God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. —Max Lucado, in Just Like Jesus (1998)
PRAYER: (From the Lectionary)
“Almighty God, You alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant Your people grace to love what You command and desire what You promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.”
SCRIPTURES: (From the Lectionary)
Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:43-44 NIV)
PRAYER FOCUS: Shedding Our Grave Clothes
This week’s Lectionary Scriptures contain some of the most powerful and revealing passages in the entire Bible: Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones; the Psalm titled De Profundis, which means “out of the depths”; a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans declaring that “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
But this Monday, as we enter the fourth week of Lent, let us focus on the gospel words of our Lord and Savior as recorded by John, the beloved disciple. It is the story of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.
The Gospel of John records that Jesus returned to Bethany, against the very strong advice of His Disciples. Jesus had just been in Bethany, and the locals had tried to kill Him. We see Thomas, known unfairly as “doubting”, declare, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” We see the sisters of Lazarus struggle with their faith amidst their grief—Martha, who greets the Lord in faith and hope, and Mary, who greets Him with thinly veiled accusation. Here we find the famous phrase “Jesus wept.”
It is also here that Jesus declares:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26, NKJV).
In front of a gathered crowd, Jesus prays to His Heavenly Father and thanks Him for what is about to happen…
Then Jesus tells them: “You take off the grave clothes. You unbind him (unwrap him, loose him) and let him go”.
In other words, My dear followers, I have done My part—now you do yours.
The Jewish tradition of those days called for the deceased to be wrapped in linen strips that were either soaked in or sprinkled with spice. The arms and legs were wrapped separately from the torso (unlike Egyptian mummies that were embalmed and rolled up together into one device). Finally, the head would be covered in a separate towel-like cloth. When Lazarus awoke to the call of Jesus of Nazareth to “Come Out!” he could barely see and walk.
Isn’t that how it was for us, Christian? We answered our Savior’s call to pass from death to life, and yet we found ourselves still blinded and hobbled by our sinful past. We stumbled, more then than we do now. But the old habits, ways, connections, behaviors, and even some friendships, represent the clothes of death that literally needed to be unwrapped from the fabric of our lives.
All who are born again will need to have the grave clothes removed. Even though, like Martha and Mary, we are saved by our faith, like Lazarus we are still bound by the vain customs and traditions of this perishing world. We still grasp for the things of the flesh. We still flirt with our fleshly habits and addictions. We boast about our community, our denomination, our background, our qualifications, our position. We gossip and scheme against others. We love ourselves more than those to whom God would send us as witnesses. These are the garments of death. We need to recognize them as such.
Lazarus couldn’t unbind himself. That’s why our Lord commanded those near to him to do it for him.
The unbinding process is called sanctification, and it takes place in two ways: Discipleship and Prayer.
First, we need to learn God’s ways. There are no shortcuts here. A lack of biblical knowledge will always retard your spiritual growth. Apart from the truth of Scripture, there simply is no way to shed the grave clothes that have bound you. We must let the message and the meaning of the Cross sink deeply into our hearts. We do this by reading and digesting God’s Word. Do not confuse childlike faith with childish thinking.
Second, through prayer, we let the Holy Spirit work deeply in us to change our hearts. We have to realize the depth of our sin and repent of the sinful attitudes within ourselves. We listen to the testimony of those who have walked this path before us. To someone who is already walking with the Lord we give permission to hold us accountable, to encourage us. God has already put these people and ministries in our lives, near to us. If we ask Him, He will show us who they are. They will help us out of our grave clothes.
Then you will help others get free from theirs, Christian. And you will do this out of love!
In this week’s Lectionary Prayer, we acknowledge that only God can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners. We pray to have the “grace to love what You command and desire what You promise”—so that our hearts may be fixed where true joys are to be found. May it be so, in the name of Jesus.
It’s Monday Morning. We are nearing the end of Lent. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life…Do you believe this?”