Today we will continue and conclude this series that we started with a review of the hymn “How Firm A Foundation” the first week of January. We attempted to show in that note how the people that authored that hymn had a strong foundation. They knew who they were in Christ and “rested” in that.
From there we reviewed the reality of how what is revealed in God’s Word is not always available to a group of people or individuals in general. That review was based on a look at a passage from Amos 8 and Isaiah 6. God warns us about a “famine for God’s Word”.
We then looked at the concept of revelation in general by outlining how spiritual things are only revealed to us by God. Spiritual revelation is a gift to us. We looked at how Jesus Himself was declared to be a “light for revelation” by Isaiah and then that prophecy was publicly spoken over Jesus by Simeon when Jesus was just eight days old. Jesus is literally a light and this light is what opens our eyes, removing our blindness, so that we can see the secrets of the kingdom of God.
Then last week we reviewed Jesus’ explanation to the disciples of why he spoke in parables. We reviewed again how all people are lost in their naturally born state. They must be born-again. Someone who is lost has ears that do not hear and eyes that do not see things of the Spirit. Their heart is calloused, hard as stone. The god of this world, Satan, keeps them in this state of “lostness” unless God gifts you (unto you it is given), with revelation that allows your ears and eyes to be opened and your heart to become soft and receptive.
In this conclusion today, I want us to try and make this practical for us, looking at where God often uses us in this process of revelation and beyond. The subject or title for today is something referred to in the Bible as “calling”. The first passage to consider is:
19) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20) Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
The first passage above is the last words recorded in the Gospel written by Matthew, the first book in the New Testament. Many of you may have memorized this as a child in church and know it as “The Great Commission”. This passage tells us that as Jesus was leaving the earth for His ascension back to the Father that He gave some specific instructions to those there that day. He tells them to “go preach” or “go fish for men” as He originally told Peter upon meeting him for the first time. He tells them to go teach, preach, fish, or send out a general “calling” to all mankind, telling them about all that He had taught them and would continue to teach them through the Holy Spirit whom He was sending to them to “be with them unto the end of the world”. Looking at this verse, Jesus instructs us to go “call” people using the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He tells us to call people of every nation, which to those present at this event would mean Gentiles and not just Jews. In Matthew 24:14, Jesus even tells us how long we are to keep this up. He says to keep sharing the news of the gospel of His kingdom until the end comes. In other words, until Jesus returns in glory.
The Bible speaks of two types of calling. Theologians describe the first type as the “general call” which is what we were referencing in the first focus passage above. All passages that tell us as Christians to go preach, teach, or call are referencing this type of general calling. We are calling people to a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The second type calling mentioned in the Bible is the “calling” which our triune God Himself does.
If you take a concordance or use your search function on the Bible app on your phone and look up the words “calling” or “called” or “call”, you will notice that these words are used many times in the New Testament. Sometimes the words are no different than to say you are called a certain name or referring to the name of a certain place. You will notice it is used to reference “calling” out as someone using their voice asking you to come to where they are. You will notice the word “call” used a few times denoting sick and blind people calling out to Jesus for healing. You will also notice the phrase “call” used seven times noting a person calling on the name of the Lord Jesus referring to asking for salvation. Three of those are in Romans 10. If you read each scripture where the words are used though, you will notice another use for them, especially by Paul and Peter but also by Jude. These terms are used as a reference to the “calling” that God directs toward humans. These instances are referring to the call God made to you which leads to becoming a child of God, in other words – a Christian – with a specific call or purpose on your life. Paul and Peter combined use the term in this manner over thirty times in the letters they wrote which we now read in our New Testament. Said another way, the New Testament speaks about God calling us more than four times as much as it does of us calling Him. Theologians use the term “effectual calling” to describe this type of calling. It is effectual or “life changingly effective” or “purposeful” because the one issuing this specific call is our Lord Himself.
This brings us to our second focus passage which I pray helps you grasp this effectual or purposeful form of calling from God Himself. I also hope you also see several other points in this wonderful passage found in the Gospel account written by the Apostle John.
John 11:38-44 (NIV)
38) Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39) “Take away the stone,” He said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40) Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41) So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42) I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43) When He said this, Jesus called in a loud voice,“Lazarus, come out!” 44) The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
If you get nothing else out of this note today, I pray you see more of what God has for us in this historical account. We look at the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead most often as a mighty miracle which it most definitely is. It is the final one which pushed the Jewish religious leaders over the edge leading them to put their final plans in place to see that Jesus was killed (John 11:53). What we do not look at very often though is the symbolism that God is showing us through this miracle. Lazarus in his grave is a picture of every human being in his or her natural state. Your spirit is dead. It is bound with graveclothes, lying in a cold, dark tomb, sealed with some great stone. Mary and Martha and their friends and even their priest can call all day for their beloved brother to come forth, to wake up and come out of the tomb but Lazarus does not come out no matter how loudly they generally call to his dead corpse. In that day and culture, they literally would call out for three days begging the dead person to wake up. But after three days they would cease, believing there was no hope of the deceased awaking. This is why Jesus waited until the fourth day to come to their aid. He let them exhaust all hope, waiting for He who literally is Hope. The general call had been given but there was no response. But let Jesus stand in front of the tomb. Let Jesus call out, “Lazarus, come forth”, and everything is different. The words are the same but now the call is no mere invitation. This call does not return void. The call is now an effectual call. The call, in essence, is a command at this point and something the one being called could not resist. A friend of mine told me once that the reason Jesus said “Lazarus, come forth” was because if He just said “come forth”, every tomb in the graveyard would have had people rising from their graves. The God who created the heavens and earth is now calling life out of death. God has enabled Lazarus to hear that call. Lazarus obeys His Masters voice and steps forth out of the tomb. His resurrection is a picture of several things for us.
First and foremost, it is a picture of us being “born again” upon hearing and responding to the call from our Lord through the Holy Spirit today. Our dead spirit has now come alive after hearing the call of the Holy Spirit. Our once blind eyes and deaf ears now see and hear the sweet Gospel message in our now soft heart and receive it. Our spirit sees light for the first time, responding to Him who is the “light of revelation”. Our heart is no longer cold and hard as a stone but is now made of flesh. It is now soft and receptive to the things of God. This is the moment we in our hearts and minds experience becoming a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15); the point which Paul outlines as “regeneration” (Titus 3:5); and the point our Lord describes as “born again” (John 3:3-8).
Second, Jesus tells those present to roll away the stone in verse 11:39. Jesus could have moved the stone Himself. Jesus could have powerfully obliterated the stone. But no, He told others there to move it. I believe this is a picture of how God has commanded and uses us to issue the general call. He uses us to preach and teach, sending out God’s Word toward all those who are still yet “dead in spirit.” We do these things as commanded by our Lord so that the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, can use those words, the Gospel itself that Paul told us in Romans 1:16 actually is the power of God unto salvation. We cast this seed of the Gospel not onto the outside of the grave but as close as we can to the actual person. It is truly a privilege to share the Gospel but we must always and forever recognize it is Jesus through His Spirit that cries out “wake up”. He may use a simple and single phrase from someone in our general call. He may use a song. He may use a long and in-depth sermon. He may use a kind visit to someone in need, without saying a word at all, and them just seeing Jesus reflected from you. Never forget though that it is the Spirit of God that reaches in that cold, dark, damp cave where those without a born-again spirit would prefer to hide from the “light”. Satan has kept them bound in darkness. But God’s Holy Spirit cries out “wake up” and arouses the previously blind, deaf, cold hearted dead spirit. God takes that “seed”, and makes it spring to life, and begin to grow and become fruitful. The biggest miracle the unsaved person ever experiences occurs. You don’t wake yourself up one day. God wakes you up. His call is the effective call.
Third, and please note this point from John 11:44. Jesus gives another command to those present that He could have easily performed Himself. He tells the others there as Lazarus comes out of the tomb, “help him remove the grave clothes”. Jesus loves Lazarus as noted by His weeping at the grave. He surely wanted to be the first to touch him and hug him and you would think would be the one that would rush to remove the grave clothes. But that is not what Jesus does. God desires you to know today that this is a picture of how He has other people in your life that will help you in removing the bindings that will take you some time to fully release in your life as a Christian. All of us have lived lives that contain things that for various reasons often take some time to overcome. We overcome them through the blood of Christ but He Himself commands and instructs other believers to come alongside you and help you. You then, likewise, will be used by God to come alongside others and help them remove those things still holding them back. It is just how God works. As Cory highlighted in his sermon on 1/30/22, we are to go to each other, lean on each other, be in relationship with others that we have come to trust and know love the Lord. These will be some of the sweetest times you will ever have as a Christian here on this earth. Read that sentence again. Another point about removing the grave clothes is that you can’t remove them unless you come up next to the person. You have to get close enough to touch them, talk to them, cry with them and hug them, even if those things from their past stink like four-day old grave clothes.
There is nothing in this great story of the resurrection of Lazarus that is to go to waste. It is the “last straw” for the Pharisees leading them to formalize and finalize their plot to kill Jesus but it is so much more for each and every believer today, those called forth out of a tomb of darkness and into “the light”.
The general call goes out to all. The problem is that as Paul outlines in Romans 3:10-14 and David outlines in Psalm 14:1-3, “there is no one good, not even one. No one even seeks God.” You are probably tired of me bringing up those passages to you. I pray you understand why I keep bringing them up, especially in a time when preachers everywhere seem to be telling their congregations that really everyone at heart is a good person. The church I grew up in used a specific four-letter word to describe all of these people that Paul and David are describing. That word or term is “lost”. All mankind is “lost” until the One that came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), comes and finds them. Apart from the free grace of God, none of these “lost ones” will ever respond to the general and open call that we proclaim. They prefer to remain hiding in their own tomb, out of the light of God’s radiance, doing their own thing. The general call goes out too many but only a few will respond as Matthew 22:14 states – “For many are called, but few are chosen”.
The prophet Isaiah, whom Jesus quoted most often and who wrote more about Jesus than any other Old Testament writer, tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9 that “My thoughts and ways are not yours, nor are your thoughts and ways Mine”. The prophet then tells us two verses later in Isaiah 55:11 that the words going out from God’s mouth, “will not return void, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”. We are to proclaim God’s Word through preaching and teaching to many, many people in the best, general way we know how as commanded by our Lord. When God though, through the Holy Spirit, takes those words and calls out “wake up, come forth”, that call will never return void or without result. Those Words from the very mouth of God will create in the lost a new heart and open blinded eyes and deaf ears for the first time. His call is effectual. His call is life changingly effective and purposeful. It was His call that awakened you! You belong to Him – forever!
I pray you have seen how special and loved you are if you are a Christian today. Go proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the Spirit leads you. Ask the Spirit to lead you to those whom you are to help with their grave clothes. Experience the joy of getting up close to someone and helping them experience the freedom which God intends for them to walk in. You may not understand completely all that our Father, the Son and the Spirit have done and are doing. You don’t have to understand it; just embrace it. “Go fish and then baptize and disciple afterwards. Jesus will sort it all out in the end.”
Next week, a look at the blinding of Saul and the grace stated, yet hidden in that passage, which opened his blind eyes.