John 11 records one of the best known miracles of Jesus – the raising of Lazarus from the dead. And yet when you read the story in its entirety, you begin to see some of the great detail John recorded in order to put us in Bethany that day.
Take, for example, the fact that Lazarus had been in the grave for 4 days. That’s pretty significant; a detail that was put there purposely by John.
Jewish folklore was that the soul would hover above the body for up to 4 days after death, looking for signs of life and a chance to return. But after four days of death, there was no hope. Decomposition would have started. The body would have begun to decay.
And the smell. Maybe that would have been the worst part. The smell would have been putrid. Abhorent. Disgusting. The body would be sealed inside a tomb to keep the smell of the dead away from the living.
The smell is the smell of death. Of rottenness. Of lifelessness. A sensory reminder that the situation was beyond repair.
But Jesus isn’t afraid of that smell.
He strode boldly to the tomb and commanded that the stone be rolled away, but there were protests. “Lord, he already stinks. It’s been four days,” said the grieving sister.
“Don’t roll the stone away. It’s going to stink. Let us leave him alone; what good is there in confronting that smell? The smell of death?”
But Jesus isn’t afraid of that smell. He inhales it deeply and then spits it back out. He’s not afraid of it because He won’t abide it. He reaches into the smell of death and produces the fragrance of life. He did it with Lazarus; He did it with me; and He’s doing it countless times every day.
We recoil at the smell of death. Our stomachs turn. Bile comes up in our throats. But Jesus? Jesus beats back the stench of death with the fragrance of life.
And the dead come forth…
Where is your sting, death? That’s what Paul asked. He asked because the sting is nowhere to be found. Jesus confronted it… and won. Because He did, He’s not repulsed by the seeming stench of death. In that smell, Jesus sees the potential for new life.
Praise God as we draw nearer to Good Friday and Easter. Praise Him today, for He is the God who brings us out of the grave, just as He did His own Son.