Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Talking to the Deaf, Raising the Dead, and Evangelism

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church entitled "Jesus Cares for Dogs and Deaf Men". Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

As I continue to think more about the deaf man in Mark 7, I cannot help but think more about the power of God in evangelism. I know that, at first glance, these two things may not seem to be connected in any way, but let's meditate on it a bit, shall we? Remember, this man was brought to Jesus by the crowd in the Decapolis. Jesus put His fingers in the man's ears, spit on the man's tongue, looked to heaven with a prayerful sigh, and then spoke one Aramaic word, "Ephphratha," which means "Be opened."

It is quite wonderful that Jesus did all these visible things that the man could see. He did these so the man would know who healed him (i.e.- Jesus) and the power that healed him (i.e.- God's power). Yet...did you notice something strange? Jesus spoke. That's not unusual in the way Jesus works, but it is still striking. Maybe it strikes me more here because Jesus is speaking to a man who can't hear Him, and He's telling this man to hear. He may as well write a postcard to a blind man explaining that he should see. It's reminiscent of Jesus looking toward a tomb and speaking the words "Lazarus come forth" to a dead man, isn't it?

Imagine you're stopped at a red light in front of a cemetery. You glance in and see a man in a suit standing among the tombstones. He is behind a pulpit with an open Bible in front of him. From what you can see, it seems the preacher is pouring his heart out as he preaches. You wonder what he is saying, so you roll your window down a bit. That's when you really feel shocked because he's saying, "Get up! Get out of the ground! Come to life!"

My friend, this is what evangelism is. It is crying out "Come forth" to the tombs of those who are dead in their trespasses and sins. Of course, those who are dead in their trespasses and sins don't often feel dead. They feel quite alive (thank you very much) and feel they don't need to hear this call to come to life. In fact, it's offensive that anyone would speak as if they were, in fact, dead. Truly, the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18). It's as foolish as talking to a deaf man and expecting him to hear you.

Yet, this is exactly what we see Jesus doing here, and it's exactly what He has left for us to do in the Great Commission. It is through the act of speaking words that the great gospel of God is carried to the world. God spoke in Genesis 1 and created everything out of nothing, and He is still speaking today through the lips of His people proclaiming the gospel, and He is making new creations out of dead men.

Peter explains how Jesus did all His work in Acts 10. He says that power and the Holy Spirit marked the ministry of Jesus during His life, especially as "He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him" (Acts 10:38b). What we see in the interaction with the deaf man is evidence of what Peter was saying. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, and in the Great Commission, Jesus invites us to carry on His mission, receiving power from the Holy Spirit to do the work (Acts 1:8).

The mission Jesus hands to us is a word mission. We are to use words to call the dead to life! The gospel says that a man is dead, and if he is to be saved, he must come to life! As Jesus told Nicodemus so we tell the world, "You must be born again!" (John 3:7). The problem is...dead people don't just come to life of their own accord. They must be acted on by something outside themselves...more specifically, Someone outside themselves. The Author of life, God, must grant life if anyone is to have it.

Whew!, many think, if God does it all, then I can just sit back and see when and where He'll do it. The pressure's off! This is a familiar excuse for evangelistic laziness (one that I subscribed to at one time in my life), and yet it is a wrong understanding of how God works. You see, God has not ordained that people will be granted spiritual life in a wordless vacuum. Their lives must actually intersect with the gospel. The words of the gospel must fall on the ears of the unbelieving man or woman, or that person will not believe, call on the Lord, and be saved (Romans 10:13-17).

We who have a high view of God's sovereignty in salvation must not lose sight of this truth, and therefore, we must not lose the drive to share the gospel and call men to repent and believe! By God's strength and Spirit, may we faithfully call the dead to life through the gospel, and by His grace, may we see the dirt on many soul's graves stirred by the power of God in the work of His Holy Spirit.