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Overcoming the Odor of Death


Scientific studies have reported that smell is the sense most linked to memory. This link happens deep in the brain where regions responsible for processing smells are linked to those involved in memory, especially the amygdala and hippocampus, in ways other senses are not. At times this link is a blessing. The smell of baking cookies or a crisp autumn day can recall cherished memories. It can also be a curse. Even decades later, soldiers who liberated German concentration camps were haunted by the stench of death.

This stench stalked the people gathered with Jesus outside the tomb of Lazarus. When Jesus ordered that the stone enclosing the tomb be removed, Lazarus’s sister Martha understandably protested: “By this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days” (v. 39). The objectionable odor she had every right to anticipate would only increase her misery, providing an intense olfactory reminder of the destructive power of death and the loss of her beloved brother.

What she failed to account for, however, was that she was in the presence of the One who would overcome the odor of death, the Word of God who drives out the thief “who comes only to steal and kill and destroy” and instead ensures that His followers may “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Jesus assured her that even the physical process of decay with its stink and rot was subject to His divine imperative.

Martha, Mary, and those gathered on that day in Bethany saw “the glory of God” manifested (v. 40). And Jesus’ power reaches out across the ages to overcome the odor of death and give life to all who believe so that we may “take off the grave clothes” and be free (v. 44).

apply the word

Jesus brings new life! Prayerfully reflect on His resurrection power. The Lord understands your grief when loved ones die, and He has promised to resurrect all who believe in Him (see 1 Cor. 15). And He has the power to give you life and vitality now, restoring broken relationships and your spiritual zeal. Pray for His blessing of spiritual life to the full.

BY Brad Baurain

Dr. Brad Baurain has worked as a writer and editor for Today in the Word since 1993. Currently, he serves as associate professor and TESOL program head at Moody Bible Institute. Brad has the unique privilege of holding a degree from four different universities (including Moody). He has also taught in China, Vietnam, the United States, and Canada. Brad and his wife, Julia, have four children and reside in Munster, Indiana.

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