The Lord in the Midst (2)

"Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom He raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. 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" (John 12:1-3).

Every heart that loves the Lord delights in this happy scene. The Lord is here, supreme in the affections of Martha and Mary and Lazarus, and they, united in one, not only by their family love but more than all in their love for Him, make Him a Supper. Each of them had a part in it, but it was a united effort. Doubtless they had talked about it and made preparation for it. It was a great day for them for they were to entertain their Lord, the Son of God; the Supper was in His honour. Now the hour has come, and they fall into their proper places at the feast in self-forgetting and harmonious devotion to Him. It is a beautiful expression of what the Christian assembly should be, the Lord in the midst, the supreme object of its service and adoration.

But this bit of heaven on earth was reached through chapter 11. It was the outcome of a wonderful experience. These three had learnt what the Lord could be to them in the most testing of circumstances, when death had invaded and broken up their family circle. He had come to them in their sorrow and wept with them there. They learnt the greatness of His power, but first He showed them the love of His heart. Power never yet won a heart, it is only love that can do that, and He was after their hearts, as He is after yours and mine, nothing will satisfy Him but the full possession of our hearts. Consider Him; He wept with those sisters as they wept for their brother. How great must have been His sympathy that made Him weep, and how wonderful His tears and most of all the love behind those tears. Even the Jews were compelled to exclaim, "Behold how He loved him."

The difference between chapter 11 and chapter 12 is clear. In chapter 11 the Lord is there for the sakes of those whom He loved, to succour and serve them, they are the objects of His sympathy and solicitude; it is their circle and their need of Him in it. But in chapter 12 He is the object of their affection and adoration; it is their response of love to His great love for them. They yield to Him that that only is His due, yet what a joy it is to Him in a world of treachery and hatred, and at a time when the leaders of the Jews were plotting to kill Him.

He had been much to Martha and Mary and Lazarus 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 the Christ, the Son of God, the Resurrection and the Life, the Sun and Centre of the souls.

There is no anger in Martha's heart at the part her sister takes; in the realised presence of the Lord jealousy has no place. She is serving the Lord. This is her part in the harmony of the Supper. With what reverence, with what holy awe, and yet with singing in her heart Martha moves about her house, hands and feet and every movement in unison with the song within her heart. As an indispensable member of a devoted circle she ministers to the Lord of their substance.

And Lazarus who sat with Him at meat, had seen all earthly things fade from his vision as his eyes were closed in death, had felt the breaking of all earthly ties as he passed out of time into eternity, but 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 the 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 he might be 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. No words can describe the blessed communion between the silent Lazarus and his Lord.

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 awhile from corruption; she had KEPT it, mark that word, "Against the day of My burying hath she kept this, " saith 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 pour 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 is more than the King of Israel; and as the truth as to who He is grows in its glory on her soul, she bows in adoration at His feet and pours 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.

There was no place for Christ in the ritual and formality of the Temple services, but He was given the chief place in the home at Bethany, and as long as that supper lasted all was for Him. He was supreme there, and in that holy scene, until spoilt by the intrusion of the traitor, we have a pattern of the assembling together of the saints of God to meet the Lord (Matt. 18:20). If the true meaning of this dawns upon the soul how great is the effect of it; nothing can compare with it in honour and privilege and solemnity. What preparation of heart there will be for that meeting, and then a Spirit-controlled ministry of praise to Him (Acts 13:2), which was Martha's part; which will deepen into communion with Him as His companions (Heb. 1:9), which was the part of Lazarus, and move on to that full and blessed adoration and worship, which Mary's part illustrates. Mary anointed Him for His burying. She anticipated His death; the blood-bought assembly of God looks back to it, and knowing the Lord as "Him that liveth and was dead, " but is now alive for evermore, there rings through its praise and worship a triumph and a joy that was impossible in Mary's case.

Of course the devil would spoil it; there is nothing he hates more than that Christ should be honoured, so the traitor brought in the discord when the whole house was filled with the fragrance of Mary's ointment. To this day the same devil is active to rob the Lord of what is most for His honour, and how easily he can deceive even the most intelligent Christians; they have their theories and favourite doctrines, their prejudices and principles, and these assume such proportions in their minds that the Lord in the midst is lost sight of with the certain result — controversy and strife, and spiritual dearth and death. There is a sore need for recovery to this great truth of the Lord in the midst of two or three gathered to His Name — not gathered on this ground or that, to these principles or those, or even on "Scriptural lines" as is sometimes said, for that may be dull formality, but "Unto His Name" — Himself; the heart and mind engaged with Him. It may be that the consideration of the way that these blessedly united three at Bethany made a supper for the Lord may help towards this recovery. The Lord grant it for His Name's sake.