John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 11:39, He Stinketh

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.

//I laughed at Rob Bell’s humorous discussion of this verse in Velvet Elvis, but in truth, the phrase “he stinketh” struck me as memorable long ago, too.

Jesus’ beloved friend Lazarus has died, and four days later, Jesus shows up at the tomb. But Martha, the sister of Lazarus, has lost hope. Lazarus is so far gone that he stinketh. Nevertheless, Jesus raises him back to life.

I confess, I don’t read this story literally … I find too many clues that it was meant to be read rather as a parable of new life. Think of the prodigal son, of whom it was said, “This my son was dead, and is alive again.” The poor man had squandered all that he owned, and wound up with the smelly job of feeding swine. Likewise, Lazarus has fallen so deep into sin that he stinketh.

Ever feel that way yourself? It can be a harsh awakening to discover we’re so far gone that we stinketh. Nevertheless, new life is still possible, and Jesus can help.

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