I have a question. But first, I have a theory. My theory is this: Far too many of us, far too often, are living lives that are far too small.
What do I mean? Well, let’s unpack this together. To do that, I’m want to share with you one of the uglier parts of my story. Well, actually I don’t. To be honest, I’d rather never talk about it, or think about it again. But it’s a part of my story, and I believe God can, and is, using it to bring a little hope and redemption to the world around me. So, even though I don’t really want to share, I’m going to invite you in to my story.
I spent 34 months in prison, and 5 months in a county jail before that, but the reality is that I was a prisoner long before I walked through the gate at the Reception and Guidance Center in Jackson, MI. In truth, the only difference was that there was no denying the reality that I was no longer free.
The thing is, I hadn’t been free for a while. I was a prisoner of my own pride, shame, selfishness, fear and insecurity. I was a prisoner of an identity that depended on what the world thought of me. I was a prisoner of all of the lies and deceit that I had built my life around. I was a prisoner of the need to be successful, so much so that I gave up on actual success, and chased after the appearance of success.
The result was simple, if not tragic. My life was small. The walls of the world I had created for myself were suffocating, and over time they would have crushed me. My theory is that many of us - for a variety of of reasons - are living in this small version of life, as a prisoner of all of the lies that world tells us to keep us from hearing the whisper of God’s promises in our life. Which, if you think about it, is kind of crazy because His promises are big and He always keeps His promises.
Often, the problem is that we measure God’s promises by our current circumstances. When they don’t seem to fit our expectations, we make other arrangements. (Let’s be honest. We do.) But God measures His promises by His purpose.
Think about that for a minute. God’s promises are fulfilled and measured according to His purpose - a purpose we barely understand even a glimpse of. Yet, when they don’t match our expectations, we start to do our own thing. The problem is, we’ll never be able to do what God can do, and we never see the full picture that God see.
In the middle of John’s Gospel, there’s a story about Jesus’ best friend Lazarus, who is sick. In fact, that’s exactly what it says in John 11 verse 1. “Now a man named Lazarus was sick.”
In reality, that verse is kind of a dramatic understatement. As we read, it turns out that his sisters Mary and Martha had done really everything they could. The doctors had come, and there was nothing more that could be done but make him comfortable. He was literally on his death bed. Like, he was laying on his bed waiting to die. That’s what it means to be on your death bed.
Now, remember, Lazarus and his sisters were some of Jesus’ closest friends. He had dined in their home, spent time with them, and probably stayed with them frequently. On this day, the sisters had sent word to Jesus, and Jesus’ response is one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible.
In verse 4, Jesus says “this sickness will not end in death. No it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
I love this verse for 2 reasons. The first is the promise. It’s right there. “This sickness will not end in death.” Did you catch that? Jesus is making a declarative statement about a future event. That’s a promise. But don’t miss what comes next. He explains the purpose - “for God’s glory.” The the second reason. He lets us in on the plan and explains the purpose behind the promise.
By the way, this is a freebie: God’s purpose is always “for His glory.” It may not sound deeply theological, or even spiritual, but it’s true. Find me a passage in the scriptures that isn’t about God ultimately bringing about His eternal glory.
This is a pretty important point, because without it, that’s how we end up measuring God’s purpose by our circumstances, instead of His purpose. That’s how we end up a captive to our own version of how the story should go. The sisters did this.
It turns out Lazarus does die, and everyone is really upset. Especially the sisters. They even tell Jesus “if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (verses 21 & 32) Both of them say the exact same thing. It’s like they had been sitting around, angry that Jesus hadn’t done what they thought He said He would do and were grumbling about it to each other. I’ve done that. A lot. I’ll admit it. I don’t think I’m alone in getting upset that Jesus didn’t do what I think He should have done.
Jesus says two things to both the disciples, and to the sisters, that I think are worth noticing. First, He tells the disciples, upon hearing that Lazarus had died, that “for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” Second, He tells the sisters, “did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (verse 40)
You see, everyone thought that Jesus had promised that Lazarus wouldn’t die. That’s sort of the logical interpretation of “this sickness will not end in death.” Here’s the thing, that's not what Jesus promised at all. Jesus had something bigger in mind - the glory of God. What Jesus was really saying is that, no matter what happens in the meantime, "I got this. Lazarus might even die, but I promise that this sickness won’t end in death, so when he does, that’s not the end of the story.”
Did you catch that? No matter what you’re going through, this isn’t the end. And just like Lazarus, with Jesus, your story doesn’t have to end in death. This “sickness” whatever it is, doesn’t end in death with Jesus, because He defeated death. Just watch what happens next.
Jesus goes to the tomb, where Lazarus had been laying for four days. There’s a lot of reasons that matters, but just know this - it’s significant because he was really dead. He was dead enough that it started to stink, but Jesus orders them to remove the stone. Remember what He says in verse 40 that “if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” It turns out this isn’t a story about healing a sick man. It’s about raising a dead man to life. With Jesus, that’s what it’s always been about.
Jesus did not come to fix you, He came to free you. He did not come to make you better, He came to make you whole. He did not come to change your circumstances, He came to change your heart.
Just look at what He says in Luke chapter 4, verse 18: “I have come to set the captives free, to give sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed."
See, a lot of us, whether literally, or figuratively, are a lot like Lazarus in the grave. We’re captives. We’re captives to our own pride, our own sin, our own plans, our own selfishness.
But there is good news. The stone has been removed, and we are free.
Jesus calls out to Lazarus, “Come out!” You see, though Lazarus had been raised to life with the sound of Jesus’ voice, Jesus didn’t do it only to leave him in the tomb.
And now the same voice that called Lazarus out of that tomb is calling your name. Come out of that tomb of addiction. Come out of the captivity of brokenness. Come out of the tomb of anger or depression. Come out of the captivity of sexual immorality or deceit or pride, or whatever it is that is keeping you prisoner.
The last thing Jesus did was tell the others to “take off the grave clothes and let him go.” You see, just because we’ve been raised from the penalty of death, a lot of us are still walking around in grave clothes. We walk around carrying the identity of our sin, our shame, and our failure. A lot of us are carrying the labels of our past, but Jesus invites each of us to be free. He invites us to take off those clothes, because a man raised from the dead has no business in a tomb, and no use for grave clothes.
So, I told you I had a question. Remember the theory I have - that far too often, far too many of us are living a life that’s far too small. Far too many of us are still standing in an open tomb. Too many are walking around in grave clothes, as if we've never been brought out from death and captivity.
For me, it meant letting go of the pride, selfishness and fear that had driven me to live such a small life. It meant getting real, and getting honest with myself, and those around me, about the brokenness I had lived with inside for far too long. It meant turning over to God the areas of my life I had decided I would be in control of. It meant letting God reshape my heart, and help me become the man, husband and father He created me to be. It was then that I finally began to experience freedom. The kind of freedom that truly sets you free (Gal 5:1)
So, my question is, how are you living? Are you living as a prisoner? As a captive? Are you measuring God’s promises by your own circumstances, and as a result, living as a prisoner in your own life?
Or, are you living the kind of wide open, abundant life that is available through Jesus Christ?