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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : XX. CLOSING HOURS.

Memories Of Bethany by John Ross Macduff

XX. CLOSING HOURS.

The evenings of the two succeeding days seem to have closed around our adorable Lord at BETHANY. We may still follow Him in imagination, in the mellow twilight, as He and His disciples crossed the bridle-path of the holy mountain from Jerusalem to the house and village of His friend.

Much has changed since then; but the great features of unvarying nature retain their imperishable outlines, so that what still arrests the view of the modern traveller, in crossing the Mount of Olives, we know must have formed the identical landscape spread out before the eyes of the Incarnate Redeemer. It is more than allowable, therefore, to appropriate the words of the same trustworthy recent spectator, from whose pages we have already quoted, as presenting a truthful and veritable picture of what the Saviour then saw.

From almost every point in the journey, there would be visible |the long purple wall of the Moab mountains, rising out of its unfathomable depths; these mountains would then have almost the effect of a distant view of the sea, the hues constantly changing; this or that precipitous rock coming out clear in the evening shade -- there the form of what may possibly be Pisgah, dimly shadowed out by surrounding valleys -- here the point of Kerak, the capital of Moab, and future fortress of the Crusaders -- and then, at times all wrapt in deep haze, the mountains overhanging the valley of the shadow of death, all the more striking from their contrast with the gray or green colours of the hills through which a glimpse was caught of them.|

* * * * *

We have no recorded incidents in connexion with these two nights at Bethany. We are left only to realise in thought the refreshment alike for body and spirit our Lord enjoyed. Exhausted with the fatigues of each day, and the advancing storm-cloud ready to burst on His devoted head, we may well imagine how grateful repose would be in the old homestead of congenial friendship.

The last evening He spent at the |Palm-clad Village| must in many ways have been full of sorrowing thoughts. He had, in the afternoon, on His return from Jerusalem, when seated with his disciples |over against the Temple,| gazing on its doomed magnificence, been discoursing on the appalling desolation which awaited that loved and time-honoured sanctuary. This had led Him to the more sublime and terrific theme of a Day of Judgment. Not only did He foresee the grievous obduracy of His own infatuated countrymen, but His Omniscient eye, travelling down to the consummation of all things, wept over the fate of myriads, who, in spite of atoning love and mercy, were to despise and perish.

He left the threshold, consecrated so oft by His Pilgrim steps, on the Thursday of that week, not to return again till death had numbered Him among its victims. On that same morning He had sent His disciples into the city to make preparation for the keeping of the Passover Supper. He Himself followed, probably towards the afternoon, and joined them in |the Upper room,| where, after celebrating for the last time the old Jewish rite, he instituted the New Testament memorial of His own dying love. Supper being ended, the disciples, probably, contemplated nothing but a return, as on preceding evenings, by their old route to Bethany. Singing their paschal hymn, they descended the Jehoshaphat ravine, by the side of the Temple. The brook Kedron was crossed, and they are once more on the Bethany path. They have reached Gethsemane; their Master retires into the depths of the olive grove, as was often His wont, to hold secret communion with His Father. But the crisis-hour has at last arrived! The Shepherd is about to be smitten, and the sheep to be scattered! Rude hands arrest Him on His way. In vain shall Lazarus and his sisters wait for their expected Lord! For Him that night there is no voice of earthly comforter -- no couch of needed rest; -- when the shadows of darkness have gathered around Bethany, and the pale passover moon is lighting up its palm-trees, the Lord of glory is standing buffetted and insulted in the hall of Annas.

The Remembrances of Bethany are here absorbed and overshadowed for a time by the darker memories of Gethsemane and Calvary. Jesus may, indeed, afterwards revisit the loved haunt of former friendship; but meanwhile He is first to accomplish that glorious Decease, but for which the world could never have had on its surface one Bethany-home of love, or been cheered by one ray of happiness or hope.

In vain do we try to picture, as we revert to the peaceful Village, the feelings of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary on that day of ignominious crucifixion! where they were -- how they were employed! Can we imagine that they could linger behind, unconcerned, in their dwelling, when their Best Friend was in the hands of His murderers? We cannot think so. We may rather well believe that among the tearful eyes of the weeping women that followed the innocent Victim along the |Dolorous way,| not the least anguished were the two Bethany mourners; and that as He hung upon the cross, and His languid eye saw here and there a faithful friend lingering around him while disciples had fled, Lazarus would be among the few who soothed and smoothed that awful death-pillow! Perhaps even when death had sealed His eyes, and faithless apostles gave vent to their feelings of hopeless despondency, |We trusted it had been He who should have redeemed Israel,| the family of Bethany would recollect how oft He had spoken of this very hour of darkness and bereavement which had now come; Mary would, in trembling emotion, (in connexion with the humble token of her own gratitude and affection,) remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, |Let her alone, against the day of my burying hath she done this.|

We need not pursue these thoughts. We may well believe, however, that when the first day of the week had come -- and the glad announcement spread from disciple to disciple, |The Lord is risen indeed,| -- on no home in Judea would the tidings fall more welcome than on that of Lazarus of Bethany. Martha and Mary had, a few weeks before, experienced the happiness of a restored Brother. Now it was that of a restored Saviour! Whether He revisited these, His former friends, the days immediately after His resurrection, we cannot tell. It is more than probable He would. May not some hallowed unrecorded |Memories of Bethany| be included in the closing words of John's gospel -- |There are also many OTHER things which Jesus did?| On the way to Emmaus He joined Himself to two disciples, and |caused their hearts to burn within them as He talked by the way.| So may He not have joined Himself to the friends with whom He had so oft held sacred intercourse during the days of His humiliation -- breathing on them His benediction, and discoursing of those covenant blessings which He had died to purchase, and which He was about to bestow, |set as king on His holy hill of Zion.| With what a new and glorious meaning to Martha must her Saviour's words have now been invested, |I am the Resurrection and the Life -- he that believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.|

As the God-man, He had power over her brother's life -- He had now demonstrated that He had |power over His own;| -- |power| not only to |lay it down,| but |power to take it up again.| Her Lord had |spoken once, yea twice had she heard this, that power belongeth unto God.|

The Grave of Bethany was thus in her eyes inseparably connected with the grave at Golgotha. But for the rolling away of the stone from a more august sepulchre, her brother must still have been slumbering in the embrace of death. |But now had Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.|

The Almighty Reaper had risen Himself from the tomb, with the sharp sickle in His hand. In the person of His dearest earthly friend He presented an earnest-sheaf of the great Resurrection-reaping-time -- when the mandate was to be carried to the four winds of heaven, |Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe; -- Multitudes -- multitudes in the Valley of Decision.|

Can we participate in the joy of the family of BETHANY? Have we, like them, followed Christ to His cross and His tomb, and listened to the angelic announcement, |He is not here, He is risen?| Have we seen in His death the secret of our life? Have we beheld Him as the Great Precursor emerging from Hades, and shewing to ransomed millions the purchased path of life -- the luminous highway to glory? Let our hearts be as Bethany dwellings, to welcome in a dying risen Jesus. Let us not expel Him from our souls by our sins -- crucifying the Lord afresh, and putting Him to an open shame. Let not God's restoring mercies be, as, alas! often they are to us, unsanctified; -- receiving back our Lazarus from the brink of the tomb, but refusing, on the return of health and prosperity, to share in bearing our Lord's cross -- to |go forth with Him without the camp -- bearing His reproach.| If He has delivered our souls from death, and our eyes from tears, be it ours to follow Him through good and through bad report. Not alone amid the hosannahs of His people, or amid the world's bright sunshine, but, if need be, to confront suffering, and trial, and death for His sake. Like the Bethany family, let us mourn His absence, and long for His return. It is but for |a little while| we |shall not see Him| -- |again a little while and we shall see Him.| Oh, blessed day! when the words of the old prophet will start once more into fulfilment, and a voice from Heaven will thus address a waiting Church -- |Rejoice, O daughter of Zion, behold thy King cometh!| He cometh! -- but it is now with no badges of humiliation -- with no anticipations of sorrow and woe to mar that hour of glory. |His head shall be crowned with many crowns| -- all His saints with Him to share His triumph and enter into His joy. May we be enabled to look forward to that blessed season when, arrayed in white robes, with golden crowns on our heads, and palms of victory in our hands, these shall be cast at His feet, and the feeble Hosannahs of time shall be lost and merged in the rapturous Hallelujahs of eternity!

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