John 11: 37-39
And some of them said, Could not this Man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?
Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto Him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
Some of the people who were present at Lazarus’ tomb murmured among themselves. “He could have saved Lazarus if He had come right away! Maybe He doesn’t care as much as He seems to!”
And Jesus, knowing what they were saying, continued to be heavy in His spirit. I believe Jesus waited as long as He did because He wanted it to be crystal clear to everyone that Lazarus had indeed died. No question that he just fainted, or was sleeping. He was dead.
It was time to get down to business.
“Roll the stone away!” said Jesus.
In my imagination, there was utter silence for probably several seconds. Roll the stone away? Martha said it best: “Lord, he’s been dead for four days! By this time, he stinks!”
In that day and time, burial took place quickly. They didn’t drain the body of fluid and replace the fluid with preservatives. They washed the body and wrapped it in linen if they had it. The burial took place quickly because the body decayed quickly, and the smell set in very soon. I’ve never smelled a decayed human body, but from what I read, I don’t regret having never done so. I understand it’s awful, and something that’s hard to forget. It was also quite normal for bodies to be entombed rather than buried underground. The Jews were a practical people. The ground was hard and dry, but caves were plentiful. It was normal for bodies to be placed in caves and then the caves firmly sealed.
When I was around seven or eight, we were having our family devotions in the evening. It was our habit to each read a verse until the passage my dad had chosen was complete. Then he would talk about what was happening.
When it was my turn to read, my verse was the one in which Martha said, “He stinketh!” I’m not sure if it was because of the old English form of the word, or if it was just the word itself. Stink as a strong word, and implies something quite unpleasant. I got the giggles, and I really couldn’t stop. I was afraid my dad would be very angry, but to my shock and great relief, he was laughing too. We all were. It just seemed like such an abrupt thing for Martha to say. You may remember being that age and being consumed with laughter that you couldn’t stop. Every time I read that verse now, I remember that situation–and I’m thankful, because it ended so well–not just our family devotions, but the story itself.