Lazarus was the one who had died. But initially at least, Jesus was focused on making Martha more alive.
While the Master would get around to dealing with the brother’s cold body, He focused at first on continuing to fan into flame the sister’s coming-alive soul. While the main event would eventually occur publicly at the tomb, before that miracle, Jesus was working secretly in the heart of His beloved daughter. But it would stink.
Before Jesus even arrived, Martha believed that, had He been there while Lazarus was sick, He could have healed her brother. In fact, she believed that whatever Jesus asked of God, God would give Him. But Jesus sought to deepen her faith. And so He talked not only of Lazarus’ resurrection someday, but said that He Himself was the very source of that resurrection and of life eternal. Would she believe that? And her faith grew as she confessed, “I believe. For you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Jn. 11:20-27)
But Jesus was not yet done with Martha’s faith. Before raising her brother from the dead, He would raise Martha’s faith as well. You see, just “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). And so Jesus provided opportunity for Martha to show what she believed by what she did.
But it was risky. Many would be shocked. Some, perhaps, offended. Because there would be bad odor as a result of what she was about to do–the stench of faith.
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)
Note to self. You don’t open up sepulchers after a body has lain in it for four days. Especially a body buried without embalming. The “returning to dust” process will have started. Decay will have set in. And you won’t have to look upon the corpse to know that, it will be evident as soon as the stone is removed and the stale air from the inside finds its way to the outside.
But sometimes, you need to do what stinks, and make a call that others might misunderstand, in order to see the glory of God.
Martha was horrified at the Master’s request. Just in case the Author of Life wasn’t fully aware of the process of death, she reminded Jesus that after four days, as it concerned her brother, “he stinketh.” (Gotta’ love the old King James)
But Jesus redirected her again to the connection between believing and beholding. That to believe in His word, even when obeying it might not make natural sense, would be to behold His glory.
And He wanted to show her the connection between believing and behaving. That, eventually, what we say we believe needs to impact what we do. Eventually what we say we believe in, others will have to see we believe in.
All eyes must have been focused on Martha. No one would make a move toward the stone covering the tomb without her go ahead.
What would she do? Listen to common sense and leave the tomb sealed? Not risk opening the tomb and then nothing happening other than the stench of death lingering over the crowd?
Or would she willingly risk the stench of faith in order to encounter the glory of God? Would she ignore the potential second-guessing of the crowd around her so she could realize the power of God in her?
Martha obeyed. Willing to endure the stench because of her faith, she ordered the stone removed.
And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
(John 11:41b-44 ESV)
Jesus gently brought Martha from saving faith, to confessing faith, to an acting faith.
Martha was made more alive before her brother was.
All this by the grace of God. All this for the glory of God.