Jesus has been traveling through Gentile territory, and he’s become just as popular here as he has among his fellow Jews. Remember how the demon-possessed man of Mark 5 had been proclaiming that Jesus had freed him from the influence of unclean spirits? Apparently, he was a successful herald of Jesus’ return to the Decapolis, because now a crowd of people want to listen to him and ask for his help.
Mark focuses on one particular healing event during this time. A with a serious condition is brought to Jesus. This man is deaf and also has a speech impediment. Of course, these two problems tend to go together; if you’re deaf, it’s hard to know how to properly control your voice. As is often the case, the man’s friends are desperate when they come to Jesus, begging him for help. That’s just the sort of attitude that Jesus likes, so he pulls the man aside from the crowd.
It’s interesting that Jesus shows so much private attention to this man. No doubt most people would feel awkward and try to avoid him, but Jesus takes him aside and gets a little bit invasive. He pokes his fingers into the man’s ears, spits on him, touches his tongue. It’s sort of a personalized healing ritual for the man. Now, Jesus could have healed him any way he wanted, but Mark seems to be emphasizing the degree of personal attention Jesus is showing him.
Then Jesus looks up to heaven and sighs deeply. He sympathizes with this man. He feels in his heart the loneliness and suffering of a man isolated from communicating with his friends and family. This is a man who has been imprisoned in his own malfunctioning body. Jesus brings this tragic situation before God the Father, then turns to the man and utters one word: “ephphatha.” This word remained vivid in the minds of his disciples years later, when Mark heard it from them. Mark explains to his readers that it means “be opened.” It’s the first word this man has heard, perhaps for years.
Instantly, like the doors of a dungeon swinging open at Jesus’ words, the man’s ears allow waves of sound to wash over him. His tongue is released from the chains that bound it, and he is able to speak plainly. From now on, the real trouble is going to be to get him to shut up!
Jesus orders the man and his friends to tell no one what has happened. Of course, they don’t listen. In fact, Mark writes, “The more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” Jesus wants his name to be known, but he doesn’t want to be known merely as a miracle worker. Can you blame these people, though? This is great news! Even the Gentiles are saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
These words would have reminded Mark’s readers of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the coming Messiah:
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. (Isaiah 35:5–6)
It’s clear that Jesus has fulfilled the promise that was given through Isaiah. Another piece has been added to the puzzle of who Jesus is. He is a man whose authority and power are so great that he can release people who have been imprisoned in their own malfunctioning bodies. He can unstop deaf ears and make mute tongues sing for joy.
Now, here’s what Isaiah says our response to Jesus should be:
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 35:3–4)
You and I are captives—prisoners of Satan, prisoners of sin, prisoners of weak and decaying bodies. If we are careful and rational thinkers, we won’t have much faith in our own abilities and our own wisdom. We can’t rescue ourselves.
If we believe this, you and I will become desperate. If that’s you, you’re just the kind of person Jesus likes to help. Come to him; he will pull you aside from the crowd and respond to you personally. He’ll invade your life and make you uncomfortable. But he will give you the freedom and joy you never thought possible.
So if you are weak and worried—“Be strong; fear not!” Jesus will come and save you. Put your faith in the One who has authority to rescue captives like you.