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The Ministry of Christian Visitation

“Make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). How honorable it is to welcome the Lord of Hosts, the uncontainable God, and His faithful ministers into one’s home! Such visitation “in the name of the Lord” (See Psalm 118:26) is a practice that is prominently featured in the Lord’s earthly ministry and an essential component of the service of the Church. When practiced within the framework provided in the Scriptures, visitation is a source of great blessing and an abundance of grace to both those who visit and those who are visited. For this reason, the Copts traditionally proclaim, upon being formally visited by a clergyman or designated servant of the Church, that “Christ has visited us today.” However, when the ministry of visitation is practiced in a manner that does not comport with the biblical model — for purely social reasons, or by those in whom is not found the spirit of God, for instance — it becomes a cause of disturbance, a danger to the integrity of the worshiping community, and an altogether harmful practice veiled behind the appearance of piety. From the many biblical examples of visitation, whether by the Lord Himself or the righteous saints, we may therefore ascertain the true meaning and purpose of, and proper approach to, the ministry of Christian visitation, so that we might guard against the snares of the enemy and practice this service with the necessary wisdom and intentionality, in a manner that befits the One whom we serve.


A. Illustrative Examples of Visitation in the Old Testament


Abraham, being a faithful servant of God, was granted to host Him in his house; in this visitation, God fulfilled the earnestly-desired request of Abraham and his wife Sarah, granting them Isaac their son, through whom Abraham would become a great and mighty nation, chosen and consecrated to be the people of God (Genesis 18:1-19). At another time, he was visited by Melchizedek, a type of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the true High Priest, who blessed him (Genesis 14:17-24). 


Lot, the nephew of Abraham, would also enjoy the blessing of hosting the Lord’s messengers, who through their visitation to his home granted him to be saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-29). Similarly, the harlot Rahab was granted salvation from the destruction of Jericho for welcoming Joshua’s spies into her home. Thus it was written: “But Rahab the harlot, and her father’s household, and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive; and she dwelt in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho” (Joshua 6:25). 


Moreover, it is written about Elijah that during the time of the drought, he was instructed by God to stay at the house of the widow of Zarephath. In return for her hospitality and generosity in accepting His prophet Elijah as a guest and visitor in her home, God would work many wonders for her family through Elijah — blessing the flour and oil so that they would flow abundantly and not run out, and also raising her son alive after he had fallen ill and died (1 Kings 17).


Also the commander of the army of the king of Syria and “a mighty man of valor” (2 Kings 5:1), Naaman, sought healing from the God of Israel; by visiting Elisha and heeding the words of this blessed man — after being persuaded by his own servants — he received healing from his leprosy such that “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:14).[1]


Visitation is not only identified in the Old Testament scriptures by way of specific examples, however. Indeed, the entire experience of the Old Testament was itself a collective anticipation by the people of God of the visitation of the Savior, by whose visitation to humanity — in His glorious incarnation — He would grant us salvation and victory over sin, corruption, and death: “Bow down Your heavens, O Lord, and come down” (Psalm 144:5).


B. Illustrative Examples of Visitation in the Ministry of Christ to the Jews


At the fullness of time, the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, upon hearing that her relative Elizabeth was with child, immediately traveled to minister to her, becoming a visitor in her home for approximately three months in order to serve her. During this visitation, a great blessing was granted to Elizabeth and her family, whose son John recognized the presence of the Lord in the womb of the Virgin and leaped for joy while still in his mother’s womb. It is most helpful to observe here also the humility of the Virgin Mary, and her selfless heart — despite her most honorable calling, to be the Mother of God, she still sought to serve and minister to others in all humility and love, becoming for us a true icon of the genuineness and selflessness that mark the acceptable service (Luke 1:39-56).


The Lord Jesus Christ would Himself visit the homes of many people for many purposes throughout the duration of His earthly ministry. He blessed the wedding at Cana of Galilee by His visitation to this event, granting the family established there not only to enjoy the physical presence of the True Bridegroom at their wedding, but also the abundant gift granted to them by His visitation — wine which did not encourage or further drunkenness, but rather led to a sobering and awareness on the part of the attendees such that they were able to discern and proclaim: “You have kept the good wine until now!” (John 2:1-11).[2]


He, the True Physician, would also perform many acts of healing and restoration during His visitation to people’s homes. At the house of His disciples Peter and Andrew: 

“…Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told Him of her. And He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she served them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to Him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him” (Mark 1:30-34).

Later, He would raise the daughter of Jairus, who besought Him to raise her:

“While He was thus speaking to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before Him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.’…And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players, and the crowd making a tumult, He said, ‘Depart; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at Him. But when the crowd had been put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose” (Matthew 9:18-25).

Also at the house of a ruler who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees, He healed a man with dropsy on a Sabbath (Luke 14:1-6). 


The Lord Jesus Christ did not only heal or perform wondrous miraculous acts in the setting of the home, however; He also worked signs and wonders among many away from their homes. The faith of the Centurion was so powerful that the Lord did not find a need to physically visit him in his home: He healed his daughter by a word, “and when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well” (Luke 7:1-10). Near the gate of the city of Nain, He raised the son of a widow, and the large crowd “glorified God, saying ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited His people!’” (Luke 7:11-17). Moreover, regarding Lazarus, whom the Lord loved, when He received news that Lazarus was ill — though, as the incarnate Logos, He, being omniscient, does not need to be informed of Lazarus’ condition — He did not immediately go and heal him in his home. Rather, after Lazarus had died and been placed in the tomb, then the Lord went, first consoled those who mourned, mourned Lazarus with them — weeping “with those who weep” (Romans 12:15; John 11:35) — and then raised him from the tomb in which he had been placed for four days (John 11:1-44). Regarding such signs and wonders, and particularly those of healing — both in the context of house-visitations and other environments — many examples abound: “there are many other things which Jesus did” (John 21:25).


The Lord also sought out the lost, visiting them for the sake of restoration, and by parables He revealed the importance of this ministry:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:4-10).

It is important to note that in the very next parable — that of the prodigal son — the Lord reveals that the father did not seek after his son who had forsaken him and taken his portion of the inheritance, for he had left of his own accord (Luke 15:11-32). Rather, he awaited him patiently at the door of the house until he, of his own will, understood the value of his father’s home, recognized the error of his ways, freely decided to return, and journeyed back to his father’s home.[3] Thus, to those who freely reject the Lord and consider sin or the world more valuable than the life with God, as did the prodigal son prior to his repentance, He will say: “Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate” (Matthew 23:38). As for those who are lost for other reasons — whether their own ignorance, as was the lost sheep, or the neglect of those responsible for them, like the lost coin — they are to be diligently sought by the Church, as the lost sheep was sought by its shepherd and the lost coin was by its owner, such that they might be restored. Thus the Lord taught: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I come not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:10-13). In exemplifying this teaching, He sought Zacchaeus only after he was first moved within himself with an earnest desire to see Him and acted upon this desire in climbing the sycamore tree. Only thereafter did the Lord specifically approach him, address him, and visit him in his home, much to the displeasure of the multitude:

“And when they saw it they all murmured, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’” (Luke 19:1-10).


It was fitting also for these same reasons for the Lord to visit the Samaritans — descendants of Israel who were separated from the Jews and who disagreed with them about where God ought to be worshipped. Beginning at this point of disagreement, He engaged in conversation with the Samaritan woman, who said to him: “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:19-20). During this encounter, the Lord not only corrects her misunderstanding — “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” — but leads her to repent from her sinful habits and to believe in Him as the Savior. Thus, by the end of this conversation, the woman is led from viewing Christ as a mere “sir,” to considering Him “a prophet,” and finally to recognizing and confessing Him to be “the Christ,” which newfound realization and confession compels her to share this Gospel with her city, so that “many Samaritans from that city believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony…they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word” (John 4:1-42).


C. Illustrative Examples of Visitation in the Ministry of Christ to the Gentiles


Being “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:25-35), our Lord in His ministry sought out not only those of the people of God, but also those of the Gentiles, who did not belong to His chosen people, so that by their firsthand experience of Him, they might also accept Him and His Gospel for the sake of their salvation. 


In His infancy, the Lord visited Egypt as a refugee, fleeing the persecution of Herod who sought to destroy Him (Matthew 2:13-23). By His presence in Egypt, our Lord blessed the Gentile nation of the Egyptians, among whom many believed in Him during His stay in Egypt. Thus was the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled, that “in that day…the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and burnt offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them” (Isaiah 19:19-21). 


The Gerasene Demoniac was also healed by the Lord, who visited him and exorcised the legion of demons that had possessed him. In healing this man, the Lord granted him more than merely physical healing — he also imparted on him spiritual healing, for he was found “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35), believed in Him, and “begged that he might be with Him; but He sent him away, saying ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:26-39). In this way, this man was freed by Christ, granted holistic healing, and transferred from being a prisoner of Satan and his kingdom to being a messenger commissioned by Christ to proclaim the joy and deliverance granted to him by the Lord amongst his Gentile community. 


Besides these examples, the Lord also healed the centurion’s daughter, as discussed above, and also the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). In all of these instances, and many others, Christ actualized His message and mission, proclaiming by deed and word that the salvation He grants is prepared for all people, and not exclusively the people of Israel. 


D. Visitation in the Church According to the Example of Christ and the Teaching of the Scriptures


In the example of the Lord, and the many instances of visitation found in the Scriptures, the benefits imparted by properly practiced visitation, and its importance in Christian ministry, are clear. Visitation grants the gifts of peace and joy: it is noted about Zacchaeus that he received the Lord “joyfully,” and the Lord instructs His disciples that upon entering a house, they should “salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you” (Matthew 10:11-13). Visitation also becomes a means of providing consolation and healing, as is most evident in the Lord’s visit to Lazarus’ tomb. Among the gifts of visitation are also abundance and blessing: in the context of God’s visitation to Abraham, he was blessed and given the promise of innumerable offspring, and it was in the visitation of the Lord to the house of Simon the leper that the woman freely poured out in abundance the alabaster flask of expensive ointment on the Lord, who blessed her with a great appreciation for her sacrifice, “for she has done a beautiful thing to Me…Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Matthew 26:6-13). 


The most important gift imparted by visitation, however, is that of salvation. By His own visitation, whether to humanity generally in His incarnation or specifically in the various instances of visitation He carried out during His earthly ministry, the Lord granted salvation to mankind, and the opportunity for many individuals to encounter Him intimately and experience Him deeply, so that they might be drawn to Him and thereby believe in Him and receive salvation from and through Him. Thus, to Zacchaeus, who believed in Him and showed a complete metanoia,[4] saying “[b]ehold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold,” the Lord responded: “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). It is Christ who is Himself the salvation that visited Zacchaeus here; He is the One who grants salvation to those who believe in Him. The central goal and purpose of visitation as it is practiced in the Church and by the believers today must therefore be the same — for the ones who are visited to encounter the Lord, accept Him, and live in Him and through Him for the sake of their own salvation. The Lord did not visit anyone without this purpose and mission; it was never for the sake of mere socialization that He visited a home.


From the example of the Lord Himself, we are able to ascertain the proper purpose, spirit, and setting of Christian visitation. The ministry of visitation, in imitation of the ministry of the Lord, is necessary for those who are beginning new families (for the sake of guidance and to bless their newly-established homes, as Christ visited the home of those who were married in Cana of Galilee, at their wedding), the sick (for healing, as Christ healed Simon’s mother-in-law and countless others, both while He was in their homes and also while He was not), those who are lost due to their own ignorance or the negligence of their ecclesial leaders (for restoration, as He describes in the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin and as He exemplified in His intentional visit to the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s Well), those who require evangelization (for preaching, as He did in His visitation to Egypt and also in Samaria), and those who are mourning (for consolation, as He visited Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, before raising Lazarus from death). As for those who maintain their family altar[5] and have a place for the Lord amongst their families and in their homes — for the spiritually sound and thus appropriately-called Christians — there is no need for additional visitation from the Church. They have made their hearts and homes dwelling places for the Lord, which is the goal for every believer. But those who, through no fault of their own, fall short or stray from this calling and life, must be visited by the Church in order for the Church to awaken their consciences, correct their ignorance, encourage their repentance, restore them to the life in Christ, and support them as fellow members of the same Body. This is the work and responsibility of the Church — to care for the salvation of every soul, serve everyone according to their needs, and to abide not as a mere social entity, but as a sound worshipping community — the living Body of the Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, now and forever. Amen.


[1] In this way, Elisha became both a peacemaker between the kings of Israel and Syria and a harbinger to the Gentiles of the great message of God’s existence, truth, majesty, and power. Moreover, the healing, which was offered freely and without stipulation to Naaman by God through Elisha, led Naaman to recognize and clearly identify the truth of the God of Israel. It is evident, then, that signs and wonders are for unbelievers, intended by God to lead them to Himself; it is for their sakes that the message of the Gospel was accompanied with and confirmed by signs and wonders as the Church began to spread everywhere by the preaching of the Apostles (See Mark 16:20). As for those who believe already, fitting are the words of the Lord: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed” (John 20:29).

[2] Indeed, this sign signifies the whole of Christ’s redemptive mission — His visit to earthly life through His blessed Incarnation — in which He took flesh and became Man in order to refashion and redeem humanity, not only restoring to it the Image in which it was originally created, but also granting it an even more blessed and exalted state than that which it once possessed, pouring out into the hearts of Christians the new wine of the Holy Spirit (See Acts 2:12-24), thereby granting them to become temples of the Spirit, to abide in Him as members of His Body, and to enjoy His grace and work in their lives.

[3] “The grace of God to the returning prodigal is exhibited, in this parable, in the pitying and restoring aspect. The father does not, in this instance, seek his son, as the shepherd had his sheep, and the woman her piece of money. He has not to deal with an irrational being, but with a rational man, who must be brought to choose, for himself, the way of truth. The father has, however, been indirectly working for his recovery, by allowing him to bear all the consequences of his transgressions; he has, besides, been waiting patiently, and keeping both his heart and his house open to him. Scarcely does the son take his first homeward step, than the father observes him with a compassionate eye, goes to meet him […] and while he does not refuse his confession of sin, remits so much of it as was painful and humiliating. He not only testifies his joy at the prodigal’s return, but proves it; and not only pardons him, but reinstates him in the possession of the forfeited rights and privileges of sonship” (J.J. van Oosterzee, Theological and Homiletical Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, 72).

[4] That is, a complete change of heart and mind.

[5] See e.g., Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History 2.17.9-13; John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Corinthians, 43.7

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