Sunday, 8 January 2017

When Someone’s World Opens

‘Ephphatha' ..... "Be opened!”  (Mark 7:34)

Everyone knows what it is to wrestle with the lid of a long-shut vault or box … and the relief when the catch springs open at last.  Here, it was Christ’s uttering of a single word that opened up the hearing and speech of a deaf-mute.  To open up a person is much harder than opening a box! But this is the very ministry of Jesus.  In the deaf-mute’s case, there was:

The incarnate touch (v.33)

Contact – this is God’s style.  The baby in a manger, God by the seaside, God eating fish, God at a wedding, God in tears, God sleeping in a boat – and here – putting his fingers into a man’s ears and touching his tongue.

The Lord who deals with the whirling constellations of the universe can also come alongside someone in hospital, a prisoner in Iran, a child in Syria - and touch that one precious life. 

The fact that he involves us in this incarnational ministry of personal contact is a breathtaking privilege.

The heavenward look (v.34)

‘He looked up to heaven.’  For the man who had no hearing, that look was a visual aid.  It was saying ‘That is where the authority lies for this thing that is about to happen – it’s all coming from above.’  The same action occurred outside the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:41) and at the feeding of the 5000 (Mark 6:41).  When it is heaven that is at work, people become ‘overwhelmed with amazement’ (v.37).  The Greek expression is huperperissos. We might say, ‘They were mega-astonished.’  

The earthbound sigh (v.34)

Learn from the sighs of Jesus (Mark 8:12; John 11:33).  He seems to sigh, either at the unbelief of his listeners, or just before performing a mighty deed.  This says something about the costliness of his earthbound ministry.  In a sense, Jesus’ whole life was a sigh.  Be encouraged, then, if much Christian service shares in the sighs of Jesus.

The authoritative word (v.34)

It only takes a word, and a man’s life opens up.  In a sense this was only a prototype, a model of what was to follow in the long Gospel story.

Ephphatha! – and India opens up to the apostle Thomas.  Ephphatha! – and England opens to Augustine.  Ephphatha! – and Ireland opens up to  Patrick.  Ephphatha! – and Livingstone enters Africa.  A touch, a look, a sigh and a word from Him – and the sky is the limit as to what opens up for a country or indeed a family ... anywhere.


Sunday, 1 January 2017

Preaching that Turns Hearts

 “A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord"
(Matthew 3:3)

Just as we face a New Year right now, so the ancient people of God were facing a new era altogether around the year 30 AD, as a man of fire made his presence felt, out by the river Jordan.

Since the departure of Israel’s last recognized prophet four hundred years earlier, no definitive prophetic word had been heard in Judea.  And then – in came this wild man from the wilderness - all hair and leather!  What schooling had he received, apart from heaven itself?  History has indeed served us at times with powerful preachers, albeit possessing minimal academic credentials!  One such was the unschooled D.L. Moody of Chicago in the nineteenth century – whose last-ever letter contained 38 spelling mistakes.  Yet millions responded to his riveting messages, both sides of the Atlantic.  London’s Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury - the influential Ashley Cooper – compared him favourably with Britain’s supposedly top preacher, Canon Liddon of St Paul’s Cathedral.  “Moody will do more in an hour,” said Shaftesbury, “than Canon Liddon in a century!”

So it had to be with John the Baptist.  There in Judea a new class of religious leadership had formed, in the Scribes and Pharisees – but it was formal, dry and overlaid with tedious platitudes.

Now here was a man who was evidently the Elijah-like messenger foretold in the last sentence of the Old Testament; a man who would ‘turn hearts’ and baptize the repentant, there by the banks of the Jordan.  And Jesus himself arrived – not that HE needed to repent … but his stepping into the water seemed to be identifying him with the suffering, sinful humanity he had come to save.  Indeed, it was he whom John was promoting. 

‘A voice crying in the wilderness’ - that’s all John ever claimed to be (Isaiah 40:3), as he prepared the way for Jesus.