Summary: Three great awakenings: 1. Awakening from spiritual death. 2. Awakening from spiritual dullness. 3. Awakening from spiritual deafness.
For a long time I knew that the Christian life was a matter of having a relationship with God, but I also often thought of it as a list of rules to be kept. I wasn’t sure how to maintain a relationship with God, but it was clear to me what it meant to keep the rules. If I did well, I was in God’s good graces. If I messed up, I felt a huge load of guilt. As I look back, I now see that I even preached as though being a Christian was about managing our sin, rather than living in the freedom of a child of God. I thought and taught that the Christian life was about not sinning rather than living a life empowered by the Spirit. I defined the Christian life by a list of things that you do not do, rather than a list of things you get to do. It took me a long time to get over the rigid way I had learned and adapted to. And I am still learning. It has been a long process of waking up to the life Christ is offering me.
This morning I want to explore what it means to come alive in Christ. I want us to investigate what it means to spiritually wake up. And to do that, I want to use three stories from the Bible as metaphors. The first story is the one we read together in the Scripture today. It is the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. And the first message I want get from this story is about: Waking from spiritual death. The raising of Lazarus is a great biblical story. Jesus heard that Lazarus was seriously ill and delayed going to him. He later told his disciples: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (John 11:11). When they questioned him, he told them plainly: “Lazarus is dead.” By the time he arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. When Jesus arrived in Bethany, he told the people to roll away the stone that sealed the tomb of Lazarus. Then he called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out ” I love what the Gospel of John says next: “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (John 11:44). This is the New Testament account of a dead man walking Then Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
I see that as a metaphor of what Jesus Christ does for each of us when we first come to him. This is the first great awakening. It is the awakening from spiritual death to spiritual life. The Bible talks about the time when we were “dead in transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). The apostle Paul says: “When you were dead in your sins. . . God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins” (Colossians 2:13). At one time we were all asleep in the coma of spiritual death, but I trust that Christ has awakened you through his Spirit and given you life. If that is not the case, you are still spiritually dead and remain in your sins. That is why the Bible says with some urgency: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14).
I am so grateful for the day that Jesus Christ rolled the stone away from my spiritual grave and called me out. He took away all the things that were binding me and set me free to live. He loosed me from the things that had wrapped themselves around me and were squeezing the life out of me. He called me out of darkness into his marvelous light. He helped me to know what it was to be fully alive.
It was Saint Irenaeus who said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” If I had been able at one time in my life to crawl inside my brain to see what was really driving me, it was the lie that God really did not want me fully alive. The thought was buried somewhere in there that when God comes into your life he takes the life away. If it is fun, delicious or pleasurable it is bad and sinful. I unconsciously believed that when God comes, he asks me to give up being really alive. He wants me to give up things and stop having fun. Those were the controlling thoughts that inhabited my mind, even though I may have denied believing them at the time. Emotions are often stronger than rational thoughts. So even though I knew better, my fearful emotions were delivering the message that the Christian life was restrictive and even oppressive. But I have been slowly walking out of the tomb and experiencing the reality that God does not want me to experience less of life, he wants me to experience more of it. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He wants me to have more fun, not less. He said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). What he is saying is that it is the devil, our spiritual enemy, who wants to rob us of life. The devil promises freedom, but brings bondage and grinding oppression. He promises pleasure, but creates depression. He promises life, but delivers dysfunction. But Jesus gives life, and he is never more happy than when I am enjoying the life he has given me to the full. That is what he has promised. And either I believe that and live, or I reject it and miss what he has come to give.