Some Illustrations of Assembly Meetings
At the time of the Gospels, the church had not been formed, and assembly meetings did not exist. Yet there were occasions on which the moral features of such meetings were illustrated for our learning and encouragement.
Jesus in the Midst (Luke 24; John 20)
It was the day of the resurrection of the Son of God. In the morning of that day there had been weeping (John 20:11) and discouragement and despondency (Luke 24:14–21). Disillusioned disciples had gone ‘to their own home' (John 20:10). It seemed that all was over. But then the Lord appeared: first to Mary (John 20:14–17), then to Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5) and also to those on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:14–31), so that, by the evening of that day, there were several witnesses of His resurrection.
In the evening the disciples and those with them had come together. Understandably, they had only one subject: ‘Christ is really risen!' (Luke 24:34). They are surrounded by a hostile world (John 20:19) but they have one theme and one topic of conversation: Christ. The doors are locked but suddenly Christ stands in the midst. This illustrates what it means to be gathered to the Lord's name: the hearts and minds occupied with Him, surrounded by a hostile world, but enjoying the personal presence of Christ.
The Lord does not stand in an arbitrary place but right in the midst. Nobody claims this place; it is gladly accorded to Him. Then He speaks, and the disciples and those gathered with them hear the wonderful words, ‘Peace be unto you' . The Lord states this and shows His hands and side — that is, He draws their attention to the peace He had made on the cross: peace with God. When we are gathered to the Lord's name and we enjoy His presence, He will occupy us with His person and work. But He will also provide for our needs: the Lord repeats the words ‘peace be unto you' , but speaking of the peace they would need for their way and mission in this world (vs. 19, 21).
Then the disciples were glad. The Lord entrusts to them the responsibility to remit and retain sins on earth (v. 23).
Thomas was absent. How much he missed! But the others were able to testify: ‘We have seen the Lord' (v. 25). Next time, the week after, he was there as well. May we also experience the reality and the joy of the Lord in the midst and not miss out!
Mary at His Feet
On three occasions we find Mary of Bethany at the feet of the Lord Jesus: once for prayer, once to hear the word, and once for worship. This corresponds beautifully to the three types of assembly meetings we find in the New Testament: for prayer (Matt. 18:19–20; Acts 12:5), for edification (the so-called ‘open meeting': 1 Cor. 14) and for the breaking of bread (1 Cor. 11), which naturally leads redeemed hearts to worship.
In John 11, Mary comes to Him with a great concern: her brother Lazarus had died. She does not tell the Lord what to do, nor does she make any reproach, but she falls at His feet and unburdens her heart by telling Him about her concern. Her problem seemed insurmountable but all the resources to answer her need are found in Him. What a privilege to know the place at His feet in prayer!
In Luke 10:38–42, we find that Mary makes it a priority to sit at the Lord's feet in order to hear the word. This is time put to good use (despite all other necessary duties). The Lord's verdict is: ‘one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her' . Here it is not Mary speaking about her needs but listening to what the Lord had to say.
In John 12, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are together, and the Lord is there. They illustrate features of Christians. Lazarus is referred to as the one ‘which had been dead' — those who are gathered around the Lord were once spiritually dead but have been quickened. Martha served — there is room for service for the Lord. And Mary took ‘a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment' — a striking picture of the sweet odour of adoration that speaks of Christ. May it be so in our meetings for the breaking of bread when we ‘sit at the table with him' that worship may arise — whether silent or audible — so that ‘the house is filled with the odour'.
The Bible reader will discover other occasions where these three aspects are brought out. These three dimensions or levels of interaction (prayer, worship and instruction) have characterised God's dealings with His own on many occasions.
In Genesis 18, for example, the Lord comes to Abraham. In verses 1 to 8, Abraham and Sarah give to God. In verses 9 to 21, the Lord speaks to them and they learn vital things, some concerning themselves, very personally, and some in relation to God's plans. In the last part of the chapter (vs. 22–33), Abraham ‘stood yet before the Lord' , this time for prayer and intercession.
Think also of Gideon (Jdgs. 6 and 7). God wants His own to interact with Him in three ways: to come to Him with their needs , in dependence; to listen to Him for instruction; and to give Him worship.
Have you come to enjoy the place at the Lord's feet for these three purposes: giving (worship), hearing (edification) and prayer?
Appeared in Truth & Testimony 2013