When Jesus shows up and calls us by name, we are taken out of the cold, dead grave—the death of transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1)—and were given new life (Romans 6:4). And yet, if we are honest, we would admit that there are times when we still feel like we are wrapped tightly in our old grave-clothes.
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)
Jesus called out to Lazarus, who had been dead for four days. The smell and signs of death must have been awful. Having served in the Hollywood Fire Rescue for 9 ½ years, I can speak from personal experience about the assault that a body four days’ dead wages on the senses. To put it delicately, you know you are coming upon the corpse from a long way off! Yet, Jesus overcame a dead Lazarus with a word of life from His lips. It has been well said that if Jesus had not called Lazarus by name, every dead person within earshot would have come forth from their grave.
The smell and signs of death still affect us all. With strips of linen still wrapped around our hands and feet, we find it easy and natural to orient our lives around ourselves and our desires, rather than our Savior and others. Bound by grimy grave-clothes, we seek to further the agenda of our own kingdom rather than the kingdom of God. We pursue our own plans and purposes. We work toward accomplishing our own goals and dreams. We seek to sit on the throne of our lives rather than giving Jesus His rightful place.
Only the Gospel can take off our grave-clothes and set us free.
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)
Jesus has called us out from the grave and freed us from the stinking grave-clothes of death. But the apostle Paul makes it clear that we are not to use our freedom to indulge our sinful desires. We are to serve and love God and others rather than ourselves.
When was the last time you were bound by the grave-clothes of proving you were right rather than proving that you truly love? When was the last time you were bound by the grave-clothes of seeking the approval and applause of man rather than the heartening smile of God? When was the last time you were bound by the grave-clothes of satisfying your selfish desires rather than seeking first the kingdom and righteousness of God?
Only living in the light of the love that is better than life—the amazing, gracious love of Christ—will rid us fully and completely of the grave-clothes that once were the signs of death. Because we are alive in Christ (Romans 6:11), we are set free to live the life we have been called by God to live.
Do we live that new life imperfectly? Yes, we certainly do! Paul warned that “The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17). Scripture assures us that we will stumble; but when we do, we need only remember that we are completely forgiven and unconditionally loved. Remembering this glorious Gospel truth is the only way to throw off those old grave-clothes forever!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!