A Ministry of Unbinding

John 11: 17-44

The Ministry of Unbinding

June 16, 2019


The gospel of John often goes into great detail when telling a story. The entirely of chapter 9 is all about the man born blind. Now, all of chapter 11 is about Lazarus. It gives the sense that both stories are not only true, but they both have an important message. Here are selected verses:


17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Laz′arus[a] had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles[b] off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” ...

30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; 34 and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42 I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Laz′arus, come out.” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”


Imagine the scene. A crowd of people stand around the tomb. Some are near and some are far off. The only sound we hear is the wind blowing over the desert. They see it but don’t believe it. Lazarus stands there, all wrapped up in cloths. Jesus breaks the silence by saying, "Unbind him and let him go."

Maybe it isn't all that important, but I wonder who helped to unbind Lazarus? There were all kinds of people there. There were the mourners. There were the Jews. There were the disciples. There were Mary and Martha and maybe even some other family members. When Lazarus came out of that tomb, smelling of four day’s death, I would imagine that some chose to stand back and watch.

Maybe the most important question is not who helped him, what is most important, “What would we’ve done?” Would we have stepped forward or would we have stood back? "That's someone's else's job. We'll pass out loaves and fishes, Jesus, but get someone else to unbind Lazarus."


I have read this story for years and had not noticed something. A friend pointed it out to me. Notice Lazarus was still dead when he stumbled out of the tomb.

In verse 43, Jesus yells, "Lazarus, come out." Verse 44 says: "The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face, wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Unbind him and let him go.'"


Lazarus was still dead. One commentator I read said there were actually two miracles in this story: The first miracle was Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The second miracle was that Lazarus could walk out of the tomb while still being bound up with all those bandages.

Here is the thing. What would have happened if the people hadn't listened to Jesus? I mean Jesus asked them to unbind him. What if they had just stood around doing nothing? Lazarus might still be standing there, all dead, and waiting to be unwrapped like a forgotten Christmas present.

Jesus needed the people standing around to help him complete his work.


I don’t know, but it sure seems to me, that one important message is Jesus needed the people to help him complete his work. Faith is more than a personal experience. We need other people. That kind of goes counter to our culture. Popular religion says, all I need is me and God and no one else. We don't need teachers. We don't need ministers. We don't need saints. We don't need the church. We can stay at home go to the golf course and we can get all the faith we need.

But we do need other people to have faith, don't we? Even the people who don't think they need anyone else, learned faith from someone.


Almost every time when the Bible says "you." The you is plural. When Paul talked about how your body is a temple or how you are called to be saints and when Jesus said you are the light of the world – all these used plural pronouns. They were saying - "you" – as in all of you, the faithful people of God, are a living temple, you, as in "you'all" - if you are from the South. It’s "you'ins" - if you are from one end of Pennsylvania – “youze guys” if you are from another end. YOU people are the light of the world.

Faith is the product of community. Someone once said that, "Strong individuals are the product of strong communities" - believing we are the product of our ourselves is an illusion. Faith comes from community.

That day when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus still needed the people to help him complete the job.


Of course, there is a part of this which makes us nervous. I mean if we need others to help unbind us, what if they don’t come to help? What if we are Lazarus? There we are. God does this wonderful miracle. We stand, waiting. Christ calls people to help us. And, if they all stand around us with their hands in their pockets, that would be a bummer.

We wouldn't have this question if Lazarus had come out of the tomb unwrapped and alive, but he came out dead and all wrapped up. Lazarus needed people. Jesus needed people. We need people.

What’s more, Jesus needs us.

Some people make things happen. Some people watch things happen and other people wonder what happened.

Which will we be?


Will we help unwrap the troubles and the hurts and the struggles of others, or will we stand by and watch?" Or worse than watching, are we going to bind them up even more?

Remember that passage from Matthew, the scene of the great judgement? Jesus says to the people - blessed are you for when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was in jail, you visited me, when I was without clothing, you gave me clothing, when I was a stranger, you welcomed me, when I was sick, you came to me. Cursed are you who didn't cloth me, feed me, visit me, welcome me or care for me.

God’s judgement may be tough on those who watch and do nothing.


It seems to me that this unbinding does not need to be grand. It can be as simple as a kind word. It can be an expression of gratitude. It can be anything which eases anxiety. God helped me see something this week. I found myself noticing people who were unwrapping others. I realized that in our church we have a whole tribe of unbinders.

Last Sunday I was climbing up a ten-foot ladder to take a picture of the congregation out front. As I was stepping down the ladder, Bill Hahn came over to steady the ladder. I didn’t ask him to, he just did it. He doesn’t’ realize it but he helped unbind me in a literal way. You see long robes can be dangerous. They can make us ministers seem even more foolish than we are already. When I was in my first church, I wasn’t paying attention and while walking up the chancel I stepped right into my robe and nearly landed head-first. So, who knows, if I had stepped into my rob coming down that ladder, Bill may have saved my life! Thank you, Bill!

Another one. I got a call from Joyce Born. She wanted to know if Kathy was ok? I said, “Well, she is as ok as she can be married to me.” She said, “No, I mean I heard about her accident in Kentucky.” I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about since Kathy was in the next room. Well, it seems that this past week was the anniversary of a very serious accident Kathy had in Kentucky in 2012. Joyce didn’t notice the date was actually an anniversary. But I thought how considerate of her to call. Her concern was an act of unbinding.

Another one. I was visiting Dave Weissert this week. Many of you don’t know Dave. He is having serious issues with his diabetes and has been in the hospital for two months. He is at the Bel Air Rehab. Dave told me, “This is kind of a depressing place. Some people come in and don’t come out. The nurses are stretched thin. My nurse has 22 patients. The other day I heard a woman across the hall calling for help – she doesn’t use the buzzer, she yells. So, I went over and spoke to her and gave her a few pretzels.” Now, that is a small thing. But, here is Dave, in the hospital for two months. He goes across the hall to help a woman who is not entirely well - physically, emotionally or mentally. He is unbinding her. Her soul is a bit more-free today because of Dave. And, there were many other small acts that I noticed you doing. To unbind people can be the smallest thing. It can be as simple as steady-ing a ladder, making a thoughtful phone call or sharing some pretzels.


That day outside Bethel near Jerusalem, that crowd didn’t do much, but that much they did, made a difference. At least it made a difference to Lazarus. Without them, he would still be bound up. It is God who gives life, it is God who works miracles and it is God who eventually then gives us the responsibility to help one another.

And so we pray, "Lord, send those who will unbind us. We don't see them, but we need them." And we pray, "Lord, make us unbinders. Help us endure the four-day stenches. Help us hold our nose and suffer through the pains of those who are hurting, and help us deal with the impatience of those who are angry. We don't know how to do this. Lord, show us how."

May we join the tribe of those willing to be unbinders. So, when God calls us to unbind and let them go, by God's grace, we will step forward.



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