IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




Ephphatha!, Be opened!

Date: Aug. 5, 2007

Author: Bob Henkins

Mark 7:31-37

Key Verse: Mark 7:34-35

“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.”

In the previous passage, Jesus granted the request of a Greek woman and drove the demon out of her daughter. We learned from this woman that when we cry out to Jesus in humble faith, he will grant our request. That incident took place in Tyre, a coastal port city on the Mediterranean Sea. It was Gentile territory. As this passage opens, Jesus leaves Tyre, goes north through Sidon, down to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. A deaf and mute man is brought to Jesus and Jesus heals him saying, “Be opened!” May Jesus open our ears to his word and loosen our tongues to speak it.

First, they came to Jesus. Verse 31 states, “Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.” Jesus was currently in the region of the Decapolis. He started in Capernaum and went to Tyre, Sidon and then to the Decapolis, it looks like he made a clockwise circle. Like Tyre and Sidon, the Decapolis was Gentile territory. Why did Jesus go to this culturally pagan territory? Possibly Jesus wanted to continue to avoid the Pharisees by staying in Gentile territory a little longer. Maybe he had a divine appointment with this deaf and mute man. Or possibly he wanted to see how an old sheep was doing. The last time Jesus was in this region was when he healed a demon possessed Gerasene man. The man wanted to go with Jesus but he told him, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

During Jesus’ last visit, you may remember that the towns people did not really accept him. The people had seen the crazy man healed and the huge herd of pigs drowned in the lake. They were afraid of Jesus and pleaded with him to leave their region. So he did. Here we learn that Jesus does not stay where he is not welcome. He will not force his way into someone’s life. But as we know, Jesus is the good shepherd and he doesn’t give up that easily and may come back later for another try as he does here. The Bible says, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Jesus invites us saying, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20)

If the people pleaded with Jesus to leave how did they react upon his return? Look at verse 32. “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.” Wow, what a different attitude they had toward Jesus. In their approach to Jesus, we can see that they changed in a couple of ways. For one, they actually welcomed Jesus, instead of driving him away. They actually came to Jesus for help. They now valued his presence and believed that He had power to heal the sick. Most likely they heard the Gerasene man’s testimony and how much Jesus had done for him and how God had mercy upon him. Maybe his life testimony’s title went something like this, “From a demon possessed man, to a shepherd of God’s flock” In the course of time, all of them heard how Jesus drove out the legion of demons and peace flooded his soul. Sometimes if a Christian shares their testimony with an unbeliever they may feel uncomfortable. They are fearful of losing ungodly habits. When Julia was invited to her first summer Bible conference, she was told, “It will be a life changing event.” But the problem was that she didn’t want her life to change, she liked those old habits. So she did not attend. But thank God that she went to a later conference and God did indeed change her life. Most people are proud, and think that they don’t need to change. But through the word of God, and beautiful life testimonies people can see the grace of God and they begin to change. When we see the wonderful change Jesus has made in a person’s life we are moved to come to Jesus and even to bring others to him. Because of this, it is so wonderful to hear life testimonies at our conferences and many of us are moved to tears. Through life testimonies, the gospel becomes real to us and it makes the word of God practical. This is how Christianity has spread, from the time of Jesus to now: through the personal testimony and love of those changed by the grace of Jesus Christ.

Personally, I cannot forget one person’s testimony when I was a student here at IIT very early in my Christian life. At that time, I lived a double life. I liked the word of God but I could not let my sinful life go. I was stuck in the middle ground then I heard one person’s life testimony that touched my heart. He was deep in the dark sinful life. He was a drug dealer and went down to Florida to make a drug deal that probably would have set him up for life. But as he was waiting to make they deal, he happened to see a Bible on the night stand in the motel room. He picked it up in hopes to kill time. He opened it to Luke chapter 12 and read verses 19-21, which says, “And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” On the spot his heart was struck and he got down on his knees and prayed to God for forgiveness and then dumped a tremendous amount of cocaine down the toilet. Later he became a Bible teacher. When I heard his life testimony, I was blown away and deeply convicted of my sinful double life for I too was involved with selling drugs and was getting deeper and deeper. His words helped push me in the right direction. If you believe in Jesus, whether you know it or not, you have a testimony as well. And you have the privilege and obligation to share this good news with others. Only God knows whose heart may be moved by your own testimony.

Another way these people changed was now they cared for one needy person. In the past, they were only concerned about money and the loss of their pigs rather than with one man’s soul. But now they brought their deaf-mute friend to Jesus. Their selfishness began to melt away and they began to really love one lonely needy man. Through this small scene we see how one person’s testimony can influence and change many people and bring them to Jesus. Have you shared your life testimony with anyone lately?

Second, a deaf and mute man. Who did they bring to Jesus? From verse 32 we see that they brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and could hardly talk. We don’t know how he had become deaf. If a person is deaf from birth, they have very little chance of speaking well. So it was not likely that he was deaf from his birth for he could speak somewhat. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be deaf and mute. Hearing and speaking are the basis of all our relationships. A deaf man today could not use the telephone or listen to the radio. Even television or movies would be not be good unless they had captions. This man could not hear the beautiful things we hear like, birds chirping, beautiful music, children laughing or the L train every fifteen minutes. In fact he lived a very sorrowful lonely life. Most people could not understand him at all, except the few people who knew him well. He lived in a silent, lonely, isolated world as if he was locked inside a glass box. He could not really feel connected with those around him.

Whoever has been blessed with the gift of hearing and speech must not take it for granted. We must thank God for the ability to hear and speak. Even more importantly, we must use our gift of hearing and speech for the glory of God. If a man doesn’t use his ears or mouth for God’s glory, then he is spiritually deaf or mute. If we cannot hear what God is saying to us through his word, then we are spiritually deaf. Jesus often said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (4:9,23) If a man does not want to hear the word of God, then he is spiritually deaf. Sometimes we run into people who think they have heard it all before. Their pride makes them spiritually deaf. The people of Athens were like this. Luke tells us, “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” (Ac 17:18-21) But when they heard Paul preaching the gospel some asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” They accepted the latest ideas but not the truth of God. Paul warned in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” We have to be careful not to become spiritually mute and close our ears to God. In our modern time, so many people please their itching ears for hours on end through television, music and the internet. Consider this: how many hours daily or weekly do you watch TV, listen to the radio, ipod, chat or surf the internet? Now compare: how many hours do you spend in God’s word and prayer? God is trying to speak to us through his word. Can you hear him? Let’s look at ourselves honestly before God and see where we sit in all this.

Cain is an example of one who was spiritually deaf. When Cain was angry, God tried to counsel him. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Ge 4:6-7) But Cain did not listen to God’s counsel and warning. It is so obvious God was trying to help Cain not ruin his life but instead of listening to God, he listened to his anger and became miserable after murdering his own brother. King Saul is another example of one who was spiritually deaf. God ordered him to fight the Amalekites and totally destroy them. God had good reason for this but Saul thought he had a better idea than God: so he spared their king and the best of their sheep and cattle and kept them for himself. What Saul did didn’t seem so bad on the surface, in fact it looks like a pretty good idea but when Saul listened to his own idea, rather than God’s command, God rejected him as king. One who does not listen to God’s word and obey it is spiritually deaf.

What does it mean to be spiritually mute? To be spiritually mute is to not speak up for God and the truth when we have opportunity or obligation to do so. In our country we have the freedom of speech. We can share our faith in Christ without any threat of being arrested. This is not true in communist or Muslim nations. Even though we have freedom of speech, in our human nature we are much more comfortable talking about what we are interested in like sports, fashion or technology rather than our faith in Jesus. Most people like to speak about what is politically correct so as not offend others. Fear of rejection can rob a man of speech and make him silent. Remember Peter on the night of Jesus’ arrest? Usually he was a loud mouth but that night he became spiritually mute. He could not speak up for Jesus. Rather he lied, saying he didn’t even know Jesus. His fear made him mute.

But after he met the Risen Christ, he was changed and no longer spiritually mute. He became a bold witness of Jesus’ resurrection. In Acts we see that one day in Jerusalem he stood up in the public place and spoke the gospel. Three thousand people accepted his message and were baptized that day. What a contrast that is in his life. Later, when they were threatened by the religious leaders not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Peter replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Ac 4:19-20) Spiritually mute Peter became a bold and joyful preacher of the gospel of Christ. Later he wrote, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1Pe 3:15-16)

Spiritual mutes are not only those who don’t talk about Jesus, but they can be those who are blabbermouths and like to gossip or criticize. Paul wrote, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph 4:29) If we only talk about worldly things, then we are spiritually mute. If we have no idea what to say or pray, we are spiritually mute. When we come to Jesus and receive the word of God. Then we know what to say and how to pray. We can speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15) and plant faith and love for God in others.

Third, Jesus’ loving touch and powerful word. How did Jesus help this man? Let’s read verses 33-34. “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!’).” Jesus first took the deaf-mute man away from the crowd. In this way, Jesus showed personal attention and love to this man. He drew him away from the hustle and bustle of the crowd. Jesus wanted the man’s full attention. Next, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then Jesus’ spit and touched the man’s tongue. Perhaps Jesus did these things since they were very visible and the man could not hear. Jesus wanted the man to know what he was doing and to plant faith in him. Jesus looked up to heaven, showing his reliance on God, and said with a deep sigh, “Ephphatha!” (which in Aramaic means, “Be opened!”). Although the man could not hear, he could see what Jesus was doing.

What happened? At Jesus’ words, “Be opened!”, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. This was just like at the beginning of creation God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. When Jesus commanded, “Be opened!”, the man’s ears were opened, just as Jesus commanded and willed it. Just like when Jesus said to the stormy sea, “Quiet! Be still!”, the wind died down and it was completely calm (4:39). The almighty power of God is in the word of Jesus. Jesus’ word can heal and save us.

Through Jesus’ loving touch and powerful word, the man could hear and speak plainly. He was completely restored. Then a whole new world opened up to this man; he had a rich new life full of sounds and the ability to communicate his thoughts. Now he could speak and sing praises to God and pray out loud. He could finally say to his mom, “I love you but I really don’t like broccoli.” But most of all he could testify to the wonderful grace of Jesus. This is how we must use our mouths for the glory of God. We must come to Jesus and receive his healing touch and living word. Jesus can loosen our tongues to speak praises to God. When we have the word of God and the Holy Spirit, we can speak the living word of God. We can know what to pray. We can testify to others of Jesus’ saving grace, love and power.

At the end of this short story, Jesus commanded the people there not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. They were spiritually deaf since they acted like they didn’t hear Jesus. Isn’t it hard to keep good news a secret? People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Their words echoed the words of the prophet Isaiah, written 700 years earlier: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” (Isa 35:5-6) Jesus is the mighty God who can give hearing to the deaf and speech to the mute. Jesus is the giver of life. Let’s come to Jesus and have our ears opened to the word of God and our tongues loosened to speak it. Let’s bring others to Jesus that they too may have their ears opened and their tongues loosened.


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