Groaning and Sighing: A sermon based on Mark 7:30-37
This morning we are continuing our series on the relationship between Spirituality and Sickness. Over the last several weeks we’ve been exploring the question, “How is God with us when we’re sick?” How is God present with us in the midst of our sufferings? (Slide 1) Perhaps an uncomfortable answer to that question would be in verse 33, of chapter 7. “ Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.” For many of us, this might be a bit too close for comfort in answering the question, “how is God with us when we’re sick. Hopefully not sticking fingers in our ears and spitting on our tongue. Probably, to the question, “how is God with us when we’re sick,” we wouldn’t expect such a physical answer.
This verse is one of the reasons why I was drawn to this passage for this series. The human contact in this verse reminds us that Jesus was a flesh and blood human who relates to his people in a physical way. He’s not removed or unaware of the physical, bodily nature of being a human with all its joys and all its frustrations. I mention this, because throughout the history of Christianity there has been a tendency to downplay Christ’s physical nature, partly because Christians has sometimes tended to view the physical world as bad, or at least not as important as the spiritual. One of the early heresies of the church was called docetism, which comes from the Greek word “to seem”. This heresy said that Jesus only seemed human, but in reality was pure spirit. Docetism taught that when Jesus was seen on earth, people were only looking at an apparition. They have a text that describes the real, spiritual Jesus looking down from heaven laughing when he was appearing to be on the cross. Docetism was swiftly declared a heresy, and rightly so. The very reason God became flesh was because flesh matters. Our bodies matter. God created us with bodies and declared them to be good. He cares when our bodies cause us pain. God took on human flesh to save human flesh. That’s why in today’s passage the Son of God is putting his fingers in a man’s ear, and rubbing his spit on this man’s tongue. God came to save our flesh, and by His flesh we are saved.
This passage reminds us of why its problematic to talk about evangelism as only saving souls. Saving bodies is equally as important to Jesus, as demonstrated by his many healings. Body, soul, mind and spirit all matter. Christ came to save all of us, and to demonstrate this point we read about his sticking his fingers in a man’s ear. So today let’s try and answer the question, “Does God care that we’re sick? Does God care when we’re suffering?” If the image of Jesus healing a man by spitting on his tongue isn’t enough of a positive answer, I believe that the very next verse helps us understand that God cares deeply when we’re unwell.
(Slide 2) Mark tells us that Jesus “looked up to heaven, and with a deep sigh said…” For a long time this verse hasn’t made much sense to me. Whenever I sigh, people always say to me “what’s wrong?” When reading this passage, I’ve always felt the urge to ask Jesus the same question: “Jesus, what’s wrong? Why are you sighing?”
Let’s look at this word “deep sigh” a bit more closely. Jesus isn’t sighing because he’s upset, or tired, or disappointed. (Slide 3) The Greek Word is “στενάζω,” which means groan, sigh, or grumble. (Slide 4) Another dictionary said that στενάζω is used as a strong expression for human lament and powerless suffering in situations that people cannot change on their own.
An example where this word is used in the Greek Old Testament is in Exodus. (Slide 5) “The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of their slavery, their cry for help rose up to God.” Here, instead of sigh, στενάζω is translated as “groaned.” The Israelites were powerless in their suffering. The only thing they could do was give into the natural human response of groaning in the midst of suffering. The narrator tells us that these very groans rose like a prayer before the Compassionate God, who then brought them out of slavery with His mighty hand. And that’s where we first begin to realize that throughout Scripture the groans of the helpless and powerless rise before God, as a prayer. Think about the times in your life when you’ve had no strength to pray, all you could do is groan, perhaps all you could do is cry. Did you know you were praying. Did you know that those deep prayers came before our compassionate God?
How easy this s to forget, just like Job forgot when he cried our, (Slide 6) “Today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling!” Job had suffered so long and hard that he just assumed that God was unaware of his groaning. Yet we know that God is intensely and intimately aware of his sufferings. Our groans never go unheard. God never turns a deaf ear to the groaning of his people.
Paul takes up this very theme in what is perhaps one of the most majestic chapters of the whole Bible, Romans 8. This is another place where we find this word for “deep sigh” that’s in our passage. Paul says that God not only hears the groaning of his children, but God gives ear to the way that the whole earth groans in sufferings. (Slide 7) “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Slide 8) For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
In our first sermon of this series on sickness, we noted that sin and sickness are part of the same problem. That is, all creation is out of kilter, is fallen, is sick, or broken. It’s as though the peace and harmony that is God’s shalom has caught a virus and the result is that whole world is wheezing and coughing. And we, with the rest of creation, are infected by this virus. (Slide 9) We join creation in this chorus of groans as we wait for God not only to redeem our soul, but to redeem our bodies as well. Our bodies, in their unredeemed state, break down. We get colds, chronic fatigue, schizophrenia, cancer, Alzheimers. We bleed and break, and break down. And as we wait for the redemption of our bodies, we groan inwardly, and sometimes outwardly.
So, in answer to the question, “Does God care that we’re sick?” We’ve arrived at the first part of an answer which says, “Yes, he listens to our sighs and our cries and our groans.” There is consolation in that, but the answer goes deeper still. Just look at the very next verse in the Romans passage, (Slide 10) “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groans too deep for words. (Slide 11) And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Do you perceive what is going on in this passage? Its significant enough to say that God hears our very groaning and promises that one day our bodies shall be restored. Yet Paul goes further still. God does not simply listen to our groans, The Spirit joins in our groans. The Spirit comes alongside us in our sufferings, our pain, and struggles. When our bodies are racked with pain, when we sob with frustration, when we cry out in despair, when we sigh with disappointment, the Spirit is there with us. This Spirit joins our groans with his, a groan that is too deep for words. The Spirit cries with us, joining our prayer with His, bringing our deep primal prayer before the throne of God above. And God knows the mind of the Spirit, and hears the Spirit as Spirit prays for us according to the will of God.”
I believe this is the kind of groan or sigh that Jesus raises up in our passage this morning. (Slide 12) Jesus looked up to heaven, and with a deep groan said to him “Ephphatha” (which means, “Be opened!”). This groan or sigh of Jesus isn’t a groan of annoyance, fatigue or frustration. With this groan, Jesus is embodying the pained, mute cries of this deaf, dumb man. With His Spirit, Jesus is groaning the cries of this poor afflicted man. This passage is in fact a small picture of how on the cross Jesus embodied all our pain, sufferings, sin, and sickness. The groan in this passage is just a foreshadow of that heart rending groan Jesus hoarsely barked from the cross as he cried out in solidarity with all human suffering, sin and sickness.
Jesus groans in solidarity with us, Jesus does not groan in futility. In Scripture, groaning is an expression for human lament and powerless suffering in situations that people cannot change on their own. Yet, Jesus’ groans accomplish quite the opposite. Jesus groans, speaks and opens this man’s ears, and unties this man’s tongue. This healing, like all healings, are a foreshadow of the great healing which shall be accomplished at the resurrection. He embodied our groans so that we might embody His life.
(Slide 14) The passage concludes with the onlookers voicing their praise, “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Just as Christ’s groan was a foreshadow of his strangled cry from the cross, the healing and these words of praise are a foreshadow of the joy of the final resurrection. In fact, these words seem to be a deliberate echo of Isaiah 35, which describes the jubilee when we shall find our home in the city of God. (Slide 15) “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
So, how do we answer the question, “Does God care that we’re sick?” Of course. He listens to our every groan as he would to your most sincere prayers. But he goes further still. His Spirit groans with us, a groan far deeper than human words, and groans deep to the Father. Does God care that we’re Sick? He goes deeper still. The Son of God groaned our primal death-groan, while dying on the cross. In dong so, He took our fallen, imperfections upon His own body, so that our body and soul might live. Our groans will find their salvation only when joined to his groans from the cross. And like the groans of the Israelites, God shall lead us into His Promised Land. All healings are a foretaste of that hope. When the Lord returns, everlasting joy shall be upon your head, you shall obtain joy and gladness. And yes, on that day sorrow and sighing shall flee away.