John xii. 1-9
The Home at Bethany.
IN John xii., we get a sample company of the company which is now being gathered out for Christ—the Church. The Church is the company now given by the Father to the Son, in this the time of His rejection, a company to be His comfort and compensation because of the loss of Israel and His rejection by the world. The hopes, the glories, and the triumphs of the Kingdom are for the present postponed, and the Church, which is now His comfort, will then be His companion in that glory. We see these things clearly shadowed forth in the typical brides of Genesis. In Eve, we see the companion; in Rebekah, the comfort; and in Asenath, the compensation. God's design is not only to save, but to win for Christ. The Church exists for Christ, for His joy, His comfort and His delight. It was His delight on earth to draw a company to Himself, a company who should be round Himself as their Centre. In Matt, xvi., Peter's confession of His personal glory is made the occasion of the promise, "Upon this rock I will build My Church." He was not then building the Church, but we get in the Gospels, sample companies of what the Church was to be; little groups to whom He was the attraction, of whom He was the centre, to whose hearts He was the object; little groups whom His grace and power had relieved of all the pressure that was upon them, in order that they might be drawn into His company to enjoy His love. Of these groups, the little company at Bethany is a conspicuous example. Bethany was the last place trodden by His sacred feet, before leaving this cold, inhospitable world. "He led them out as far as to Bethany," and while lifting up His hands in blessing, He was parted from them. To Bethany He will come again, for His feet shall stand on Mount Olivet, and Bethany was a village on its slope. There seems to have been no place where the blessed Lord was so appreciated, no place where He was understood half so well as at Bethany. Here His personal glory was entered into; His pleasure was ministered to, His presence was welcomed. Now it is God's desire that the assembly of His saints should be a Bethany. His will, is that a company of believers gathered unto the Name of the Lord Jesus in any place, should be a circle where the Lord is appreciated, where His presence can be made known. God's intent is not merely that the sinner should be saved. We get many settings forth in Scripture of what God's intent is. We see it in the cleansing of the leper. The leper was visited by the priest, the bird was slain, its blood was shed, the blood was sprinkled, and the live bird let loose in the open field. But that was not all. All his hair, all his eyebrows, and all his beard had to be shaved off. It was all to be left behind. Every emanation of the flesh had to go, and he entered the camp shaved of eyebrows and hair. What an oddity! one might have exclaimed. And if the razor of God's truth is allowed by us to shave off what is of the flesh in us, we shall be odd too. Truth makes us odd; makes us peculiar; makes us different from other people. Christianity is in direct opposition to every thing around us. It is not an improvement on Judaism, not an elongation or prolongation of the old economy, but an entirely new thing where everything is heavenly. Christ is not of this world, and therefore Christians are not of this world. If the Lord's prayer in John xvii., "Sanctify them through thy truth, thy Word is truth," were answered in us, the truth would shave off much from us. We would not be understood by other people, we would be conundrums to them. This is what the world said of the early Christians. We see in each member of the household at Bethany an object of Divine love.
"Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." It is beautiful to see Martha mentioned first. The one who had been most censured, is mentioned first as an object of His love, showing that there is no difference with Him. Martha was apparently the eldest, and should have taken the first place, the place taken by Mary. In Luke x., we read that it was Martha's house; she was evidently the mistress there. But Bethany is spoken of in John xii. as the town of Mary—she eclipses Martha, she takes, in a sense, the whole town for Christ. Is that what the district we live in looks like to the eyes of the Lord, as He looks down from Heaven upon it? Does He associate the place with us? Can He say, "The town of this or that devoted saint!"
Well, we see in that little group, a company that had been relieved of every pressure that was upon them, relieved and delivered that they might be at leisure from themselves, at leisure from circumstances and sorrow, to be with Christ, enjoying His love and His company. Lazarus had been brought out of death. The Lord had gone to Bethany to raise him from death and then to disentangle him from that which fettered him. First, He gave him life, then He gave him liberty—"Loose him and let him go." And where does he go? Where is the next place we find him? "Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with Him!” That is the natural place for one who has been "let go," to be—at the table with Him. That is where the instincts of a new-born soul will ever lead it. The reason why we see so many who are brought into life, not with us at the Lord's table is, that they have not been "let go." Man's schemes, man's traditions, man's organizations come in, to hinder. But if they were "let go," they would be at the table with Him. And it is God's desire for all His people, that they should know communion with Christ even in a wider and larger sense than that of which the table speaks. We are called to the enjoyment of all that there is in Christ, to feast on the things at God's right hand where Christ sitteth. In order to do this, we need to be "loosed" from the world. "Love not the world," God says. Do you love the world? Perhaps you say, "How could I love the world that hated and crucified the Son of God?" Does not James say, "The friendship of the world is enmity with God?" But John does not stop there—"Neither the things that are in the world." I think I can say without being egotistical, without attempting to take a platform above other Christians, without exaggeration—I do not love the world; but the things that are in the world are a real snare to me. The things that are in and of the world appeal to nature. What are they? "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life." Perhaps the lust of the flesh may be nothing to us; possibly we may be able through grace to live in superiority to it, and to the lust of the eye. But what about the pride of life? It is this that is such a real temptation, such a snare, such a distraction to the child of God. Nature says—We must maintain our position, we must make a position for our children, and so on. Is not this the pride of life? And how often the Christian's home is furnished and ordered just like that of the worldling, who has no communion with the thoughts of God, no eternal communion with Christ to look forward to, when life's chequered story is over. This deliverance from the world must be made real to us, if we would enjoy Christ unhinderedly, and feast without distraction on His beauties and perfections, in fellowship with God.
Martha had been delivered from her faulty views and deficient conceptions of the Person of Christ. She had been set at liberty—further instructed—that she might be free to serve. Her service was accepted then. She was serving in Luke x., but then there was a fussiness, a legality, a spirit of self-occupation, an irritability about it. Now there is a charm, a beauty, a calm in her service, and it ministers pleasure to the heart of Christ. What has brought this about? There has been a deep work in Martha's soul between Luke x. and John xii.! What she needed was to know Christ as Son of God. She had known Him before as the Messiah, had seen in Him the Son of David and the legal heir to David's throne. But in John xi., the Lord uses her blinding, crushing sorrow, to instruct her as to the greater glories of His Person. She is brought by this means out of the dim light in which she was before, into the clear sunlight of the knowledge of the Son of God. By and by, when we re-read our sorrows in the sunlight of His presence, we shall see them to have been our greatest benefactors. When the Lord came, Martha rushed out of the house to meet Him, still like her old self—fussy. "Mary sat still in the house. Martha greets the Lord with—"Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know that even now, whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee." She recognizes in Him a Man who has great power with God in prayer, but there must be more than this. The Lord says—"Thy brother shall rise again," and Martha admits, "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Any Jew could say that. But the Lord goes on to say—"I am the resurrection and the life," etc. "He declares His divine Person. Believest thou this? Then the light begins to shine in. She owns Him as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. She gets an inkling of His glory. Then she goes and calls her sister. "The Master is come, and calleth for thee." Although we are not told that the Lord gave this message, her action appears to be correct. It is as if she had said—"The Master's teaching is too deep for me. I cannot understand it. You can. He calleth for thee." Then Mary comes with the same words—"If Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died," but says nothing more. We do not read that Mary got any teaching. There was no need of that for her; she had received her teaching while sitting at His feet. She does not need to be taught now that Jesus is the Son of God. But Mary gets His tears. She gets a more blessed insight into the heart of Christ, in the divine eloquence of His silence and His tears of sympathy, as together they walk to her brother's grave. He had been showing to Martha the perfection of His power. He shows to Mary the perfection of His sympathy. And now Mary has to be delivered from the bitterness of natural grief that she may be free to worship. Christianity does not chloroform our feelings. It enables us to pass through our sorrows in calm and peace but does not make us stoical. Jesus passed through scenes of strife in unruffled peace, until the moment when He cried on the Cross, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" His groans and sighs give evidence of how keenly He felt the coldness in this inhospitable world, but nothing checked the flow of His love. But while it is right and proper to weep in the right place, tears have to be dried and sorrow assuaged before the soul can worship. In worship, no natural feelings are allowed. In worship, we must be free from care, free from a sense of our need. Prayer is the expression of the soul's need, but there is no need in worship, it is the cup overflowing. In John xii., we see Mary set free from human grief, in His presence, occupied with Him. Then she brings the box of ointment and pours it out on His feet, and the house is filled with the odour of the ointment. In Matthew, it is His head, in John, His feet. To Mary, His very feet are worthy of the very best. We surely see from this, that whatever side or aspect of His character we think, of whatever feature of His work we contemplate, from whatever standpoint we view Him, He is worthy of our best. The smallest part of Christ, if we may speak thus, where all is sacred, is as worthy as the most prominent. In John, the thought is worship, in Matthew kingship, so there He gets the kingly anointing.
In the three in this chapter, we see exemplified the three things Paul longed to know in Phil. iii., "That I might know Him." Martha had needed to know Him as she had not known Him before. "And the power of His Resurrection," this had been known and realized by Lazarus, but the "fellowship of His sufferings" was known only by Mary. The Lord said—"Against the day of My burying hath she done this." Divinely guided, Mary rose to the occasion. Mary had fellowship in the sufferings of Him who had fellowship with her, as He walked to the grave of her brother. Things had never been so outwardly bright for Christ as at that moment, but well He knew that the voice which should have cried "Hosanna" would soon cry, "Crucify Him." No one seemed to feel it but Mary, but she felt it as a dark cloud hanging over Him. She knew that it was not to the Throne, but to the Cross, and the grave He was going, and she goes in spirit with Him in His path of sorrow and suffering, through Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the grave, and in the face of all this, her best must be given and poured out on Him. But she knew that the Son of God could never be held by death, so she anoints Him beforehand, she comes in time. The other women came too late, and, blessed be God, found an empty grave, but we do not see Mary among them. The Israelites of old were divided into three classes—common people, Levites, and priests. In Lazarus, we see the common people—all alike redeemed and delivered from death and bondage. In Martha, we see the Levite character—-serving; but the priests knew sanctuary communion, ate of shewbread, and entered into the holiest of all, where no other feet dared tread, and Mary entered into priestly communion and worship.
But we see yet another character present, a character who enters into the holiest circles and intrudes into the most sacred company—the traitor Judas. He asks, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?" and it seems so plausible, that the others agree with him. How plausible it sounded, how large-hearted! Judas here appears in the role of a large-hearted philanthropist. He advocates what some would call "practical Christianity." And how solemn it is to see how one such man could lead eleven good men into error. Judas is a type of the flesh in us all. He had kept the most wonderful company it is possible for a man to keep, but he was Judas the traitor still. The flesh can never be bettered or improved by anything. One may have known the Lord for twenty years, have had twenty years of communion with Him, twenty years of studying His Word, twenty years of prayer, but the flesh is as bad as ever. But it is blessed to see that the Lord takes Mary's part against Judas, and He takes our part against the flesh. There is a beautiful word in Romans vii. It seems like a sad, dark wail of despair, but there is one bright gleam in it—"It is no more I." Yes, we can say, "It is no more I," the Lord takes our side against it. May He give us grace to take His side against it too, that we may know what it is to enjoy what was enjoyed in Bethany—the love and the fellowship of Christ.
“The Believer’s Magazine” 1902