September 23rd, 2018

Getting Ready for Ephphatha
Mark 7:31-35

Today, as I begin, I want to teach you a new word. It’s not an English word, a Hebrew word, or a Greek word, but it’s Aramaic; and as many of you know, Aramaic was the language Jesus spoke most often.

The word is the last word in the title of today’s sermon, and it’s an important word found in today’s text. It’s the word "Ephphatha." Let’s see if you can pronounce it. “Ef-fá-tha.”

Good. I wanted you to learn this word because, first of all, it’s central to today’s text; but secondly, this word could actually change your life.

Now, let’s hear how Jesus uses Ephphatha in today’s text found in Mark 7:31-35.

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There, some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Alright, let’s look at this word you learned earlier and see how Jesus uses it in today’s text. Mark tells us that the word, Ephphatha, means “be opened,” and as you read this story, “be opened” makes a lot of sense. You see, Jesus was healing a man who could not hear, a man whose ears were closed from the sounds around him. So when Jesus said, “Ephphatha,” it seems obvious that Jesus wanted to open the man’s ears so he could hear.

On the surface, this seems like the best explanation, but I think there’s more to this word than its surface meaning. In fact, I don’t think Mark would have gone through the trouble of translating the word if the word hadn’t carried some special meaning.

To understand Jesus’ use of the word, Ephphatha, we need to look back at verse 32. In verse 32, Mark states, 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.” Pay attention again to this last phrase; “they begged him to place his hand on the man.”

Now, Jesus had been involved in healing ministry for some time, and surely, those who brought the deaf man to Jesus had seen how Jesus had done other miracles. They had seen him place his hands on the eyes of the blind and the blind received sight. They had seen him place his hands on the lame and the lame stood and walked; and more than likely, they had seen him place his hands on the ears of persons who were deaf, and the deaf were able to hear. So the crowds came to believe that the healing magic was in Jesus’ hands.

I’m sure, as they brought the deaf man to Jesus they told him, “Now when you get there, he’s going to place his hands on your ears and then you will be able hear.”

But as Mark goes on to tell the story, we find Jesus changing his method a bit. When Jesus gets the deaf man off to himself, instead of placing his hands on his ears, Jesus sticks his fingers in the man’s ears and then he spits on his hand then touches the man’s tongue with the spit.

Now I don’t know about you, but I think I would have much preferred the hand/ear touch to the tongue/spit touch. In fact, I wouldn’t have been too keen about somebody sticking their fingers in my ears, spitting on their hand and then touching my tongue with their spit. That’s kind of nasty if you asked me.

If I’d been the deaf man, I’d probably been somewhat leery about the whole thing. The poor deaf man was probably thinking, “This ain’t the way it ‘posed to be. This ain’t the way miracles are supposed happen. Miracles happen when Jesus touches folks with his hands. I don’t know if I’m really up for all this spit on the tongue business.”

So in the middle of all this spitting and tongue touching, Mark tells us that Jesus turned to the man, and gave a deep sigh. Why did Jesus sigh? I suspect Jesus’ sigh was a sign of his frustration. He was frustrated because the man was resistant to Jesus’ new method of healing. So in his frustration Jesus cries out, “Ephphatha,” “be opened.”

In saying “be opened,” Jesus was not only addressing the man’s ears, but he was addressing the man’s mind and his heart. “Be opened” Jesus said. “Be opened to my new will. Be opened to my new method. Be opened to the new thing I am doing in your life. For, unless you are open, you will never experience the power of God in your life. Ephphatha! Be open!

I think Jesus is saying, “Ephphatha,” to you and me today. He’s telling us to be open, to open our hearts and open our minds to new ways of thinking, to new ways of worshipping, to new ways of serving, and to new ways of living. Yes, the closed heart and closed mind rarely experience the wonder-working power of God.

We cannot put God in a box. We cannot expect God to act in a certain way simply because he acted that way before. We shouldn’t be surprised or alarmed if God acts in ways we’ve never imagined: and if we want to be a part of God’s miraculous work we must open our minds and open our hearts to whatever way God chooses.

As we read The Scriptures, we read story after story of God asking people to open their minds to His new way of doing things.

To Abraham, God said, “Ephphatha,” be open to leaving your kin and country so I can make you a great nation.
To Moses, God said, “Ephphatha,” be open to the way I will use you to set my people free.
To David, God said, “Ephphatha,” be open to the new way I’ll give you for dealing with giants.
To Mary, God said, “Ephphatha,” be open to the miraculous new way I will use you to give birth to the Son of God.
To Peter, James and John, Jesus said, “Ephphatha,” be open and you will become my fishers of men.
And to a Pharisee named Paul, God said, “Ephphatha,” be open to the Gentiles, for the people you’ve hated all your life will be the people I use to spread my gospel to the ends of the world.

From the beginning of the Bible to its very end, God calls Ephphatha to his people. He’s calling them, and calling us, to open our hearts and open up minds to the ever-changing ways of a miraculous God.

But being open to change is difficult for us, isn’t it. Most of us are brought up with a set of beliefs and values that have never changed, and throughout our lives, we tend to surround ourselves with people who think and act exactly like we do. When we’re confronted with change, it’s not always easy to manage.

I’ll never forget when I left my home church and headed to college. I kept looking for a church that was exactly like my home church, for a preacher who preached like my dad, for hymns that were like the hymns I had always sung, and for a group of people who believed the same way I believed. And you know what? I could not find that church.

Instead, I ended up being part of a church that was different, and in doing so; God showed me things I had never seen before and used me in ways he’d never used me before. Yes, in our journey of faith, we must be open to the new and different things God may be doing in our lives. Yes, change is difficult, and often, change can be downright threatening.

I’ll never forget having dinner with my aunt a week or so before I headed out to college. She was a good lady, but her education was limited. In fact, she basically distrusted higher education.

At the end of the meal my aunt took me off to the side and said, “Gene, I want you be keerful bout them folks down at the college. Many a good preacher boy has been ruint by them professors. So watch yourself, Gene, and don’t let them college folks ruin you.

I’ve never had the heart to tell her, but you know what? I got ruint. I got ruint because “them college folks” made me open my mind to change. Them college folks asked me to examine my faith and examine The Scriptures in ways I had never done before. Thankfully, I got ruint, because today I approach the Bible differently, and as I live out my Christian life, I live it differently than I did before.

So, I guess you could say my aunt was right. Them folks down at the college ruint me. They opened my heart and opened mind to powerful new insights from God and I will be forever indebted to those loving, patient professors who walked me through the season of change.

Now let me get a little more personal. How about you, are you ready for Ephphatha? Is your heart and mind open to change? Let’s take a little test and see.

Suppose I told you, that God had given me a new way for us to end our worship service. Today, instead of holding each other’s hands and saying the Lord’s Prayer, we’re going to end our service by do something a little different. At the end of our service, I’m going to ask you to stick your fingers in each other’s ears. And when you’re finished, I’m going to ask you to spit on your fingers and then touching each other’s tongues. How many of you would be up for that?

Now let me put your minds at ease. I don’t think that’s what God has for us today. But if he did, I think you and I would be as uncomfortable as the deaf man in today’s text.

Yes, I think you can relax when it comes to the tongue spitting, but let me warn you, as we try to discern God’s will for our church’s future, I suspect God will ask us to do some things that seem strange, things that may make us a bit uncomfortable. And when we, as a church, are asked to consider God’s new method, I hope we’ll remember that special word found in today’s text, “Ephphatha,” “be opened” to whatever God has for our church and our lives.

Perhaps Sara Scott had today’s text in mind as she penned these words,
Open my ears, that I may hear, voices of truth Thou sendest clear.
And while the wave-notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
Silently now, I wait for Thee, Ready my God Thy will to see.
Open my eyes illumine me, Spirit Divine.

And to us God says, “Ephphatha.” Be opened. Open your hearts and open your minds so you can experience the wondrous power of God.