Every Easter, people flock to churches to hear the declaration that Christ is risen. What a blessed hope we have, because we serve a risen Savior! Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life (John 11.25). He proved it on Easter when He escaped from the tomb and pressed His victory over death, hell, and the grave. But the joy of Easter doesn't end with Jesus' resurrection--He promises us resurrection as well. Colossians 1 and Revelation 1 call Jesus the "firstborn from the dead," while 1 Thessalonians 4 and Romans 15 teach that believers themselves will experience the resurrection. So as you hear Easter sermons about the disciples discovering an empty tomb, just imagine the astonishment that somebody will feel one day when they visit your grave and find it empty! Christians not only celebrate Jesus' resurrection on Easter, but anticipate our own. Easter is about Jesus' resurrection, and it's about ours.
Yes, on Easter we can look back on that actual historical event of Jesus' resurrection and say, "Look what God did!" And we can look forward to that last trumpet when believers will be resurrected and say, "Look what God will do!" But today is today--and it's in this moment that we need hope in a God who can speak new life into our dead hearts and minds.
Found in John chapter 11, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus to life is for all who need such resurrection in their own lives. Though this resuscitation falls short of Jesus' glorious resurrection, it prefigures Jesus' return from the grave. Lazarus was brought back bodily, with new breath flowing into once-dead lungs. This was miraculous enough. But Jesus' body was totally transformed--a body of light and power. As I read the story of Lazarus, and as I feel my own need for revival, I ask the question of Ezekiel 37, "Can these bones live?" I need the story of Lazarus, as a reminder that it's not just Jesus who gets raised to new life in the Bible. This is for you and for me as well.
When my faith is stale, I need revival. Lazarus had been dead for four days, and at this point his rotting body had begun to stink. My faith-life can be the same way. I might let my prayer time lapse for a day or two, without any dramatic effects. But after four days, my spirit starts to stink. Jesus, however, is the God of perfect timing. He waits until we realize our own stench before He arrives to bring new life. He says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on My way to wake him up (v. 11 HCSB)."
We come to Jesus even as His friends did. I bring my fears, my unbelief and limited human vision. Like Martha, I am a mixture of faith and doubt. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Yet even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You (vv. 21-22 HCSB).” But Jesus does not condemn my weakness. Though my mourning grieves Him, He has compassion on me. He reassures me with a word of truth. He promises, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die — ever." Then He asks, "Do you believe this (vv. 25-26 HCSB)?” Your answer will determine the amount of work the Lord is able to do in your heart.
First, the stone must be removed. Jesus could have removed the stone Himself, had He wanted to. But God knows that if I am to experience revival in my life, I need to do some of the hard work. I've got to ask God to show me the stones that I've placed over the entrance to my heart, that keep me from hearing His commanding voice of resurrection. This can be sin or disobedience or a negative attitude, or any number of things. Once I've found the stone in my heart, it's up to me to move it. I can't ask Jesus to do this difficult work for me. Jesus says, "Remove the stone (v. 39 HCSB)." By doing this myself I participate in the renewal that Jesus brings. The poor men who removed Lazarus' stone were forced to deal with the stench of the human condition. Likewise when I roll back my own stones I'm forced to deal with my own stinking sin. But then, once I've done my part, it's the Master's turn. Only by His voice can there be new life.
In verse 40 (HCSB), Jesus says, "Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” My belief is essential, if I'm going to see the revival that I need from God. The Lord is a gentleman, and doesn't force Himself on anybody. He may show up to bring resurrection to my heart, but a lack of belief on my part will block God's blessing every time. If I want to see God's glory manifsted, then I've got to have faith that He will do it.
Before the Lord does anything else, He prays. “Father, I thank You that You heard Me. I know that You always hear Me (vv. 41-42 HCSB)." Central to our understanding of revival is the knowledge that God is our ever-present friend who always hears us. There is no place where we are absent from God's presence (Psalm 139). God always hears and sees us (Genesis 16). When you seek revival, you seek a constant refreshing. As Hagar needed a supernatural stream in the desert (Genesis 21), so you need God to quench your spiritual thirst. And God always hears your cry in the desert.
When the stone was rolled away, Jesus called with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out (John 11:43 HCSB)!" Why would he have to give such a command? Was it Jesus' voice that awakened Lazarus from the dead? Or, was it Jesus' prayer that awakened him, and Jesus spoke to the living man inside the tomb, commanding him to emerge? When God brings renewal to our lives, often we say, "Thank you very much," but in reality we prefer to remain our tombs of depression or doubt or fear. Jesus didn't resuscitate Lazarus so that he could live in the tomb. He called Lazarus into the light of life. He calls you too, saying, " I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12 HCSB).”
Just as Jesus commanded Lazarus into the light, He also told Lazarus' friends, "Loose him, and let him go (v. 44 HCSB)." Jesus was the main actor in Lazarus' salvation, but Lazarus also played a part, following the Master's call into the light. But once he had emerged, Jesus called the faithful to come and unbind their brother. When revival comes, the entire faith community must respond in order to set free those who were once in darkness. The resurrected life of faith is not an individual thing--it happens in partnership with other believers who obey Jesus' command to set one another free by His love.
This Easter season, I hope that you'll celebrate the new life of Christ--but I also hope you'll experience new life in Christ. I pray that you'll put your faith in the once and future resurrection, but that you'll also claim the new life Jesus offers for today. God calls the living to unbind the once-dead so they can walk freely. I pray that God will use you in this way. May this Easter see you standing before an empty tomb--the tomb of Jesus, which you can celebrate, and your own as well.