The movement of Mark 7 has been Jesus teaching about where true defilement comes from. Jesus taught the problem of defilement is not external but internal. Out of the heart flows that all kinds of evil thoughts and actions. We are now in a section of Mark’s gospel where Mark wants us to see the glory of Jesus. The series up to this point has been called The King’s Cross because Mark is picturing for us the arrival of the king who calls for true discipleship from all his subjects. But now we are going see from this point in Mark’s gospel through chapter 10 that the focus of the account is that people would see the glory of Jesus. So let us sit back and ready our minds to see the unparalleled glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Test of Faith (7:24-30)
Jesus now goes to the region of Tyre and Sidon. It is important to realize that this is outside the boundaries of Israel. Jesus is going to the land of the Gentiles, about 35 miles northwest of Galilee. So we read this account it is important to remember that Jesus is not in Israel. Tyre and Sidon are relevant in the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah went to the widow of Zarephath in this area. Remember that a test was given to that widow regarding herself and her son. He asks her to give him some bread. But this was the last piece of bread she had that she and her son were going to eat and then die (1 Kings 17:12). Elisha encounters a Shunammite woman (which is also a town to the west of Israel) and a test of faith was given to her and Elisha raises her son from the dead (2 Kings 4:18-37).
Jesus is now in the Tyre and Sidon region and he also has an encounter. Jesus enters a house and tries to be hidden but his fame cannot be concealed. A woman comes and falls at the feet of Jesus. She has a daughter who has an unclean spirit. Now notice the highlight of verse 26. The woman is a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. Outsiders are coming to Jesus. She is begging Jesus to cast out the unclean spirit that has her daughter. Listen to Jesus’ response in verse 27.
And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27 ESV)
Now we might think that Jesus is being rude. If we have not been reading through the book of Mark then this is the conclusion we would probably draw. But Jesus is teaching an important point. The message is that the king and the kingdom will come to Israel first. The children in this parable refers to the people of Israel and the dogs refers to the Gentiles, those outside the covenant relationship with God. It is also important to consider that Jesus does not say no. Jesus teaches a parable about the nature of his coming. The good news of the king and the kingdom is to Israel first. But have you thought about why Jesus is in the region of Tyre? Should we suppose that Jesus is on vacation or sight seeing while on the mission of preaching the kingdom of God? Not at all. Jesus is always doing the Father’s business. Jesus tells a parable for the same reason that he has told all the other parables up to this point in Mark’s gospel: to see who will seek him. Jesus wants to see who has faith. Thus, this account is tracking in the same way with the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. Jesus has come to the Gentiles to see who will seek him and see who has faith. So Jesus says that he has come for Israel. But listen to the amazing response of this woman.
But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:28 ESV)
You will notice that she is not offended because she is not being called a dog personally. She understands the picture Jesus paints perfectly. The meal is not first given to the dogs at the dinner table but to the children. She responds that the dogs are under the table eating the crumbs that fall from the children’s plate. You have probably seen this. Where do dogs like to sit? They like to sit near the children because they will put the most food on the floor.
Just Give Me Jesus
She takes the parable and uses it to her advantage. She understands that the salvation of the Jews means blessings to the Gentiles. Remember that it was through the offspring of Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). The salvation of Israel was to be the salvation and blessing to all the peoples of the earth. The prophets proclaimed that God’s final salvation would extend to all the nations (Isaiah 2:2-3; 19:25; 25:6-8; Micah 4:1-2; Daniel 7:14; Amos 9:12; Zechariah 9:10).
But her great faith is in her assertion that the dogs do not have to wait until the children are finished. Even now they can eat the bread that falls from the table. She shows great faith. Based on this faith, Jesus removes the unclean spirit from her daughter. Jesus does not have to go with this woman. He just tells her that her daughter has been healed. The woman believes it and goes home. Great faith is displayed in this woman repeatedly.
We are given another beautiful picture of Jesus and the kingdom. The prophet Isaiah said of the coming kingdom: Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” (Isaiah 56:3 NIV)
The Reward of Persistent Faith
One belongs to the kingdom not by being a Jew or not a Gentile. One belongs in the kingdom through faith. We have seen this throughout this gospel. The people who are exhibiting faith in the power of Jesus are being healed. This is the visual truth of what Jesus taught in the last paragraph. Jesus has brought an end to the clean and unclean distinctive of Judaism. Acceptability before God comes with faith in God, not in belonging as a physical Jew. Jesus is rewarding persistent faith. She kept begging Jesus and when Jesus offers a parable, she responds with faith and great desire for Jesus. She understands her position. She understands that she is undeserving. She knows that she has no rightful place at the table. She falls at Jesus’ feet begging for mercy. This is the only appropriate approach to God. We are humble sinners in need of his grace. We bring nothing to the table but our emptiness, holding on to the hope of the promise of a loving and merciful God. We are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs from under the table. But Jesus has given us a full meal of blessings rather than the mere crumbs that we would not deserve. See the glory of our Savior. We are not excluded but are brought into the kingdom of Christ.
Savior To The Exiles (7:31-37)
But Mark does not end the picture here. Notice in Mark 7:31 that Jesus goes to another area outside of Israel. He goes to the region of Decapolis, which is another Gentile region. The people there have also heard about Jesus and they bring him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. The man cannot hear and cannot speak correctly. They also beg Jesus to lay his hand on him to heal. So Jesus takes his deaf man away from the crowd privately. What we see Jesus do in verses 33-34 are clearly for the sake of this deaf man. We have seen Jesus heal without doing any of these actions in this gospel. So Jesus is painting the picture for this man who cannot hear or speak correctly. Look at verse 35. His ears were opened and his tongue was released. The word “released” is very important. Some translations read “loosened” which is also accurate. His ears were opened and his tongue was released. This is the language of the prophets being fulfilled, particularly of Isaiah. We noted at the beginning of this book that this is the gospel of Jesus Christ as written by the prophet Isaiah (1:1-2). Listen to what Isaiah said the Savior would do.
Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land. Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed, and the ears of those who hear will give attention. The heart of the hasty will understand and know, and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly. (Isaiah 32:1–4 ESV)
Did you see what will happen with the king comes and reigns in righteousness? The ears of those who hear will give attention and the tongue of the stammerers will speak distinctly. The prophecies of Isaiah are being fulfilled in Jesus. Look at Isaiah again just a few chapters later.
4 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 unstopped; 6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8 And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. 9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:4–10 ESV)
See what happens when God comes. The ears of the deaf will be unstopped. The tongue of the mute will sing for joy. This statement is key because it is the same word in the Greek translation (LXX) as in Mark 7:32 for “speech impediment.” What will this mean? Verses 8-10 show that the return from the exile has begun when these things happen. People will be released from their exile and return to the Lord their God with singing and everlasting joy. They will obtain gladness and joy. Sorrow and sighing (did you see Jesus sigh in Mark 7:34) will flee away. The restoration has begun. Jesus is bringing liberation, break the chain that bound this man’s tongue.
He Has Done All Things Well
Nothing can stop the praise in verse 36. Jesus says to tell no one but they cannot be prevented from zealously proclaiming what Jesus has done. What are they saying? Look at verse 37: “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” The good news is so good that it overwhelms those who experience it. The miracle represents that the king and the kingdom of come. This represents the spiritual condition of the world that Jesus has come to heal. Jesus does not do this for Israel only. These are Gentiles and Jesus has come to heal their spiritual conditions. The open ear is a symbol in the scriptures for receiving divine revelation and truth. This is why Jesus keeps saying that those who have ears to hear to let them hear. It is a call for spiritual perception and understanding. Have your spiritual ears open. Deafness is a sign of spiritual rebellion in the scriptures (Isaiah 42:18-29; 50:4-5). Once the eyes are opened and the ears are opened then we can speak clearly about what the Lord has done for us. Jesus does all things well. In the Hebrew Scriptures it is God who does all things well (Genesis 1:31; Ecclesiastes 3:11). Jesus is fulfilling this role. He is making all things new. This is the new creation. This is the new heavens and earth that Jesus is bringing as he redeems his people by releasing them from slavery and bringing them to the Father.
I want us to see something important here. We have been reading and will continue to read about all of these sicknesses, diseases, and disabilities. Why do we see these physical ailments and problems? Why all the sicknesses? Why the disabilities? Why the diseases? These sicknesses and disabilities represent us spiritually. The difficulties and the corruption of the body symbolically represent our spiritual standing before God. We are in need of healing. Jesus is crossing all of the national and political boundaries of his day to bring healing to all people. These things are allowed so that the works of God might be displayed (cf. John 9:3) and for the glory of God to be revealed (cf. John 11:4). When we see things sicknesses, diseases, disabilities, and death, we are supposed to think about how this is a reflection of us spiritually. As Jesus told the church in Laodicea, we are to see that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17). Jesus is the cure. Jesus has come to heal. We have seen that the way to be released from our condition and return home to God is to have a relentless, persistent faith. Jesus wants a faith that does not depend on its own righteousness but on the mercy of God. We must always see our spiritual condition and let the physical ailments of the world remind us that this who we are in our sins. Then remember this: Jesus does all things well. He will heal you. He will open your ears. But we must be like this woman: understand we are undeserving with no rightful place at the table of our Lord. But rather than letting us eat some crumbs we are able to feast at the banquet table of the Lord. What a wonderful Savior we have!