Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Walking Dead, Lazarus

So here we are week two of the Walking Dead.  For those of you who are wondering what in the world is happening at Cornerstone let’s bring you up to speed.  Through October and November our theme at Cornerstone is “The Walking Dead” and we will be looking at various stories in the Bible where people had been dead and then were alive.  There are a number of these stories and often we just kind of read over them, not really stopping to realize the impact that this would have had not only on the person who had been given life but on those around them as well.  To us they are just words on a page but to those who were involved it was literally a life altering event.  These are stories of dead people who came back to life, that’s gotta be a little spooky.

And I know that there are stories through history of people who were declared dead only to be discovered later to still be alive.  And while most of those incidents happened before the advent of modern medical techniques they sometimes still happen.  For example in September of 2007 33 year old Carlos Camejo was declared dead after being involved in a traffic accident in Venezuela.  When the staff in the morgue began the autopsy they realized something was wrong when the first incision drew fresh blood and then the corpse screamed.  Carlos said “I woke up because the pain was unbearable.”  His wife had been called to the hospital to identify her husband’s body only to discover him alive and well and waiting for him. 

But in those cases the person being revived comes as a shock to everyone involved, the cases we are looking at is when folks are commanded to come back to life. 

But before we go there back to the Walking Dead.  The Walking Dead is a television show that is now into its fourth season.  It involves Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes and a small band of survivors who are trying to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic world populated by Zombies or Walkers as they are called in the show.  So far they haven’t been able to find out what has caused this Zombie Apocalypse or whether or not they can reverse it.   

For those who are concerned that we are delving into the dark side here, these are not the Zombies of yesterday that were conjured up by Voodoo, witchcraft and devil worshippers.  Instead this has been caused by some unknown biological plague.  This of course is even scarier because it becomes something that in this day and age of chemical warfare and GMOs could be entirely possible. 

You say you don’t believe in Zombies.  Well for you sceptics I give you this photographic proof.  (Photo of kids texting.)

Earlier this year there was an article in the National Post entitled: Zombie popularity peaks when society is unhappy: researcher  In the article Dr. Sarah Lauro, a professor at Clemson University in South Carolina was quoted as saying “We are more interested in the zombie at times when as a culture we feel disempowered, and the facts are there that, when we are experiencing economic crises, the vast population is feeling disempowered. … Either playing dead themselves … or watching a show like ‘Walking Dead’ provides a great variety of outlets for people.”

Well there you go.
It was so dark, and so cold. He had no idea where he was, how long he had been there or what he was supposed to be doing.  The last thing he remembered was being at home in bed. He had been sick; nobody knew what to do or even what was wrong. The doctors had come and gone leaving behind potions and powders that had little effect besides depleting their already meager budget.

It was then that Mary had the idea to send a message to their friend.  They had all heard the stories. How the lame walked again, the deaf heard and how he had given sight to the blind.

If anyone could do anything for him it would be Jesus!  And so a message was sent, and they waited. And waited and waited. The fever left only to be replaced with chills but soon he was burning up again. The days became fragments as he passed in and out of awareness.  He could remember bits and pieces of the conversation, most of it centering either on how sick he was or wondering where Jesus was. Where was Jesus? And then, the girls just cried, every time he opened his eyes there was either Mary or Martha holding his hand and weeping. Why was everyone so sad?

And then there was nothing, well almost nothing. He dreamt that he had died and gone to heaven there he saw his parents and his brother who died as a child. And Moses was there and Elijah and God.  But it must have been a dream because it was so bright and so warm, and now it was so dark, and so cold. He had no idea where he was, how long he had been there or what he was supposed to be doing. And then he heard something, it was someone calling his name and they were telling him to come out.

Come out of where?  And then as his eyes adjusted to the gloom he realized that he was in some kind of cave, it seemed vaguely familiar and then suddenly he knew he was in the family tomb, laid out on one of the shelves.  The last time he had been here they were burying his father. What was he doing here and who was calling his name?  He swung his legs clear of the shelf and immediately stumbled against the wall realizing that his legs were loosely bound together.  He was wrapped in strips of cloth, even his head was wrapped and he was just able to see between the strips of cloth wrapping his face.  What type of nightmare had he awoken into?  What was happening to him?  Slowly he shuffled his way to the light streaming through the low entrance toward the familiar voice calling his name.  And as he ducked through the opening he heard screams of terror mixed with shouts of joy, as the bandages fell away from his eyes he looked around at the crowd he saw his sisters and Jesus and Jesus told the people “Unwrap him and let him go!”

Must have been quite a shock for everyone but Jesus.  Dead men don’t come out of tombs, but Lazarus did.    He would never be looked at the same way again, he would always be the man who Jesus raised from the dead, there would always be questions and there would always be scepticism.  For many Lazarus would be thought of as The Walking Dead. 

But what can we learn from the story of Lazarus? And how does it apply to us and what spiritual application can we find in this story of the walking dead?

Let’s go back to the story: John 11:39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
Lazarus Was Dead. 

He wasn’t just sick or not feeling well, he hadn’t gone into the tomb to lie down and take a nap, the man was dead.  He had been sick, didn’t get better and he died.  That’s the way that life works, Robin Williams said “Death is nature's way of saying, Your table's ready.”  Well, Lazarus’s table was certainly ready.

Now I’m sure that there are those that thought that maybe Lazarus wasn’t really dead, maybe he had just been in a coma and woke up when Jesus called him.  Quite a coincidence wouldn’t you say?  That the man had been declared dead, been wrapped in a funeral shroud and laid in a tomb and four days later at just the time that Jesus ordered that the stone be rolled away he awoke from his coma.

Let’s skip the conspiracy theories and acknowledge that the man was dead.  Martha knew he was dead, Mary knew that he was dead, Jesus knew he was dead, the crowd knew he was dead, Lazarus was dead.  What was it that Ebenezer Scrooge said about his partner “Marley was dead to begin with; old Marley was as dead as a door nail.”  And so was Lazarus.

Spiritually each one of us is or was dead. That is not open to debate any more than Lazarus’ condition was open to debate.  We’ve covered this material before.  Humanity was created perfect and placed into a perfect world that they could inhabit and live in fellowship with God.  The only condition was that they not eat the fruit from one tree, they could touch the tree, they could hug the tree, they could kick the tree as far as we know they could even cut the tree down and use it as fire wood but they could not eat the fruit from that tree.  Why did God put that temptation before them?  I don’t know.  Why didn’t he make the world a place with no restrictions and no guidelines?  I don’t know, but I do know that when the first couple made the decision to disobey God they severed the relationship between them and God, an action that not only had repercussions for them but for all of humanity as well. 

The Bible says in Romans 3:23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
And in the Old Testament the Prophet Isaiah said Isaiah 64:6 We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
The consequences of our sinful actions are spelled out in Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death . . . and in Ephesians 2:1 Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.

Just as Lazarus was dead physically, and there was no debating it, each person on this earth is dead spiritually and there is no debating that. 

And while death is a condition that Lazarus would share with the entire human race that’s where the similarity ended, because even though he was dead he didn’t stay dead. And so the second thing we need to realize is revealed in  John 11:43-44 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out . . .
Lazarus Was Alive  Now that’s neat.  The man had been dead and in the grave for four days, and he walks out of the tomb by himself.  I don’t know who it was more of a shock for, his sisters, the crowd or Lazarus.  We know who it wasn’t a shock for, it wasn’t a shock for Jesus, because that’s what he asked for and that’s what he expected to happen.

The entire incident became an integral part of Lazarus’ identity, in John 12:1 Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead.
After a while that must have gotten more annoying than being dead, “Oh, you’re Lazarus, the guy that Jesus raised from the dead.”  People would point to him on the street and say “that’s Lazarus the guy that Jesus raised from the dead.”  And people were probably always asking him, “So what was it like being dead?”  But the fact of the matter was this Lazarus had been dead and now he was alive.  And that was a miracle.

In the same way miracles can happen in our spiritual lives as well.  Remember what happened?  From that first couple we inherited our tendency to sin, from that first couple we inherited our desire to rebel. In the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.
If we are spiritually dead because of sin then we need to find a solution to the sin problem and that solution is Jesus Christ.  We are told in the scriptures that when we ask Christ for forgiveness that is what he does, he forgives our sins.  They are gone, Henry Ward Beecher said “God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.”  What an incredible picture.

Colossians 2:13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.
And just as Jesus stood at the entrance to the tomb and called for Lazarus to come out he is calling each one of us to enter into the life that he has prepared for us. Earlier I read Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, . . .
but we all know that isn’t where it ends, the passage continues by saying but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

And we know all these things, I am preaching to the choir here.  Most of us have experienced that new life; we aren’t strangers to the forgiveness of Christ and the life that he offers.  Like Lazarus we have heard Jesus call our names and we have answered the call.  We know that when we die we will go to heaven do not pass go do not collect two hundred dollars.  I know that and you know that.  And that leads us to our third point: 

John 11:43-44 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
Lazarus Was Free

When Lazarus came from the tomb he was alive, he could walk again he could talk again, he could love again.  But he wasn’t free.  He was still bound by his grave clothes, even though he was alive there was still more that had to be done.

When we accept the forgiveness that God offers we are given life, but often times we are still bound in grave clothes.  We bring old baggage into our new relationship with Christ, baggage that we need to get rid of.  The bible tells us in Titus 2:14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.
And just as it wasn’t enough for Lazarus to be given life without freedom we need to be unwrapped and set free. What are some of the things that bind us, what are some of the things we need freeing from?

He wants to Free Us From Our Hurts Here’s a sad fact of life, none of us make it through unscathed. From the time we are children things happen that hurt us.  It may be physical, emotional or spiritual but the hurts are there.  If I was to ask you to just close your eyes for a moment and reflect on how you have been hurt, hurt by circumstances and hurt by people. Everyone here could think of something said or done that cut them.  And it hurts, that’s why they call them hurts. And I’m not here today to say they shouldn’t hurt, Proverbs 18:14 The human spirit can endure a sick body, but who can bear a crushed spirit?
But I am here to say that Jesus wants to help you carry the hurt, he wants to eventually wipe it away and free you from its consequences.  Right now?  Maybe, I’ve seen the power of the Holy Spirit reach into a broken spirit and fix it in an instance, and I’ve also seen him work over a period of time slowly bringing about a complete healing.

I know some of your hurts, and I hurt with you, you there are times that my heart is broken because of what people here are going through, and I wish that I could reach out and fix it.  I can’t but God can.  He wants to free you from your hurts, not minimize them, He isn’t going to tell you to suck it up and get on with life, 1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
That’s his promise, God cares about you, and he wants to heal your hurts and free you from them, but you have to let go.  Leo Buscaglia said “Don't hold to anger, hurt or pain. They steal your energy and keep you from love.”

He wants to Free Us From Our History  Every one of us brings a little bit of our history into our new relationship with Jesus.  Even though the bible tells us that we are born again and are new creations, that doesn’t erase all of the influences both good and bad that that have touched our lives up to that point.

But we don’t have to be controlled by those things we don’t have to be controlled by our past, we are brand new creations and we need to claim the promise that is given in 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
All of the mistakes we had made, all of the sins that had been committed are gone, we are starting over.  Sometimes we blame the past for the way we behave as believers.  Maybe there are certain behaviors that used to be part of our life and you don’t want to give them up, so you say you can’t because of your past. Sometimes I can be a little sarcastic, and it’s easy to say “Well that was the way I was brought up”.  But that doesn’t excuse it.   Man up, own your problem and allow God to deliver you from them.  Sarcasm may have been a love language in my family but that doesn’t make it right or necessary for me to use that as an excuse when I’ve hurt someone with my words. 

He Wants to Free Us From Our Habits. “I just can’t help myself.”  How many times have you heard those words or for that matter how many times have you said those words?  Our lives are so often governed by our habits, good habits and bad habits.  And we come to the place that we think we are slaves to those habits, because we’ve always done it we will always do it.  But we don’t have to be.  Remember 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
We are new, but it’s not easy to break those old habits, that’s why self-control is referred to as a “Fruit of the Spirit”, because it’s something that’s really tough to do by ourselves but the Spirit wants to help us to have that control. 

Jesus wants you to be free, and not just a little free listen to what he said in John 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.
If you have asked Christ for forgiveness and have accepted his salvation you are alive, but have you been released, from your hurts your history and your habits? If not you can be, Jesus is calling your name today, will you listen?  Because Lazarus didn’t have to come out, he could have stayed in the tomb, Jesus wouldn’t have gone in and dragged him out and he won’t drag you into the Kingdom. 

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