WE READ IN JOHN 11. 55 that ‘the Jews’ Passover was nigh at hand’. It is interesting to note that this phrase not only identifies the time of year, i.e. it is not only a time marker, but also identifies what had gone wrong with the Passover celebrations. In early Old Testament days it is pointed out to us that it is the Lord’s Passover. Significant therefore that John should now describe it as the Jews’ Passover. Clearly there had been a deterioration of what the Lord had been pleased to associate Himself with. Presumably it had become formal and ritualistic with no spontaneous or heart-felt worship to God. It had been influenced by the shortcomings of those who kept it and it had now their characteristics. The description indicates the idea of departure from the original. We therefore need to take care today that the things that are the Lord’s do not become ours. For example, the Lord’s supper must never become the brethren’s supper, because, if it did, it would lose its heavenly aspect and character. The problem is of course the greater because the Jews did not realize the feast had so deteriorated. It took the Spirit of God to identify and highlight the problem.
At this time many of the Jews travelled up out of the country to go to Jerusalem to be there at the Passover and to worship. Significantly verse 56 tells us that, ‘Then sought they for Jesus’. These Jews recognized in themselves and in their formality a vacuum. They were like the Ethiopian eunuch who had not been fulfilled during his trip to Jerusalem. He too was seeking, and that gap in his heart was provided for when Philip preached unto him Jesus. So, today, many are engaged in religious activities and worship but in reality there is still a void in their lives. They seek to fill it, and in an undefined way are in fact seeking for Jesus. He alone can fill the empty heart and satisfy the longing soul. Jesus, however, could not be located. The Pharisees instructed that, ‘If any man knew where he were, he should shew if. While the common people seek for Jesus in one way or another the Christian has a unique opportunity to show them where He is. He is, of course, in glory. We can show that by our lives, our walk, our concern for others and by the things we say. All round us they seek; many try to hinder the search; we know where He is; let us show it!
The objective of the Pharisees was that they might take Him. They wanted to arrest Him and destroy Him. This is still true. Some seek for Him for help, forgiveness and fellowship; yet others seek to destroy and discredit.
At this time, ‘six days before the Passover (Jesus) came to Bethany’. This was a voluntary move on His part and He came because He wanted to come. In Chapter 11 He had been sent for; He had been invited. Now He comes because He himself wants to. Obviously Bethany was to Him an attractive place and so He moves into it. Chapter 11 tells us quite a lot about Bethany. It was a place that was, in spite of its sorrows and trials, for the glory of God and that the Son of God might be glorified, v. 4. It was a place where heavenly love resided, v. 5. It was a place of testing and trial, v. 6. It was a place of instruction, vv. 23-24. It was a place of appreciation and confession, v. 27. It was a place where the Lord’s voice was heard and responded to, vv. 28, 29. It was a place where the power of God was demonstrated, v. 44. To such a place the Lord resorts. Just a few in number may be there; insignificant in the world and yet comprising a fellowship where the Lord wants to be.
In Chapter 12, however, Bethany is described as the place where ‘Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead’. It was a place where both death and life were appreciated in full. In our Bethany experience we appreciate the death from which we have been delivered and the life into which we have been brought. They made Him supper and all were involved in it. Martha served, Lazarus sat at the table and Mary saved for herself a place in the annals of history by her act of worship. Mary anointed His feet with ointment and dried them with her hair. It is a beautiful scene of love, mutual appreciation and understanding. She did it in spite of criticism from those who had put their own value on her worship. They felt that things could have been done differently and better. No grandiose plan for the relief of poverty or for social benefit can take priority over the worship of Christ. However, that is not to say that they should not follow closely behind!
The Lord Jesus defends Mary’s action. He said, ‘Against the day of my burying hath she kept this’, v. 7. Apparently not against the day of His death but the day of His burying. In verse 8 He adds that opportunity for worship and service, unlike other daily opportunities, e.g. the poor, will not always be there. Consequently, when they are, we should take them. Had Mary decided that the ointment would keep till later it would have been too late. When the women went to the tomb, laden with ointments, they found that Jesus had risen from the dead. Had she not done it when she did she would never have done it! Let us therefore in Bethany and its environs identify opportunities for worship and service and let us seize them so that God might be glorified and we ourselves blessed in the exercise.