Our Circle and the Lord's

John 2:1-11, 12:1-8

There are two spheres of life in which we may know and serve the Lord; they are the natural and the spiritual. In the natural sphere we are in relationships which have been ordained by God the Creator, and it is very blessed when He is acknowledged in these. When He is, we may experience and prove the interest and mercy and grace of our Lord in them, and they may yield much comfort and blessing to us and glory to Him. Now while what is spiritual should pervade and give character to the natural sphere of life, there is the spiritual sphere into which what is of nature does not enter, it is the sphere where Christ in His own blessedness is everything, and if we are in it, it is for His pleasure. We get a glimpse of the natural sphere in John 2 and of the spiritual in John 12.

John's Gospel is the Gospel of the glory of the Son, and one of the first things revealed to us in it concerning Him is that He is the Word, the Creator of everything that was made. We learn also that He is divinely interested in the works of His hands, for He became flesh and dwelt among us This is a great mystery, for there was no desire on the part of the world that He should come, and when He did come it did not know Him, but this did not change Ham, He came full of grace and truth to take men as He found them and bless them where they were. He was not coldly distant from their joys and sorrows, their laughter and their tears, for this Gospel of John shows Him to us rejoicing at a marriage and weeping at a closed grave, the brightest and the darkest moments in domestic life.

He was the Creator who at the beginning had created the marriage relationship as the crowning work of His creation, and now, though He had come to bring in a new creation that would not be marred by sin as the first had been, He did not brush aside the first as being beneath His notice, but He accepted the call to the marriage of His friends in Cana in Galilee, and there He manifested forth His glory by His first miracle.

Marriage is the beginning of domestic life, and I want to urge that it has the Lord's sanction and that His presence may be known in the Christian home. It is in relation to the everyday home life that we read, "He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Heb. 13). These God-ordained relationships in the natural sphere are being more and more despised in the world as godlessness increases, but it must not be so with us who desire to walk in the fear of God all the day long. Husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters: all these relationships may be sanctified by the Word of God and prayer to our blessing and God's glory; on the other hand, to be without natural affection and disobedience to parents are signs of the last days and of the steep descent that men are making into irretrievable apostasy.

They were not great or rich, this couple that called Jesus to their marriage; indeed the fact that they had no wine would indicate that they were very poor, but Jesus was the Friend of the poor, and He is the Friend of the poor today, for what He was yesterday He is today and will be for ever. Oh that His servants would proclaim this fact with greater zeal and persistency. It was never more needed than now, for the needs of the poor were never greater, and they are so easily deceived and so ready to lend eager ears to those who make promises to them that they can never fulfil. Jesus came to preach the gospel to the poor, and the gospel will not deceive them; it is the revelation of the heart of God.

This bridegroom and bride though poor, and though the ruler of the feast that they had appointed was a man without resources, were highly favoured people, for with Jesus at their feast they wanted nothing. Their Guest became the Servant of their need and He raised the joy of their marriage day to a level they could not have known if He hid not been there. How blessed it is for us to see the first shining of His glory and to learn the heart that was in Him. He who, as I have read somewhere, had refused to turn stones into bread to appease His own hunger turns water into wine to give perfection to the marriage feast of His humble friends.

We should learn from the story that man on his best day is not sufficient for himself, but that the Lord, who is the Creator, is a faithful Creator, and rejoices with His creatures in their joys and pities them in their needs and delights to meet their needs when He is permitted. We who have confessed Him as our Saviour and Lord cannot do without Him in any sphere of life. He is indispensable, but all-sufficient. Let us not fail to acknowledge Him and to do His will and not mar our enjoyment of His good gifts by selfishly living unto ourselves.

Great as are His mercies to us in the natural sphere of life, sooner or later it will be invaded by death and broken up, and what then? Then we find that our Lord can be with us in our sorrow with the same grace as He was with us in our joy. He does not withdraw Himself from us in our adversities. We learn this from chapter 11 of our Gospel. He came to the sisters where they were and He wept with them there. They were to learn the greatness of His power, but He would show them first the deep compassion of His heart, for power never won a heart, it is only love that does that. How great must have been His sorrow and bow wonderful His tears when the Jews exclaimed, "Behold how He loved him"; but Martha and Mary were embraced in that love, and He made it manifest in the circle of their sorrow, that He might draw them into His own circle, as He did in chapter 12.

It is easy to see the difference between John 2 and 12. In John 2 the Lord was there for the sake of His friends, He was there to serve them and to bless and enrich them, and what a failure that marriage feast would have been if He had not been there. In chapter 12 His friends were there for His sake, the feast was not for them but for Him, He was supreme in that hallowed circle. I speak not of His disciples — poor dull clods they were in spite of all His love and patience, and loved not the less by Him for all their dullness — but of Martha and Lazarus and Mary. He had been much to them before, but now He is everything. Their Friend He had been, one in whose affectionate interest they had confided, but now He exceeds all that — He is to them the Christ, the Son of God, the Resurrection and the Life, and more. There is no anger in Martha's heart at her sister's apparent idleness, there is no complaining upon her lips. She is serving her Lord, ministering to Him whose love she had perceived in His tears, who had turned her deep sorrow into triumph and was greater than the power of death. With what reverence, with what holy awe, and yet with singing in her heart would Martha move about her house that day, hands and feet and every movement in harmony with the song within her heart.

And Lazarus who sat with Him at meat, who had seen all earthly thing fade from his vision as his eyes were closed in death, who had felt the breaking of all earthly ties as he passed out of time into eternity, but who had been called back from the silence of the unseen world by the voice of Him by whose side he sat. What a bond there must have been between the Lord and Lazarus, between the Life- giver and this risen man! Martha and Mary would not be less loved, but in that sacred hour, not ties of nature that must all be riven were strongest, but this tie that the hand of death cannot break. When Jesus raised up the little daughter of Jairus, He gave her back to her parents and we read of her no more; and when He raised the widow's son He gave him back to His mother, and that is the last we hear of him; but Lazarus was not raised up that his sisters might again possess him, but that be might he for the joy of his Lord, to give pleasure to His heart; he was raised for the glory of God and to be one of those that made a feast for Jesus and sat at meat with Him.

And Mary — none but the Spirit-taught can understand the part that Mary took. There were some there that had indignation among themselves when she poured her precious ointment on her Lord; they did not understand; but the fragrance of that act rose up to heaven, it rose up to the angel hosts, and beyond them to the very nostrils of the Father, and He will never forget it. I have dwelt upon that scene; in thought I have watched her glide into the inner chamber and bring forth from it that alabaster box of precious nard. She had not used it on herself, she had not used it on Lazarus, though it would surely have embalmed his body and kept it for a while from corruption; she had kept it, mark that word. "Against the day of My burying hath she kept this," said the Lord. She had kept it for her Lord, the most precious of all her possessions was for Him. She poured it on His head, so Matthew and Mark have told us; it is John who speaks of the anointing of His feet. Some blind critics have supposed a contradiction here, but there is none. I have watched her in thought put the precious ointment upon His head, for He was King, the King of Israel. It is thus that Matthew writes of Him; but He was the rejected King, unanointed, unowned by His people; but Mary said, "I will own Him. I will anoint Him." Ah, but He was more than the King of Israel; and as the truth as to who He was grew in its glory on her soul, she bowed in adoration at His feet and poured the residue of the ointment upon them. He was her Lord and her God. It was this, the climax of that great act that impressed itself on John, and he was inspired by the Holy Ghost to record what he saw.

What a foreshadowing was this of what was to be, of what is now wherever there is true love to Christ and intelligence as to His desires, for He delights to gather His saints in His presence and have them minister to Him. They may serve Him and commune with Him, and worship Him, as these three beloved saints did. He has His assemblies in the world, and if they are true to the high dignity that is put upon them, they will gather together to Himself and He will be supreme in their midst. There is no mysticism about this, it is a great reality and many have proved it so to be. It is the one thing that we should desire above all things, and the Lord's service to us in our circle of things is that we might reach this end. He serves us in our circumstances that He might relieve us of all anxious care about our needs that we might be free to minister to Him in His own circle.

Of the three, Mary was the most intelligent, she had sat at His feet and learnt of Him and she knew what was suitable on this occasion, though others found fault with her. She anointed Him for His burying. She knew that He was a rejected Christ, and that He was to pass out of the world by death. This fact would expose the world in its true character to her, but she clung to Him, and in thought and spirit she was outside the world with Him. He absorbed her and carried her affections to His own side, He was more to her than everything that she had prized.

And this should mark all His own whom He loves to the end, no matter how they treat Him. We fail of our highest privilege if we miss this, and we rob the Lord of that which is dearest of all to His heart, the response of love and worship from our hearts for His great love to us. We believe there is no occasion like the gathering together of the saints of God to eat the Lord's Supper for this, for it is there that we may respond to His request, "This do in remembrance of ME." We pray that we may understand its deep meaning better, and while we rejoice that the Lord delights to be with us in our circle of interests, may we not be satisfied with that, but seek in the simplicity of true affection to know the unspeakable blessedness of being with Him in His circle.