I was recently listening to a CD from an English preacher called Dr. Reginald Mallet. Dr. Mallet is over 80 years old and has had a great ministry around the UK and US. In his message, he drew attention to the closing verse in the fantastic retelling of Lazarus’s resurrection from the dead, found in John 11:44. Here Jesus instructs those who are watching this miracle take place to “Take off the grave clothes, and let him go”. Dr. Mallet simply mentioned that the Christ who we follow is in the business of not only taking off grave clothes but helping us to put on grace clothes.
As I have been meditating on this scripture, the command that Jesus gave was not just to Lazarus and his friends, but to us and our friends. My thoughts have centered on the question, what are we wearing?
There is much discussion regarding this metaphor in Pauline letters, especially in Galatians and Romans, all coming to the conclusion that we must “clothe ourselves in Christ”. More specifically though, Dr. Mallet and I would ask, are you wearing clothes that are fit for the grave or clothes that exude grace?
We wear ‘grave clothes’ when we engage in thoughts, actions or behaviors that lead to death within our soul. When we hold on to anger, when we fail, when we succumb to temptation, when we place ourselves at the center of our world, we are suffocating our soul. Followed to the extreme, these, and other sins will lead to spiritual death. The apostle Paul is very clear that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and when sin is not dealt with, we pay with the death of our soul. Using this metaphor, people, like us, who continue to engage in acts of disobedience are wearing ‘grave clothes’.
The opposite of wearing grave clothes is to wear ‘grace clothes’. We are exhorted in Colossians 3:12-14, “as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” These traits are clothes of grace that reflect the goodness and glory of God as we wear them.
As I meditate on this comparison between ‘grave clothes’ and ‘grave clothes’ my mind considers the following points;
1) The only difference between ‘grave’ and ‘grace’ is one letter. The ‘v’ has been taken back 18 characters to the letter ‘c’. This one, little change, makes a huge difference. Reading at a glance, it is easy to mistake the word grave for grace. Often it is true in the clothes that we wear as well. How many well-meaning attitudes and actions have we done before, believing that they are acts of grace, but really they are actions that will lead to the grave? Often it is very difficult to determine whether our actions are grace-filled or leading to the grave.
2)In the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection, Jesus enlists the help of some of the friends to take off the grave clothes for Lazarus. God chose to use people like you and me in the miraculous resurrection that he wants to bring within this world. I believe that the call of God upon us today is lovingly helping “take the grave clothes” off our friends who are making decisions that will bring death to their soul. We must be quick not only to wear clothes of grace but also to help others take off their grave clothes.
3) This statement of Jesus concludes with letting us know the purpose of why the grave clothes must be taken off. Jesus says, “and let him go”. In the context of John 11, Jesus is saying “Let him go and live again!”. Let him go and resume his life that he will understand, enjoy, fulfill and life at a higher level than he previously had. The chains of death that held him are gone – go and live. It is only when we put on clothes of grace that we are able to fully live (John 10:10).
As Jesus said of Lazarus, so He says to us – “Take off your grave clothes”!!!