September 17, 2018

Pentecost 17 - Mark 8:22-26

Surprising Silence
1. In the way that Jesus heals
2. In the way that He plans

Mark 8:22-26 Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. 23 So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. 24 And he looked up and said, "I see men like trees, walking." 25 Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. 26 Then He sent him away to his house, saying, "Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town."   

Joe Louis was a famous boxer who was known as both a world champion and also a social activist. Many credit Louis with having a hand in helping break the color barrier in American professional sports. Though he was famous for most of his adult life, Louis came from humble beginnings. He knew what it took to succeed by hard work – even when the odds were stacked against him. One of his famous sayings show that humility, “If you gotta tell them who you are, you ain't nobody.”

Joe Louis recognized the value of silence. We might say today, “Actions speak louder than words.” There’s a lot of wisdom in having the ability to keep your mouth shut. Just a couple of weeks ago we saw what James had to say about the devastation of the human tongue. Louis built his success as a boxer on the ability to keep quiet when others verbally maligned him and show with his ability that he could win.

Others have learned the same lesson often in sports. It’s one of the valuable things about competition that mirrors every day life. Sometimes silence is the best option. If you’re good enough. If you’re right, then the truth will come out. Let others declare it.

Jesus followed a similar method at times in His ministry. Mark’s Gospel is filled with miracles that Jesus did. It’s by far the shortest of the Gospel accounts and it’s an action-packed narrative from beginning to end. Here in the middle we see Jesus employing a surprising tactic to complete His plan – silence. Some wonder, why be silent? Didn’t Jesus need to get His message out to as many as possible? How would silence help achieve that end?

The answer to that question is that Jesus also had His Father’s will to uphold. It would do no good for Jesus to be killed before He got to Calvary or to be hailed as an earthly Redeemer in the eyes of His followers. Throughout His ministry, Jesus constantly walked the middle of these two extremes, and silence was important to keeping that middle ground – first of all in how He healed.

Perhaps as you read about this miracle, Jesus’ command to the healed man to be silent isn’t the most surprising part. It’s hard not to wonder about the method. To summarize, there’s really three steps: Jesus leads the man out of the town. Jesus spits in the man’s eyes. And Jesus then completely heals the man by touching his eyes. Why? In other instances, Jesus was able to heal without even speaking or being in the same location. Why go to all the trouble to perform these surprising signs? Well, first of all, Jesus is quite silent throughout. In this context, He heals by action rather than by speaking. So, Jesus Himself employs the very thing He asks of the man. The healing is not accomplished by the verbal declaration of God, but by the activity of God. Similarly, God teaches us that He can use the things of this world to accomplish His will. Just because we don’t hear a loud voice booming from heaven does not mean that God is silent. He still works.

Second, the fact that Jesus heals the man in stages shows there’s a progression to His work. It was certainly within His authority to heal the man in one single moment, but here He took deliberate steps. After the first two steps, the man was able to see partially. The lesson here is that God’s will sometimes takes time. We may think that the wheels of change are spinning in place, but God is actually working.

The strangest part of the miracle has to be that Jesus spits on the man’s eyes. What could possibly be the purpose behind this? Some has proposed that since Jesus was God his saliva must have had some special magical makeup to it. But, we’re not told anything like that, and the Bible is also very clear that in His physical presence Jesus very much human like you and me. A better answer is that Jesus was making a point to that culture. At that time, many believed that human saliva had a medicinal quality to it. It was often used as a remedy to treat ailments. Jesus takes that idea and thrusts the supernatural upon it. By using His own saliva He gives a relevant proof of His power as Messiah. He healed the man in a way that would make the people think – to take notice. Jesus is telling people that He has the power not just to treat, but to heal. The saliva was merely a symbol.

In the previous chapter, Mark records a similar instance, this time where Jesus healed a deaf/mute man. Chapter 7:33-35 reads: And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." 35 Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. In the miracle, we see the same three stages. Jesus takes the man outside the city. He uses His saliva in the miracle. And He commands them to tell no one. The main difference is in the man’s ailment. The man from chapter 7 was deaf and mute. The man from chapter 8 was blind. When we put these two accounts together we see important details about how Jesus conducted His work on earth. But, we also see a connection to the Old Testament.

The prophet Isaiah wrote: Isaiah 35:4-5 Say to those who are fearful-hearted, "Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you." 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. One of the markers of the Messiah, an indicator for people that salvation was present, was the healing of the blind and the deaf. Isaiah goes on to list other signs which Jesus fulfilled, but for the purposes of our story today we see that Jesus was also fulfilling the Old Testament promises of God – in His way and in His time. 

Many people look at the miracles of Jesus and reflect only on His awesome power as God. Who can deny that? It’s certainly present. But, this miracle, and others, show that there’s much more to be learned when we dig deeper. Jesus teaches that His methods may be surprising to us but they are still part of His plan. Jesus connects to the Old Testament and not only provides evidence of His deity as God through power, but also that He is the long-awaited Son of David, come to earth as one of us to rescue us from sin. But, Jesus also shows us the benefit of silence in our lives. Silence nurtures trust, because in silence we wait for God to act.

In every generation Christians have wrestled with the “silence” of God. Why doesn’t He act sooner? What could His plan possibly be? In moments of intense persecution, a believer has only one option to continue in faith – submit to God’s will. With that submission comes silence, or waiting by faith. Listen to David’s words in Psalm 27: Psalm 27:12 Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries; For false witnesses have risen against me, And such as breathe out violence. 13 I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. 14 Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD! 

David felt the silence of God in his life. Hunted by Saul. Forsaken by his friends. Betrayed by his own son. David knew the loneliness of trust and submission to God’s plan well. Think of others in the Bible: Joseph – rotting away in Pharaoh’s prison. Job, touched by the hand of Satan. Abraham, called by God to sacrifice his only, long-awaited son. Jeremiah, thrown into a pit of refuse all for proclaiming the Lord’s Word. Stephen, stoned to death for declaring the truth of law and gospel. John the Baptist, beheaded by a childish monarch who didn’t want to be convicted for his sexual immorality. The list goes on. Hebrews calls these individuals the “cloud of witnesses” – Christians who had nothing in life except to wait patiently, in silence for God to give them justice.

Suddenly, the unique aspects of this miracle don’t seem all that important. Who cares why Jesus did it the way He did? At least He acted. The silence of God is a much harder thing to understand. Financial troubles arise out of nowhere and leave us reeling. Health ailments pile up one after another without any explanation. Tough situations at work or school leave us feeling helpless and alone. The loss of a close loved one, perhaps even a child – what could be more unfair than that? Each of those situations and more make us wonder, where is this powerful God who is for me? Where are His generous blessings? Where is His healing hand? What is His plan? He cares for the deaf and the mute and the blind, but does He care for me?

The surprising silence of Jesus reminds us that His is the kingdom and the power and the glory. He has a plan – always. That plan may confuse us. It may take a few steps longer than we’d like it to. It may contain things that seem unnecessary. But Jesus wants you to know that even in the silence, He is working for. Ephesians says that in His love, Jesus is doing “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, (Eph 3:20 NIV)

Jesus wants you to know this. He teaches the lesson in the subtle details of this miracle and others. There’s far more than just power here. He wants you to know this because it’s part of knowing Him. You think God is silent in your life? Look to the cross. Ponder the deafening silence of God’s only begotten Son – holy, innocent, and just – pleading with His Father in heaven, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus knows what it’s like in a way you can’t fathom. His screams of agony died in silence. His breath gave out before any answer resounded from the heavens. Surprising, unfair, offensive, immeasurable – all these adjectives and more describe the very reason Jesus came to earth, for a much deeper purpose than our own temporary struggles.  

So, when you feel the silence of God – look to Jesus. That’s really what He wants you to learn here. His will is best. He has a plan. Because even Jesus went through that silence to make sure those truths have merit for you.

Sometimes, silence is best – even for the Son of God. There were times when Jesus didn’t have to tell anyone who He was. His actions, even His silent ones, were demonstrably louder. So also, for your life. You don’t have to worry about making sure others know – what you need, who you are, how great you’ve done. Let Jesus tell your story. Even in silence, you are His – and no one can tarnish that gift.

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