Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tangled in grave clothes

Yesterday, I spent a bit of time on Peter's admonition to "make every effort to add to your faith goodness." Before I move on from there, I just want to make one more point. When we believe, when we come to faith, we have moved from death to life.  We were dead in our sins and then we "come to life." That's the first step, and absolutely nothing can happen until we have done that. The Bible is full of both plain language about that step and also pictures. As soon as we're done with Peter, here, I'll go through one of those from the Old Testament, because there's a lot to be learned.

One of those pictures is Jesus' raising of Lazarus. I can't resist going through more of the story than is really necessary to make my point, but it's Sunday. Hopefully you won't mind something a little longer?

You remember the story, right? Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha, and all three are dear friends of Jesus. Lazarus gets very, very sick, and the sisters send word to Jesus:

John 11:1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick."

4 When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

So, Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick, but waits two more days. There is a picture right there, too, that maybe I'll explore some day. I find it interesting that Lazarus, a Jew, is sick, but Jesus stayed where he was for two more days. Do you see the potential picture in that?

Well, that's for another day. Meanwhile, Lazarus is sick, and actually dies while Jesus waits - in fact, probably died before the messenger even reached Jesus. Eventually, Jesus and his disciples get to Bethany.

John 11:17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

OK, Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. It's about a day's journey between Bethany and Bethabara. It took one day for the messenger to get to Jesus. Then, He waited two days, and then probably traveled one day to get to Bethany. So, Lazarus must have died and was put in the tomb the same day the message went out, perhaps even immediately afterwards. There was apparently a large crowd now gathered in Bethany.

It's another thing I find interesting. Jesus stayed where He was for two days, and when He comes, He's met part way there by a female believer. Are there hints of something else there? We won't know until Jesus tells us. Until then, we can only wonder.

John 11:21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 

Don't just skim past those verses because you've heard them so many times. Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."  The wonder of that!!!!! And, as he asked Martha, let us ask each other, "Do YOU believe this?" Really, truly believe???

John 11:27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

When she says, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." It sounds like she's rebuking Him, but she isn't. She knows that Lazarus died before the messenger even got to Jesus. She's simply saying, in faith, her belief that Lazarus wouldn't have died if Jesus was there - which is undoubtedly true. She goes on to say, maybe hesitantly, that she believes "God will give you whatever you ask." Is she asking for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead? I think she is.

So, Jesus answers, "Your brother will rise again." Could it be? Oh, it's too much to hope for, so she gives Him the careful, theological answer: "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." And, certainly he will, as will we all. Just think - we will actually be able to meet Mary, Martha and Lazarus on that day. But, in giving the careful, theological answer, is Martha actually showing a lack of faith in what Jesus can do?

I'm asking that question, because I find myself doing the same thing so often. It's much easier to believe things that are far off in the distant future. It's easier to be the wise, mature person who knows that God often says "No" to our prayers - or at the very least, "Not yet." So, we don't ask for too much - we don't expect too much, so that we won't have the disappointment.

You know what's much harder? It's much harder to have the eager, expectant faith of a child. It's hard to have a living, breathing trust that believes in miracles in the here and now. I don't want to be a "secret doubter," and hide my doubt behind careful answers. It's a personal struggle at the moment - to regain that eager, expectant faith of a child.

Flipping through my commentaries, it seems like others might have had the same thoughts. Here is what J. Vernon McGee says (McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary Series: John. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1991):

Martha believed in a resurrection. But listen, it makes less demand upon faith to believe in a future day we shall receive glorified bodies than it does to rest now on the assurance that they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. It is easier to believe that the Lord is coming and the dead shall be raised than it is to believe that tomorrow I can live for God. It is so easy to comfort people who are mourning and say, "Well, you'll see your loved ones someday." That doesn't take much faith. It takes a lot of faith to say, I have just lost my loved one but I am comforted with the assurance that God is with me and He does all things well." You see, although Martha knew from the Old Testament that there would be a resurrection from the dead, she didn't believe that Jesus could help her now.
So, Martha runs and gets Mary and they show Jesus where Lazarus is buried.

John 11:39 "Take away the stone," he (Jesus) said.
"But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."

Or, as the King James puts it, by this time he stinketh. Isn't that a great way of putting it? Martha cannot help being Martha. She wants her miracle, but she can't help worrying about what people will think about the odor. It's kind of like you might feel if you knew you'd see a miracle, but first you have to open the garbage can where you threw the raw hamburger four days ago, and it's been 90 degrees every day.

There is also an element of "Can even you do something about this? He's been dead four days and he's ROTTING now."

John 11:40 Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"

He had to name Lazarus, otherwise all the dead would come out. Remember this verse:

John 5:28 "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.

John 11:44 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."

Here's a picture so that you can visualize this better.

There is another place in John that talks about this:

John 19:40 Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

Basically, the dead person is wrapped up. Lazarus would have to have hopped out of the tomb. Here is one explanation, from here:

"The corpse would have been placed on a strip of linen, wide and long enough to envelop it completely. The feet would be placed at one end, and the cloth would then be drawn over the head to the feet, the feet would be bound at the ankles, and the arms secured to the body with linen bandages...."
When you're sharing the Gospel with someone, you need to reveal the stink in their lives. Gently, lovingly, you need to point out exactly why that person needs a savior. You need to point out his or her sin. Sometimes, it might be a fellow believer that has fallen into sin. With all the love in your heart, you need to reveal his or her "stink." Many years ago, a friend needed me to do that, and I didn't. I should have told her that what she was doing was wrong, but instead, I said nothing. I guess I thought a friend should be supportive, regardless, but now, I realize that you can't stay quiet when someone you care about is headed down the wrong path. Fortunately, God turned her back another way, but to this day, I feel like I failed her. I should have revealed her "stink."

Here's something from Jon Courson (Courson, J. 2003. Jon Courson's Application Commentary . Thomas Nelson: Nashville, TN):

No doubt in that hot climate, the body of Lazarus took on a distinct odor. That is why Martha said, "Lord, just let it be. Don’t ask me to roll away the stone. It stinks." The same is true of you and me. The Lord wants to do something in our lives. But before He does, oftentimes He’ll say, "Roll away the stone. Expose the problem. Let Me have total access to the situation."
"Oh, Lord, not that," we say. "Do we have to deal with that? I’m embarrassed about it. I’m ashamed of it. It stinks."
The Lord said, "I gave you a promise, Martha. But here’s the prerequisite: Roll away the stone." Do you think Jesus could have rolled away the stone Himself? Later on, He did—His own stone. But here He says to Martha, just as He says to me, "The promise is given, but here’s the prerequisite: Roll away the stone. Even though what’s inside stinks, let Me deal with it."
What happens next? Jesus calls Lazarus to life. Only He can do that. We can share the Gospel with people, we can point out their sin, but only Jesus can call them to life. Only He knows when the time is right. It's not our job to make someone respond. That belongs to the Lord and the Lord alone. The Gospel is effective, but only God knows the full situation in the person's life. It might not be the right time. So, we can point out sin, share the Gospel - and leave the "calling to life" in God's hands. Of course, you can pray! Never stop praying!

What's next? Jesus says, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." Jesus leaves that part in the hands of others. Lazarus probably came hopping out in response to the call to life, and there he was, alive, but totally encumbered with his grave clothes. Is that actually a picture of us?

We were dead, but now we are alive:

Ephesians 2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Those things that we used to "gratify the cravings of our sinful nature" are our grave clothes.  If we do not put them off, we will never be free. We will still be as bound as Lazarus was. He was alive, but completely ineffective until the grave clothes were removed. Faith comes first - and with that faith, we are made alive. We have moved from death to life, from hell to heaven. But, then, we must shake off the grave clothes. Leave them behind, as things that will only entangle and drag you down. As Peter puts it, "make every effort to add to your faith goodness." 

Remember, that "make every effort" means:
1) haste, with haste 2) earnestness, diligence a) earnestness in accomplishing, promoting, or striving after anything b) to give all diligence, interest one's self most earnestly

The tense is Aorist, which is active and ongoing. Do this and keep on doing it.  Make every effort to leave those grave clothes behind. They stink with the smell of death. Add to your faith goodness. Remember the point:

1 Peter 1:5 make every effort to add to your (1) faith (2) goodness; and to goodness, (3) knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, (4) self-control; and to self-control, (5) perseverance; and to perseverance, (6) godliness; 7 and to godliness, (7) brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, (8) love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

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