Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” – John 11:39. On Easter Sunday mornings, we often hear the words, Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:2-3).
But another resurrection took place several days earlier and Jesus used it to teach us a lesson by what he said and how He went about making it happen.
This time, it was Lazarus, whom Jesus loved, who had died and was entombed before Christ arrived. The question, “Who will roll the stone away?” arose and Jesus told some bystanders at Lazarus’ tomb, “Take away the stone.”
Why take away the stone? Christ knew they could then see and smell Lazarus’ body and know he had died. Secondly, He knew it would be clear to all that it was not a ghost coming forth. Finally, the ones removing the stone would be His eyewitnesses.
Martha, sister of Lazarus, who, along with their sister Mary, had sent a message to Jesus telling Him that Lazarus was sick, objected to opening the tomb, saying, “But, Lord, he’s been there for four days.” (John 11:39).
It takes four days for the body to decompose and begin to experience cardinal humors or the decay of the four chief bodily fluids – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile – all believed to be critical to life. (That was why Jesus rose in three days; it kept His body from such earthly corruption.)
John 11:35 tells us, “Jesus wept.” Those who love their friends share in both their joys and their sorrows. Some scholars think Jesus wept because bringing Lazarus back meant returning him into a sinful world. Lazarus was in a better place and, also, Christ knew, with His own death imminent, that He knew He would see Lazarus soon.
John 11: 41 says, “Jesus looked up.” He lifted His eyes to Heaven and said, “Father, thank you that you have heard me.”
Jesus wanted there to be no confusion about where His power came from.
The resurrection of Lazarus holds a profound lesson for us. Maybe we’ve been buried behind stones of prejudices; stones of judgmental thinking or behavior; stones of fixed or wrong opinions; or stones of unbelief. As we become spiritually calcified, we prevent our spiritual growth, keeping God’s Word from entering our hearts.
Once these “stones” are taken away, God’s Word can do its work. It can say what has to be said in order to raise our souls from our spiritual graves. If we are ever to see God’s glory, we must take away the stones blocking our resurrection.
Only Christ can call us from our spiritual graves and give us new life. We can then better hear His Words leveling the hills and mole hills of our lives. We can better hear His words as they make rivers flow in our dry and desert spiritual places.
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door UCC in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or firstname.lastname@example.org