Sunday, February 13, 2011

“Grave Clothes”

Most of us are very familiar with the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  Like all scripture this story was not recorded just as a historical document detailing Jesus life and actions, but was recorded to teach us important truth about God’s character and His relationship with us.  The scriptures are full of types, shadows and analogies; this is the case here also.

Jesus therefore again groaning in himself, cometh to the grave.  It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.  Jesus said, Take ye away the stone.  Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.  Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?  Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid…he (Jesus) cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.  And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound with a napkin.  Jesus saith unto them, loose him and let him go.  (John 11:38-44)

When Jesus came to the place where Lazarus dead body was laid, he found a stone lay over the grave entrance.  This stone was keeping death in and keeping life out.  So the first thing Jesus did was command those standing nearby to “take away the stone.”  Once the stone was removed, it would open the way for life to be imparted. 

There is a stone that lies in front of our spiritual grave as well.  It is the stone tablets of the law that contain the commandments of God.  The commandments don’t bring us life; rather they reveal to all how dead we actually are, reinforcing our sinful and dead state.  (Rom. 3-19-20)  They keep us in our grave, heaping us over with guilt and shame, bound by their unattainable dictates. The laws huge weight keeps us trapped behind its confines; for we have no power to fulfill the law’s requirements, nor remove ourselves from its grasp, we are chained in our sin.  The stone tablets of the law stands in the way of eternal life that exists on the other side, where Jesus is. (Gal. 3:24)

 Martha, the dead man’s sister protested the idea of Jesus removing the stone from the grave entrance saying, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.” Martha feared that opening the grave of a man who had been dead for such a long time would release a very foul situation.  Likewise, the religious spirit that engulfs many folks is much like Martha’s comments to Jesus, for they fear the consequences of “too much” grace, and of setting a dead sinner free.  This person has been dead (living in sin) a long time, one look at what is written on the stone will tell you how rotten, foul, and stinky he is.  Jesus, are you sure you want to remove the stone of the law from “him?”  Sure a little grace is great, but we don’t want some stinky dead guy running around here!  You have to keep the stone in place to keep the smell in check! 

Jesus’ reply to Martha and us, was in essence saying, “trust me, the stone must be removed, so that the glory of God can truly be revealed.”   After Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, the stone of the law was rolled aside.  Jesus didn’t do away with the law, but he overcame it, superseding it by fulfilling its requirements.  Through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a substitutional payment for our sin, we can now be freed from the stone of the law that held us in our spiritual grave. Salvation by grace alone reveals the ultimate glory of God.

Once the stone had been removed from in front of the grave, Jesus spoke life into the dead man, calling him out by name. Immediately Lazarus came to life, exiting from the grave.  His life and flesh restored to perfection; no doubt more alive and more whole than the day he was born.  However he was still wrapped and bound in his grave clothes.  I envision the mummy looking Lazarus hopping out of the grave like a rabbit.  His legs tightly bound together so he could not walk normally.  His arms fixed closely to his side, and his mouth covered so his speech was muffled.  His eyes and ears wrapped so that his vision and hearing were impaired.  

When we are born again our spirits are raised from the dead and are made perfect just like Lazarus’ body.   But like Lazarus, we too are still wrapped in our grave clothes.  We are often still bound by addictions, sinful habits, and worldly thinking.  We carry old wounds, accompanied by anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness.  Our face is still covered with the napkin of guilt and shame.  Our hands and feet still bound to our old habits and lifestyles. Our ears cannot yet hear God clearly and our speech often still reeks with death. These things don’t just automatically disappear, though eternal life has been infused into our spirits.  It takes some time and there is a process to our being freed from our burial wrappings.  While our Spirits are made perfect and righteous the instant we are born again, there is a process to having our “minds renewed” (Romans 12:2) and our souls “cleansed by washed with the Word.” (Eph 5:26)  There are instances where people are instantly delivered from soul wounds and old habits, but mostly it is a process that happens over time as we allow the Word to changes our thinking, and gives us understand of God’s grace, love, and power working in us.  God had promised Joshua that every place he put the soles of his feet would be given to Israel to possess.  But Joshua and the Israelites had to cooperate with God to drive the enemy out of their promised land in order to take full possession of it.  If they had stayed at the edge of the Jordan River waiting for God to evict the inhabitants of Jericho before they went into the land, they would still be waiting there to this day.  We cannot in our own efforts remove our own grave clothes.  We need God to do the supernatural in us and though us to be set free, but our part in this process is to believe what the Word says, and cooperate with Spirit’s guidance by doing as He leads. 

After Lazarus had come out of the grave still wrapped in grave clothes, “Jesus saith unto them, loose him and let him go.”   Jesus commanded the people who witnessed life being infused into Lazarus’ body to participate in the miracle by helping to free him from his grave clothes.  It is part of our duty as Christians to help set others free from their grave clothes as well.  Jesus has freed us and healed us so that we can be His hands and feet to a broken and hurting world.  Because of the things that Jesus has brought us through and healed us of, we are able to help others who may be trapped in the same grave clothes that we were once bound in.  We are often afraid to reveal to others our past, because of the vulnerability we feel, and judgment that we fear might come.  But it is our testimony of how and what God has freed us from, that will help set someone else free from similar bondages.  Revelation 12:11 tells us that we overcome Satan by Jesus’ shed blood and by testifying of what His blood has done for us.  “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”

It is the purpose of the body of Christ to help set each other free from our grave clothes, so don’t be afraid to seek out help from other believers who may have been through what you are still struggling with.  Likewise be vulnerable enough to be real, and available enough to be used by God, in order to help free someone else from their grave clothes.  Just like the resurrected Lazarus, we start out still carrying the stench of a dead man, but wind up being the aroma of Christ.

“For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.” (2 Cor.2:15-16)

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