On speaking to the disciples concerning Lazarus, Jesus says, “our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going to Bethany to wake him up.” Yet the disciples just thought Lazarus was sick and needed to sleep; they didn’t understand Jesus’ words, so he said in language plain to them, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
– John 11.11-15, my paraphrase
Spending a year away from the kingdom of America a few years ago was one of the best things that I have ever done. I don’t think we realize how much our environment can truly affect us, especially when we’re born into it, raised into it, and live life in it for so long. The concerns and worries of life in the States attack us on every front that we unconsciously become disillusioned to the spiritual realities around us.
For me and many others, ‘God had to take us out in order to bring us in’ (Deut. 6.23). I say this meaning that He had to draw us out of our life of complacency in an attempt to birth us out of it and into something greater, the Kingdom reality, a spiritual reality that we’re foolishly and indirectly taught is no more than an idea or theory. I say all of this out of great humility because I’m realizing the difficulty of living this Kingdom lifestyle in the States. In the last several months I’ve found myself overwhelmed with the worries of this life, with trying to figure out how to make ends meet, pay the bills, and effectively prepare for marriage.
But I refuse to neglect what God’s done in my life.
I love this chapter of John where Jesus goes and raises Lazarus from the dead. There are truly two perspectives on the story: the way Jesus sees Lazarus (asleep) or the way that the disciples see Lazarus (dead). Like I said, here in the West we’ve been born into a reality that sees the physical and in many ways everyone all across the world is. We’re born into the flesh, born into the sin and corruption of this world, and we’re limited by our sight.
We have to allow God to capture our hearts in such a way that it draws us into a greater reality where the scales fall off our eyes (such as the blind man in Jn. 9) and we begin seeing things for what they really are.
The world looks at Lazarus and sees him dead. For years on end I read this passage of Scripture and I couldn’t help but be overcome at the thought that Lazarus was rotting away in the grave – DEAD! And I thought it was marvelous because Jesus walks into Bethany bearing Life and he lets it loose on Lazarus’s lifeless body. The thing is that I saw no differently than the disciples did. They couldn’t see past the physical problem (death) to the spiritual problem (a silent slumber). And to no surprise, when Jesus got to Bethany, it was no different. Mary, Martha, and the whole town were overcome and grieving because if Jesus had been there, “Lazarus’ sickness would not have resulted in death.”
And Jesus wept.
This is where we might differ on interpretation, but I believe that Jesus wept maybe not just because he loved Lazarus so much, but that Jesus wept at the unbelief of those that he was surrounded by, that no matter how long they had been with him they still weren’t seeing things the way that he was seeing them. They couldn’t see the unseen because they were too focused on the visible realm. They weren’t operating out of faith in the greatness of who God the Father is and what He is capable of.
My favorite part is what Jesus did next though. He told them to take away the stone, to essentially remove the thing that was binding Lazarus to the grave. And then Jesus says to them, “I told you that if you believed cool things would happen, right?’ Watch this…” and he looked up to heaven, did some discussing with the Father, and simply said, “Lazarus – come out!”
And he did – in grave clothes and all.
Jesus told the people standing around Lazarus gaping in awe to take the grave clothes off of Lazarus and to let him go, to free him from, again, the things that bound him. To the world, Jesus raised a man from the dead, and to the angels of heaven, Christ merely woke one up.
I look at this passage of Scripture and I can’t help but think of the Church in the West. I’ve said several times in the past that I love what Bono says of our Church in the States, that we’re the “sleeping giant.” And I’m filled with hope because I see a generation rising up, a group of faith-filled sons and daughters who are being stirred at the voice of the Lord, a voice that’s beaconing them to movement to pull themselves out of bed and to get on their feet and walk. The best part is that their voices aren’t silent either – they’re also provoking one another to movement.
Our heart is to ‘raise the dead’, but our heart can also be said to ‘wake the dead’.
I think for too long we’ve been binding ourselves as a Church with labeling each other as a hopeless cause, as just another sinner saved by grace, and we’ve been clothing ourselves with death instead of Life. Jesus has called us to remove those things from our life that stand between the way of us and him… and we have to help each other through it.
Lazarus wouldn’t have been walking out of the grave had others not been willing to move the stone for him; we have to be willing to fight for each other.
Lazarus wouldn’t have seen the world clearly a second time had others not unraveled him from his funeral garb; we have to be willing to clothe others with the likeness of Jesus.
And Lazarus wouldn’t have been walking had the voice of God not been bellowing out from Jesus’ mouth; we have to be willing to speak the words that God gives to us – they’re words of Life!
So let’s unite together as ONE Church where divisions don’t stand and right and wrong don’t exist. Let’s acknowledge the different workings of the body and let’s all raise a battle cry that’s going to wake up the rest of this 42nd generation, that’s going to set into movement an army that’s equipped with Life, an army that’s going to go change the world.
May the ‘sleeping giant’ no longer sleep, but storm the gates of hell to see Kingdom come…