We all use non-verbal vocalisations such as laughter, cries and sighs to express our emotions. We let out sighs of frustration, despair, disgust and yearning. Research suggests that there are a total of 388 negative and 114 positive emotional sighs.1 The undeniable fact is that we all sigh to express our deep feelings and emotions.
Jesus sighed too. Of the four gospels only Mark records Jesus’ deep sighs (Mark 7:31-37; 8:11-13). It was most probably during the summer of A.D. 30 when Jesus and His disciples landed at Gennesaret and throughout the region people carried the sick on mats to wherever He went (Mark 6:53). The Pharisees and some teachers of the law also followed Jesus but as usual they didn’t come to be healed; rather they were trying to entrap Him (7:1-23).
After an encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus left and went to the vicinity of Tyre where He healed the demon-possessed daughter of a Syrophoenician woman. Then He went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of Decapolis. It was the same region where Jesus had previously healed a demon-possessed man by sending evil spirits into a herd of pigs. At that time the residents of Decapolis pleaded with Jesus to leave. The man who had been possessed by demons begged to go with Him. But Jesus said, “‘Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ So the man went away and began to tell in Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed” (Mark 5:19,20).
When Jesus returned to Decapolis the people were not begging Him to leave. Instead they were there to welcome Him. Quite a change wasn’t it? Could this be the result of a formerly demon-possessed man’s faithful ministry? (Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-9:1; Luke 8:26-39).
Zoom in and observe. Slowly Mark catches our attention as he deliberately records Jesus moving away from the crowd with a deaf man. Who knows when the last time was that the deaf man heard anyone's voice? Could it be that Jesus took him away so that the first voice he would ever hear was the voice of the Saviour? If this was the case the application is loud and clear. Perhaps Jesus wants us to do the same: to move away from the crowd so there's no-one else but Him and us.
Jesus stretched out His arms, singled out two fingers and pressed them into the man’s ears. The same fingers that once laid out heavens (Psalm 8:3), inscribed 10 commandments on tablets of stone (Exodus 8:19), wrote the destiny of Babylon on a wall (Daniel 5:5) and outlined the sins of Pharisees on the ground were now going to open the ears of a deaf man. Jesus took it even further. He spat and touched the man’s tongue. The spit that helped the blind man of Bethsaida to see (Mark 8:23; John 9:6) was now going to make the mute speak.
Ever wondered why Jesus used saliva to heal? Got Questions Ministries founder S Michael Houdmann says: “One possible reason for Jesus’ use of His saliva has to do with the beliefs of His contemporary culture. Several Roman writers and Jewish rabbis considered saliva to be a valid treatment for blindness. Since the people of that day had a high view of saliva’s healing properties, Jesus used spit to communicate His intention to heal. Those being healed would have naturally interpreted Jesus’ spitting as a sign that they would soon be cured. The greater need of each of those healed was the need for increased faith. Jesus recognised this spiritual need and offered a physical action as a means of raising their expectations and focusing their faith on Himself.”2
Follow the sequence of Jesus’ actions. He inserted His fingers into the man’s ears. He spat and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and gave a deep sigh. He also looked up to heaven at the feeding of the 5000 when blessing the loaves and the fish (Mark 6:41), at the raising of Lazarus (John 11:41) and at the time of intercessory prayer for His disciples (John 17:1).
Jesus looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to the deaf-mute, “Ephphatha!” (be opened). I wonder why Jesus took a deep sigh? Was He tired? Was the deaf-mute’s health condition so poor that it pained His heart?
The Greek word translated as sigh is stenazo. Depending on the context, this word can be translated as “to sigh, groan or moan”. In Mark 7:34 the word describes sighing as an expression of a deep inward emotion. As a human, this was Jesus’ reaction to human suffering and weakness (John 1:14). Jesus had been healing many sick people throughout the day and by looking up and releasing a deep sigh it communicated that the whole of heaven was concerned with what Jesus was going through and what the deaf-mute was experiencing.
Another mention of stenazo is in Mark 8:12. While Jesus was in Dalmanutha, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, some Pharisees came and began to question Him. In order to test Him, they asked for a sign from heaven. At the beginning of Mark 6, Jesus had already spoken with them and tried to address their unending questions. Once again they followed Him all the way to Dalmanutha and asked Him for a sign from heaven. They wanted proof of His divine authority rather than miracles. Jesus sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it” (verse 12). Then He left them, got back into the boat and crossed over to the other side.
In Mark 7:34 Jesus gave a deep sigh in reaction to the suffering and weakness of the deaf-mute but in Mark 8:12 He sighed in reaction to a pathetic picture of the hardness of the Pharisees’ hearts to His message. Jesus was disappointed at their slowness to perceive spiritual truth. I hope He isn’t still sighing in heaven when He sees our slow response to the gospel message!
In the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament, LXX) stenazo is translated on several occasions as "to sigh or groan", suggesting grief as a result of physical suffering, loss or distress (Isaiah 19:8; 24:7; Lamentations 1:8, 21; Ezekiel 21:6,7).
In Psalm 38:8 it describes the groaning of the psalmist in distress while in Jeremiah 4:31 it describes the anguish of a woman in labour.
The apostle Paul further expands on this word in Romans 8:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:2,4. Here the same word implies sighing in a sense of deep longing for something. In Romans 8:26 the word refers to the Holy Spirit’s groaning. In the same chapter, in verse 23, the word expresses groaning of Christians.
Mark presents to us a Saviour who sighed. Jesus sighed when He saw a deaf-mute’s suffering. He sighed when He was disappointed at the Pharisees' slowness to perceive spiritual truth. The Old Testament records sighs and groans of people as a result of suffering loss or because of distress. The Epistles show us the Holy Spirit is sighing and groaning on our behalf; that God hears and knows our innermost feelings.
I am comforted to know that my Saviour once sighed and hence He knows how it feels when I sigh. He knows how it feels when my heart is broken. He knows when I am disappointed. He can feel our deepest groaning and sighing. Are you groaning? Are you passing through the sighing moments in your life? Hang on! We have a Saviour who is able to understand us and is willing to embrace us in His comforting arms. Let’s approach Him.
1. Rahul Gupta et al., “Classification of Emotional Content of Sighs in Dyadic Human Interactions” Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory University of Southern California, n.p. [sighted January 16, 2015]. Online: <http://www.researchgate.net/publication/229438978_CLASSIFICATION_OF_EMOTIONAL_CONTENT_OF_SIGHS_IN_DYADIC_HUMAN_INTERACTIONS>.
2. S. Michael Houdmann, “Why did Jesus spit for some of His miracles?” [sighted January 17, 2015]. Online: <http://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-spit.html>.
Younis Masih is a pastor in Invercargill, New Zealand.