Rise Up, Lazarus: A Christmas and New Year Devotional

Christmas is upon us!  A time when we joyfully celebrate Jesus’s miraculous and glorious birth.  Celebrating a tiny, precious baby who was born in a lowly manger, Emmanuel, God with us

While we celebrate the birth of Jesus with JOY and wonder, we also can’t help but reflect on the purpose of his birth— to die for our sins and to redeem us by his blood on the cross.

Jesus arrived in Bethlehem (in Mary’s womb) on a donkey, and he also rode on a young donkey into Jerusalem, days before he died on the cross.  Life came full circle.  From on the road to birth to on the road to death.  From being wrapped in swaddling clothes to having his clothes stripped from him and divided up by casting of lots.  From being held as a baby, warm and secure in his mother’s young arms, to dying a lonely death on a cross, arms outstretched, his mother watching and grieving nearby.

Full circle.  From baby to man.  From newborn King to Savior and Redeemer.  Indeed, Christ’s salvation is the Reason for the Season.  We celebrate the baby, yes.  We are filled with joy for his birth, yes.  But we also remember and reflect on his sacrifice with deep humility and gratitude.

Here’s another full circle moment in Jesus’s life…

Remember when Lazarus died and was buried in a tomb?  Jesus raised him from the dead on the fourth day.  When I re-read that passage, earlier this year, my first thought was, I wonder what Jesus was thinking and feeling when he learned Lazarus had died and had been buried for four days?  Jesus knew he, himself, was about to die, be buried for three days, and rise from the dead.  Just like Lazarus. 

Jesus wept when Lazarus died.  He loved him, after all (John 11:35-36).  Part of me wonders if Jesus wept solely because he grieved Lazarus’s death, or if it was because he was face-to-face with his own human death and burial that he himself was about to face— like a sentenced (but wrongfully accused) man on death row, watching another inmate making his way to the death chamber.  Maybe it was a bit of both? 

Grief is a result of loss, especially loss of something loved and familiar.  Grief is a longing and aching for what used to be present, whether tangible or intangible. And let us not forget anticipatory grief, which is grieving the losses that are expected to come. Jesus grieved for Lazarus, and he also grieved for sinners, just like God does.  God grieves for his children when they lose their way.  Jesus emphasized this type of Fatherly grief in the parables of The Lost Coin, The Lost Sheep, and The Lost Son

In each of these parables, Jesus stressed how God goes out of his way to save the lost— God goes after each of us, one by one— and he rejoices in our return.  “‘For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”  (Luke 15:24)  “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)

God celebrates the salvation of his children, and there certainly was rejoicing in the town of Bethany when Lazarus was raised from the dead.  Jesus called to him, “Lazarus, come out!”  When Lazarus emerged from the tomb, he was still wrapped in his grave clothes, even around his face, but Jesus said to the people around him, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:44)

Take off the grave clothes

In the parable, The Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus talks about the difference in clothing between those who are lost and those who are saved.  The saved are clothed with “wedding clothes” because they are betrothed to Christ, whereas the lost do not possess this precious garment.  Like the prophet Isaiah said, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness.”  (Isaiah 61:10)    

The lost, instead, possess other clothes, perhaps even grave clothes (metaphorically speaking), much like what Lazarus wore.  But when Jesus had the grave clothes taken away, Lazarus was set free.  His chains were gone.  His face was no longer covered; darkness turned to light and blindness turned to sight.  “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  (Galatians 3:26-27)

I love the song, Rise Up (Lazarus), by the sibling trio, CAIN.  Click on the title or image to listen to the song. 

Photo from caintheband.com

Here is the Chorus:

Come on and rise up, take a breath, you’re alive now
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us
Out from the grave like Lazarus
You’re brand new, the power of death couldn’t hold you
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us
Out from the grave like Lazarus

Is Jesus calling you out of the grave?  Is he calling you to rise up and come alive? 

If he is, let me assure you that he will ready you first.  He doesn’t rush us.  He’s patient.  After all, Lazarus wasn’t raised from the dead right away.  He was in the grave for four days, and Jesus grieved alongside Lazarus’s family, consoling and comforting them.  Sometimes there’s a gap and a “waiting period” before we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, before we can see Christ’s hand reaching down to us. 

It’s in our brokenness— in the mire and slimy pit— where we learn to rely on Jesus and not on our own strength.  He is at work in us, even in the darkness.  He is the only one who can change us and raise us up.  All we have to do is grab a hold of his outstretched hand, and he will roll away the heavy stone and bring us out of the pit.

Come on and rise up, take a breath, you’re alive now
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us
Out from the grave like Lazarus…
You’re brand new, the power of death couldn’t hold you
Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us
Out from the grave like Lazarus

As we celebrate the birth of Christ this Christmas, and as we reflect on his death, salvation, and resurrection, I encourage you to be listening for his calling.  His calling to die to ourselves and to RISE UP FROM THE GRAVE into Christ’s freedom, especially as we are about to embark upon a new year.  A time when we focus afresh on new beginnings and renewed goals and disciplines. 

Maybe God has been nudging you this past year to turn over a new chapter in your life, to help someone, to join a ministry, to reconcile a relationship, etc., but something has been holding you back.  Or maybe you’ve been struggling with a difficult trial this past year.  Perhaps you’ve felt buried in darkness and chained by heavy burdens.  Is it time to let go and let Christ raise you out of the grave?

Let us RISE UP together!  Let us leave the darkness behind and rejoice in the light of salvation!  It is never too late.  We are never too lost.  For we serve a God of miracles.  A God of grace and compassion.  A God who grieves for the lost and who rejoices when his children are found.

Sin cannot hold us captive.  We are made BRAND NEW in Christ through his saving grace.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)  “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11) 

Can you hear him calling?  He calls those in darkness to light.  Those who are clothed in sin to be clothed in righteousness.  Those who are chained and buried to arise with freedom and hope.

Let us ARISE. 



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