Then he 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. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. 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.”
Mark 7:31-37 ESV
Long ago, the prophet Isaiah prophesied against the nations of the world that God’s judgment was coming swiftly and decisively. “The stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood” (34:3). Their land would lie in waste, given over to the wild animals that were supposed to be under their dominion. For rejecting their Creator, the Gentiles would be overthrown.
However, in the very next chapter, God gives a further message that the wilderness would then be made glad and filled with joy and singing, for “they shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of God” (35:2). How would the LORD bring such hope and vision to the Gentiles? “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” (v. 5). The LORD Himself would come to redeem the nations, and the sign of His coming would be their physical mending. As Jesus told the people of Nazareth, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
TO THE DECAPOLIS // VERSE 31
As we last saw, Jesus’ great Galilean ministry has come to its conclusion, and His retirement ministry had begun. Of course, it is not called His retirement because He ceased ministering but only because He turned out of the Jewish villages of Galilee to minister in more Gentile-dominated regions. This led first to the tense encounter with the Syrophoencian woman, who persevered in petitioning Christ for her daughter’s healing even though she was a Gentile.
That episode occurred in the region of Tyre and Sidon. Now Mark tells us that Jesus returned to the Sea of Galilee, but He did so by traveling through Sidon and entered the Decapolis. Sidon was north of Tyre, and the Decapolis was the league of ten Hellenistic (or Greek-influenced) cities on the eastern side of Galilee, which He only briefly visited in chapter 5. Sproul notes that this route could have been about 120 miles, which makes such a journey “reminiscent of the wilderness wandering of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. Mark, however, never gives a reason for this itinerary and tells us nothing of what happened as Jesus and His disciples traveled. As with so many things from the life and ministry of Jesus, these details are among those that would fill more books than the world could contain (John 21:25).”
We should, therefore, remember that while Mark is intentionally bringing us rapidly through the ministry of Jesus (especially with the word immediately), sometimes significant amounts of time are passing by, with this likely being the largest. Let us remember that we are no longer in the early ministry of Jesus.
A DEAF MAN BROUGHT FORTH // VERSE 32
Somewhere in the Decapolis a man was brought to Jesus to be healed of being deaf and of poor speech. The fact that this man was not said to be mute, which is common for people born deaf, seems to indicate that this man was not born without hearing. Yet whatever condition left him unable to hear also deformed his speech, so that while he could speak, no one could understand him. It is also interesting that this man evidently did not come himself but was thrust upon Jesus by the crowd. He also did not beg for his own healing, but the crowd begged on his behalf. It is also worth noting that just as the Syrophoencian did not beg on her own behalf so was this man’s healing in answer to the pleas of others.
We should also note that this account is another Markian exclusive. Matthew records the same timeframe but gives a much broader portrait:
Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went upon on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.Matthew 15:29-31
Here again we are able to see the complementary pictures that the Gospels provide. Matthew makes no mention of their being in the Gentile region of the Decapolis but does mention that the result of the miracles was that the people glorified the God of Israel. Matthew also gives a very broad account, while Mark only gives this specific miraculous event. Both have clear allusions to the prophecy of Isaiah that we previously mentioned, but Mark makes it clear to us that the Lord was on the move among the nations, the Gentiles. Furthermore, Sproul points out that the Greek word used to describe the deaf man’s speech impediment is only found in one other location in Scripture: the Septuagint of Isaiah 35:5, “the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Mark is, therefore, giving us a beautiful and personal picture of God’s promise to redeem the nations, to bring salvation to the Gentiles.
EPHPHATHA // VERSES 33-34
We then read about the very peculiar method that Jesus chose for healing this man. Pay attention to how distinct this healing is. First, Jesus took the man aside from the very crowd that brought him forward to be healed. Jesus then put His fingers in the man’s ears and spit (likely on His own fingers) before touching the man’s tongue. Next, our Lord looked to heaven, sighed, and said (in Aramaic), “Be opened.” Coming right after a miracle in which Jesus cast out a demon that was not even in His presence, we might wonder why Jesus went through so many steps to heal this man. We know that Jesus could have just as easily spoken the man’s hearing and speaking back to normal. So, why did He choose such an interesting mode of healing?
The difficult reality to admit is that we simply do not know for certain. I do, however, have a theory that the overall context of Mark seems to suggest, but I will save that discussion for another day (perhaps very soon). Instead, it is worth noting what many commentators have remarked that Jesus marvelously tailors His methods to meet each unique situation. He does not heal any two people the same, for no two people are the same. Yet, in the end, it is nevertheless the same healing. J. C. Ryle applies this point to the church generally, saying,
We see the same thing going on still in the church of Christ. We see continual proof that the Lord is not tied to the use of any one means exclusively in conveying grace to the soul. Sometimes he is pleased to work by the Word preached publicly, sometimes by the Word read privately. Sometimes he awakens people by sickness and affliction, sometimes by the rebukes or counsel of friends. Sometimes he employs means of grace to turn people out the way of sin. Sometimes he arrests their attention by some providence, without any means of grace at all. He will not have any means of grace made an idol and exalted, to the disparagement of other means. He will not have any means despised as useless, and neglected as of no value. All are good and valuable. All are in their turn employed for the same great end, the conversion of souls. All are in the hands of him who ‘giveth not account of his matters,’ and knows best which to use, in each separate case that he heals.
Let us also consider the simple statement that Jesus looked up to heaven, sighed, and the commanded the man’s ears and tongue to be opened. Our Lord’s sigh is easy to rush past as we read, yet we would do well to linger for a moment upon it, for it reveals to us the heart of Christ during the healing. His sigh reveals a grief and groaning within Christ, likely at the scars us sin upon the world, at ears that cannot hear and tongues that cannot speak. And of course, a groaning against the deeper spiritual realities, against ears that cannot understand God’s voice and against tongues that curse and quarrel rather than sing with joy to their Maker. Yes, this simple sigh of Jesus is a brief reminder that He was not aloof and unaffected by the sin and brokenness all around Him. Rightly did the author of Hebrews write that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15).
OPENED EARS & RELEASED TONGUE // VERSE 35
Here we find the result of the miracle: And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. We would do well to notice that, as with most of Jesus’ miracles, there is actually a twofold work that happened. First, whatever ailment or disfunction that originally made the man deaf and held back his tongue was eliminated. Yet as many know all too well, defeating an ailment is sometimes only half the battle. Take a knee replacement surgery, for example. After the surgery, the knee is technically repaired; however, that repair is then followed by much physical therapy to learn how to function properly again with the repaired knee. Speech, of course, no different, which is why speech therapy also exists. Restoration of normal function is a whole other process.
Jesus, however, both healed the man of his infirmity and immediately restored the functions of his ears and tongue. Just as the paralytic did not need time in physical therapy before he took up his mat and went home, so too did this man not need speech therapy in order to speak plainly.
This is also true of how Christ heals us of our sins. Through His death, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, making atonement by His blood. Thus, He healed our great ailment, our deepest sickness, by putting to death our sins via His own death. Yet the gospel does not end there.
If it did, we would understand the gospel similar to how Roman Catholicism views the gospel. According to Catholic theology, the grace of Christ given through sacraments such as baptism and the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) absolves one’s sins, wiping them away. Baptism is, of course, a much larger absolution, but since we keep on sinning, one must continue to observe the Mass and do penance in order to keep erasing one’s sins. In this way, baptism addresses the ailment of sin, while the other sacraments act like physical therapy to restore one’s relationship with God.
Yet this is not the portrait that Scripture paints of our salvation. Of course, we are continually being sanctified, and the Lord’s Supper is the glorious symbol of our reliance upon daily grace as we battle our sins. However, the process of our justification does not simply involve our slate being wiped clean, as it were. No, Jesus does not simply erase the penalty of our sins, monumental as that is! He also restores our lost communion with the Father by granting us His very righteousness. In other words, like this man’s hearing and speech, Jesus does not just eliminate the problem; He also restores things back to as they should be. He kills our sin and places His righteousness upon us. The enmity between us and God that began with the Fall is now abolished in the work of Christ.
We would also be remiss if we did not note how this healing of deaf ears and a mute mouth reflects our own ignorance before Christ gave us ears to hear. Ryle notes:
Here we are meant to see our Lord’s power to heal the spiritually deaf. He can give the chief of sinners a hearing ear. He can make him delight in listening to the very gospel which he once ridiculed and despised.
Here also we are meant to see our Lord’s power to heal the spiritually dumb. He can teach the hardest of transgressors to call upon God. He can put a new song in the mouth of him whose talk was once only of this world. He can make the vilest of men speak of spiritual things, and testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
ALL THINGS WELL // VERSES 36-37
Our passage ends with Jesus again warning the people around Him to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. Mark then ends with a positive word about why they could not be silent, saying that they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.
When we pay attention to the fact that Jesus evidently kept commanding them not to share about the miracle yet they continued to do so all the more, I come to the same conclusion as Hendriksen that “for their defiant and persistent disobedience to his specific and repeated order there was no excuse whatever. Even their admiration for what Jesus had done was no atonement for their recalcitrant behavior.” The simple fact is that they were blatantly disobeying Christ’s repeated and emphatic command. Although we might wonder how such rejoicing in and sharing of the work of Jesus could be wrong (especially since we are now called and commanded to proclaim Him), we might rightly remember Samuel’s rebuke of Saul after the king violated the command of God in order to offer sacrifices from his plunder: “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). Like Saul’s intention to sacrifice to God, these people were so amazed with Christ’s works that they could not stay silent. Hendriksen goes on to note:
Verses 36, 37 show that it takes more than admiration and enthusiasm to be a true follower of Christ. Many Christ-admirers are lost. The true mark of discipleship is revealed in John 15:14, “You are my friends if you do what I bid you.”
Let us take to heart that admiration and even good intentions do not negate our clear call to ordinary and plain obedience.
Yet we should find encouragement in the people’s statement in verse 37, He has done all things well. They certainly did not understand the heights and depths of how true this statement is. They were simply amazed to witness a deaf and mute man’s hearing and speech restored to him, and in their amazement, they spoke in what they must have assumed to be hyperbole. However, they are absolutely correct. He truly has done all things well. From the first moments that the world was made through Christ as the living Word and the Father declared creation good to the new heavens and earth that are still to come with Christ’s return for His bride, everything He does is good, right, and true. Of course, since there is still pain and suffering in this life, we sometimes long to know how exactly our Lord will bring good about through our affliction, yet even still, we cling to the steadfast hope that His providence is working all things for the good of those who love Him.
Again, the crowds that proclaimed Christ’s praise did not know the depth of meaning that they were declaring, but they were still giving a foretaste of what the psalmist long ago cried for: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth” (Psalm 67:3-4). Gentiles were beginning to praise God for giving hearing to deaf and speech to the mute, and even now, the gospel goes forth to all nations, giving understanding to the deaf and placing praise in the mouths of the mute. We also look forward to the glorious day when Jew and Gentile together as “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” (Isaiah 35:10).
 Sproul, Mark, 162-164.
 Ryle, Mark, 118.