Scripture Reading for the morning was from Luke 15:22-24, part of the story of the Prodigal Son, “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. (Luke 15:22-24)
The lost son in this story returns and the waiting father throws a party. When we reflect on our own experiences, we each may have a similar story of before we became a follower of Christ; we recognized our lostness and the fact that we were spiritually dead. The wayward son looked around at his circumstances and his surroundings and the Bible says that “he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17). I love that phrase. It tells me that the Christian faith does not expect us to check our brains at the door, but to discover that Christianity is a reasonable and rational belief system.
Another story about coming to life is found in John chapter 11, the story about Lazarus. Not a spiritual coming to life, but he actually came back from the dead. I love this visual adaptation of this famous story:
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Video Text: John 11:34, 38-45, 12:1-2, 9-11
This is a story about a man who goes from the barren tomb to the banquet table.
I believe that every person in this room will discover exactly where you stand with Christ. I’m going to make it very easy because I call this message, Discipleship in 3D. The D’s are listed in your notes. Let’s begin in John 11:33-35, and check out that first scene.
- What Jesus Saw (John 11:33a): Jesus saw that Mary was weeping, and also the Jews who came with her. A better word might be “wailing.” Think about it, Jesus had come down from heaven, stepping out of eternity where there is no sin, sorrow, tombs or tears. On a practical side, this family was special to Jesus, and he saw these special people grieving over the loss of Lazarus. So let’s move on to…
- What Jesus Suffered (John 11:33b): Jesus was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled. The word used is similar to agitated and pretty close to “snort” like a horse. It is used in the NT for displeasure or indignation. He was troubled, he literally shook with emotion.
- What Jesus Said (John 11:34): “Where have you laid him?” Note that Jesus was not ignorant to the location of Lazarus, but rather he wanted to get the people focused on the place of his greatest miracle to date. All these people made their way to the tomb. Think about it. All of us are also on the way to the grave. Why? Because of our sin. Jesus was going to the tomb for the same reason… because of our sins.
- What Jesus Showed (John 11:35): it is here that we read the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” This Greek word (dakruo) occurs here and nowhere else in the Bible, meaning he burst into tears. It is a different word used for Mary’s tears (John 11:31) and the tears of the Jews (John 11:33).
- This was no wailing in despair, it is the strong emotion of the Son of God, as we read in Hebrews 5:7 (While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death). He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; he cried because his heart was broken over the sorrow of his close friends.
- I think he also wept because he could see what the crowd could not, perhaps he saw Lazarus in paradise, surrounded by the saints of God. He was in a place where time stands still, where the hosts of heaven were eagerly awaiting the time for the Son of God to be glorified. He was barely introduced to Abraham and Moses; perhaps the saints were questioning him about what he knew about Jesus. And now, Jesus was about to call him back into this world of sin, suffering, pain and death. I think Jesus wept out of a different sorrow for Lazarus.
All of this is by way of introduction to the scene: the feelings of the Savior and the finality of the grave. All those around the tomb that day knew for certain that once someone lands in the graveyard, there’s no leaving, sort of like checking in to the Hotel California.
The Order (John 11:39a): We read that Jesus tells them to remove the stone. He is all-powerful, and he could have done it all by himself, but I believe Jesus wanted the people to participate in the miracle. This was going to be the greatest miracle yet, and he was not going to show off his power in an inappropriate was by commanding stones to move by themselves. Besides, Jesus commands people, not stones. Remember that story in Luke 19:38-39, during the celebration and entry into Jerusalem, “if these disciples remain silent, the stones will cry out.” Jesus wants people involved in his mission here on earth.
The Objection (John 11:39b): The objection to removing the stone was that after four days, there will be such a stench.
Here is where we will discover our first D of Discipleship; we discover for certain that Lazarus is DEAD. How can you tell if someone is dead? It is fairly obvious when it comes to physical death: the heart stops beating, the lungs stop breathing, the person grows cold, but Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:1 that we all “were dead in our trespasses and sins.” He was speaking to believers who were born again; so those who are not born again are still dead. We walk around people every day, and there are people in this room, who are dead on the inside. How can you tell?
There is no health: they might have physical health, but on the inside, they’re rotting away. Have you noticed that those who are dead will often engage in behaviors that will hurt them physical, emotionally, and relationally? They are involved in habits, hurts and hang-ups that are damaging to their health.
There is no happiness: people might say they are happy and have all they want, but there is no real or lasting peace on the inside, which only comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven and we are loved unconditionally by God.
There is no hope: These spiritually dead people seem to be fine as they go through life, but when it comes to eternal matters like physical death, they have no hope or assurance of what happens to them after they die; they fear the unknown.
Some of you sitting in here today can’t say for certain that you have passed from death to life. You wonder why you get nothing out of the worship experience, and can’t figure out what these church people are all about. Don’t feel bad, because the Bible tells us WHY you don’t get it. First Corinthians 2:14 says, “But people who aren’t spiritual(spiritually dead people) can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.”
Is this YOU? Are you dead? Those who are alive in Christ can tell that you’re dead, because we are able to inspect the “fruit” that people bear. But we are never to judge, because we reserve judgment for God alone. What needs to happen today is that you follow the steps of the Prodigal Son, come to your senses (Luke 15:17) and allow the love of God to flood your soul and forgive your sin. Come to life and be born again, born anew, born from above in order to become one of God’s children. Jesus is calling your name and he invites you to step out of the tomb and to walk in newness of life.
Lazarus was dead, but after calling his name, he is now delivered from the grave (John 11:44a): “he who had died came forth.”
- I believe that there is a reason that Jesus called Lazarus by name. If he would have simply shouted, “Come forth” everyone in the graveyard would have been raised from the dead that day.
- Jesus also called him in a loud voice, which tells me that when we do something for Jesus, let’s not be shy or remain in secret, but allow people to see Jesus through your words and actions. Let people see your good works and glorify the Father who is in heaven.
When we are delivered from death, God wants us to be set free from sin, which brings us to the second D of Discipleship, Lazarus was DEAD, but now that he is alive, he is DISABLED. He steps out of the tomb bound hand and foot and his face was wrapped with a cloth (John 11:44). He was wrapped up and held in bondage with the funeral garb of his day. The man is alive but he is not set free until Jesus tells the people to “unbind him and let him go.”
I think that many people in the room find themselves in this situation. You’ve prayed the prayer, you’re born again, delivered from death, but they are disabled and defeated by some sin that they are just not willing to give up. Jesus speaks to us daily about walking in a manner worthy of our calling and Christians, but you turn aside and refuse to get rid of the sin that so easily trips you up. What are some things that bind Christians?
Bound by darkness: (John 11:44) there was a cloth over the face of Lazarus, which prevented him from seeing clearly. For us, perhaps someone doesn’t really know that certain behaviors are sinful. He needs to be taught the Word of God so that they will know how to live and what sins to avoid. God’s children need to be able to walk in the light. Let’s learn what pleases God and and what displeases God.
Burdened by disillusionment: it is here that people can stop attending church and following Christ. Perhaps they thought that when they were made alive in Christ, their problems would go away. They have become disillusioned. Their passion for Christ has gone AWOL. Perhaps you’ve listened to too many skeptics bad-mouth the Christian faith to the point you are sliding backwards away from Christ. Jesus does not remove problems in life as much as he gives us a new way to deal with our problems.
Bought by declaration: Jesus tells the people to unbind him and let him go, so we must remember that the same power that raised Lazarus from the dead is available to us today. If we want to be unbound and set free, it is only through the power of God’s word. Jesus declared that we are to be set free. We are bought with a price.
Is this YOU? Are you disabled? You claim to be a follower of Christ, maybe you’re a member of this church, and have been baptized, but you have some sinful habits that continue to hold you captive. You’re disabled. The Bible talks about overcoming the world, and you have no clue what that is all about. It is only with God’s help, and the strength we find in gathering as the community of faith. Notice that Jesus told the people to unbind him; so for me, I believe Jesus does not expect us to be set free on our own.
The next time we see Lazarus, he is back home dining with Jesus. He has gone from the barren tomb to the banquet table. Imagine the celebration! But the mood becomes heavy when they discover that the Jew are seeking to kill Jesus, and while we’re at it, let’s kill Lazarus, too (John 12:10).
It is here that we get to the third D of Discipleship, Lazarus was once DEAD, then he was delivered from the tomb, yet DISABLED by things that had him bound. Now he has become DANGEROUS. Why is Lazarus dangerous? John 12:11 tells us point blank, “because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” Our common enemy, the devil, saw Lazarus as a threat that needed attention. He needed to be eliminated. Lazarus was alive, people were coming to Jesus and that got Satan angry.
When you hang around with lost people, how many times do you get shot down because you don’t participate in whatever activity you are convinced that it is sin if you did it? Maybe it’s drinking alcohol at a bar, or living a promiscuous lifestyle or committing adultery, you insert the sin. The fact that you don’t participate is condemning to lost people; the Spirit convicts them of their sin and the best way avoid the guilt is to get rid of YOU. They think they won’t feel convicted if you’re not around.
When people are controlled by the enemy, they will seek to get rid of all that is holy. If you are convicted that your mission is to point people toward Jesus, then you my friend have a desire to be dangerous.
But there is another danger that is more subtle. What if Lazarus was simply happy to stay at the dining table with Jesus? Is that not a dangerous thing for believers? We come to church and we sit down and soak up inspiration, relationships, perhaps enjoy the entertainment, and now we have the potential to become consumers. The church can become all about me.
A great word-picture for me is the difference between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Galilee has water flowing in and also flowing out of it; and it is full of life. The Dead Sea has all sorts of life and living water flowing into it, yet nothing ever flows out; nothing lives in it either. It is dead. Don’t let that happen to you.
I am convinced that what we need can be boiled down to this formula: Worship plus two. Coming to worship is fine, and enjoyable, but it is really non-committal. We just show up an hour a week putting in our time for God. We need worship plus two:
- Involvement in a Small Group: to develop community and put ourselves into a greater position to experience life transformation. We don’t really experience community when we sit in a pew looking at the back of someone else’s head. We need interaction and accountability.
- Involvement in a Serving Ministry: where I can give back and serve God and others. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
It is dangerous to ourselves if we only dine at the Master’s table, but we can be dangerous to the enemy by making an impact on the world around us, and point others to faith in Christ.
So, where are YOU in this story?
Are you still in the tomb, dead spiritually? Then you need to repent and believe the gospel, and be born again.
Are you alive in Christ, but disabled by some sin that you can’t shake? Today can be the day that you allow Jesus to be your Lord, not just your Savior. Are there sins you need to forsake, seek forgiveness or repent of? Don’t wait another day. Once you know you’re disabled, how can anyone live that way any longer?
Perhaps you’re born again, set free from sins that used to plague you in your early Christian life, but now you realize that you need to be dining with Jesus on a regular basis. Any living thing grows, if it’s not growing, it isn’t alive. Disciples grow in their faith. We can teach you how to do that.
Finally, maybe you have been made alive in Christ, you’re no longer bound by habitual sin, your devotional time with Jesus is going well, but you realize that you have never become dangerous to the enemy. Today is the day you want to learn how to tell others about Jesus, how to let your light shine in dark places. Today can be your day to publicly tell Satan that you intend to be like Lazarus, you want to be dangerous.
The alternative is found in John 11:46, those who did not come to believe in Christ, went away to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. I don’t believe they went to witness for Christ, they went into the enemy’s camp rather than stand up with Christ.
So, are you dead, disabled or dangerous? Where do you stand with Jesus? The choice is up to you. There is always room to move toward a higher level of commitment to Christ and his church. What is your decision today?