Thursday, May 1, 2014

get busy living or get busy dying

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.  Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”  Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”  So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”  When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”  The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:38-44)


The cave is dark and cold, filled with death and decay.  After all, it's been four days since the dead man was placed inside.  There's no more hope; that's it!  Death has had the final word.  If only Jesus would've shown up sooner...but now what could he possibly do?

Ever feel that way?  Ever feel like all hope is lost; like life and health and change are not possible because of the gravitational pull of the deadness inside?  Martha would have us believe that it is just too late.  "Don't open up that tomb, it's going to stink.  It is far too messy to be redeemed."  I'm so glad that Jesus didn't (and still doesn't) share her sentiments.  In fact, Jesus specializes in messy.  That's because Jesus knows that for something (or someone) to be resurrected it has to truly die first.  Why do you think he waited four days before he arrived at the tomb?  Why do you think he said to Martha, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?"  You see, Jesus is bigger than death--be it the death of someone we love, the death of a relationship we hold near and dear, the death of a dream, or the death that lives within us on a regular basis.  That death would have you believe that this is it.  That's all there is.  There's no way out of this pain and darkness and depression.  You are stuck.  You are trapped.  Life can never be the same again.  But Jesus knows better.  Maybe that's why he weeps.  Maybe he is heartbroken that somewhere, deep inside, we don't truly believe that he can redeem this, whatever this may be.  Maybe he is weeping over the fact that we do not really believe that he can, or will, bring life out of our unimaginable pain and brokenness.  Maybe his tears come from the fact that our circumstances have made us doubt the goodness of his heart.  And maybe his sadness is, somehow, related to our stuckness.  Who knows?

Luckily the story doesn't end there.  In fact, Jesus then calls out, "Take away the stone."  And some unknown, unseen (to us) group of people spring into action.  People that are filled with the hope that this is not, indeed, the end.  People that are filled with the faith to know that even though things look unredeemable, Jesus is able to breathe life into even the most dismal and hopeless and painful of circumstances.  People that care so deeply for the one inside the tomb that they are standing by, willing and ready to do whatever it takes to help make that redemption possible.  "He can't get out himself," they think, "so why don't we help roll the stone away and just see what Jesus will do."  Truth be told, there can never be enough stone-rollers in the world.  In fact, what if that's what our churches were full of?  Oh what a different world it would be!  Stone-rollers don't care about the stink.  They don't care about the mess.  They don't care about what anyone thinks.  They are beyond all of that, because at some point in time someone had the courage and the grace to roll their stone away, so that they might walk out of the grave into the light of new life.  And because of that, if there's ever a time when someone needs a stone rolled away (rather than to be avoided or judged or given up on) they want to be the first in line.  I've had the privilege of seeing some stone-rollers do their thing in the last couple of days, and let me tell you, it is remarkable.  Being a stone-roller is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

After the stone is rolled away, Jesus turns his eyes, and his heart, to his Father...the giver of all life.  He knows the Father's heart like no one else.  He knows the goodness.  He knows the faithfulness.  He knows the love.  And he knows that those standing around, particularly the family of this dead man, are doubting all of that at the moment.  Maybe, somehow, they think that it was God's hand that caused all of this pain.  But Jesus knows better.  He knows the heart of the Father that groans for and with his creation (Romans 8:26) in their most broken hours--and so he prays.  He prays that they may believe; believe that he is the God of life even in the face of death, believe that they can trust his heart even when they can't see his hand, believe that he was sent from the Father's side to redeem the unredeemable.

So Jesus calls out the dead man's name and tells him to come out.  Notice he doesn't just say Come alive, or Be healed, but Come out.  Because a significant part of the new life that Jesus calls us to is leaving the tomb behind.  He raises us from the dead, breathes new life into our soul, and then calls each of us to Come out.  In fact, coming to life again yet choosing to remain in the tomb is not an option, yet so many people live like it is.  So many people, claiming to belong to Jesus, claiming to have been raised from the dead, are still sitting in the darkness of the tomb of shame or guilt or anger or bitterness or unforgiveness or self pity.  They are still living a life that is anything but alive.  We must take that step out of the tomb.  Then, and only then, can the body of Christ (maybe even the same ones who rolled away the stone) come along side us and help us take off the grave clothes so we can be totally alive and totally free. 

So really, after he calls our name and brings us back to life again, it is up to us (with the help of His Spirit of course) to obey his voice and take that step (however small it might be at first) out of the tomb and into the warmth of his light and love.  In the words of Andy Dufresne, "I guess it comes down to a simple choice, get busy living, or get busy dying." (The Shawshank Redemption)

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