Picture a man wrapped head to toe in first-century grave-clothes, hands and feet tied, hobbling or hopping out of a cave-tomb and trying not to fall over. This is Lazarus, and this is why the first thing Jesus said when he emerged was, literally, “Free him, and let him go” (Jn. 11.44)
In this spectacular liberation, Jesus sounds the drum-roll that is the prelude to Freedom Week. It happened in Bethany, close enough to Jerusalem that the grapevine would take the news ahead and electrify the whole city before Jesus got there to celebrate the Passover Feast.
Jesus had previously sent out special heralds across the whole country to make his declaration that freedom was arriving and the reign of God was beginning (Lk. 10.1). Many Jews got their hopes up, no longer wondering whether this prophet from Galilee was the long-awaited Messiah who would bring freedom to the nation. Their only remaining questions were when and how he would do it.
More than one of them would have guessed that the Passover Feast, the Jewish national Freedom Day, would be the perfect time for the Messiah to go public. In an instant, the massive festival crowds could be mobilized to riot and overwhelm the few Roman troops in Jerusalem. Similar surprise attacks could happen nationwide. By the time the Romans could send reinforcements, the whole nation would be under the Messiah’s control, and the God of Israel would see to it that the Messiah could not be dislodged.
Raising someone from the dead was the perfect set-up for the Messiah’s self-declaration. On the surface it did not look political and so did not give the Romans a basis to arrest Jesus as a Messiah before he could rally the crowds. Yet underneath it had political implications clear to any Jew who longed for the Messiah. Seriously, how fiercely and fearlessly does a soldier fight for a commander who can raise the dead?
When the news of Lazarus’ resurrection circulated, that is how it would have been interpreted by people would who thought they knew what freedom meant. During Freedom Week, Jesus totally redefined freedom for them. By Easter Monday we will see how he did it and what it means.
Affirmation: Jesus was in the freedom business, even to the extent of freeing a dead man from the tomb. If he can raise the dead, he can free me from anything and everything.
Prayer: Unwrap me, Lord. Take off every last layer of these grave-clothes. I want to be free.