When Death Becomes Birth
by Max Lucado
You, as all God’s children, live one final breath from your own funeral. Which, from God’s perspective, is nothing to grieve. He responds to these grave facts with this great news: “The day you die is better than the day you are born” (Eccles. 7:1). Now there is a twist. Heaven enjoys a maternity-ward reaction to funerals. Angels watch body burials the same way grandparents monitor delivery-room doors. “He’ll be coming through any minute!” They can’t wait to see the new arrival. While we’re driving hearses and wearing black, they’re hanging pink and blue streamers and passing out cigars. We don’t grieve when babies enter the world. The hosts of heaven don’t weep when we leave it.
Oh, but many of us weep at the thought of death. Do you? Do you dread your death?
Is your fear of dying robbing your joy of living? Jesus came to “deliver those who have lived all their lives as slaves to the fear of dying” (Heb. 2:15).
If Scripture boasted a list of the famous dead, Lazarus would be near the top. He lived in Bethany, a sleepy hamlet that sat a short walk from Jerusalem. Jesus spent a lot of time there. Maybe he liked the kitchen of Martha or the devotion of Mary. One thing is for sure: he considered Lazarus a friend. News of Lazarus’s death prompts Jesus to say, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up” (John 11:11).
And now, four days after the funeral, Jesus has come calling. Literally calling, “Lazarus, come out!” Can we try to picture Lazarus as he hears those words? Heaven-sent Lazarus. Heaven-happy Lazarus. Four days into his measureless days. By now he’s forming fast friendships with other saints. King David shows him the harps. Moses invites him over for tea and manna. Elijah and Elisha take him for a spin in the fiery chariot. Daniel has promised him a lion of a Bible story. He’s on his way to hear it when a voice booms through the celestial city.
“Lazarus, come out!”
Everybody knows that voice. No one wonders, Who was that?Angels stop. Hosts of holy-city dwellers turn toward the boy from Bethany, and someone says, “Looks like you’re going back for another tour of duty.”
Lazarus doesn’t question the call. Perfect understanding comes with a heavenly passport. He doesn’t object. But had he done so, who could have faulted him? His heavenly body knows no fever. His future no fear. He indwells a city that is void of padlocks, prisons, and Prozac. With sin and death nonexistent, preachers, doctors, and lawyers are free to worship. Would anyone blame Lazarus for saying, “Do I have to go back?”
But he doesn’t second-guess the command. Nor does anyone else. Return trips have been frequent of late. The daughter of the synagogue ruler. The boy from Nain. Now Lazarus from Bethany. Lazarus turns toward the rarely used exit door. The very one, I suppose, Jesus used some thirty earth years earlier. With a wave and within a wink, he’s reunited with his body and waking up on a cold slab in a wall-hewn grave. The rock to the entrance has been moved, and Lazarus attempts to do the same. Mummy-wrapped, he stiffly sits up and walks out of the tomb with the grace of Frankenstein’s monster.
People stare and wonder.
We read and may ask, “Why did Jesus let him die only to call him back?”
To show who runs the show. To trump the cemetery card. To display the unsquashable strength of the One who danced the Watusi on the neck of the devil, who stood face to clammy face with death and declared, “You call that a dead end? I call it an escalator.”
“Lazarus, come out!”
Those words, incidentally, were only a warmup for the big day. He’s preparing a worldwide grave evacuation. “Joe, come out!” “Maria, come out!” “Giuseppe, come out!” “Jacob, come out!” Grave after grave will empty. What happened to Lazarus will happen to us. Only our spirit-body reunion will occur in heaven, not Bethany Memorial Cemetery.
When this happens—when our perishable earthly bodies have been transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die—then at last the Scriptures will come true:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
(1 Cor. 15:54-55)
With Christ as your friend and heaven as your home, the day of death becomes sweeter than the day of birth.
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 2004) Max Lucado