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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Grave clothes and tomb living

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

It would be easy to read over this passage and just miss entirely what John recorded for us about Jesus' entry into Bethany.  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 tomb.  Already wrapped in burial clothes and scented with the herbs of burial, he laid there for three days.  His sisters were grief-stricken at the loss of their brother - the male head of their home.  Now, we'd miss the intention of these opening words if we were to just gloss by them on our way to learning about how Judas would betray Jesus.  

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.  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.

First, Bethany is noteworthy now for this miracle, but had a rich heritage.  A small town about 1.5 miles outside of Jerusalem, 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.  One other event in this town got people riled up - the dinner Jesus has in the home of Simon the Leper.  So, we also know this is a town with leprosy prevalent in it.

Second, Lazarus lives there with his two sisters.  It was a town populated by many peoples from various regions.  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 keeping of the feasts he had established.  Many would pass through this region.  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.

Third, and the most important thing, 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 to learn from:
  • What is the purpose of resurrection?  To that we might say it is to give evidence that God exists, that his power is over everything that would attempt to destroy his people.  We might add that it is 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.
Lazarus, who was one dead, was living - not bound by the past, 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?