Sabbath, December 10, 2011

By Idel Suárez, Jr., U.S.A.

“Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.” “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” John 11:1, 5.

Different types of families

During my postgraduate university studies, I took a course on the family. The concept of the family was hotly debated. Research showed that those who were raised in nuclear families–with their biological fathers and mothers–were more likely to succeed in life, had a lower risk of divorce, and suffered less from mental illness. However, more than one fourth of all those growing up in America today come from single-parent homes where their biological father or mother is missing. Another one third grow up in a stepfamily or blended family with stepparents and stepsiblings. The traditional nuclear family seems to be dying out in the West. Many have grown up with family disunity. How can we help them? How can we help those families and churches which suffer from disunity?

The gospel of John tells of a nontraditional family in Bethany, “the house of figs,” on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. There were no parents in the home. There were three siblings who lived together in love and unity–Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They were all friends of Jesus. “At the home of Lazarus, Jesus often found rest…. Here He found a sincere welcome, and pure, and
holy friendship.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 524.

Jesus enjoyed visiting these friends, eating at their table, sleeping in their home, and sharing time with them. They appear to have been single, and each had particular talents which contributed to the family’s success. Each also had trials and temptations to overcome. By studying and adopting the attributes of these three siblings, our own families can press together, successfully face
the challenges and difficulties of life, and welcome Jesus into our homes. Then our families will fulfill the meaning of the two Greek words translated as family in the New Testament. The first word is oikos, meaning “household,” or “the home of God.” The second word is patria, meaning “nation, lineage, or kindred of God.” As we allow the Spirit of God to move in our souls, fostering these three gifts of the Spirit, unity will blossom in the home, in the church, and in our international denomination.

Martha–the gift of service

It appears that Martha had a talent for cooking. Others would invite Martha to cook for them. Her reputation as a chef spread and she was catering parties and special events. Simon the Pharisee whom Jesus healed from leprosy, asked Martha to cook and cater for his party.

The words of Scripture emphasize that Martha served her guests. A supper was prepared for Jesus, “and Martha served.” John 12:2. An Luke 10:40 says, “But Martha was cumbered about much serving…” Martha enjoyed serving others. She thought of other’s needs and sought to meet their needs.Like Martha, families need to be organized to serve others. When we are bus
helping others, it unites our home and our church. It fosters togetherness. “Like Martha, we need to be ever abounding in the work of the Lord” (Daughters of God, p. 58).

Years ago, a study was made to see what caused people to want to join a group. One of the main attractions was the togetherness of the group. God created human beings to be social, everyone thrives in a supportive group. When the church organizes to serve others, it is a blessing to the community and promotes unity among the members. Martha served not only in her
own home but also in other people’s homes. Likewise we need to take time to visit other families and help them as the Spirit moves us to be a blessing for others.

Families need to come up with plans to work together for Jesus, working as a team to serve their local church, neighborhood, and community.What can they do?

Parents can ask their children to save some of their money to buy Bibles for children in other countries who do not have Bibles. The family can sponsor a missionary in foreign country or help pay for medical care for a minister’s son or daughter who needs it but cannot afford it. When families sacrifice together, they come especially close to each other in new ways, not just in serving, but in prayer and attitude.

“An American businessman, who was an earnest Christian, in conversation with a fellow worker, remarked that he himself worked for Christ twenty-four hours of the day. ‘In all my business relations,’ he said, ‘I try to represent my Master. As I have opportunity, I try to win others to Him. All day I am working for Christ. And at night, while I sleep, I have a man working for Him
in China.’ In explanation, He added: ‘In my youth I determined to go as a missionary to the heathen. But on the death of my father I had to take up his business in order to provide for the family. Now, instead of going myself, I support a missionary. In such a town of such a province of China, worker is stationed. And so, even while I sleep, I am, through my representative, still working for Christ.’

“Are there not Seventh-day Adventists who will do likewise? Instead of keeping the ministers at work for the churches that already know the truth, let the members of the churches say to these laborers: ‘Go work for souls that are perishing in darkness. We ourselves will carry forward the services of the church. We will keep up the meetings, and, by abiding in Christ, will maintain spiritual life. We will work for souls that are about us, and we will send our prayers and our gifts to sustain the laborers in more needy and destitute fields.’” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, pp. 29, 30.

Doing something for others which costs us money, time, and effort gives more blessing to the giver than to the receiver. It puts the face of Christ on those who entertain and extend the ministry of Jesus in favor of the outcast and hurting ones. It gives a testimony to the world that the church is alive and ministering to relieve the suffering and shame on our planet. Think globally, but act locally. Mary–the gift of missionary zeal According to Hebrew law, a woman could not testify in court. Her testimony was not credible. Yet after His resurrection Jesus ignored Hebrew tradition and appeared first to Mary. She was the first to tell the world that Jesus had risen from the grave. She shared her testimony that Jesus was alive with the apostles, with the disciples, and with her family. “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven devils. And she went and told them
that had been with Him, as they mourned and wept.” Mark 16:9, 10.

She became Mary Magdalene because, according to tradition, she lived at one time in Magdala, a town near the Sea of Galilee. She was known to be an ardent missionary for Jesus. She had been healed from mental illness. She knew what it was to be demon possessed. She hurt for others in pain. She shared the gospel message with those who mourned and wept. Her life had been transformed by Jesus. She had a wonderful hope and wanted others to share in that hope. As she became a partaker of the divine nature, she received the gift of missionary zeal.

“Mary had been looked upon as a great sinner, but Christ knew the circumstances that had shaped her life. He might have extinguished every spark of hope in her soul, but He did not. It was He who had lifted her from despair and ruin. Seven times she had heard His rebuke of the demons that controlled her heart and mind. She had heard His strong cries to the Father in her behalf. She knew how offensive is sin to His unsullied purity, and in His strength she had overcome.

“When to human eyes her case appeared hopeless, Christ saw in Mary capabilities for good. He saw the better traits of her character. The plan of redemption has invested humanity with great possibilities, and in Mary these possibilities were to be realized. Through His grace she became a partaker of the divine nature. The one who had fallen, and whose mind had been a habitation of demons, was brought very near to the Saviour in fellowship and ministry. It was Mary who sat at His feet and learned of Him. It was Mary who poured upon His head the precious anointing oil, and bathed His feet with her tears. Mary stood beside the cross, and followed Him to the sepulcher. Mary was first at the tomb after His resurrection. It was Mary who first proclaimed a risen Saviour.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 568.

Oh, may the missionary zeal of Mary inspire us as we face a new year! Mary gave her best. Mary gave her all. The family needs to be a missionary unit. Every member of the household of God must share the faith or lose it. Everyone can reach out and touch others with the message of Jesus, with the three angels’ messages, with the Reformation message. Every member must get involved in sharing the truth.

Sister White writes how she shared the gospel not just by preaching and writing but also by sharing books. “We gave away many of our large and small books to families

[attending camp meeting] who were unable to buy them, asking them to read them and to lend them to their neighbors. In this way we set one family to work for neighboring families. They would come together and read the books aloud. As a result, conviction was brought to the hearts of some, and souls were converted.” –(Letter 102, 1908) The Publishing Ministry, p. 394.

With modern information technology, we can now share recorded CDs of sermons and even recorded DVDs of lectures which can be downloaded from General Conference website. Some families may even be able to purchase a CD/DVD duplicator and duplicate their favorite sermons and share them with acquaintances, friends, and extended-family members. Young people
can post nice Christian songs or sermon videos on their Facebook page.

Like Mary, we need to let the indwelling character of Jesus radiate out to everyone around us, to everyone we meet. We need to share the enthusiasm of the hope we have in Jesus Christ. This missionary zeal will unite the family members to Jesus and to each other.

Lazarus–the gift of friendship “These things said He: and after that He saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” John 11:11.

“Jesus considered Lazarus to be His personal friend. He was greatly beloved by the Saviour.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 524. They would converse together. They enjoyed each other’s company. Like the friendship of David and Jonathan in the Old Testament, Jesus’ heart was knit together with that of Lazarus. While Jesus faced scorn and ridicule from His stepbrothers, Lazarus seemed to be the brother whom Jesus longed for. “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24.

Lazarus was friendly and hospitable. He gave gifts to his friends. He called on them. He laughed with them. He walked with them. He sent messages to them. He was a friend who sticks closer than a brother. It is in the home circle and the local church that we learn to be friends. My father told me that friends are chosen, but family is inherited. We rarely choose our parents or
children. We are born into families or become united to families because of the desires of our parents. But friends we choose.

We are not to create friendship with the world or the things of the world. We need to be friends with God. We must seek the Jesus who is living in our brothers and sisters. When ministers visit homes like Jesus visited that of Lazarus, they should take time to share the gospel and converse with the family members on religious topics. They need to be a true friend to their host family.
They need to be representatives of Jesus in the home that gives them hospitality.

“I have been shown that our ministers generally are deficient in making themselves useful in the families where they are entertained. Some devote their minds to study because they love this employment. They do not feel that it is a duty which God enjoins upon ministers to make themselves a blessing in the families which they visit, but many give their minds to books and shut
themselves away from the family and do not converse with them upon the subjects of truth. The religious interests in the family are scarcely mentioned. This is all wrong…. They should feel the deepest interest in the families they visit; they should not feel that they are to be petted and waited upon while they give nothing in return. There is an obligation resting upon Christian families to entertain the ministers of Christ, and there is also a duty resting upon ministers who receive the hospitality of Christian friends to feel under mutual obligation to bear their own burdens as far as possible and not be a tax to their friends.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 308.

The family–the basic unit of the church

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus loved each other deeply. Individually and together, they spent time with Jesus and loved Him. Their home was a branch Sabbath-keeping church. And today, also, each family is the basic unit of the church. Each home is to function as a branch Sabbath-keeping church where prayer, Bible reading, testimony, and song are enjoyed on a daily basis. Each
family member has a strong influence on the local church, the field conference, the union conference, and even the General Conference. It is like casting a stone into the water of a lake, making ever-widening circles which eventually reach the far lakeshore. Hence, the first work of today’s Martha’s, Mary’s, and Lazaruses is to be united first and foremost at home–in the family circle.

“The first work of Christians is to be united in the family. Then the work is to extend to their neighbors nigh and afar off…. The more closely the members of a family are united in their work in the home, the more uplifting and helpful will be the influence that father and mother and sons and daughters will exert outside the home.

“The happiness of families and churches depends upon home influences. Eternal interests depend upon the proper discharge of the duties of this life. The world is not so much in need of great minds as of good men who will be a blessing in their homes.” –The Adventist Home, pp, 37, 38.

“After the family then comes the church. The influence of the family is to be such that it will be a help and a blessing in the church….

“The religion of the home will surely be brought into the church.” –Child Guidance, pp. 551, 552.

The influence of that family in Bethany 2,000 years ago continues to echo down to our day as we enter a new year. Like Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, we must learn to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection. He must resurrect us from our spiritual death, indifference, and indolence. “Brethren, the greatest miracle that can be wrought is the conversion of the human heart. We needto be reconverted, losing sight of self and human ideas, and beholding Christ, that we may be transformed into His likeness.” –Manuscript Releases, vol. 4, p. 113.

The apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:10: “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.” First, we know Him. Second, we experience the power of His resurrection–the gospel power to change sinners into saints. Then, the daily afflictions, struggles, trials, and crises help us to fellowship with Jesus in His sufferings. How? You see, Jesus comes to suffer with us in our suffering. We identify with Him in new ways. He does leave us alone but, as with Martha and Mary, makes the trip
to our homes with a message of hope and life. He is the resurrection and the life.

A crisis event–God’s opportunity

God allowed a terrible crisis to shake the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Death brought sorrow to the sisters of Bethany. They lost their beloved brother and breadwinner. The home was not the same. They could not understand why Jesus had not come and healed Lazarus. Perhaps death, separation, disability, depression, or financial loss has struck your home this past year. It has shaken you to the roots. Perhaps, like Martha, you wonder why the Lord did not intervene in time. Yet a crisis is an opportunity for God to bring healing and uplift His name and cause. As Jesus told Martha, God allows crises so we, and others with us, may become fellow partakers of His sufferings and behold His glory if we only believe. “Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” John 11:40.

In Chinese, the word for “crisis” is made up of two symbols. One is the character for danger. The other is the character for opportunity. Hence, every family crisis is an opportunity to test our faith in God. It is an opportunity for God to show us that saving grace and simple faith will carry us through to a new beginning. We become part of God’s great drama of life and salvation for others to witness the great difference between believers and unbelievers who similar challenges and crises.

“With nations, with families, and with individuals, He has often permitted matters to come to a crisis, that His interference might become marked. Then He has made manifest that there is a God in Israel who will maintain His law and vindicate His people.” –Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 178.

One of the greatest miracles Jesus performed during His ministry on earth was raising Lazarus from the dead. This was such a powerful witness that the Sanhedrim wanted to assassinate not just Jesus but Lazarus to negate the undeniable witness to Jesus’ power over death. “But … the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.” John 12:10, 11.

Oh, may every family crisis be a witness to cause others to believe in Jesus. Oh, may we be able to experience the resurrection power that Lazarus felt. Oh, may Jesus also tell us, “Come forth.” John 11:43.

As we near the end of another year of our pilgrimage on earth, it brings us all closer to the last great crisis that will sweep the planet by surprise. God is preparing us for that event through the big and small difficulties of life that come to us as families and as a church. But during the coming crisis, God will intervene. Jesus will resurrect the dead and dry bones and fill them with His Holy Spirit. The latter rain will bring about a transformation that will turn the world upside down through the preaching of the third angel’s message that will swell to a loud cry. Yet today‘s events are the preparation for the solemn events just before us, just around the corner. Are you ready? Is your family spiritually prepared? Is your local church united in spirit to receive the
Spirit of God?

Unity in planning as well as in pain and service During the so-called “vegetarian riots” which exploded in China, a Christian missionary family was attacked. In the aggression three of seven children, along with their father, were mercilessly put to death. Witnessing such terrible murder and pain, the four surviving children decided to escape; and they succeeded. But after a
time they met again and planned what would be their best “revenge.” They searched for a Christian institution to give them spiritual preparation to return to China. They then applied their youth, talents, and lives to serve the very country that had been so ungrateful to the members of their family!

At the same time when those four people were killed, the daughters of a widow who lived in Australia were murdered. When the mother received the news, instead of being prostrated with grief, she formulated a new purpose. “I have no other girls that I can give,” she said, “but I will give myself.” So, at the age of 72, she sold everything she had and went to the place of the massacre. She learned the language of the country, founded a school, and served for twenty years, until she died and was buried next to her daughters. In both of these cases, we are dealing
with survivors of very difficult circumstances, of unjust and cruel actions, who refused to be overcome by grief; they used it and made it useful. Instead of being overwhelmed by the
wagon wheel of pain, they climbed aboard the wagon and headed for a glorious destiny. As members of God’s people, are we called to do less? May He help us to have such a wonderful spirit and initiative in our families and in the church!

The moral of the story is that the true Christian must offer his and her best upon the altar of God. Our children must be encouraged to serve, to have missionary zeal, and to make friends for Jesus. We need to set the example. It will be contagious and have a profound effect upon those around us. Are you willing to give your best for the Master? Are you willing to do everything
possible for unity and peace? May the unity of the Spirit bless you in your home and in your church. May His Spirit inspire your family to practice service, missionary work, and friendliness at home and in your local congregation. Amen.