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Memories of Bethany (1)

J Voisey, Cardiff

"And he led them out as far as to Bethany" (Lk 24.50)

Bethany seems to have had a special place in our Lord’s affections, and some of the people there were very dear to Him. It was a small village, a little under two miles east of Jerusalem on the road to Jericho. Here He lodged during the days leading up to His death on the cross, and it was the place He chose from which He would leave His disciples and return to the Father.

We need to listen to His word in our busy lives

Our Lord’s first visit to Bethany is recorded in Luke 10.38-42. It is not named, but identified for us as the village of the two sisters, who, along with their brother Lazarus, will ever be associated with it. "He entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received (welcomed) him into her house." It was a warm and willing home, and the Lord was an honoured guest. It is not likely to have been a grand or wealthy house, nor was Bethany much of a place. The Dutch painter, Vermeer, has imaginatively depicted a very ordinary room, with commonplace furniture, the plainest of food upon the table, and the clothing of the two sisters is not such as rich people would have worn. There are no servants; the work of the house was done by the family. Our Lord never declined an invitation and would have visited the homes of the poor and the humble, as well as the rich and the prominent.

Even in the most loving and united of families, and indeed of assemblies, tensions will occur from time to time because of our different personalities and perceptions. When these tensions arise they must never be allowed to take over our lives and cause problems and pain to others. Martha will always be remembered as the harassed housewife with too much to do; and Mary for her quiet devotion to our Lord. But we should not think of these sisters as representing inevitably opposing aspects of service for the Lord. We should all find time in our busy lives to listen to His word. The trouble was that Martha had set herself so many different things to do (that was her nature; never happier than when she was bustling about looking after the needs of others), but she was unable to cope, and she blamed her sister for not helping her. She complained: "Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me". We should never question our Lord’s care for ourselves, nor take out our frustrations upon others, often those who are truly near and dear to us.

We may be sure the Lord smiled at her, when He said, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful (anxious) and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her". He loves us all as we are, despite our shortcomings, but He wants us to spend time with Him, lest we become over-preoccupied with the cares of this world. He was often thronged by multitudes of people, including sick people waiting to be healed, but always ensured that the disciples would have times of rest with Himself (Mk 6.31).

Peace, perfect peace! by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, that is rest.

(E Bickersteth).

When faith shines through tears

Our faith is sometimes tested (Jn 11.1-45). There was great love in this home in Bethany, but none are exempt from human sickness and disabilities. We may imagine the increasing concern of the two sisters as their brother’s condition deteriorated, and human aid was unavailing. They had to prepare themselves for what was inevitable, and so Lazarus died and his sisters wept. There is a poignancy about this family’s grief; nor were they alone, for "many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother", and they also followed Mary when she left the house in haste after the Master’s call, supposing she had gone "unto the grave to weep there".

Before Lazarus died his sisters sent word to the Lord, but He did a strange thing. "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples. Let us go into Judea again." Our Lord never acted in haste or hurriedly changed His intentions, and He had a purpose in this delay for the benefit of the two sisters and the disciples. He said, "And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe". When our Lord spoke of giving eternal life to those who believe on Him it was true: "he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live".

The sorrows of this family are the background for one of our Lord’s greatest miracles - bringing Lazarus back to life after he had been dead for four days. So it was, there in one of life’s darkest phases, that faith shone through their tears. It is only men and women of faith who, "Passing through the valley of Weeping they make it a place of springs" and who "sorrow not even as others which have no hope" (Ps 84.5-7, RV; 1 Thess 4.13-18; 1 Pet 1.3).

To be continued.


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