We come to a passage that many people seek to skip over. They might do so for various reasons, the use of spit and placing fingers in ears, the connection between bread and being satisfied from the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) and the bread and feeding of the 4000 (Mark 8:1-10), and finally they might, as I have mentioned before, seek to focus on Matthew and Luke compared to Mark. However, this passage is important for serval reasons. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Mark authored these seven verses and placed them before the feeding of the 4000. I want to briefly explain why I think this is an important passage in the Gospel of Mark. Firstly, only Mark records this passage, we might find a summary in Matthew 15:29-31, but this is one instance where Mark provides more information than other gospel accounts. Secondly, we see Mark’s famous ‘sandwich’ technique, sandwiching two accounts of men healed by Jesus (Mark 7:31-37 and 8:22-26). These accounts follow a similar outline; Jesus comes to an area, the crowd brings a man to Jesus to heal him, he takes them away from the crowd, he heals the man and gives them instruction. These sandwich the story about the lack of understanding by the disciples, who are spiritually deaf, blind, and dumb. It is only Jesus who can open their ears, eyes and make them speak.
I. Bringing the Man (31-32)
Jesus and his disciples leave Tyre and go to the region of Decapolis. However, many scholars have questioned Mark’s account found in Mark chapter 7. Mark explains that they traveled through Sidon, which is not the fastest way to get from Tyre to Decapolis. It is the wrong way, like traveling to Tennessee but first deciding to go through West Virginia or North Carolina. They argue that Mark’s geography is inaccurate, and he didn’t know what he was talking about. However, Mark is giving an account of what happened, not explaining this was the fastest way. There are possible reasons for traveling through Sidon. Two have been suggested: 1) Jesus sought to withdraw further away from Herod and the Pharisees (Mark 3:6), or 2) Jesus went to minister to the gentiles in Sidon. We cannot insert words in the Bible that are not there, we do not know why they went through Sidon, but we know that is how they traveled.
They come to Decapolis, which is where Jesus traveled and cast out the demon of the man who lived among the tombs (Mark 5:1-20). This man became the first gospel preacher in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus returns to this region, and the crowd brings him another man. This man was not possessed by unclean spirits but was deaf and had a speech impediment. One of the aspects that makes this passage unique is that the word translated speech impediment is only used one other time in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in Isaiah 35. In the previous chapter, Isaiah writes about the judgment coming to the nations. Isaiah 34:1 says, “Draw near, O nations, to hear, and give attention, O peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that fills it; the world, and all that comes from it.” Chapter 35 speaks of Lebanon, Carmel and Sharon shall see the glory of the Lord (Is 35:2). Lebanon is another name for the region called Tyre and Sidon, or close by. Isaiah chapter 35 explains that Lebanon, a desert wilderness, will receive joy, symbolized by the imagery of water and springs in Isaiah chapter 35. The word used in Mark is used in Isaiah 35:5-6,
“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;”
Isaiah shifts from judgment upon the nations to the eschatological joy of redemption. We need to be reminded again that Mark writes to a majority gentile audience. Christ comes to Decapolis to heal a deaf man with a speech impediment, has the beautiful picture of the joy of the gospel like water in the middle of a desert. The mute will sing for joy, not only sing for joy but the ransomed (Mark 10:45) shall return to Zion singing (Is 35:10).
II. Unlikely Method (33-35)
Jesus takes this man aside, away from the crowd. Then comes the portion of the passage that seems strange and bizarre to our western ears. Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears, and after spitting, touched the man’s tongue. We have no explanation in the Bible as to the reasoning behind why Jesus used these means. The only other time we find a similar story is in the Gospel of John when Jesus heals a blind man by spitting on the ground and placing the mud on his eyes (John 9:6-7). Some have explained this was common practice around the region. Others have pointed out that people believed touching Jesus would heal them (Mark 3:10, 5:30, 6:56). Although we cannot know for sure, I believe Jesus communicates through these gestures to a man who cannot hear him use words (yet). Jesus removing his fingers from his ears was communicating that his ears would be unblocked. Jesus spitting on the ground and touching the man’s tongue signifies that Jesus would clear his tongue. Jesus again communicates to the man through looking to heaven, showing that his power comes from above. Jesus sighs or groans many times. This is used in regards to the sorrow of this world and then taking it to God in prayer (Ex 2:24, 6:5; Rom 8:22-27).
Finally, Jesus utters the word, “Ephphatha.” Although unheard by this man, Christ’s word is what heals this man. This is one of four times that Mark records the exact word of Jesus in Aramaic and provides a translation (Mark 5:41, 7:34, 14:36, 15:34). You could imagine Peter telling Mark the story and using the exact words that left Jesus’ mouth. This account, only in the Gospel of Mark, shows Peter’s understanding of the significance of this event. Peter, at this point, is like the deaf man with a speech impediment. He does not know that Jesus is the Christ, but soon his ears would be opened. And soon, his tongue would be loosed to proclaim the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
The man how has seen the world but not heard the world. Following the pronunciation of the word “Ephphatha,” this man started hearing the world, possibly for the first time. The Greek translates, “the hearing was opened.” Secondly, not only could he hear, but his tongue was unbound. Like a prisoner set free, his tongue was no longer in chains. Some have tried to speculate the medical condition of this man, was he born deaf and therefore had difficulty speaking, or did he have some other condition which he got later in life. The Bible is silent on this issue, but we know that he was completely healed after his encounter with Jesus. He could speak plainly.
III. Silence (36-37)
As before, Jesus commanded them to tell no one. However, the more Jesus told them not to tell anyone, the more they proclaimed it. The last two verses in chapter 7 are very emphatic. It shows a heightening of action. They not only proclaimed what Christ had done, but they zealously proclaimed it, they were not only astonished at Jesus’ works, but they were astonished beyond measure. It would have been hard for a man who could have a speech impediment to not explain to everyone what had happened. They could not remain silent after hearing what Christ had done. Their message is simple, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear, and the mute speak.” Christ has done all things well. An echo of Genesis 1:31, when God sees all that he has made, was very good. The people see all that Jesus has done and explain it was good. Matthew summaries it this way, “And they glorified the God of Israel” (Matt 15:31). This passage shows Christ as God who created the world out of nothing in the space of six days, but also who is the one who can recreate the bad in this world into good again.
Isaiah 35 ends in verse ten that says, “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Christ came as water amid a desert. The one who made the heavens and the earth will make all things new. Revelation 21 speaks of this new creation. He does all things well. As Isaiah says, the sorrow and sighing will be swept away. Revelation says it this way,
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Revelation 21:4–6, ESV)
We see in this passage a beautiful image of Christ and his power to recreate. Christ does this today, although I believe we do not have the signs like the times of Jesus and the apostles. I believe God answers our prayers. However, I whole heartily believe in miracles. That you can have a man who is dead in his trespasses, blind to God, and deaf to the glorious gospel. Then God works in his stone-cold heart and causes it to start to beat. His ears are open to hearing the sweet sound of the glorious gospel. Not only is he able to hear, but to understand, not only see but also perceive. However, this account continues with this man hearing and proclaiming about what Christ has done. The miracle is not only that the ears are open to hear and understand, but the heart is changed to be able to proclaim the gospel to others and, as Matthew explains, to glorify God. As John writes in Revelation, “It is done!” and we know that Jesus does all things well.
As John continues to write in Revelation 22 about the City of God, Zion, the New Jerusalem, he explains in verse 17, “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17). Come, those who hear, are to come and tell others to come. Those who are thirsty, come, come to the water in the middle of the desert. Come to the well of life, the fountain of Christ. Come to the one that will not only give water for your body but living water that will give you water for your soul. Come. Come to Christ. The one who opens ears to hear, eyes to see, unbinds the tongue of the mute. Sing for joy and glorify God. The one who made the whole earth makes you new. James Montgomery Boice wrote a hymn called “Come to the waters,” based on Revelation 22:
Come to the waters, whoever is thirsty;
drink from the Fountain that never runs dry.
Jesus, the Living One, offers you mercy,
life more abundant in boundless supply.