“Jesus, intensely moved again, came to the tomb. (Now it was a cave, and a stone was placed across it.) Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, ‘Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell because he has been buried four days.’” –John 11:38-39
Recently, a few brothers and I were blessed to be able to volunteer with Samaritans Purse and help with disaster relief in Louisiana. I was involved in mostly outside roof tarping and limb cleanup, but one house in particular stood out to me. The outside was decently maintained, even though there was a lot of debris from metal work, boat repairs, and bins of empty drink cans spilling from the garage. But as soon as we entered the house, we were meet with an almost tangible odor. We were grateful that the main living area had a front and back door that we could prop open, so that we could work with some fresh airflow.
The homeowner was a kind, old, war veteran. He smoked, but the unpleasant smell of cigarettes only served to partially mask the rotting smell coming from his kitchen. It was a mess, with food decomposing on the counter and in the sink. I had to wonder how his children and grandchildren (he lived alone) allowed him to live in such a mess. I confess, I didn’t want to be the one to work in the interior (even though I did).
But it struck me, is this not the spiritual condition of all our hearts without Christ? In fact, this is the state of any part of our being that has not surrendered itself over to Life? It is dead. And death stinks.
Sure, we’ll keep the outside manicured, for that’s what our neighbor sees (1Sa 16:7), even though some of our internal trash keeps spilling out. We may allow certain individuals inside, but we keep certain recesses where we know death permeates hidden. Yet bad habits and destructive tendencies are only the scent of deeper decomposition. The problem is, our flesh fatigues (i.e. olfactory fatigue), and so becomes accustom to the filth and oblivious to the stench (Rom 8:5-8).
At least for ourselves.
When it comes to others, we would rather stay away. Oh, we might coldly tell them as we exit that they offend. Or we may politely say nothing and just stay on the door step.
But Jesus did not shy from the smell. He demanded that death be exposed, that the stone hiding it be removed. Because if rotting bodies are not exposed, if breathe (John 20:22) and light (Eph 5:13-14) are not allowed to enter, dead men don’t walk out of graves.