March 29, 2020 – Take Away the Stone

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” – John 11:39


   “Take away the stone!” Jesus said. Then He commanded, “Lazarus, come out!” But no good deed goes unpunished. The chief priests and Pharisees raise concerns about losing their place and nation if Jesus goes unchecked. The high priest says, “It is better that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” (v. 50) John tells us that he “did not say this of his own accord, but…he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put Him to death.” (51-53) Jesus’ punishment for being popular, for threatening the power of the elite, is death.

   Don’t they risk turning Him into a martyr, a folk hero? They think that’s okay because He will be a dead folk hero. They can (and did) turn popular opinion against Jesus. They can (and did) use false testimony to gain an indictment. They can (and did) persuade the mob and the Roman governor to crucify Him. He would be dead and buried and, they hoped, soon forgotten. One thing they didn’t take into account was the Trinity’s plan to take away the stone and to raise Jesus from the dead.

   Raising Lazarus was a demonstration of the divine power of resuscitation. Many of Jesus’ opponents were religious leaders and scholars, but they forgot God’s vision for His people whose bones were dried up, whose hope was lost, who were cut off from the land of the living. “And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O My people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you will know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” (Eze 37:13-14) Jesus’ resurrection miracles, including Lazarus, were a prelude to fulfilling the vision in Ezekiel 37. Christ reveals His divinity when He says, “Take away the stone,” and orders the dead, “Come out!”

   Being divine, why does Christ submit to the sinful folly of His opponents? Why does He die for our sins? It isn’t just the high priest, the Pharisees, the Roman governor and the fickle mob who are enemies of Jesus. Our sins make us His enemies, too. Yet, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Rom 5:8, 10) Why does He die for our sins? Because He loves us! Because He loves us He not only reconciles us to God, He stands before our graves and says, “Take away the stone.”

   Paul sums up the Trinitarian effort in our Epistle for today, “If the Spirit [i.e., God the Holy Spirit] of Him [i.e., God the Father] who raised Jesus [i.e. God the Son] from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11) When Christ returns He will have the stone taken away that shields the living from the putrefying consequences of death—the smells, the decay, the bacteria. Whatever separated us from Him, He will remove. Resurrection for everybody!

   Some say this is a “pie in the sky” placebo. “It stinks,” they say, “to offer false hopes.” No, it doesn’t stink. They stink. We stink. Everyone stinks of sin, death and corruption. Our word “placebo” comes from the Latin. Today it means a false treatment or medication for psychological rather than physical benefit. That is not what it means in Latin. For example, Psalm 116:9 [Psalm 114:9 in the Vulgate]: Placebo Domino in regione vivorum. This was the antiphon for funeral Vespers. “I will please the Lord in the land of the living.” Placebo = “I will please.” It is a response to God’s work of delivering our souls from death, our eyes from tears and our feet from stumbling. (Ps 116:8)

   Jesus comes to deliver us from death, to take away the stone from our tombs. One Man does die for the people, for us, so that we may not perish. That One Man is raised again for our justification. (Rom 4:25) As Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” We answer with Martha, “Yes, Lord, we believe. You are the Christ. You are the Son of God.” We won’t worry about the smell—Jesus will take care of that. Jesus takes away the stones, opens our graves and gathers into one the children of God.

© 2020 St Johns Evangelical Elgin
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