It’s fascinating how the different English translations treat Martha’s leery comment to The Lord concerning Lazarus’…ahem…malodorous state after four days in a tomb:
- “Lord, he’s already decaying” (HCSB)
- “Lord, by this time there will be an odor” (ESV)
- “Lord, by this time there is a stench” (WEB)
- “Lord, by this time he stinketh” (KJV)
- “The smell will be terrible.” (NLT)
You (hopefully) get the point. The body was going to stink! Martha understood this. Mary understood this. The bystanders understood this. John—writing down the story—wants us to understand this.
Lazarus was dead. Comparing him to a mackerel would not have been kind…to the mackerel. Four days in the grave in an environment that was unkind to dead bodies, well, you do the odiferous math. This guy was beyond hope, gone, toast, goodbye, not coming back.
Jesus does a mind-blowing thing when he speaks three words: “Remove the stone.” John—brilliantly—leaves us in suspense for a few more verses. What is Jesus going to do? What could he possibly be thinking? It’s too late, isn’t it? Lazarus is gone, right?