When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (John 11:43-44, NIV).
As I was reading John 11 this morning several things really stood out to me. The first being that Lazarus, the friend that Jesus came to help was dead—not mostly dead, but all dead, very dead, as in “there-was-no-mistaking-that-he-was-dead” dead.
And yet this is the very person Jesus wanted to come to help. It seemed too late. Let’s be honest, it was too late. It seemed pointless to come to see him now. There was nothing to be done…and everyone knew it.
But Jesus still asks for them to open up the tomb. Mary, Martha, and everyone with them are confused by the request. “Why would You want to do that? He is dead, what can be done? And the stench will be unbearable.”
But Jesus insists and has them open it. He prays, and then calls to Lazarus. Lazarus’ life returned to his body, and upon hearing Jesus’ call he got up and walked out of the tomb.
What do you do when you see a person come back from the dead? I am sure people were wondering that looking at this once-dead-man walking. Jesus’ direction was very practical, unwrap him and let him go.
I see here a picture of how the Church and Christ work together. As one of my spiritual fathers likes to say, God reserves for us some things that He will not do, and reserves for Himself the things we cannot do.
Jesus did not move away the stone over the entrance to the tomb, nor did He to it seems. Why not? Jesus did not remove his grave clothes, He asked others to do it? Why?
I think the answer to the first question was to both give an opportunity to show and to build trust. Do we trust Jesus enough to go into places where we would never think of going—even a dead man’s tomb? He calls us to go to such places sometimes. Are we willing to go? Lazarus’ situation seemed hopeless—he was dead—it doesn’t get more hopeless than that. Are we willing to go to people Jesus is leading us to who seem hopelessly lost to us? If the account of Lazarus teaches us anything, it is that no one is beyond God’s grace.
What about the second question? Certainly it was not beneath Jesus to help a person in that way. It was not too menial nor was Jesus too proud. I think the answer is that He does not want us to be bystanders but partakers in His work. In sharing the work, He shares the joy of its results.
This is the Church at its best, taking the person Jesus has given new life to and helping him out of the grave-clothes of his former life so that he or she is free to live the new life God has given. Is it not a picture perfect illustration of Hebrews 12:1? Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
As Lazarus was no longer dead but alive, he needed to be freed from the grave clothes that entangled him and kept him from being able to live the life God had given back to him. In the same way, when Jesus gives us new life in him, we are made new and we need to throw of the grave-clothes of the old-self, the sinful nature and its habits. They no longer define who were are. They need taken off so that we can live the life Jesus has given us. One of the great jobs of the Church—of Jesus’ disciples—is to lovingly, cheerfully, and thankfully help one another to unwrap one another from the sin that so easily entangles so that we can enjoy the life Jesus has given us.