Read John 11:17-44
One of the hazards of knowing the Bible, and knowing it well comes when we read a familiar passage like this one and think “Oh, I know what this is all about.” Then we miss whatever new idea God might have to move us deeper into a knowledge of Him. That happened when I was nosing around for a place in scripture which could show me the outworking of the confession Paul made:
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Then Lazarus emerging from the tomb covered in smelly grave clothes came to mind. Our church-faith-community has been structured around human leaders and established doctrine, but when someone is “dead in Christ” we infrequently hear about it and have no pattern for generating this kind of life in our church, families and communities.
Lazarus is a perfect picture of what Jesus wants us to go through, what He wants us to become. After we get saved we are still in the natural. We learn all the stations of belief, baptism, Holy Spirit infilling, fasting, prayer, battling the devil in various levels of sincerity, but the “dead man” that Jesus wants is nowhere to be seen.
And that formerly dead man now raised to new life right here and now is the Man God wants to lead his church out of the wilderness and into the promised land. There are people who are dead in Christ, I’ve met them, but they have no major books or TV programs. Most have no visible ministries but they are there. They are so dead we don’t know who they are unless we seek them out.
Notice here the pluperfect tense; Paul ‘was’ not crucified, but he uses the ‘had’ which means it is time well behind him. It is over and done with. He lives now in the state where the fleshy desires of the natural man – I want, I need, I must – have been put down by submission of the will to Christ.
So just as God called forth the stars ( Psalm 147:4 ) and the souls (John 10:3) to planet earth so Jesus stands outside the tomb and calls forth the dead Lazarus the one who knows what he needs to know about God, the one who died to himself, and now has new life, not on the other side of the grave but right here and now. Lazarus is the prototype, the symbol of what God wants from us, a living witness so dead to his own desires and self-will that he (or she) is able to follow the instructions from the Holy Spirit on a daily, moment by moment basis just as Jesus did.
Of course” he stinketh” as his sister Martha so ingloriously put it. The past is still clinging to him. He may also be stinking up the church if they do not understand who this New Man is or why he is here among us.
So Jesus has the witnesses pull off the grave clothes of old theology, old legalisms, old smelly rags of self-works and self-will, to reveal the New Man in Christ.
My ministry is to write for the people who no longer go to church but who are still interested in what God is doing and why. Between 30-40% of believing Christians no longer attend services. Out of an estimated 12 million adult Christians (less than half the total adult population of the USA) that is a potential church of over 3,600,000 million. That is a lot of wanderers.
Why did they quit? I think they, like Lazarus, are saying to themselves, “this church is dead.” And from their viewpoint, the church is dead.
But no, the church is not dead – they are. They have died to the old and are needing to embrace the new – but where is it? They wander around looking for similar Kingdom people who want to shake off the smelly clothes of last year’s religious status quo.
Being dead in Christ isn’t something Jesus does. This is your job. You get to die by practicing the Word of God, by forgiving instantly, by not lashing out even when you are justified, by not letting the ‘natural man’ take over your emotions. It is death. It is no garden party.
Look for the New Man because He is here ready to be revealed.