Bethany: Part 2 and 3

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 7
It gives great rest to the heart to know that the One who has undertaken for us, in all our weakness, in all our need, and in all the exigencies of our path, from first to last, has first of all perfectly secured, in every respect, the glory of God. That was His primary object in all things. In the grand work of redemption, and in all the most minute details of our history, from the starting point to the goal, the glory of God has the first place in the devoted heart of that blessed One with whom we have to do. At all cost to Himself He vindicated and maintained the divine glory. For that end He gave up everything. He laid aside His own glory, humbled Himself, and emptied Himself. He surrendered all His personal rights and claims, and yielded up His life, in order to lay the imperishable foundation of that glory which now fills all heaven — shall soon cover the earth, and shine through the wide universe forever.
The knowledge and abiding sense of this must give profound repose to the spirit in reference to everything that concerns us, whether it be the salvation of the soul, the forgiveness of sins, or the need of the daily path. All that could possibly be a matter of exercise to us, for time or for eternity, has been provided for, all secured on the selfsame basis that sustains the divine glory. We are saved and provided for; but the salvation and provision, all praise to our glorious Saviour and Provider, are inseparably bound up with the glory of God. In all that our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us, in all that He is doing, in all that He will do, the glory of God is fully maintained.
And, further, we may add, in all our trials, difficulties, sorrows, and exercises, if instant relief be not afforded, we have to remember that there is some deep reason connected with the glory of God and our real good, why the desired relief is withheld. In seasons of pressure we are apt to think only of the one thing; namely, relief. But there is very much more than this to be considered. We should think of the glory of God. We should seek to know His object in putting us under the pressure. We should earnestly desire that His end might be gained, and His glory promoted. This would be for our fullest and deepest blessing, while, on the contrary, the relief which we so eagerly desire would be the very worst thing we could get. We must always remember that through the marvelous grace of God His glory and our true blessing are so inseparably bound up together, that when the former is maintained, the latter must be perfectly secured.
This is a most precious consideration, and one eminently calculated to sustain the heart in all seasons of affliction. All things must ultimately redound to the glory of God, and “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” It may not, perhaps, be so easy to see this when the pressure is upon us. When anxiously watching by the sickbed of a beloved friend; or when treading the chamber of sorrow; or when laid on a bed of pain and languishing ourselves; or when overwhelmed by sudden tidings of the loss of our earthly all; under such circumstances it may not be so easy to see the glory of God maintained, and our blessing secured; but faith can see it for all that; and as for “blind unbelief,” it is always “sure to err.” If those beloved sisters of Bethany had judged by the sight of their eyes, they would have been sorely tried during those weary days and nights spent at the bedside of their much loved brother. And not only so, but when the terrible moment arrived, and they were called to witness the closing scene, many dark reasonings might have sprung up in their crushed and desolate hearts.
But Jesus was looking on. His heart was with them. He was watching the whole process, and that too from the very highest standpoint — the glory of God. He took in the entire scene, in all its bearings, in all its influences, in all its issues. He felt for those afflicted sisters — felt with them — felt as only a perfect human heart could feel. Though absent in person, He was with them in spirit as they waded through the deep waters. His loving heart perfectly entered into all their sorrow, and He only waited for God’s due time to come to their aid and light up the darkness of death and the grave with the bright beams of resurrection glory. “When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was.” Things were allowed to take their course, as we say; death was allowed to enter the much loved dwelling; but all this was for the glory of God. The enemy might seem to have it all his own way, but it was only in appearance; in reality, death itself was but preparing a platform on which the glory of God was to be displayed. “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”
Such then was the path of our blessed Lord — His path with the Father. His every movement, His every step, His every act, His every utterance, His every thought had direct reference to the claims of the Father’s glory. Much as He loved the family of Bethany, His personal affection led Him not into the scene of their sorrow till the moment was come for the display of the divine glory; and then no personal fear could keep Him away. “Then after that saith He to His disciples, Let us go into Judea again. His disciples say unto Him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone Thee; and goest Thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.”
Thus that blessed One walked in the full blaze of the glory of God. His springs of action were all divine — all heavenly. He was a perfect stranger to all the motives and objects of the men of this world, who are stumbling along in the thick moral darkness that enwraps them, whose motives are all selfish, whose objects are earthly and sensual. He never did a single thing to please Himself. His Father’s will, His Father’s glory, ruled Him in all things. The stirrings of deep personal affection took Him not to Bethany, and no personal fear could keep Him away. In all He did, and in all He did not do, He found His motive in the glory of God.
Precious Saviour! teach us to walk in Thy heavenly footsteps! Give us to drink more into Thy Spirit! This, truly, is what we need. We are so sadly prone to self-seeking and self-pleasing, even when apparently doing right things, and ostensibly engaging in the Lord’s work. We run hither and thither, do this and that, travel, and preach, and write; and all the while we may be pleasing ourselves, and not really seeking to do the will of God, and promote His glory. May we study more profoundly our divine Exemplar! May He be ever before our hearts as the One to whom we are predestinated to be conformed. Thank God for the sweet and soul sustaining assurance that we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. It is but a little while, and we shall be done forever with all that now hinders our progress and interrupts our communion. Till then, may the blessed Spirit work in our hearts, and keep us so occupied with Christ, so feeding by faith on His preciousness, that our practical ways may be a more living expression of Himself, and that we may bring forth more abundantly the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Part 3
We may now meditate for a few moments on the deeply interesting theme of Christ’s sympathy with His people, so touchingly illustrated in His dealings with the beloved family of Bethany. He allowed them to go through the exercise, to wade through the deep waters, to be thoroughly tested, in order that the “trial” of their “faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory.” Looked at from nature’s standpoint, it might seem as though all hope was gone, and every ray of light faded away from the horizon. Lazarus was dead and buried. All was over. And yet the Lord had said, “This sickness is not unto death.” How was this? What could He mean?
Thus nature might reason; but we must not listen to the reasonings of nature, which are sure to carry us down into the regions of the shadow of death. We must listen to the voice of Jesus; we must hearken to His living, cheering, strengthening, encouraging accents. In this way we shall be able to vindicate and glorify God, not only at the sickbed, and in the chamber of death, but at the very grave itself. Death is not death if Christ be there. The grave itself is but the sphere in which the glory of God shines out in all its luster. It is when all that belongs to the creature is gone from the scene — when the platform is thoroughly cleared of all that is merely of man — it is then, and not until then, that the beams of the divine glory can be seen in all their brightness. It is when all is gone, or seems to be, that Christ can come in and fill the scene.
This is a grand point for the soul to get hold of and understand. It is only faith that can really enter into it. We are all so terribly prone to lean on some creature prop, to sit beside some creature stream, to trust in an arm of flesh, to cling to what we can see, to rest in the palpable and tangible. “The things that are seen” are “temporal” have ofttimes more weight with us than “the things which are unseen” and “eternal.” Hence it is that our ever faithful Lord sees it right and good to sweep away our creature props, and dry up our creature streams, in order that we may lean on Himself, the eternal Rock of our salvation, and find all our springs in Himself, the living and exhaustless Fountain of all blessing. He is jealous of our love and confidence, and He will clear the scene of everything that might divide our hearts with Himself. He knows it is for our soul’s full blessing to be wholly cast upon Himself, and hence He seeks to purify our hearts from every hateful idol.
And should we not praise Him for all this? Yes, truly; and not only so, but we should welcome whatever means He is pleased to use for the accomplishment of His wise and gracious end, even though, to nature’s view, it may seem harsh and severe. He may often have to say to us, as He said to Peter, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
Yes, beloved reader, by-and-by we shall know and appreciate all His dealings. We shall look back upon the whole course, from the light of His own blessed presence, and see and own that the very heaviest stroke of His hand was the very strongest expression of His love at the time. Martha and Mary might wonder why death had been allowed to enter their dwelling. Doubtless they looked, day after day, hour after hour, moment after moment, for their beloved Friend to enter; but instead of that He kept away, and death entered, and all seemed gone.
Why was this? Let Himself reply. “These things said He: and after that He saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.” What touching affection! What gracious intimacy! What a tender linking of Himself with the family of Bethany, on the one hand, and His disciples on the other! “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.” It was but a gentle sleep. Death is not death in the presence of the Prince of life. The grave is but a sleeping place. “I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” Such words could not have been uttered had Lazarus been raised from a sickbed. “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity”; and we can see without difficulty that the grave afforded God a far better opportunity than a sickbed.
This then was the reason why Jesus kept away from His beloved friends. He waited for the fitting moment, and that moment was when Lazarus had lain in the grave four days already, when every human hope had vanished; when all human agency was powerless and valueless. “I go” — not to raise him from a sickbed, but “that I may awake him out of sleep.” The platform was cleared of the creature, in order that the glory of God might shine out in all its brightness.
And is it not well to have the scene thus cleared of the creature? Is it not a mercy — not in disguise, as some people say, but — a plain, positive, palpable mercy — to have every human prop gone, every human hope vanished? Faith says, Yes — says it unhesitatingly and emphatically. Nature says, No! The poor heart craves something of the creature, something that the eye can see. But faith — that most precious, priceless, divinely-wrought principle — positively delights in being called to lean absolutely and abidingly upon the living God.
But it must be a real thing. It is of little use talking about faith if the heart be a stranger to its power. Mere profession is perfectly worthless. God deals in moral realities. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith?” He does not say, “What doth it profit though a man have faith?” Blessed be God, those who, through grace, have it, know that it profits much every way. It glorifies God as nothing else can do. It lifts the soul above the depressing influences of things seen and temporal. It tranquilizes the spirit in a most blessed manner. It enlarges the heart, by leading us out of our own narrow circle of personal interests, sympathies, cares, and burdens, and connecting us livingly with the eternal, exhaustless spring of goodness. It works by love, and draws us out in gracious activity toward every object of need, but especially toward those who are of the household of faith.
It is faith alone that can move along the path where Jesus leads. To mere nature that path is dreadful. It is rough, dark, and lonely. Even those who surrounded our blessed Lord on the occasion of the death of Lazarus seemed wholly unable to comprehend His thoughts, or follow intelligently His footsteps. When He said, “Let us go into Judea again,” they could think only of the Jews stoning Him. When He said, “I go, that I may awake him out of sleep,” they replied, “If he sleep, he shall do well.” When He spake of his death, they thought that He had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. When He said “unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe”; poor, unbelieving nature, speaking through the lips of Thomas Didymus said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
In a word, we see total inability to take in the true bearing of the case, as viewed from a divine standpoint. Nature sees nothing but death and darkness, where faith basks in the sunlight of the divine presence. “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” Alas! alas! was this all that even a disciple had to say? How absurd are the conclusions of unbelief! Let us go with the Prince of life, that — what? — “we may die with Him.” What folly! What a gross contradiction! What should Thomas have said? “Let us go, that we may behold His glory; that we may see His marvelous doings in the very region of the shadow of death; that we may share in His triumphs; that we may shout, at the very gates of the grave, our hallelujahs to His deathless name!”