Ephphatha! Be opened!
Key Verse: 7:34
“He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means, ‘Be opened!’).”
Jesus had just helped a woman’s daughter be cured of a demon. The woman had been a Gentile woman and undeserving of God’s mercy. But she had faith and came to Jesus with such humility of heart such that Jesus praised her. After that, Jesus decided to go to a most peculiar place— a region called the Decapolis— another Gentile area. There, he heals a deaf and dumb man. Generally this story seems no different from any other healing Jesus had been doing all along. So what’s so different in this story which compelled Mark to record it here and now? That’s the beauty of the Bible— it’s so wide and deep, and here’s an example of this in this story. Primarily, we see the amazing change in the attitude of the people of the Decapolis towards Jesus. These people had changed in an amazing way. Another thing we see here is the deaf and dumb man’s problem— which is a problem common to all people.
Read verses 31-32 read. “Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.” That Gentile woman of Tyre, the one Jesus had just healed her daughter, greatly encouraged Jesus to visit other places where Gentiles lived. He visited the city of Sidon and continued on his way to the region of the Decapolis. This had not been the first time Jesus visited the Decapolis. If we remember from chapter 5, it was in the Decapolis that Jesus had healed a man possessed by a legion of demons. And it was in that place that Jesus was also driven out by its people. And if we remember, they had kicked him out because he valued the life of this one suffering man over a herd of 6000 pigs they owned. It was a reality that deeply saddens us about the human nature. Not only in the Decapolis of the time, but in all generations, people seem to value material things over the lives of others. People would rather see a man’s soul perish rather than have their own possessions touched, or their moneys lost.
So when Jesus used up a herd of 6000 pigs to derive the man’s demons into, and those pigs were lost to their owners, they kicked Jesus out of their towns. But here is the glorious thing about God and his work. They drove Jesus out, but they could not drive out the Spirit of Jesus from among them. That wondrous Spirit of love and grace had already begun to work life and blessing in and through this man who had been healed of demon possessions. Jesus had completely changed him. Once he had given his townspeople and his family grief because he was rebellious and dangerous. But after Jesus touched his life, he had become docile and friendly and loving in every way. If we remember, the man begged to come along with Jesus. But Jesus had told him to stay behind and to make it his life work to tell what the Lord had done for him— how the Lord had mercy on him and healed him. And the man had done just that.
And from this new story Mark records for us, we can see that this man’s influence had been truly great. The man had been an obnoxious son and a bane to the community— to the point where they had to drive him out. But now he was changed. He had come home, and kissed his mother, and said “thank you mom for all you have done for me. I am sorry that I had been such a jerk”. Then he had gone out in the community and had become a man who helps others rather than make their lives miserable. When people asked him what happened to you, he had told them his story, that Jesus saw hope in him and had touched his life and had freed him form all his godless tendencies. Then one day Jesus came back to that community, and lo and behold they did not drive him out again. This time they were prepared to receive him as the Messiah. Now they were ready to reveal their faith in him. Clearly, this man’s changed life had affected them deeply.
Look at verses 31-32 again. Some of the people of the Decapolis came to him with faith. They came to him with a remarkable compassion for another suffering man. They brought him a man who was deaf and mute, and begged him to heal him. What a change of attitude towards Jesus. Surely the Holy Spirit was working in and through this man to bring the knowledge of God to these unreached places. But before we consider the man’s healing, let’s think about his condition.
Look at verse 32 again. “… Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk…” We do not know who he was. But we know he was deaf and mute. He couldn’t hear nor could he talk. And we can honestly summarize his life like this: He lived in silence. He lived in isolation— in seclusion. He was alone— as alone as any human being could ever be. But let’s say that “silence” best defined his life. He lived in his own world. Many people live in the world, and when necessary they retire to their own inner world as well. But this man lived entirely in his own world. He heard nothing. He could say nothing. His world was a world of silence. In his world of silence, he must have made up his own ideas about everything in life. He could not understand the ideas of the world. And he interpreted everything according to his own inner way of thinking— a way of thinking entirely based on his own understanding of life and the world. He couldn’t read nor hear the word of God either. He must have also understood God in his own way. So, his understanding of God was vague and skewed. Even if he wanted to talk to God, he did not know what to say. And when he lived in his own made up world, he could not hear the gospel either. He could not ask for spiritual help. He was a deaf and mute man in a literal sense— cut off from other people. But he was also a spiritually deaf and mute man— a man alone— and cut off and isolated from God. He was a spiritually deaf and mute man.
And his condition is not rare. It is a reflection of all humankind. Spiritual deafness and muteness has been the most common condition among human beings. It seems at times that the whole world is deaf and mute to God. The word of God is not so rare that you couldn’t find it. It is actually abundant. But somehow, even though people hear the word of God time and again, they don’t listen. The word of God is simple— its not complicated nor hard to find. Paul tells us these eternal words of truth: “” (Romans 10:8) It’s abundant and as near to the heart and the mouth of man as we can imagine.
The problem is that even though people see the wonders of God, they never acknowledge. They are like those Isaiah describes who are “ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing but never perceiving.” Then when they are distressed and despaired, when crisis comes knocking at their door, it is time for them to open their hearts to God, and lift their voices to him in prayer. But they remain silent because they have never used their ears to listen to God, nor their mouth to talk with God. They may be fluent in gibberish and jargon with 3 PhDs, but they are mute to God.
Human beings are created to listen to God and to speak with him. When Jesus came to this world, listening to God and talking to God had become stale. People listened to God out of habit and they talked to God out of habit— not from the heart. They had become spiritually deaf and mute people. They thought they were spiritual because they never missed a Sabbath or a prayer meeting, but Jesus said, that they had become like the pagans rattling off nonsense. (Mtt. 6:7) Now that’s just part of the problem. The other problem is that no one could learn from them the how to listen to God, nor could anyone learn from them how to speak to God. But then Jesus came, and he came teaching how to listen to God with an open heart and how to talk to God with a broken spirit. If it were not for Jesus, this world would have been plunged into a dreadful silence. But Jesus came to heal deaf ears and mute tongues until we are able to hear the voice of God and speak the words of God to one another. Sometimes, because of our busy schedule and human sufferings, we stop listening to God, and we stop talking to God from our hearts. Our listening and speaking become a habit, a custom, a ritual that we follow just because we think it can get us by— nothing but silly gestures with our mouths and hands. We ought to know that istening to God is more than hearing words. And talking to God is more than speaking words. A proud heart cannot listen to God. It goes deaf. A proud heart cannot speak to God either.
The deafness of the people of the world towards God is obvious. God has been speaking to men since the beginning of time. The book of Hebrews tells us that God has been speaking to us in many ways…. The first chapter of John also tells us that God has come to speak with us through his Son Jesus. And people, by their own choice, choose to turn a deaf ear to God. And so they have lived in silence and isolation from God. What a dreadful silence people live in! all alone! By themselves! And in that dreadful darkness they make up their own ideas about who God is and what he wants. Whatever they may have imagined about God is no more than their own imagination, because each deaf and mute person makes up their own ideas about who God is and what God wants. God’s people must be careful to listen to God with humility of heart and to talk to God with reverent submission.
Let me explain more about the choices we have to listen or to turn a deaf ear to God’s voice. I can think of many, but there are two that can pretty well give us an example. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and his wife. Lot was not such a good example of a godly man. He had abandoned the life of faith to live in the city of Sodom. One day God was going to destroy the city of Sodom. So God sent angels to warn Lot and his family about the impending disaster. When the angel told Lot to leave the city and flee to the mountains, Lot heard very well what the angel said. But Lot was not ready to listen. He pleaded with the angel to another close by city and not to the mountains. God was giving him a chance to go to the mountains in order that he might recover his lost life of faith. God was blessing him with a new beginning. But Lot was not listening. He was too comfortable with the life of compromise to begin to live again a life by faith. He should have listened to God’s voice, taken hold of the opportunity and gone to the mountains. But he listened instead to his emotions and reason. When the angels realized that this man was not listening, he gave him permission to go to a nearby city— the city of his choice. It was a big mistake. He had lost his hearing. The Bible describes Lot’s deafness with these words: “He hesitated.” There are many like Lot who hear the word of God but somehow always hesitate. Lot got what he wanted rather than what God wanted for him. Does God do that sometimes? Of course, he does. But not without consequences. Lot’s life was spared. But he became an example of what we must not do.
And his wife? She knew exactly what God had said to them as they were fleeing the doomed city. “Do not look back” were his words, the words that would determine life or death for them. Lot’s wife should have listened to what God was telling her as a matter of life and death. But when her heart was corrupted with things that took priority in her heart over the word of God, she turned a deaf ear to God. And we know what happened to her when she turned a deaf ear. She turned into a pillar of salt. And in a sense, this could happen to anyone. It happens when people do not use their hearts to listen to the word of God. Then their ears begin to rust until even the word of God sounds like grinding metal and unintelligible words. We must be careful to listen to God with our hearts.
Read verses 33-35. “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. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” — which means, “Be opened!”. At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.” He had been deaf and mute all his life. He had been living in a world of his own. He knew nothing but silence. He had caused others frustration and himself pain. Now he was dragged by some of them to a man he did not know. No one understood this man’s anguish. But Jesus, the Good Shepherd really understood him. Jesus did not want to cause him more anguish not to endure more humiliation. Jesus did not want to make a public spectacle out of him. He loved him and took him aside to treat him as a man in need of understanding and mercy. Jesus took his aside to spend personal time with him and to lead him to the grace of God. How beautiful is Jesus who protects us and covers our shame. He alone understands our deepest heart and acts accordingly.
Jesus then did something unusual in the way he healed him. He put his fingers in the man’s ears, and on the man’s tongue. Jesus could have healed him with one word. But Jesus was not in a healing business. Jesus was the Shepherd of this man who had lived in darkness of silence all his life. His ears were the sore of his life— his tongue his sorrow and shame. Jesus wanted to touch the man’s deep life problem and heal him with the love of a father for his son. And Jesus wanted to extend the hand of God’s grace and mercy to him who had lived apart from God. Jesus wanted to speak to his heart words of healing that would restore him in the image of God. Remarkably Jesus believed that this man only needed to hear Jesus’ voice and he would be healed. So he said to him “Ephphatha. Be opened!” And immediately the man began to talk plainly.
There was a prophet Jeremiah. He is known as the weeping prophet because he lived in a time when God had decreed that Israel should be captured and exiled until their hearts returned to God. He was one of the greatest prophets of old because he spoke the words of God to his people without compromise. They were not easy words to speak. They were harsh words of rebuke which often brought him beatings and punishments. But he stood his ground and never wavered to tell the people the truth. But Jeremiah was not always like this— a bold and courageous man of God who spoke the word of God plainly. In fact, he was a timid man who barely spoke out any words at all. One day, God spoke to him and sdaid: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Then Jeremiah panicked and said, Lord: “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” But God said to him, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” Then God did something wonderful that changed Jeremiah’s life forever. Jeremiah says that God “Reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth.’” (Jer.1:5-8) When God touched his mouth, Jeremiah did not feel that he was mute anymore. When we are ready to let God touch our mouth and our tongue, then the muteness is healed and an outspoken man or woman of God are born.
Jesus touched the man’s tongue and the man began to speak plainly. In the same way, Jesus touches ears and tongues today. God is always speaking to all people— he speaks to their hearts. His word is abundant and beautiful. His words can make the soul well, and bring blessings to the hearts and lives of those who listen. But we need to listen. We need to learn how to listen to the words of God from our hearts. We need to ask our Lord to touch our ears, our mouths, our hearts and our souls and make us the instruments of the gospel in this world.
If you have a hard time understanding the word of God, or hearing the voice of God in his words, (I am not talking about hearing voices—those who hear voices may be ill or too full of their own self glory which is false sense of rightesouness) but if you are having a hard time hearing what God would tell you in his word, or what God would have you do, you have every reason to ask God to open your ears that you may hear. James tells us that that if we want wisdom we ought to ask for it. And if you have someone you love who appears not to understand the word of God, or has never heard the voice of God, there is no reason why you should not act out as these friends did, and bring him to Jesus. And Jesus the shepherd would do with him as he sees fit. Pray “Ephrathah. May God open my ears, and touch my mouth” For the students at triton, who seem deaf and dumb to the word of God, let us pray for them that their ears be open to hear the word of God, and their tongues loosened so that the may praise and worship the Lord.
Read verses 36, 37. “Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. ‘He has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” The gospel is like the sun that shines down and floods the fields no matter how much men try to take cover. It is too good a news to be hidden. It must be shared. The people of the Decapolis might have disobeyed Jesus. But they could not contain their joy that the Savior had come to bless them and to restore them as the children of God. May God give us the same conviction and joy. Amen.