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“Bethany – The Lord’s Thought For His Assembly” by T. Austin-Sparks, Part 2

Bethany – The Lord’s Thought For His Assembly
by T. Austin-Sparks

Part 2

PRECIOUS OINTMENT POURED FORTH

Now we turn for the fourth thing to Matthew 26:6-13. It is the same village, and now the woman with her “alabaster cruse of exceeding precious ointment”. The incident speaks to us in the first instance of the recognition of the worth of the Lord Jesus. The recognition of the worth of the Lord Jesus. All who looked on, as good as said: ‘He is not worth it’; that is what it amounted to. ‘He is not worth it.’ Of course they would not have put it like that. She recognised His worth – that He was worth the ‘exceeding preciousness’. It was the exceeding preciousness of Christ that was in view here, as something recognised. That, I think, is the main feature. It is a feature of Bethany, it is a feature of the upper room, it is a feature of “My church”. It is a feature of the Lord’s assembly, it is a feature of the people who are after His own heart: the recognition of His exceeding preciousness, His exceeding worth; that there is nothing too costly to lay at His feet. “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious (is the preciousness)” (1 Pet. 2:7).

Now, that is very simple, and yet again it is a thing that draws forth the deep appreciation of the Lord Jesus. It is again a thing which gives feature to a very much beloved village. In other words it is a thing which makes His assembly of great value to Him, that there His worth is recognised, and He is appreciated and appraised at His true value. That must mark the house of the Lord. It is a feature that must be developed more and more. It is a thing to which we must attend, that we have a ready and an ever-growing recognition of the preciousness and worth of the Lord Jesus. Oh, how different this is from the merely formal church system! We can hardly say that the outstanding feature of that is a true heart-appreciation of the worth and of the value of the Lord Jesus. Where that appreciation is, you have the assembly; where it is not, whatever else you may have of ornate and elaborate presentation, you have not got the assembly, it is not the place of His delight.

I think I see something else here. The brokenness of the cruse brings out into expression the preciousness of the ointment. It is the ‘vessel of fragile clay’ which, being broken, makes possible the manifestation and expression of the glories of Christ. While that cruse is whole, strong, and sound in itself, something which you would look at and take account of in itself; something that would cause you to say: ‘That is a beautiful vase, that is a wonderful piece of alabaster’; – you are not getting at the secret. We may take account of men, as splendid intellects, splendid men, wonderful preachers and so on – be occupied with the vase, the cruse – and the other be sealed, be hidden; but when the cruse is broken, shattered, then you get at the tabernacle secret of the glory of Christ.

You see it in Paul. I suppose Saul of Tarsus was a wonderful bit of alabaster intellectually, morally, religiously. He tells us that he was; he tells us all that he was, all that he gloried in and that men looked at and no doubt praised; but he was smashed and it is no longer Saul, and it is no longer Paul, but it is the beauty and glory of Christ. The fragrance of Christ comes out when the cruse is broken.

And, beloved, it is just like that in our experience. The Church, the true Church, has been allowed to be shattered, and shattered again, and the members individually are so often allowed to be broken and broken again; but has it not proved through history that, for the Church and for the individual, the breaking, the shattering, the smashing, has brought about an expression of the glories of Christ in a wonderful way? It is just like that. We go through a new experience of being broken – we put it in other ways sometimes and say we are being brought more deeply into the death of Christ, coming into a fresh experience of the Cross: however we may put it, it means breaking, it means the breaking of the cruse – but believe me, beloved, it means a fuller expression and knowledge of the glory of Christ, and it will bring us to a new appreciation of Him. We shall discover Him in the time of our brokenness. And in the same way the Church passes through the way of the Cross, but comes by the breaking to the worth of the Lord Jesus.

THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION

We pass to John and the well-known chapter 11. Here is Bethany again in view, and this time it is the raising of Lazarus which comes before us. We will not go through the whole story and take its details, but simply come swiftly to its one conclusion at the end. Bethany, in this instance, becomes the scene, the sphere, of the manifestation of resurrection power, resurrection life. There are many other things here. There is a wonderful expression of love; there is a wonderful expression of fellowship here in this chapter. Far away from Bethany the Lord said to His disciples: “Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep”. “Our friend”; not “My friend”, but “our friend”. You see, it is fellowship. “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” It is love. All these are features of Bethany; but the outstanding feature here is the manifestation of His resurrection, the power of His resurrection, resurrection life.

And here again Bethany is an illustration of the Church that He is building. We know this from Ephesians, the ‘Church Epistle’, as we call it. We very soon come to our being “quickened… together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5). The Church is the vessel in which the power of His resurrection is displayed; and here again we not only testify to the fact, to the doctrine, but we have to apply the test, that the assembly according to the mind of the Lord is that in which His resurrection power and life are displayed.

Now, I know, when things like that are said, so often there is that vacant feeling that remains: ‘Yes, we know it ought to be so, just as we ought to be crucified with Christ; we know we ought to be risen with Christ, and it is quite true that we ought to know the power of His resurrection, and His resurrection life’. That is said again and again, but we leave it there. The point is: how is it to be?

Now, we have to recognise that the Lord has brought His Church into being for the specific purpose of displaying the power of His resurrection, and we should dedicate ourselves unto the Lord for that very end. That is the way: in recognising that the object, the very object of our being in that Church, of that Body, is that He might display in us His resurrection power and life. We, recognising that, have a definite understanding with our Lord that we are consecrated to Him; now our responsibility ends there, if it is from our hearts, and the Lord will begin His work.

We shall not be able to raise ourselves any more than we can crucify ourselves, but we must recognise that the Lord’s dealings with us are with that in view. In order to display the power of His resurrection, He will very often have to take the attitude toward us of letting things get well beyond all human power to remedy or save, of allowing things to go so far that there is no other power in all the universe that can do anything whatever to save the situation. He will allow death, disintegration, to work, so that nothing, nothing in the universe is of any avail, except the power of His resurrection.

We shall come to the place where Abraham came, who became the great type of faith which moved right into resurrection: “He considered his own body now as good as dead” (Rom. 4:19). That is the phrase used by the apostle about Abraham: “as good as dead”. And Paul came into that: “We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). Whatever else men may be able to do in the realm of creation, they stop short when death has actually taken place; they can do no more. Resurrection is God’s act, and God’s alone. Men can do very many things when they have got life, but when there is no life it is only God who can do anything. And God will allow His Church and its members oft-times to get into such situations as are altogether beyond human help, in order that He may give the display, which is His own display, in which no man has any place to glory.

So said the Lord Jesus: “This sickness is not unto death, but for THE GLORY OF GOD, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” Glorified! We have dedicated ourselves to that course of things – that is, we have dedicated ourselves to a line of human despair; but how slow we are to accept it in its outworking. When things get to a desperate situation, we kick so much and think that all has gone wrong. It may be just going right for the Lord! Oh, yes, it is desperate; that consideration does not take away from the desperateness of it, the awfulness of it; but if it is going to provide the Lord with His supreme opportunity to raise His pre-eminent testimony, then it is right – that is, it will be right in its issue.

When at last, in eternity, we read the story of the Church, which is His Body, and see all that it really did come through, we shall have to confess that no human institution, no man-made thing, could have survived, could have gone through that which the saints went through. When it is understood in the light of eternity and appraised by true spiritual standards, we shall say that none but God Almighty could have achieved that, could have brought it through: that it has undoubtedly become the vehicle of the expression of “the exceeding greatness of his power” (Eph. 1.19); and that is to say a great deal. If “the exceeding greatness of his power” is necessary to this, well, that says much for what we have to be brought out of, doesn’t it? If “the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25), what must “the exceeding greatness of his power” represent?

Well, that is in resurrection; as you know, the words are connected with that: “the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead” (Eph. 1:19,20). That is “to us-ward who believe”. Now the Church, the Bethany testimony, is to be a testimony to the power of His resurrection, and if His methods with us are making that necessary, then let us take encouragement and comfort from the fact that we are thus to be a true expression of what He desires of His Church.

CELEBRATING HIS VICTORY

We pass from chapter 11 of John to chapter 12. “Jesus therefore six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus raised from the dead. So they made him a supper there: and Martha served” (evidently she had not gathered, from the Lord’s words to her, that service was wrong; she is still serving – it is all right now); “but Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat with him. Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of spikenard, very precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.”

Here we have the feast, and the feast has several elements. One, represented by Mary and her action, speaks of worship. Once again, it is the appreciation of Christ that is in view. That is worship. Worship – according to God’s thought – is always simply the appreciation of the Lord Jesus; bringing up before God the sweet odour of a heart-appreciation of His Son. That may sound simple, but worship in its purest essence is what we think of the Lord Jesus, expressed to the Father. That is worship. The assembly is for that. Bethany speaks of that.

Martha – yes, Martha served. But it is adjusted service. She is still serving, but it is all right; there is no rebuke now. There is no circling round of her face with anxiety now; she is not drawn around with care: she is serving in a resurrection house. Here is adjusted service, and service in the Lord’s house is quite according to His mind when the service is in fellowship with, and in right proportion to, the worship. There is an adjustment between the sisters now, you see. They were disjointed before, because things were ill-proportioned and out of place; now the adjustment has been made and they are just getting on constantly together. It is adjusted service.

Lazarus sat at meat, and of course he is the principle of life, resurrection life. That, again, is a mark of the Lord’s spiritual house. So we have worship, adjusted service, resurrection life.

Yes, but there is always some sinister thing not far away: “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” When you get the assembly just as the Lord wants it you will always find that the Devil is lurking very near. That may be a compliment to the assembly, for anything that the Devil does not cast his eye on jealously will surely not be that which is satisfying the heart of the Lord. But it is always like that. Just begin to get something that is according to the Lord’s heart, and you find a sinister thing begin to circle round with a view to destroying that worship, to divert that appreciation of the Lord. It becomes a feature of the very assembly itself, that the Devil jealously casts his eyes upon what the Lord is getting, and would have that for himself.

You see, the Church is that which brings to the Lord Jesus what He ought to have, and from eternity the Devil has been out to rob him of that, and he will do it in the assembly if he can, because the assembly is that in which the Lord does get what His heart is set upon.

OUTWARD AND UPWARD

Now we close by noting the last thing in Luke 24:50-52.

“And he led them out until they were over against Bethany: and he lifted up his hand, 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.”

Three words: “led out”, “blessed”, “carried up”: out with the Lord, in His place apart; under His blessing; and linked with Him in heaven – to use Paul’s words, “made… to sit together with him in the heavenlies.”

That is Bethany, that is the Church, that is what the Lord wants to have in the life of His people today.

Go back over Bethany again and just allow your heart to exercise itself on these things, and seek very definitely that the Lord shall have in you just these features which are according to His own mind. And what we do individually, let us seek to do in those fellowships, those assemblies, with which we are connected, that they shall be true Bethanies, the village-expression of the great city of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem.

First published by Witness and Testimony Publishers 1933 in the form of a 28pp booklet

http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000422.html

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