Technically, I don’t think it was necessary. After all, if Jesus could trump death, He could easily have opened a door. But He didn’t. Instead He relied upon others to take away the stone.
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. (John 11:38-41a ESV)
The stage was set. Each of the sisters had come to Jesus in their sorrow . . . the crowd had witnessed the degree to which Jesus was moved at their sorrow . . . they had seen Jesus weep . . . they still couldn’t figure out why He hadn’t shown up sooner to do something . . . and now, they watched as He approached the tomb where Lazarus lay. And then, He says what no one expected to Him to say, “Take away the stone.”
What!?! Really? He’s been dead for four days. His spirit has surely departed by now . . . and his flesh has begun to decay. You want us to do what? “I want you to believe,” replies Jesus, “that you might see the glory of God.”
Taking away the stone was an act of faith.
Sure, Jesus could have spoken to that lifeless rock, just as He would soon speak to Lazarus’ lifeless body, and it would have levitated and gone wherever He commanded it. Or Jesus could have said nothing at all and Lazarus could just have magically appeared behind the crowd . . . sans grave clothes . . . fair skinned and without a blemish. But instead, Jesus required an act of faith that they might encounter the glory of God . . . take away the stone.
And it’s got me thinking. Sometimes we need to take away some stones, open some doors, in order to know God revealed. We need to proceed by faith, even when we don’t quite know what the Master’s about to do . . . or, if He’s about to do anything at all. We need to do what we can, and trust He will take care of the rest. It’s not that Jesus needs us . . . but that He wants us to trust Him.
Taking away the stone was an act of faith. They wouldn’t have moved it had Martha not asked them to . . and Martha asked them to because she believed. They wouldn’t have risked defiling themselves if they weren’t willing to submit themselves to Jesus’ authority . . . and they submitted to His command because they believed. And they wouldn’t have heard Him speak, “Lazarus come out” . . . wouldn’t have seen the man who had died exit the grave . . . if they hadn’t exercised their mustard seed of faith and opened the door.
Technically, I don’t think it was necessary. Practically, it was the path to experiencing the glory of God. Sometimes, He just wants us to take away the stone.