As Illustrated in the Story of the Raising of Lazarus
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
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.”
The people we encounter in the world are spiritually dead. Like Lazarus, they are decaying. They are unresponsive. The work of the church in ministering to the lost is captured in the three commands of Jesus in this story:
“Take Away The Stone”
The stone is the obstacle, the thing that prevents Lazarus from hearing and exiting the tomb. The devil surrounds unbelievers with obstacles: intellectual objections, other religious traditions, a sense of personal pride and self-sufficiency. The first job of the church is to help roll away these stones that block a response to the call of Jesus. This means actively engaging people in the marketplace of ideas, showing that Christianity is intellectually defensible, shattering pretensions and false ideas, and making the crooked way straight.
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.”
2 Corinthians 10:4-5
“Lazarus, Come Out!”
This is the second part of the church’s ministry to the lost. It is the call of the gospel. It is a life-giving call. It is not an appeal made to reasonable men able to act on their own initiative. The appeal to reason was the taking away of the stone. No, this is the sovereign call that breathes life into the dead bones and makes them live. This is the kerygma, the foolishness of preaching.
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.
“Take Off the Grave Clothes”
Once a person is born again, with new life in him, he finds he is still bound in many ways by the “grave clothes” that cling to his flesh. Removing the grave clothes – the wrong thinking about one’s identity in Christ, the bad fleshly habits that one carries into one’s new life – need to be removed. This is the ministry of Christian education.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.