Facing the emotional pain of your past might be among the most painful things you’ll ever do.
Academically, we understand that facing our pain is how we find healing from its grip. Taking the necessary steps to face that pain, walk through that pain, and find freedom from that pain, is an entirely different issue.
It takes faith and courage to face pain. A lot of it. Will we find some healing through the process? Yes, but that doesn’t make it easier to face it.
Today, we find a nugget tucked into the passage we’ve been working through that helps us address this.
Jesus had received the news that Lazarus was sick and, eventually, Lazarus died (John 11:1-16). By the time Jesus (and the disciples) arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. One of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha, had the faith to believe Jesus could have healed Lazarus, but now…her brother was dead. When Jesus arrived, the grief of Martha and Mary was overwhelming. It shook them that Jesus had not arrived in time (John 11:22-35).
As we pick up the story, we’re in John 11:36-41a:
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone.John 11:36-41a
New International Version
There’s a mix of confusion and skepticism as the mourners observed Jesus weeping (John 11:35, last week). As He comes to the cave where Lazarus had been buried, Jesus commands, “take away the stone” (verse 39).
Martha, who had made a tremendous confession earlier, reacted in shock and horror “Lord…by this time here is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Four days. In the Jewish theology of their day, it was believed the soul hovered over the body until the fourth day. The Holy Spirit through John is emphasizing: in all ways, Lazarus was dead. His body had begun to decompose, and it was hopeless to expect him to get better.
Jesus reminds her in verse 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
They roll away the stone and the smell of death begins filling the air. Even in doing this, there is remarkable faith by Martha (and we assume Mary since we don’t hear otherwise).
Can you imagine what they were thinking?! “What was He doing?” “Was He wanting to see Lazarus to pay last respects?” “What was the Messiah up to??!”
We don’t know what was running through their heads as they considered their options and ordered the stone rolled away. Considering the size of the stones they used to seal up these tombs, it is likely they had several minutes to wait on bated breath as the stone is moved inch by heavy inch away from the opening.
The stone covering that tomb represented their grief and pain. Their loved one—their Lazarus—was sealed behind there. Even if he were alive at this point, the stone prevented anyone from going in or coming out.
What do you do when the Lord commands you to “roll the stone away” from your grief or pain? We pray for miracles, but what if the Lord calls us to do something a little odd to get there? What if He calls us to do something radical? What if our miracle isn’t passive? What if we have to “roll the stone away” and bear the stench of our pain and grief first?
Jesus hadn’t told Martha and Mary what was going to happen when He commanded them to do this. What if He commands us to have faith before we experience the miracle?
As the smell of death, grief, and pain swept over the mourners at that moment in John 11:41a, would they hold on to their faith in the Master? Would they trust Him when He called them to face their greatest loss?