“Watching & Waiting” Meditations: 13. Creating a Stink
Jn 11:39 “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odour.”
We finished yesterday noting that human reason can be a problem to us because sometimes the things that the Bible and Jesus call us to appear, frankly, crazy. Thus obedience may be a struggle because it is humanly illogical.
So here we are today, looking at the plaintive cry of Martha, the practical sister. Jesus has turned up late and Lazarus has died. When Jesus arrived, “Mary stayed at home.” (v.20) Perhaps she who had sat at Jesus’ feet (Lk 10:39) was the more sensitive one and now the one both grieving for her dead brother and annoyed that Jesus had not come and saved him. It’s Martha, the more forthright one who gathers herself together and goes out to greet Jesus. In her forthright way she greets him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.21) But then perhaps it touches her that perhaps that was a bit too blunt for then she adds, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (v.22) Jesus tells her, “Your brother will rise again.” (v.23) She displays her knowledge that she will have received at Synagogue: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.24) Good answer but, just like we do sometimes, shows we cannot apply the Bible truth to the present moment. So Jesus takes her a further step on in faith building: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (v.25,26) She responds, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (v.27)
Now I have included that conversation because it shows Martha as a believer – she believes the Scriptures and she believes in Jesus. The question that is about to come, is but does she believe what he can do? We may be believers IN Jesus, that he is the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, but do we allow that to be translated into daily life?
In the story, Jesus asks to see Mary and so Martha goes and calls her and Mary has her own conversation with Jesus. When she comes she falls at his feet – weeping! The sensitive one. This moves Jesus. They take him to the tomb and he weeps. Another sensitive one. He instructs that the stone be rolled away and it is Martha – and this is important to note – who comes out with these words of protest: “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Human logic, human reasoning from a good practical believer.
What this suggests, and I believe it is very common, is that we all have belief but it is like a road that runs out. We can go some way down it but, to use a common phrase, there comes a point that is a bridge too far. I can ‘believe in Jesus’, I can believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, I can believe in prayer, I can believe Jesus saves people and they are ‘born again’, I can believe he answers some prayers but when he says, “Take away the obstacle to life being released by your actions and words,” we may stumble and say, “But Lord, that will cause a stink.” Sometimes we say, ‘it will kick up a stink’ and by that we mean it will cause upset, and the enemy whispers in our ear, “Yes, if you do that there will be a lot of people who won’t understand and will get upset by it and say nasty things!”
It’s particularly true in the life and ministry of leaders who, when the Lord invites them to step out in faith, think, “But what will people say?” The Bible has a number of instances of people who were rebuked and chastised for their lack of action because they did not care enough what God thought. But it is also particularly true of any person of faith, any person who has been watching and waiting on the Lord and who has caught vision and direction. It’s easy to pick up Isaiah’s word, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God,” (Isa 40:3) but what does it mean to make straight the road so it’s easy for God to come? For Gideon it meant tearing down his family altar to Baal (Judg 6:25,26) and replace it with a proper altar given over to God. In modern terms that may mean, stopping family activities or behaviour that is unrighteous or ungodly and replacing it with godly, righteous behaviour.
But we need to back up and see some more aspects of this account about Lazarus. Rolling the stone away is only the first step towards a miracle. The next step is to call the dead to life. Can we do that? Can we sense Jesus’ will is to bring life to a (spiritually) dead person you know? Dare you in prayer, command life to be released, as you wait on him and he puts a loved one, or an unsaved friend or neighbour before you? Can we command strongholds of unbelief be broken as our faith rises, as we start to hear his heart’s desire for such people? Can we move from prayer comfort to prayer warfare? Which comes first, the putting surrounding circumstances right or warring in prayer? There is no automatic right answer. Ask the Lord as you wait on him and sense what he wants you to do. Faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17) so the most important thing is that you hear, but when you do, don’t start reasoning, just act, and let Him do the impossible and bring life where there is only death.