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It Was That Mary
"Extraordinary acts of piety and devotion, that come from an honest principle of love to Christ, will not only find acceptance with Him, but gain reputation in the church." - Matthew Henry
"No offering is too costly for the Lord's service."
- Pulpit Commentary - New Testament
We would all have to agree that - generally speaking - John 11 is Lazarus' story or testimony chapter. In fact, the opening verse says - "Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha." From the very start, we are told that there lived "a certain man" whose name was Lazarus. He lived in the town of Bethany and had two sisters - Mary and Martha.
But in verse 2 we notice something very strange for the Apostle John automatically interjects a note about Lazarus' sister Mary.
We thought this was Lazarus' story. But here we find the writer placing a special interrupting thought which he felt was necessary to include - lest he should forget to mention it. Notice what he said - "(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) "
Here we have the writer starting out the narrative of this family by identifying who Lazarus is and then immediately switching our attention to Mary and distinguishing her from any other who bore that same name.
"It was that Mary..."
Which Mary? Was it not enough to say that she was Lazarus' sister? He only had two. Why was it necessary for John to include another thought about her? What was it that made her so very special for the Holy Spirit to say - "It was that Mary..."?
There were many Mary's in that day, but it seemed good to the Holy Spirit to recognize her for something she did that was noteworthy and important to us as readers.
"(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) "
Notice that her association with Lazarus is mentioned last. What was emphasized about her and mentioned first and foremost was what she did to and for Jesus.
The amazing thing about this all is that her act of devotion to the Lord actually happened after Lazarus' death and resurrection. Yet, the writer - in relating the remarkable incident of his resurrection - jumped ahead and pulled Mary's future deed into the present narrative.
Her story of what she did for Jesus is recorded in John 12:1-3 - "Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom He raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with Him. Then took Mary 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. "
It is also mentioned in Matthew 26:6-7 - "Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto Him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on His head, as He sat at meat" and Mark 14:3 - "And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on His head."
It is interesting to note that Matthew and Mark both mention "Simon the leper" in their accounts. Jewish tradition makes him the father of Lazarus or the husband of Martha. One thing we know for sure is that he was a relation of the three and was healed of leprosy by Jesus.
If you had leprosy and were healed of this hideous disease, how would you react if Jesus came to eat at your home? Obviously, Simon invited Him to his home in order to celebrate the many wonders that He performed on behalf of this one family. Yet, we see that Simon was lacking in his devotion to Jesus. He neglected the common courtesies given to a normal guest - those of anointing him with oil and washing his feet.
"(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair..."
Mary was not healed of physical leprosy, but she certainly knew that - before meeting the Savior of the world - she was indeed a spiritual leper. Jesus came to her and healed her of the worst disease imaginable - a sin-sick soul. Through His Blood, He made her every whit whole. For that, she was forever grateful.
So how do you repay the Son of the Living God for what He has done for you?
Mary took the most costly gift that she had in the house - "...a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly"..."an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious." This "alabaster box" was a cruise or flask made of alabaster - a white or yellow stone made from carbonate of lime and which resembled marble. It was round shaped with a long narrow neck - resembling a closed rosebud. Inside was placed a salve or ointment which was very odorous and containing myrrh. Since it had to be imported from a long distance - from regions as far as Egypt(where it was chiefly found), Syria, the Himalayas, or India - it was very costly. Some estimate its cost to be $300.00 in our currency of money.
She broke the top or side of it and poured the ointment on Jesus' head. This was usually done at festivals or weddings to show honor and respect to any and all distinguished guests.
Why did this act get the attention of the Holy Spirit - to the extent whereby He moved the Apostle John to interject it in the testimony story of Lazarus' resurrection?
It was an act of pure worship and magnificent devotion. It was an act of self-denial...clear preference...and devoted love for Christ and Christ alone. It was the result of overpowering love. It was fearless and original. And it was Mary's best. She gave up her very best for the sake of Christ.
In Matthew 26:10, Jesus called her act "a good work" - "...for she hath wrought a good work upon Me."
Now, down through the ages, all believers read about her in the Gospels. How do they know her from all of the other Mary's in the Bible? The Scriptures refer to her in such a manner - "(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair..."
If someone were to write an historical account and include you in it, how would they describe you?
If they started out by saying - "It was that _________ which..." - what act would follow your name? Would it be something that would bring glory to your name or to the name of Jesus?
What made Mary famous was not that she was the brother of Lazarus - the man raised from the dead. What brought her recognition was what she did for Jesus.
"...for she hath wrought a good work upon Me."
What was that "good work"?
She took something that cost her dearly and offered it to Jesus - so that He would be recognized as the main focus and attraction. She decreased so that He could increase.
What is your "alabaster box" and just how much would it cost for you to offer it to Jesus and His service?
It all depends on how much you love Him, doesn't it?
Actions speak louder than words!
May God Bless His Word.