Sunday, December 9, 2018

Living - Dying - or somewhere in between?

There are days when we just don't think we have much purpose in whatever journey it is we are called to undertake, but let me be the first to assure you nothing could be further from the truth! Whatever it is we are called to do, we are to do it with intent, commitment, and love. Jesus had one of those days when it seemed like he was just 'on his way' from one place to another. He found himself coming into Bethany, a town a had frequented on many occasions. It was kind of common place for him to 'cycle' through Bethany on his travels. He even had friends there. One very special event had transpired there that made Bethany a notorious place - Lazarus had been raised from the dead. Not just the dead, but the smelly, not so inviting tomb. Already wrapped in burial clothes and scented with the herbs of burial, he laid there for three days prior to his coming forth from death. His unmarried sisters were grief-stricken at the loss of their brother - their male head of the home - the one who would have been their provider.

Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. (John 12:1)

No words are recorded for us by accident. They aren't in the Bible just to give the story some sense of "plot" or to "add character" to the passage. They are each there by intention - the record of this account of 'entering in' is there because God wanted us to see something in it. Therefore, when we see the words, "Jesus entered into Bethany where Lazarus, SO RECENTLY RAISED FROM THE DEAD, WAS LIVING," we need to pause to notice what that really says. Bethany is noteworthy now for this miracle, but it also had a rich heritage. As a small town about 1.5 miles outside of Jerusalem, it was best known prior to this miracle for being a city with an "almshouse" - a place for the collection that would be distributed among the poor and sick in the region. Bethany was also a town that catered to the needs of the sick. It was kind of like a place to go when one was not doing well physically or financially. One other event in this town got people riled up - the dinner Jesus had in the home of Simon the Leper. As a town that welcomed lepers, it would have been considered an "unclean" place for most of the religious crowd to gather.

Lazarus lived there with his two sisters. It was a town populated by many peoples from various regions. It was notable as the last in a row of cities just prior to entering Jerusalem. Many pilgrimages were taken each year into Jerusalem from all over the land of Israel - in honor of Jehovah and for the purpose of the keeping of the feasts he had established. Many would pass through this region of Bethany on their journey elsewhere. As was the custom of the day, Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, would have opened their doors to many as they sojourned there for a rest prior to entering into the holy city.

The most important thing we might recount about Bethany is that Lazarus, once dead, is now living! So recently raised from the dead - now living. What a wondrous statement of fact! What a tremendous message of hope! In fact, if we really look at this, we can ask several questions that might give us insight into why this simple opening statement was penned for us. What is the purpose of resurrection? We might say it is to give evidence that God exists, that his power is over everything and everyone that would attempt to destroy his people. We might also recount that it the purpose of resurrection was to manifest his grace and to display his glory. What is the evidence of resurrection? It is the opposite of the death - life. There is a shift from one state of being into another. The tomb is empty, the grave-clothes have no further purpose, and even the stench of death no longer exists.
 
What is the outcome of resurrection? A changed life. No longer the same - Lazarus was transformed by the miracle of his resurrection. We are also transformed by the miracle of our resurrection. Don't get too literal here on me - I know you were not raised from a crude tomb, wrapped in grave-clothes, and sprinkled with herbs of burial. Yet, you were raised to newness of life in Christ. The outcome is the shedding of all that is old - the "putting on" of all that is new. The evidence is that the old no longer has a purpose in our life - we are living a new life - no longer to be associated with the trappings of the old life. Lazarus, who was one dead, was now living - not bound by the past, but freed for the present. 

That is the result (outcome) of resurrection. We sometimes attempt to "live" still bound by the grave-clothes of our past. Not only is this impractical (as they bind us pretty tightly), but they reek of the past sinful lives we were living before Christ. They carry the evidence of the old life into the present. The work of resurrection for Lazarus was complete when he put on the fresh clothes and took dinner with Jesus. He "put off" the thing that had him bound, and "put on" that which gave him freedom. If we are walking around within the bonds of the "tomb", we exhibit the evidence of the hopelessness of the tomb in our lives. If we are freed from the tomb, why would we want the "tomb-clothes" as our garments any longer? Just sayin!