Dressed for Heaven

Most businesses and schools have a dress code. Some schools even require students to wear uniforms. Even gangs have a dress code of sorts. So would it surprise you to learn God has a dress code for His children, both on earth and in Heaven? He does and it’s important to know what it is.

Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 22 that emphasizes just how important proper clothing is.

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”‘ But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.

“But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:2-14 NASU).

Simply reading this parable from a secular, unbiblical point of view the king appears to be ruthless, uncaring, self-centered, and intolerant of those who did not meet his fashion standards.

He sent his army to destroy those who slighted him and burn their city. That seems a little severe for what may be perceived as vengeance for having one’s feelings hurt. Just as perplexing is the punishment of the man who was improperly clothed. Perhaps it’s understandable for the king to destroy murderers, but to tie a wedding guest up for wearing the wrong clothes and throw him outside in the cold and dark where he may be in mortal danger, unable to defend himself, seems the actions of a madman.

But was the king mad; was he insane? Was the punishment he meted out to the improperly attired guest disproportionate to his “crime”? Yes, and I am going to tell you why.

According to some scholars when a person, such as a king, gave a wedding feast he supplied the necessary robes for the occasion. That would make sense in this story because the guests had been invited at a moment’s notice. It would have been very unlikely they would have had time to go home and dress even if they had the proper clothing. If this is true and the host, the king, did offer these hastily invited guests the proper clothing, the king’s displeasure becomes more understandable, and so does the guest being speechless when confronted by the king. He was without excuse for his unacceptable condition. The king had a right to be angry. He had a right to punish this ungrateful guest.

This guest depended upon the clothes he had on to be acceptable to the king. They may have been very fine clothes, custom tailored for him and worth a great deal of money. But as far as the king was concerned he may as well have been wearing filthy rags, because they weren’t the clothes provided by the king.

So, was Jesus’ point in telling this parable to warn those who have been invited to a wedding feast to make sure they accepted the clothing offered by the host? No. His message was deeper than that. It was a message that began in the Garden of Eden and ends at the Resurrection. Therefore, to more fully understand what Jesus is teaching us in this parable let’s begin at the beginning.

When God created Adam and Eve they were naked, but unashamed. However, after they had disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit they became very much aware of their nakedness. Sin had stripped them of their innocence. Therefore, they felt shame and the need to cover their bodies. So…

“They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7 ESV).

The fig leaves obviously served the purpose of alleviating their shame since the Bible does not mention Adam and Eve trying on other types of “clothing”. We are not told if they were unhappy about the color or shape of their “clothes”. They were probably just grateful they had not chosen poison ivy.

They had successfully overcome their shame by clothing themselves by their own ingenuity and handiwork. This likely caused at least a little bit of pride to swell up within them. They had disobeyed God and were still alive even though God had told them they would die in the day they ate of the forbidden fruit. The only consequence they were immediately aware of for their disobedience to God was an uneasy awareness of their naked bodies. And they quieted that with relative ease.

But a problem with the fig leaves soon became apparent. When God entered the Garden looking for them they discovered fig leaves did not meet His dress code. The Bible tells us that…

“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:8-11 NASU).

When God confronted Adam and Eve after they had sinned they hid from Him as if they were still naked. But were they naked? No. They were wearing the fig leaves they had made for themselves. So, why would Adam tell God he was naked? Because the fig leaves represent man’s attempt to save himself from the consequences of sin; the fig leaves represent man’s pride. As long as God is distant from him, “fig leaves” – man’s ingenuity, intellect, handiwork, technology, and natural abilities – hide his sinful nature from his follow man and he senses no shame within his conscience. But when God draws near man must hide because his spiritual nakedness is revealed and his shame torments his conscience.

Anytime man attempts to save himself rather than relying on God, pride is the source. But pride is exposed for what it is in the presence of God. Man may wish to justify himself, but outside of God’s provision for his salvation, Christ crucified, no justification is possible.

Adam and Eve became entangled with sin and instead of calling out to God they made matters worse by covering themselves with what their own ingenuity created. They dressed themselves in pride. Their intent was possibly good, but good works created as a consequence of rebellion may make us look good to others, but they leave us naked before God.

The presence of God in the Garden made Adam and Eve conscious of the fact they needed new clothes. Their fig leaves enabled them to be comfortable in each other’s presence, but not in the presence of the King. So, they had a dilemma. They had done the best they could to overcome the consequence of their sin, their shame at being naked, but they had failed which become obvious when God came near in the Garden. All they could do was attempt to hide from God.

Lest we judge Adam and Eve too quickly for acting from pride to save themselves rather than turning to God in humility and seeking forgiveness the Bible reveals man doing the same thing at the end of the age. With the breaking of the 6th Seal in the book of Revelation we are told…

“The kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand’” (Revelation 6:15-17 NASU)?

Indeed, who can stand in the presence of God? Adam and Eve were about to discover the answer to that question.

When God confronted Adam and Eve He passed sentence upon them and all of creation. Adam’s role of provider would now be done with drudgery. Eve’s role as child bearer would be accompanied by intense pain. Physical death was inevitable now that spiritual death had entered creation by their rebellion against God.

All seemed lost with no redemption possible. And from a human point of view redemption was not possible. They had done their best – fig leaves – to save themselves, and failed. They quickly discovered they could not stand in the presence of a holy God.

But God was merciful. Before He sentenced Adam and Eve He cursed the Serpent and while doing so He revealed all was not lost. God was going to provide clothing for Adam and Eve that would allow them to come near enough to Him to worship Him now on earth and promised to provide clothing to them and them children in the future that would allow them to stand in His very presence in Heaven. He was going to see to it that man was given to the opportunity to dress for Heaven.

How do I know that? With the curse God placed upon Man and Creation came the promise of salvation – “clothes” that would allow them to be in God’s presence unashamed. Listen to what God told the Serpent…

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV).

These words speak of Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman, triumphing over sin by the shedding of His blood on the cross and His resurrection three days later. This promise revealed that the way to stand in the presence of God was to be accomplished by the shedding of blood, not by man’s pride.

To emphasize this truth about the need for the shedding of blood, the Bible tells us that God (not man!) made garments of skin to cover their nakedness. The fig leaves, man’s pride, were replaced with clothes that required the shedding of blood. But what’s important to notice is that even with these God-provided clothes, Adam and Eve were still banished from the Garden. And the way to the Tree of Life was blocked. The garments of skin did not meet God’s dress code for Heaven, only the dress code for earth. Why? Because the promise of redemption comes through the shedding of the Messiah’s blood not the shedding of an animal’s blood. The writer to the Hebrews tells us:

“For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NASU).

I believe the garments of skin symbolize the Law. The garments of skin symbolize the sacrificial system God gave to the Israelites that required an animal’s blood to be shed for the forgiveness of their sins until the Messiah would come and shed His blood upon the cross. Israel was to clothe herself with animal blood, so to speak, but this was temporary. Listen to Galatians 3:23-24:

“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:23-24 ESV).

The garments of skin, like the Law, were given to point to something greater. The Law was…

“only a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrew 10:1 NASU).

But man corrupted this God-given covering by trying to make it a permanent solution to sin – something God never intended. The garments of skin became religious pride; they became filthy rags. Though given by God they became tainted and stained with man’s pride. Man now clothed himself, not just with good works, but good works done in the name of God. I saw a bumper sticker once that said: “Jesus Is Coming – Look Busy”. That is a classic example of filthy garments of skin.

Garments of skin were the clothing of choice by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They wrapped themselves in the Law, smug in their self-righteousness. But Jesus exposed their spiritual nakedness and said to the people:

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 ESV).

Why? Because their righteousness was on the outside of them. It made them appear righteous to those around them, much like the fig leaves did for Adam and Eve. But just as they could not abide God’s presence because their souls and spirits were still naked, the religious leaders could not abide Jesus’ presence because the temporary clothing God had provided (the Law) had become corrupted and filthy. The garments of skin that were meant to allow man to approach God on earth were never meant to be worn in Heaven. Garments of skin allowed man to have a long distance relationship with God, but as the religious leaders found out an intimate relationship with God required a new type of clothing. They needed to be dressed for Heaven.

But what is this heavenly clothing; what is Heaven’s dress code? It’s not fig leaves – man’s attempt to save himself. And it’s not garments of skin. Their purpose was to allow man to enjoy a long distance relationship with God – man being on earth and God in Heaven.

Jesus once warned His followers that at the end of the age they needed to be properly dressed for Heaven. Listen to His words…

“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed” (Revelation 16:15 ESV)!

What garments? What garments can clothe us that we may not appear naked before the Father? Paul gives us the answer.

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27 NASU).

It is Christ that replaces the fig leaves; it is Christ that replaces the garments of skin; it is Christ that meets God’s required dress code for Heaven. Christ is the only clothing that allows us to enter into the throne room of God without shame and guilt. Clothed with Christ we can enter the throne room of God with boldness. We no longer need hide when the Father comes near us; we no longer need to rely upon the Law to cover our transgressions and sins. Those who have clothed themselves with Christ are said to have been…

“circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:11-14 NASU).

There’s no room for pride here. We either freely accept Christ as our covering or, like the man at the wedding feast who refused the clothes offered to him, we are expelled from God’s presence.

Therefore, to be dressed for Heaven one must remove the fig leaves or garments of skin and put on Jesus Christ.

That’s why Paul tells us…

“But clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah), and make no provision for [indulging] the flesh [put a stop to thinking about the evil cravings of your physical nature] to [gratify its] desires (lusts)” (Romans 13:14 AMP).

Only by recognizing that we are sinners without excuse for our sins, speechless as it were (as the man at the wedding feast was speechless before the king), naked before the Lord and ashamed of our spiritual nakedness, will we humble ourselves and except the only clothing that will allow us into Heaven. A humble and contrite heart opens our eyes to see that Jesus is our wedding garment; Jesus is our hope; Jesus is our righteousness; Jesus is our salvation.

When we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we can say with Isaiah:

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10 ESV).

So, are you dressed for Heaven?

The Pursuit of Happiness

I read a book recently that said the goal most people have set for themselves and their children is to live the good life. And the good life is defined as a life of happiness. The book goes on to say that a radio talk show host had interviewed hundreds of people over the course of a few years asking the question: “What did your parents want most for you – success, wealth, to be a good person, or happiness?” Eighty-five percent said “happiness.”

Obviously, being happy is a high priority for a majority of people. In fact happiness is so important that our Founding Fathers believed that the pursuit of happiness was a divine right ranked right up there with life and liberty.

Listen to these words from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So, how’s your pursuit for happiness going? Have you found happiness? That probably depends on what you think happiness is. The modern definition of happiness is experiencing pleasurable satisfaction, feeling really good, and being stoked inside. However, when the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, about 240 years ago declaring the pursuit of Happiness an unalienable right, happiness referred to virtue and character. That means happiness involved suffering, endurance, and patience because it’s through suffering, endurance, and patience that one becomes a good person and is able to enjoy life.

That might sound contradictory. How can happiness come out of suffering or enduring hardship or being patient?

To answer that question let’s begin with how Jesus told those who desired to follow Him must live.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul’” (Matthew 16:24-26 NASU)?

Jesus Christ, the wisest man who ever lived, has revealed to us that the secret to living life as God created us to live it is by denying self.

But this is the exact opposite of what the world tells us. Books, magazines, TV shows, and movies scream at us that the way to enjoy life and get the most out of it is to do indulge in whatever activities our desires lead us to. If it feels good do it. And it anyone even dares suggest that what you’re doing is wrong just quote Matthew 7:1…

“Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1 NASU).

That will shut most people up because they do not know how to properly response those words. So, if you don’t know anything about the Bible just memorize that verse and go on with your happy life.

But for anyone who has made pleasurable satisfaction or feeling really good – the world’s definition of happiness – his goal in life it soon becomes apparent doing whatever you want to do when you want to do it sooner or later gives birth, not to happiness, but to depression, a loss of purpose in life, and brokenness. Why?

The book of Proverbs in the Bible gives us a hint. In it is a verse that says…

“Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20 NASU).

Sheol and Abaddon were names for the place of the dead. Sheol was sometimes translated as “grave” or “pit”. It was a place of gloom and darkness and shadows.

The proverb is teaching us that death comes to everyone; no one is exempt and as long as there is life Sheol and Abaddon crave to take that life because it is never satisfied.

And just as Sheol and Abaddon never get full regardless of how many people die, the eye never gets full regardless of how much it sees and the ear never gets full regardless of how much it hears.

What I mean is this: You can look at pornography one day and think you’ll never look at it again because your eye is full – so to speak. But what happens? Your eye seeks it next fix. The appetite of the mind, which the eye feeds, is never satisfied. You can listen to hours of gossip until you’re exhausted and think you will never listen to that again because your ear is full – again, so to speak. But what happens? You find yourself straining to hear the latest dirt someone is saying about others. The appetite of desiring the failure or humiliation of another in an attempt to exalt ourselves is never satisfied.

In 1870 a man named John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil. That company made him a billionaire. Relatively speaking he was wealthier than Bill Gates. Yet, he was driven to make more and more money. In an interview Rockefeller once was asked how many more dollars he needed before he was satisfied. He then answered…

“Just one more dollar”.

But John D. Rockefeller is not unique. Three thousand years before he was born there was a man who was not only as rich as he was, but he had a lot more power. That man was King Solomon, the man who wrote the Proverb we just read.

Materially speaking there was nothing Solomon couldn’t buy. For him money was literally no obstacle. And being a king he had power over the lives of his subjects; nobody told him “no”. He lived in wealth and luxury. If he wanted something he simply got it. But he wasn’t a happy man. We know that because he wrote a book of the Old Testament called Ecclesiastes.

Listen to some of what he says in this book.

“All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (Ecclesiastes 1:8 ESV).

That sounds a lot like the verse from Proverbs we quoted earlier doesn’t it? But that shouldn’t be surprising. You see King Solomon wrote both Ecclesiastes and most of Proverbs.

Solomon goes on to express his lack of happiness in spite of being unimaginably wealthy and very powerful.

“All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NASU).

When Solomon said…

“All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 2:10 NASU)…

he wasn’t kidding. This man had 700 wives and 300 concubines (legal mistresses). He allowed himself to drown in pleasure, yet he wasn’t happy. If nothing else this reveals that engaging in sex outside of God’s design for marriage – which is between one man and one woman – doesn’t satisfy the longing with our hearts for intimacy. Listen to some more of what Solomon said…

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 ESV).

“There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them” (Eccl 6:1-2 ESV).

Solomon, the richest man who ever lived, a man who indulged every desire his body or mind craved in his pursuit for happiness didn’t find it. Why? Because he believed owning things and to be free to indulge any desire his body or mind had was the path to happiness. What he discovered was such a life lead to depression and emptiness.

Living for pleasurable satisfaction, living to feel really good, or living to be stoked inside – the world’s definition of happiness – requires us to take our eyes off of others and put them on us and keep them there. But when we do that we become empty, shallow people with dried-up souls that live in perpetual pity-parties where we blame others for our lot in life. In other words…

“When we make happiness the goal of our life we live as victims rather than overcomers.

But why does this happen? Listen again to these words of Jesus…

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul’” (Matthew 16:24-26 NASU)?

As human beings created in the image of God we are wired for more than happiness as the world defines happiness. We are created by God to honor Him by becoming spiritually mature members of the Kingdom of Heaven. We do this by seeking His Kingdom first before all things and that begins by taking our eyes off of ourselves and living for a purpose greater than ourselves.

The Apostle Paul spoke of those who refused to follow this teaching of Jesus. He said…

“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19 NASU).

Did you get that? When we refuse to die to self and live primarily to satisfy the desires of our bodies and minds – pursuing happiness as defined by this fallen world – we have made our fleshly appetites our “god”. Our desires and appetites and emotions no longer serve us, but rather have become our master.

Desires and appetites and emotions make great servants, but terrible masters.

Jesus tells us in John 10:10…

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).

I like the way the Amplified Bible puts this…
“I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)” (John 10:10 AMP).

And how does one take hold of this abundant life? Obey the words of the One who came to give you this abundant life. Let’s repeat:

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul’” (Matthew 16:24-26 NASU)?

There’s an episode of the old “Twilight Zone” TV series entitled, “A Nice Place to Visit”. I encourage everyone listening to or reading this sermon to watch it because it speaks what I have been saying about the pursuit of happiness loudly and clearly.
The gist of the show is this: A man is gunned down and killed by the police while attempting to flee from them, just having robbed a business. But in the next scene this “dead” man, lying on the ground, wakes up and a man dressed all in white is standing beside him. As it turns out this robber had been killed and the man in white was there to show him to his new living quarters.

These quarters are lavishly furnished with expensive furniture, decorations, and a closet full of expensive clothes. But that’s just the beginning of the pleasures he is not just freely given, but encouraged to indulge himself in by the man dressed in white.

Soon, some women join him in his apartment. He said he now knows he’s in Heaven. Shortly after that he goes to a casino accompanied by the women, driving a brand new and very expensive car. Gambling was something that brought him happiness when he was alive.

While in the casino he can’t lose. No matter what type of gambling he engages in – roulette wheel, blackjack, slot machine – he wins – every time. He is having the time of his life, gambling and winning while the women surround him, watching him.

He returns to his living quarters a happy man. But something is beginning to cast a dark shadow over him. His happiness is beginning to fade. All of a sudden a pool table appears in his living quarters. He is ecstatic to have a new game to play. He excitedly rakes the balls, places the cue ball on the opposite end of the table, pulls back the cue stick and strikes the cue ball. The cue ball hits the other balls and every one of them – every one – goes into a pocket; one hit, fifteen balls go down. It’s a shot every pool player on earth dreams about. But not this guy, not this guy who was living in the lap of luxury, not this guy whose every desire – except one – would be fulfilled instantly. Instead of being thrilled with his miraculous pool shot, he broke the cue stick. Why? Because the one thing, the one desire that the man in white couldn’t (wouldn’t) fulfill was to let this thief fail – at anything.

The thief began to realize that having every pleasure fulfilled and instant success a certainty didn’t make him happy.

When he came to that realization, along with the realization that this was Heaven and this lifestyle would go on for all eternity, he told the man dressed in white he thought a mistake had been made. He had been questioning more and more how a person of his evil character could have gotten into Heaven at all and came to the conclusion that he didn’t really belong in Heaven; he belonged in “the other place”. Hearing this the man dressed in white sternly looked at the thief and said…

“Heaven? What makes you think this is Heaven? This is the other place.” And he began to laugh a diabolical laugh that became louder and louder as the thief realized no mistake had been made and that an eternity of “happiness” lay before him. He was right where he belonged.

While we may have an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness as we read in the Declaration of Independence we discover that that pursuit is only successful when we lay down our lives for others. You see…

“Happiness doesn’t come from looking in the mirror; it comes when we put down the mirror and see Jesus.

Lazarus Come Forth

Christians are about to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Of all the Christian holidays it’s the most holy because with the resurrection of Jesus comes forgiveness of sins, newness of life in the power of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life free from sin and corruption.

But the Bible tells us of another resurrection a few days before Jesus’ resurrection – the resurrection of Lazarus. The story of Lazarus is found in John chapter 11. It’s one of my favorite stories, not just because it has a happy ending for Lazarus and Mary and Martha, but because of the less obvious truths it contains for every believer and for creation itself. And it’s these less obvious truths that I want to bring out into the light.

So let’s begin digging through this story. I think you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of God’s love for each of you and for creation and how what looks like evil to us this side of eternity is used by God to draw us closer to Him, molding and shaping us into the image of Jesus Christ.

I want to begin by telling you ahead of time that…

Lazarus represents our spirits (conscience, intuition, ability to worship) and Mary and Martha represent our souls (will, emotions, intellect).

That’s important to remember and I pray it will make sense to you when I’m finished.

We’re going to go through the story of Lazarus a little at a time to make it easier to uncover what I believe the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us.

“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’” (John 11:1-4 ESV).

This seems simple and straight forward, but I want to break it down some and show how it’s our story. There’s nothing I the Bible by accident. So when I read and study the Bible I look at the names of the people involved in the stories as well as the locations involved and the context in which they are written.

When we do this for this story about the resurrection of Lazarus…

We discover this is a story about us.

This story begins with anxiety and misery and fear because Lazarus is deathly ill and Jesus is far away and the future is uncertain. This truth is revealed to us not just by the words we read, but by learning what the name “Bethany” means, the town Lazarus and Mary and Martha lived in.

Bethany means either “House of Dates” or “House of Misery”.

The meaning is determined by the context and what we discover is that in our case it begins one way and ends another. (Just to be clear: “House of Dates” doesn’t refer to a place where men and women go to meet. Dates come from palm trees and the leaves of palm trees were used to represent victory and peace. Thus, the laying of palm branches in front of Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.)

The story opens with Mary and Martha (our soul) living in misery because Lazarus (our spirit) is sick and about to die. They are living in a “House of Misery”. But they end up living in a “House of Dates”, a place of victory and peace and life.

This is us. We live in a “House of Misery” so much of our lives because we have blinded ourselves to the truth that if…

“anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17-17 NASU).

In other words Jesus has taken our “House of Misery” and turned it into a “House of Dates” – a house of peace and victory. But our lack of taking care of our spiritual health (Lazarus) causes us to delay remodeling our new home with what Jesus offers us and keep all the old furnishings we have bought from the world.

Why would we do this? The names of Mary and Martha give us a hint.

Mary means “bitterness”. Martha means “lady”.

These names, which represent our souls – our will, emotions, and intellect, seem contradictory. But they’re not. In fact, they are a very clear picture of my soul and very likely your soul. What do I mean?

So much of life creates bitterness within my thinking because it seems evil is rewarded and good is beaten down. I can will it to be otherwise, but nothing changes. The result is a life of emotional ups and downs. I get angry at what I see around me and the darkness that I know that lives within me. I live in fear that others will see me for who I truly am and turn away from me in disgust. So, what do I do? The same thing you do. I put on a mask for the world to see, a mask that hides the truth. Rather than the world seeing the anger and bitterness that lives within my soul I become “lady-like”. That is I present a face to the world that tells everyone I’m a good person, I have no problems, and I have everything under control. That’s Martha.

Some time ago David Morales and I were talking about some of the battles I fight and some of the things that drive me crazy. He said, “Terry, you remind me of Martha running around the house worried about so many things, when it was Mary who was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening and learning.”

What he meant was Martha was busy doing needful things, but it was Mary Jesus praised. Why? Because Martha was playing the role of “Lady” making sure everything was prim and proper for her guests. She wanted everything to look just right.

But it was Mary who recognized the importance of listening to the words of Jesus while she had the chance. She could eat physical food later – and so could her guests. Her priorities were correct.

I look around me and see all the injustice and pain and the double standards the world uses to judge right from wrong and the hypocrisy and it makes me angry – very angry. And the result is me, often than I would like to admit, trying to set the world straight by cursing the darkness rather than turning on the Light of Truth by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The next thing to notice is what Jesus says about Lazarus being sick. He says…

“This illness does not lead to death” (John 11:4 ESV).

But it did, didn’t it? Lazarus did die. But that wasn’t the end.

Lazarus’ illness did not lead to death; it led through death to life.

When my father died a few members of the family were in the room where he was along with a couple of ladies that worked for hospice. Right after Dad died someone asked me to say a pray. I only remember one thing I prayed at that time. I said,

“Father, I thank You that my dad is as much alive right now to You as he was to us an hour ago.”

You see from God’s point of view no one is dead. All are live. Lazarus was just as alive to God when his body lay in that tomb as he was when Jesus raised him up. In a sense the resurrection of Lazarus was God allowing us to see with His eyes.

Let’s continue with the story.

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him’” (John 11:5-10 ESV).

Notice here that it says Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus. This appears to be nothing more than an affirmation of verse 3 that we read earlier…

“Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:3 ESV).

But this is more than a restatement of that fact.

The Greek word used for “love” in verse 3 is phileo.

It means to have a feeling or sentiment of affection toward someone. It’s the love we have toward some family members and good friends. And this is a good love, a love that reveals itself by our kindness and compassion toward the one we love. But it’s not necessarily a love that would die for another.

There’s a different Greek word for that kind of love. It’s agape.

This is the highest form of love. It’s a self-sacrificing love, a love that will pay any price to ensure the one loved receives the highest good. It’s a love that continues to love regardless of whether the one loved deserves it or not.

We usually don’t have a problem believing Jesus loves us when we’ve been good, but we have a very hard time believing Jesus loves us when we’ve been bad. Mary and Martha and Lazarus had been good and believed Jesus had a strong feeling of affection toward them – phileo. But the Bible tells us Jesus’ love for them went deeper than that – He loved them because of who they were, not because of what they had or had not done – agage.

What this story tells us is God loves us with a love that is far greater, far deeper than anything we can imagine. And that’s the love we’re supposed to have for one another. Do we?

Agape is also a love that can cause misunderstanding.

It was because Jesus loved Lazarus that He delayed in answering Mary and Martha’s prayer. We may not understand why God doesn’t heal our friends and loved ones immediately or even let’s them die, but…

As Christians it’s not as important to understand the why of things, but the Who behind the things.

Do we truly believe God loves us with an agape type love when the storms of life are destroying everything around us?

Let’s go on.

“After saying these things, he (Jesus) said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’” (John 11:11-16 ESV).

Have you ever had a good friend, someone really close to you, question you about the path of life you are walking down as you follow the leading of the Holy Spirit? No doubt such concern is well meaning. He doesn’t want to see you hurt, nor does he want to experience that hurt with you. So he tries to give you reasons for changing course.

This is what the disciples were doing with Jesus. They knew Jesus’ life was in danger – as well as their own – if He went back to Judea. But when it became clear to them Jesus was going Thomas gives this resounding word of encouragement to Jesus and the other disciples doesn’t he? Uh, not so much.

It’s more like he takes a deep breath, looks around and says…

“Ok, fine. Let’s all die together.”

I can hear Thomas thinking…

“So what’s Jesus going to do? Raise Lazarus from the dead or something.”

Not only do we all have naysayers in our lives like Thomas, well-meaning friends who are loyal to us, but nevertheless do more discouraging rather than encouraging, there’s usually more than one of these people. That’s why I find it interesting that the name “Thomas” means “Twin”. Not only do we have a “Thomas” in our life, he’s not alone. Misery truly does love company.

And the story continues.

“Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.”’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’” (John 11:17-27 ESV).

Note that Lazarus had been dead four days. That’s significant for a couple of reasons. First, the Jews believed that when someone died their soul remained near the body for 3 days making it possible for him to be revived. But after the 4th day all hope was gone. That means Lazarus was truly dead as far as the Jews were concerned which made his resurrection all the more remarkable.


Four is the number for this world, this physical creation.

And according to tradition the world was about 4000 years old at the time Jesus walked on the earth. That means that the world, creation had been dead in trespasses and sins for about 4000 years because of Adam and Eve having eaten of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
This is what the death of Lazarus, though real, symbolizes spiritually. He became sick and when Jesus didn’t immediately intervene to heal him he died. Likewise, when Adam and Eve fell into sin creation became “sick” and when God didn’t immediately intervene to “heal” it, man’s spiritual death eventually resulted in physical death. God could have immediately “healed” creation when Adam and Eve sinned, but out of love He had Jesus wait 4000 before coming to this world to raise it from the dead.

Why would He do that? The delay was necessary to show man that apart from God there’s no way to be “healed” from sin.

The delay proved man’s knowledge and religion could not change his sinful nature.

For 4000 years man tried to rise from the dead, so to speak, by trying to be good and trying to obey the commandments given to him by a sovereign and holy God. But rather than being healed he discovered just how dead he was. At best he was a zombie.

Romans 3:19-20 tells us:

“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20 ESV).

Mary and Martha represent the bitterness of life man faced after the Fall and his attempt to fix the problem of the deadness he sensed within his spirit by living a good, moral life outwardly. But his attempt to do good by obeying the Law simply revealed how dead his spirit was – which is exactly why the Law was given in the first place.

God knew man died in the Garden of Eden, but it took the Law to prove it to him.

Let’s look at this at an individual level. Mary and Martha represent your soul – your will, emotions, and intellect. There is often much bitterness in your life, often a lot of pressure, and many painful situations. That’s Mary. But because you don’t want the world to see all the garbage and pain in your life or all your failures you put on a mask for others to see. You do all the proper “ladylike” things a Christian is supposed to do. You try to be nice to people, but inside you can’t stand them; you try to say nice things to them, but inside you’re screaming at them; you say you’ll pray God will bless them, but inside your prayer is that God would strike them with lightning.

You get frustrated because you want to be good, be ladylike, but you can’t. Why? Because Lazarus, who represents your spirit – your conscience, intuition, and communion with God – lays dead until raised by Jesus into new life. Once your spirit – Lazarus – is “born-again” and becomes “Head of the household” so to speak, and your soul – Mary and Martha – submits to the headship of your now divinely inspired spirit, you can quit trying to be good and masking the fears and brokenness that is a part of all of us.

Let’s go on.

“When she (Martha) had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying’ (John 11:28-37 ESV)?

I want to quickly point out the difference between how Martha approached Jesus as compared to Mary. Both of them said the same thing to Jesus.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32 ESV).

But notice their posture. Martha came and stood before Him; Mary came and fell at his feet. Though polite and respectful to Jesus Martha’s posture is one of dignity and emotional control. Mary’s position is one of brokenness and worship. She didn’t care what those around her thought of her behavior.

Too often the masks we wear as Christians so we will appear dignified and in control of ourselves – ladylike – comes at the expense of humbling ourselves in the presence of Jesus out of fear of being thought of as strange or radical. Much of our outward worship is tailored to meet the expectations of those around us rather than allowing ourselves to be free to express our fears, and pain, and brokenness openly. It shouldn’t be that way.

We come to the climax of the story now.

“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’ (John 11:38-44 ESV).

At this moment all the doubts and questions the disciples and Mary and Martha had about Jesus’ actions and strange – to them – behavior vanished. No longer would they ask, “Why did Jesus delay in coming to Lazarus? Did Jesus truly love him? Was He unwilling to heal him?”

All of these were replaced with the knowledge that He was willing not only to heal a sick man, but raise a dead man.

But this story wouldn’t be complete without revealing what the name “Lazarus” means. Romans 5:6 says…

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 NASU).

You know, I have never known of anyone who has a nice home, a nice car, money in the bank, a healthy family, and no problems waking up one morning and saying: “I think I’ll become a Christian today.” That doesn’t happen. It’s when we lose everything and everything begins to spin out of control in our lives and we’re helpless to fix it that we’re brought to our knees before the Lord and seek Him.

I tell you that because the name…

“Lazarus means “helpless”.

Lazarus symbolizes the helplessness creation and we face when we try to save ourselves. It’s only when we realize that we are spiritually dead and are helpless to remove the smell of death from us, it’s only when we realize we are helpless to open the door of our spiritual tomb, and it’s only when we realize we are helpless to remove the grave clothes we are wrapped that we will experience our resurrection from the dead. It’s only when we realize that our name is “Helpless” that we will respond to Jesus when He calls us out of the tomb. Because as long as we think we are not Helpless we will remain deaf to the call of Jesus which describes the majority of mankind.

Finally, notice it was Jesus who gave Lazarus new life, but He used others to roll away the stone from the tomb and it was others He used to remove Lazarus’ grave clothes. That is a picture of the mission of the Church.

Only God can bring a dead spirit back to life, but it’s up to us to open the door of their heart that they might hear the voice of Jesus calling them and it’s up to us to remove the “grave clothes” of the newly born-again that they might be clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ instead.