of men. The sigh was a sigh of the heart of God for his needy creation.”
With the man’s eyes utterly fixed on Jesus, He says in Aramaic, “Ephphatha” which means, “be opened.” One commentator says this word …is not limited to the opening of ears and the loosening of a tongue. It is the whole person who is opened up, set free, in relation to God’s kingly rule.”
His ears were opened and tongue “released” in v.35. The original Greek is more vivid and concrete, saying that “the chain of his tongue was broken.” He is liberated as a prisoner. His whole being is set free! Everyone is excited, probably jumping and maybe this man is singing for joy!
Jesus tells them not to tell anyone. Why? Because first of all, He doesn’t care for notoriety and doesn’t want people to see Him just as a political leader or faith-healer. Seeing Jesus as these things is not what He is ultimately about.But He also knows the more word spreads, the more people that means the time is approaching where these same people will end up rejecting Him and He will have to go to the cross. But Jesus’ words fall on deaf ears as they start talking about it all the more exclaiming, “He has done all things well.”
James Edwards notes that this phrase, “…recalls God’s surveying his works at creation and declaring them good (Gen 1:31)…The Son’s work in redemption is like the Father’s work in creation: it is done well and leaves nothing to be desired.”
Now we come to the feeding of the 4,000. Many “scholars” have said that this is the same event as in Mark 6, the feeding of the 5,000. The primary argument is the disciples in Mark 8:4. Can they be this dense that they forgot in just two chapters that Jesus fed 5,000 people? In the words of one critic: “the stupid repetition of the question is psychologically impossible!”
There are lots of similarities here especially with language, which I think Mark did intentionally. There are also differences like the number of people, the number of loaves available, the crowd being with Jesus for three days as opposed to one, to name a few. But the major dissimilarity is the location. The feeding of the 5,000 was to the Jews and here this miracle is for the Gentiles.
Who is Jesus? He is not only the One who satisfies the Jews, but also satisfies anyone who comes empty-handed to Him. The Syrophoenician woman asked for crumbs for the Gentiles and here Jesus answers it, by not giving the Gentiles crumbs, but a feast. He is the Bread of Life for all humanity.
And it seems the disciples’ question was not to assume Jesus will do what they think He should do, especially since they see Gentiles, “these people.” Will Jesus be as generous to the Gentiles as well? They weren’t sure!
Then in vv.11-26, we move from hearing and talking and tasting/eating bread, to seeing. We see three different blind people: the Pharisees in vv.11-13, the disciples, vv.14-21 and then a physically blind man vv.22-26.
They come back home in v.11 only to find the Pharisees ready to interrogate him. They have dismissed Him and His works as works of Satan already. Now they are demanding a sign. They are asking for some form of celestial phenomenon that would confirm His claim and authority. They despise him and are threatened by His popularity, so this is not a humble request, but an arrogant one, to prove that He is trustworthy. Their hearts disbelieved, not due to lack of convincing evidence of His person, which have been shown through His works and words.
They are blind guides and Jesus says they are the “blind leading the blind.” Jesus sighs again, but this one is a deeply troubled sigh of anger. The Pharisees have moved from doubt to unbelief and hard-heartedness. So He left them with no sign. David Garland adds, “Jesus will offer this generation no noisy sign from heaven, only the wind whistling through an empty tomb after his crucifixion.”
Jesus and the disciples leave. As Jesus still pondering on His last interaction with the Pharisees, the disciples start to fight like little kids. Apparently, they only had one loaf of bread to eat. You can almost imagine them: “I thought you brought the basket…no, you were supposed to!” Jesus interrupts them, “Guys, there are bigger issues at stake here. See the Pharisees. See Herod. Their blindness has grown and spread like yeast, corrupting all of their senses, destroying them in unbelief. Be careful that you don’t underestimate that happening to you.”
But the disciples are blind too. But it’s a different kind of blindness. It is not expressed in hostility and opposition, but with lack of discernment and understanding. So right after Jesus says this, they go right back to fighting. Who was responsible for this egregious oversight of not bringing enough bread?!We have another cringe worthy moment with our ragamuffin boys in the boat.
Mark never leaves out the deficiencies and failures of the disciples, especially since I am sure Peter is with him as he writes to make sure he doesn’t leave out anything. And for that, I am eternally grateful to Mark. Their failures and Jesus’ incredible patience with them gives me so much hope for my life!
In a series of penetrating questions, Jesus skillfully and passionately leads them away from their clueless conversation into a confrontation of their spiritual deafness and blindness. This is not condemnation. It is correction.
With these questions, Jesus and Mark reveal to us that all these miracles were supposed to point us to the identity of the miracle worker. They are not just miracles but parables, physical lessons that have spiritual implications. Notice, “Don’t you HEAR?” “Don’t you SEE?” We saw Jesus heal a deaf man and now Jesus says you are spiritually deaf. In a second, Jesus will heal the blind man and we are led to believe that a far more grave condition is to be spiritually blind. Jesus then tries to unclog their memories.
In other words, how could they get anxious about having just one loaf after what they witnessed for the second time? They have made so little progress to date. Here is a brief review or sampling up close and personal events of all that they have observed:Healing of a Leper, paralytic, a man with a withered hand, calming of life threatening storm, Gerasene Demoniac delivered. Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead, walking on water, not one, but two miraculous feedings and given keys to the kingdom of God in parables of Jesus.
And this is just a sampling! Is there any hope for these guys? Well the hope comes in the word “yet.” Not yet. To illustrate this, we have another healing. This time people bring a blind man. Like the deaf man, people are begging for a touch from Jesus. Like the deaf man, Jesus is taking him aside personally. Like the deaf man, spit is involved.
However, unlike the deaf man, this is a two-stage healing. Why the two parts? Why didn’t it work the second time? Was Jesus tired? It won’t make sense unless you noticed all the references to sight in this story and if you noticed the mentioned of sight in the previous paragraph. In fact in the original, there are eight different words used for nine instances of seeing in 8:23–25!The blind man provides a colorful, real-life illustration of what was occurring in the lives of the disciples.To spiritually see, these disciples will require a long process. Their blindness can be overcome but it will take a miracle that only Jesus can provide.
Notice what happens in the next section. Jesus asks the only question that matters in the end in the universe: Who do you say that I am? Peter starts to see, though partially: “You are the Christ.” But only for a couple of verses because he loses complete sight of why Jesus came in the following verses. Quickly the lessons:
- Our Spiritual deafness and blindness is more pervasive in us than we think
Before we come to know Christ, we are not only completely spiritually blind and deaf, the Bible says we were completely dead (Eph. 2:1). We were not bad people who became good, but dead people who became alive. Total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to beauty and deadness to joy.
However, this does not mean that the moment you believe, you don’t have blind spots anymore. We are not automatically perfect. We have layers and layers of blindness that Jesus continues to peel off.
It is easy to see the blindness and deafness in the disciples. It is much harder to see it in ourselves. Paul Tripp says, “When you are physically blind, you know that you are blind, and you do things to compensate for this significant physical deficit. But spiritually blind people are not only blind; they are blind to their own blindness.”
Sin hides itself. The stuff that’s hurting us right now are things we don’t really see are that bad. We call our sin “struggles.” Materialism and greed are called enjoying life. Wasting hours watching TV, binge watching on Netflix or YouTube and consuming social media is called rest or taking a break. Laziness is called tired. Flirting is called being friendly. Gossip is called prayer request. Legalism is called being faithful. Lack of discipline is called legalism. A critical spirit is confused with being a critical thinker. We are very skilled self-swindlers.
Jesus warned the disciples that of drifting into hard heartedness like yeast. What was it that made the disciples so blind, deaf and hard hearted? They thought exposure to Jesus meant intimacy with Jesus. They were data collectors, knowledge gatherers but not heart appliers. They thought they were ok because they were around Jesus doing stuff with Jesus and though they had moments of wonder, it never led to worship.
How can we hear God with so much noise around us? We are endlessly scrolling of news and social media. Our eyes are never resting, our ears never stopping to listen to the Lord and our hearts are never making time to feel. We don’t even let ourselves feel sadness or hurt because we have gadgets to numb the pain…they are drugs that harden our hearts.
When I was 13 or 14, I decided to give myself a haircut with a razor. This was a bad idea as I started to see skin. I got in trouble and ran away from home, and I only got basically down the street and my dad picked me up. When I was 20 I was sharing this story with people and said, “Boy, I was an idiot then!” When I was 25/26, Jenny and I were sitting with a pastor for pre-marital counseling and I asked him shouldn’t pastor’s wives should not be loud, but quiet based on this verse I found. I was serious. Thankfully Jenny didn’t slap me. The pastor was gracious towards me reminding me that that verse was talking about character not personality. I look back at that 10 years ago and I can tell you, “Boy, I was an idiot then!” Which means one thing: I am an idiot now! Do I really believe that right now?
The people who are spiritually seeing are those who see their pervasive spiritual blindness. Those who give grace are those who know they desperately need it themselves. Soseeing our spiritual blindness for what it is humbles us because if you really see God’s patience in our blindness and any sight that we have as a gift of grace, it will be hard to look at somebody who doesn’t get something as “You blind fool!”
I was convicted by this tweet by Scotty Smith: A sign you’re growing in grace: You are not as compelled to offer commentary and criticism about most people and topics. Ouch. Secondly:
- The manner of healing our spiritual deafness and blindness
So how does the Lord heal us once we confess how blind we are?
Notice the very personal, intimate, care of Jesus for thedeaf and blind man. He takes them both aside, meaning both are not just faces in a crowd. They are not just a problem, but unique individuals. He radically identifies with the needy and here Jesus uses strong sign language to communicate with the deaf and lots of extra touch for the blind. Jesus is not the impersonal doctor who sits at his desk screaming “next!” as various patients come by. He is the Wonderful Counselor who does not mass-produce working off a template, but handcrafts each one that comes to Him.
This also means that we cannot be satisfied by just being around Jesus. He wants personal interaction with each of us. Like Zacchaeus, He desires we become dissatisfied with second-hand knowledge and long to see Him for ourselves, to have Him lay His hands on us again, put His fingers into the ears of our heart and open our eyes.
Jonathan Edwards in writing to a new believer, actually a teenage girl, gave her 19 things to consider in growing in Christ. The second thing on his list was this:
Don’t slack off seeking, striving, and praying for the very same things that we exhort unconverted persons to strive for, and a degree of which you have had in conversion [i.e. continually rediscover the Gospel]. Thus pray that your eyes may be opened, that you may receive your sight, that you may know yourself and be brought to God’s feet, and that you may see the glory of God and Christ…and have the love of Christ shed abroad in your heart. Those that have most of these things still need to pray for them; for there is so much blindness and hardness and pride and death remaining that they still need to have that work of God upon them, further to enlighten and enliven them.
Paul says we see in part, like in a dim mirror now, until we see Him (1 Cor. 13:12). Eugene Peterson catches the meaning with this paraphrase: “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist” (Message).The disciples will need several touches from the Lord. Peter is the best example. He sees in these verses, but doesn’t see in the following. Later, he fails Jesus and Jesus restores him as he says, “Lord I love you.” Jesus says be my leader. He sees Jesus a little bit clearer. A few verses later he goes, “What about John?” A little bit more blurry. Acts 2he preaches a sermon and thousands get saved. He stands up for Christ. A little bit more sight. Acts 10 he doesn’t get God’s dream to go to the Gentiles and God had to show him a couple of times. A little blurry again. Then he finally goes and the Gentile centurion Cornelius gets saved. Later, Paul had to rebuke him again in Gal. 2 about not eating with the Gentiles.
Peter was told all these things many times, but he didn’t change over time just from being told. He had to be shown. Life showed him. God showed him. His failures showed him. What does God really want us to see? Surely we can get perspective on our hearts over time, on life in general, our circumstances, but more than anything, God wants us to see He is a far better Savior than we are sinners. Peter at the end of his life says this, “May the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Pet. 5:11). The one who said, “You are the Christ,” says at the end, “He is the God of all grace.”
- In community
Notice in both healings that they had good friends who brought them to Jesus. How could he have seen Jesus without his friends?They brought him to Jesus and put him into Jesus’ hands.
Since we are blind to our blindness, we need others to help us see. Community is often the glasses. Tripp says, “The Hebrews passage [Heb. 3:13] clearly teaches that personal insight is the product of community. I need you in order to really see and know myself. Otherwise, I will listen to my own arguments, believe my own lies, and buy into my own delusions.” If you want your blindness to start clearing up, prioritize community. Prioritize church attendance. Prioritize small group. Let loved ones into your heart to know you and help you see areas you can’t see on your own.
- With wonder and worship
We have seen that we read these miracles, Mark intends his readers to see that they point to a greater miracle. We see that Jesus is the only one who can unstop the deaf ear, loosen the stammering tongue and open the blind eyes. The Isaiah 35 passage reminds us that when the Son of God arrives and does these things in the life of an individual, the response is joyful worship: Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
The mute sings a new song. Our singing is an expression of our astonishment that out of the fact that our ears have been opened by the grace of God to hear His voice, that our eyes can now see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and that our mouths can talk and sing praises to Him. Singing to Him is a response of the wonder of salvation.If you were at the retreat, Ajay reminded us that in Eph. 5:19 Paul tells us to actually address ONE ANOTHER (emphasis mine) in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We don’t come together just to sing to God, but also to each other, reminding each other of the Gospel. If I had a bad week, what a joy to come and to hear someone behind me singing, “Jesus what a friend of sinners!”
Jesus calls His disciples to remember in wonder. This is what every church service is about. We are remembering and responding with wonder, passion and excitement. Let me say that we could go as a congregation in our passionin our singing.
Our average age as a whole is probably around low to mid 30s, but often our enthusiasm is that of a church in a nursing home. I think partly is often due to one person sitting in one row. It is hard to sing with passionwhen it feels like you are the only one singing. And maybe many of us are staying up way too late on Saturday and dragging ourselves here and we need to get to bed earlier. And maybe we have bad weeks here and there.
Some also have said, “Well, Robin, it’s our personality.” I don’t know. Some of us who are so-called introverts become very extroverted when talking about sports or the latest summer blockbuster with “amazing” CGI effects. I was with some “conservative” guys at a baseball game once, barely moving their lips to sing and they all turned Pentecostal when a guy took a stick and hit this ball over a fence.
Now I am not saying we have to start rolling in the aisles and bark like dogs—ain’t nobody got time for that—but I am saying if the God of the Universe, looked down across time and space and completely by grace decided to set His heart on you, knew your name, and at the right time, decided to pay the cost to get you to Himself, then once you were ready, took you by His very own hand apart from the crowd, put His own fingers in your ears and said “BE OPENED” so your whole being came to life, you heard His voice, saw His beauty, felt His life go into yours so your dead heart started beating, peace came that passes all understanding, joy came that sins forgiven, Heaven was guaranteed and Hell was canceled at an infinite cost to Himself….how can we stay quiet and not sing without any heart? How can we not celebrate the grace of God at what He has done?
My parents come from a country, as many of you, with 800 million today who bow down to a piece of wood or stone that have eyes, but cannot see them, that have ears, but cannot hear their prayers. Who am I that the Lord should be mindful of me? That one summer evening in the back of a house the One True and Living God would come passing by, call my name, open my ears, open my eyes and make me alive. Love lifted me, loosened my tongue!
‘Tis not that I did choose Thee,
For Lord, that could not be;
This heart would still refuse Thee,
Hadst Thou not chosen me.
My heart owns none before Thee,
For Thy rich grace I thirst;
This knowing, if I [want] Thee,
Thou must have loved me first.
We need to worship Him! Worship Him because in order to lift our blindness, the Bible says He was plunged into utter darkness. Worship Him because in order to get our tongues loose, He had to be dumb like a lamb before its shearers. Worship Him, because in order to get my hands lifted in praise, His own hands had to be nailed. Worship Him, because in order to get my feet moving to serve Him, His own feet had to be pierced.
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears, ’
Tis life, and health, and peace.
Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.
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Maheney, C.J. Ibid.