So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 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.”
It’s taken me awhile to be ready to write this post. Of all the lessons God has been teaching me through this passage, this one is by far the most personal. Even after it’s taken me so long to work up the courage to sit down and write this, I still am wrestling with what to say. So for your sake, and mine, I’ll just cut to the chase.
The very last verse in this passage, carries the punch. After raising him from the dead, Jesus’ final words and action in this passage is to tell them to “take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Do you remember earlier in this journey when I asked if there was an area that you needed to roll the stone away and allow Jesus to have access to what was behind it? No matter how offensive or smelly… It has been my experience that the most difficult part of allowing Jesus into those areas is not the initial step, but the final step. After allowing Jesus to access the grave, and move powerfully in her situation, Martha (and Lazarus) still had one more step to go. They had to literally remove the clothes that were binding him in death so he could be free. Sounds easy enough…. right?
Well not for me. You see, back in the beginning of 2013, when Elliott was not even a year old, we discovered that I was pregnant with our daughter, Samantha. We were very excited, as we wanted our kids close together (although looking back now it seemed crazy!). However, it wasn’t long before I started experiencing some pretty brutal headaches. I had struggled off and on with migraines in college, but never had I experienced such bad headaches. It literally kept me on the couch all day and night. It can happen, the doctors told me, and as my pregnancy went on it would get better. Well it didn’t. Five weeks in, Andy left for an almost 2 week ministry trip (with my Dad) to the other side of the world- so Elliott (who just turned one and I couldn’t even sit up for his first birthday party!) and I moved in with my mom for the two weeks. And she was determined to find a cure. We tried everything… I mean EVERYTHING. And I want to clarify that we were not reluctant to ask for prayer. I had asked and received prayer multiple times a week for the entire time the headache was happening. Nothing was helping and it was only getting worse. So finally one night, it had gotten bad enough that my mom ended up calling 911 after finding me unable to respond, laying on the floor (indecent I might add, since I had fallen while using the restroom). Well, several hours later I was being transferred to the ICU because after running tests and scans, the ER doctor had found a blood clot in my brain. I was in the ICU for several days, and then was on another floor for a few before I finally got released. And it took Andy a little less than 4 days to make it home from the other side of the world.
I could go into a lot more detail, and spend a lot more time sharing with you all the ways that the Lord intervened in the situation to protect both me, and Samantha (who was born completely healthy). And trust me, God deserves lots of praise and credit for everything He did. But I don’t want to focus on that part of the story right now. Have you ever heard these incredible people share stories about how they had a near death experience and because of that they take all these risks? They make a huge difference in the world around them because they make every minute count, knowing how easily it could all be gone. Well, that wasn’t me. It still isn’t. I wish it was, but it’s not.
After this experience I really struggled. There are days that I still do. I struggled with feeling like I didn’t have a future- I was probably going to die before I got to do anything anyways. And so I stopped dreaming, and I stopped planning. In a sense, I stopped living. I didn’t have any motivation to start anything or do anything because I was convinced that I would die before I ever got to finish anything. Even writing about this now (for the first time) is really hard. I can feel the lump growing in my throat and the tears growing in my eyes. I can feel the anxiety and fear close in on me. Jesus powerfully walked into my tomb and miraculously moved in the mess and stink in my life. He intervened on many occasions and saved me. Literally, from the grave. Just like Lazarus. I’m overwhelmed with thankfulness and gratitude for what He did for me 3 years ago.
But you see, even though He gave me the miracle I needed and brought me out of the grave, I didn’t take off my grave clothes. I walked around for 2 years still bound up in strips meant for death. I no longer needed them, but I couldn’t take them off. I couldn’t dream of plan for a future. I couldn’t look ahead to when my children were older with joy because I was still wrapped up in the perspective that I wouldn’t be there.
And about a year ago, a group of fellow believers loved me enough to tell me that I didn’t need to stay in the grave clothes, and help me start the process of taking them off. They gathered around me and prayed for me while I sobbed. They hugged me while I dripped snot all over their shirts. They knew that the Lord had not saved me from the grave to only keep me in the grave clothes. God saved me and kept me away from death so I could have life. Real life. Abundant life.
I don’t want to write a novel here tonight, but I do want to share with you a couple of things that I have learned through the experience. First, we all go through hard things in life. You have lived through things that I could never imagine walking through. God gives us the strength and grace we need to walk through it. It’s not about comparing our challenges. But no matter what hard thing you’ve been through, God never desires you to stay in your grave clothes. It will become a part of your story, and a part of who you are, but the healing and power that Jesus brings to the situation changes the outcome. You’re not meant to live like Jesus wasn’t there. You’re not meant to continue on, being bound up in what things would have been like if Jesus hadn’t been there. I was living that way. Some days I still struggle with it. But I know it’s not what He desires for me.
Secondly, Jesus asked the others to help Lazarus take off his grave clothes. Lazarus wasn’t asked, or meant, to do it alone. I knew Scripture. I knew the verses. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be struggling, but I couldn’t fight it on my own. I couldn’t move out of that mindset on my own. And so I would like to challenge not only myself but you also to be more open and share. Whether you’re at the point where you need to take the first step and roll the stone away- share. If the stone has been moved, but you’re waiting for Jesus to speak- share. If Jesus has spoken and touched your situation- share. If you’re coming out of the grave, but still have on the clothes- share. I largely kept my struggles to myself. I was honest and would tell someone that I was having a hard time, but I was not even close to vulnerable. And I not only made things more difficult on myself but wrestling alone, but I also kept silent the testimony that God was giving me throughout the situation. I so wish I could go back and not miss that opportunity. I pray you don’t miss yours.