Bethany, a small village situated on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, is remembered by believers as the place where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived (John 11:1). This little family provided hospitality for the Lord and those with Him on a number of occasions.
Loving and Learning (Luke 10:38-42)
In verse 38 we read that Martha received the Lord into her house, where Mary sat at His feet, “and heard His word” (v 39). We learn from the Scriptures that Mary was of a contemplative, meditative disposition, and we see her at His feet, occupied alone with Him, thinking of nothing else. Those believers who are most Christ-like are most aware of their unworthiness. Paul spoke of himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15), and “less that the least of all saints” (Eph 3:8). In the same way, Mary, feeling her unworthiness, always took the humble and lowly position before the Lord. She is always seen at His feet.
Martha had a different temperament. She was active, busy, anxious, and impulsive. We are told very little about Lazarus; he was probably quiet and reserved. These three believers were of very different temperaments, and the Lord loved each one of them (John 11:5). Those of us who have been saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are different from each other. We serve Him in different ways, and He loves each one of us (Gal 2:20).
While Mary sat at the Lords feet, Martha was busy preparing and serving a meal. When she complained to the Lord that Mary was not helping her (v 40), the Lord began His reply by saying “Martha, Martha” (v 41). This repetition of her name contained a gentle, loving rebuke. Martha was worried and over-anxious about the necessary, but secondary, things she had chosen to be involved in, and was missing what was of the first importance – being involved with and learning of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Lord then spoke those well known words: “One thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (v 42).
Mary was “swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19). Her teachable, meek, quiet spirit was happy and content learning from Him and of Him. This was the “good part” she had chosen. We need to order our priorities carefully and ensure that our involvement in activities, even in what we might call the “Lords work,” does not come between us and the Lord. We can be so active that we spend less time feeding on the Word of God, in prayer, and meditations. In consequence, we do not enjoy communion with the Lord and we suffer spiritually.
Being Loved and Comforted (John 11:1-46)
When Lazarus was taken ill, the sisters sent to the Lord saying, “Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick” (v 3). The Lord knew, of course, that Lazarus would die and that He would raise him again from the dead for the glory of God, so that He, the Son of God, might be glorified (v 4).
By the time the Lord and His disciples came to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days (v17). As soon as Martha heard that the Lord was coming she went to meet Him, “but Mary sat still in the house” (v 20). During her conversation with the Lord, Martha made the wonderful statement: “I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (v 27). Martha then went back to Mary to tell her that the Lord wanted her, and immediately Mary obeyed, “arose quickly, and came unto Him” (v 29). When Mary saw Him, she, in her need, love, and adoration, fell at His feet and said the same as her sister had said: “Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (vv 21,32). Martha had added to this, “But I know, that even now, whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee” (v 22). Both sisters had great faith.
The sight of grief and sadness all brought about by the ravages of sin, caused the Lord to reveal His perfect, sinless, holy, humanity and His sympathy and sensitivity, for we read, “Jesus wept”(v 35). At the grave of Lazarus the Lord cried, “Lazarus, come forth” (v 43), and he that had been dead four days came forth, raised from the dead by the infinite power of God. Once again, we have seen Mary at the feet of the Savior, in the position of reverence and submission, and there she found love, comfort, sympathy, and consolation.
Loving and Worshiping (John 12:1-9)
Six days before the Passover, the Lord came to Bethany and there they made Him a supper (vv 1,2). Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were there, and so was Judas Iscariot. Martha, the woman of great faith and spiritual insight, who loved her Lord, served. Lazarus, a living witness to the power of God, sat at the table with Him, enjoying fellowship with the Lord he loved.
Mary was at the feet of the Lord. She was once again near to Him, and this time she was worshiping her beloved Lord. Mary gave Him her best, for she took “a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus” (v 3). In her love and devotion, Mary was at His feet in a humble position, engaged in the highest and noblest activity in which a human being can, by grace, be engaged: worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ. She anointed the Lords feet with the costly ointment so liberally that she had to wipe His feet with her hair and the odor of the ointment filled the house. Marys worship was a sweet odor to the Lord and to those who loved Him.
Judas Iscariot objected to Marys action and said, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (v 5). The Lord rebuked Judas saying, “Let her alone: against the day of My burying hath she kept this.” Mary, who had sat at His feet to learn and be comforted, displayed her love and adoration in worship. This must have brought great pleasure to the Lord, even as He anticipated the awfulness of the crucifixion He was soon to experience.
A study of Mary of Bethany provides help and guidance for all of us. It is when we get our priorities right that the greatest blessing will come. We must distinguish what is vital from what is of secondary importance. When we keep close to the Lord, learning of Him from His Word and being comforted and strengthened by Him, then we shall be able to render true, reverential worship from hearts full of love.