This week, from sea to shining sea, people will gather with family, friends, strangers, and neighbors to celebrate something indispensable to our identity as a nation… our freedom.
For a moment, it will sound like kids running, laughing, and jumping in pools… It will smell like hamburgers and hot dogs coming in off the grill… It will look like red, white and blue accessories and fireworks in the night sky. Freedom will ring throughout our land.
While this freedom deserves to be honored, celebrated, and enjoyed; I pray that we might also use this occasion to consider the essence of freedom, which is not physical or political, but personal and spiritual.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead in John, chapter 11. It is, undoubtedly, a much-loved, often-quoted, and frequently-preached passage of Scripture. Although much work has been done to help believers understand the implications of this miraculous story, I believe there is a significant aspect of this text that remains largely overlooked.
The traditional focus of this text concludes with these words; “Then Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And the dead man came out…” I have personally preached this passage many times, and stopped right there. However, John 11:44 in its entirety reads, “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’” (NIV).
Here is what that tells me. It is entirely possible to be alive in Christ but still look and smell dead.
Think about it… Jesus had just called Lazarus forth FROM THE GRAVE. This man was DEAD. He was not asleep. He did not pass out. He was not in a coma. He was dead, bound, and buried. He had been in the grave for FOUR DAYS (we will talk about that later). Then Jesus shows up, calls his name, and Lazarus springs forth SINGING: “he called my name, and I ran out of that grave!” Right? No!! Not at all.
I believe that the concluding words of this miraculous story serve as a parallel for the Christian life… I believe the last few words of this text help us understand why so many people are alive in Christ, but never truly find freedom. From this text, we can understand that even though Lazarus was fully alive… He still looked and smelled dead. Even though Christ had given him new life he was still wrapped up in the old one. Even though Jesus brought him back from death, he was still dressed like a dead man. Even after his resurrection, Lazarus was still bound by his grave clothes. Is it possible that, like Lazarus, many Christians have found new life in Christ but they have yet to lose their grave clothes and find freedom? How many of us have been called out of the grave never realizing we brought our grave clothes out with us?
GRAVE CLOTHES represent… ANYTHING that holds you back from EVERYTHING that God has for you.
When Lazarus comes out of the grave he doesn’t come running. He doesn’t come skipping. He doesn’t
come out with his hands up in the air yelling, “I was once dead but now I am alive!” No! Do you know how Lazarus comes out of the grave? Shuffling. Hopping. Doing some kind of weird waddle. See when Lazarus walked out of the grave, the text says his “hands and feet [were] wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”
His feet were wrapped up… He couldn’t go where Jesus said to go. His hands were wrapped up… He couldn’t do what Jesus said to do. There was a cloth covering his face… Do you know what that means? He couldn’t hear what Jesus needed him to hear. He couldn’t see what Jesus needed him to see. He couldn’t say what Jesus needed him to say.
This is not the life that God wanted for him. This is not the reason he has been brought back from death. What Jesus wants for Lazarus is life AND freedom. He desires that he would be both ALIVE and UNBOUND.
God desires the same for us… LIFE and FREEDOM.
Ryan McDermott has been serving at Christ Fellowship since May of 2010. Originally on staff as worship leader, Ryan currently serves as the Director of Students & Young Adults. Ryan grew up in South Florida and has a specific burden to see this region radically transformed with the love and message of Jesus Christ. A graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic University, with a degree in Christian Leadership, Ryan has served the local church as a full-time Youth Pastor since the age of 19. Passionate about preaching, Ryan frequently speaks at camps, retreats, schools, and other events. He has also had the opportunity to publish several articles on leadership, creativity, and innovation in Student Ministry. Ryan, his wife Christine, their son Declan, and daughter Kinley live in Wellington.