“But Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” John 11:39
“God, this stinks!” I cried one morning, as the alarm sounded and a fresh wave of despair washed over me. You know that feeling, when your mind awakens and recalls the pain and worry and fear all over again. Once again I felt the same cold knot in the pit of my stomach, the same pain like a knife stabbing my heart. Life had taken a sharp and unkind turn, and the situation was hard, painful, and more than I thought I could bear. I wanted to run away, to hide from the mess that surrounded me. I wanted to pull the covers over my head, bury my face in my pillow and scream or cry. But I had to face the day, and face the circumstances, so I got up, hit the shower and let the tears mix with the water running down my face.
I went into my quiet space and sat down with my Bible and my prayer journal. I tried to put on the “good Christian” attitude and “give thanks in all things” and “cast all my cares on God,” but my façade soon crumbled. “God, why did you let this happen?” “How can anything good come out of this?” I prayed. I wondered if He was really paying attention. I felt like the Old Testament saint Daniel, who prayed, “O Lord listen! O Lord, hear and act!” (Daniel 9:19). “God deal with this! Fix it! Make it go away!” Again I cried out – “God this stinks! It’s not fair!” And then my anguish gave way to the root of my question: “How can You say that You love me and let this happen?”
With those word still hanging in the air, I turned to the devotional reading for today and found the Scriptures, John 11:1-43. Take a few minutes and read this passage. I’ll wait for you here. You might recognize the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, it’s a powerful story that showed clearly that Jesus was God and that He had the power of life over death. It also showed the love Jesus had for Martha, Mary and Lazarus. It was a message that I desperately needed that morning.
Martha’s words in our key verse caught my attention. Lazarus had been in the grave for four days, and by now there was a foul odor – the smell of rotting flesh. Jesus had told Martha just a few minutes before “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). But when He commanded that the stone that sealed to tomb, that sealed the stench of death, be rolled away, Martha protested, pointing out the obvious. I almost hear her saying “Lord, this stinks!”
Jesus’ answer to Martha began to seep into my heart, filling the places of fear and anxiety and soothing the deep pain I had been carrying around with me. “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God” (John 11:40)? “Child, haven’t I shown you my love in a thousand ways? Haven’t I rescued you from trouble again and again? Haven’t I always proven faithful to you?” Yes. Yes He had. So why would I imagine that He would fail me now? Why would I doubt His love for me? Why would I question His tender care and His constant presence? His affirmations of love and kindness, His grace and goodness began to wash away the fear and doubts and cleanse the wounds in my soul.
Jesus is not afraid to get in the middle of our messes. He doesn’t turn away from the stench in our lives. He is the Messiah and in the ancient Hebrew language “ah” was a designation that meant “Lord.” Look at that title again – Mess-iah – Lord over even our messes. He enters into the pain we bear and asks us to let Him carry the weight of our burdens. He left the heavens of perfect holiness to walk among the dust and dirt and filth of humanity. His great love drove nails into His hands and feet. His mercy bore every sin you and I would ever commit, and banished them to the grave that He left behind when He was resurrected in glorious power.
When life stinks, run to the Mess-iah. He receives us at our worst, messy and smelly and bruised and broken. He gives us His best-His very life. Oh my friend, He is so faithful. Won’t you invite Him to reign over your messy life?
Jesus, Messiah – my life is such a mess. In fact Lord, sometimes my life stinks! But just as Mary filled the room with the fragrance of oil, anoint your child with your sweet fragrance of love and mercy and grace. Amen.