Jesus left Tyre and the Mediterranean coastline to travel back towards the Sea of Galilee. He took a long, winding route through the region of Sidon. It took Him twenty-five miles north and then southeast through Gentile territory, and then through the region ruled by Philip, Herod’s brother.
There was a reason Jesus was avoiding going into Galilee. Herod was living in hostile fear that the coming of Jesus was really the return of John the Baptist. Herod thought John was coming to haunt him. There were also many in the Galilean crowds that wanted to force Jesus to be king. On the other hand, the religious leaders were plotting to kill Him. None of these groups were honoring God by listening to His Son. None of them were responding with the faith of the Gentile woman with the broken daughter.
Or the Samaritan woman by the well who used the confession of her own sin to prove that Jesus was the Messiah to the people of her town.
The writer’s of the Gospels were very careful to include stories of people who responded to the Messiah in the right way. If someone gave you an incredible gift and you spit on them for it, that would be a bad response. If someone gave you love and support for your entire life and you continually rejected them, refused to own the ways you sinned against them, tried to force them to do what you wanted even if it wasn’t the right thing to do, or even tried to kill them, then you would be behaving in a pretty deplorable way. That is what the nation of Israel was doing to Jesus…and to God the Father. But there were other stories and other responses, too. Some people got it right. They are examples of how we should respond to Jesus, and they highlight how horribly wrong the responses of the nation of Israel were on the larger scale.
It is interesting that the writer’s of the Gospel often choose to tell stories showing Gentiles responding rightly to Jesus. Up to that point, God’s work had been primarily through the Jewish people. Very soon, in God’s gracious, beautiful plan to bring salvation to this cursed world, there was coming a time when the death and resurrection of Christ would pave the way for a New Covenant. The old Covenant of Moses would be laid to rest because the sacrifice of Jesus would satisfy all of the requirements of the Law. Jesus took the punishment for our sins and paid the ransom for our debt. God’s covenant promise to Abraham to bless the nations of the world through Abraham’s descendants…the nation of Israel…would be fulfilled through Jesus. The new people of God, or all those who put their faith in Jesus, would have the remarkable privilege of spreading this unimaginable Good News to the lost all over the world. One day, members of every tongue, tribe, and nation will worship at the Throne of God!
That’s the big picture. That is where God’s epic plan was headed…and is heading. In the story we are reading about today, Jesus was going from place to place giving people a chance to hear the Good News, and training His disciples for the day they would take over His ministry. The rejection of that message had made it dangerous for Jesus to tell it in Galilee, so He avoided that region altogether.
As Jesus walked the long, quiet journey with His disciples, far from the insanity of the crowds and the questions, it gave them time to talk. Can you imagine what they said along the way? What would you ask Him? What would you want to know?
When they finally arrived in Galilee, it was to the region that was within the territory of the Decapolis, which was an area that contained ten Gentile cities. This was the place where the man who had been possessed by a legion of demons lived. After Jesus set this dear captive free from his terrible oppression, the people sent Jesus away out of fear of His remarkable power. But the man who had been set free went all around the Decapolis declaring the good things that the Lord had done. He proclaimed the Gospel among them and prepared their pagan hearts for the Lord.
When Jesus arrived, He climbed up on a mountain and sat down. Think about how kind, how terribly humble it was for Jesus to return to these people who had so forcefully rejected Him. This time, the people responded very differently to Him. They began to bring Him the blind and deaf, those with terribly crippled bodies, the mute and the lame. They brought them to the feet of the Savior, and He healed them. What a wonderful Lord!
Can you imagine how glorious it would be to see such transformation? The crowds saw the power of Jesus and were amazed. Though they were pagan Gentiles, they could not help but respond to the goodness of what they saw, and they gave glory to the God of Israel.
One of the people who was brought to Jesus was deaf and had great difficulty talking. They asked Jesus to lay His hands on him. Jesus took the man aside from the crowd. He put His fingers inside the man’s ears and then spit and touched the man’s tongue with His saliva. Then He looked up to Heaven towards His Father and cried out, “‘Ephphatha!’” which means, “‘Be opened!’” Can you imagine the line of connection between Jesus standing on that hill and God the Father, sitting on His throne in Heaven? The man’s ears could hear immediately, and he began to talk as clearly and plainly as everyone else! Imagine what it was like for this man to suddenly hear the voice of Jesus…the murmuring of the crowds, the sound of the breeze coming off the hillside. Imagine the freedom of being able to say what he needed to say. His life was utterly changed!
It was a remarkable miracle…there was no earthly way to explain what happened. Yet Jesus told the man not to tell anybody about it. Between Herod and the religious leaders, there were many powers coming against Jesus, and He didn’t need more rumors that would threaten Him even more. He wanted to spend His time training His disciples, and more publicity and fame would only get in the way. But Jesus’ request did not stop the man from broadcasting the great gift he had been given. In fact, the more Jesus told the people He healed to remain quiet about it, the more they proclaimed what He did!
Isn’t it interesting that the people wanted the blessings of Christ, but they didn’t want to honor His requests or serve His goals? What a source of grief these betrayals must have been to Jesus, who so longed for the people to follow Him.
News about the miracle spread far and wide, creating far more problems for the Lord as He sought to bring salvation to the very people causing them. They didn’t understand what they were doing…they didn’t know that they were stoking the fires that would lead to His death. But if they had simply obeyed Jesus, they didn’t need to know all that. They could have trusted Him and honored Him by doing what He had asked of them.
It is interesting to note that there is no story about how this man lost his healing. Jesus didn’t go back to him and strike him deaf and mute. Jesus allowed the man to continue to experience the underserved blessing. It is a subtle picture of His meekness and His lavish, amazing grace.