Read: John 11:18-44
The seventh sign recorded in John's Gospel is perhaps Jesus' most well known. His command for Lazarus to "come forth" is certainly one of His most famous commands, but it is not the only command He gave as part of this miracle. Before Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave, He commanded the crowd to "take away the stone" sealing Lazarus's tomb. Understandably reluctant, Martha objected, "by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days," (nothing like the KJV!) There is no indication that Martha was wrong about that. The grave clothes Lazarus wore must have been pungent with the aroma of death. The smell is no doubt, what led to Jesus' third command: "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
Stop and think about that. One minute you're grieving and the next you are reluctantly rolling the stone away from a grave you know is filled with the stench of a decomposing body. One moment you are comforting a grieving family and the next you are unwrapping the corpse of their recently deceased loved one. If Jesus could raise the dead, certainly He could have miraculously removed the stone and the grave clothes. Why these additional directives requiring the crowd's participation?
First, I believe Jesus wants His followers to know that, like Lazarus's resurrection, the miracle of salvation is instant, but that the miracle of transformation takes time. When Jesus called you from death to life, you also came out of the tomb wearing grave clothes. You also had the stench of death on you. The sanctification process is the process of removing grave clothes. If we have indeed died and been raised to life, the church is the gathering place for people who have just come out of their tombs, in various stages of removing rotting grave clothes, which is why the church can sometimes stink of death.
Second, the miracle of salvation is solely the work of God, while the miracle of sanctification is a partnership. Paul told the Christians in Philippi to, "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling," (Philippians 2:12). The partnership is between you and God, but it is also a collaboration among believers, which is why, as much as we try to resist bad smells, we should be concerned if we never smell the stench of grave clothes. Perhaps we would rather light a candle and cover up the smell, but Jesus called Lazarus's friends and family to work together to strip him of his burial rags.
Third, while only Jesus raises the dead to life, He expects His church to remove the grave clothes from those He calls out of the tomb. Too many times the church assumes the newly raised will strip off their own grave clothes. This is impossible. It would be like trying to get out of a straight jacket. You cannot do it alone. Sometimes the newly raised are too ashamed to allow their grave clothes to be taken off. That is understandable. It is embarrassing to be stripped naked in public. Many would rather keep their rags of death to cover their nakedness. The church should be a safe place where grave clothes are removed and replaced with robes of righteousness sewn from the faithful teaching of His Word.
Grant me the faith to roll away every stone You would have removed,
regardless of the fear of what lies in the tomb.
Fill me with Your love as You invite me to help remove the grave clothes of those called from death to life.