The Values of Christian Liberty
Arthur Shearman, Worcester, England
"LOOSE HIM, AND LET HIM GO"
JOHN II. 44
The death of Lazarus was an apparent tragedy. We feel the sombre undertones of misunderstanding that the event created in such a home as that of Mary of Bethany. Would not a home that found such a welcome for the Lord Jesus Christ be immune from such a shattering experience? One vital lesson that we learn from this incident, which is so relevant to life today, is that Christians are not immune from common sorrows just because they are Christians. This is wise ordering on the part of God; Christianity is not an insurance policy against the ills of life.
But there are many precious lessons to learn from this incident. We are confronted with the apparent paradoxical behaviour of the Lord when He was acquainted with the need of this home which meant so much to Him. Yet in His reactions we see just how wonderful He is. We see something of His sovereignty. Time and circumstance serve His purpose, dispelling all doubt created by seeming contradictions. "If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." Twice spoken, there is a deep pathos in these words. This "if", like all other "it’s" concerning the Saviour's ways, is made to look so foolish in the light of final happenings. We see His sympathy, without which this sovereignty may seem to some to be perhaps harsh and cruel. Few chapters in the Gospels exp6se the depth of grace and kindness in the Saviour's heart like this one. Both grief in the bereaved and unbelief in the baffled or prejudiced bring groans or tears from Him. He stood with them in their sorrow.
Yet again His sovereignty and sympathy in the pathway of life are but stepping stones to the manifestation of His supremacy and strength. He proves Himself supreme in the realm of death. One man responds to His call when named. How many thousands more will respond in a day which is yet to be! He is "the resurrection, and the life". The sublime character of these words strikes us when we pause to consider that He stood amidst the corruption of sin and death. The empty cross and the empty tomb are for us evidence enough that this incident was but a prelude to the greater and more permanent triumphs that were to follow. To Martha and to us come the telling words, "if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God", John 11. 40.
Life without liberty is meaningless. Lazarus arose from death but he was bound hand and foot. It was fitting that the action of the Saviour which marked the climax of the sign of resurrection was one which illustrates His strength to give liberty to those who are bound. Life and liberty form a happy and useful combination. Lazarus lived and then was loosed. Only then was normal and satisfying life possible. Many of us today have life in Christ and yet to some extent are not enjoying liberty. Like the Galatian believers, perhaps we are becoming "entangled again" with some "yoke of bondage", Gal. 5. 1.
Now it is God's desire that those who live through faith in Christ should be free. This freedom is the mark of true sonship. Paul tells us in Romans 8. 15 that we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry "Abba, Father". Freed from the "law of sin and death" through the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus", 8. 2, we can work out in practical liberty the privileges and blessings of sonship. There is no joy to be compared with the joy of the justified, the joy of those who are free!
It is well to remember that liberty is not license. To the Pharisees the Lord said, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free", John 8. 32. Continuance in His word would make them disciples indeed. Thus true freedom would be theirs. Essentially, a Christian's liberty is controlled. Irresponsible behaviour is not worthy of disciples of Christ. Called to liberty, this liberty is not to be used for fleshly indulgence in any way. The Saviour who has broken the chains of sin, and who has loosed us from the grave clothes of self, becomes our true Lord and Master claiming absolute obedience to His will. Paul clearly expresses this when he says, "ye are not your own ... ye are bought with a price", 1 Cor. 6. 19-20. Self-pleasing, although it may seem to have the promise of freedom within its scope, so often produces the seeds of self-destruction. To please Him is liberty indeed! "Loose him, and let him go." Glorious command! Do we not feel the promise of that time for which a groaning creation waits? Romans 8. 19-21 tells of the time when creation and created things, held down in tragic bondage because of the fall, will be emancipated to enjoy the "glorious liberty of the children of God". Significantly the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death, 1 Cor. 15. 26. We are moving towards the great triumph of the Conqueror of death, our Liberator from wrath to come. The groaning occasioned by slavery, will be changed into the eternal song of liberty and glory. There will be no grave clothes in that day! Every vestige of those evils which are linked with sin and Satan, with death, defeat and dishonour, will be destroyed and vanquished forever before the brightness of His glory. Perhaps the verse of a hymn will then in reality express our joy of freedom:
And when our Father's face we see
In unveiled brightness shine in Thee,
We'll sing, in glorious liberty,
Thou art our chiefs joy.