There is a most curious incident recorded in the seventh chapter of Mark’s gospel. Jesus, we are told, “left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to Him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Him to place His hand on the man” (7:31-32, NIV). Mark then records that “with a deep sigh” Jesus healed the man’s affliction and “commanded them not to tell anyone” (vs. 33-36a). Not heeding Jesus’ command, we discover that the more Jesus asked them to remain quiet, “the more they kept talking about it” (vs. 36b).
When I first read this passage, I remember asking myself, why would Jesus not want the man and bystanders to proclaim this miracle to others? Wouldn’t He want others to know of His power to heal?
Recently, however, I have begun to ask some different questions.
First, why did Jesus “sigh,” almost reluctantly it seems, before healing this man? And second, why did this man feel the need to disobey the very One who had just healed him of his affliction?
The answer to the first question is discovered when we discern the true purpose in Jesus’ coming: the proclamation of the gospel message and of His identity as Israel’s Messiah. His mission was to proclaim God’s forgiveness of sin through faith in Him. His atonement for our sins would be accomplished on the cross. Because this was His mission and mandate, He was therefore not interested in merely “wowing” people with His power.
When we consider His mission, the second of my three questions above seems to answer itself. Jesus sighed just before healing the man, probably because He knew the man would disobey Him soon after. As a result of this man’s disobedience, the crowds would seek Jesus out because of His power, rather than because of any recognition of their need for the atonement of their sins through faith in Him. The gospels record instances where the people wanted to make Him their earthly king and overthrow their Roman rulers (for example, see John 6:15).
But why would this man openly disobey Jesus’ command to remain quiet, especially after such a gracious and momentous work of God in His life? Mark’s narrative does not tell us why specifically.
As I pondered this question, I had to ask myself if there were times in my own life when God would display His grace in my situation or circumstance, knowing that I would disobey Him in some other area of my life soon after. Whatever condition our heart may be in, in light of such a question, Mark’s passage here seems to underscore the fact that here are several characteristics that describe the kind of person God can use.
The Bible teaches that the first characteristic of a man or woman of God is the attitude of obedience and trust in Him. In 2 Chron. 16:9, it is recorded that “the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” This passage is reported, tragically, in connection with King Asa’s lack of trust in God. More to the point, the apostle Paul wrote, “Those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2, cf. 1 Tim. 3:10). Jesus taught this principle in His parable of the shrewd manager (Lk. 16:10ff.). There, Jesus pointed out that faithfulness in smaller tasks often opens up opportunities to be entrusted with larger tasks. If there is a task God has called you to fulfill, seek to fulfill it according to His timing and guidance, neither rushing in too quickly, nor lagging behind.
A second characteristic of a servant of God is an overwhelming state of genuine humility, along with an almost tangible heart of grace and compassion for others. The most beautiful people I have ever known personally were also the most humble, compassionate and gracious souls I have ever known. The apostle Paul taught, in that most beloved passage of 1 Cor. 13:1-8, that love ought to be the crown jewel of every Life encounter we build upon. The gospels record that even the most disreputable of people flocked to Jesus, such was His poignant love for them (Matt. 9:10).
A third characteristic of God’s servant is a consistent prayer life. Prayer from a biblical perspective takes on many forms. In some cases, the man or woman of prayer is interceding for God to meet the needs of others (1 Tim. 2:1ff.). At other times, prayer takes on the role of our discerning God’s direction and guidance, as at is did for Jesus just prior to His selecting His twelve innermost disciples (see Lk. 6:12ff.). Prayer can be thought of as the unleashing of God’s power and the work of His Spirit in hearts and under various circumstances, as we come into agreement with His will.
A final characteristic of effective servants of God is that they have a thorough knowledge of God’s written Word and the wisdom to help others apply it. Paul wrote that it is God’s Word that equips us for Life (2 Tim. 3:16). He also pointed out that one ought to become a “workman who does not need to be ashamed and correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Untold damage to someone’s life can happen when we misapply or misconstrue the principles of God’s Word to them. But we can also experience the joy of sharing the timeless truths of God’s Word with others, and watch as God delivers them from anxiety, fear or hopelessness. My senior pastor, for example, has spent the greater part of 25 years pouring God’s Word into others. God has certainly used his exposition and application of the Bible to build me up, through my faith in Christ.
In conclusion then, probably the poignant characteristic of servants of God is that they are madly in love with Jesus as their Lord and Savior! The more you fall “head over heels in love” with Christ, reflecting on His loving sacrifice on the cross for your sins, the more you will find yourself willing to do whatever He asks and to go wherever He asks. Seek to serve God with all of your heart in the days ahead, and watch how He in turn blesses your obedience!
Allen can be reached at [email protected].