June 4, 2023 . . .“The Bible’s Children: a deaf mute” Mark 7:32

June 4, 2023 . . .“The Bible’s Children: a deaf mute” Mark 7:32

June 04, 2023

“The Bible’s Children: a deaf mute”

Mark 7:32

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Let me start this morning with a quiz. (Don’t worry. It’ll be easy).

Tell me, what do Thomas Edison, Halle Berry, and Ludwig van Beethoven all have in common? If you said they’re all famous, you’d be right, but that’s not the answer I’m looking for. The answer I am looking for is that they are all deaf!

Let’s start with Thomas Edison. You know him, of course, as one of the world’s most amazing inventors of things such as the light bulb, the phonograph, the telegraph, and the motion picture camera. But what you might not know about him is that he was deaf!

Now we’re not exactly sure how it all started. Some say it’s because of scarlet fever or the recurring ear infections he suffered as a child. Others say it happened when he was trying to board a train and a conductor reached down and pulled him up by his ears. Whatever the reason, Edison was mostly deaf from as early as the age of twelve.

But he really didn’t seem to care. In fact, he said that because he was deaf, he spent quite a lot of time reading rather than having to listen to, (and I quote), “the babble of ordinary conversation.” And whenever he went to see a play at the theater, his wife would tap out on his leg what the actors were saying in Morse Code!

So that’s Thomas Edison. How about Halle Berry?

While you might know her for her starring roles in movies such as Die Another Day, Catwoman and, most recently, Moonfall, what you probably don’t know is that she’s almost completely deaf in one ear. Apparently back in the early 90s, during some kind of domestic dispute, she suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost her hearing in her left ear.

But she’s okay with it. She said that because she’s deaf, it’s given her “strength and toughness,” forcing her to “face reality, no matter how uncomfortable or painful it was.”

And last, but not least, there’s Ludwig van Beethoven. He first noticed some hearing loss when he was only twenty-eight. But as the years passed, it got only worse. By the time he was forty-five, the only way he could converse with anyone was when he passed handwritten notes to his visitors and friends. Still, somehow, in spite of his deafness, he was able to compose some of the most profound musical pieces that have ever been written, like the Moonlight Sonata and Symphony Numbers 5 and 9.

At the age of thirty-six, he wrote a note to himself that said, “Let your deafness no longer be a secret--even in art.” And he said, “Only art held me back from suicide.”

According to the World Health Organization, there are currently more than 1 ½ billion people in the world, (that’s nearly 20% of the global population), who are suffering from some kind of hearing loss, nine hundred thousand of whom are deaf-mutes.

Also, back in the 17 and 1800s, long before it was a vacation spot, Martha’s Vineyard was a bilingual community. And the reason it was bilingual was because everyone there spoke both English and…not French or Spanish…but sign language! Apparently, at the time, since it was a rather isolated genetic population, some twenty-five percent of their population was deaf, and everyone there “spoke” sign language.

And in the book of Mark chapter 7, we meet a man who was not only deaf, but mute too. I’ll read the text beginning at verse 31: “Then He (that’s Jesus) returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly” (Mark 7:31-35).

The words of Mark chapter 7 take us to the time when Jesus had just begun to live and work among us. In chapter 3, He healed a man with a withered hand. In chapter 4, He calmed a storm on the sea. In chapter 5, He healed a man possessed by a demon. And in chapter 6, He fed the five thousand.

Then in chapter 7, just as soon as He said to the Pharisees: “You hypocrites! You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men,” He went far to the north and the west, to a region called Tyre and Sidon. And while He was there, a woman knelt at His feet, begging Him to heal her daughter, possessed by a demon. Then when she went home, she found her child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Now verse 31 takes us from Tyre and Sidon in the north all the way back down to the Sea of Galilee in the south, to a place called the Decapolis.

So what’s the Decapolis? Look at the word and you’ll see that it’s made up of two words--”deca” and “polis.” Put them together and you get “Decapolis,” a word that means, “Ten cities.” It’s a group of Greek cities, pagan cities, that lay on the far eastern edge of the Roman empire.

Why did Jesus go there? That’s a good question! After all, He had already said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). So why go to a pagan, immoral, godless place?

Because He wouldn’t avoid the darkness. Instead, as one author put it, He wanted to “pierce the darkness of their sinful lifestyle with the light of God’s message of salvation and love.”

And just as soon as He got there, the Bible says “They brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him” (Mark 7:34).

Imagine, for a moment, what it’s like to be deaf. Or rather, imagine all of the things that you couldn’t do, if you were deaf. How would you wake up in the morning if you couldn’t hear your alarm clock? How would you answer the phone at work if you couldn’t hear the person on the other end? How could you talk to someone at the grocery store if they didn’t “speak” in sign language?

Now imagine life as a deaf person in the first century--and not just a deaf person, but mute as well. Think of the loneliness and the isolation, of being cut off from the rest of the world. Back then, there were no subtitles, no sign language, and no detailed communication whatsoever.

And since it’s likely this man was deaf at birth, it stands to reason that he couldn’t speak either, making him not only deaf, but mute as well.

So what did Jesus do? Verse 33: “And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.”

Notice that. The Bible said, “They brought to Him a man.” Why couldn’t he have come himself? He had two good legs. He could walk.

Because he couldn’t hear. And because he couldn’t hear, he couldn’t know who Jesus was! That’s why they brought him.

Then what? Verse 33: “And taking him aside from the crowd privately…”

Why did Jesus take him aside privately?

Ever since he was born, the man had lived in a world of his own. He knew nothing but silence. He had caused others frustration and himself pain. Even more, no one could truly understand this man’s anguish, except Jesus. So rather than cause any more pain or humiliation, He took him away, privately, by himself.

Can you picture it? For this one moment in time, Jesus set aside all the other work He had come to do. For that moment, He would not teach the crowds or feed the multitudes. He would not cast out demons or calm a storm on the sea. Instead, the entire attention of God incarnate would focus on one illness, one man who was trapped in the net of a fallen and sinful world--the web that’s entangled every single one of us.

Then what? The Bible says, “He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue” (Mark 7:33).

You know, Jesus could have simply spoken the word. He could have said, “Go in peace. Your faith has made you well.” He had done exactly that countless times before.

Instead, as Jesus put His fingers into his ears, He meant to say, “I understand that you cannot hear. I’m going to fix your ears.” And as He spit and touched his tongue, He seemed to say, “I understand that you cannot speak. I’m going to fix your tongue.”

Do you understand? When Jesus did that, He was using sign language--the only language the deaf-mute man could understand.

Then, wonder of wonders, came the miracle. Verse 34: “And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’”

“Looking up to heaven” it said, to His Father, by whom He was sent, and from whom, as a Man, He had received all power and authority, from whom comes every good gift and mercy and blessing.

“And looking up to heaven, He sighed…” He groaned--one with man in sin and sickness and suffering, carrying our grief and bearing our every sorrow.

And He said: “Ephphatha!” “Be opened!”

And what happened? Verse 35: “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”

A woman by the name of Anne Sullivan once faced an impossible situation. She was born to poor immigrant parents who could neither read nor write. They fled a famine in Europe to try to find a fresh start in the United States. When Anne was only eight years old, she developed a painful eye disease that eventually took her sight. And when her mother died shortly after, her father abandoned her and her little brother to a crowded poorhouse. Three months later, her brother died too.

She did the best she could to cope with living in a jam-packed shelter. She tried to work as a housemaid, but no one would take her. Finally, she was told about the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. But she didn’t have any money, she had no idea how to function in the outside world, and she had no way to get out of her situation.

Until one day, an inspector came to the poorhouse. And Anne convinced him to allow her to leave and to enroll in that school for the blind. Finally, after a series of eye surgeries, her vision improved. At the age of twenty, she graduated as the valedictorian.

So what did God have planned for Anne? The summer after her graduation, a man called the school looking for a teacher for his daughter who was both deaf and blind. The situation seemed hopeless, and was breaking the father’s heart. So the school asked Anne if she’d be willing to help.

The daughter’s name? Helen Keller--author and world-renowned speaker, the first deaf and blind person ever to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Today, our Savior still comes to heal our spiritual deafness. We’re deaf to His teachings when we love ourselves more than we love others. We’re deaf to our spouse and children when we fail to forgive or take time to understand. We’re deaf to the cry of the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and the oppressed when we choose not to listen.

Still He comes to say: “Ephphatha.” Be opened to hear His word of forgiveness. Be opened to see the beauty of His creation all around us. Be opened to do the work He’s called you to do.

One more thing. In American Sign Language, there’s a popular sign for “I love you.” It’s formed by extending the thumb, the index finger, and the little finger, with the two middle fingers folded down in front of the palm. It’s an abbreviation of three letters in the alphabet: “I,” “L,” and “Y.”

God has a sign for “I love you.” It’s the cross. For it was out of His great love for you that Jesus reached out His hands and feet to be pierced with nails. It was out of His great love for you that He, suspended between heaven and hell, cried, “Father, forgive.” And it was out of His great love for you that He rose on Easter Day.

All thanks be to God.

We praise You, dear Lord, for the grace we’ve seen and our hearts have known. Open our hearts and our lips that we may honor and praise Your name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen