The Glorious Gospel of God’s Grace is Global!

Posted: June 17, 2013 in Mark, Sermon Manuscripts

[Author’s note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you’d like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]

 

As our baskets are passed around, go ahead and turn to Mark chapter seven in your Bible. Mark chapter seven. As you turn there, I’m going to go ahead and let you know that today’s message might not be what you’re used to. It’ll probably be a little more theological, more doctrinal in nature. Might even be shorter than normal- but I won’t make any promises on that!

I don’t know that we’ve had occasion to tackle this issue extensively yet, but there’s a bit of an elephant in the room here. A rather large elephant, actually. See, I don’t know about you, but I’m not of Jewish descent. I don’t know that any of us are. The problem with that is the fact that the Messiah, who would Himself be Jewish, was expected to usher in a new era of political, social, and economical prosperity for God’s people. And who are God’s people? Well, the Jews. Right?

So one of the questions for us today becomes this: why in the world would a group of non-Jewish people, especially given that we’re not even proselytes of Judaism, gather to celebrate the ministry of Jesus- a ministry commonly believed in Jesus’ day to be exclusively for His people? I mean, the very reason He was named Jesus is because “He will save His people from their sins.” That’s Matthew 1:21. Doesn’t say all people. Doesn’t say “American Christians.” Says “His people.”

So today’s text is exciting because in it we’re able to see a preview of what is to come. We’re able to get an idea of how Jesus feels about people like us who aren’t descendants of Abraham.

As many of you know, the dynamic between ethnic Israel (those born in the lineage of Abraham) and the Church has always been a debated “hot topic” in Christianity.

On one end of the spectrum, many believe that due to Israel’s continued rebellion against God, they have completely and utterly been cut away from the blessings of God. They would see the New Covenant Church as a replacement of ethnic Israel. Therefore in this framework all of God’s love and favor rests now firmly upon the Church, on us.

On the far opposite end of the spectrum you have those who believe that God’s dealings with Israel have been placed on hold, as right now God’s primarily dealings are with the non-Jewish Church. When God’s purposes with the Church are complete, God will resume His work with Israel, fulfilling Old Covenant promises made only for Israel. This framework presents the Church as a parenthetical, an almost-but-not-quite afterthought, an interruption between God and the real object of His love- Israel.

And of course, you have a variety of positions somewhere between the two, as well as a few fringe groups that are so far off either end of the spectrum that they’re not even within the boundaries of orthodoxy anymore. So everyone here today is a theologian, everyone has their idea of who God is and what He’s revealed to us, and everyone is somewhere on this spectrum, whether you’re aware of it or not.

If you’re not in some oddball fringe group that’s been non-existent in the past 2000 years of Church history, you’re either into covenant theology, new covenant theology, progressive covenantalism, progressive dispensationalism, classic dispensationalism, hyper-dispensationalism, or some weird unknown hybrid!

It gets worse, though. One’s standing in this arena is also going to determine not only how you interpret Old Testament prophecy, but it will also shape your understanding of the end times. Everyone in this room, whether you know it or not, probably falls into one of three camps: those being Amillennialism, Post-millennialism, or Pre-millennialism, which also means that we probably have several adherents here to the idea of a pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-tribulation rapture.

Ain’t theology great!

Now some of you may be sitting there wondering where Life Journey Church falls into the mix, but I would imagine that more of you are wondering how long I’ve been speaking in tongues and whether or not we have an interpreter on hand!

So please, forgive the carpet bombing of $2 theological terms, but there is a point to the madness. Rather than create an interpretive framework and push our agenda onto what we find in Mark, Walt and I labor hard at allowing the revelation of God to shape our understanding of God. So as we dive into our text this morning I pray we do it with open hearts and active minds. This is good stuff. We need to come into this text trusting God to reveal what is there.

Because this is important, right? If the Jews are God’s chosen people and we aren’t Jews, what are we doing here? If the Messiah came to redeem Israel and we’re Americans, are we wasting our time, or what? If God’s special love was only for descendants of Israel, then what about all the Christians who are being persecuted in Rome even as Mark is penning this book?

And what about us? We’ve been talking sometime about this “New Covenant,” but who’s to say that this New Covenant isn’t simply a new one for the nation of Israel? What if we’re just pagans piggy-backing onto a religious system that was never intended for us? Or how about this thought- if the work of Christ wasn’t for me, how am I supposed to believe that God loves me when I continue to fail in my endeavors to please Him? How am I supposed to believe that Jesus came to save me? I mean, yeah- most of us grew up being told that Jesus was for everyone, but just because that’s what we believe doesn’t in itself make it true. And so far we’ve spent some eight months now looking at Jesus and the Jews…not Jesus and the Church.

Yeah. I think that’s an elephant that needs discussing. Let’s get to work.

In verse thirty-one we find that “Jesus returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.” Your translation may use the word “left”, or “departed” from Tyre- the word “returned” in the ESV threw me off at first, but the idea being communicated is that Jesus is leaving Tyre, where He had healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. Leaving there, He goes north some thirty miles to Sidon, and from there travels southeast until He arrives in the Decapolis, which is the area of Gentile cities sitting east of the Sea of Galilee.

In the space of one verse Mark covers about a hundred miles and weeks, if not months, of Jesus’ ministry. And yet through the moving of the Holy Spirit, Mark has chosen to jump from the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter into this account we’re moving into. Remember that, because context is our friend.

So Jesus is now in the Decapolis, He’s among non-Jewish Gentiles, 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.” Now remember, months before Jesus had cast out demons from men in this region. One of them who wanted to follow Jesus had been told to stay and tell his friends what Jesus had done. Well, he did just that, and as a result Jesus’ reputation preceded him. A rabbi and twelve disciples coming into the area? Oh yeah- they knew who He was.

Now remember this- this is no random occurrence. Our sovereign God doesn’t do random. It’s not random that Jesus walked a hundred miles to meet this man, and it’s not random that Mark chose to share this story, even though John tells us that “if everything that Jesus did were to be written..the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

This is a special event, this deaf and mute man that was brought to Jesus. And how Jesus responds to him is not only going to reveal much about Jesus’ love and compassion in general, but it will also show us specifically how Jesus feels about us.

We see first that Jesus “took him aside from the crowd privately.” The idea here is that Jesus took this guy away from the noise and commotion of the crowd so that his attention would be on nothing but Jesus, and Jesus’ attention could be exclusively on this man.

We know that there are witnesses to this event, so there wasn’t total isolation, but we see that the majority of the crowd is gone now. Remember when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter to life, but not without first dismissing the crowd of skeptics? This wasn’t uncommon with Jesus.

What happens next here is pretty cool, but first we have to put ourselves into the shoes of this man who’s deaf and can’t speak right. Some would argue that the speech impediment indicates that the man wasn’t born deaf, otherwise he would have been a total mute. I think there’s a level of legitimacy there. I’ll tell you why shortly.

Nonetheless, he’s now deaf and cannot communicate verbally. 2000 years ago, that was a recipe for ostracism, particularly in Jewish minds. Physical ailments were a result of God’s judgement, so either this guy had royally screwed up, or his parents had, which wasn’t much better.

So get this- Mark last shared with us an encounter between Jesus and a member of a people-group despised by the Jews. Today Jesus stands before a man equally worthless in the eyes of the Pharisees, though it’s unlikely any Pharisees were present.

In fact, Rabbis categorized deaf-mutes with the insane, because nobody knew what they were trying to say. And even among his own Gentile peers he would have been an outcast. They would have assumed that his inability to communicate was evidence that he wasn’t right in the head, or that he had demons within.

So here’s this outcast who was inexplicably brought before Jesus. May have been brought by family, or friends. Might have been brought not by people who cared about him, but by people who wanted to test Jesus, to see how He would respond to this worthless man, this outcast Gentile. They implored Jesus to lay His hand on him, to heal him.

What does Jesus do? Does He simply will for this man to be healed, thereby healing him? Well, no. Could He have? Of course. But I think Jesus shifted gears here because He knew His actions could speak far louder than words. But He does more than just lay hands on him to heal him. Jesus talks with this man, and he does it in language that this man gets: sign language, of a sort.

Any of us with kids have done this. When your one-year old falls off the sofa, what do you do? You pick her up and say “Gracie, I know your brain is telling you that you’re hurt, but when you look at the physics involved, it’s difficult for your twenty-five pounds to sustain serious injury falling from a height of twenty-inches. Your crying is irrational and unnecessary, so cease immediately.”

Of course not! She’s not going to comprehend any of that, but what does she understand? She understands when I pick her up and rock her and hold her close to my chest that she’s ok, that everything is going to be alright.

So here’s Jesus, He’s taken this guy off to the side, and in the middle of the confusion that this guy must have felt, Jesus “put His fingers into his ears.” Now again- I’m not sure where you are in all this, but I’m not a fan of people putting their finger in my ear. It’s ok if you’re my kid. At best, I’ll tolerate someone else sticking their finger in my ear. Make it a wet-willy and the sanctification of my flesh is going to take a few steps backwards, know what I’m sayin’?

But not this guy. No, what Jesus is saying in putting his fingers into this guy’s ears is this: “I know. I know you can’t hear. You’re not insane. You’re not worthless. You’re not possessed. Your problem is, your ears don’t work.”

Then Jesus does something even more weird. He spits, and according to many scholars, when Jesus “touched his tongue”, He was putting His spit on this man’s tongue. As the 1st-century Mediterranean world thought that spit has medicinal qualities, Jesus may have been doing this to bolster this man’s faith. And again in this action, Jesus is telling this man, “I know you can’t speak right.”

Jesus doesn’t just identify this man’s problem and then leave, though. As this man looks on, “Jesus looked up to Heaven and sighed…” This isn’t a sigh of frustration. This isn’t a sigh of “Good grief, how many more people do I have to deal with.” This isn’t a sigh of “Come on, come on. The game’s about to start.”

The word “sigh” is the same word that Paul uses in Romans eight to describe the inner groanings we have when we don’t even know how to pray verbally. Ever been there? I found myself there this even this week as I sat behind my computer watching a documentary on late-term abortions.

This same week sin has been openly embraced by our country, the military is seeking to outlaw expressive Christianity, and as I was getting a behinds the scenes peek at the industry that murders some 3600 babies a day in this country there rose within me a grief-laden, hopeless, gut-wrenching and burdensome thing that had no words behind it, and yet in the midst of it I was crying out to God and begging Him to save our nation, to spare the souls of so many millions of God-haters.

I don’t believe that Jesus was sighing out of frustration- I think He was sighing out of love, compassion, and empathy with the plight of this man, especially in light of what this man represents.

Though certainly touching this man, Jesus reveals the Divine source of His power as He looks up to Heaven and says to this man, “Ephphatha,” which was Aramaic for “be opened.”

“And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” Our perfect Savior healed this man perfectly. And what happens when the miraculous power of God is put on display? People can’t shut up about it. Jesus told them to tell no one about it, but “the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

So explain to me the irony in these Gentiles making two statements of Messianic identity when Jesus’ own people were clueless as to who He was. Here’s what I mean: No doubt not intending to have such theological precision, these Gentiles said that Jesus “has done all things well.” Yet even in the opening chapters of Genesis we see that everything Jesus created was “very good.”

When this man was healed, he didn’t need speech therapy. He didn’t need to learn the function of syntax, vocabulary, and grammar. He was healed. He was whole. Jesus does nothing half-heartedly.

But then they said something that I believe is at the heart of this passage here. These Gentiles, in their astonishment, say “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Couple things happening here that deserve our close attention. The first is this: prophecy is coming to pass. It’s coming to pass. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah some 700 years before this day, saying in reference to 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.”

So besides actually witnessing the healing, how do we know that Mark is pointing us towards Isaiah thirty-five? Check this out- when these Gentiles say that Jesus makes the mute speak, they don’t use the same work that Mark does in describing this man. Mark says he had a speech impediment, he uses the word “mogilalos,” a word so rare that this is the only time its ever used in the New Testament.

As the Old Testament was penned in Hebrew, it’s fair to say that Mark uses a word found nowhere else in Scripture. However, this word “mogilalos” is found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was used in Jesus’ day. Mark wanted his readers to see what was happening here and think back to this Messianic prophecy.

But why?

Check this out: as we’ve been watching Jesus display His divinity through the feeding of the 5,000 and the walking on the water, as we’ve seen how the God who was once far from us is now united to us, as we’ve seen how the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart, what we’ve seen is Jesus redefine the “how” of salvation.

The Jews thought it was about attaining righteousness through keeping the Law, yet Jesus revealed that the problem lies within. We don’t need better obedience- we need a heart transplant! And so while Jesus has been exposing the “how” of salvation, in this passage today Mark begins to shed light on the “who” of salvation…and it’s not just the Jews. Think about it- the Messianic prophecy of Jesus healing the deaf and mute was specifically fulfilled among these Gentile heathens!

So let’s fast-forward a bit so we can look at this text with a bit more hindsight. In just a couple short years from Jesus healing this man, perhaps not even two years, Jesus’ followers would receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, an event experienced only by the Jews who claimed allegiance to the risen king Jesus.

And as the Spirit comes down, filling these men, revealing Himself in miraculous works, we’re able to see the regenerating power of God transform these men from scared and often faithless followers into fearless proclaimers of the Good News of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

But, and listen to me carefully, we do not see this happening among Gentiles, nor were the Christ-following Jews expecting to. The Messiah was for them, right? This “Church,” this assembly of called out ones, was a new move of God among the Jewish people, right?

Well, partly. Certainly started with the Jews, but it was only a handful of years before the unthinkable happens. Flip over to Acts chapter ten as we jump into the middle of the action. Peter, along with some other Jewish followers of Christ, are in the middle of a group of Gentiles, and Peter’s just finished proclaiming the Gospel. Go to verse 44:

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

Life Journey Church, get this: the redemptive mission of Christ was always about all the nations, Jews and non-Jews alike. Yes, first it went to the Jews. But only briefly. Paul says in Romans 1:16-17,16 “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.

The Good News is good to those who believe, not those who are born a descendent of Abraham, and this is exactly what Jesus is revealing in Mark chapter seven! Jesus went out of His way to be in the midst of non-Jews, singling out one outcast who had no ears to hear the Good News and opening them. Opening the ears of a non-Jew! The Good News is for Gentiles ears too!

And I don’t believe that Jesus healing his tongue was random, either. The mouth has always been symbolic of the heart. When Isaiah saw Jesus he knew his lips were unclean, yet the angel cleansed him. I believe what we’re seeing here is the realization that for the Gentiles who have their ears opened to the Gospel, their forgiveness and salvation is every bit as perfect as what any Jew would experience.

As our band makes their way forward, we have but a few minutes to grasp the implications of this passage. There are some truth statements that I would love to drill into your heads, truths that can radically transform us.

The first is this: Gentile inclusion into the people of God was always God’s plan. Always. You are no afterthought. More than a year before His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus was on the scene pouring out love to the Gentiles and revealing through His actions that their ears would be open to the Gospel, that their sin would forgiven as wholly as any Jew’s.

Secondly, I want us to realize that no one is beyond the reach of our loving and gracious God. No one. I don’t care how badly you’ve screwed up. I don’t care how ugly your sin is. No one here, no one anywhere, can sin so badly that there is no hope for them. Salvation isn’t conditioned upon our ability to life perfectly- it’s conditioned upon our faith in Christ, whose death and resurrection guarantee the forgiveness of all who believe.

Third and in closing, Church, we need to realize that there is a world of lost and hurting people out there who have no hope apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A Gospel that is for all nations, for all peoples. A Gospel that comes with power. What are we doing to spread the fame of God to our neighbors and the nations, if we’re sitting on the Good News too afraid to share it with others. Will you pray even now that God gives you an opportunity this week to share the good news with someone in your life?

As our band plays we’re going to give you the opportunity to talk to God and worship in response to this message. Walt and I will be in the back if you’d like us to pray with you. But in the rest of your time here, I urge you to embrace the love of God, thank Him for saving you, and ask Him to point you to someone in need of Him this week.

If you’re not yet a follower of Christ, your action item is even simpler. Trust Jesus. Ask Him to save you. Embrace His forgiveness.

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