His friend was dead, and in many ways, it was His fault. He knew it. The crowd knew it. Most especially the sisters knew it.
Jesus could have intervened. He could have stopped it. It wouldn’t have been the first time that He healed from a distance. And yet when Jesus heard that His friend Lazarus was sick, He did nothing. Not only did He not physically move, there was no extension of healing power. He stayed, in all senses, exactly where He was for two more days (John 11:6). When Jesus and His entourage finally rolled into Bethany, Lazarus was dead, and the grieving process had begun.
But now He was at the cave. Now He was face-to-face with the stone. Now He was weeping for His friend and for the state of the broken world, along with Mary and Martha. And then He’d had enough.
Then Jesus, angry in Himself again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.“Remove the stone,” Jesus said.
Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, he’s already decaying. It’s been four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me. I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent Me.” After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.” —John 11:38-44a
What was dead had been made alive by the One who is the Resurrection and the Life. But what happens next is an interesting detail in this account:
Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him and let him go.'” —John 11:44b
Let’s zoom out here for a minute and look back at what we have. Here we have a man who was dead. But though he was dead, Jesus in His great love made him alive again. But coming out of the tomb, he was still clothed with the marks of death. And Jesus, in this moment, leaves it to those who were there to help the one who is alive take off the marks of death.
It’s in this detail we see an important point about the role we serve on behalf of each other in the church. In the church, we are daily helping each other take off the grave clothes.
We, like Lazarus, were dead in our transgressions and sins. But as with Lazarus, Jesus loved us deeply and made us alive together with Him when we were born again. But as we come into this new life, we are still bound by the marks of our old ones. We are still covered in the habits, patterns of thinking, vengeful motives, bitter attitudes, and everything else that comprises the walking-around clothes of all those who are dead in sin.
But Jesus has not given us new life alone, but rather birthed us into a community of faith. In this community, we are responsible for one another. As we live, move, talk, pray, and love together, we help each other take off the clothes that once defined us. We are, daily, helping one another take hold of the new life that’s in us and yet not on us.
Christian, don’t live in isolation today. The church is there, and the church is there to help you take off your grave clothes. And you are there to help another in like kind so that we all might be clothed not by the marks of the grave, but in His righteousness alone.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua (10), Andi (7), and Christian (5). He serves as Director of Groups Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources. As a communicator, Michael speaks across the country at churches, conferences, and retreats and is the author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God; Transformational Discipleship; and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. Find him on Twitter: @_MichaelKelley.