The Tender Mercies of Jesus
“After he took him aside, away from the crowd…” (Luke 7:33a)
To get a closer look at the heart of the message contained in St. Luke’s account of the healing of a deaf and mute man, we return to the first chapter of the first book of the Bible. Here, in the last verse of Chapter One of the Book of Genesis, we read of the admiration God expressed after bringing the created order into being “out of nothing.”
The biblical text says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning – the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31). Of course, almost immediately thereafter, sin and brokenness entered into the perfect world God had made through the disobedience of the “first Adam”. Humanity would occupy a fallen and broken world from this point forward until God made provision for reconciliation with himself through a promised Savior, the “second Adam.”
God sent prophets to speak His words to the world. One such prophet, Isaiah, who spoke of the coming messiah seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, foretold of the actions by which people would recognize God’s work of restoring the created order.
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6).
Surely, some of those who witnessed Jesus tending to the deaf and mute man who had been set before him would have had these words of Isaiah ringing in their ears. Jesus performed numerous miracles during the course of his earthly ministry, and on each occasion those who saw or heard about the miraculous power of Jesus to heal were reminded of at least three (3) things about Jesus.
First, the miracles of Jesus set forth his authority over the created order. As the Son of God, Jesus was able to bring about healing and restoration in a manner unknown and unavailable to mankind in his own power. On the occasion of healing in the seventh (7th) chapter of Luke‘s gospel account, Jesus “looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to (the deaf and mute man), ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means, ‘Be opened!’). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.”
Thus, the second aspect of Jesus ministry revealed through his miraculous healings was the reality of his identity as the anointed Son of God, the promised messiah who would restore broken things to their former glory. Not only could Jesus heal the sick, throughout his ministry he claimed the ability to forgive the sins of those who came to him for reconciliation. Since only God is able to forgive sins, Jesus claimed equality with God in the ministry of restoration.
Finally, and most significantly on this occasion, Jesus revealed his character and his presence as the Prince of Peace in the world as he ministered to the deaf and mute man. Notice the gentle manner in which Jesus dealt with the vulnerable man, who had been brought to Jesus by a group of caring people who “begged him to place his hand on the man” (Luke 7:32).
As opposed to other religious leaders of his day, who made a spectacle of public prayers and religious observances by drawing attention to themselves, Jesus “took the man aside, away from the crowd” and tenderly restored the man’s hearing and speech. In doing so, Jesus deflected any undue attention and any potential embarrassment away from the man, and instead quietly brought glory to God for the man’s healing.
It seems this third aspect of the revelation of Jesus through performing miracles, the revelation of his character, was the chief purpose behind the odd journey Jesus and his disciples undertook as they traveled from Tyre down to the Sea of Galilee. The men took an indirect route on their journey by traveling twenty-five miles north to Sidon before heading south to their final destination. Today’s equivalent would be like traveling from Shreveport to New Orleans, Louisiana via Little Rock, Arkansas. The journey would make no sense unless another agenda undergirded the excursion.
Some scholars believe the journey Jesus and his disciples took lasted for eight months, which would have allowed Jesus valuable time with his disciples to reveal his full human and divine nature before his disciples were asked to build the Church. The intentional time together worked. In the very next chapter in Luke’s gospel, Peter identified Jesus as “the Christ” (Luke 8:29).
In his commentary on Luke’s gospel, Scottish biblical scholar and theologian William Barclay wrote this about the interaction between Jesus and the deaf and mute man:
“When it was completed the people declared that he had done all things well. That is none other than the verdict of God upon his own creation in the very beginning (Genesis 1:31). When Jesus came, bringing healing to men’s bodies and salvation to their souls, he had begun the work of creation all over again. In the beginning everything had been good; man’s sin had spoiled it all; and now Jesus was bringing back the beauty of God to the world which man’s sin had rendered ugly.”
By God’s immense grace, and much to my surprise, I personally encountered the tender healing mercies of Jesus on an occasion when I was in my late twenties.
The presenting issue for me was a sudden, unexpected aversion to the contemporary worship band leading Sunday morning worship one wintery day. As a musician myself, I tend to enjoy the different musical expressions offered during worship services exalting God’s glory and, perhaps like many other musicians, I notice when a song is played out of key or if the timing is off and the musicians are out of sync. This is generally not a big deal. Typically an observation, not a critique or criticism.
But on this occasion, in my spirit I had become acutely critical of the worship leader, his musical abilities, the sound of the music and even the equipment delivering the music. I expressed my disapproval to my wife, who glanced at me and rightfully ignored my criticism.
The following Sunday morning, I again noticed my negative reaction to the praise band. The same happened the following Sunday. At this point, tired of my complaining and concerned for my spiritual health, my wife wondered aloud if something might be going on with me. She suggested I seek out someone to talk to about this issue. I (probably) un-politely declined and proposed the church might just need to get a better band.
During this season of disgruntledness, my wife and I were also participating in a class called The Holy Spirit Seminar, which was offered at our church on Wednesday evenings. The class culminated with a session of intentional prayer during which participants could ask for prayer for specific needs. I held no intention of asking for prayer for anything. God had a different plan. When the class leader asked if anyone had any specific prayer requests, my wife motioned toward me and said, “He does.”
Before I could gather my thoughts and deny the existence of any need whatsoever in my life, I was surrounded by a prayer team, most of whom were friends and acquaintances from church. I sat in a chair and the team assembled around me. When asked what I might need prayer for I offered a nonchalant response and made a general reference to bad church music.
Then, the team began to pray. One person laid both of their hands on my head, while the others stood around me and asked God to reveal the source of my internal distress, whatever it might be.
As the team prayed for me, two significant things happened. First, the image of a concert poster appeared in my imagination. I immediately recognized the poster as one I had purchased from one of the many hard rock/heavy metal concerts I had attended in my early teens. The image of the poster, which had hung for years above my bed, diminished in size as the team continued to pray.
Simultaneously, I had the powerful sensation of a lightness of being infusing my spirit as a heaviness gradually lifted off of me. It felt as if I was covered with nine or ten heavy horse blankets that were being peeled off of me one at a time. I was fully aware of the both these instances of healing as they occurred.
As the team finished praying, a friend with an intense musical background similar to my own who had been standing behind me praying, referenced the poster I had seen and asked if I was familiar with it. God had given my friend the same image of the poster and he witnessed it diminish in size just as I had seen it.
I’ve told this story a number of times in sermons in various churches I’ve served over the years. On one occasion, a woman approached me after the service and said, “That’s the gentlest deliverance story I’ve ever heard.”
A deliverance is precisely what I had experienced. Somehow, during my early teens years as a non-Christian, I believe I unknowingly and unwittingly surrendered a part of myself to a spirit attached to the aggressive, lyrically dark music to which I listened. This spirit seems to have been dormant until I reached a particular place in my spiritual life where God was asking for my whole heart. It was in the context of worship that I became aware of the need for Jesus’ tender mercies and then experienced the tenderness of God’s Holy Spirit in delivering me from a critical spirit.
The Jesus depicted in Luke’s gospel is the very same Jesus now seated at the right hand of the Father. This same Jesus, the healer of bodies and saver of souls, invites us to bring our whole selves to him. When we do so, we in turn invite Jesus to put his tender mercies on display in our lives.