Jesus Even Makes the Deaf Hear

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

As a child of deaf parents, some details of stories from the life of Jesus especially catch my attention.  This miracle recorded in Mark 7:32-37 is one example:

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.’”

In the second sentence, we see Jesus’ “bedside manner.”  His compassion for this individual led to specific actions, as noted by Warren Wiersbe: “Since the man was deaf, he could not hear our Lord’s words, but he could feel Jesus’ fingers in his ear and the touch on his tongue, and this would encourage the man’s faith.”[1]  Not only did Jesus heal Him, but He did it in a way that would be meaningful to this one man.

Another detail Mark records is that Jesus spoke, but why, if this man couldn’t hear him?  Jesus touched the man as a testimony to him, but these words were a testimony to anyone nearby that the power of Jesus healed this man, not the man’s response to the words, since he couldn’t hear them.  There was to be no question as to the source of the healing.

Third, the word “immediately” appears many times in Mark’s gospel, including at least 5 references to healing miracles (1:42, 2:12, 5:29, 5:42, and 10:52).  A big part of this miracle is that deaf people do not immediately “speak plainly” if they recover their hearing or begin using hearing aids.  It can take years of training.  By saying “he spoke plainly,” Mark makes clear that Jesus did not just put this man on the path to recovery; He gave Him a full recovery “immediately”!

Lastly, when the people said, “He has done all things well,” they were testifying that Jesus was fulfilling a Messianic expectation from Isaiah 35:5-6, which says:

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

In this miracle and others, Jesus showed that He was the fulfillment of all the hopes of the Old Testament, and of all mankind.  His kingdom could overcome any problem, and His kingdom is superior to any other kingdom.  No problem He encountered was beyond His power and He offers a way to a world where all problems are solved for those who believe in Him.

Praise Him!

[1] Wiersbe, Warren.  Be Diligent (Mark) (1987).  P. 95.

God Tells Gideon a Secret

Photo by Byron Johnson on Unsplash

Today we come back to the topic of our Master’s voice, which began with the painting “His Master’s Voice” and continues through the story of Gideon in the book of Judges, chapters 6 and 7.  So far, Gideon has done his best to discern whether God was really talking to him, then set out with an army of 22,000 soldiers, which Gideon faithfully whittled down to only 300, at God’s instruction.  Against an army “like locusts in abundance,” Gideon might have needed a little reassurance, because outside of a miracle[1] his army was going to fail miserably.

That very night, God spoke to Gideon, saying: “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand.  But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant.  And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.[2]  We know Gideon was still afraid because he took Purah and went down into the camp.  We also know that God made provision for Gideon’s fear, instead of counting on Gideon to have perfect faith.  Should Gideon have needed extra reassurance?  No, but God provided what was needed to overcome Gideon’s fear, which was a bit more insight into God’s plan.  Victory in battle is never a matter of how many soldiers are on God’s side, as if spiritual warfare was determined by democracy, but by whose side God is on.

When Gideon snuck into the camp: “behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, ‘Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.’  And his comrade answered, ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.’”[3]

Victory in battle is never

a matter of how many

soldiers are on God’s side

Some commentators suggest that the “barley” reference means that an inferior army would win, since barley was considered inferior to wheat and other grains, but what we know is that this dream put fear into the Midianite camp and emboldened Gideon to trust God, even though he didn’t understand Him.  Overhearing these words in the camp let Gideon know that that God was at work in far more ways than he could imagine, that victory belongs to the LORD, and that he can trust that God has the knowledge he lacked.  God is trustworthy, even if we don’t fully understand Him.

We only know part of our part in God’s plan.  He knows all of our part, and also all of everyone else’s part.  Each of us are but one of millions of Christians trying to figure out our relationship with God, and we have no idea what those other millions are up to.  But God does, and if we insist God tells us everything before we act, we not only disobey God, but lose out on the opportunity to impact those other lives and see how awesome God’s plan really is!

Our ability to hear and obey our Master’s voice is not a question of complete knowledge, but of wisdom.  Proverbs 17:24 says, “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.”  Since “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight,[4] from the story of Gideon, we learn that God was teaching Gideon to revere Him above any desire to see the “ends of the earth.”  Wisdom keeps us on the path of life but doesn’t always mark it out for us far into the future.  We can’t see the reasons God wants us to trust Him because there is far more at work than we could ever imagine.

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29

This post is third in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice. More to come…

[1] Or a certain action film directed by Zack Snyder…
[2] Judges 7:9b-11a
[3] Judges 7:13-14
[4] Proverbs 9:10

Sometimes Life is Hard on Purpose

Photo by ål nik on Unsplash

Joshua was very aware of the consequences of failing to trust God.  After being delivered from Egypt, Israel was led to Canaan – their promised land – and God had Moses “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel.[1]  The purpose of the spy mission was not to decide whether or not to move into the land.  God promised to give it to them.  However, when the 12 spies returned, 10 of them said “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.[2]  Only Joshua and Caleb said they should take the land anyway, because God’s promise and strength was enough for them.  Because the people rebelled, trusting 10 disloyal spies rather than Him, God said Israel must wander the wilderness for years and only Joshua and Caleb would live long enough to enter the land.

After taking 40 years to make what could have been an 11-day journey[3] to the Jordan River where Israel would enter the land, God knew, and Joshua knew, that divided loyalties could doom everyone to another 40-year wilderness adventure.

Then in Joshua 3:15 we find this note: “(now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest)”.  Why is this phrase important?  Israel arrived at the Jordan at the most difficult time to cross.  The river would be as deep and as wide as ever, and likely the current would be stronger as well.  A sensible person would avoid crossing at this time, but God chose the most “difficult” time to perform this miracle to show that nothing is difficult for Him.  This phrase is there because entering the promised land should glorify God and God alone.

Arriving at the flooded Jordan River, some people may have doubted whether Joshua get them across.  Joshua had just become their leader, and perhaps the failure of Moses, who recently died, meant the failure of their dreams of the promised land.  After all, they saw the Red Sea part for Moses.  Could Joshua get them over this river?

By coming to the Jordan specifically when it “overflows all its banks” God wanted to remind His people that only He can and will deliver them.  The Red Sea wasn’t parted because of Moses; it was parted because of God.  God could deliver Israel without Moses, but Moses couldn’t deliver Israel without God.  It was never about Moses.  Likewise, Joshua wasn’t going to get them to their land; God was.  The flood gave the people no reason to credit Joshua for their success.

As instructed, this is how they crossed the flooded river: “as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho.  Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.” – Joshua 3:15-17

Joshua was very clear about giving God credit (more in tomorrow’s post), and it’s a lesson for Christians in all times and places.  When God raises up leaders, He also reminds us that they are but men and tools in His hand.  They are also profoundly fallible.  10 out of 12 human leaders being wrong left Israel wandering for 40 years.  Only God leads anyone to salvation and only when they trust Him alone for it.  He often works through fallen human leaders, raising them up to lead His people, not because He prefers sinful leaders over virtuous ones, but because there is no other kind of person and because He is jealous for His own glory.

Is there a flooded river God wants you to cross?  When we attempt things that only make sense because God told us to do them, we may be more likely to do or witness something that glorifies God and God alone, because only He could do it.

Are there rivers you have crossed in the past?  Like God told Joshua after this crossing to lay memorial stones so they would never forget (see Joshua 4), make sure to keep a record of God’s power and faithfulness in your life.

Sometimes life is hard on purpose.
Sometimes the river is flooded because God wants to show you something awesome.

Therefore, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9b

Tomorrow, more from the same story in Joshua…

[1] Numbers 13:1
[2] Numbers 13:31
[3] Deuteronomy 1:2

Broken, But Not Beyond Repair

Actual disaster footage. Viewer discretion advised.

A doctor friend of mine said there’s an inside joke that “if you put two bones alone in a room together, they’ll find each other.”  I heard this after breaking my left collarbone in the summer of 2011.  Even when I was young, I wasn’t a great athlete, but I did always hustle.  So after a decade of not doing much athletically, I joined my work softball league and thought at least I would try hard and have fun.  But when I hit a weak ground ball to the shortstop and decided to “hustle,” disaster saw its opportunity.  The fields we played on were poorly maintained, with holes where the hitters stand.  Instead of doing the smart thing and stopping after I tripped in this hole, I tried to keep running (because hustle!) and soon ended up falling hard on my shoulder with a loud snapping sound.  The picture above is my actual X-ray from that night.

This isn’t a great memory, but it’s also a reminder of the miracle of healing. I had the option of surgery or just letting it grow back together, and I chose letting it heal.  However, it didn’t “just” get fixed. It was by design and no accident.

My collarbone was broken clean through, with the two sides of the bone not even touching any more.  I could feel them moving around independently.  When I think about the millions of “decisions” the cells in these bones, interacting with the tissue around them, had to make to do something they’ve never done before, I have to be convinced something beyond my own anatomy and genetic history was at work.  An impersonal evolution may have never seen these bones break in just this way before, so how did the bones know what to do?  I certainly wasn’t aware of telling these bones what to do.  They didn’t “just” fix themselves.

I can only credit the creative power of my Maker, along with David, who wrote:
For you formed my inward parts;
            you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
            my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
            intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
            the days that were formed for me,
            when as yet there was none of them.” – Psalm 139:13-14

Everyday Miracles
Miracles happen every single day in every human body, yet we often miss them or refuse to call them miracles.  Maybe we do that because calling them miracles would mean we have to give credit to the power behind the miracle, and we’d rather not.  Ever since Adam and Eve looked at God’s good creation and decided they’d rather make their own decisions, mankind has persisted in acting like bones that would rather grow apart than follow their Creator’s design.  As a result, the world is broken into billions of personalities that don’t know how to connect, that don’t know how to knit agape love into the trillions of decisions they make, and interactions they have, each day. 

We all have a choice in every moment: do we “just” do whatever we think is best and expect the right outcome to “just” happen, or do we look at nature and think that maybe the Person who knows how to make bones fix themselves knows how to guide our lives to the best outcome.

Our heavenly Father wants to knit us together once again, in a world that isn’t broken and where we aren’t broken.  None of us are beyond repair, and our Maker will restore us if we let Him.  Every human being in history has been bad at love, except One, and He is calling to every one of us to trust Him.  “Just Do It” is not a good motto.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
            but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
            not one of them is broken.” – Psalm 34:19-20

Casting Mountains into the Sea

The last post focused on Jesus’ withering of a fig tree on His way into Jerusalem and how it was a sign of the eventual withering of those who reject God’s authority by not bearing fruit where fruit was needed.  Today we return to Jesus’ explanation of how the tree withered so fast: “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:21-22)

Jesus does not say “any mountain,” but “this mountain.” Which mountain?  Since they were returning to Jerusalem, a city built on a hill, it is likely that He is talking about His purpose in going there.  He was about to overthrow the authorities of the world on the cross, including that of the Jewish rulers, but also the Roman Empire.  As I wrote in an earlier post: “Only in hindsight do we know what Jesus already knew at the time: in AD 66, Rome would invade and level the city of Jerusalem, including desecrating the temple.  In 410 AD, Germanic tribes would sack the city of Rome and eventually overthrow the empire of Pax Romana.”

By causing the fig tree to wither quickly, Jesus showed His disciples that anyone who rejects His authority will inevitably wither.  What He demonstrates in a limited way instantaneously, He will fulfill completely eventually, but certainly.  Through our faith we bear our own cross rather than blindly following the authorities of the world.  If we act in faith, our actions outlast every authority of this world.  Thus, our faith moves mountains!

Being “on the right side of history” means doing the right thing in light of eternity, not doing what is popular in the fleeting, present moment or imagining some future opinion poll’s judgement on the present day.  The popular view may often seem like the easy way, but the authority of God, which tells us to love Him and love our neighbor in every circumstance, is the only way to bear fruit that lasts.  Following God may make us popular, or it may not, but seeking popularity should not be a reason for doing things.  Popularity is ok as an outcome, but not as an objective.  For the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, seeking popularity initially made them unable to commit to anything, but eventually led them to crucify God Himself.

In my case as a blogger and in many areas of anyone’s life, there are constant temptations to do what is popular.  Many of the “followers” of this blog are other blogs asking me to pay for advice about how to get more attention; to improve my “metrics.”  Other forms of social media want us to focus on “likes” and other verifications of our popularity.  However, only a life lived knowing that God, our Maker and King, knows what is most beneficial for us and fruitful for His people provides the wisdom we need to find true fulfillment.  The lesson of the fig tree reminds everyone that a quest for popularity might only lead to a withering of their ability to bear real fruit for eternity.

We close with these two verses:
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” – Isaiah 40:8
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” – Mark 8:35