31Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37And 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)
Why did Jesus take this man aside when he healed so many others publically? Why did he touch him in the ears and tongue when he was able to heal the Gentile woman’s daughter from a distance (Mark 7:24-30)? Why did he sigh and speak to him when it only required a touch of his garment for many others (Mark 6:56)? The passage doesn’t tell us, but it points to a broader truth: God knows and cares for individuals.
Remember, Jesus is God’s clearest communication of himself to the world.
1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4)
If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. And as you survey Jesus’ individualized responses to people in Mark, you see the God described in Psalm 139.
1O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:1-6)
Having searched and known the hungry crowd in Mark 6:30-44, Jesus had compassion on them, perceiving that they were like sheep without a shepherd. Having discerned their thoughts from afar, Jesus calmed the disciples’ fear as they struggled against the storm in Mark 6:45-52. Having searched their path and become acquainted with their ways, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes in Mark 7:1-13. Having known her words even before they were on her tongue, Jesus responded to the Gentile woman in Mark 7:24-30 with a parable. Jesus is the radiance of God’s glorious attention to individuals, including the deaf man in Mark 7:31-37. He is the exact imprint of God’s natural interest in individuals, including you and me. Now, why is this important?
God’s attention to you as an individual means you and your life have purpose.
5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Jeremiah was known, consecrated and appointed to be a prophet before he was formed in the womb. You might not look in the mirror and feel that you were formed by God, but you were. You might not look at your life and think that you were consecrated and appointed to anything in particular, but you were. God knew you before he formed you, and he formed you for a reason.
You might think that God only knows, consecrates and appoints special people like Old Testament prophets, but look back at Psalm 139 again. This was written to be used by God’s people–all of God’s people–in worship:
13For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16Your 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 139:13-16)
You did not come down an assembly line of souls into the first available womb. You were “knitted together,” “fearfully and wonderfully made,” intricately woven.” If your soul had a tag on it, it would say “Hand made, with love, by God.”
Not only were you formed by God, but so were your days, “every one of them.” The deaf man’s life and days had purpose. Like the blind man in John 9, he was who he was “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” For the rest of his life, his greatest story of God’s works in him would be the story of his deafness and speech impediment. These two disabilities, which had plagued him since birth, would become the doorway to God’s greatest blessing.
God knows and cares about you as an individual. He formed you and your days for a reason. And the area of your greatest sadness, regret, sin, disability, struggle, tragedy and pain could be the avenue for his greatest works’ display in you.
25“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matthew 6:25-32)
God knows the bird that decorated your car yesterday. He knows each blade of grass under the leaves in your yard. He also knows you and all your needs. If he cares for the bird and the grass blade, you can be certain that he cares for you too.
Our children went Christmas caroling with their school the other night. As the kids sang, I noticed by son and daughter occasionally looking up at me as I stood listening among the crowd. Having practiced at school, this was a big deal to them, and I think they wanted to be sure I was watching. So even as others engaged me in conversation, I kept my eyes on them, because when they looked up, I wanted them to see that I was looking right at them, paying attention to them, interested in what they were doing, loving them. Now, I could only look at one of them at a time. But God is so glorious that he’s able to look at each one of us all the time, at the same time!
As you live your life, when you look up, you’ll find that he’s looking at you. As you hustle out the door in the morning, if you look up, you’ll find that he’s looking at you. As you work, play, talk, laugh, eat, sleep, cry, sin, repent, give, take–if you look up, you’ll find that he’s looking at you. He is paying attention to you. He’s interested in you. He loves you.
When the deaf man with the speech impediment first looked into Jesus’ eyes, he did not see that look one has when meeting someone new. He did not even just see recognition. He saw expertise. He saw one who had searched and known him, and discerned his thoughts from afar.
When we go to God in prayer, we find the same thing. God has searched and known us. He has discerned out thoughts from afar. Even when we do not understand ourselves, God understands us. And when we pray for others, God understands them too.
Jesus is the radiance of God’s glorious attention to individuals, including the deaf man in Mark 7:31-37. He is the exact imprint of God’s natural interest in individuals, including you and me.
- Take some time to reconnect with one another.
- Scan back over Mark 1-7 together. Who do you see meeting Jesus? How does Jesus interact with them? What is similar? What is different? Why do you think Jesus treated each person or group the way he did?
- Which person or group do you most relate to? Why?
- Now read Hebrews 1:1-4 and Psalm 139:1-6 together.
- What are the implications of the fact that God searches and knows us? That he knows when we sit down and when we rise up? That he discerns our thoughts from afar? That he searches out our paths and our lying down? That he is acquainted with all our ways? That, before a word is on our tongue, he knows it altogether?
- Read Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139:13-16. What are the implications of the fact that God formed our inward parts? That he knitted us together? That we are fearfully and wonderfully made? That we were intricately woven? That in his book were written, everyone one of them, the days that were formed for us?
- Read Matthew 6:27-32. What are the implications of the fact that God knows us and our needs in the way described in this passage?
- Have each person in the group share one key take-away from these passages that they plan to integrate into their way of thinking and/or living.
- Pray over these things together
In my sermon I mentioned jokingly that I had sketched out more than just three points of application for this truth about God caring about us as individuals–and that they all started with P’s. It’s hard for a pastor to give up sermon points, especially when they work alliteratively! But it would have been too much for one sermon to keep them.
Someone asked if I would share the other points, so here they are briefly:
- Praise: In Psalm 139, as the psalmist thinks about these things, he writes, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it,” and “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” All this individual attention from God is not meant to inflate our egos, but to echo back to God in genuine praise.
- Proof: When the woman at the well in John 4 meets Jesus, she marvels, telling everyone, “Come see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” I feel the same when I come away from a time in prayer and God’s word, sensing that God knows me and is speaking to me in my specific circumstance. In fact, I find this to be one of the most reassuring proofs that Jesus is the Christ.
- Perseverance: I snuck this one in after the service as we began our annual business meeting. When Jesus addresses the churches in Revelation 2-3, he states over and over again “I know you.” For example, to the church in Ephesus, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance…” (Revelation 2:2). He seems to be reassuring them and strengthening them to endure based in part on the fact that he knows what’s going on and how hard it is.