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Memories of Bethany (2)

J Voisey, Cardiff

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

The sweet odour of devotion to Christ

The Lord returned to Bethany six days before the Passover festival and the good people there made Him a supper (Jn 12.1-9). It was their way of honouring Him. This time He was the guest of the whole village. We often think of the Lord’s Supper as a time when we come together to remember Him, and as it were be His guests, but we should also consider it our opportunity to welcome Him whenever we meet. Perhaps because Martha’s house was too small, this supper was prepared in the house of Simon, whose leprosy had been cleansed (Mt 26.6; Mk 14.3).

Martha, true to type, was there as one who served, and Lazarus, who never speaks a word, but whose presence was a testimony to our Lord, "was one of them that sat at the table with him" (Jn 12.2).

"Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment" (v.3). This is the third time we read of Mary at the Saviour’s feet, listening to His word, worshipping Him in sorrow, and now she shows the love she has for Him with costly and precious ointment. "While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof" (Song 1.12).

The discordant voice of Judas Iscariot, criticising Mary and suggesting that the ointment should rather have been "sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor", sounds hypocritical and hollow when John tells us that he was a thief, and no doubt desired some of the money for himself. Other disciples unwisely also joined in his criticism of Mary. We should always be careful lest unthinkingly we are led astray by others whose motives may not be pure (Mt 26.8,9; Mk 14.4,5).

It was a good thing that Mary did. The Lord Jesus had prepared His disciples for His betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection, but Mary had a special purpose in honouring the Lord in the way she did. The Lord commended her: "She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying". In answer to Judas’ criticism He replied that her testimony would be spoken of wheresover the gospel would be preached (Mk 14.8,9).

The myrrh and aloes brought by Joseph and Nicodemus would anoint the Saviour’s dead body. The sweet spices prepared by the women who went early to the tomb, would not need to be used (Mk 16.1; Lk 24.1,2). Mary showed her love for the Lord Jesus at an appropriate time, and we too can show our devotion to Him, making it "an odour of a sweet smell", acceptable, well-pleasing to God in sacrificial service in the preaching of the gospel and ministry to the saints (2 Cor 2.14-17; Phil 4.18).

Abiding memories

When the time came for the Lord to return to the Father, He took the disciples to Bethany, and blessed them and so was parted from them (Lk 24.50-53). Our Lord’s ascension is one of the great Bible doctrines. When He ascended He gave gifts unto men for the edifying of the church; it is to Him in heaven we now look, and by faith we see Him there as our ascended Lord, Great High Priest, and Advocate. It is from heaven He will return.

The village of Bethany as it was in our Lord’s time is no more. Near its site, but a little further down the Mount of Olives, is a place called El-Azariayeh. Here travellers are shown what are claimed to be the grave of Lazarus, the ruins of the house of Simon the leper, and even the place where our Lord is supposed to have met Martha and Mary, but all such claims must be treated with caution, and however venerable they are not authentic.

The place has changed, "How is the gold become dim" (Lam 4.1), but so it is with churches and Christian led organisations. Generations come and go, and the faith of the fathers is not always seen in their children. Gradually the hold on precious teaching and godly traditions are relaxed, and then let slip. Opposition and false teaching and human inadequacy have always beset the church. The seeds of these things are even seen in the New Testament times, and the apostles warned of them.

The true importance of Bethany is not as it is now, but as it was. Here our Lord was welcomed, honoured, and loved, and so it remains an abiding encouragement to us still.

We join in thought yon favoured band,
Behold Him cleave the sky
Triumphant go to God’s right hand,
From Bethany.

(Douglas Russell)



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