January 7, 2015

‘Tabatha 2.0’

The transcript of the sermon that Ingo Sorke, professor of religion at Southwestern Adventist University and a German national, preached immediately after Tabatha Azua’s baptism in October 2014. An appeal at the end of the sermon resulted in a dozen listeners to ask for baptism. Tabatha Azua’s story is featured on the cover of the Jan. 8, 2015, issue of Adventist Review.

In Germany we don’t baptize all that many people. Statistically, the ratio of Adventist to “pre-Adventist” in the United States is 1:300. In Germany it is 1:3,000!

So baptisms are special, and we therefore make them special. We call the special day a baptismal Sabbath. Everything is centered around Jesus and the baptismal candidates. So I will speak on Tabitha. That’s right, Tabitha, with an “i.” But it’s for you, Tabatha. She never knew about Adventists until Google and coming to Southwestern.

Tabatha says: “God has worked in my life to show me I'm on the right path. And thank everyone who came out to support me, but don't make them stand. I think that's weird. Lol. Or I'm just weird. I'm ready and excited to have the Spirit working through me, and I plan to do great things for God in the future. I don't know. I'm bad at speeches.”

Well, Moses claimed that too, and look what happened.

Here’s the text, Acts 9:36-42: “Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did. And it happened at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, ‘Do not delay in coming to us.’ So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them. But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” (NASB).

"In Joppa"

Joppa is an interesting place along the Mediterranean coastline. It's from this port that Jonah tried to avoid the call of the Lord (Jonah 1:3)—something to be avoided. Otherwise, you end up smelling like whale vomit, which can't be pretty.

Joppa was also the gateway for materials shipped to Jerusalem, especially the cedars of Lebanon (Ezek. 3:7; 2 Chron. 2:16).

And it was in Joppa that Peter saw the vision of the sheet coming out of heaven, with four-footed creatures in it, and heard God’s command, “Slaughter, kill, and eat” (Acts 10, 11). The message was clear: “God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Act 10:28).

But what really interests me is the phrase that follows the word “Joppa” in Acts 9:36: “in Joppa there was a disciple.”

Disciples are disciples in a specific location. It’s one thing to be a disciple in church. It’s one thing to be a disciple in New Jerusalem. It’s one thing to be a disciple in the kingdom of God. It’s a whole other story to be a disciple in Joppa. In Keene, Texas. In Joshua, Texas. At home. Around unbelievers, and when nobody’s watching. On the Internet. On Facebook. In class. At Taco Bell—pardon me, Chipotle.

True disciples have an address. Someone could ring your doorbell, and you would answer. You are a real Christian in the real world, but not of the world, as John says (John 17:14). Be a disciple everywhere and anywhere because everywhere and anywhere needs a disciple!

Now I know that many of you are from Keene. Many are not. I just pray you go back to your Joppa as a noticeable disciple. Don’t let Joppa change you; change Joppa!

“A Disciple”

What’s a disciple? The easy answer is from the dictionary: a follower. The University of Wikipedia says, “A student of Jesus.”

But the Bible is actually bi-directional. Check this out in Mark 3:14: "And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach."

Notice the two purposes of a disciple: 1. to be with Jesus, and 2. to be sent out.

Tabatha, I am excited to see where Jesus is going to send you! You come to Him, you go for Him. But before you go anywhere, make sure you're with Him. Daily. Moment by moment. You and Jesus. Don't just follow Him. Follow Him closely! It’s no longer Tabatha. From this day forward, for better or for worse, it’s Tabatha plus Jesus.

Real disciples are not robots, concepts, principles, or teachings. Real disciples have real names.

Tabitha. The name means “gazelle.” I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news first: Gazelles run fast. The bad news: They have to run fast because there are predators out there who also run fast and want to eat gazelle for lunch. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.”

Tabatha, taking this step with God will arouse the pro-active hatred of the enemy.

“And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17).

But God is stronger, mightier, most reliable. You do not have to become a victim of the enemy’s roar.

Incidentally, culture did not change Tabitha. She was not defined by her environment, circumstances, or the weather. But she did change her name to match the language. We have to be understood, even though you, Tabatha, will be misunderstood. Your identity to the world as a disciple must be clear and discernable.

But Dorcas is now not just the name of a disciple somewhere in the Bible. Dorcas became an entire ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, going back to the Dorcas Society of 1874. It’s an outreach to the outcasts. It’s an outstretched hand to withered hands. It’s a smile to those who are frowned upon. It’s a meal to the mean. It’s exactly what the Bible says Dorcas did.

Students worshiping at the vespers service where Tabatha Azua was baptized. Photo: Jorge Velez

“Abounding With Kindness and Charity”

Think again if you’re tempted to think that this is just some little deaconess, a little helper in the background, doing the dishes after potluck and being patient with the difficult people in church. She probably did all that, but listen to me. Tabitha fits the cathedral of Paul’s call to charity in 1 Cor. 13: “But now remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

The greatest! You want to be great? Love. Genuine, unpolluted, unadulterated love. Charity.

I’d like to focus on the next phrase, “was abounding.” That’s the word of someone who does not quit.

Though the heavens fall, I will be a Christian, and I won’t just be one in the pew. I’ll be one on the corner of 3rd and Main, in the kitchen, and in the office. I will continue until the end. “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13, KJV). “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Rev. 12:11, KJV).

Tabatha, 20 minutes ago you got started on your 2.0 life. You have left your 1.0 life behind. You died, and rose fr
om the dead. I want you to continue alive. Do not give up your faith.

“’These things I have spoken unto you,’ He said, “that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ John 16:33. Christ did not fail, neither was He discouraged; and the disciples were to show a faith of the same enduring nature. They were to work as He had worked, depending on Him for strength. Though their way would be obstructed by apparent impossibilities, yet by His grace they were to go forward, despairing of nothing and hoping for everything” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 23).

“Remember that you will never reach a higher standard than you yourself set. Then set your mark high, and step by step, even though it be by painful effort, by self-denial and sacrifice, ascend the whole length of the ladder of progress. Let nothing hinder you. Fate has not woven its meshes about any human being so firmly that he need remain helpless and in uncertainty. Opposing circumstances should create a firm determination to overcome them. The breaking down of one barrier will give greater ability and courage to go forward. Press with determination in the right direction, and circumstances will be your helpers, not your hindrances” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 331).

“Often the Christian life is beset with dangers, and duty seems hard to perform. The imagination pictures impending ruin before, and bondage and death behind. Yet the voice of God speaks clearly, Go forward. Let us obey the command, even though our sight cannot penetrate the darkness. The obstacles that hinder our progress will never disappear before a halting, doubting spirit. Those who defer obedience till every uncertainty disappears, and there remains no risk of failure or defeat, will never obey. Faith looks beyond the difficulties, and lays hold of the unseen, even Omnipotence, therefore it cannot be baffled. Faith is the clasping of the hand of Christ in every emergency” (Gospel Workers, p. 262).

“There is to be no despondency in connection with God’s service. The faith of the consecrated worker is to stand every test brought upon it. God is able and willing to bestow upon His servants all the strength they need, and to give them the wisdom that their varied necessities demand. He will more than fulfill the highest expectations of those who put their trust in Him” (Gospel Workers, page 262).

“The great lesson here taught is for all time. Often the Christian life is beset by dangers, and duty seems hard to perform. The imagination pictures impending ruin before and bondage or death behind. Yet the voice of God speaks clearly, 'Go forward.' We should obey this command, even though our eyes cannot penetrate the darkness, and we feel the cold waves about our feet. The obstacles that hinder our progress will never disappear before a halting, doubting spirit. Those who defer obedience till every shadow of uncertainty disappears and there remains no risk of failure or defeat, will never obey at all. Unbelief whispers, 'Let us wait till the obstructions are removed, and we can see our way clearly;' but faith courageously urges an advance, hoping all things, believing all things” (Patriarchs and Prophets, page 290).

So, we continue. Continually. We don’t stop until the Second Coming, or God stops us.

“She Fell Sick …”

You have got to be kidding me. Here is a disciple, a follower of Jesus, a person—a woman!—who has had a conversion, made a commitment, is on the right track, doing the right thing, helping people, being a witness, a role model. She is what we would call authentic. And God lets her die? In one sentence? It sounds cold-hearted. Yeah, she got sick and died. Why? Why take someone out that’s doing so good?

I thought the progression was 1.0, 2.0. Old life, new life. Pre-conversion; post-conversion. Unbeliever, believer. Pre-Christian, post-Christian. But Tabitha dead? That’s one step forward, two steps backward. That’s going from a 2.0 life to a 0.0. But wait a minute. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Let me throw out a couple of names to you: “Lazarus.” Ring a bell? He got sick—and died. They even asked Jesus to come help and—he died. Martha said: “Lord, if you had been here …“ (John 11:21). Mary said: “Lord, if you had been here …“ (John 11:32).

And then there’s John the Baptist. He died. And Jesus, too!

Let me tell you a secret: What happened to Jesus and what happened to believers in the past will happen to believers in the future.

“… And Died.”

Tabitha is dead. The story ought to end here. Dead. Oops. The hero dies. Why do bad things happen to good people? I bet Tabitha prayed when she got sick. I bet her friends prayed, the church prayed, the community prayed. No answer. She got worse. More prayer and fasting. And she died.

All Christians have to wrestle with apparently unanswered prayers. Human faith without God’s works. Dead. Funeral preparations. Obituary write-ups. Special music selections. Who’s doing the eulogy? Deaconesses preparing food in the fellowship hall. Instead of flowers, a Tabitha Memorial Fund for the Dorcas Society.

And the circumstantially polite but still noticeable inquiries by unbelievers: “I thought God answered your prayers?” “I thought faith overcomes mountains?” “I thought your God can heal?” “Should have gone to the doctor sooner instead of trying those natural remedies …”

Dead. Tears. Unanswered questions. Silence.

“But Peter Knelt and Prayed”

That’s good to have. Friends who pray.

A couple of days ago I saw a friend of mine has almost 5,000 friends on Facebook. I got excited when I passed 666. Do you call all of them to pray? No, just a few. Those are your friends. I hope you have friends you can call when there’s a death in the family.

Now notice that Peter knelt down and prayed. He could have easily said, “Well, we already tried prayer. It’s no use. Prayer doesn’t work.”

But check this out: He prayed after people thought the prayers were over. He started praying when others stopped. At some point death is no match for the prayers of the faithful! We better pray nonstop because the moment we stop praying, we stop living. So we pray until we can’t breath any more.

“When we permit our communion with God to be broken, our defense is departed from us. Not all your good purposes and good intentions will enable you to withstand evil. You must be men and women of prayer. Your petitions must not be faint, occasional, and fitful, but earnest, persevering, and constant. It is not always necessary to bow upon your knees in order to pray. Cultivate the habit of talking with the Saviour when you are alone, when you are walking, and when you are busy with your daily labor. Let the heart be continually uplifted in silent petition for help, for light, for strength, for knowledge. Let every breath be a prayer” (Ministry of Healing, p. 510).

Tabatha Azua posing with Ingo Sorke, religion professor at Southwestern Adventist University. Photo: Jorge Velez

The Resurrection

Acts 9:40, 41: “And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.”

The hope of the resurrection changes everything. Everything.

  • It changed Jesus’ life.
  • The resurrection gave birth to the church.
  • The resurrection convinced Paul—an ardent persecutor of the church—to turn his life around.
  • The resurrection fueled the hopes of Abraham, Jacob, Job, Moses, and all the saints.
  • The resurrection makes a passionate appeal to the life of every believer, every 2.0 person: “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame” (1 Cor. 15:34, KJV).

“It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”

Why? Why this trouble? Why not just sickness but even death? Your troubles will be someone else’s triumph. Your death is somebody’s deliverance. When you think it’s over, it’s not. Resurrection!

Your life—and death—will bless other people if you and the church remain faithful till the end.

“Many believed in the Lord.” That’s the genius of God’s method. It makes no sense to us. But the death and resurrection of one person is the death and resurrection of many. Here’s God’s math: When God subtracts, He multiplies! Never forget: When God subtracts in your life (or your life), He’s got plans to make more.

He feeds 5,000 on five loaves and two fish.

He parts oceans.

He lets manna rain from heaven.

He lets water gush out of a rock.

So, I’m wondering before I close, is there someone here who needs a resurrection? I wonder if there’s someone here tonight who feels they have fallen spiritually sick. I wonder if there’s someone here tonight who has died. The hope has fallen silent. The future is bleak; in fact, tomorrow is not there. There is no tomorrow it seems. You have practically died. You’re not even 1.0. You’re 0.0.

But remember Tabitha—or Tabatha. You can rise from the dead!

I know, I know, I’m stretching the text. This is a physical resurrection.

But the Bible consistently builds a parallel between the physical life and the spiritual life: “Even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:5, NKJV).

You are Tabatha 2.0. So listen to the voice of Scripture one more time: “Tabitha, arise!”

Related link

Adventist Review, Jan. 8, 2014: "To Educate Is to Redeem," Tabatha Azua's story