Our Heart is His word
What was Bethany to Jesus? What was Jesus' fascination with Bethany? Why? What was it about Bethany that made Jesus keep going back there and especially staying there for the last week before His arrest and crucifixion? We did an investigation on the significance of Bethany and decided that we too wanted to be Bethany to the Lord, hence the name of our church.
WHERE WAS BETHANY?
There are two different places called Bethany in the Bible: the one where John the Baptist was baptising people as we read in John 1:28: "All this happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing."
The other Bethany is where Jesus stayed regularly. The Bethany we are referring is the one Jesus regularly visited.
John 11:18 says, "Bethany was near Jerusalem (about two miles away)." It is believed that Bethany was about 1.5 miles to the east of Jerusalem on the south-eastern slope of the Mount of Olives as we read in Luke 19:29, "As He approached Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives..." It is believe that Bethphage was at the top of the Mount of Olives and Bethany was a bit further below.
We found in the gospels that eight events took place in Bethany, which you will find listed below.
FIRST EVENT: JESUS LODGES AT MARTHA & MARY'S HOUSE
Bethany was familiar to Jesus. We read in Luke 10:38-42 that, “While they (Jesus and His disciples) were travelling, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet and was listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, "Lord, don't You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand." The Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her."
Many scholars believe these sisters were Lazarus' sisters who lived in Bethany, although the name of the village is not mentioned in the text.
Bethany was a welcoming and hospitable place; there Jesus' physical needs were met. It was also a place where Jesus could teach freely and gold came out. Jesus was comfortable and taught them. And while He taught them, they sat at His feet, making Bethany a place of intimacy. There people were ready to welcome the Word of the Lord.
And so we ask ourselves, are we Bethany to Jesus? Are we welcoming and hospitable? Can Jesus teach us? Can He be intimate with us?
SECOND EVENT: JESUS RAISES LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD IN BETHANY
In John 11:1 we read, "Now a man was sick, Lazarus, from
Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha." Verse 3
continues, "So the sisters sent a message to Him: "Lord,
the one You love is sick." Although this is the first time that
Bethany is mentioned by name in the New Testament, it is
obvious that Jesus knew and loved these people and He knew
where they lived. He had been there before as we saw earlier
when He was at Martha and Mary's house. He was in
relationship with this family.
Continuing with verses 4 through to 8 we read, "When Jesus heard it, He said, "This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." (Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.) So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after that, He said to the disciples, "Let's go to Judea again." " Rabbi," the disciples told Him, "just now the Jews tried to stone You, and You're going there again?" Jesus was so desperate to go to Bethany that He risked being stoned in order to go there because this family so was precious to Him.
Carrying on with verses 9 to 15, which tells us, "Aren't there 12 hours in a day?" Jesus answered. "If anyone walks during the day, he doesn't stumble, because he sees the light of this world. If anyone walks during the night, he does stumble, because the light is not in him." He said this, and then He told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I'm on My way to wake him up." Then the disciples said to Him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well." Jesus, however, was speaking about his death, but they thought He was speaking about natural sleep. So Jesus then told them plainly, "Lazarus has died. I'm glad for you that I wasn't there so that you may believe. But let's go to him."
And Jesus went to Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead despite the fact that he had been dead for four days according to John 11:17-44 (I would encourage you to read it).
Bethany to Jesus was a place where the people He taught about faith believed in and trusted His words, that's why Jesus was able to perform miracles and raise someone from the dead. Are we that place of faith? Can God work through us and in us?
THIRD EVENT: A DINNER IN HONOUR OF JESUS AND ANOINTING OF JESUS
This event is recorded in John 12:1: "Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead.” Jesus was based in Bethany with His disciples during the last week of His life before being crucified because it was not far from Jerusalem.
Verses 2 to 8 continue, "So they gave a dinner for Him there (some translations say that they gave a dinner in honour of Jesus); Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of fragrant oil - pure and expensive nard - anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped His feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray Him), said, "Why wasn't this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?" He didn't say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it. Jesus answered, "Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me." Jesus felt confident and safe enough to publicly make a statement like that! He could speak His mind.
Bethany to Jesus was a place where they knew how to honour and look after Him because they understood His worth. Worship leader Klaus Kuehn says that if we are still measuring out our offerings, we haven't seen His worth yet. Mary knew the worth of Jesus; we can see this by her offering to Him.
Are we Bethany to Jesus? Do we know how to honour Jesus? Do we know His worth? Do we know how to look after each other?
FOURTH EVENT: MULTITUDES COME TO SEE JESUS AND LAZARUS AND DECIDE TO FOLLOW JESUS
We read in John 12:9 to 11, “Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there. They came not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus the one He had raised from the dead. Therefore the chief priests decided to also kill Lazarus, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.”
Bethany was a place where people believed in Jesus. Again, it shows that Bethany was a place where faith was found. Are we that place of faith through which people believe in Jesus? Are unbelievers attracted to Jesus because of our relationship with Him?
FIFTH EVENT: PALM SUNDAY AND THE COLT
Mark 11:1-10 says, "When they (Jesus & His disciples) approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany near
the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples and told them, "Go into the village ahead of you. As soon as you enter it, you will find a young donkey tied there, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here right away.' " So they went and found a young donkey outside in the street, tied by a door. They untied it, and some of those standing there said to them, "What are you doing, untying the donkey?" They answered them just as Jesus had said, so they let them go. Then they brought the donkey to Jesus and threw their robes on it, and He sat on it. Many people spread their robes on the road, and others spread leafy branches cut from the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed kept shouting: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven." And He went into Jerusalem and into the temple complex. After looking around at everything, since it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the Twelve." The religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus, that's why Jesus would not stay in Jerusalem when it was getting dark. Instead, He would go to Bethany.
Bethany was for Jesus a place of provision and safety. It was a place where they respected Him. Jesus was able to have confidence in His relationships with this precious family. Are we that place of provision through which Jesus can bless others? Do we respect Jesus?
SIXTH EVENT: JESUS CURSES THE FIG TREE AT BETHANY
Mark 11:12-14 tells us, "The next day when they (Jesus and His disciples) came out from Bethany, He was hungry. After seeing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, He went to find out if there was anything on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" And His disciples heard it." Jesus was on His way from Bethany to Jerusalem where He would cleanse the Temple from being a market place and a den of thieves. Then they would return to Bethany for the night as we read in Matthew 21:17, "Then He left them (the people He had healed the religious leaders and children at the Temple), went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there."
Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? When a fig tree is full of leaves, it means that it has figs on it. Normally a fig tree would be full of leaves and with fruit in June. It was about March or April time; the fig tree was not expected to be full of leaves; it should have had some or few leaves instead. Jesus cursed it because it looked like it had fruit, but had none. Jesus' action was symbolic of bringing judgement on the hypocrisy of Israel who had the appearance of bearing fruit through their rituals and legalism, but had none.
Jesus is still looking for fruit today; what fruit? True worship, obedience, love for God and our brothers and sisters, prayer and righteous lives. Forget religious rituals!
The next day, Jesus and His disciples returned to Jerusalem's Temple from Bethany. Mark 11:20-26 tells us, "Early in the morning, as they were passing by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Then Peter remembered and said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that You cursed is withered. Jesus replied to them, "Have faith in God. I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for - believe that you have received them, and you will have them. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing. [But if you don't forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your wrongdoing."]"
Once at the Temple, Jesus' authority was questioned by the religious leaders. And Jesus returned to Bethany to spend the night with the 12.
Ironically, one of the meanings of the name Bethany is house of figs or dates. Bethany represented life, fruit in season and out of season, faith regardless the circumstances, miracles and fruitfulness.
Jesus said, 'have faith in God'; faith in God that He will remove any hindrances that stops us from bearing fruit for Him. Bethany to Jesus was a place of faith, of miracles. It was a place where Jesus taught about forgiveness. Can we be Bethany? Can the Lord teach forgiveness in and through us? Can faith be found in us by which God can perform miracles?
SEVENTH EVENT: JESUS IS ANNOINTED AT BETHANY AGAIN
In Matthew 26:6-13 we read the events that took place two days before the Passover; "While Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon, a man who had a serious skin disease (other translations read Simon the Leper), a woman approached Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive fragrant oil. She poured it on His head as He was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw it, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. "This might have been sold for a great deal and given to the poor." But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a noble thing for Me. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me. By pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she has prepared Me for burial. I assure you: Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her."
This was the last evening and night that Jesus spent in Bethany. From here, Judas went and promised to hand Jesus over to the Jewish religious leaders, and the next day they all went to Jerusalem for the Last Supper.
Bethany was a place where the outcast and the marginalised were found and were received (Jesus was at Simon the Leper!) Another suggested meaning for the name Bethany is 'house of the poor or affliction'.
It is believed that Bethany may have been the site of an alms-house, that Bethany as a
village was used as a centre for caring for the sick and aiding the destitute and pilgrims to
Jerusalem even in the days of Jesus, hence Simon the Leper lived there and the disciples
mentioned the poor twice while being at Bethany with Jesus.
Bethany represented a place of acceptance; are we Bethany to Jesus? Do we accept the
poor? Can Jesus receive the marginalised through us?
Bethany to Jesus was a place of sensitivity and boldness; this woman was sensitive and bold
at the same time; are we Bethany to Jesus? Are we that sensitive and bold?
EIGHTH EVENT: THE ASCENSION OF JESUS
Bethany was also the scene of the ascension of Jesus as it is stated in Luke 24:50-51; "Then He led them
(His disciples) out (from Jerusalem) as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven."
Bethany was so loved by Jesus - He felt so at home there - that it was the last place where Jesus was seen physically on earth.
And this will be the place where Jesus returns; Zechariah 14:3-5 says, “Then the LORD will go out to fight against those nations as He fights on a day of battle. On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. The Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, forming a huge valley, so that half the mountain will move to the north and half to the south. You will flee by My mountain valley, for the valley of the mountains will extend to Azal. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come and all the holy ones with Him.”
Bethany - although it has a different name today - is on the Mount of Olives, on the East side.
The Lord says in Luke 18:8, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?”
The Lord put this word on Pastor Matthew's heart some years ago, now is the time for a BETHANY FOCUSED CHURCH, where all are welcome.
Why did Jesus so
want to be with those at Bethany?