It’s a rather juicy and colorful country word I learned growing up. Folks would use it to describe a vicious collision during a football game. We’re talking about a hit so hard that spit would fly everywhere. Slobberknocker…get it?
If you’re a wrestling fan, you’ve probably heard announcer Jim Ross throw this term around more than the Rock throws the People’s Elbow. Yeah, I just mentioned wrestling in the same breath as Jesus.
A Trip to the Ten Towns
But long before Wrestlemania or the Royal Rumble, there was a real slobberknocker in a tiny corner of the world known as the Ten Towns. Folks there will never forget the day that Jesus used a glob of His own supernatural spit to knock a dude’s deafness into next week (Mk 7:31-37).
It all happens during a long road trip for Christ and His crew. Did you catch all that’s been going on? Let’s rewind a ways and review, shall we? It starts when the Lord’s own hometown of Nazareth gives Him a stiff arm (Mk 6:1-6).
Trying to Take Some Time off
After that He sends the Twelve out in teams of two to practice serving and loving people on their own (Mk 6:7-13). Jesus gets the bad news that the local king has killed His cousin (Mk 6:14-29). It’s right about here when the Lord starts looking to take His guys and take some time off (Mk 6:30-31).
Oh, but just the opposite happens. This is right about the time Jesus’ popularity peaks and things really amp up. After a big crowd chases him down the beach while He’s traveling by boat, our Savior serves them up an all-you-can-eat seafood buffer using only a a couple of fish sandwiches (Mk 6:32-44).
Problems on the Inside
When Christ sends His disciples off in a boat across the big lake, He miraculously meets up with them in by walking out the waves during a midnight storm (Mk 6:45-52). He follows that by healing all sorts of folks in several lakeside villages (Mk 6:53-56). Some are cured by just grabbing His clothes.
Follow that up with yet another showdown with religious power brokers from the Hebrew home office in Jerusalem (Mk 7:1-23). These dudes are all freaked out when Jesus’ team won’t follow their own manmade rules for obeying God through external actions. But He makes it clear that our problem isn’t on the outside but the churning urn of burning funk on the inside of hearts.
That’s when Christ gets so serious about getting away that He and His boys head north across the border near a city on the Mediterranean Sea called Tyre. Despite trying to keep a low profile in a foreign land, He ends up helping a desperate mom by driving the demon out of her daughter (Mk 7:24-30).
A Roundabout Route
We pick up the story in Mark’s biography of the radical Rabbi/Carpenter as He packs up and hit the road again. The author traces His rather roundabout route. “Jesus left Tyre and went up to Sidon before going back to the Sea of Galilee and the region of the Ten Towns” (v31).
If you’re following along on the map, you’ll see they head further north about twenty miles to Sidon before swinging back south in a clockwise loop. They make an end run to the eastern side of the lake we call the Sea of Galilee.
Off Herod’s Radar
In doing so, Jesus and His arrive back in the Ten Towns metro area. The Ten Towns, also known in some Bible translations as the Decapolis, is an alliance of cities which share a heavy influence of Greek culture.
This is non-Jewish territory. It allows the Lord to stay off Herod Antipas’ radar as well as avoiding those pesky Pharisees. But it’s not like Jesus can keep it on the down low for very long. His popularity had already spread to the Ten Towns (Mt 4:25)
His Reputation Precedes Him
That’s because Christ got an amazing amount of local media attention after healing a naked, demon-possessed dude living in a local graveyard (Mk 5:20). Let’s just say His reputation preceded Him to the Ten Towns.
So it’s not long before He’s asked to help someone. “A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to Him, and the people begged Jesus to lay His hands on the man and heal Him” (v32). Locals clearly believe He can help their friend.
God Takes Requests
This is a great reminder of a couple of things. First of all, we should do what we can for others what they can’t do for themselves. Specifically when that involves getting them closer to Jesus.
Second, the Son of God takes requests. He’s ready to hear our pleas on behalf of others. The fancy schmancy word for that is intercession. It’s action of intervening for someone else when we see the need for divine intervention.
A Speech Impediment
In this case, the man can’t hear. We don’t know why. Chances are he could at some point. That’s because Mark describes him as having a “speech impediment” (v32). This is the compound Greek word μογιλαλος/mogilalos, which literally means to have difficulty speaking.
This doesn’t mean he couldn’t or wouldn’t talk at all. It simply means he was very hard to understand. When you have severe hearing loss, you have a hard time speaking because you can’t hear yourself. This means the guy could probably hear at one point. The dude has gone deaf over the course of his life.
Getting Alone with the Son of God
Whatever the case, Christ gets to work. But first He creates some distance from the crowd. “Jesus led Him away from the crowd so they could be alone” (v33). These days you would suspect this was to avoid some sort of HIPAA violation. But that’s not the case in the First Century.
I guess there’s the chance that He remembers how the last miracle He performed in the area wasn’t exactly received with open arms. Our Savior healed that demon-possessed man by sending a couple of thousand evil spirits into a herd of hogs. When the pigs died after taking a flying leap off a cliff, locals begged Him to leave (Mk 5:1-20).
But I suspect the Lord simply doesn’t want to put on a big show. It’s not looking for a photo opp or creating a media event. He’s simply providing a quiet and compassionate cure for a particular person.
Could it be that Christ is taking the man’s disability into consideration? Getting alone with him would also eliminate visual distractions. All he sees would be Jesus.
Hanging out with Jesus
Whatever the case, we can be sure that our Savior loves to get alone with us. He wants to eliminate the distractions that steal our focus from Him. Turn off the phone. Close the laptop. Walk away from the TV. Get alone with the Son of God. He loves to just hang out. Just you and Jesus.
To be sure, following Christ is a team sport. We desperately need other believers in our lives. But it’s also intensely personal. Jesus wants to get alone with each of us. As a matter of fact, He LOVES to get alone with each of us.
When the two of them are off to themselves Jesus begins the exam with a touch. “He put His fingers into the man’s ears” (v33). This is probably His not-so-subtle form of sign language letting His patient know what He’s about to do.
We’ve got to remember that this just about the only way Christ can communicate His care and compassion to the guy. After making the massive leap from heaven to earth, He’s not going to let the man’s deafness get in the way. He meets him smack dab in his disability.
Meeting Us Where We Are
And He does the same for us. He meets us where we are…right in the middle of our brokenness. In the middle of our depression. In the middle of our pain. In the middle of our sin. In the middle of our rebellion.
There’s an old tune by King David that goes a little something like this. “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Ps 34:18). In other words, He never closer than when we’re at our lowest. Let THAT sink in.
Goober from the Son of God
After probing the man’s ears, that’s when things get a little…um…messy. “Then, spitting on His own fingers, He touched the man’s tongue” (v33). Yup, you read that right. Jesus spits. Goober from the Son of God. The Lord hocks a loogie.
After digging deeper into the original language for this verse, I’m pretty sure I’ve found my new favorite Greek word. It’s πτυω/ptuo. Go ahead, say it out loud. It’s sounds EXACTLY like you think it would…puh-TOO-ee! And it means EXACTLY what you think it does…to spit. I told you this was going to be a real slobberknocker!
Drool as a Tool
It’s not the only time Jesus uses His own drool as a tool in the healing process. A little later in Mark, He applies His saliva to restore the sight to a man in Bethsaida (Mk 8:22-26). John tells us about the time Christ combines clay and spit cure another guy’s blindness (Jn 9:6-7).
So if God can use slobber for His glory and our good, He can use just about anything. That includes you and me.
But our Savior has three more little steps before this hearing impaired man receives his miracle. “Looking up to heaven, He sighed and said, ‘Ephphatha,’ which means, ‘Be opened!’” (v34). One, He looks up. Two, He sighs. Three, He commands.
First, Jesus looks up in another form of non-verbal communication. He wants this guy to know this will be a heavenly healing. As Christ’s kid brother writes, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (James 1:17). If it’s good, it’s from God.
The Savior’s Heavy Sigh
Second, He sighs. Here’s another example of where the English language has a hard time getting across the gist of the biblical Greek. The word the NLT translates as “sighed” (Gr. στεναζω/stenazo) means to moan and groan as the result of deep concern or stress. It’s expressing a complaint excessively or grumbling strongly.
So the Savior heaves a heavy sigh. What’s the Messiah moaning and groaning about? You can just about bet He’s brokenhearted over the damage our sin has caused. Not just to His Dad’s perfect creation but to ourselves as well.
We can trace it all back to our first parents. Adam and Eve fell for the lie from a satanic snake that God was holding out on them (Gen 3:1-7). Things have been spiraling in the wrong direction ever since. Let’s not get cocky and think we wouldn’t have been such suckers for original sin. The universe is broken and we’re the ones who broke it.
The Power of God’s Words
Third, Christ commands. Thankfully, Mark does the heaving lifting of translation for us. “‘Ephphatha,’ which means, ‘Be
opened!’” (v34). That funny looking word is actually in Aramaic, the local language spoken in first century Israel. It’s closely related to Hebrew and is still spoken in parts of the Middle East today.
Jesus orders the deaf man’s to open up and start working again. Never forget the unbelievable power when God speaks. We’re talking about words that carry total authority. If you’re wondering what I mean, He created absolutely everything out of totally nothing by simply saying a few words (Gen 1).
If God can do that, there’s nothing stopping Him from doing anything else. If He says it, stand back and watch what happens. It’s one reason Jesus is known as the Word (Jn 1:1). What He says goes. Demons hit the road. Disease disappears. Eternities change.
It should come as no surprise what happens next outside the Ten Towns. “Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!” (v35). Once again, Mark uses his favorite word, here the NLT translates “instantly” (Gr. ευθεος/eutheos). The author drops some form of it 40-plus times.
In other words, there’s zero recovery time. The man doesn’t just have a significant improvement in his hearing. His ears are crystal clear. Imagine going from total silence to sudden sound. In an instant, you can hear birds singing, leaves rustling, and water trickling.
Jesus’ instantaneous healing of his hearing leads directly to correcting his speech. They are tied together. Now that he can clearly hear again, his can clearly speak again. By the way, that’s pretty solid confirmation that his deafness wasn’t a birth defect.
Doing Messiah Things
The Lord does what the prophet Isaiah predicted that Messiah is supposed to do. “And when he comes, He will open the eyes of the blind and unplug the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!” (Is 35:5-6).
It’s what Jesus tells the followers of John the Baptizer when they wonder if He really is the Hero from heaven everyone’s waiting for. “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the God News is preached to the poor” (Mt 11:5).
A Sneak Preview
The Son of God is providing a sneak preview of what His kingdom will eventually look like! When He returns for His ultimate encore, everything will change for the better. He’ll totally kick sin, disease, and death to the heavenly curb once and for all. If you think this is a slobberknocker, just you wait!!
Why Keep It Quiet?
Once the guy can hear and speak again, you would expect his assignment from Jesus would be to spread the word. Not so fast, my friend. “Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more He told them not to, the more they spread the news” (v36). Wait, what?
What’s the dealio? Just remember where we are in the story of Jesus. First, the Messiah is in Gentile territory. Remember how He made it clear that at the top of His to-do list is taking the Gospel to God’s chosen people, the Jews (Mk 7:27)?
Staying on Schedule
Second, Christ has a VERY specific timetable. He doesn’t want to attract the attention of the Roman Empire too soon. They have a little problem with anyone who challenges their authority by claiming to be the King of Kings and God Incarnate.
Third, Jesus has disciples to, well, disciple. He has a limited window of three-and-a-half years to transform this ragtag team of misfits into an apostolic strike force that will change the world.
Doing What He Says
But as you can see, word of what He’s doing spreads like wildfire. The more Jesus tells us not to do something, the more we do it. Sound familiar? I need to constantly remind myself that following Him means doing what He says. It means trusting Him with the leadership of my life.
Knocking It out of the Park
It’s just hard for these folks to keep the lid on the goodness of God. “They were completely amazed and said again and again, ‘Everything He does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak’” (v37).
The original language basically says their wonder over what’s gone down is way off the charts. Jesus has knocked it out of the park. This is such a home run healing that it can’t be measured.
In other words, it’s a real slobberknocker!