It’s not very often that you and I have the opportunity to liken ourselves to a dead man. The stories in the Bible are about you and me and our relationship to God. Most of the explanations for the story of Jesus raising Lazarus focus on Jesus’ power over death, and that is an important message of the story.
Yet Bible stories are not just stories about some people who lived two thousand years ago. These stories show us ourselves as we live today. We are often like Lazarus…dead, and Jesus calls us out of our tombs.
At fifty-four years of age, when I used visualization to enter the stories as one of the characters, it changed my theology. It made such an impact on me that I was compelled to write 30 Days To Loving God With All Your Heart — to teach the practice to others.
How are we like dead people? To understand this, we have to look at the words death and life in a different way. Life means far more than just breathing, and walking, and being physically alive. More often, it refers to a state of being…a condition of life…where you are experiencing joy, peace, hope, patience, goodness, and love while you inhabit this mortal body. Life refers to the fullness of what God intends for it to be.
We typically understand ‘death’ to mean – “no heartbeat, no longer breathing, the spirit/soul has left the physical body.” That’s not accurate in all places in the Bible.
In the broadest definition of the Greek word for death in the Bible is this: death includes all the miseries arising from sin. Physical death can be one of those miseries. Other forms of death include the loss or absence of a life of peace, love, and joy on earth, absence of the abundant life offered only by God.
The words dead and death are often used in the Bible as a metaphor, as in being spiritually dead…deficient of a life that trusts in the Source of true life, wrapped up in ourselves, and inactive – as it relates to doing the right things.
When Ezekiel spoke about Israel as dry bones, he wasn’t talking about being dead as meaning having “no heartbeat or no breath.” He was using death as a metaphor for the children of Israel, describing their absence of peace and joy. Through the prophet, God said, “I will open your graves…I will put my Spirit within you…and then you will live.” The Spirit of harmony and joy. It is the Spirit who brings life to us.
In the broadest sense, the Greek word for death includes all the miseries arising from sin. Physical death can be one of the miseries that comes from sin. But the most common kind of death is the absence of a life of peace, love, and joy. There are a lot of dead people walking and breathing today because they have little joy or peace in their lives. If you substitute the words “absence of peace or joy” in place of “dead” and “die” in many verses of the Bible, you will understand better what the writer wanted to convey. Let me show you what I mean.
In Gen. 2:15-17, when the Lord God commanded of the man, “You may freely eat of every tree in the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die”? What happened they ate the fruit? – they didn’t fall over dead. What they died to was the abundant life. They were removed from paradise. They lost the peace and joy of abiding in God’s presence.
From Rom. 8:6-8, “To set the mind on the flesh is death,” (In other words: to set the mind on the things of this world removes/takes away the abundant life that God wants for you) but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Lazaruses of the 21st century tend to set their minds on physical pleasures, self-indulgence, trying to acquire the material things of this world, positions of power and influence – they think these things will bring them joy. These things never bring peace, or joy, or love.
There are many verses of the Bible where we can replace the words death or dead with a form of “separated from the Source of true life” and understand what the writer really meant. Listen to some examples:
Rom 8:6-8 “To set the mind on the flesh [the things of this world] is death [separation from true life], but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
Prodigal Son story: Luke 15:24 At the conclusion, the father is explaining why he is having a party for the son who returned. He said, “For this son of mine was dead [separated from true life], and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” To be dead is to have rejected the things that bring life in its abundance.
1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death [lives separated from true life].” Love means being committed to the good and wellbeing of our neighbor. Love connects us to God. All these verses are referring to death as a current state of living, like dead people walking.
Ephesians 2:4-6, But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead [separated from true life] in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ…”
John 5:25, Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead [those living in the power of sin] will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live [the abundant life in God].”
Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” The wages of sin is separation from God and the life that only God can give us.
The metaphorical interpretations of life and death certainly offer a new way of looking at this statement by Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
Jesus calls us out of the tomb, tells us to stop being so wrapped up in ourselves and the things of this world so that we can put our skills and talents into action for the good of others. He calls us to step out of our personal little worlds of darkness. With the help of the community of faith, we get unwrapped from sin and selfish living that separate us from meeting Jesus face-to-face. We need to step out in faith into a life of commitment to God and active love for our neighbors.
Jesus said to each of us, “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”
Freed – raised from the dead – just like Lazarus.