Jesus has done all things well.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Mark 7:24-37
Mark the author focuses on two miracles that clearly establish Jesus' love for all peoples. He allows a Gentile woman to eviscerate the hypocritical self-importance Jewish leaders felt. But Mark also presents two miracles that explain that He can help people see and hear and speak clearly, unlike the false teachers. Jesus is our true Savior, worthy of worship.
He ordered them to tell no one, but the more he ordered them, the more they proclaimed it. (7:36)
Note: We Studied This Passage in 2019
In that post, I suggest the fun talk about dogs under the dinner table, a very important blurb about blindness/deafness statistics, a map of Jesus' travels, and a cool comparison of Mark 6-7 vs. Mark 8. I can't help but repeat some of that post, but I'll try to present new questions and suggestions.
Getting Started: Things to Think About
Let's Talk about Jesus
To me, the crux of this week's passage is the people's declaration,
He has done everything well.
Why don't we all just take a week to talk about Jesus? The whole lesson time. Jesus Jesus Jesus. Jesus only Jesus.
We can make this a very uplifting morning -- focus on what your group knows, not what they don't know. 😎
What Makes Jesus Worthy of Worship?
Part 1: What the Bible Says
We could talk all day about "what Jesus has done in my life", but this a Bible study -- I want us to start with what the Bible says. What does the Bible say about Jesus? What makes Him so great, so worthy of our worship? (Yes, it would be super-cool if your group could talk all day about what the Bible says.)
To help prime the pump, here are a few passages we've studied recently. There's nothing wrong with assigning group members to read them out loud before you get going.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
Philippians 2:5 Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. 9 For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—11 and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and by him all things hold together. 18 He is also the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds as expressed in your evil actions. 22 But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him— 23 if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard.
Hebrews 1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors by the prophets at different times and in different ways. 2 In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 4 So he became superior to the angels, just as the name he inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Or use Jesus' "I Am" statements (which we studied last quarter and David is preaching on right now):
Part 2: What Your Heart Says
The other part of this discussion is your personal experience with Jesus. We all know that Jesus saved us -- and that alone makes Him worthy of our worship. But He's done even more than that. What has Jesus done in your life that makes you want to worship Him every day?
Your Favorite Worship Songs about Jesus
You might have to rein this one in, as well, after a while. We all have favorite songs of worship about Jesus. What are yours? Here are some that come to mind:
In Christ Alone
To God Be the Glory
Here I Am to Worship
I Stand Amazed in the Presence
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
My personal favorite is probably Hark! the Herald Angels Sing:
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by; Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth, Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the new-born king."
Jesus Compared to "Celebrities"
I worry about this topic because you could get politically sidetracked, but here's where I'm coming from. Last Sunday afternoon, Taylor Swift attended a Chiefs football game with Travis Kelce's mother. (If none of those names mean anything to you, I salute you.) Of course, social media went into a frenzy.
According to the website "Yardbarker" (no, I have no idea who that is, and frankly it doesn't matter for the purposes of this topic), the five most loyal (defensive?) fanbases are:
If someone says something disparaging about their celebrity, the fan base will come at them knives out. It can get vicious.
My discussion idea is something like this: "When certain celebrities get slandered in the media, their fan bases react dramatically. When Jesus gets slandered in the media, how do Christians react? How do you react?"
Here's really where I'm going with this -- how should Christians react? In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus takes slander from the Jewish leaders pretty regularly, and the Jews around Jesus really don't know how to respond. I get that sense among Christians today. Many Christians immediately want to (and do) defend Jesus, but they don't want to do it the wrong way. On the one hand, this turns into proper social media etiquette (see Christian Guidelines for Social Media Usage (fbcthomson.org)). But on the other hand, this is a time to make sure we are just as aware of how the world talks about Jesus as they do Justin Bieber (pick your celebrity). Are we as willing to defend Jesus as we are the Georgia Bulldogs (pick your group)?
This Week's Big Idea: The "Messianic Secret"
I said this would come up again, so let's talk about it this week in a little more depth than we did in Mark 1.
There's this repeated command in the Gospel of Mark from Jesus:
7:36 He ordered them to tell no one.
This happens after miraculous healings (1:44, 5:43, 7:36, 8:26) and after demon exorcisms (1:25, 1:34, 3:12, 5:8, 9:20).
Liberal skeptics use these passages to come to this conclusion: "Jesus didn't want anybody to say that He was the Messiah because He didn't believe that He was the Messiah."
In the Mark 1 post, I focused on the idea that Jesus spent a good bit of His teaching ministry correcting false popular beliefs about the Messiah -- He didn't want people associating Him with their false preconceptions. Once He could explain/describe what the Old Testament really said about the Messiah, only then would He become open about it. (Mark the author in particular gravitated to this "Messianic secret" because He focused his Gospel on the simple structure of "Who is Jesus and what did He come to do?")
Biblical scholars (who actually believe in Jesus) often point to the one parable that appears only in Mark's Gospel:
4:26 “The kingdom of God is like this,” he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how. 28 The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. 29 As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Whoa! Doesn't that seem like the perfect explanation and justification of a so-called "Messianic secret"? God is at work "in secret" cultivating the seeds of the gospel that the disciples plant. Then, when the harvest will come (ex., at Pentecost), they will be amazed!
But these things happen in secret. The kingdom of God comes in secret. At least, the first time. And then when the Son of Man returns in all His glory, well.....
So, why did Mark emphasize this (more so than the other Gospel writers)? I can only speculate. Mark got most of his notes from Peter. And what is Peter most famous for? His confession of the Christ. But let's compare Mark's and Matthew's record of this:
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he gave the disciples orders to tell no one that he was the Messiah.
27 Jesus went out with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the road he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They answered him, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, one of the prophets.” 29 “But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he strictly warned them to tell no one about him.
Matthew ruminates on the ecclesiological implications of Peter's confession. Mark just goes straight for the "Messianic secret". Why? Again, this is speculation -- Peter never worried over his role as the leader of the disciples; he left those discussions to others. What stuck with him about that day was how he could have been so right about Jesus and also so wrong.
Next week, we will study the passage that follows the verses I cited (Mark 8:31-9:1) -- a passage most associated with the dramatic line "Get behind Me, Satan" spoken to Peter. How Peter must have wondered how he could be so right and so wrong, all at the same time!
In other words, Peter of all of the disciples understood the importance of the "secret". He was the one who knew Jesus was the Messiah! And yet he was completely wrong about what that meant. And if he had so much to learn, then certainly the people around them also had a lot to learn.
So, there's a little more for you to chew on with this "Messianic secret".
Where We Are in Mark
This extremely handy map of our passage comes from The Bible Journey. After last week's "feeding of the 5,000" somewhere south of Bethsaida (6:30-44), Jesus walks on the water on the way back to Bethsaida (6:45-52), and they then minister in the region around Gennesaret (6:53-7:23). Then Jesus travels to Tyre (7:24-30), then back through Galilee to the Decapolis (7:31-8:10) which is where the "feeding of the 4,000" takes place. Then Jesus travels back to Galilee to Dalmanutha (8:11-21) and Bethsaida (8:22-26).
Mark's purpose for sharing these events in this order is quite clear: even though Jesus came first to the Jews, His ministry also always extended to the Gentiles. Tyre was a Gentile city. The Decapolis was a Gentile region.
This section of Mark's Gospel completely parallels Matthew's, but neither Luke of John mention any of these events. Why? I don't know. I can only speculate. Perhaps Peter was uniquely sensitive to the mission to the Gentiles -- considering how he had uniquely validated that mission (Acts 10), and yet Paul had to rebuke him publicly for going back on it (Galatians 2). Maybe these events were just really on Peter's mind.
But what happens earlier in chapter 7 is also very important to our understanding -- the Jewish leaders are focused on traditions and appearances, not what's in their heart:
7:18 “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a person from the outside can defile him? 19 For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated” (thus he declared all foods clean). 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him."
(Read Peter's experience in Acts 10 again with that in mind.)
Jewish tradition said that they should not interact with or help Samaritans or Gentiles. Jesus is going to tell us in this week's passage exactly what to do with that tradition.
Key point of context: we are in Gentile territory.
Part 1: The Foreign Woman (Mark 7:24-30)
24 He got up and departed from there to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it, but he could not escape notice. 25 Instead, immediately after hearing about him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she was asking him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she replied to him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he told her, “Because of this reply, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.” 30 When she went back to her home, she found her child lying on the bed, and the demon was gone.
Pharisees believed that
eating unkosher food
touching unclean people
breathing the same air as a Gentile
sharing a dinner table with sinners
made a person unclean. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has already touched a leper, eaten with tax collectors, and spent a lot of time with the sick and sinful. And now Jesus is in Gentile territory. ("Syrophoenician" = "Syrian" + "Phoenician".)
The Pharisees were hypocrites for treating non-Jews -- made in God's image -- as less than human. So now Jesus is going to demonstrate what it means that "what goes into a person doesn't defile him; what comes out of a person defiles him".
But goodness, this seems to be a strange way to get there. Read verses 26-27 carefully -- don't they sound like exactly what the Pharisees believe should be the Jews' relationship with the Gentiles? That the Gentiles were less than the Jews and that they didn't deserve the same treatment as the Jews? Doesn't it seem that Jesus is validating their hypocrisy??!
Sure, if you don't read what happens next.
To make a long story short, Jesus allows this simple, probably uneducated, Gentile woman to call out the Pharisees' foolish hypocrisy for all the world to see for all of history.
Racism is rooted in two beliefs: (1) this person who looks different from you is less human than you are, and (2) you are worried that this person who looks different from you will take something from you.
What did we just study in the "feeding of the 5,000"? That there is room for all people around the table of God. And that in the kingdom of God, there is enough for everyone to be satisfied and still have leftovers.
With God, there is room for everyone.
With God, there is enough for everyone.
What kind of God did the Pharisees believe in that they had to selfishly guard their meager blessings from being stolen by the unworthy outsiders? It's the worst of Esau and the worst of Jacob!
In particular, look how carefully the woman responds in verse 28:
She calls Jesus "Lord" -- she's the only person to do this in all of Mark's Gospel!
She also speaks very respectfully of Jesus' God -- not knowing exactly where He's coming from (certainly not knowing that He is the Son of God).
She understands that God has enough to go around. She's probably quite tired of the petty smallness of the Jewish racist attitudes towards her people, and she doesn't know where Jesus stands in all of this. She "calls Jesus out" in the most respectful way possible -- which is exactly what Jesus hoped (knew) she would do.
Because she was right! There's more than enough on God's table to feed everyone. And even if there were only "crumbs" left for her and her daughter, she knew that "God's crumbs" would be enough. She had a bigger view of God than many Jews did!
But let's go even further. The word Jesus used for "dog" is the Greek word for a household pet. (Remember, Jesus would have been fluent in Greek.) What did the woman think about this? Well, she didn't take the bait. She didn't care what she was called as long as her daughter was healed. The good of someone she loved was more important than her own pride.
Isn't. That. An. Example. Of. What. Jesus. Came. To. Do. For. Us? "5 Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited." (Phil 2)
This woman understood what "being human" meant better than most of God's own people.
(And so of course Jesus did what she asked.) (And much later in life, Peter understood what happened this day.)
So, on the one hand, this passage stands against racism (and sexism). And on the other hand, this passage tells us to remember what is important and not let ourselves get dragged down or distracted by the hypocrisy of the people around us.
Worthy of Worship: Jesus came to be the Savior of all people, and He loves all people with a perfect, sacrificial love.
Part 2: The Deaf Man (and the blind man) (Mark 7:31-35)
31 Again, leaving the region of Tyre, he went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had difficulty speaking and begged Jesus to lay his hand on him. 33 So he took him away from the crowd in private. After putting his fingers in the man’s ears and spitting, he touched his tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed deeply and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”). 35 Immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak clearly.
This passage is most often associated with the odd spitting and sighing, and we will get to that. But let's get the big picture.
This is in the Decapolis ("ten cities"), a predominantly Gentile region. This man is not demon-possessed; he has a physical disability (whether by birth or by injury can only be speculated). It's the kind of impairment that made his future prospects bleak. He had friends enough to bring him to Jesus and explain his situation and need. And Jesus healed him.
Now -- let's pair this passage with something that happens in a few verses:
8:22 They came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and brought him out of the village. Spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 He looked up and said, “I see people—they look like trees walking.” 25 Again Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes. The man looked intently and his sight was restored and he saw everything clearly. 26 Then he sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”
Some real similarities! People brought this man to Jesus. There is an involved (and odd) physical exercise. But the result is the key:
His ears were opened, and he began to speak clearly (7:34-35)
His sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly (8:25)
In between these two miracles is Jesus' warning to the disciples about "the yeast of the Pharisees" -- people who thought they could hear and see clearly. The people who see and hear clearly are those who have been touched by Jesus. We know from the Syrophoenician woman's daughter that Jesus can heal from a distance -- this whole "putting fingers in ears" and "spitting on eyes" is for show. But what show? Like the "feeding of the 5,000", these miracles double as parables. It takes time with Jesus to see and hear clearly. You have to be willing to let Jesus "get up close and personal" with you. It's a process. And in the end, you are not the same person you were before.
The point is not the miraculous healing, but what a wonderful healing for these two men! In a world that did not have social services for the deaf or blind (more on this below), this healing was lifechanging. What do you think these two men did for the rest of their lives? Tell everybody they knew what Jesus had done for them (but more on this in the next section).
Worthy of Worship: Jesus can help people see, hear, and speak clearly.
The physical miracle of course also makes Him worthy of worship, but remember that this event wasn't just about that miracle. Those men died a long time ago. What do these miracles mean to us? Jesus has been opening the eyes and ears of people for millennia, which is why we received the truth of the gospel today.
But let's not overlook an important lesson:
Aside: Being Aware of Eye and Ear Impairments
Your leader guide says this means we should show concern for people with physical challenges. Yes, but I think it's a lot more than that.
These two men needed people to bring them to Jesus. Either they couldn't find Him on their own, or they couldn't communicate clearly with Him when they did. We see that borne out today:
only 2% of deaf people are Christian; they are scattered all over the world, and there is no universal standard of communication. Most churches are not equipped with a deaf interpreter, making deaf people feel isolated at church if they did come. It takes special, coordinated effort to bring a deaf person to Jesus.
blindness statistics are lower, and there is a wider range of "vision loss" than hearing loss, but the circumstances are similar in that a blind person must be physically brought to church, and church members must be willing and available to help that person navigate the church campus.
And I'm saying those things with America in mind. Here, we do have a social safety net and programs and ministries, education and resources. But in other parts of the world, the stigma of blindness and deafness is akin to what it would have been in Jesus' day. I did some reading about Christian ministries to the blind or deaf around the world, and I was overwhelmed with grief at how the people are treated. There are many Christians working very hard, but the need is so great and the obstacles are so great. Pray for the Christian ministries to the blind and deaf around the world.
Part 3: The Astonished Crowd (Mark 7:36-37)
36 He ordered them to tell no one, but the more he ordered them, the more they proclaimed it. 37 They were extremely astonished and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
I talked about the "Messianic secret" above, and I also mentioned how this man couldn't help but tell others what Jesus had done for him. So let's get to the reaction.
The people were "completely/extremely astonished". Let's look at where else Mark uses this word:
They were astonished at his teaching because he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not like the scribes. (1:22)
When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. “Where did this man get these things?” they said. “What is this wisdom that has been given to him, and how are these miracles performed by his hands?" (6:2)
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were astonished at his words. Again Jesus said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were even more astonished, saying to one another, “Then who can be saved?” (10:23-26)
The chief priests and the scribes heard it and started looking for a way to kill him. For they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was astonished by his teaching. (11:18)
The word "astonishment" has a connotation of "surprise" and "amazement". But it's not a delighted amazement, but more a wonder-tinged-with-fear. Consider this event:
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!” (Matthew 8:27)
And they were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!” (Mark 4:41)
There, Mark chose a Greek word with a clear connotation of fear.
In Mark, to be astonished by Jesus is to have "the fear of the Lord" as it was originally meant. The people didn't know that at the time, but this is the right demeanor to have around God. They were in awe.
Think about the times people came into the presence of God in the Bible. How did they feel? How did they react?
Worthy of Worship: Jesus has done all things well. But let our joy be lined with awe.
Closing Thoughts: So Is It About the Miracles or Not?
Last week and this week, I have repeatedly said that "it's not really about the miracle". And that has confused some of you, especially when I have also said how wonderful the miracles were. So, what do I mean?
Let me cite one of my favorite exchanges from Matthew 11:
2 Now when John heard in prison what the Christ was doing, he sent a message through his disciples 3 and asked him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news, 6 and blessed is the one who isn’t offended by me.”
There, Jesus alludes to a number of passages in Isaiah -- 35, 29, etc. In God's promised restoration of all things (i.e., salvation), there will be no more sickness or disability or injury. Jesus' message to John (really, John's followers) is "look around and see the kinds of things that are happening -- the kingdom of God has come".
But Jesus didn't heal every sick person. He didn't restore the sight of every blind person. If the kingdom of God had come in full, there would be no more sickness or suffering at all.
These miracles are a "placeholder" -- a "glimpse into the future". But they do have significant meaning in themselves (certainly they had meaning to the people they helped!):
The miracles reveal Jesus as the true Son of God, come into the world.
The miracles paint a picture of life in God's eternal kingdom.
Everyone who experienced a physical miracle of Jesus (healing, feeding, exorcism, etc.) eventually had another need. Jesus' miracle didn't make their life perfect.
But if Jesus can heal that person's blindness, don't you think He can help you see the truth?
If Jesus can heal that person's deafness, don't you think He can help you hear from God?
So, yes, these miracles matter. But more than anything, they point us to something that matters even more: the God who can heal the body can also restore the soul, and He is more than able to provide His children with a perfect eternal home in His kingdom.