“Ephphatha” Examined and Explained

by Stephen Rhoda

Ephpha… What?

It’s a legitimate question for anyone to ask regarding Ephphatha Reformation Ministries: Why the name “Ephphatha”?  After all, it’s not the easiest name to spell and not readily apparent how to pronounce!  So why “Ephphatha”?  The answer is found in the meaning and significance of the word in the Gospel of Mark.  In Mark 7:31-37, we are told a wonderful story about our Lord.  Mark records for us how Jesus healed a man who was unable to hear or speak, and the story gives us to know and understand the great love of Christ for those who are suffering.  When we read this story, we can be assured that our Savior loves and cares for us as well.

Christ Applied

However, there are details to the story that help us understand several things further, namely, that the blessing of Christ comes as He applies Himself to us.  We see Jesus applying Himself as He touches the man in order to heal him, putting His fingers in the man’s ears.  There were other times when Jesus healed a person from a distance or simply spoke to perform a miracle, but here is one occasion when He applied His hands to heal a person.

Even more, Jesus spits, presumably applying His own saliva to the man’s tongue.  It’s a detail that might seem unsanitary and perhaps makes us cringe, but the image strongly conveys the point of Jesus applying Himself to the man.

Yet again, Mark tells us that Jesus sighed, which indicates two things.  The first meaning is that Jesus had compassion on the man, feeling and expressing a sense of sorrow for the man in his impaired condition.  The second meaning is that Jesus sighed and thus breathed on him, again, applying His breath to the man for the sake of his healing.

All of this, then, fits with the way Christ saves us from our sin, because salvation comes as He applies Himself to us by His Spirit.  In other words, Christ doesn’t just give us a blessing apart from Himself; He is the blessing as He gives us Himself.  Christ doesn’t just provide us salvation; He is our salvation as His Spirit applies Him and His work to us.  If you don’t believe me, consult the Westminster Standards, which use this language of “application.”  For example, the Westminster Confession (Chapter 11, Article 4) teaches that “the Holy Spirit doth… apply Christ unto [the elect],” and the Larger Catechism puts it this way in Q & A 58- “We are made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured, by the application of them unto us, which is the work especially of God the Holy Ghost.”  (See also Westminster Confession, Chapter 8, Article 8.)

The Effect of Christ Applied

But another thing to be understood from this story is found in the effect of Jesus applying Himself to the man.  As Jesus carries out these actions, again, applying Himself to the man, He also speaks the word of command, “Ephphatha,” which Mark translates for us as meaning, “Be opened.”  The effect, then, is that “his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”  The lesson here is that this too is true in our salvation, that as Christ is applied to us for the sake of open ears, true repentance, and saving faith, the effect should also be that we speak plainly.

To put it another way, Christians should be people who speak, teach and proclaim the Word of God clearly, without reduction or modification.  This is especially true in warning others of the coming day of God’s judgment and calling sinners to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.  Such openness and plain speaking was the mark of Jesus’ preaching, and as He was applied to His apostles through the Spirit, such was the mark of their preaching as well.  In Acts 3, Peter sounded forth this call to sinners- “Repent therefore and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out….”  And in Acts 17, Paul proclaimed in Athens that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Be Opened, Speak Clearly

So the question that I’ve had to ask myself and that I want to ask of us all is why we don’t preach and teach God’s Word the same way.  Why don’t we clearly sound the warning of God’s Word that Christ is coming in judgment upon this world?  Why don’t we issue the call of the Gospel to repent of sin and believe in Jesus Christ?  Why don’t we make it clear that Christ is the only way of salvation for sinners?  All of these teachings are abundantly clear in God’s Word, and they become unclear only in our own modified teaching and guarded proclamation.

Perhaps one reason why we are not forthright with God’s Word is that we didn’t know our preaching and teaching were supposed to be this clear.  But such unawareness can only result from a neglect of God’s Word.

Maybe the reason is because we don’t think it will work to bring sinners to faith in Christ.  Here we need to know our church history.  From the first century record of the early church in the book of Acts, to the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century in colonial America, to the ministry of evangelism today, the fruitful preaching of God’s Word has always been open and plainly spoken.

But the most likely reason why we are not open and plain speaking in our proclamation of God’s Word is because we know what it will cost us.  It will cost us good standing in the world.  It will cost us persecution and suffering.  For some, it may even cost the loss of property and even of life itself.  All of this Jesus made clear in His teaching to His disciples.  In the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  In Mark 8:34, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” adding in verse 38, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  And in John 16:2, Jesus prepares His disciples with these words- “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.  And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.”  So it should be no surprise when we suffer for the sake of Christ, and we rightly tremble as we set out to proclaim and uphold the Word of God in the world.  But suffering for Christ is both our calling and our privilege as His disciples.

This is Ephphatha Reformation Ministries

Ephphatha Reformation Ministries is an effort to provide and encourage an open, plain speaking ministry of God’s Word.  Let parents sit their children down and teach them, not just to make them church members, not firstly to preserve a family tradition, but to save their souls from the wrath to come through faith in Christ Jesus.  Let believers understand that they are disciples of Christ and lifelong students of Christ, not to scratch an itch for spirituality, not for the sake of intellectual prowess, but to save and guard their own souls in the truth of God’s Word.  This is Ephphatha Reformation Ministries, and I hope you’ll become a part of it by receiving and supporting this effort for the glory of Christ.

Challenges Issued in this Article

Know and be convinced of the great love of Christ for you.

Understand more fully the way Christ saves you by applying Himself to you through the Spirit.

Read and study the Westminster Confession, Chapter 8, Article 8; Chapter 11, Article 4.

Read and study the Westminster Larger Catechism, Q & A 58-59.

Be open and plain speaking as you catechize (instruct) your children in God’s Word.

Take up a discipleship relationship with Christ.  Be a lifelong student of His Word.