"Written Not With Ink"
by T. Austin-Sparks

Meeting 17 - Pictures of Bethany

2 March 1957, at Shanchunpoo, Taiwan.

Well, dear friends, it is very nice of you to say kind things, our friends had said that on the one side they were filled with joy, and on the other side they were filled with trembling. I am afraid that I am put into that position now. He has referred to Job; Job was full of hope and expectation when he heard by the hearing of the ears, but when his eyes saw the Lord, he was more filled with fear. My fear and trembling is that the report made is probably better than what you hear; perhaps it would be better for you to go on expecting! However, we trust the Lord in that problem and we are very glad to come and look in on you as we go on, and to greet you in the name of the Lord, and we are very happy to see this very lovely building you have.

Now I am just going to turn you to the Word for a minute in the Gospel by Luke, chapter 24 and verse 50, "And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted 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 worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy." 

Now one thing has been on my mind as I have gone from place to place, especially in this city in Taiwan. I have noticed that you have called all your assemblies by number. This is number 1, and that is number 2, and the next is number 3; so you go round calling them all by number. I have wondered why you haven't called them by names. Perhaps this is not a new idea, although I rather think that the brothers have never thought of it, so if it is a new idea, I pass it on to you. I think it would be a good thing to call this assembly by a name; and if you will accept it, I will call you by the name "Bethany". I don't know if you will put that name outside, but whether you take the name or not, I do hope you will take the meaning and that you will be able to really call yourselves "Bethany" and everyone who knows you will be able to call you by the name "Bethany". The words that we have just read are the last picture of four pictures of Bethany in the New Testament.

1. Giving Place to the Heavenly

You will probably remember the first time that we meet Bethany. Jesus and His disciples came to Bethany where Martha and her sister Mary lived. It says that Martha was troubled with many dishes. Of course, it does not put it like that in your translation, but that is in the original text. She was troubled with many dishes, but Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to Him. Now, some people think that the Lord rebuked Martha because she was concerned about the love feast that she was making for Jesus and His disciples. Of course that was not true. The Lord said, "You, Martha, are troubled with many dishes. Now Martha, we have only got a little time and just one simple dish is enough. One thing is needed and Mary has chosen the better part."

Well, here we have the first picture. You see Martha rebuke her sister Mary, or rather she asks the Lord Jesus to rebuke her. Well, our first lesson is this: The Lord Jesus does not want us to put a lot of earthly things in the way of heavenly things. He wants us to have just what is necessary of the earthly, but to give the large and important place to the heavenly. Don't be too much concerned about the things of this life, but be most concerned about the things of the Lord. That is really the first lesson of Bethany. Of course there is a lot more in it than that, so I say that if you are going to be Bethany, you must be a people who give a very large place to the heavens and whose main concern and interest is in spiritual things.

2. Knowing Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life

Our next picture of Bethany is rather a sad one. That is, it begins in a sad way and it ends in a joyful way. You will remember the story of the sickness and death of Lazarus and how difficult it was for them to understand the Lord Jesus. He was some miles away and the sisters sent a message to Him. The message was: "He whom Thou lovest is sick." They thought that the Lord only had to know that Lazarus was sick, and He would come. They did not even ask Him to come, they were quite sure that He knew of their trouble and He would come. But Jesus did not hurry to them. We are told that when He heard the news, He tarried in the place where He was for four days, and during that time, Lazarus died.

Well, you know the rest of the story. Martha and Mary did not understand the Lord, but the Lord knew what He was doing. He deliberately allowed Lazarus to die in order that they might make a great discovery about Him. These people had got to know the Lord Jesus in the greatest way in which He can be known. In the sorrow that the Lord Jesus allowed to come to them, He was hiding the greatest blessing that they could know. He was leading them by a very dark way in order that they might come to new light. They could not understand Him for the time being, but I am quite sure that after it was all over, Martha and Mary said, "Well now, we are glad that He didn't come when we sent for Him! Now we are very glad that He did not prevent our suffering. The blessing that we have come into has justified it all. We did not understand what the Lord understood. He had a wisdom far deeper than our wisdom." You know that they came to know the Lord Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life. There is no greater way of knowing the Lord Jesus than to know Him in your own experience as the Resurrection and the Life.

Take the lesson from the second picture now: The Lord may lead you through difficult ways. That is a part of the story of Bethany. Do not think that because the Lord loves you He will never allow difficulty to come to you. It says quite definitely that the Lord loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. The difficulties that He allowed to come to them were not because He did not love them, but because He did love them! And if difficulties come to you, do try to remember that it is not because the Lord does not love you; it may be because the Lord is wanting to bring you into a fuller experience of Himself. That is the way in which Bethany is made.

3. Being a Place Where All is Poured Out

Well, the third picture at Bethany... they made Him a feast. Lazarus has been raised from the dead and so they are having a love feast; a love feast for the Master and the disciples. Martha and Mary are there, and Lazarus is alive and sitting at the table with them. It is a love feast on the ground of resurrection. It is a feast upon the ground of Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life. Now, Martha is still serving. It definitely said that Martha served, but the Lord does not rebuke her this time. She is still serving, and it is a service now that has been cleansed and purified and brought off of earthly ground and onto heavenly ground; off the ground of death, and onto the ground of Life. It is not wrong to be in service, but it is important that our service should be on the ground of heaven and not on the ground of earth, on the ground of Life and not on the ground of death.

Well, this is the third picture of Bethany, but you remember something happened then. Someone thought of something. They thought of a very precious vase of ointment. They had this in the house and they thought, "We must pour this on the Master's feet" and so they broke the vase and poured the ointment on the feet of the Master. Of course, it was Mary that was doing that. But something sprang out in their midst that was very unhappy. Judas said, "Why was not this ointment sold and given to the poor?" This seemed to be a cloud coming over their happy faces. Well, we know who Judas was, don't we? The Lord Jesus made it very clear who Judas was. Judas was one whose life was governed by Satan. He was a child of Satan and Satan does not love the worship of the Lord Jesus. You see, this was an act of worship.

That third picture of Bethany is the picture of becoming a place of worship where everything is poured out at the feet of the Master. This is the meaning of worship; we pour out everything at the feet of the Master, the most precious thing that we have, and we put it upon the feet of the Master. We said He is worthy of the best that we have, but Satan does not like that and he tried to spoil the love feast. He would take away from the Lord Jesus rather than give to Him.

Now if you are going to be a Bethany, it must be the place where everything is poured at the feet of Jesus and be seated at the feet of the Lord Jesus; the place of true worship. Do remember that you will always have an enemy, one who tries to rob the Lord Jesus of what He would have; one who would try to spoil your love feast by bringing in a question.

4. Being Filled With Joy

Now we come to this last picture. I like to see how the story finishes, here is a story in four parts. I like to think that the last place on the earth that Jesus visited was Bethany. "And He led them out until they were over against Bethany: and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy..." They returned to Jerusalem rejoicing. The last word about Bethany is "rejoicing". Rejoicing in a risen and ascended Lord. If you think about it for a moment, this is rather wonderful.

Just think how much the Lord Jesus had meant to them at Bethany... They had said, "Lord, if only You had been here, our brother would not have died." And then when He raised Lazarus, how much He meant to them! They made Him this love feast. What a grand time they were having with the Lord there and now He was gone. They ought to be weeping; they ought to be feeling very sad for themselves. "Well, we have had a wonderful time and now He is gone. Perhaps we will never see Him again. What are we going to do without Him?" Well, there is nothing of that. As He went from them they were filled with joy.

You see, Bethany is the place from which Jesus never departs. They had learned during the forty days after His resurrection that He was still continuing to appear to them; He was away, and yet He was present. They knew He might be there again at any moment. They had learnt that they had really not lost the Lord, and so they were filled with joy. They were able to say, "He may be back at any time!" and that is true. Dear friends, the Lord may be back any day. He has not really gone far away from us. He said, "I am with you all the days." He is with us! We cannot see Him and yet He is coming again and then we shall see Him. So the last word about Bethany is "filled with joy".

May these four things be true of you. First of all, that you give the most important place to heavenly things, then that you come through difficulty and trial to know Jesus in the fullest way in which He can be known as the Resurrection and the Life, and then you are at the place where everything is poured on His feet and on His head. You are the people who give everything of the best to the Lord Jesus, and then you are the people who are filled with joy, because you know He is near and He is coming again. Now I think that if I could write your Chinese language, I would go outside and write on the door "Bethany"!

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