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Grown-Up Bible Stories

Taking Away the Stone

It is hard to call any day involving Jesus Christ an ordinary day. The only ordinary thing about Him was that He was human. He specialized in the extraordinary—teaching about God at a level that defied the routine of religion, feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish, driving out demons without the rites of the exorcist, and healing the sick without medicine were hardly ordinary activities. Yet, presumably, even these things would eventually begin to seem ordinary to those who followed Him regularly. On one of these more-or-less ordinary extraordinary days, a messenger came along and interrupted.

The messenger was likely known to Jesus. He came on behalf of some of Jesus’ friends. The family in question was a threesome, two sisters and a brother who lived in a small town called Bethany. There seem to have been no living parents, and as far as we can learn from Scripture, no living spouses. These sisters and brother seem to have been respected in the community. They also were serious enough about religious matters to have become friends of Jesus Christ.

In any event, the message that interrupted Jesus’ day was an appeal for help from the two sisters. “The man you love is sick.” [Quotations are not necessarily from Scripture unless accompanied by a reference.] Please keep in mind that the term love had a broader connotation than people today often give it. Love wasn’t just a romance thing, not even just a family thing. Then, as now, love also described the affection commonly felt among friends.

The appeal may not have been stated, but the intention was obvious. Somebody in a household that often hosted Jesus was sick. Not just common-cold sick, but sick enough to warrant sending a neighbor out on foot for several days to call an important man away from His work. They were facing something serious. They were worried.

Jesus’ response was calm. He told His followers that the illness wasn’t going to end in death and stayed where He was. The sick man, Lazarus, was His friend, but He didn’t feel the need to drop everything and run. Since Lazarus and his sisters had already come to the conclusion that Jesus Christ was the Representative of God, they could be expected to trust His judgment and take hope. They waited.

Two days passed. Then Jesus told His twelve closest followers, “Let us go into Judea again” (John 11:7). Judea was the region in which Bethany was located.

The disciples objected. “The people in that area tried to kill You recently.”

Jesus’ answer mystified them. “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping. I’m going to go down and wake him up.”

The disciples objected again. “Lord, if he’s sleeping, he’ll get well.” Even in ancient times the relationship between rest and healing was known. In fact, rest was one of the few effective tools in an ancient doctor’s practice.

Jesus clarified things. “Lazarus is dead. I’m glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there, so you can learn to believe.” Then, He led them down to the place of death.

Back in Bethany, Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, grieved the death of their brother. He’d been in the grave for four days. Jesus, Whom they’d loved and trusted, hadn’t come. The neighbors were there to comfort them. Everybody wept openly. It was the way of old Palestine. Into this world of open grief somebody passed the word. “Jesus is coming.” Martha slipped out and headed down the dusty road. Away from her home she walked, on out of town, down the trail to meet the friend who hadn’t come in time, the prophet Who had claimed that Lazarus wasn’t terminal.

She met Jesus out in the countryside. He was followed by the twelve men He’d chosen as special companions. The odds are there were more—Jesus usually drew a crowd.

Martha wasn’t interested in the group. She came directly to Jesus. “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. But I know that even now, God will give you whatever you ask.”

The power of faith is fascinating. Here she addressed a Friend Whom she had suspected came directly from Heaven. She was talking to a Prophet Who had predicted her brother would live. She knew that a prophet who got it wrong was considered a phony. But she’d seen and experienced too much to think of Jesus as phony. He hadn’t done it her way, but He was still the Son of God. She might grieve that He hadn’t come when she asked. She might wonder why, but she still believed in Him.

Jesus responded, “Your brother will rise again.”

Ok, so his sickness hadn’t led to eternal death. Life after death was controversial in old Judaism, but a substantial number of people—likely the majority at that point in history--did believe that at some day in the future, God would bring the dead back to life. Martha’s theology was correct. “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). Apparently, her belief in God giving Jesus whatever He asked didn’t include Him asking for her brother to return to life now.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Lest we think that Jesus was merely identifying with her theology it is important to consider the first words of His claim—I am. Jesus didn’t say, “Yes, there’s going to be a resurrection, and your brother will come out of the grave and join me in Heaven.” That would have fit her everyday belief. Jesus said “I am the resurrection”, in effect “I raise the dead.”

Martha’s didn’t miss a beat. “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” She had no problem with the idea that it would be Jesus Christ who called her brother out of the grave at the end of the world.

Next, Martha left Jesus outside of town and went home for her sister. “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.”

Mary got up at once and left to meet Jesus. The crowd of mourners made the assumption, “She’s going to the grave to weep.” It wouldn’t have been appropriate to let her cry alone. The whole group followed.

But Mary didn’t go to the grave. She went out to meet with Jesus. Her response was the same as her sister’s. “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

Jesus saw Mary’s grief. He looked at the weeping crowd. He hadn’t been the only one to love Lazarus. The weight of their pain began to weigh down upon him. “Where did you bury him?” He asked.

They responded with an invitation to come and see the grave.

Tears began to roll from His eyes. The Bible records the incident in its shortest verse: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

The crowd saw the famous Teacher cry. They said, “See how He loved him!” They hadn’t heard the statement, “I am the resurrection and the life.” As far as they could tell, this great Healer had failed to save His friend and was weeping with grief. Yes, Jesus wept with grief, but it wasn’t for Lazarus. The record is that Jesus wept when he saw the sorrow of the crowd. They hadn’t heard those words, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and it was for them that the Son of God wept.

They led him to the grave. As was sometimes done in that time and place--as is still sometimes done in the Middle East--Lazarus had been buried above ground. Sometimes these tombs are man made structures. In the past, they were often caves. Lazarus had been laid to rest in such a cave. A large stone had been rolled in front of the mouth, sealing the decaying body from the eyes of the world. Such burial wasn’t uncommon, and considering that stone is a major building material in Palestine, it actually makes sense.

But Jesus had said that Lazarus’ illness wasn’t going to be terminal, and contrary to all observation, He’d meant what He said. “Take away the stone,” He ordered.

Martha complained. “He’s been dead for four days. His body stinks.” In effect, “You don’t want to open that grave, not at this late date.”

Jesus answered, “Didn’t I tell you that if you’d believe, you’d see the glory of God?”

At this point, the sisters of the dead man faced a decision. It was one thing to believe that at some day in the dim and distant future, Jesus Christ would be part of a Resurrection that the largest party of their religion believed in. That was a nice, safe, pretty belief. They hoped themselves to come walking all clean and happy from their graves at some point. It’s what helped make death less scary for them. But that Jesus Christ could be the resurrection and the life on a spring day in their rather ordinary town was a whole different matter. It was one thing to say, “I believe You are the Son of God.” It went with the statement, “God will give You whatever You ask.” But opening the grave of a loved one, just because Jesus requested it was something else. If He was Who they—and He—claimed He was, then, He had the ability to reverse death. In the meantime, their wounded hearts were standing amidst their respectable neighbors outside the grave of one they’d already bid a final farewell. It was their brother’s body whose decaying fumes would hang in the air suggesting to all that not even Jesus could do everything.

But the command had been to take away the stone. Martha didn’t object further. Some of the sympathetic crowd came and pushed. Light filtered into the cave. Lazarus lay wrapped something like a mummy in the traditional grave clothes of the day.

Jesus paused, for a rather confident prayer to God. Then, with the grave standing open, He spoke to the partly decomposed corpse. Jesus didn’t just speak. He called out in a loud voice. “Lazarus, come out!”

And that thoroughly dead body rose from its stony bed and struggled to the door, struggling not against death, but against the yards of cloth that had been wrapped around him.

As Lazarus worked his way out of the cave, Jesus gave the order. “Let him loose.”

Lazarus was no longer a rotting body in a sealed cave. He was a living and healthy friend of Jesus Christ.


Many people believe in life after death. It is something that gives us hope as we face the unavoidable end. But it is a whole different matter to believe in One Who gives life, not just in the future, but now. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that Jesus will bring your loved one out of the grave tomorrow. Most of us will have to wait for the end of the world to see that happen.

Yet, there is another sense in which we aren’t supposed to wait. The Bible describes the human state as one of spiritual death. Our wrongdoing keeps us from God, and life at the spiritual level comes from Him. Spiritual death keeps us from being the kind of people we want to be on this earth. Spiritual death means that when our bodies die, we face the ultimate death of God’s punishment instead of life after death. Jesus has been calling people from spiritual death ever since He was on earth. He wants to give us everlasting life, not just after death, but now. He wants us to have a life that is in contact with God, not just in some distant Heaven, but here and now as well. He wants to give us that quality of life that will take our spirits to Heaven when we die, so that we won’t be dead even while we wait for Him to raise our bodies. He wants to take people who are already dead in the eyes of God and make them alive.

But He isn’t going to work through closed doors. He calls to each of us at the door of his or her inner self. “Take away the stone.” It doesn’t matter that giving life to the spiritually dead is impossible for anyone but Him, because He is the one calling. It doesn’t matter that you can’t take care of your own sins and get into a living relationship with God, because He isn’t asking you to do it. His words, “I am the resurrection and the life,” are still His words, and He has spoken them, not just for Martha the sister of Lazarus, but for you and me as well. “Take away the stone.” Let Him bring that dead soul of yours to life and then live forever. “Take away the stone.” It’s still the message of Jesus Christ.

And the response is still one of faith. Martha is long gone. But she never had control over your inner self, only the door of a cave in Palestine. You have control over your inner self, and when Jesus Christ asks to be let in, it is up to you. It is, in the end, a matter of faith. Jesus has claimed to be the source of both spiritual and physical life, the way for humans to be united with the living God. He has claimed to be God Himself. If you believe these claims, then you have one more step. Let Him into that dead spirit of yours. Roll away the stone as it were, and let Him make your sin-rotted soul a living work of God. It’s your call. If you believe, the choice is obvious. If you don’t believe, you’ll tell Him to stay out.

So what about it? Do you believe? Will you let Him come in and give you life?

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (John 11:25-26)

To learn how to take the stone from your soul click here: How to Have a Relationship with God

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


How to Have a Relationship with God

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