Bethany and Heaven: Blessed by Christ and in Christ

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 11
From the very beginning there have been (so to speak) stepping-stones in the ways and acts of God, unfolding Himself and bestowing blessing according to the purpose and delight of His own heart. True, the purpose before time, and the promise in time, most assuredly contain the very kernel of His intention in its consummate blessedness. Yet what a period with His marvelous dealings came between the prophecy of the woman's Seed, and the time when the angels celebrated His birth! No less for the promise made to Abram and the time when His seed, and all families of the earth should be blessed. Yea, how much did and will happen that is profitable to trace, before the heavens and the earth with their redeemed companies will celebrate the praises and glories of Him, of Whom it was said at His lowly birth, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good pleasure in men!” So too respecting salvation, in purpose and results, how great the distance, from God's eternal purpose in Christ Jesus before time began, to present enjoyed salvation, as well as eternal glory with Him, when time shall be no more! It is in this way that the twofold character of blessing in relation to Christ and His own so sweetly unfolds ways of love and grace, when the position and action of Christ at Bethany is seen, and the new place of His own in Him in heaven is declared.
It was in the city of Jerusalem that the guilt of man completed itself by killing God's Son; and there too in matchless grace the risen Savior would have the tidings of repentance and remission of sins first preached. But His last act on earth was reserved for the favored and loved spot, Bethany, where it is written of Him and His disciples, “He led them out as far as to Bethany; and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them; and it came to pass while He blessed them, He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.” This departing act is recorded of Him, Who had so many times been refreshed by the loving hearts at Bethany, where He deigned to accept a welcome retreat, whilst in His own city He had nothing but scorn, contempt, and hatred. But how much had happened, between the uplifted hands of the departing One, and the recorded scenes and circumstances at Bethany! There Martha received Him into her house, where He so blessedly adjusted the place and value of her hospitality, as well as Mary's better choice of sitting at His feet and receiving His words, which He declared to be the “one thing needful.” Thus the perfect Teacher put His divine estimate on the precious word, so intimately associated with Himself, and pronounced the lowly place at His feet, more blessed than entertaining Him.
This lesson as to the mind of Christ speaks loudly to-day, showing the importance of being filled with the Lord's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, before embarking in service. Further lessons follow in the love and power of Jesus at Bethany, when the favored home tasted the sorrow of sickness and death. Though Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, His love was now to be known in a new way, rather than in preventing or healing sickness; and their hearts were fully tested and finally gladdened by receiving Lazarus back, after death and burial had taken place. This infinitely surpassed yielding to their request to go at once and stay disease. “Jesus wept “; and after the unfathomable groan in spirit cried, “Lazarus coins forth,” crowned with the then unknown significant truth, “I am the resurrection and the life.” These had been hidden wonders; but now the fresh circumstances of Bethany call them forth, not only to live in their hearts, but to be lessons for to-day—what the heart and voice of Jesus the Son of God is, though now in the heavenly sanctuary. No less is it a sample of poor dead and buried Israel for that day when they, shall own Him Whom they then hated, and soon after crucified.
If John 11 sets forth such realities, we have in chap. 12. Bethany's provided supper on the eve of His betrayal and death, when the loved three were in their divinely appointed places: the raised Lazarus seated with Him, Martha serving, and Mary, who drank more of His spirit, using the choice reserved unguent to anoint His blessed person. It was a costly act of love spent upon Himself, in view of His burial, which, if misunderstood, He declared to be a memorial of her. This act may well illustrate the worship of an adoring heart; whilst we have Lazarus in his honored position, and Martha in her devoted service. We need not here dwell on the last solemn procession of the lowly Jesus from Bethany to Jerusalem. All else is but little in the light of the death at Calvary. There both man's awful sin, and the only death to meet it, together with the claims and the glory of God, found an answer.
Before the hands of an ascending Jesus could be outstretched in blessing, the divine sword must execute its holy righteous judgment upon Him Who had so recently raised His friend Lazarus, and allowed Mary to anoint Him. Yet Him Who knew no sin God made sin; and there the hatred of Israel unto death was eclipsed by the abandonment of God, so that grace and blessing might freely and righteously flow. But the streams of love and mercy had their outlet, in ways which the soul delights to trace, in adoration and praise, though conscious that the foundation of life and glory was laid, when Christ made peace by the blood of His cross. Jesus risen testifies to the divine satisfaction and triumphs of His death, though they are only gradually unfolded in their application and extent; still it is Himself Who is seen, and made known. Luke 24 touchingly speaks of the varied appearing to His own, who, if slow of heart to believe, were constrained to prove that it was Himself, the recently pierced and slain One Who was there to give peace and confidence, though henceforth to be known in fresh circumstances. Moreover, He again took the place of the perfect Teacher, and opened their still dark minds to understand the scriptures concerning His sufferings and death, as well as the glories to follow.
At this point it is, that He takes the last journey with His disciples, when “He led them out as far as to Bethany” to receive His parting blessing; and they worshipped the ascending Jesus, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Here they reached Himself with all joy and blessing; as it will be the case with His earthly people, when He returns as their true Priest and King. Meanwhile heaven's side of things opens, according to love's eternal purpose, while Israel and the earth await His return.
To declare the action of God in fullness of blessing is reserved for the Epistle to the Ephesians. There not only the riches and glory of His grace are spoken of, but the One Who is the center of eternal purpose is raised from the dead and set in the heavenlies, far above all principality and power, as head over all things to His body, the church. It is He by and in Whom God will gather up all things that have been so scattered, and alienated from Himself by sin. Prior to all this, in the very start of this wonderful Epistle, are made known the present individual choice, blessing, and predestination of all who in sovereign grace belong to God's heavenly family. True, it is not the precious fact of being blessed by an ascending Jesus but of being blessed in Him, the Christ exalted in heaven; as it is written, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly [places] in Christ.” Added to this follow the holy nature and the relationship proper to it. Nothing is left out now that love is free to act in and through Him Who is the grand and glorious purpose of God; yet its fullness and blessing was pent up till after His sufferings and death as declared by Himself. “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished”! Now not only is the One Who was cast into the sea of death the raised and seated at the right hand of God, but the Holy Ghost is come down to witness to His death and exaltation.
There and then it is that the truth of the gospel of God begins, advancing step by step from remission of sins and peace with God to known risen life and relationship with the Father, Who gave His only Son that we might be richly and fully blessed in Him. Little thought the favored few, who gazed on Jesus as He went up to heaven and were told by the angels of His sure return, that, between these two facts, they and all believers of this period should be blessed in Him in heaven by such an association made good by the Holy Ghost. True, it had been stated in John 1 consequent upon receiving Him, and the risen Son also said to Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Yet it was left for further development before being fully revealed; so also was the truth of both the place and the blessing in Christ. If purpose and responsibility met in Christ, Adam's state of sin must be closed, and all such responsibility met and ended, before purpose could be declared and blessing bestowed. Thus, whether for complete deliverance or heavenly blessing, it is in and by Christ alone.
In the Epistle to the Romans the full question of responsibility is raised, and deliverance taught, through Christ's death and resurrection; to be in Christ is to be exempt from all judgment. Nevertheless it is to the Ephesians (the Epistle of purpose) the testimony is, that in Christ God the Father has blessed all believers with every spiritual blessing. It is not as for Israel of old, with earthly blessings in the land of Canaan, but with spiritual blessings in the heavenlies. It is important to notice the contrast of Jewish and Christian privilege; particularly when Christianity is made a system of earthly and worldly things to the cost of God's revealed purpose and His present action in Christ. The nature, the sphere too of the blessing, is spiritual and heavenly with which the good pleasure of God is bound up, He having predestinated them unto an adoption of sons unto Himself according to the good pleasure of His will. It is thus God the Father now speaks and acts according to the infinite worth of His Son, Whose work is the holy and righteous basis of it; as also His rejection and crucifixion is the occasion to bring out these heavenly realities. The Holy Ghost has been sent from heaven by the Father and the Son to declare and make good, not only the gospel of the grace of God, but the present heavenly blessing, the place of life and relationship in Christ. Would that faith were in holy exercise to receive and revel in the precious truth, whilst awaiting the return of our Lord to receive His own to Himself, and to take them where they are already blessed in Him. God grant it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!
G. G.