What we long for says a lot about us. If you can get a person to tell you what they really long for—what they really want—you can learn a lot about them. You might learn something about their personality—do they long for a bustling social life in the city or a quiet walk in the mountains. You might gain insight into their past. Have they suffered? Are they spoiled? Perhaps they long for a true, loyal friend that won’t betray them, or a spouse that loves them unconditionally. You may learn about their weaknesses or sins. You may get a sense of what kind of Messiah they are looking for.
Sometimes in counseling situations, I find it helpful to ask a person to describe what it would look like for this situation to be right. In other words, what would need to be changed in order for this situation to be “as it should be.” Whether the problem is marital conflict, deep anxiety, societal unrest, or physical suffering, it is helpful to know what one would consider to be “shalom.” What would be peace or order or fullness in this situation?
This, of course, doesn’t solve the issue, but it does give insight into what they think the problem is, and possibly what they think would be involved in the solution.
But, counseling scenarios aside, I think we can agree that we’re not experiencing the perfect “Shalom” that we’d like. We all have situations that need fixing, and we all have areas of our lives, both internal and external (fightings without and fears within) that are not as they should be. This creates in us a longing for a restart or renewal or redemption.
One way to express this would be to say that what we long for is Eden—for the perfect world that God made—one not marred and broken by the effects of thousands of years of sin and decay.
Now, it is possible in our brokenness to give up longing for Eden altogether and succumb to cynicism or hedonism or fatalism, or to harden our heart to any hope for meaningful change or renewal.
But, if you still have some sense of longing for things to be made right, then you have room in your life for a Messiah. Our sermon this morning is about that Promised Messiah—the one who heals the broken and gives hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind. He is the answer for all of the deepest, truest longings and needs shared by ourselves and our ancestors of all of human history, going all the way back to Eden.
This longing for the Messiah has been a significant theme through the history of the people of God.
The message this morning will be framed by three questions.
You may be wondering how I came up with a title and 3 points about the Messiah when we don’t see that word anywhere in our text today. That’s a fair question. I’ll do my best to connect the dots for you.
First, I’ve read ahead a little in the Gospel According to Mark. We’re heading directly into Jesus asking his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” next Sunday. (You’ll want to read chapter 8 for next week.) Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ (Greek for “Messiah) comes in that passage, and this is a clear dividing line in Mark’s gospel. One commentator called it the continental divide in Mark’s gospel. We have been following the ministry of Jesus in many different contexts and geographies. We have seen lots of miracles and heard some of Jesus’ teaching. Mark is leading us intentionally to this confession by Peter. After that point, Mark will spend the rest of his Gospel describing Jesus’ journey to the cross.
The second reason I am highlighting Jesus’ role as the Messiah is because our text today is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. In the text that we read already, we witnessed Jesus healing two individuals. We will take a look at those two situations shortly.
Before we do that however, we should notice some contrasts developing in Mark’s narrative.
We have witnessed tension throughout Mark’s gospel between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day. Last week in Chapter 7, the Pharisees and Scribes confronted Jesus about his disciples eating without the proper ceremonial washings. Jesus confronted them sharply for their hypocrisy and lack of true commitment to God’s word. Before that, in Chapter 6 Jesus’ own family and friends were disbelieving him and dishonoring him. Earlier in Chapter 3, the Scribes were saying that Jesus himself was possessed by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.
How did the religious leaders get this so wrong? How did they miss the signs? How did they so badly misread the prophecies about the coming Messiah?
There are many ways we could try to answer that question. But, for our sermon today, I’d like to suggest that one of the reasons they missed out on seeing Jesus as the Messiah was because they were looking for a different Messiah. At one level, we do want to be charitable towards the Pharisees and Scribes since I don’t know that I would have done any better. But, it seems to me that the problem they were most aware of was the political and military occupation of Rome. Therefore, the Messiah passages from the Old Testament that most grabbed their attention were the ones describing the Messiah vindicating Israel, conquering Israel’s enemies and restoring the nation to power. You see, how they defined their biggest problem influenced the solution they were seeking. And, make no mistake about it—Jesus, the Messiah will ultimately destroy his enemies and renew God’s perfect and just reign in the new heavens and the new earth. Psalm 110:1 will take place.
Psalm 110:1 (ESV) — The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
A slightly less charitable evaluation of the Pharisees and Scribes is that they were looking for a Messiah that agreed with them. Time and again, they confront Jesus because he threatens their religious practices and understandings. They have spent so much time perfecting their external obedience to the law that they were not prepared for the Messiah who confronts the hypocrisy of their hearts.
Jesus demanded a new level of obedience and humility. He took the law and its intentions farther than the Pharisees dared, and they came out lacking. Instead of being justified in their righteousness and vindicated before their religious and political enemies, Jesus showed them as spiritually bankrupt.
Beware of framing your problems in such a way that your solution is the wrong messiah. Of course, this could mean looking for deliverance completely apart from God’s rule and reign. But we also face the danger that the Pharisees faced—of reading the Bible through a particular desire or need that can skew or distort our understanding of the real Jesus.
Each of these pursuits could lead you astray from understanding who Jesus is.
Some people in Jesus’ day were looking with different eyes than the Pharisees. In many cases, though not all, they were people more keenly aware of their own need. We see this in the response to Jesus healing the deaf man. The recognized Jesus as the Messiah by remembering some specific prophecies about him.
It seems Mark is trying to help us see the connection between verse 37 of Chapter 7 and a passage in Isaiah 35.
Isaiah 35:3–4 (ESV) — Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
Isaiah 35:5–6 (ESV) — 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 35:10 (ESV) — 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.
Even within this chapter in Isaiah, notice the different emphases of the coming Messiah and the coming age. There is a hope for comfort, but also for the vengeance and deliverance of God. Then there is healing and also new spiritual life. There is something new and eternal about joy and gladness, never again mixed with sorrow and sighing.
Mark wants us to see Jesus specifically fulfilling vv. 5-6. He uses the same word for “mute” as Isaiah (in the LXX). These are the only two times it appears in the entire Bible. It seems the witnesses to the healing of the deaf man understood this in light of the coming Messiah. Remember, we are even in a primarily Gentile area where this man is healed.
In our passage this morning, we encounter at least three individuals who are desperate enough to receive Jesus the Messiah on his terms, not their own.
Now let’s look briefly at how each of these encountered Jesus. Remember that Mark is ordering his narrative in particular ways to make his point. Mark just told us about the Jesus confronting the scribes and Pharisees for focusing on the wrong things. Jesus just claimed that the ceremonial washings of the Pharisees have nothing to do with whether or not a person is clean. Now Mark is going to illustrate that through this next narrative.
Mark 7:24–30 (ESV)
A little geography is important here. Jesus is leaving from the Northwest side of the Sea of Galilee and traveling Northwest out of Jewish territory to the region of Tyre and Sidon, which is a Gentile area. The vast majority of the ministry of Jesus was in the land of Judea and to the Jews, but here, Jesus travels through heavily Gentile areas. This is not what one would expect the Messiah of the Jews to do.
According to one commentator:
Tyre probably represented the most extreme expression of paganism, both actually and symbolically, that a Jew could expect to encounter.
- James Edwards, Pillar Series
It seems that Jesus is still trying to get the personal retreat which he has been seeking and not getting since the crowd continues to follow him. Here, he travels into the rural areas outside Tyre and was hoping to enter a house unseen, presumably to rest. But, even here, reasonably far from Galilee, he is spotted and recognized and sought after. We don’t know if this is the home of a Jew or Gentile, but at the very least, a Gentile woman finds him and speaks to him. Jesus is putting into practice what he confronted the Pharisees with, though, as we’ll see, Jesus is still primarily focused on the Jews at this point.
This woman had nearly everything going against her as far as having access to the Jewish Messiah. Mark seems to be piling on her qualifications to receive anything from Jesus. She was a woman whose child was demon possessed. She is a Gentile. She’s from an area that has historically been considered enemies of Israel.
Her exchange with Jesus is very interesting, and Jesus’ words may strike us as a bit harsh.
Children refers to the people of Israel—the Jews.
Bread would refer to the blessings from Jesus.
Dogs strikes us as very derogatory and would not have been a compliment. This would not be a shocking way in Jesus’ day for a Jew to refer to Gentiles, though here Jesus uses a word that indicates a dog that could have been a house pet, not the typical word for dog that refers to scavengers.
What we perhaps hear as an insult, this woman hears hope. Jesus said he must feed the Jews first. This gives her hope. So, she embraces Jesus’ analogy and pleads that all she needs is the crumbs of his ministry, not delaying his ministry to the Jews at all. The dogs at least get the crumbs under the table. She also changes the word that Jesus used for children to one that included both children AND servants of the household.
… the woman is the first person in Mark to hear and understand a parable of Jesus. The brief parable of the children and dogs at the table has disclosed to her the mystery of the kingdom of God. She is not distant and aloof, attempting to maintain her position and control. She does what Jesus commands of those who would receive the kingdom and experience the word of God: she enters the parable and allows herself to be claimed by it.
- Edwards, Pillar
She is willing to come to Jesus on his terms. Jesus commends her for her faith and grants her request. Though he initially speaks harshly of her position, he ultimately and sovereignly heals her daughter, extending the ministry of the Messiah even more profoundly to the Gentiles.
This is ultimately more fully realized in the Book of Acts as the gospel goes out beyond Judea to the ends of the earth.
Paul illustrates this in his opening to the book of Romans.
Romans 1:16 (ESV) — For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Now let’s turn our attention to the deaf man.
Mark 7:31–37 (ESV)
The geography gets even trickier here. Jesus leaves the region of Tyre and goes farther north, deeper into a mainly Gentile territory before circling around (we don’t know the actual route) to go back to the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee—the area of the Decapolis. This is another Gentile region, though perhaps more integrated with Jews.
Here, a deaf man is brought by his friends to Jesus, and they begged Jesus to lay hands on him. Both in this situation with the deaf man, as well as with the blind man in Chapter 8, Jesus pulls them off privately to heal them. Mark doesn’t tell us exactly why, but it seems that Jesus is attempting to keep on the “down low” and avoid more fame as a miracle worker.
We don’t know why Jesus used his saliva in the healing miracle, but that was not entirely unusual for the day. Even here in the text, though, it is clear that the power really comes through Jesus’ word of command.
Mark throws in a detail in verse 34 that I don’t want us to miss.
It’s not exactly clear to me why this one phrase has really stuck out to me in this passage, but I want it to encourage you. Jesus “sighed.” Similarly to the shortest verse in the Bible in John, “Jesus wept” this short phrase speaks volumes. Here, the creator of the universe sighs. This is Jesus’ humanity on display. Mark doesn’t give us insight as to why Jesus sighs. But, I’m encouraged by it. This is Jesus identifying with our weaknesses, and being grieved by our trials. If I may be so bold, this is Jesus longing for the same day we long for, when pain and tears and deafness and death are no more—when all is restored to the fullness of Shalom for which God made us—when there are no barriers between us and perfect fellowship with God—when the creation no longer groans under the weight of sin.
But, praise God, Jesus does not merely sigh, but he speaks a word of command. I think Mark wants us to feel the drama of that moment since he gives it to us in Aramaic and Greek. Jesus commands “Be Opened” and his ears were opened and his tongue was released. The Greek vividly says “the chain of his tongue was broken.”
After the miracle, Jesus again tries to keep things quiet, but they continue proclaiming what he did for the deaf man.
We don’t know what exactly they expected when Jesus laid hands on him, but they seem surprised that the miraculous healing.
They were astonished beyond measure. We don’t know how many people are involved in this astonishment at this point. Is it just the man and his friends, or is the crowd already gathering, even though Jesus tried to heal him privately away from the crowd. Jesus is about to have a crowd fo 4,000, probably in no small part, due to this miracle.
Their response also hints at the fact that they are beginning to think this might indeed be the Messiah, promised centuries ago to Isaiah.
We are jumping ahead to after the feeding of the 4,000, an encounter with the Pharisees, and Jesus speaking to his disciples about their inability to see or hear, and their lack of understanding.
Mark 8:22–26 (ESV)
Like the deaf man, the blind man can only get to Jesus with the help of others, and they come and beg on his behalf, and Jesus leads him out of the village to a personal encounter with himself.
We could simply view this as another witness to Jesus’ power to heal, but I think we should consider why Mark is putting this here in his narrative. It is right in between Jesus telling his disciples “Having eyes do you not see, and having gears do you not hear” and Peter confessing that Jesus is the Messiah.
Mark seems to be making a point that Jesus must open the eyes of the disciples to see who he really is. And, though they are beginning to see, they still can’t grasp the full plan of redemption through Cross and resurrection yet.
To come to Jesus, we must see him for who he really is, not who we want him to be. We must come to him on his terms. His word is what is true. His commands are ours to obey. We must not come like the Pharisees, with accusations and criticisms and demands.
I hope you noticed that all three episodes in our passage today included people appealing to Jesus on behalf of others.
I’d like to draw two applications from these examples.
Back in Mark 3, a group from around Tyre and Sidon witnessed Jesus performing miracles and heard him teach. Did they go back home and spread the word about this Jesus? Is this how the Syrophoenician woman knew who Jesus was?
In Mark 5, Jesus heals the demoniac and sends him back home to tell his friends how much the Lord had done for him.
Mark 5:20 (ESV) — And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
Is this how the deaf man’s friends knew to take him to Jesus? And after he was healed, the text says that they “proclaimed” it zealously even though Jesus was charging them to keep it quiet. They were preaching it—announcing what God had done.
How have your encounters with Jesus led you to share with others. This is not about precise theology (though that is good) or practiced apologetic arguments (although you should learn them). There is the simple reality that experiencing the work of God in our lives should, if we are spiritually healthy, lead us to invite others into this relationship with Jesus.
But, the examples in our text go beyond mere evangelism or proclamation. In all three cases, we might even use the term intercession. They are taking action on behalf of others who need the ministry of Jesus.
In all three cases, their faith is rewarded with the active, personal, effective ministry of Jesus.
Mark 8:18 (ESV) — Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?
Mark 8:21 (ESV) — And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
Mark seems to be drawing attention to the fact that the Syrophphoenician woman understood who Jesus was in a way that his own disciples missed. Even after all the miracles that they have witnessed and all the teachings they have heard, they still do not see clearly. Then Mark tells the story of the blind man at Bethsaida and the progressive miracle seems to describe the beginning of the opening of the eyes of the disciples, which we’ll see next week in Peter’s confession.
We are a church built on the Bible, guided and empowered by the Spirit, striving to make disciples, and pursuing holiness in the context of robust biblical relationships.
10am on Sundays
© 2021 Cornerstone Fellowship Church of Apex