Be a Bethany.
Biblical truth has a way of being so simple and, yet, so intricate. More of an unfathomable mystery than a puzzle that I can put together with a bit of self-willed brain-power.
I had the immense pleasure of completing the book on the image to the right of this post. God's Favorite Place on Earth, written by Frank Viola. I did not intend to write a review on this, but I am compelled to writing something because of the way it has resonated with me. My wonderfully kind and generous in-laws (truly my second parents) sent us a copy of this book last month and I quickly devoured it.
It was perfectly timed.
The book is about Bethany. We know the "characters" well...Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
These passages from Scripture have deep, relevant, and abiding meaning for me because of some difficult and grieving experiences I have often felt myself drowning in through the years. There have been moments, in these trials, when I have felt the the hopeful sensation of drawing near the water's surface. The sun's rays kissing the face of the glassy surface, my hands reaching out to know the first, full breath. Then, to be pulled under again in the violent thrust of liquid force, desperately thinking my last thoughts and emotions will be merely sheer panic and then all will be done. Anger and sorrow intermingle and I want to surrender to the underwater vortex and let it suck the oxygen from my frame. Exhaustion and devastation fills my being because I am tired, done, finished with everything. I just want to go Home.
Perhaps, some can relate to this feeling when afflictions and trials seem relentless.
Frank Viola has a beautiful way of writing a narrative from Lazarus' point-of-view about what he may have thought, felt, and experienced during Jesus' time in Bethany and through Lazarus' own death-to-resurrection miracle. Every other chapter, Frank does a sort of "teaching," filling in the gaps between Lazarus' narrative with Scripture and a study of our Lord's heart and Word.
In essence, this book is a deep, tender, and firm exhortation to be a Bethany.
And what was Bethany?
Bethany was a place where Christ was completely received.
A place where one learns that service flows from communion with Him.
A place to sit His feet, to listen to Him, to respond.
A place of friendship with the living God.
A place where He is cherished.
A place of death, but also resurrection.
A place where our suffering is not explained, but where He reveals Himself to us.
A place where His delays do not mean a lack of His love, but an abundance about to be poured out.
A place where God's people are set free from bondage.
Free from the "bondage to dead religion, bondage to legalism, bondage to sin, bondage to the world, bondage to guilt and shame, bondage to the flesh, bondage to the curse of the Law..." (Frank V.) and bondage to the applause of man, bondage to a set of rules, a list of expectations from self or others, bondage to what you set your hope on outside of Christ, bondage to security and identity anywhere or in anyone but Him.
But lest we forget, there were some incredibly frail, vulnerable, and harsh moments in Bethany. Martha knew that very well.
Martha had three reasons to be offended by her Lord.
First, Jesus did not arrive in time to heal Lazarus. Second, Jesus' words to the messenger could easily have been interpreted to mean that Lazarus would not die. Third, Jesus did not show up for Lazarus' funeral. In the first century, those who died were buried immediately. Six days of morning followed. If close friends were not in attendance during the burial, it brought shame upon the family and the deceased.
Martha may have also felt slighted when Jesus asked for Mary after He arrived in Bethany. Perhaps she thought to herself, It doesn't matter what I do or say, it's always about Mary!
Regardless, being offended by the Lord is something that touches us all. (Frank Viola)
Jesus spoke, in Matthew 11:6, "Blessed is the one who is not offended by me..."
He was speaking to His followers.
We all have felt it. The sting of His silence when we really needed Him.
He demands too much. He doesn't meet our expectations. And, He certainly never shows up on time.
Yet, near His nail-pierced feet, we find that we desperately need freedom from our expectations of Him. Sometimes, those expectations, those desires, those wants, although good, may blind us from simple receiving our Lord more fully. It is where we learn to utter, in true humility for the very first time, the words that Job uttered so long ago: "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:10)
A humbled spirit that does not expect God to change or reverse circumstances, but trusts Him to hold our hearts through the turmoil.
A humbled spirit that waits for our Lord's redemptive purposes to be revealed at the proper time.
A humbled spirit that accepts we do not need answers or explanations, but to trust our Father's heart is truly kind and good when the sufferings of humanity and life on this earth make us swollen with grief and insurmountable pain.
A humbled spirit that trusts. Not trusting superficially. Not trusting perfectly. But trusting in increasing endurance and perseverance that hope in Christ shall never put us to shame because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5).
A humbled spirit, though initially offended by Him, unfolds into a flower of tender petals, allowing one's self to be plucked by His redemptive hands.
Bethany is the place where mystery and majesty collide. It is the place where human power and hope come to their painful end. It is the place where the immortal utterance of Jesus, "I am the Resurrection and the Life," is encountered in living color. (Frank Viola)
In Bethany, Jesus is fed, cared for, and lavished upon the very finest - our hearts poured onto Him in full abandon. Bethany is a place where He touches us and we touch Him. A place that is spiritually rich, not barren. He wants you and me to be a spiritual-Bethany.
The Bible opens with the Spirit of God "hovering" or "brooding" over the face of the deep. There we discover that the Spirit was seeking a dwelling place for God, a place where He could commit His presence. And from the tabernacle of Moses to the temple of Solomon to the tabernacle of David to the temple that Ezekiel saw in his vision, God has sought a home on this earth. Listen to His words through Isaiah the prophet.
"Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?"
Bethany represents the fulfillment of that prophetic cry. It represents the Lord's heart for every Christian and every church. (Frank Viola)
Read the stories of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus afresh with the sweet reminder that your Maker, your Husband, your Lord and Friend wants to intimately unveil His heart to you in a way you never knew before.
That is how I shall read these rich passages and chapters from the Gospels.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”