Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Unbind him

This weekend, I was reading in the Gospel of John. In particular, I was praying and reading as I was struggling with the realization that the next day was the 6th anniversary of my mom's passing. As I was reading I got to the passage speaking of Lazarus' death. Jesus spoke to Mary and Martha (and anyone else who was listening) about the realities of what death is and is not. He makes astounding claims about who he is, in particular his claim that He, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus laid claim that everyone who lives and believes in Him shall never die. Huge promises in light of the reason he had been summoned to this place. Great words of comfort when we think of loved ones who have passed in this life, but,  who we can have faith, are living still. The passage gave peace and joy to my spirit and I was grateful.

My eyes continued down through the passage that morning, and as I continued to read this account, something new came through as I read the raising of Lazarus at the words of Christ. It wasn't the power of Jesus words, calling forth life where before there was death, it wasn't the intermingling of strong faith and doubt at play in the loved ones who were gathered. This particular morning, it was the words Jesus spoke to those who were gathered, after Lazarus had emerged alive from his grave: "Unbind him, and let him go."

Its a story of rebirth, regeneration, at the word of our Savior. We lie, dead, lifeless, rotting away under the death linens of our sin. We stink of flesh that has died, is dying, and will die. A dead man thinks no thoughts of life, of God, of anything... and a dead man cannot bring himself to life. But at the call of the Great Shepherd his sheep awake. No matter how far away, how far gone, how tightly wrapped, His sheep hear His voice and come forth. We walk out of the tomb, knowing nothing yet of being alive, knowing nothing about why we walk, knowing only that our God has called us forth and we can do nothing but come out. We stand, wrapped in the burial clothes, stench emanating from our every wound, filth dripping. We are wretched, depraved, debauched, and utterly untouchable, let alone unlovable. Useless, worthless, but somehow standing, and alive. We stand with no knowledge of what to do next, just as Lazarus stood at the entrance to his earthly tomb.

What Jesus does next is massive. He did not look at Lazarus and demand him to go get cleaned up, scrub away his dirt, put on his best clothes, and then come back. He didn't  command anything of Lazarus in that moment. He spoke to those who were there: "Unbind him".

Those who stood alongside Jesus, whom John had just written showing some of them as having great faith in Christ. Jesus' followers, disciples, and friends, they are the ones who received a command from their God. "Unbind him", unwrap his bandages, cleanse his wounds, do not turn up your nose at his stench, and stand far off as though you are afraid to touch him. You claim to love me, and you claim to have mourned over this man's death. Here he stands before you, called from death to life by my word and through my love. I love this man, I wept over his death. If you love me, you love him, and if you love, you obey. Prepare this once-dead man for life.

It was a teaching for the Church. It is what we, as believers who claim to love Jesus, and thereby claim to love what Jesus loves, who are being commanded by our God. We should expect to encounter not only dead people, but even more so to see previously dead sinners taking those first, unsure, stumbling steps back into life. We are expected to be at their tombs, grieving the depth of their depraved deaths, calling of Jesus to come, knowing that, as Martha stated earlier, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Saying, Lord, I know you have power over this, and if your will is for this dead man to walk, he will walk. We as the church should not be surprised to see people walk out of their graves, still wrapped in their death. And when we see this happen, we should not fumble around and wonder what we are to do for this newly regenerated life. Jesus told us what to do: "Unbind him and let him go".

It is the work of those who love and follow Jesus to embrace regenerate people, no matter the stench, the filth, the debauchery that encircles them. We are to walk up to them, remembering the days we stood still wrapped in linen, just emerging from our tomb. We should remember the sting of the cleansing salve that was lovingly administered to our wounds. We should tread with grace as we prepare this brother or sister for life. We should heed the teachings from Paul to the church at Ephesus that Christ is the example of how we should love, through His love for the church, sanctifying her by the washing of water with the Word.

Lazarus walked out of his tomb at the call of Jesus. He stood, unable and without knowing of anything else he could do. He simply responded to the command to come out. And as he stood, Jesus commanded his people to do exactly what Jesus himself does for the church, he commanded them to unbind him, clean him, wash over him with the water of the word, allowing the Spirit to do it's work. Having been raised by the Spirit through the word of the Son, by the power given by the Father, Lazarus now stood. Jesus then extends the blessing of this work to his people, allowing them the opportunity to now do for someone else what had once been done for them. All of this to emphasize one over-arching reality:
"So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, 'Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around that they may believe that you sent me.' When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out.'

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