Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus – the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.
But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, ‘That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.’ Not that he cared for the poor …
Jesus replied, ‘Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’ (John 12:1–8)
Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.
And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.
And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him. (Mark 14: 9–11)
This story of the anointing of Jesus is a part of Scripture that I come back to again and again at any time, but always have it in my remembrance around Eastertime, because it takes place just before the crucifixion. There are different versions of it in the Gospels, and it’s not quite clear what the date is: it could be Saturday night, or it could be the Wednesday night. But suffice to say that it’s around the time of Palm Sunday, either just before it or after it.
On Palm Sunday, as we know, the crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem, waving their branches, and sang ‘Hosanna (“save now”)! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord.’ They really were acknowledging Him as their King and their Messiah. We know that these shouts changed in a few days’ time to ‘Crucify Him!’ But in the midst of all that, there were those who truly loved Christ, and whose worship was not a passing thing caught up in the excitement of a crowd, but was true and deep.
I’m sure that over this period of time we have discovered how deep that love for Christ is, and how deep the worship, when we’re not part of a crowd in the tremendous atmosphere that can come when we are all singing together, but finding that in the secret place of our own heart love for Christ wells up and overflows, which is what I think happened for Mary of Bethany. She’d been through the trauma of losing her brother and then the wonder of his resurrection. She had, I think, doubted Christ to some extent in her heart when her brother had died, but now she’s wonderfully drawn to Him, and I think that she sensed all the hostility and enmity surrounding Christ. At that feast in Lazarus’s house, there were those who wanted to kill Lazarus as well as Christ because of the miracle that had happened. There were all these swirling feelings and emotions going on around the Son of God, and He Himself was in the midst of it with the knowledge of the coming cross, and something of that gathering around His spirit. I think that registered with Mary, and she didn’t care what anybody else thought, but she just wondered: ‘How can I show Him that I believe in Him, that I love Him, and just want to worship Him?’
How could she show that?
Women of these days often wore around their neck a gold chain with a little phial or box, with very expensive perfume. We read that Mary’s was an alabaster box whose value would have been enough to feed more than the five thousand. Normally a woman would use only a very tiny drop of that perfume, so powerful and so beautiful was it. But as she looked at Christ, she thought: ‘I want to give it all to Him.’ And she poured it all out onto Christ. The whole house became filled with the odour of that ointment, and the fragrance surely came not just from the ointment but from the One to whom it was given. And she broke the box.
Evidently there was a custom in the land that if, for example, a very eminent person had dined at your house and had drunk from a glass, you would break that glass afterwards; it was too precious for anyone else to drink from, too special. She broke it on Christ, and she was criticized. But Christ said: ‘Leave her alone: she’s done what she could, and moreover she’s anointed my body for the burial.’ I don’t think that Mary would know that, though she would have heard what Christ had said, that He was going to die and rise again. We don’t know how much she would have understood or believed of that. But she had acted in accordance with the prompting of the Spirit and had taken the moment of opportunity. Sometimes we let these moments of opportunity pass us by and we’re very sorry afterwards. Other times we grasp them and respond in whatever way the Spirit prompts. If we respond to His prompting when there is a draw just to come and worship Christ, how richly we are actually blessed as we find an access to pour out on Him our worship.
There is the thought of the beauty of worship in the midst of all that was going on, all the tragedy that was happening around Christ, His desperate suffering, the betrayal of Christ by mankind – and in the midst of it there is this act of pure worship and love for Christ.
With tremendous foreknowledge Christ said: ‘Wherever the gospel is preached, this that she’s done will be spoken of as a memorial.' We know that’s true. Consider also the faith of the Son of God, that He knew that after the Cross there was a Resurrection, and the Gospel would go out to all. He said: ‘She’s done it against my burying.’ We know that she couldn’t do it later. When the women went to the tomb He was gone, risen. But she broke the box with the perfume upon Him then. When a person in that eastern land was buried, it was common not only to put spices amongst the burial garments but to put the broken pieces of the jar that held the spices in the tomb also. So how accurately she had done this, and it’s just in her love and worship for Christ.
I love the sense of it being just something between her and Him. There were people seeing, in whom that aroused hatred. It was the last straw for Judas. He just thought: ‘That’s enough – wasting all that. I’m going to betray Him.’ And so an act of real love and dedication to Christ can arouse hostility in others, sometimes quite irrationally so, but it doesn’t stop the love that wants to be poured out on Him. They said: ‘To what purpose is this waste?’ How could anything be wasted that’s given to Christ?
And so it is in our lives. Sometimes people think: ‘I don’t want to waste my life. I want to be sure it counts, even counts for God.’ But we don’t see the future when we really yield ourselves to Christ. It is an act of faith, and nothing and no life is wasted that is poured out on Him. That perfume is normally used drop by drop, and sometimes that’s what a person can be tempted to do with Christ: just pour out drop by drop a little bit at a time of our life. But He demands all. And it’s when we pour out unreservedly and say: ‘Lord, take everything. I’m not making any conditions; just take my life,’ that we discover the fragrance that comes to us, for we discover as we really break our lives on Him, that His life has been broken for us, to feed us, and really the fragrance that comes is not from our offering, but from Him and the offering that He has given as He has poured Himself out.
Come and taste Him. Come and worship Him. It’s drawing so near to Eastertime – a time of glory and rejoicing and yet a time of deep meditation and access to Calvary, to God, to Christ. In the midst of it let us renew our covenant of love, and come and worship Him in the midst of where we are just now at this stage in life and the church life, and say: ‘Lord, You are my reason for living. I yield myself afresh in worship to You.
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