We’ve been learning from Mark’s gospel how Jesus Christ is God’s Anointed King who delivers his people from their sin and misery and who brings them into his own kingdom, which is an everlasting kingdom which will never end. And through the parables he told he revealed the kingdom and what it is like; and through the miracles he performed he gave us a foretaste of what he will do for all his people when he comes again in glory and power to destroy his enemies once and for all and to deliver his people from all the sorrow and sadness and the pain of this life to enjoy perfect peace and rest and everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. Every time he cast out a demon he revealed that he’s the one with the power and authority to destroy the Devil and all who belong to him. And every time he healed the sick or brought the dead back to life he revealed that he’s the one with the power and authority to raise us from the grave and to give us everlasting life.
And the last time we studied Mark’s gospel together, we spent our time in verses 1 to 23 of Mark 7 where he spoke about the human heart which is like a house of horrors; it’s like a house of horrors because it’s full of all kinds of monstrous thoughts and wicked desires. Nothing outside of us — nothing we eat or drink — can make us unclean, because we’re already unclean because of the sin in our hearts. But the good news is that God has promised to give his people a new heart to love him; and he’s promised to give his people the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey him; and he’s promised to cleanse his people from the guilt of our sins. That’s what God promises to do for his people; and all his promises to us are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, because whoever believes in him is given that new heart to love God; and we’re given his Spirit to obey God; and we’re pardoned from all that we have done wrong.
That’s where we got to last time. Today we come to verses 24 to 37; and if you’re using an NIV, you’ll see that these verses can be divided into two sections. In verses 24 to 30 we have the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman whose daughter was possessed by an evil spirit; and then in verses 31 to 37 we have the story of the deaf man who was brought to the Lord Jesus so that the Lord could heal him. And once again, by healing the woman’s daughter and the deaf man the Lord was revealing that he’s God’s Anointed King who has the power and authority to renew all things when he comes again. But we also see that God’s Anointed King is willing to give the blessings of his kingdom not only to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well. Jesus Christ came into this world as the Saviour of the world so that whoever believes in him may receive his salvation. So, let’s look at these two sections now.
Verses 24 to 30
And so we read in verse 24 that the Lord left that place where he had been speaking about the human heart and he went to the vicinity of Tyre. If your Bible has a map of Israel, you’ll find Tyre on the coast to the north and west of Galilee. The most important thing to note about Tyre was that it was a Gentile place and it had a long history of antagonism towards Israel. The wicked queen Jezebel was from Tyre. In the second century BC the people of Tyre joined with others to fight against the Jews. The Old Testament prophets used to speak against Tyre. And the Jewish historian Josephus described the people of Tyre as ‘our bitterest enemies’. It was a pagan place and not at all on friendly terms with the people of Israel. And yet this is where the Lord went.
And we read how he entered a house and did not want anyone to know about it. Perhaps the Lord had gone to Tyre to rest for a while. We saw how he did this once before in chapter 5 when there were so many people coming and going that he and disciples didn’t have a chance to eat. And so, because at that time they were so busy, the Lord said to his disciples that they’d go away to a quiet place to get some rest. Well, they didn’t get any rest at that time, because the crowds followed him. And he’s not going to get any rest in this chapter either, because he couldn’t keep his presence a secret. News that he was in the region spread and no doubt many people came to the house to see him. One such person was this woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit. And look how Mark describes this woman. He tells us that she was a Greek and that she was born in Syrian-Phoenicia. Perhaps it’s not immediately obvious, but Mark is trying to show us things about this woman which might disqualify her from receiving any help at all from the Lord Jesus.
Firstly, she was a Greek. In other words, she was a Gentile and the Jews didn’t normally mix with Gentiles. Think of the previous passage where Mark explained how the Pharisees would wash themselves after being at the market. And the reason they washed themselves was because they were afraid that in the market they might have come into contact with a Gentile; and the Gentile would have made them ceremonially unclean. Jewish men didn’t mix with Gentiles.
And then, not only was she was a Gentile, but she was from Syrian-Phoenicia. In Matthew’s version of this story, she’s described more simply as a Canaanite woman; and all through the Old Testament, the people of Canaan where renowned for their paganism; and in the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded by God to destroy the Canaanites. So, Jewish men didn’t mix with people from there. Everything about this woman was wrong. And yet, wonderfully, despite her demerits, the Lord granted her request.
Not at first, of course. We read in verse 26 how she begged the Lord to drive the demon out of her daughter. And the Lord replied:
First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.
When the Lord refers here to ‘the children’, he’s referring to the children of Israel, the Jewish people. And when he refers to ‘the dogs’, he’s referring to the Gentiles. And when he refers to ‘the bread’, he’s referring to the blessing of his kingdom. And so, if you put all of that together, he’s saying to this Gentile woman that it’s not right for him to take the blessing of the kingdom which belong to the people of Israel and to give them to a Gentile.
His answer seems very harsh, doesn’t it? But since we know that the Lord granted her request, it seems that he’s testing her. He’s testing her to see whether or not she really believes. Does she really believe that he’s the only one who can help her daughter? If she really believes that he’s the only one who can help, then she will not give up, will she? If a child is sick and there’s only one doctor who can help, the child’s parents will not give up at the first set back, but they’ll go again and again and again to try to persuade this doctor to help their child. They won’t give up. And if this woman really believes that the Lord Jesus is the only one who can help, then she’ll not be put off easily.
So, he was testing her faith. But even in the Lord’s words to her, there’s an encouragement, isn’t there? Look again at what he said. He said:
First let the children eat all they want.
The Lord was saying that the blessings of his kingdom are for the Jews first of all, but not exclusively. In other words, he didn’t come to being salvation to the Jews only, but to the Jews first. The Apostle Paul said something similar in Romans 1 where he wrote that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation for everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. The good news was to be proclaimed to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles. And after the Jews were given the chance to repent and believe, the good news of salvation was to be proclaimed to all the world. And the Lord hinted at that here, in this story, when he spoke to this woman.
And look how she replied. She said:
Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.
So, she acknowledged that the blessings of the kingdom are for the children of Israel first of all. But nevertheless she’s still hopeful that she may receive something from the Lord even though she’s a Gentile and not a Jew.
And sure enough, the Lord was pleased with her reply and he saw that even though she was a Gentile, nevertheless she clearly believed that he’s the only one who can help her daughter. And so the Lord re-assured her that the demon had left her child. And sure enough, when she got home, the demon had gone.
What’s the point of this story? Why has Mark included it in his gospel? Well, it makes clear that in the history of redemption — that is, in God’s plan of redemption for the world — there was a particular order. And the order was this: the good news of the kingdom was to be proclaimed to the Jews first of all; and only afterwards to the Gentiles. Since this was always God’s plan, we read in the Old Testament how God chose the Israelites to be his special people. When the Lord Jesus came into the world, he directed his ministry almost exclusively to the Jews. But then, just before he ascended to heaven, he at last sent the Apostles to all the nations. But even then, even when the Apostles went out into the world at first, they typically went first to the Jews before going to the Gentiles afterwards. Whenever Paul arrived at a new city, he went first to the Jewish synagogue and only afterwards did he preach to the Gentiles. The Lord had a plan and the plan for the world meant taking the good news to the Jews first of all; and then to the Gentiles.
However, this story also makes clear that salvation is not for the Jews only. The blessings of the kingdom were not for the Jews exclusively. This is made clear, because the Lord was willing to respond to the woman’s request and to deliver her daughter from the evil spirit. Even though she was a Gentile from this pagan place, the Lord was willing to help her.
And, of course, the Lord is always willing to help anyone who comes to him, humbling confessing their need and seeking his help. He used to send away the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, because they were proud and only came to attack him. But whenever someone came — as this woman did — with humility, seeking his help, he was always willing to welcome them and to help them. And therefore we know that he’s willing to help us, if we come to him, humbly, confessing our need.
And the most important lesson we learn from this story is how we need to come to the Saviour with faith. The word ‘faith’ does not appear in this story, but we see the woman’s faith in the fact that she came to the Lord and she sought his help and should would not be put off. Though the word ‘faith’ does not appear, she demonstrated her faith by what she said and did. And in Matthew’s version of this story, the story ends with the Lord saying to the woman:
Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.
Jesus Christ is God’s Anointed King. He came into the world to deliver us from the power of Satan and from the guilt of our sin and from all the misery due to us for our sin; and he came to give us everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom. Every time he cast out demons and healed the sick it was a sign of what he will do for all his people when he comes in glory and power to destroy the Devil and all who belong to him but to give everlasting life to all who belong to Christ and to his everlasting kingdom. And the way to enter his everlasting kingdom and the way to receive the hope of everlasting life is through repentance and faith. Despite all of this woman’s demerits — despite the fact that she was a Gentile from a pagan part of the world — the Lord will willing to help her because she came to him with faith.
And so, we’re to turn from our sins in repentance and we’re to turn to Christ the Saviour with faith, trusting that he’s the only Saviour of the world and the only one who can save us from the power of Satan and who can give us everlasting life. And so the main lesson of this story is how we’re to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And if you have not already done so, you need to confess your sins to God; and give thanks to him for Christ the Saviour; and pray that God will forgive you for the sake of Christ and give you the hope of everlasting life so that when the Saviour comes again, he will raise you up from the grave and give you everlasting life in his presence.
Verses 31 to 37
In the next story, when the Lord healed this deaf man, he once again revealed that he’s God’s Anointed King with the power and authority to save us. So we read in verse 31 how he left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. The Decapolis was another Gentile region; and so, this story, like the previous one, perhaps reveals the Lord’s willingness to extend the blessings of his kingdom to the Gentiles.
We read in verse 32 that some people brought to him a man who was deaf and who could hardly talk. And these people begged the Lord to place his hands on the man in order, presumably, to heal him. And we read how the Lord took the man away from the crowd that seemed to follow the Lord wherever he went; and he put his fingers in the man’s ears and he spat and touched the man’s tongue. Perhaps this was a way to indicate to the man what the Lord was about to do for him: he touched his ears to show he was going to heal his hearing; he touched his tongue to show he was going to heal his speech. The Lord then looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh, said to the man:
And immediately he could hear; and immediately he could speak.
Once again the Lord revealed his great power. And once again he commanded the people not to tell anyone about what he had done. Often, whenever the Lord performed a miracle like this, he commanded the people not to speak of it. But despite what he said to them, the people kept talking about it. And we read how the people were overwhelmed with amazement and said:
He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.
Those words which were spoken by the people about the Lord Jesus echo some words from Isaiah 35. Isaiah 35 describes how the Lord will bring his people into his glorious presence in the Promised Land where they will be renewed and will rejoice before him:
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
And in the course of that chapter, we read how ‘the eyes of the blind will be opened’; and ‘the mute tongue will shout for joy’. What the Lord God promised to bring about in the pages of the Old Testament has begun to be fulfilled in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, because he’s the Promised One, the Great King God promised to send into the world to deliver his people from their sorrow and sadness and to bring them at last into God’s glorious presence. By healing this deaf and mute man the Lord Jesus was revealing that he’s the Promised One, God’s Anointed King, who is able to deliver us from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting life in the new creation.
And if you read Isaiah 35, you’ll see it refers to the Way of Holiness, which is the narrow path that leads to everlasting life. And the prophet tells us that the unclean will not journey on it. Well, that’s related to what we were reading the last time in Mark’s gospel about how all of us are — by nature — unclean before God, because our hearts are a house of horrors full of all kinds of monstrous thoughts and wicked desires. We are all unclean; but through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are cleansed from the stain of our sins. And when we trust in the Saviour, he promises to lead us along the Way of Holiness, that narrow path that leads eventually into God’s glorious presence.
But there’s one final thing from Isaiah 35 to note. Right at the end it says:
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
We often sigh, don’t we? In this life, we often sigh. We sigh because of all the sorrow and sadness we face in this troubled life. We sigh because people hurt us and upset us and frustrate us and let us down. We sigh because of sickness. We sigh because of grief and death. We sigh too because of our own sin and the things we do which we know are wrong. In this life, we sigh all the time; and even at this time of the year — when so many people are happy and enjoying the holidays — we still find ourselves sighing, don’t we?
God promises that the time will come when our sighing will flee away. How can that be? Well, in Mark 7, did you notice how the Lord sighed with a deep sigh whenever he healed the man? You see, he came into the world as one of us; and throughout his life he was a man of sorrows and he was familiar with suffering. He suffered and sighed just like us; and he knew all about the pain and sorrow that we face and which breaks our hearts. And then, on the cross, he suffered in our place all the misery that we deserve for our sins. He took it upon himself.
But then he was raised to new life; and from his throne in heaven, he’s able to help us to bear all the sorrow we face in this life. So we can look to him to help us, trusting that he knows what we’re going through, because he too suffered and sighed; and then we can trust that he’s able to bring good out of whatever we suffer in this life. But there’s more, because he promises to bring us at last into his glorious kingdom where they will be no more pain or sorrow or disease and death, where all sorrow and sighing will flee away; and we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest in his presence.
That’s what you want, isn’t it? That’s what you’re longing for, isn’t it? A life free from sorrow and sighing? A life free from sin? Well then, repent and believe in the Saviour, because whoever repents and believes in him receives forgiveness from God for your sin and the hope of a new life, a better life, a life of joy and peace, in his presence for ever. And just as he took away this man’s sorrow by healing him of his deafness, so he will take away all your sorrow and all the things that make you sigh when he comes again.