A short time before Jesus would be crucified, He went to Bethany to visit Lazarus – a man He knew and loved. But Lazarus was dead. And Jesus knew he was dead before He got there.
Lazarus’ sisters had sent messengers to Jesus telling Him their brother was sick, but He delayed going to them. Two more days Jesus waited before beginning His journey to Bethany. It seemed so cold, so uncaring, so strange.
When Jesus was finally ready to get on the road, He told His disciples, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him” (John 11:14-15).
By the time Jesus and His disciples arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four long, agonizing, grief-filled days. Many Jews in that day believed that the soul only remained near a body for three days.
All hope was lost.
When Jesus spoke His command to roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb where Lazarus had been laid, Martha, with her usual straightforwardness, protested: “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible” (John 11:39).
“Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, thank you for hearing Me. You always hear Me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe You sent me.’
“Then Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And the dead man came out …” (John 11:41-44).
I’ve often wondered if, in fact, Lazarus did physically overwhelm his loved ones with the stench of death as he stepped into their presence. When a body “un-decays” does it “un-stink?” Surely the linen cloths encapsulating his body reeked of death.
The story continues, “[H]is hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” (John 11:44).
With just three simple words, Jesus had just raised a dead man to life. Surely He could have spoken just one more word to loosen and demolish the remnants of death. Instead, He asked men and women standing nearby to remove physically the burial wrappings.
What a picture of Christian love – a supportive and celebratory expression!
After we are awakened and brought to life, remnants of our old lives may still hang on our bodies. And without the patience, help, and encouragement of other believers, we could just stand there unable to move forward to live truly in freedom. Old thinking patterns, doubts, fears, and shame can both blind and bind.
But we are called to walk in the light, as He is in the light, to renew our minds in the truth. And we are called to encourage one another and build one another up, to help each other fulfil this passage from Ephesians 4:17-24:
Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
Jesus is the One who miraculously raises the deadest of dead to new and beautiful life. The most corrupt, decaying, hopeless soul is retrievable and lovable. And He calls us to come alongside awakened souls, to “unwrap them and let them go.”