Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” (John 11:43–44)
The raising of Lazarus remains one of the most dramatic miracles in the life and ministry of Jesus. It contains many powerful metaphors and types, not the least of which is the wonderful example of new life – resurrection life – for every believer. Lazarus beautifully illustrates the wonderful truth of the power of life in Christ. It reminds us that we follow Jesus to the cross and beyond into new life. Lazarus is each one of us, an assurance given even before Christ’s death and resurrection of the miracle of grace available to every believer.
The resurrection life in Christ is the beginning of spiritual transformation.
There is a difference between being restored to life and raised to life. Restored implies a return to a previous condition, but raised implies lifted to a new condition. This is the power of the resurrection life. It lifts above and beyond. It involves transformation. While it does include restoration, it’s not the ‘what we had’ kind of restoration but the biblical kind which always involves more – the divine principle of multiplication. In life in Christ we are ‘restored’ to way more than we had before.
This is the underlying principle that defines resurrection life. It always brings difference, change, transformation, and newness. A simple ‘giving back’ would mean everything is the same as it was before. Resurrection life is transcendent and transforming. It is never be the same again. We may have the same body, the same emotions, the same circumstances, but the spirit is transformed and in Christ through the work of the Spirit initiates transformation from the inside out. Resurrection life is never simply outward. It is a power that works from within.
In resurrection life, God is the giver and we are the liver.
There is a single divine principle that governs life – God alone is the source. The power of life and death are the sovereign right of God, without whom there would be no life on earth at all. For all our advances in science and medicine, man has not and will not be given the ability to create life. It is the divine prerogative of the almighty God of the universe. This applies as much to the spiritual life as it does to the natural life. Resurrection life deals primarily with the spiritual, though it may manifest in the physical as well.
It’s often a difficult truth to grasp that spiritual life is always God’s first concern. Our lives on this earth are temporary, a physical manifestation of a life rooted in eternity. For both believers and non-believers, eternity is a central truth – in Christ, it’s eternal life and outside of Christ it’s eternal death. Our physical lives are simply a place of choice and of ‘practising’ for the eternity that is to come. For that reason, while God gives resurrection life, He intends that we live resurrection life. Unless we enter into it and actually live it, it has no practical purpose or relevance.
Living the resurrection life means removing the grave clothes.
Today’s verse provides a wonderful illustration of the common failing of every human being – we ‘default’ to what we know. The symbolisim of the grave clothes is actually very powerful. We see ourselves in Lazarus – he’s raised from the dead but is still wearing the trappins of his old life and death. This is a critical principle. To fully live the resurrection life means that the grave clothes – the things of the past – need to be removed. We must cut loose everything that keeps us bound in who and what we were.
Every single of of the blessings and gifts of grace has a two-fold reality. There is the eternal spiritual reality that it already exists and has already been fully and perfectly accomplished. At the same time, there is the continuous reality that it needs to be ‘unwrapped and used’ to become effective. The principle of resurrection life is no different. To put something new in our lives, however, we must usually make space, and making space means removing something old. Removing the grave clothes is our participation in the resurrection life.
Loose him and let him go is fundamental to the resurrection life.
These instructions from Christ are a powerful principle in making disciples. Without exception, we come to salvation – to resurrection life – in our grave clothes. This doesn’t diminish or alter the reality of life in Christ. That is powerfully and eternally true. But the practical outworking of new life requires the grave clothes to be removed. It’s also absolute truth that we may be unaware of many, if not most, of the hindrances and things of the past that chain us and hold us back. Today’s verses make it very clear that we have an obligation to work with new believers to aid them in removing the grave clothes so that they may live the resurrection life.
This, I believe, is why so many Christians fall by the wayside. It is, of course, God who empowers the loosing and letting go, but He requires us to participate. For reasons beyond our human comprehension, God has chosen to work through and with His people. Helping others to remove the grave clothes has less to do with the popular trend of ‘binding and loosing’ than with the practical impartation of the Word in helping others to recognise the bondages of the old self and guide them in how to effectively apply the resurrection life to remove them.
Resurrection life is both eternal and here and now.
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of separating the spiritual life from the physical life. While the two are different, they are never separate. Our spirit are contained in our bodies. If God intended complete separation, He would never have ‘built’ us like this. The real truth of the resurrection life is that it is God’s way of ensuring that our physical lives are governed and directed by our spiritual lives. Before salvation, the self – the physical life – did the controlling. The grave clothes are the things of self that manifest and empower this. They are the bonds and chains of sin and self.
Our ultimate ‘destination’ is resurrection life in eternity where the physical limitations of this present body no longer exist. But in Christ, we are able to begin living in the spirit, not in the flesh. It is, as it were, a ‘taste’ of eternity in the here and now. We no longer need to live by the principles and dictates of the physical, finite, natural life. We live by the spiritual truths that God provides in His Word and through the work of the Spirit. Physical death, for us, is simply the point where we ‘cross over’ into an eternal life unhindered by the limitations of the world.
Jesus calls forth to resurrection life, but we must participate to make it real.
We should never lose sight of the fact that a sovereign act of God always requires a step of obedience on our part. Resurrection life is not intended as some kind of warm and fuzzy esoteric assurance of supernatural intervention. It is intended as a real and very practical day-to-day way of life. This involves our participation and the participation of others. To illustrate, if Lazarus had not obeyed the command to ‘come forth,’ he’d never have left the tomb. When Jesus calls us out of something, whether it be wrong thoughts, uncontrolled emotions, or persistent sin, we have to get up and move out. While the call contains the power of resurrection life, it only activates when we obey.
But Lazarus, on his own, wasn’t able to remove his grave clothes effectively. He was still too wrapped up in his old death to be able to live in the new life. Jesus commanded his friends and family to loose him and let him go. It’s a powerful metaphor for the body of Christ. While He is the head, He has ordained that we are the body which fulfills the commands of the head. We all need other believers to help us shed the grave clothes and move on in obedience and faith into the process of released transformation.
Resurrection life means putting off the old and putting on the new.
This is a wonderful truth. When we give something up for God, He always replaces it with something better. In resurrection life, we exchange our grave clothes for the robe of righteousness. It’s a purely practical consideration. Once Lazarus was ‘unwrapped,’ he needed something to wear. He could not have simply trotted around naked. A robe would have been provided, and like the prodigal son, we are assured that our Father provides a robe that celebrates our new life.
When our grave clothes are removed, we are given the life and righteousness of Christ to wear instead. Again, it requires our participation. We actually have to put it on. We have to practically replace what we’ve put off by putting on the new. If we don’t, it’s a halfway thing, an incomplete process. Being human, it takes a while for us to do this. We keep discovering a wrapping or two that needs to be unwound, and we have to keep putting on the new in its place. The robe of righteousness is a bit like Josephs’s coat of many colours. Each time we get rid of something, we add another piece to our robe – another piece of Jesus, and in this way are slowly transformed into His likeness.
Lord, help us now to obey Your call to ‘come forth.’ Grant us the courage to step out in obedience into this new resurrection life, the wisdom to recognise the grave clothes that still keep us bound to our old lives, and the humility to surrender to the process of transformation. Raise up others to aid us, and raise us up to aid others, so that Your body may be set free to live as You intended, revealing Your glory as we are slowly transformed into Your likeness.