“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
Bad odors have a purpose, letting us know that something has gone wrong and that something harmful is threatening life. Whether spoiled food, a dead carcass in the yard, or an infected injury. In all of these circumstances, we would not ignore such a thing. We would throw it in the trash, bury it, and have the infection quickly treated.
Yet why when we smell something wretched with another, we run from it? If we love our neighbor, can we dismiss the spoiled food on the counter? If we love others as we should, do we just watch the vultures congregate in front of their door, just hoping the wind direction doesn’t bring any foulness to ours? How can we love one another and not plead with them to visit the physician when we know their concealed infection will ultimately lead to their destruction.
I suspect that it is not a refined righteous nose that causes us to stay away spiritual stenches, because there is only one righteous (Acts 3:14), and He was not deterred by a bad smell. Rather, I propose that it is the rot within our own hearts that we don’t want exposed. It is faithless hearts that protest the removal of the stone—that weighty lie that says it’s better to remain bound (v.44; see Exo 14:13-12).
So God must get us outside ourselves. Like after an extended time away from home, we are confronted with an unpleasant odor upon entry. Or when we sense a peculiar aroma in a neighbor’s house. These things should cause us to seek out problems within.
So God confronts us with the decay of others. He makes the smell of another’s death permeate our nostrils to remind us of our own end without Him (Amos 4:10; Isa 66:24). He allows us to taste the rotten fruit produced from another tree separated from its Root and Source (Luke 6:43-45; John 15:1-4; Rev 22:16). He leads us to situations where the offensive odor of another’s actions demonstrates how repulsive our actions are to Him (Jer 27:13).
So let your heart be humbled by allowing our aversion to the scent of another’s sin cause us to reflect upon our own issues. And may we invite others into our lives to help us detect the death that Christ still needs to remove. Before seeking to correct the odious actions of another when they get too near, consider that God is reminding you of your own abhorrent behavior (Mat 7:3-5).
And in those areas where the sweet fragrance of life is now enjoyed (2Co 2:14), remember who called out what stank and brought to life what was once dead (1Co 6:11). We must remember it is all by His grace (1Co 15:10; Eph 2:8), and that we won’t be completely free of this decaying flesh until we enter glory (2Co 5:4-10).
Only in humility can we truly love our neighbor and be equipped to help them, no longer callously leaving them to perish, nor arrogantly calling from the street that they leave death behind. Rather, a humble heart is a remembering soul, an obedient disciple who gets close to where the dead lie, and do not protest when the Lord asks us to expose what is detestable. We simply obediently role away the obstacles and allow our great and powerful Savior to call dead men to rise!