Joel Osteen — Remove The Grave Clothes
I want to talk to you today about, "Remove the grave clothes". There are people God has put in our lives on purpose so we can help restore them. They're off course. They're addicted. They're broken. It's easy to judge and think they should make better decisions. It's their own fault. But if it was not for the grace of God, that could be us. We didn't get to where we are because we're so talented, so disciplined, so obedient.
That may be true on the surface, but where did you get the talent? Where did you get the discipline? It came from your Heavenly Father. It wasn't anything we chose. It's simply the goodness of God. But too often, we look at others and think, "Why are they still making poor choices? Why are they still addicted? Why do they get in bad relationships again and again? I wouldn't do that". It's because God has given you grace in that area. Without his grace, you would be where they are.
Instead of looking down on them, pointing the finger, "You should know better," they don't need more condemnation. God didn't put them there so you could judge them, he put them there so you could love them. Love heals. Love restores. Love lifts up. All around you are hurting people, broken people, people that may not have had the advantages that you had. They weren't raised by parents that invested in them. They've never felt the love, the approval that you felt. It's easy to criticize, but you don't know where you would be if you had walked in their shoes.
The longer I live, the less judgmental I am. I realize everyone didn't get what I got. It's easy for me to feel secure, valuable, confident, believe big. I had parents that guided me, family that supported me. I was born in a great country with opportunity and resources. Life is not a level playing field. When you're tempted to be judgmental, you need to remind yourself, most likely, they didn't get everything you got. If it was not for the mercy of God, you would be making the same decisions that they're making. God has freely given you mercy. Here's my challenge, freely give it to others. God is counting on us to lift the fallen.
John chapter 11, Lazarus was very sick. His two sisters sent word to Jesus to come pray for him, but Jesus didn't arrive in time. Lazarus died. Jesus showed up four days later. He spoke to Lazarus. He said, "Lazarus, come forth". Instantly, he woke up. He was raised from the dead, a great miracle. The problem was Lazarus was wrapped with grave-clothes. In those days, when someone died, very often, they would wrap them up like a mummy. Verse 44 says, "Lazarus came out bound in grave-clothes". Jesus said to them, "Unwrap him and let him go".
Even though Lazarus was alive, even though God had done something amazing on the inside, he was still bound on the outside. Somebody had to remove his grave-clothes or he would've never experienced the fullness of what God had done. You can imagine, when they went to take off the grave-clothes, after being dead for four days, the smell was almost unbearable. Every layer they unwrapped, the stench got worse. It was dirty, messy, smelly. They had to be incredibly dedicated. They must have loved Lazarus a whole lot to have been willing to endure all it took to remove his grave-clothes.
This is what God has called us to do. There are people around us wearing grave-clothes. God has done something on the inside, he's breathed life into them, given them purpose, but they're still bound on the outside. They have addictions. They struggle with their temper. They're loose in their morals. The problem is, it's messy. It's tempting to think, "When they clean themselves up, then I'll help them. When they get back on course. Joel, when it's not so messy. When they come back to church, then I'll encourage them". How can they get free if someone doesn't step up to remove their grave-clothes? Where are the people that are willing to get dirty to help someone else, to go out on a limb to befriend someone that others think are too far down, to reach out to that relative that's struggling with an addiction that others have written off?
It would be easy to remove grave-clothes if they were nice and tidy, if people were making good decisions, on the high road. That's not reality. Grave-clothes are dirty. Graveclothes are messy. Grave clothes stink. We think when someone still has issues, they still have addiction, they're compromised, they're bitter, they're jealous, they have a long way to go. But just because they're wearing grave-clothes, just because they're still dirty doesn't mean they're not clean on the inside. Jesus spoke life to Lazarus. He was free on the inside, but still bound on the outside.
What am I saying? Don't judge by appearance. The grave-clothes may stink. They may be dirty, but on the inside, there's a free person, there's a clean person, there's a forgiven person, there's a victorious person. They're just waiting for someone that won't be put off by the outside, someone that will step up to help remove the grave-clothes.
How do you do this? By speaking faith into them, not telling them what they are, but telling them what they can become, by loving them, by taking time to care, by going out of your way to be their friend. They have enough people pushing them down, pointing out their faults, complaining about their grave-clothes. You can be the one to push them up, to see the best in them, to help them get free. You can be a grave-clothes remover.
For years, my mom prayed for a man by the name of Bill Nash. She would see his name on marquees around town. Bill was a popular entertainer, country western singer. He grew up singing in church as a little boy. His parents were missionaries. He was raised in a strong family of faith. But as a teenager, Bill got off course, and started running with the wrong crowd, and not making good decisions. Instead of singing in churches, now he was singing in bars and clubs.
But the scripture says God's calling on your life is irrevocable. That means you may run away from God, but God won't run away from you. His grace will come looking for you. Paul wrote about the grace in Romans that God freely gives us. One translation of the word "Freely" is promiscuous. When someone is promiscuous, they're loose. They're unrestrained. They'll be with anyone.
That's the way God's grace is. You can be in a bar and grace will come looking for you. You can be high on drugs and grace will come knocking at your door. You can be in the wrong places, doing the wrong thing with the wrong people, and when you least expect it, out of nowhere, you'll hear that still small voice saying, "Come back home. I love you. I have something better". God doesn't say, "If you clean yourself up, I'll show you mercy. If you get back on course, I'll think about being good to you". God's grace is promiscuous. It goes to unlikely places.
Every time my mom saw Bill's name, under her breath, "Lord, thank you for bringing Bill back home. Thank you that he'll fulfill his destiny". She had never met him, had no connections, but year after year, she kept praying for him. Didn't look like anything was happening, but you don't know what God is doing behind the scenes. One day, that grace convinced Bill to turn his life around. He wanted to go to church, but he thought, "Nobody would want somebody like me. I've made a lot of mistakes, lived a rough life. I'm known as a partier".
He turned on the television and saw my father talking about the goodness of God. That Sunday, he walked in Lakewood, first time since he was a teenager. He sat way in the back. Someone recognized him and brought him down to see my mom, and she told how she had been praying for him and how that was a dream come true. That day was a turning point in Bill's life. A few months later, he gave his first Christian concert at Lakewood and he's been using his talents for the Lord ever since. Like Lazarus, Bill needed someone to help remove the grave-clothes. That's what my mother did. She recognized, underneath the mess, the partying, the compromising, there was a free man, a man destined to do great things.
There are a lot of Bills out there, people that are bound on the outside, but they have greatness on the inside. They just need someone that won't be afraid to get dirty, someone that won't be judgmental and say, "He used to be in church. He's in the bars. What's wrong with him"? No, instead of judging them, why don't you take that same time to pray for them, to reach out to them, to let them know that you believe in them.
What if when Jesus raised Lazarus, no one was willing to remove the grave-clothes? Nobody wanted to deal with the stink. Nobody wanted to get dirty. Lazarus wouldn't have lived that long. He was bound, not able to move. Jesus did his part, but he was counting on Lazarus's friends and family to do their part.
Are there people in your life waiting for you to help remove their grave-clothes? They're off course, struggling in some area. It's easy to make excuses. They brought the trouble on themselves. It's their fault. I'm too busy. I've got enough problems of my own. No, take time to make a difference. Don't look at them through eyes of judgment, look at them through eyes of love. Maybe deep down, they want to change. Maybe grace has been knocking at their door, getting stronger and stronger, but they don't know the next step. A phone call from you, a kind word, taking them out to dinner, not to try to straighten them out, but just to let them know that you care, that's what speaks volumes, that you're not there to condemn them, to point out their faults, you are there to simply love them.
John chapter 8, these religious leaders brought a woman to Jesus, threw her down at his feet. She was caught in the act of adultery. They said, "Jesus, the law says stone her. What do you say we should do"? It seems obvious. The law was clear. The lady was guilty. One thing I love about Jesus is he broke religious rules in order to be good to people. In the old testament, God gave them ten commandments, but the people turned them into over 2,000 laws. When Jesus came, he said, in effect, "I'm getting rid of all these religious rules, all these heavy demands you put on people that only make them guilty and condemned. Instead, I'm going to condense them down into two your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as you".
In effect he was saying people are more important than religious rules. Everything is not going to fit perfectly into our theology. They have to do this, they have to do that, they can't do that, they can't go there. If you convince people to follow all your religious rules but you don't have love, the scripture says we're like a loud, clanging cymbal.
I don't want to be known for what I'm against, I want to be known for what I'm for. I'm for people. I'm for second chances. I'm for mercy. I'm not in the condemning business, I'm in the loving business, I'm in the healing business, I'm in the lifting business. I want to be known as a grave-clothes remover, as someone that saw the best in people, that helped pushed them into their destiny, as someone that was willing to get dirty, to go after messy people, broken people, people that society has written off. But let me warn you, when you love people who are messy, you may be criticized, you may be talked about.
One time, Jesus was walking through a crowded town, thousands of people around. He looked up and saw Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector. He was known as one of the most dishonest people. He lied, he cheated, he didn't keep his word. Yet Jesus said, "I want to go to dinner with you today". Of all the people there that day, there were priests, rabbis, elders in the synagogue, but grace goes to unlikely places. Jesus didn't see just what Zacchaeus was, he saw what he could become. He was bound on the outside by grave-clothes, but he knew on the inside was a man of integrity, a man of honor.
Jesus went to dinner with Zacchaeus, someone that people considered dirty, messy, broken. In fact, the scripture says the religious leaders complained that he went to dinner with a notorious sinner. When you go after the broken, the hurting, the addicted, people may criticize, they may talk about you, but you're in good company. You are never more like God than when you go after messy people.
This lady was on the ground in front of Jesus, surrounded by all these men. She was afraid, embarrassed, expecting the worst. Jesus knelt down and wrote in the ground. He said to them, "Whoever is without sin, throw the first stone". They all put their heads down. They were convicted.
When you're tempted to be judgmental, ask yourself, "Have I ever done wrong? Am I qualified to throw the first stone"? None of us are. The men walked out from the oldest to the youngest. He said to her, "Where are your accusers? Hasn't anyone condemned you"? She said, "No man, Lord". He said, "Neither do I. Now go and sin no more".
Our religious minds go tilt, tilt, tilt. Grace for somebody that committed adultery? Grace for a man that's known for being dishonest? Grace for a guy that's singing in clubs? God's grace is promiscuous. Why don't you go after someone that doesn't deserve it, someone that's made mistakes, someone that's hurting? You can be the one that helps put them back on their feet. Nobody's too far gone. Nobody's made too many mistakes. All some people need is one person to believe in them, one person to say, "Hey, I'm praying for you," one person to breathe new life back into their spirit.
Years ago, there was a minister that was touching the world, doing great things, but someone accused him of having a lack of integrity. Rumors started to spread. They took on a life of their own. He had mistakes, but it was blown way out of proportion. He was so devastated, he got out of the ministry. For months, you didn't hear anything from him. I didn't know him well. He's much older than I am, but I felt like I was supposed to reach out to him.
My mind came up with all these excuses. "Joel, he's not going to listen to you. If people find out you're talking, you're going to be drug into this mess. You better leave him alone. He doesn't have a good reputation. He's tainted. He's messy". But I found God loves messy people. God loves broken people. He loves people that are at a disadvantage. Not just people that have had bad breaks, but he even loves people that have brought the trouble on themselves. I didn't know if he'd take my call, but I felt strongly about it. He answered the phone. I could barely hear him speak. He said, "Joel, I don't have any more fight left in me. I'm done".
I didn't talk long, but for the next three minutes, I spoke faith into him. I spoke restoration. I told him that we needed him, that the nations were waiting on him, that God's mercy is bigger than our mistakes, that his best days were not behind, they were still out in front". He said in a real soft voice, "Thank you," and hung up. Didn't seem like it did any good, but six months later, he called back and sounded like a different person. He had his fire back, his passion back. He was about to go overseas. He said something I'll never forget. He said, "Joel, it all turned around that day you called. Something reignited in my spirit. Something came alive on the inside".
When you go after the hurting, the broken, the discouraged, the anointing on your life will break yokes that are holding them back. You may not feel it, they may not respond right away, but when you speak faith, chains are breaking. When you show love, strongholds are coming down. When you're merciful, compassionate, forgiving, you're pouring oil on the wounds. You're being a healer, a restorer, a lifter.
There was a young prophet in the Old Testament named Hosea. He lived at a time when the Israelites were worshiping idols and not honoring God. Hosea was well respected. People came from all over to get his advice. He was a single man and looked forward to the day he would get married. He knew God would bring him a wife, but it wasn't what he thought. God told him to marry a lady named Gomer. Gomer was a former prostitute. She didn't have a good reputation. I can imagine Hosea thought, "God, do you know who this lady is? I'm a prophet. I'm a man of God. What are people going to think"?
He could've talked himself out of it, but he knew to obey. Things started off good. They were in love. They had a son. But then things went downhill. Hosea would go out to minister, but Gomer didn't understand the calling on his life. She had two more sons, but not by Hosea. She slipped back into her old ways. Hosea was heartbroken. He knew she was being unfaithful, but he loved his wife. He pleaded with her again and again to change, and it would last for a little while, then she'd go right back. To make matters worse, everyone knew about Gomer's affairs. She was the talk of the town.
One morning, Hosea woke up and Gomer was gone. She'd abandoned him and the three children. Maybe she left a note saying, "I'm sorry, but I'm done. I've found another man to love. Go on with your life". I can hear Hosea's friends saying, "It's about time. That lady has brought you nothing but heartache and pain. You deserve much better". That sounded good on the outside, but Hosea still loved Gomer. He grieved greatly over this loss. Years later, he overheard from the town gossip that Gomer was still alive. She'd been deserted by all the men that said they loved her. Now she had hit rock bottom. She was about to be sold as a slave.
The scripture says the Lord said to Hosea, "Go get your wife again and bring her back home". After all the pain she had caused, after all the rejection, abandonment, you would think Hosea would say, "I am done with this lady. I am over with her," but Hosea had this undying love. He went back to the city and found her in the red light district, on the auction block, about to be sold. She was beaten down, dirty, hair disheveled, clothes torn, her head down in shame. He got up close and whispered, "Gomer". She looked up and couldn't believe it. He smiled and said, "Don't worry, I'm going to get you out of here".
What was that? Promiscuous grace. It goes to unusual places. He went to the man in charge and said, "That's my wife, I'm taking her with me". He said, "You're not taking her anywhere. She belongs to me. She's for sale. You'll have to buy her". He took out his wallet and paid 15 shekels and 5 barley loaves. He bought back what should've been already his.
Hosea is a picture of God. Gomer represents you and me. We've all been unfaithful. We went our own way, did our own thing. But God who is rich in mercy, when we turned our back on him, he had every right to walk away, but he didn't turn his back on us. He came down to the messy places, to where we failed, to where we should've been finished, and he bought us back, not with 15 shekels, but with the blood of his own Son. Since God has rescued us, since he has bought us back, will you be a Hosea and buy somebody else back? Will you rescue them?
There are hurting people all around you, broken people that don't think anyone cares. They're in messy places. They don't deserve your kindness. You could walk away. Nobody would fault you. But God rescued you, he's counting on you to rescue them. They're not in your path by accident. God put them there because he can trust you. You can help love them back into wholeness. Other people may not see it, but underneath the mess, the addictions, the bad habits, there's a son, there's a daughter of the most high God. They may be bound on the outside, but like Lazarus, they're royalty on the inside. They have seeds of greatness.
Will you be a Hosea and go after the hurting, go after the broken, those that are addicted, those that have been written off by society? Not with your finger pointed in judgment, telling them what they're doing wrong, go after them with something more powerful, with love, with mercy, with the goodness of God. They don't deserve it, neither did we. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. You've been shown incredible mercy. I'm asking you, show that mercy to others. Be a Hosea. If you'll do this, I believe and declare, as you lift others up, God is going to lift you up. As you rescue somebody else, God will always have somebody to rescue you and your children. The seed you sow will come back to you, in Jesus's name.