“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: . . . Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”
With these dire yet decisive words, Charles Dickens begins his beloved book, “The Christmas Carol.” At first glance it might appear that the author has mistakenly started his story with the ending. After all, death is pretty final. Is it wise to kill off your main character or even one of your lesser characters before the story even starts? Or could it be that this story wasn’t over but just beginning?
This reminds me of another story from another time and another place. The people there were also mourning a death and they too, were very sure he was dead. There was no doubt whatever among the many mourners about that fact. His name was Lazarus and he was dead. We read in John, chapter eleven, confirmation of that very fact.
“So then He (Jesus) told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ ” (John 11:14-15) Next we read,
“On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.” When Jesus asked that the stone laid across the entrance to the tomb be moved aside, He got this response –
” ‘But Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.’ ” (John 11:39)
So, as with Marley, there is no doubt whatever that Lazarus is dead. Martha is even referred to as “the sister of the dead man.” The mourners have mourned, Lazarus has been wrapped in burial cloths and laid in a tomb. Such is the scene when Jesus arrives at the home of the sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Mary wasn’t too happy with Jesus and she let Him know as much.
“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:32)
Although Mary had complete faith in Jesus, she nevertheless believed this was the end of this particular story – Lazarus was dead. Dead people don’t do encores. Dead people don’t get second chances. Mary was correct – Martha was correct when she said of Lazarus “there is a bad odor” – still neither woman took into account – BUT GOD! This was not the end of the story. What happened next?
“Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. . . . Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man (that would be Lazarus) came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ ” (John 11:40-44)
So Lazarus got his life restored to him, Mary and Martha got their brother back and what had appeared to be a hopeless situation, an ending, was changed in an instant to a new beginning full of hope. Their mourning had turned into rejoicing. Lazarus was freed from death literally, which was so beautifully symbolized by Jesus instructing the people nearby to take the grave clothes off of Lazarus and to “let him go.” Lazarus was freed from the grave that had just moments earlier held him captive, freed from the grave clothes that had bound him so tightly, freed from death’s darkness into life’s light.
Yes, Lazarus was dead – BUT GOD! I can relate. We all can. God has done the same thing He did for Lazarus, for each and every one of us, myself included and I am eternally grateful that He did.
“When I was dead in my sins and in the uncircumcision of my sinful nature, God made me alive with Christ. He forgave me all my sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against me and that stood opposed to me; He took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)
God did the same thing for you, too, dear readers. It’s like Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians –
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, . . . But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-5)
Like Lazarus, (and Marley) I was dead. I was dead in my sins, they bound me like Lazarus’s grave clothes and held me captive. BUT GOD! But God called me out of my tomb, peeled away the shroud of the enemy’s lies, accusations, shame, guilt, sin, pride, unbelief, unforgiveness, fear, strife, envy, rebellion – strip by linen strip – until I am now free, alive and free to follow my Savior. The same Jesus that called Lazarus from death to life, has called me and He’s calling you too, dear readers. Oh, that many would hear and answer the call of the Savior of our souls! He’s calling to you right now – “come out!” – just as He did to Lazarus so long ago.
Mary and Martha had given up all hope. Their brother was dead. Our earthly situations and circumstances more often than not also appear hopeless to us. We are sure it is the end of the story. BUT GOD! That’s right – BUT GOD!
BUT GOD “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Today, when my mountains show no sign of moving, when the walls are closing in rather than tumbling down, when the damage seems permanent and the finale to my story irrevocably final – I will remember – BUT GOD! Nothing is too hard for Him who spoke the universe into existence. He is the God of redemption, reconciliation and restoration. He is –
“- the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17)
This is the God in whom I hope. I was beyond all hope – BUT GOD!
“But God demonstrates His own love for me in this: While I was still a sinner, Christ died for me.” (Romans 5:8)
I was under a death sentence – BUT GOD! But God sent Jesus to die in my place and now I live.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
sincerely, Grace Day