At this time of year our thoughts turn again to the wonder of the birth of our Savior, God’s eternal Son, born in our flesh to save His people from their sins.
Our remembrance of Jesus’ birth in this season does not mean that Christians do not remember His birth always. Every time of the year and each day we must know that our Savior was born to save us from our sins.
Nor does our remembrance of the Savior’s birth mean that we will attempt to merge the gospel with the world’s Christmas. Christmas trees, gifts, and all of the other things associated in the world with Christmas have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. We must not try to put Christ back into Christmas, that is, into the world’s Christmas. For Christ was never in the world’s Christmas, and He does not want to be there.
But it is permissible for the church and for believers at certain times of the year to direct a more focused attention upon one aspect of our Lord’s precious work. So we focus at certain times of the year upon His death, His resurrection, His ascension into heaven, and now, on His incarnation, that is, on His becoming flesh, born to save us, which is the cornerstone of our Christian faith. And His birth takes on added weight to our souls as we live in these last days in a world which is increasingly sick, deformed, vile, where men’s minds are darkened and hardened. Into this world God sent His Son, so that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Or, in the words of Galatians 1:4, God sent His Son to deliver us from this present evil world.
I would like to look at the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ from the viewpoint of the emotions, the human emotions which were displayed in the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The wonder of the incarnation (and that word “incarnation,” again, means “the Son of God being made into our flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary) is that God, without ceasing to be God, became a man in the virgin’s womb. I Timothy 3:16, “God was manifest in the flesh”-God, in the flesh, not minus some parts of His deity, not less than God, but God plus all that now belongs to true manhood. In Hebrews 2:17 we read, “It behoved him to be made like unto his brethren” in all things. It was necessary, says the Scripture, that God’s Son be made like unto us, be made a man, in order that He might save us, take our place before God’s justice and die for the sins of God’s people. He took all that was human while relinquishing nothing that was divine.
In Philippians 2:5-9, a passage which speaks of the humiliation of the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, that He humbled Himself, that He took upon Himself all of our sins and the curse which was due to our sins, in that passage we are taught that He did not lay aside His being God. Yet now, around the rays of His Godhead, He cast the dark garment of our manhood. He was made like unto us in all things, yet without sin.
Now when the Scriptures teach us that Jesus Christ became a man, that God’s eternal Son took to Himself the human nature, and that He did so in such a way that He remained sinless (He had no sin), that does not mean that He was less human. We might think that because Jesus was sinless, somehow He really cannot know our human condition. The opposite is the truth. Sin does not make a person more human. And we do not become less human when, in Jesus Christ, we become more holy and put away sin. As the holy Child Jesus, He knew more than anyone else what it was to be a man.
So in the coming weeks I would like to focus upon the emotions of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today I’d like to direct your attention to the sigh of Christ.
We read of this in Mark 7:31-37 in the incident of the Lord’s healing of a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. It was while He was healing this man that Jesus, according to verse 34, looked up to heaven, and “sighed, and said unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.” Our Lord was in the third year of His earthly ministry. Roughly six months separated Him now from the cross, the hour in which He must lay down His life according to God’s will and determination. It was a time of controversy in our Lord’s ministry. Gone was the external popularity among the people. And increasingly there were sharp clashes with the Pharisees. A mounting rejection of Him as the true Messiah had been raised. And it was a time when the Lord was uttering some of His most severe denunciations of the work-righteousness of the religious leaders of His day.
It was then that our Lord had left Galilee for Tyre and Sidon. While He was along the coast of the Sea of Galilee, there was brought unto Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. And they besought Him to put His hands upon him. The man who was brought now to Jesus was deaf. It is hard to imagine what that would be like. We can be so callous to the greatest wonders in our own body. The ear is constructed by God as the direct inlet to our soul. Hearing is not simply something for the mind to receive data. But what you hear through your ear echoes and plays deep down in your heart and in your soul. How our soul is stirred by sounds of human voice breathing the words of love. “I love the Lord.” Or, how our souls are stirred for a cry for help. A soft word, says the proverb, breaketh the bone. Then there is music, songs of God’s faithfulness which are able to soothe our grief and cheer our soul and touch deep chords in our hearts.
This man could not hear. And he had an impediment in his speech (a slur, a stutter, or a wooden tongue). What a loss. By our tongue we communicate, we give expression of our thoughts and our feelings. There is a proverb that says that life and death are in the power of the tongue. With the tongue one speaks the Word of the Lord to the weary, addresses in accents of kindness and compassion the Word of God to those who are in need. A proverb says also that words fitly spoken are like apples of gold. But this man could not speak. He stammered. Attempts to express his thoughts frustrated him and caused others to mock him. Perhaps children would laugh at him. It made him alone. He could not hear, nor could he express his thoughts in words. He was isolated. He was cut off.
We read that our Lord took this man aside from the multitude, put His fingers into his ears, and spit and touched his tongue. The Lord did not heal this man in a public manner. He took the man aside from the multitude. We read that He put his fingers into his ears, that is, the Lord was saying to this man, “I will now do something for your ears.” He spit and touched his tongue. The mouth of the chief Prophet came now to the mouth of this helpless man. And we read, “And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.” “And straightway.” The Lord is the Messiah of whom it was prophesied, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped … and the tongue of the dumb sing” (Is. 35:5, 6). This man heard, and now he spoke without effort.
Understand that the Lord’s miracle points to a spiritual truth that He had come to restore us to the image of God. We are spiritually deaf. We are sealed to the voice of God. We have ears but we hear not. We are callous in heart and reject the Word of God and the knowledge of the Holy One. It was the work of Jesus Christ, dying for our sins, to open our ears that we might hear God. And we are dumb. We cannot speak the things of God. We stammer. We do not say them from the heart. The poison of sin is in our tongue. And our lips are a flame of evil. Jesus loosed our lips. By His powerful grace and Holy Spirit He conforms us unto His image, so that now we are able to speak the Word of God in sincerity and in truth. In the words of the Scriptures, He is the One who opens our tongues, long closed by shame and silence, in order that we might speak the wonderful work and the wonderful word of God.
And, very significantly, we read that as the Lord healed this man, looking up to heaven, He sighed. Jesus sighed.
Is there anything more expressive of our life now lived under the curse of sin in a world of evil than a sigh? What feelings does a sigh betray! What volumes does it speak of the state of our souls? Nothing carries such meaning or is so expressive of our life now under the curse of sin than a sigh. We sigh while under the weight of grief, under an oppressive load, under the weight of our sin and sorrows that fall upon our soul. If the soul were a sack filled with air, and the weight of this present time presses down upon it, as the air is caused to escape from that sack, so we sigh from our hearts under grief, under sin, and under sorrow.
In the Scriptures a sigh represents deep heaviness fallen upon the soul. We read in Exodus 2:23, “And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.” The sigh of bondage, hopelessness threatening the soul. We read again in Psalm 31:10, “For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing.” Sighing, says the psalmist, is my constant companion. And again, in Lamentations 1:22, “For my sighs are many, and my heart is faint.” That is, the sighs are an expression of a faint and weary heart. Now God had said in Psalm 12:5 that “for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise,” I will hear their sighing.
And now, in this Scripture, we read that the Son of God in our human flesh sighed. What does that mean? It means that our Lord, in His human nature, has now come under the full weight of our sins and the misery and curse which is due to us. His sigh here did not mean that He felt unequal to the task of healing this man. Often that is true of us. We sigh in our inadequacies, in our inabilities. But that was not true of the Lord. Nor does it mean that He doubted that He would be able to receive the power to heal this man. We often sigh in despair. Yet, He sighed. He sighed as the one who felt, in perfect compassion, the miseries of His people. In Isaiah 63 we read the amazing words that with all the afflictions of God’s people, God was afflicted. We read in Isaiah 53 that He (that is, the Savior) shall be the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was a man who was touched with the feelings of our infirmities ( Heb. 4). The Savior sighed.
Behold the love of God. He gave His Son to be like unto us, to be acquainted with all of our woe and guilt, all of our misery and death. He came under it all. That is a very rich and wonderful truth that we must lay hold of today by faith. We see the compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ.
His sighing here was righteous. So often we sigh out of complaint with God’s way. We sigh out of selfishness and irritation. We say, so often, “What a weariness this is to me!” We sigh out of self-pity. We are upset. We, in our emotions, are often selfish, petulant. Our emotions are based upon false perceptions of reality. But not Christ. Christ is righteous. He did not sigh in self-pity. He did not sigh in complaint of the ways of God, but because, with perfect divine love now dwelling in flesh, He tasted, He came under all our grief. For this reason He sighed. Our lowly state and bitter need He knew. His soul was stirred within Him. He did not look upon us, that is, upon the elect entrusted to Him by the Father, with a cold heart, with a detached spirit. But He knew our misery. And in love it got hold of Him. He knew the ravages of our sin.
Very often when you and I ought to be sighing and pining away over our sins we are not. We are very unholy by nature. In sin we become callous. To scenes of destruction and horror we grow accustomed. We say, “Well, that is just another newscast,” and we go off to sleep. We ride through areas of poverty and slums, and then we forget all about it when we have reached the sports stadium. Friends’ troubles fade before our own pleasures. And our sin? So often, instead of sighing over our sin we become accustomed to it and callous, so that we have a ho-hum attitude toward sin. We do not sigh and pine under our sin, but we yawn. As the Holy One, He could not survey the devastating wages of sin upon His children without a holy sigh gone up to heaven. When He beheld our deaf ears and our closed mouth to the words of God, when He saw that we were deaf, that we had an ear for the blaring of the world but we were hard-hearted to God, He sighed. And when He saw our tongues stammering and blurring the word and truth of God, when He saw us in all of our misery and all of our sins, He sighed. Looking up to heaven, he said, “Ephphatha, be opened.”
The eternal Son of God came into our flesh to suffer and to die for our accursed sins. He took upon Himself all of our misery and sufferings. And in eternal love He washed them away in order that we might now hear and speak the word of God.
Let us be like Him, then. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will work in us Christ-like emotions.
Do you sigh over your sins with a holy heaving of your breast and in weariness by reason of the bondage of your sin? Do you sigh when you see the ravages of sin about you, the sorrows and the afflictions of sin produced in your life? Do you sigh when you see sin and what it produces in the life of your brothers and sisters in the Lord? You do not gossip, do you? Do you grieve in your soul over your own sin, and over sin as you see it in this world? And does that move you to action? Do you put away your sin, and do you pray for your brothers and sisters and encourage them in the Lord?
Let us go to our Savior. You who are led in a way in which you feel that you are isolated and that no one cares for your soul; you who feel the guilt of your sins pressing upon your consciousness and you question how God could have anything to do with you, so repeated and so vile are your sins-as the vanity of this life presses down upon your soul and you spend your days in sighing and your tears make your pillow to be wet, go to Him. You cannot tell the Savior that He does not know. You cannot say to Him, “But you do not know what it feels like to have a broken heart and a spirit crushed.” He knows. As the Lord, He gives grace in the time of need. He never turns away from the sighing of the prisoner. He who has made the ear will hear.
We sigh and look inside. He sighed and looked up to heaven. He is our Savior who is touched with all of our feelings. We may go to Him and we may rest in Him. For He came under our sins as the Son of God in order that we might rejoice. He bore away our sin and guilt in His body. He paid for our sins upon the accursed tree.
So we may rest in Him, for in the Lord Jesus Christ (in the words of Isaiah 35:10) we shall obtain joy and gladness. And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the gift of Thy love, our Lord Jesus Christ, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. We praise Thee, O Lord, that He, in His human nature, came under the entirety of the curse of our sins, and that He bore it away. Bless Thy Word to our hearts. Amen.