Houdini and Lazarus

Harry Houdini (March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926), was a magician, escape artist, and daredevil who captivated much of the Western world with his exploits in the first quarter of the twentieth century. He amazed and excited crowds with his death defying escapes. He wore shackles and handcuffs and ordered his assistants to lock him in trunks or submerge him underwater. Houdini became world famous by traveling across America and the world thrilling his fans. In performing his escapes and feats of physical and psychological endurance, Houdini pushed his mind and his body to extremes, proving himself to be an athlete as well as a magician. He was able to control the mind-body dynamic to extraordinary lengths. He also believed in the reality of the after-life and thus of a spiritual dimension to human existence. He achieved such fame for his exploits that the name “Houdini” remains synonymous with the art of escapism.”- From New World Encyclopedia

The video of Houdini escaping from a straitjacket is how some people fancy themselves. They believe they have the ability to take care of all their needs, hang-ups, habits, secret sins, etc. Help? Who needs help? If they need to escape an addiction or get rid of a dangerous life-style, they’re convinced they can handle anything. No chain can hold them or locked trunk hide them. Their secret ability to escape is known by all, and to rely upon anyone for help would be unthinkable.

Also, sometimes we look at others and think, because God “miraculously” changed their life they don’t need our help. Sure, they seem to have a little trouble walking, but they’ll get it right. They’ll escape in time to catch their breath. They SURELY don’t need MY help.

However, we really aren’t like Houdini. We’re more like Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha. Think about the story of Lazarus’ resurrection as recorded in John, chapter 11:

Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, died while Jesus was in another town. Jesus received word His friend was sick, waited to go visit the family, and by the time He arrived, Lazarus had been dead 4 days. Martha said it well, “Lord, he stinks!”

Jesus had told His disciples His plan was to “wake Lazarus from sleep”, or, raise him from the dead. When He arrived and asked to see where His friend was buried, the people showed Jesus a tomb with a large stone covering the entrance.

Jesus said, “Remove the stone!” So people gathered around the stone and pushed it out of the way. He then called Lazarus’ name, commanding him to leave the tomb. Lazarus soon appeared at the tomb’s entrance, covered head to toe in grave clothes.

“Hallelujah! Lazarus is raised! Look what Jesus has done!” Can’t you just hear the crowd shouting?

Have you ever heard anyone say something like, “I don’t need anyone else’s help. I have God! He’s all I need. I don’t need counsel, or assistance, accountability, or anything else. God and I have this covered. I trust in Him Who raised me from the dead and gave me new life. Just, please, leave me alone.” As a pastor, I heard it far too many times. I understand “without Jesus we can do nothing”, but there’s another side to that truth as well. Jesus is the One who gives us life! But those in the Body are needed BY GOD to:

1) Roll away the stone
2) Remove the grave clothes

Of course, our role isn’t very glamorous. Move a stone, remove grave clothes from a stinky man, feed someone. I mean, how important is that kind of stuff? We were created for bigger and better things! God’s calling upon our life is to preach to the nations; surely someone else can do those menial tasks!

But what good would it be to raise someone from the dead if, afterward, they couldn’t eat, walk, or communicate with those around them?

In fact, in other instances where Jesus raised someone from the dead, those around Jesus were given instructions; their help was needed. “Give the girl some food”, was one instance. Apparently she needed food, but was too weak to feed herself.

The raising of Lazarus is an example of Kingdom teamwork. The Lord does what only He can do and man does what only he can do.

Lazarus’ life became dependent upon the willingness of others for help. Likewise, our life is not our own. Yes, God’s miracle working power has raised us up, making us a new creation in Christ. We have been born again by faith in the finished work of Jesus! But other people, people like you and I, must be active in this process.

For every time the Lord raises someone up from being spiritually dead, He has a word for those in relationship with the one newly alive. That word is, “Loose him and let him go (or be free).” He also says, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” God and man working together for the restoration of a human being! Workers together!

Removing the grave clothes could be as simple as cutting the wrappings from the person’s hand, feet, and face. Wrappings could represent old thought patterns around their heads, old destructive habits their hands were involved in, and things that would affect their walk with God; things that could cause them to stumble.

It really can be a stinky, messy, job. Grave clothes usually smell like the grave; like death. AND, grave clothes aren’t removed from a distance. It’s an up-close-and-personal process.

One more little thought. Think of the process involved when a mother has a brand new baby. Is the baby born because God stands outside the womb and says, “Baby, come forth?” Well, maybe. But there sure is a lot of work after the baby appears! A lot of MESSY work.

So have your scissors, wash cloths, and patience ready. The Lord is calling you and I to help the Lazarus’ in our midst.

You see, we weren’t made to be like Houdini. HE could get himself free from the grave clothes…

WE need help.