In The Crushing
My morning quiet time today takes me on a journey that leads me full circle to a place of hope and awe. I invite you along for the ride and pray it speaks to you personally.
It begins as it always does. A hot cup of coffee. Bible and journal in hand. A prayer for open eyes to see and an open heart to take in whatever He wants to show me. There’s a loaf of homemade bread in the oven because it’s one of those cold, rainy November mornings and there’s nothing like the smell of fresh bread baking to warm the soul.
My first stop is the Alabaster Jar daily reading plan I started this week. It’s the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. A story I’ve read many times. But today something different stands out. It’s the part about Lazarus walking out of the tomb after Jesus calls his name. He was bound hand and foot with graveclothes. Jesus told the onlookers to “loose him and let him go”. Some versions say to “unbind him”.
Reading this today, I’m struck by a strange familiarity. This sounds very much like an Old Testament story in Daniel, when Daniel’s three friends were literally thrown into the fire. Not just any fire, mind you, but a scorching hot, fiery furnace prepared for those rebels who refused to worship the golden image.
Here’s the familiar part where I connect the two stories. Daniel’s friends were also bound. Twice it’s emphasized in Daniel 3 that they were bound before being thrown in. But something amazing happens. The king looks into the furnace and sees not three but four men walking around loose in the fire. And one “is like the Son of God”.
In awe and amazement, the king calls the three men out of the fire. He calls them by name, saying “come out and come here!”. Sound vaguely familiar? Anyone else reminded of Jesus standing outside the grave calling Lazarus by name, beckoning him to “come out here”?
But here’s the really incredible part of the story. They walked out of that fire unsinged, unharmed, and UNBOUND. They didn’t even smell like smoke! How is it that I can sit at the firepit for 5 minutes and the smell of smoke invades every part of me and these men walked around in flames and came out clean?
I can’t help but notice the reference to smell in the Lazarus story as well. When Jesus told them to roll away the gravestone, the dead man’s sister voiced her legitimate concern about how badly he was going to stink after being dead four days. The Bible doesn’t give any detail about how he smelled but in the very next chapter we get a picture of Lazarus sharing a meal around the table with Jesus and others. Just an assumption but I don’t think his guests would have much of an appetite if he still smelled like death and decay.
My mind drifts to the contrast between the stench of death and the wonderful aroma of fresh-baked bread making its way from the kitchen. He reminds me of His own words, “I AM the bread of life.” I envision Him standing before His disciples at the last supper, holding a loaf of bread in His soon-to-be-nail-pierced hands, giving thanks and breaking it, asking them to take their portion.
I then imagine the fragrance of the bread baked fresh over hot coals at His post-resurrection beachside breakfast with this same close group of men, all smiles and laughter over this unexpected reunion.
And yet … even bread comes from the grains of wheat that have fallen to the ground and died. It has to be threshed and crushed, kneaded and shaped and heated in an oven before it becomes something nourishing and life-giving. Bread symbolizes both death and life. “This is my body, broken for you.” It’s in the crushing that new life comes forth. Something dies, and something new is born.
My morning journey brings me back to Isaiah 61. The Redeemer’s mission statement in this world.
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…
He’s always been about bringing life from death, calling us out of our grave clothes and setting us free. He’s always been willing to walk through the fire with us. Please hear me, friends. Whatever crushing, fiery, rotten-smelling trials you’re going through right now, there is One who stands before you, calls you by name, and promises to bring beauty from the ashes. For it’s in the fire that the chains fall off and we become truly free.