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Opening Up Things With God

Alfred E. Bouter

'The entrance[1] of Thy words gives light, giving understanding unto the simple' (Psalm 119:130).

In this article, we consider briefly eight verses in the New Testament where we see things being opened up. Of course, the English verb and noun 'open' and 'opening' are used many times in Scripture, but the specific Greek verb form dianoigoo, (used in seven different forms) occurs only eight times in the New Testament. It means, with the preposition 'dia,' a thorough or complete opening up. May it happen with us when we study and contemplate God's Word, that the Lord opens it up for us, so that our hearts open wider to Him. Remarkably, seven of these eight occurrences are found in Luke's writings, but the first one is in Mark.

The Opening of the Ears

'And they bring to him a deaf man who could not speak right, and they beseech him that he might lay his hand on him. And having taken him away from the crowd apart, he put his fingers to his ears; and having spit, he touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven he groaned, and says to him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And immediately his ears were opened, and the band of his tongue was loosed and he spoke right' (Mk. 7:32-35).

'Be opened' (v. 34) represents one of the forms of the specific verb mentioned above. The context shows it is fitting that this should be the first occurrence in the series of eight. I would like to make an application for Christians: before we were saved we were sinners and enemies of God, not even able to hear God's voice. In the story above, we observe the actions needed to enable us to listen to His voice.

First, the Lord had to come down. This tremendous stoop is described in Philippians 2:5-8 and 2 Corinthians 8:9. Then we read how He identified with the deaf man-a lost sinner-by putting His hand upon him. So, Christ identified with us in our need (similarly, the Lord will identify with the Jewish remnant in days to come). By the grace of God, all those who are saved can say, 'The Lord put His hand upon me.'

'He took him aside from the multitude.' The Lord acted this way because of His public rejection by the nation of Israel. Furthermore, we observe the Lord's perfect skilfulness, as He put His fingers into the deaf man's ears for healing. This was part of the healing process: the touch of the Master's hand! Superficially, we might think that it made the situation even worse. But rather it illustrates how intensely the Lord identified with the problem. If we have a problem, let us go to Him so that He may take charge. However, we first need to surrender to Him and allow Him to take control.

Then He spat. We might think that this was somewhat inappropriate, but it expressed something of Christ Himself. Thus, He shared something of Himself with this man. Moreover, He touched the deaf man's tongue. This underlines His ability to bring about healing.

Notice what we read next: 'looking up to heaven.' In Mark, the Lord is being portrayed as the dependent, humble Servant. His resources come from God, and He publicly acknowledges this. 'He sighed.' Perhaps this is reported to show how impressed our Lord was by the seriousness of the problem. We sigh when we are faced with severe problems, but then we look up to heaven for the resources that come from God.

'And he says, 'Ephphatha.' That is the Aramaic word for 'Be opened.' The ears need to be opened first. We know from Romans 10 that faith comes through hearing the Word of God. So if someone cannot hear, they are lost. They need to hear first for God to work further in their lives.

The Opening of the Womb

In Luke 2, the opening is related to the coming of the Lord into this world, which forms quite a contrast with the situation of the deaf and dumb man. Luke describes many details about Christ's coming into this world; although linked with this word 'opening,' the setting is different. 'When the days were fulfilled for their purifying according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord)' (Luke 2:22-23). Here we find the Lord Jesus as a baby in His perfect humanity. He came into this world, was born like every other baby, yet there was a tremendous difference, because the Lord was conceived of the Holy Spirit, as announced by the angel Gabriel. Thus, from the very beginning, Christ is unlike all others, for He is God, blessed over all. Yet. He was Son of God and Son of Man. We cannot fathom these mysteries of His person, nor grasp the greatness of His stoop in becoming a man through the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit in Mary. Such is 'the mystery of piety' (cf. 1 Tim. 3:16,).

The point to highlight is in verse 23: it is a quote from the law. 'Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord' (Ex. 13:2). At the time of Israel's exodus from Egypt, God established His rights as Redeemer, claims He wanted to be demonstrated in every firstborn baby boy. Therefore, when the Lord Jesus came into the world, Joseph and Mary, through their obedient action, acknowledged God's rights upon Christ as a man and as one of God's earthly people.

Every man should be subject to God's rights as Creator, but society and even we ourselves do not always respect His claims. However, the principle was maintained in the baby Jesus. For every firstborn male child in Israel was to be set apart for God in recognition of His rights as Creator-Redeemer, and consecrated to Him and His service. Later, this was limited to the Levites, but it remains a beautiful illustration for believers today. Furthermore, the Lord Jesus was not only born among His earthly people, but also represents an entirely new generation, without sin, 'sin apart.' He did not have a human father as every one of us has, but represents a new beginning, Head of a new generation, Firstborn of a new order. Introducing this new order, He is set apart for God from the very start.

Let us apply this to believers. The moment we were born again, God sets us apart for Himself. In that sense we are holy. We do not have to wait for a number of years to be declared holy by someone. No; Christians are holy by the calling with which they have been called. So we are here for Him, and for His interests. Do we apply this to our daily circumstances? Are we really devoted to His interests? What a wonderful and perfect example we have in the Lord Jesus; what a challenge and encouragement we find in Him!

The Opening of the Eyes

Luke 1 and 2 speak about the virgin womb; in chapter 24 we have the virgin tomb. In this chapter, the particular verb we are studying is used to describe three things being opened. The tomb is opened first though the verb is different (the stone rolled away), because the open and empty tomb is the basis for the other openings. In the apostles' public discourses recorded in Acts, we nearly always find a reference to Christ's resurrection; we stand on resurrection ground (1 Cor. 15).

Now we come to our special verb: 'Their eyes were opened, and they recognised Him. And He disappeared from them' (Luke 24:31). Looking at the context, we notice that two disciples from Emmaus were discouraged, perhaps even depressed. But the Lord came to their rescue. How often we need this help and the Lord comes in to encourage us. How does He do it? First, He asked about their circumstances. He did not impose Himself, and in God's providence they did not immediately recognize Him either, although they had been familiar with Him. Then, gradually, a change started to take place and they began to have confidence in Him, so He could speak freely to them: 'Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? And having begun from Moses and from all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself' (v. 26f). The Lord could not have started with this topic right away, but now He is able to come closer to them, while speaking of Himself. How? By quoting Moses' writings, the prophets and all the Scriptures (the complete Old Testament), explaining the things concerning Himself! The two disciples must have perked up their ears, as they started to see and their hearts opened up for Him. This could be a subject in itself: are our hearts really opened to welcome the Lord Jesus, to really embrace Him?

It is important to understand that all the Scriptures speak of Christ. He is the Key. Without Him, we cannot understand the writings of Moses. In Genesis 1, we meet the Creator: how great He is (cf. John 1:1f; Col. 1:16f; Heb. 1:2f)! In Exodus, Moses describes many details linked with Israel's redemption from Egypt. But when we understand that the Lord Jesus is the Key, we start to see that He is being portrayed in the Passover lamb (Ex. 12), in the bondservant of Exodus 21, and so on. Using Himself as the Key, the Lord was able to draw the two disciples' attention, away from their problems and themselves, to the things concerning Himself.

As a result the two disciples' eyes were opened (v. 31). Thus, while the Scriptures were being presented to them, there was a work of God in them. If there is anything that we need, it is this: that our attention and our hearts may be drawn to the Lord Jesus, to the things concerning Himself. This is how we should study the Scriptures; then they become living, vibrant, real. When we take up the Scriptures in connection with our Lord, our eyes, too, will be opened to see more of Him. Today there are orthodox Jews who know the Scriptures (the Old Testament) by heart. I have great respect for them, but they lack this opening of the eyes. Saul of Tarsus was one of them, but once he had seen the Lord in the glory, everything changed. He had learnt the Scriptures by heart, but he did not know the One of whom they spoke! But when he met Him, he understood the Key was right there (cf. Phil. 3:3-7; Hebrews). The Scriptures were unlocked to him. Although he knew them thoroughly, they had been like a closed book, with a veil over them. However, Christ can and does take the veil away (2 Cor. 3 explains this in detail). That is, I suggest, what happened with the two disciples from Emmaus. When their eyes were opened 'they knew Him'; they recognized Him. At this point a true relationship had been established, because He stayed in their hearts, even though He vanished out of their sight. Is this true for us as well?

The Scriptures Opened

The fourth occurrence follows immediately. There is again a direct link with the Scriptures. 'And they said to one another, was not our heart burning in us as He spoke to us on the way, and as he opened the scriptures to us?' (v.32). We, too, in reading the Scriptures need the Lord's help, so that we understand more of Him, even in portions difficult to grasp. If we do not comprehend them, let us not give up, but keep reading, because the Holy Spirit will gradually open them up and make them clear.

By the way, the two disciples had also opened their house to the Lord Jesus. They had received Him into their home, even urged Him to come in. This is another point to meditate on. By opening their house to Him, He came in as a Guest, but in due course He became the Host, the Master of the house: 'having taken the bread, he blessed, and having broken it, gave it to them' (v.30). How wonderful when the Lord receives His rightful place in our homes. Does He really have this place in our homes and lives; is He 'on the throne'? When we get our driver's licence, for instance, are we glad to be able to go our own way or do we give the key to the Lord?

The Understanding Opened

There was a happy sequel that all the disciples enjoyed. 'Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures' (v. 45). So our special word for opening is used for three matters in Luke 24:

  • He opened their eyes, so they recognized Him:
  • He opened the Scriptures, so they understood the Scriptures-that they speak of Him;
  • He opened their understanding, so they would be able to apply the Scriptures in the way He had done this.

This is what we need as well. It is not sufficient to understand the Scriptures in a merely intellectual way. We need a further touch, as it were. We are in need of this opening of the understanding. We may connect it with what we find in John 6 about appropriation, because by eating we make the things of God our own. That goes together with the thought of opening the understanding in Luke 24. Through a process of digesting we make the things concerning the Lord our own. There are two sides that go together: we make the effort - we read the Scriptures, we meditate, study, take a concordance - while simultaneously a work of God takes place. Is it not striking to see how at the same time we take in His thoughts, He works together with us, helping us make these things our own?

The Heavens Opened

Luke's gospel presents Christ as our Model on earth, but in Acts we find a company formed after Him who is now in heaven. In Acts 7, in Stephen, we meet the prototype of what a Christian is, a witness - martyr. The Lord's testimony in this world is a suffering testimony, exemplified in Stephen. 'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God' (v. 56). Here we find that same word 'opened,' meaning thoroughly opened, completely opened up. Comparing this with what we read in Matthew 3 about the Lord's baptism, we notice that, on that occasion, the heavens were opened upon the Lord, the Holy Spirit descending upon Him. There on earth on the banks of Jordan, He was the Object of heaven's delight, the heavens looking down upon Him. But in Acts 7 it is the other way around. Now there is a disciple on this earth, while the heavens are opened up for him, so that he looks there to see 'the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.' The Lord Jesus, again, is the Object, not on earth, but in heaven! What we find in Acts 7:56 is a wonderful summary of the Epistle of the Hebrews, which speaks about the opened heavens, the Son of man at God's right hand. In other words, before the epistle was written, Stephen already enjoyed practically the truth of Hebrews.

Do we appreciate the privileges we have? An opened heaven, free access before the throne of grace? Yes, we may come freely and boldly with our requests, but also with our praise and worship, because we see 'Jesus crowned with glory and honour.' In Acts 7, we read that the Lord was standing. Perhaps it was in order to sit down, because He had not long before entered heaven and had been saluted by God (Heb. 5 the whole multitude of angels must have ascribed praise to Christ entering the heavens). But He was going to sit down, as the New Testament epistles teach. On the other hand, perhaps He is mentioned as still standing because he was waiting as it were for His people to change their mind so that He could come back. At any rate, He is the Son of man at the right hand of God, where Stephen sees Him standing no doubt to receive him at his martyrdom. Beloved, Stephen's looking up to Jesus in heaven is our privilege as well, for we may contemplate the glory of the Lord, being transformed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18).

The Opening of Lydia's Heart

'A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul' (Acts 16:14). This is a great example of a work of God. This Gentile merchant lady had shown interest in the God of Israel, having joined those faithful Jews who on the Sabbath used to come together at the riverside to pray. That is where the Holy Spirit sent the apostle Paul and his company. While Paul was speaking, God opened Lydia's heart. Luke was there at the time, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit recorded what happened. In the original language of the area she came from, her name expresses something that is grievous or painful. This represents man's character and condition since Adam and Eve's fall. Even the delivery of a baby is a painful matter. In Lydia we have an indication of what and where every human being really is: sorrowful. But Lydia had an interest for God, for the KJV says, she worshipped God, which implies her great interest at that moment in the Jewish religion and the God of Israel. This was preparatory for what was going to follow, when God would take over her life. She had an interest, but now God comes in to open her heart. From the heart 'are the issues of life' (Prov. 4:23). The heart is the very centre of our being, of our personality; therefore, when the heart is opened for God, we are off to a good start. Later in the same chapter, she opened her house for the gospel; then for Paul and his company (Silas, Timothy, Luke), and probably also for the believers in Philippi, some of whom had been saved the same day. Perhaps the new assembly even started to meet there. An open house, indeed, but it started with a heart that was opened, as had happened with the two disciples from Emmaus.

Paul's Ministry - Opening up the Scriptures

Paul continued his journey from Philippi and arrived in Thessalonica. There, for three Sabbaths, he spoke with the Jews in the synagogue. 'Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ' (Acts 17:3). What is Paul doing here? He is doing the same as the Lord did in Luke 24 with the disciples from Emmaus. He, a Jewish Christian, is opening the Old Testament to his fellow Jews (not Christians yet) to present to them the Christ, the Messiah, and to explain to them that He must suffer (the same 'must' we find in Luke 24). 'This Jesus, whom I preach[2] is the Christ!' Paul had been in the school of God and so he followed his Master's example!

In connection with Paul's ministry, I refer to Acts 26, where Luke summarizes it using the same verb we had in Acts 17, when Paul 'opened up.' The commission the Lord had given to Saul from the glory was 'to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me' (Acts 26:18). The Lord Jesus is, once more, the supreme Object, as well as the very Centre. Faith links us with Him as He is now in the glory. In connection with this, the opening of the eyes is mentioned one more time. What a change: from darkness to light! The extreme darkness we read about in Acts 18 and 19, for example, is the background against which the Lord comes in. It is the case as well that our God the Father has delivered us from the power of darkness, from the power of Satan, to transfer us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col. 1:13)!

More Things Opened

We have seen the eight different occurrences of this word '(thorough) opening' or 'open up (completely).' In English, many more words exist for 'open.' What is the result of all these openings - of the eyes, of the understanding, of the Scriptures? In the days after the Lord's resurrection, these openings were necessary so that He could lead the disciples out to Bethany and bless them (Luke 24:50-53). But not only that at His ascension; it was also in view of the response they might give in worship to Him and the Father. After Christ's ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem to the temple, but they no longer belonged to the Jewish religious system that had cast out their own Messiah.[3] They were there continually rejoicing, praising and blessing God, as a priestly company for God's interests, linked with the glorified Christ.

What a contrast with the beginning of Luke's gospel, when Zacharias was serving inside the temple, whereas the people were standing outside! Then the entrance to God was closed, even for the priest, although once a year, the high priest could enter with the blood of a sacrifice. Now the entrance was open, wide open, the disciples having free access. Today, this access is our privilege too, beloved. All these 'openings' demonstrate that we have free access to God the Father and to our glorified Lord, and it is through the Holy Spirit. The heavens are opened, and we can enter in by faith, our mouths opened to praise and bless God. Practically, our mouths are often shut, because of our failures (but our position in Christ is perfect). Here in Luke 24 they are open, because they are welling forth a good message concerning the King (Psa. 45). From the abundance of the heart, the disciples' mouths speak in praise and worship. This is in response to the openings by the Lord.

May the Lord help us to be more at His feet and to learn from Him, as He opens up the Scriptures, so we can be true worshippers. In heaven our hearts will be opened to all the treasures of God's word and we will be worshippers forever.

A.E. Bouter

[1] The word 'entrance' can be translated 'opening': 'The opening of Thy words gives light.'

[2] the verb 'preach' or 'proclaim' is identical to the one in Phil. 1:18

[3] Though morally speaking it took almost forty years to wean them from Judaism, see also Hebrews.