A dull mist creeps along the walls of the cave. The wisps meld with the ghostly shadows cast from few remaining streams of light creeping through the crevices of the entranceway. ephesians
Concealed within the cavern lurks the unmistakable stench of death emanating from the cold, unmoving object sprawled in the floor. Coated with perfumes rendered ineffective by four days of lifelessness, a body of a man rests where the mourners left him.
Suddenly a clamor invades the deathly tranquility. Inside the cave, the abrupt rocking of the stone creates a startling sense of pandemonium amid a mishmash of uninvited light, noise and commotion. Voices exhibiting a sense of excitement and expectancy join the bedlam.
With a great seizure, the entrapping boulder lurches from the entrance. The shadows and vapor once so prevalent vanish, only to be replaced by the silhouette of a man standing against the light which now floods the previously murky grotto. Strangely, the voices also evaporate except for the occasional whisper of questioning onlookers. In hushed anticipation, spectators wait to see what the man will do.
A seemingly thunderous and at the same time quietly authoritative utterance issues forth from the Palestinian cloaked with a dusty robe. “Lazarus! Lazarus! Come forth!”
To the astonishment of all, the deceased sheds his raiment of death. “And Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’” (John 11:44).
The questions that must have entered the minds of the Jewish community when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead remain for us today. What has happened? What has occurred that the dead now live?
Without a doubt, no man could relate to the condition of Lazarus more than the Apostle Paul. Not to allegorize the narrative of John 11, but the pre-Damascus Road Paul also lay dead — dead spiritually in the cave of his sins. And in the passage under consideration in this article — Ephesians 2:4 — we see a Paul who is coming to grips with his former dilemma.
In the first three verses of this chapter, Paul describes the horrible state in which both he and the Ephesian Christians found themselves prior to salvation. Indeed, in verses 1-3 we find the most lucid expression of man’s damning sinfulness which exists in the Bible.
Paul tells us in verse 1 that, before Christ, people exist as spiritual zombies — dead and yet remaining oblivious to their residence in a spiritual morgue. What is this spiritual death? If spiritual life means
communion with God, the ability to grow spiritually and spiritual awareness, then spiritual death means exactly opposite.
Paul continues his depressing description in verse 2. In addition to spiritual death, Paul says Christians were enslaved to Satan and his domains — the world and the flesh. The only living activity in which they could have engaged is walking — but this walking was against God’s ways.
In verse 3, Paul further elucidates on man’s hopeless condition. He explains that “we” — indicating Jew, Gentile and even Himself — are by nature children of wrath. Romans 5:12 tells us that sin entered into our blood through our common father Adam. In other words, we sin by choice, but we also sin by nature. However, a holy God could not stand for sin in His creation. And a just God could not allow sin to reign without it drawing death and wrath.
Now, so far Paul would not have won any encouragement awards. He tells Christians of their previous death and depravity. What hope did we have?
Two little words in verse 4 remind us — “But God!” Perhaps no more important conjunction exists in the whole Bible. We were dead in our sins. “But God!” Satan and our flesh held us in bondage. “But God!” We existed as objects of wrath. “But God!” These words are reason for praise.
And praise is what Paul does in the next three verses, gushing about the Christian’s salvation through the atoning work of Christ. Notice that for every human dilemma mentioned in verses 1-3 God has an answer. Though we were dead, God made us alive (verse 5). Though we lived in lock step with the world, God has raised us up (verse 6). Though God’s wrath lay upon us, God has granted us immeasurable riches (verse 7).
John Piper has stated, “Unless we feel a great need for a Savior, we do not feel that He is a great Savior.” And as Christians, we should constantly praise God, realizing what we are as compared to what we were.
God, being rich in mercy, changed our destiny from one of wrath and judgment to one immeasurable riches and grace for all of eternity. What a change!
What is the act that is the basis for this grace? The answer is found as we once more visit a tomb.
Morning dawns on this particular cave as the sunrise smiles at the dew in a ritual as old as time itself. A barely worn path leads to an entrance where a boulder of some size resides. Only this time, the stone appears to have been moved. Inside the cave lies bloodied garments neatly folded as if a mother had been cleaning after her child. At the sound of footsteps, you look up to see an individual walking through the parting mists of daybreak.
You determine to ask the newcomer what had happened here. Struggling to focus on the oncoming figure through the haze, you tentatively interrogate him, “Was someone in this tomb?” Approaching closer, the young man in “dazzling apparel” speaks: “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him” (Mark 16:6).
Dead in our sin, enslaved to Satan, doomed by our nature, corrupted to the core, condemned justly to death, without hope … But God! An empty tomb proved that no sinful nature, no death, no slavery … nothing could conquer the saving power of our heavenly Father through His Son. Jesus’ perfect life, His death on the cross, His atoning sacrifice … because of these, death and sin hold no sway over us.
Rejoice in this change. Claim these truths. Respond to this calling. Live for God.
A native of Austell, Ga., Bryan Cribb came to Anderson University following a five-year tenure at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Ga. Dr. Cribb holds a BA in political science and a BS in mathematics from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. After being called into the ministry, he received his master of divinity in biblical and theological studies and his doctor of philosophy from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His primary emphasis in PhD work was Old Testament theology, with minor areas of study in New Testament theology and Old Testament languages.
Dr. Cribb is married to Elizabeth, and they have three sons—Daniel Luther, Josiah John, and Nathanael Bryan. Elizabeth is an RN and a stay-at-home mom, who also holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary.