When Mary cared enough to give her very best

by Jonathan S Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Denomination: Southern Baptist

Text: John 12:1-8

Based on a sermon preached at Carrington Baptist Church, Fulton, MO 3-08-2015. This is not an exact transcription.

Background

A lot of events took place during the last few days before Jesus died on Calvary. He had left the area some time before, according to John chapter 11, and stayed in a rural area. Now, it was time for Jesus to take His last journey. He stopped at Bethany and was invited to a feast. That wasn’t the only thing that happened, as we’ll see in the text.

John 12:1-8 NASB 1 Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. 3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, 5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?" 6 Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. 7 Therefore Jesus said, "Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. 8 "For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me."

Introduction

We’ll notice three major events in the text: first, an act of love, by Mary of Bethany; then an accusation, by Judas Iscariot; and an answer, by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Let’s look at these in more detail:

I An act of love, by Mary

John was careful to state that this supper, or feast, took place in Bethany, and that Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were there as part of this occasion. We’ve met these folks before: Mary and Martha, twice, and Lazarus, once.

Many of us like Martha! She seemed to have a bent, maybe a talent, for keeping the household running smoothly. But she did have a problem, once before, in that she was one of the very few who dared complain directly to Jesus! Remember the account in Luke chapter 10? We don’t read anything about Lazarus, but we do notice Mary and Martha. Jesus was apparently teaching the Word of God to those who would listen.

I can just hear Martha now, stomping into the room where Jesus is teaching, and demanding, “Lord, tell my sister to help me!” I don’t know of anyone else who had the audacity or the gall to get into Jesus’ face and demand He help her!

But Martha seems to have had a change of heart. She’s still serving, but she’s not demanding anything. She’s content, it seems, to be in the background and to use her talents in the best possible way. And there is nothing wrong with that. There are any number of people who don’t have the desire, the talent, or the ability, to be in an up-front position. But ask them to serve in a “behind the scenes” capacity and they’re there! May our Lord help us to realize that those who serve quietly are just as important as those who serve in a more visible position.

Lazarus was there, too, taking part of the supper. He’s only mentioned twice in Scripture, here and in John 11. We do not have a record of one single word he uttered, certainly nothing about his death and resurrection from the dead. In fact, of all the people (7 at least) who were raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures,the Holy Spirit didn’t permit any of them to have their experiences recorded.

This wasn’t like any of the stories of people who claim to have visited Heaven, or even Hell, for that matter. I’m telling you, the stories of people, just like that story of the child who claimed he went to Heaven and later said, “Ah, didn’t happen” (or words to that effect) are NOT the same as Scripture. The Lord has given us a few glimpses of what lies ahead and really, that’s all He wants us to have for now, as far as that goes.

One final comment about Lazarus, in that he’s mentioned as basically eating with Jesus. Could it be that some, even though they saw the stone rolled away from his burial cave, and had heard Jesus say, “Lazarus, come forth!”, and had seen the burial wrappings or grave clothes removed, didn’t believe he was truly alive? Even St. Augustine commented that some people thought Lazarus was only a phantom! No, we serve a perfect God and a perfect Lord Jesus Christ. He makes no mistakes, and He won’t make something incomplete.

We not only see Lazarus and Martha, but we also see Mary, their sister. We had seen Mary of Bethany twice before, once listening to Jesus as He spoke, and speaking to Him through her tears just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

II An Accusation, by Judas Iscariot

It’s really sad when even the best of deeds, done in love and genuine admiration of our Lord, are gauged or evaluated in terms of money. True enough, we do need people who have the ability and talent to keep financial things in order, read and/or produce the financial documents we need, and so forth. But we do need for these folks to get their eyes off the balance sheet or the budget only, and get their eyes focused on Jesus Christ!

We’re not talking about pie-in-the-sky projects that may glorify only the leaders. There are plenty of those, all right. But there are times when many feel the Lord’s clear guidance, only to be told, “Nope, can’t afford it,” even when there’s money in the bank. Where is our faith? Is it in God, or in the budget?

Judas was apparently one of those who seemed to have a fixation for money. What was the first thing he said, maybe the first words of his recorded in Scripture? “Why was this ointment wasted? We could have sold it for 300 denarii (pence, King James Version; the term for a day’s wage) and given it to the poor!”

Now, Judas was right about the cost. Mary’s ointment was made of pure nard, an extract from a plant that didn’t grow in Palestine. Some commentators think that the ointment itself came from as far away as India but how it got from India to Palestine, I couldn’t guess.

But he was as wrong as could be about something more important than the cost, and that’s the motive, the driving purpose behind the _why_ of Mary’s act. Several times, Jesus had told the disciples, “They’re going to kill Me” but they didn’t seem to comprehend this—not until later, as John recorded elsewhere. And how did Mary of Bethany come to understand this?

No matter how she learned it, or from where or whom, she knew that Jesus was going to die and her gift was an offering to show her love for Him. It’s interesting that when we compare the lists in the four gospels about who came to the empty tomb on Easter Sunday, Mary of Bethany wasn’t mentioned. She understood the words of Jesus far better than anyone else did!

And even worse than being wrong about the motive, Judas planted a seed of greed or perhaps something similar. In a few days after this supper or banquet, Jesus went to another house where another woman anointed Him. This time, it wasn’t Judas—the other disciples began to grumble about the cost or the waste.

What a contrast: these women brought a sweet smelling gift to show their love for Jesus, but the disciples had a sour or bitter feeling about the money. Had they forgotten what Jesus had said early in His ministry, even on the Sermon on the Mount, that life was more than food and drink and clothing? How could they have sunk so far from those days?

But the worst thing of all was this: Judas was not only the treasurer of the group (John says he “had the bag (KJV)”, he also was a thief! John also mentioned that he “bare” what was put in the bag. In other words, he helped himself to what was in the bag. I remember a certain person (but won’t reveal the identity!) who loved to play the board game, “Monopoly”. I loved that game, and still do, and wish I could make as much money in real life as I did playing that game.

Even if the real banks or credit unions would give us a few real pennies for every Monopoly ™ dollar, I’d be set for a while! Now, this certain person loved to be the banker and actually was pretty good at it. Except—after a while, I and some others noted that the large bills were vanishing from the “till”, and not going to us (can you spell “broke?”) but going to that person’s own “account”! When questioned, this person just laughed and said, “I gave myself a bonus!”

Could Judas have had dreams on some bonuses or investments of his own? Nobody knows what Judas was thinking. This supper was before Satan entered into him and before he decided to betray Jesus for the 30 pieces of silver. I still wonder why he was so concerned about money, when the whole ministry of Jesus on this earth was about people. Wrong focus, poor results.

III An Answer from the Lord Himself

Mary perhaps was feeling the heat from those who refused to understand her deed. Her heart was heavy, I’m sure, realizing that Jesus meant what He said, in that He faced death, and only in a few days after this supper. And to have people whom you thought were your friends, trying to verbally attack your deed of love, must have hurt her to the depths of her soul.

But Jesus was there! And He spoke, “Let her alone!” In other words, “Shut up about this!” or “Don’t bother her” or words to that effect. He knew what Mary was doing, and why.

Let me close this message by saying, there are times when our Lord asks you to do something that may not make sense. Don’t fear. Listen to the Lord. He knows the thoughts and desires of your heart and will tell others “Leave him or her alone” because you or I might be doing something for the Lord which doesn’t need to be broadcasted. May we be less like Judas, and more like Mary, in showing our love for the Lord.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. http://www.lockman.org

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