Freedom Into Slavery…
Freedom Into Slavery…
God can rescue you from your slavery, but what you do in your freedom is up to you.
I’ve heard it said that when God brings lessons in your life several times within a period of time, you’d better “lean in” right? It’s like He puts a truth on repeat to make sure we don’t miss it. Well, I was spending some time with a sweet friend of mine and we started discussing the life and death of Lazarus. We were struck by this story and concept of “freedom into slavery” and not three days later, I was at a woman’s conference that talked about Lazarus… Ok, God. I’m listening. The story of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha is in John 11. Now, I don’t just call this the story of Lazarus because let’s be real…Lazarus didn’t have a lot to do with it. He died and then got up…that was basically his contribution to this incredible narrative. But Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, are really the focus here.
Let’s pause for a second. Am I the only one that gets really confused with all of the Marys and Johns and so on in the Word? I feel like every other chapter a different Mary is anointing Jesus with perfume, or sitting at his feet, running to the tomb, or being saved from stoning. Little did I realize that the same Mary that wept at Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair (the same woman that Jesus credited with the incredible honor of being the only one in all of Scripture that showed love to Him) also, sat at His feet while her sister, Martha, constantly cleaned their home. It is this Mary and Martha that are the center of the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus had taught them how to worship Him when He encouraged Martha to join her sister and sit at His feet. And now, Jesus was about to teach them how to live through the death of their dear brother.
Jesus had been sent word that his friend Lazarus was sick to the point of death, and yet He did not come immediately. The Word says that He remained two days longer where He was. Why? Why would Jesus not immediately hike up His toga, strap on His Birkenstocks and high tail it to Bethany to be with His friends? Or, better yet. Why not just speak the words of life and give Lazarus new health and strength through the power of His voice? Would this not give God enough glory? Why would that not be a sufficient showing of God’s power?
I think it interesting to note how the Bible wrote this,
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. SO, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
The Bible says “so”. Why? “So” denotes a cause and effect. “I’m tired SO I went to bed”. Because A then B. So Jesus stalled for a reason and that reason must be what came directly before… “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Jesus knew what would happen two days later, and He allowed it to happen out of love for this family. The death of Lazarus would be a foreshadowing of His own death, burial, and resurrection. If they would be allowed to see with their own eyes, Jesus’ power over death through Lazarus, they would be that much more prepared to accept His own resurrection and be powerful witnesses to it later. This was an incredible gift Jesus afforded his friends; to be used by God to show His power over the grave.
But Why did He wait two days? That seems pretty specific. Why not three days or simply “a while”? In the traditional Jewish faith, there is a belief about the afterlife. This faith regarded death with the highest degree of respect. Every Jew had to be buried and as soon after death as possible. Cremation was strictly forbidden because the soul was still believed to have a connection to the body for three days after death. It was seen to hover before continuing to the afterlife. Hmm. That’s interesting. So, by the time Jesus had arrived at the tomb, Martha told Him he’d been dead for 4 days. So, according to their belief system, his soul was gone! He was way past his expiration date! But the power of God never expires.
There’s so much good meat in this story, but I want to focus on the actual resurrection for now. In Jewish burial custom, a body would be washed, anointed with oils and perfumes and then wrapped in burial cloth before being laid in an above ground tomb usually carved out of the side of a cliff or something. The body would be laid on a stone platform or crevice carved into the wall of the tomb. After time passed, the bones would be collected and put in “bone boxes” called ossuaries and placed with older family members further in the tomb. You’ll see this referenced several times in scripture about the collection of bones being laid to “sleep with my fathers” as they were typically family tombs. A simple shroud would cover the face and a stone rolled in front of the opening to the cave.
When Jesus arrives at the tomb, scripture says He was once again deeply moved. Actually, the wording is stronger than that. The Word says “He groaned in His spirit”. The Greek that this comes from is not a word associated with sorrow, but more anger. It is used not to simply note an emotional feeling but a feeling that moves one to action.
I’ve seen this emotion explained a couple of ways. It is possible that He was angry at the sorrow of the people that were mourning the death of Lazarus. This theory says that Jesus was angry at their misunderstanding of the full resurrection to life that allowed Lazarus to live eternally after death. Macarthur says, “while grief is understandable, these people were acting in despair….like the pagans that have no hope.” Now, you may think, “hold on a second, a few verses later it says ‘Jesus wept’, so how could He condemn others that mourn if He only a moment later, mourns Himself??” That’s true. This is where our silly English language gets in the way (go deeper, believer…study the Word). The Greek word used for “wept” there denotes a quiet, burst of tears. This would be in direct contrast to the loud, bombastic wails of the paid, professional mourners that the family would’ve hired for the funeral. And His tears may not have been for Lazarus, but due to a grief that His people were still lost in disbelief that all that have faith in Jesus will live forever with the Father.
Another theory is that Jesus may have been angry for a different reason. Now, I have no sources for this theory…other than Scripture for support. But keep in mind, these bodies of ours were not designed for death. Death only entered the picture when we exited the garden. Think about it. When someone dies, especially “too soon”, doesn’t it feel wrong?? Doesn’t it feel unnatural? Because it is. Death is not of God. God brings life. Death is the result of sin and Jesus is the One charged with defeating it once and for all! But in this moment with Lazarus, death had, for a moment, seemed to win. And it is possible that that fact made a holy Savior angry. Just like we saw Him angry in the temple when there were moneychangers keeping the poor from experiencing God’s presence, Jesus was staring at the reason His people could not be in unity with the Father. Is it possible that the Son’s righteous anger boiled over to tears of indignation. Boiled to the point that action was required… He HAD to do something. Death would, again, be shown who really held the power.
He told people to remove the stone. He doesn’t wave His hand and have the rock obey Him. He could. All throughout His ministry, the Earth had obeyed Him (think the storm when the disciples almost wet themselves with fear). But He enlisted the help of Lazarus’ community. Martha came to Jesus and explains to Jesus that He must be mistaken. After all, Lazarus has been dead for 4 days and must be stinking by now. Remember, this is the woman who has always been very concerned about the keeping of her house. She was “Martha Biblical Stuart”. Martha would not wish to impose on those in the assembly to the unnecessary stench of a decaying body just so Jesus could say goodbye to His friend. Martha, once again, shows that she wants so badly to understand Jesus and be counted as one of His intimates, but she is so shortsighted and blinded by her humanity that she fails at times to see the Heaven in front of her. I am very often a Martha. Jesus reminds her of who He is and lifts a prayer to His Father. He then cries out in a loud voice… a voice of authority. A voice that everyone there who had come from town could hear. If Lazarus didn’t come out… if Jesus’ cry went without response, the whole town would claim that Jesus was a false prophet and would be stoned in the center of town. This was a gauntlet thrown.
Upon hearing the voice of the one that gives life, Lazarus emerged from the darkness of his death. He had been delivered from his tomb and resurrected to life… but he was still bound. His face was still covered. His body was still wrapped and he was still in bondage. Jesus had given him life, but he was not yet free from all of the effects of his death. Jesus looked at the crowd and I’m sure his sisters and said, “unbind him.” He looked at his community and said YOU go set him free. YOU wrap your arms around him and tear the cloths that covered him in death and let him walk untethered into his new life! Jesus could’ve had Lazarus walk out free. He could have given him a royal robe and signet ring if He wanted, but He chose to charge those around him with a task. Why? Why not finish the job and give Lazarus the completion of his salvation? Did He get tired? Was His power not big enough to spring for a new robe? No! Jesus wants to use His people to untangle the mess that death causes. He looks at His church and says GET INVOLVED! Get in the game! Be a part of someone’s freedom! Remove the shroud of doubt, rejection, fear, anxiety, guilt, and depression and help them into a life filled with all that God has for them!
Mary and Martha had been taught to sit at the feet of Jesus and worship Him. They had understood what it was to bow before their Lord. With the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus taught them how to give that love away. How to show their love in action. Jesus can deliver you from death and we, the body of Christ, help each other walk in life! This is the story of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Lazarus was but a man who Jesus loved. Mary and Martha were women that Jesus used to teach what it looks like to love Jesus and live like Him.
So what are we doing with our freedom? Are we voluntarily enchaining ourselves to the same things we had when we were in bondage? Things like disbelief, anger, gossip, slander, addiction, lust, pride, or apathy. Or will we live free of the things that kept us bound and go help our brothers to live in their freedom as well?