Bethany: The Lord's Thought for His Assembly
The upper room of the first chapter of the Acts corresponds with Bethany, the "house of figs", and Bethany with the upper room. We are going to take up that thought and, as the Lord helps us, follow it out to greater fullness. What is before us is the Lord's desire to have at the end what He had at the beginning - to have in His people, spiritually, that which He Himself constituted by His own presence at the beginning; and if I were asked to put into a word what I feel the object of the Lord to be, I should say, speaking symbolically, that it is "Bethanies". For Bethany, to my mind, most fully corresponds to the Lord's thought: He would have things on the basis of Bethany, constituted according to Bethany, and have His universal Church represented locally by "Bethanies". Now I am going to ask you to look at seven passages where Bethany is mentioned.
The Lord Recognized and Received
Luke 10:38. "Now it came to pass, as they went, that He entered into a certain village (do not forget that villages represent local assemblies): and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house. (You know whose the house was now, who was the head of that house.) And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard His word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to Him, and said ..."
Now here, in this first mention of Bethany, we have one or two things which in principle represent that Church, and that assembly, and that house, which the Lord has His heart set upon, and I fasten at once upon one word: "And a certain woman named Martha "received" Him into her house." The word "received" is the key-word to this whole thing, and it represents immediately a great difference. It is a discriminating word, a differentiating word.
One remembers that it was said concerning His coming from glory to this earth: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:11). We shall remember that He said of Himself: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head" (Luke 9:58). And if it really did break upon us with anything like its real meaning, when we reflect as to who it is of whom the first is said, and who is saying the second, it would leave us astonished. Here is the Creator of all, the Proprietor of all, the Lord of heaven and of hearth; the Lord who has greater right to everything and anything than any other being in the universe; the Lord, for whom and through whom all things were made - and He came and had not where to lay His head in the world of His creation, in the realm of all His sovereign rights. He was not received, but, as truly expressing the attitude even of His own kinsfolk to Him, He represented them as saying: "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and take his inheritance. And they took him, and cast Him forth ..." (Matthew 21:38-39).
But here we read: "And a certain woman named Martha received Him ..." "My church" - "My church" - His assembly, His spiritual house, is the place where He is gladly received and finds His rest. It is His place, His place in a world which rejects Him; it is the place where He is recognized. Do you notice that when assemblies are being scattered over the face of the earth it is always that which is the beginning of an assembly? They "receive" the word. Pentecost was that: "Then they that received his word ..." (Acts 2:41). At Philippi, "a certain woman named Lydia ... whose heart the Lord opened, to give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there" (Acts 16:14-15). That is the beginning of the assembly - it is like that everywhere. It is a spiritual perception issuing in an openhearted reception. That is the first thing which features His Church: "received." It is the giving Him a place, the place of honor.
Now that is very simple, but it represents much to the Lord, and it carries us a long way, because it represents something more than the Lord coming just to be a sojourner in the midst. It represents that the Lord has got a footing, a foothold, a place which provides Him with that which is necessary to Him to secure all His rights universally. Let me illustrate.
(continued with # 2)