Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany. For the week that followed He would lodge at Bethany and it was during that week that the well-known lovely scene of John 12 took place. It is nice to think that on that day, in that home in Bethany, a long-standing desire of the heart of Jehovah was fully met.
Centuries earlier God had determined to deliver His people from Egypt. His word to Pharaoh was “Let my people go that they may serve me … Let My people go that they may hold a feast to Me … Let My people go that they may sacrifice to Me.” He wanted service, fellowship, and worship from His redeemed people.
Sadly, He never fully received from them that for which He had delivered them. They failed to serve as they should. They denied Him the fellowship which He desired. And they did not worship Him as a redeemed people ought to have done.
Now, at Bethany, a few hearts that loved Him made Him a supper. There were of course, others at the table enjoying what had been prepared but the supper was for Him. He was central at the table and all was primarily for His honor, for Him Who had raised Lazarus from the dead.
Martha the practical woman was busy in service. Maybe indeed she was too busy, so that she was distracted with much serving, but the Lord never complained. In another place He just tenderly said, “Martha. Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things” (Luke 10.41). But He must have appreciated her service to Him and to the others. How many dear brethren, and sisters, are like Martha, so busy in service, perhaps even wearied in it though never wearied of it as they faithfully serve Him Whom they love.
Lazarus never speaks. In all that we know of him, in all that has been recorded, there is never a word from him. But he was there, sitting in his place at the table, quietly enjoying the fellowship. Again, how many are like the quiet Lazarus, never heard, never vocal, but always there, enjoying the fellowship of the Savior and His people. Perhaps it would have been nice to hear something from Lazarus, as it would be good to hear the voices of many dear brethren who sit quietly, always present at the meetings but never partaking audibly.
Mary is there too, and what an example she gives us. “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 odor of the ointment.” Spikenard was pure liquid nard, unadulterated. Sometimes men blended the nard with lesser expensive balsams to reduce the cost. Mary’s spikenard was pure. It was costly. It was precious, and the fragrance filled not only the room but the house. So it is with worship. It may cost something in preparation. It may be “the sacrifice of praise” (Heb 13:15). But He appreciates it.
So then it is in the house at Bethany that the Lord Jesus is enjoying that which Jehovah had long ago desired, service, fellowship, and worship.
It is often pointed out that Mary of Bethany is always at the Savior’s feet. She is at His feet in Luke 10, in John 11, and again in John 12. In Luke 10 she is learning; in John 11 she is weeping; in John 12 she is worshipping. She is learning at the feet of the Prophet. She is weeping at the feet of the Priest. She is worshiping at the feet of the King. How well Mary knew the Lord and how much He appreciated her devotion.
“Let her alone,” He said, when others criticized her. Mary knew more than many of them. She had sat at His feet, quietly listening and learning and she realized that He was indeed going to die. She had that costly pound of spikenard reserved for Him, for the day of His burial. But as she continued to listen she seemed to grasp that He would indeed rise again. In that case He would not really need her embalming ointment. But she would not be cheated out of her intention to pour it upon Him. She had kept it for that purpose. Why did she not pour it upon her brother Lazarus when he died? She was keeping it for Him Whom she loved even more than her brother.
So, if He would not need her spikenard in death, she would pour it upon Him now, while He lived, and so she did. It was worship indeed.
Now if the odor filled the room and the house, it must have clung to Mary herself. She was left fragrant with that which she had bestowed upon her Lord. So it is with worship. The sweetness of our exercise should stay with us as we move about among others.
Again, what a lovely thought that such was the potency of the precious spikenard that the garments of the Savior must have been fragrant with it too. We are told it lingered for days. Were His garments still fragrant with it when soldiers handled Him so cruelly and irreverently stripped Him of His clothing? And when they finally gambled for His raiment did those men, who divided the garments among themselves, carry away that which even then smelled of Mary’s worship?
Who can tell the end of true worship? Worship is, in the words of Mr. Darby, “The honor and adoration rendered to God for what He is in Himself, and for what He means to those who render it.” May our assemblies be truly like Bethany, with service, fellowship, and worship for Him Whom we love.
It is perhaps not to be wondered at that when the time came for our Lord to leave earth and return to glory, “He led them out as far as to Bethany.” He would return to the heavens from the little place which had made room for Him on earth when so many others had rejected Him. “And He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:50-53). It had been a long pathway from Bethlehem to Bethany, but it was a perfect pathway for He was a Perfect Man.