Wednesday, October 15, 2014

St. Lazarus of Bethany:4 Days Dead and the Friend of Jesus by Chris White

The story of St. Lazarus is forever intertwined with his personal friendship with Jesus of Nazareth and the miracle wrought on his behalf by the Lord.  Lazarus, whose name means “God Helps”, and his two older sisters Martha and Mary are some of the few people we know by name who were actually personal friends of the Lord.  They had a large home in Bethany (2 miles from Jerusalem) which Jesus visited several times and we know that during Passion week it is likely this same home that served as headquarters for Him and the other disciples.

Mary, Martha and Jesus
From what we read in the Gospels, Jesus loved all three of this family which shows his love and appreciation for the different varieties of personalities one finds in the world.  Mary, the quiet one, Martha the busy and active one, and Lazarus, the retiring one, all have a place in his accepting love.  In John’s gospel chapter 11 we read that Lazarus fell sick and his sisters sent for Jesus to come, but Jesus delays coming to his sickbed for the purpose of working his greatest miracle (aside from His own resurrection).

When Jesus arrives in Bethany from Galilee he finds himself at a house of mourning.  In this we learn a couple of things about the customs surrounding death in this culture and time.  First of all Martha is surrounded by mourners as she greets Jesus.   It was the sacred duty of Jews to come and assist a family in mourning.  They would accompany to the grave and file around the family of the deceased and speak to them words of consolation.

 Alfred Edersheim notes that Lazarus, though a friend and follower of Jesus, was not considered an apostate in his synagogue.  For in the time of Jesus there was an elaborate code of behavior surrounding the death of someone in the synagogue that had apostasized or was considered fallen away from God.  They would dress in white, and instead of being somber, they would be festive and full of laughter.  It was to show complete disrespect to the dead to be glad they were gone.  Obviously Lazarus had lived a good and holy life and was being mourned appropriately in his passing.

Jesus’ delay in coming was neither neglect nor a denial of their request.  The sisters believed if the Lord just heard about it, he would make the illness go away.  Jesus did come but his delay was purposeful that it might glorify God and sharpen the faith of his friends and followers.  There is reason to believe that the Jews held the belief that the spirit of a person hovered over the body until the end of the third day when corruption set in.  Jesus made certain that it was understood by all that Lazarus was sleeping in the dust of death.

Lazarus Tomb in Holy Land

In the Bible, we are given nothing about Lazarus as to what he said or did.  We are told by the Apostle John that Jesus loved him deeply and wept over him as he stood at the door of his tomb.  Did he weep over what Lazarus had gone through in the journey of death or was he weeping because of what this would cost Lazarus personally to return from the grave and leave heaven behind.

Jesus then had, to the horror of the family because of the odor, the door of the tomb opened, and after a prayer, called Lazarus by name to come forth.  If you believe Jesus is who He said He was, the specificity of the name being called becomes an important detail.  Had Jesus said “come forth” all the dead in the family tomb would have come back to life.   Thus we read that only Lazarus came forth and needed to be unbound from his burial linens and was restored to his sisters and friends to the astonishment of nearly everyone.

Our curiosity about this experience is not satisfied.  We know nothing of what Lazarus experienced or if he even had a memory of it.  We know nothing of whether his values or thinking in any way changed through this experience.  What we do learn are a couple of things here:

1. That the wisdom of divine love does not always shield its subjects from suffering, sorrow, and    death.  The Lord sometimes puts His loved ones in uncomfortable places for a greater purpose.

2. Man and God are combined in the miracle.  As the man, Jesus sympathizes in our sorrows, as God he has the power to banish them.

3. He alone is the resurrection and the life.  He is our resurrection and he is our life.  When we die, we are beyond the help of anyone except the one who has the power to raise from the dead.  What we know from Lazarus’ resurrection is that in like manner, the Lord will come for us in our death.

Like everything related to Jesus’ life and ministry, this event brought about different responses from different people.  Some who witnessed this miracle believed in Jesus completely, while others for fear that Jesus would surpass their place in the religious establishment began plotting immediately to have Jesus murdered (which eventually took place not long afterward in Jerusalem).  Still others plotted to kill Lazarus as well to destroy him as evidence of Christ’s power to raise people from the dead.

From this point we move beyond the pages of scripture to the traditions of the church about what happened to Lazarus after this event.  It is believed he was raised from the dead at age 30 and lived an additional 30 years.  There is also a legend that Lazarus never smiled again the remainder of his life because he knew that once again he would have to undergo death.  From here the story of Lazarus of Bethany diverges in two directions that might be contradictory but also might be true with a little reconciliation.

 According to one version of the story, Lazarus escaped to Cyprus because of death threats by the Jews.  When he arrived, he was appointed by Paul and Barnabas (who first brought Christianity to Cyprus) as the bishop of Kition (modern-day Larnaca).  There he lived out the remainder of his days and died being buried inside the church he had led for so many years.  Later, representatives of the Eastern Roman Emperor came in search of his relics taking at least some of his bones from Cyprus to Constantinople to be placed in a new cathedral there.

Another version of the story is that the Jews in a rage put Lazarus, Martha, and Mary to sea in a boat with no oars or sails and they drifted to France where they lived the remainder of their lives with Lazarus preaching and becoming the bishop of Marseille.  There is also a legend that he died as a martyr after making many converts in Gaul.  There is a tomb to St. Lazare that possibly contains bones taken from Constantinople in the 4th Crusade (1204 AD) by the Franks as the spoils of war.  This would explain their presence in France.

At first these might seem like contradictory facts but both are certainly possible.  In the Mediterranean of Lazarus’ day, travel from Judea to Marseille and back again could have been done readily over the sea.  Could it be that he never went back to Judea for fear of the Jews and lived in Cyprus until his death but indeed had gone to France first?

There is another story that Lazarus longed to visit with Mary the mother of Jesus, whom he knew and sent her a letter.  She wouldn’t think of him coming to see her because of the danger in Jerusalem but offered to come to Cyprus.  Lazarus being a man of means sent a boat for her and John the Apostle whom Jesus had placed in charge of his mother’s care.  The boat was blown off course by a storm and they ended up in Ephesus (Asia Minor) but eventually did visit Cyprus.  It is said the bishop’s robe that Lazarus wore was made by hand and given to him by Mary.

Lazarus Church in Cyprus

Today’s Church of Lazarus in Larnaca is a beautiful and peaceful place.  At the front of the nave is a reliquary with part of a skull bone visible that was taken from the tomb of Lazarus beneath the church.  An inscription reads “Lazarus, 4 days dead and the friend of Jesus”.  I have visited this wonderful church and consider it a great place to pray and meditate on the wonderful story of this resurrection miracle performed by Jesus on his dear friend. 

As we must all contemplate our own mortality it is especially comforting to know the Lord who calls us His friends, is one and the same as who called forth Lazarus.   For this story is the story of everyone who dies in the grace of Christ.


Blaiklock, E. M.  Today’s Handbook of Bible Characters.  (Minneapolis : Bethany House Publishing, 1979)
Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.  (McClean : McDonald Publishing, 1886)
“Lazarus”  Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature.  McClintock and Strong Eds.  (Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1981)
“Lazarus of Bethany”  Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol. 2   Walter A. Elwell Ed. (Grand Rapids : Baker Books, 1988)
“Lazarus of Bethany”  Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels.  Green, McKnight, and Marshall Eds.  (Downers Grove:  Intervarsity, 1992)
Lockyer, Herbert  All the Miracles of the Bible.  (Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1961)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Joy Ridderhof (1903-1984) and her Gospel Records by Chris White

Joy Ridderhof

Elisabeth Elliot in her thoughtful book A Path Through Suffering writes, “When a man or woman belongs to God (when the branch dwells in the vine) it is the hand of God at work when the pruning comes, regardless of second causes.  A life’s work---what to us is a perfectly good branch, perhaps the only ‘important’ branch---may be cut off.  The loss seems a terrible thing, a useless waste.  But whose work was it?”  God’s husbandry in our lives never diminishes us.  Pruning is always done to shape us and point us in the direction of greater growth and fruitfulness. 

In  1937 Joy Ridderhof (1903-1984) returned to her parent’s home in Los Angeles after only six years on the mission field.  Joy had prepared for and planned on spending a lifetime at her missionary post in Honduras, a people and country she loved, but dysentery and malaria had taken their toll and she no longer had the health or strength to remain.  A different kind of person might have assumed this “pruning” was from their missionary career altogether, but for Joy, even as she lay on her sickbed, her prayer was “what next Lord?”  And what followed proved to be a ministry on a global scale.

Joy in college
An important part of this story begins long before Joy left for the mission field.  Joy was greatly influenced by Robert C. McQuilkin, a popular author and conference speaker, who spoke at her home church as a young woman.  He introduced the idea that worry was sin and that we are to rest in the truth we are under God’s hand in all things and therefore we rejoice in all circumstances be they good or hard.  Joy took this to heart and watched it modeled when she was able to go to college at Columbia Bible College and live with the McQuilkin family (she was one of the school’s earliest students attending before they even had dormitories).  To understand this concept of prayer and rejoicing, is to understand the foundation of Joy’s life and ministry.  This included praising God in the hard things and the prayers that were unanswered as well as the good things that came her way.  For Joy, this was not some sort of denial of her circumstances, but a sign of her faith that God is good and deserves praise no matter what is in front of us.  She knew want, hardship, and illness.  She also saw miraculous provision, answers to prayer, and souls saved through the years.

As she recuperated in her parent’s home and prayed for guidance from the Lord, soon two memories were brought to mind.  First she had a memory from childhood when her father brought home a used gramophone for the family with a few records.  She remembered listening to those records and even remembered the songs 25 years later.  Second, she recalled a conversation with a fellow missionary while she was in Honduras.  They had passed by a saloon and heard some unsavory Spanish song playing on the gramophone inside.  The missionary said “if only we had gospel recordings in Spanish” to play for these people.  This idea began to take shape and soon came to fruition.

On December 31st 1938 Joy and some friends who were singers and native speakers of Spanish living in L.A. went into a small recording studio run by a friend and recorded a program Joy had written of scriptures and Christian songs in Spanish.  This program was transferred to gramophone disc (early records).  Joy packed these gramophone records up carefully with a letter and mailed them to the missionary who replaced her in Honduras.  These records were to be given to people who had record players in their homes.

Joy on mission to the Phillippines

Soon an enthusiastic letter arrived for Joy at her home in Los Angeles.  Please send more records.  The people are listening over and over again to the records, they understand the message and they are converting to Jesus Christ.  Soon these records began circulating in other Latin American countries and as word spreads around the mission world about them, there come more requests for records to be made in different languages.

Joy Ridderhof was a one-woman show working at her world headquarters which also happened to be her upstairs bedroom.  She saw the vision but without any resources of her own was compelled to lay this whole ministry before the Lord.

From that day forward, piece by piece, person by person, country by country, the Lord provided an incredible team to supply this need in world evangelism.  When funds or know-how was needed, prayers and trusting in God’s provision alone, yielded every single need. Originally Joy’s vision was for Spanish speaking countries.  Later she was convinced to take on the Navajo language.  It was this beginning which moved here along the path to a more global scope.

They went from using rented studios to a home studio but eventually Joy saw that the work would only be able to expand if they could go to the native speakers and record them in the field rather than depend on their ability (which was non-existent in most cases) to travel to Los Angeles.

Ridderhof was a faith missionary along the lines of George Mueller, where the only one in the world familiar with her needs and the needs of her burdgeoning mission was God.  He was informed daily, hourly in prayer.  But that was all.  Ridderhof had the unshakeable belief she was doing God’s work and God would direct her with his supply.  She didn’t wait for things to “just show up” all the time though.  Sometimes she believed she needed to step out and move forward and God would provide in the moment.  And He did.
Alaskan "Eskimos" listen to a Gospel Recording

Early trips were made to Mexico, Alaska, and the Philippines, and later throughout Asia.  These trips were often years at a time and many times were just Joy and a couple other women missionaries. 
With the help of missionaries on the ground, tribes with no written languages would be located.  Sometimes days of traveling and hiking would be required to get to them.  Sometimes through several translators, the simple gospel would be stated and then translated until the speaker understood it enough to speak into a microphone and record it.

Millions of records were produced and eventually heavy duty gramophones gave way to hand-cranked cassette players, which in turn have been replaced by the digital phones which are used by nearly every people group around the world no matter how remote or poor they are.
Many branches of the ministry have opened up, each providing its own expertise and access to different language groups.  Lighter weight and heavier duty recording equipment were developed along the way to speed the process of recording in the field.

a simple record player for field

Though Joy Ridderhof passed away in 1984, her mission, known today as Global Recordings Network, continues to thrive and work among groups of people who might otherwise not get the opportunity to hear the Gospel in their own language.  A major thrust of GRN is the Tailenders Project which targets languages of less than 10,000 speakers.  Although usually passed over by traditional missionaries, GRN is able to take a simple approach to reach these people with recorded Bible stories.  Most of these are illiterate cultures, which doesn’t mean they have no intellectual life but rather that your society is less inclined to printed words and more inclined to learn orally.  The Gospels of Jesus and most of the Old Testament are given to us not as theological propositions but in stories that we must reflect upon to learn their meaning.  This is God’s revelation and it suits the oral learner as well as the reader.

For many of the tribal groups it was the very first time they heard the Bible, but also a voice recording in their own language.  Today Global Recordings have captured nearly 6000 languages and produced a gospel message for each.  They are available for download free of charge at

Amazing Stories from Global Recordings Network.  Allan Starling Editor.  (Temecula : Global Recording Network, 2014)
Thompson, Phyllis.  Faith By Hearing: The Story of Gospel Recordings. (Hong Kong : China Alliance Press, 1960)
Tucker, Ruth A.  From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya : A Biographical History of Christian Missions.  (Grand Rapids : Academie Books, 1983)