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Waste or Worship?
By Mary Craig
Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12 all record an incident which Jesus describes as a good work. In fact, Jesus declared that wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world what this woman had done will also be told as a memorial to her. But what was it and who?
At this point in time Lazarus is raised from the dead. Many of the Jews who had come to Mary of Bethany and had seen the things Jesus did believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. (Read John 11.47-57)
Lazarus is raised and there is a feast at Bethany made for Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life. They are all there eating and drinking together with Jesus on the ground of a new life. The glory of Christ is manifested among them. The glory of resurrection is foreshadowed, for in resurrection out from among the dead we behold the glory of a new creation, the goodness of God, and the rest, satisfaction, and joy of God, peace, joy and righteousness in the Holy Spirit.
Read John 12.1-8, Mark 14.3-11, and Matthew 26.6-13. In this account we see an alternative: waste or worship. Yes, Martha worked, Lazarus witnessed, and Mary worshiped. The resurrection of Lazarus followed by this supper with the One who is the Resurrection and the Life leads to a new act of worship. Worship is always the essence of glory.
John Piper says, "The fuel of worship is the truth of God. The furnace of worship is the spirit of man, and the heat of worship is the vital affections of reverence, contrition, trust, gratitude, and joy." What ignites the fire is the Holy Spirit.
The death, burial, and resurrection of Lazarus gave witness that the wound to Israel was incurable and Israel must die. The old way is incurable, sick unto death, dead, stinking with decay. That is the state of the man, and the only hope is resurrection out from among the dead by and through Jesus Christ. There is no glory in manís natural state.
When and where Godís nature, His being, is satisfied, it overflows into what we call the glory, the expression of the satisfaction of Godís nature. Godís nature seeks that which corresponds to it. Out of who God is proceeds what God does.
The wound is incurable and death results. Lazarus died. He was buried and left beyond doubt of his death. Jesus came and raised Lazarus from the dead in a profoundly prophetic action of hope for humanity.
Satan hates to see Jesus glorified. Satan seeks to rob Christ of His inheritance. Resurrection and ascension means that the entire ground of Satan has been set aside, annulled. All things are Christís. Satan is filled with pride. His desire is to have everything in himself, to be as God, to be the seat of knowledge, to be as God knowing. But what we see happening here is something Satan does not comprehend. I am speaking of the fact that Satan is nullified by meekness. Meekness destroys the very ground of Satanís authority.
Mary of Bethany is a woman, who along with Martha and Lazarus, are loved by Jesus. She is known to us as the sister who sat at Jesusí feet. Jesus was born of a woman and anointed by the Spirit of God. On another occasion, another woman, not to be confused with Mary of Bethany, anointed Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee in Galilee. That woman was "a woman of the streets." Mary of Bethany is a woman who demonstrates her desire to be joined to Jesus in a gesture of lavish, abandoned devotion, literally, a "beautiful" thing.
Mary takes an alabaster jar filled with costly spikenard and anoints Jesusí head and feet. "Spikenard" means "glistening." In the Song of Songs 1.12 it says, "While the king is at his table, my spikenard sends forth its fragrance. A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me; that lies all night between my breasts. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna in the vineyards of En Gedi. (1.12-14) Here is the soulís thirst for union with Christ. It requires spikenard ó the outpouring of oneís life. It requires myrrh, the spice of burial and wealth. The vineyards of En Gedi bring to my mind the abiding in the well that springs forth into everlasting life. Spikenard strikes the body of sin for death. (Romans 6.6)
What do we learn from the call of God for spikenard?
- We see in Mary of Bethany a desire to participate with Christ, not just imitate Him. We see a desire to partake, to possess the life that is in Christ, to attain the place of abiding, spiritual oneness with Jesus, vital spiritual union with Christ. As Hebrews 3.14 says, "We are made partakers of Christ." The call of spikenard is a call to participate in Christís death, for His death is our death that His resurrection may be our resurrection. By one Spirit we are baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12.13) and joined unto the Lord to be one spirit (1 Cor. 6.17). How?
- The call for spikenard calls us to be dispossessed of our own life. Spikenard cost a yearís wages. It represents all that you do and are. To pour it out on Jesusí head and feet seems a waste, not worship. To be dispossessed of your life is to have no reputation, no agenda, no self, no glory. It is to lay down your life because you see that you are dead in trespasses and sins. You willingly die to the natural, to the corrupt, to the carnal and acknowledge the sin of the double-souled heart. Like David, Mary of Bethany would not give to the Lord that which cost her nothing (2 Samuel 24.24).
- Mary of Bethany dismantles her glory. She is found three times in the gospel record and each time she is at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10.39, John 11.32, John 12.3). She listened to His word. She sat at His feet. When Lazarus lay dead she fell at His feet and poured out her sorrow. Here now she comes to His feet in this supreme act of worship. When Lazarus died, she said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." (Jn 11.32) Lazarus is at this supper. He had been dead and decadent but brought out of the grave and out of the grip of the grave. He had been loosed from the grave clothes and is seated here with Christ at supper. All believers are seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2.6) to enjoy His presence, fellowship and food. Here with Lazarus as a living witness, Mary demonstrates an understanding of what is required. She lets down her hair and wipes Jesusí feet with her hair. She takes the place of a servant, a slave girl. In untying her hair she does something Jewish women did not do in public (1 Cor. 11.15). She dismantled her glory. She humbled herself in an act of worship that was public, spontaneous, sacrificial, lavish, personal, and unembarrassed.
But to do this will cost in other ways. F. J. Huegel states: "There is in man a serpent which has stung him with the sting of death and poisoned the springs of his being." Mary is after the glory of Christ. For her she would have more than just Jesus dying for her sins and taking her punishment. She would participate in the re-creative moral forces of the cross, going to the seed and root of corruption, the sin principle. We sin because we are sinners. Jesus died for our sins, but He also became sin for us.
This level of worship and relationship with Jesus will bring and does bring criticism, even from others close to Jesus. Maryís worship was rebuked and rejected by the disciples, criticized and condemned. Judas called it "a waste."
Judas was the treasurer. He watched with incredulity and literally "snorted" with self-righteous indignation. "What a waste. What wicked extravagance." His criticism seemed valid. He appeared devoted to the concerns of the poor. He wanted the spikenard given to him. John 12.5 records the first words we have of Judas. "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for 300 denari and given to the poor?" His last words are in Mt. 27.4: "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." Judas was the treasurer. Mary chose to put her treasure into the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God where no one comes to steal. Greed cannot understand giving, only taking. Whatís in it for me? Perhaps Judas thought himself "poor." Those who see themselves "poor" justify stealing and taking for themselves. Those who see themselves "rich" toward God can give because they see themselves wealthy and God as El Shaddai.
The Holy Spirit reveals the motives and intents of the heart. Judas was a thief. To his heart this was irresponsible wastefulness. "What are you willing to give me" is the heart of Judas. Judas calculated the bargain he would strike with the religious leaders when he would betray Jesus. To the heart of a thief, itís about a deal, a price, a sale, a profit, money.
Mary was uncalculating in her generosity. Jesus did not condemn Mary. He blessed her. Mary blessed Jesus, and He blesses her.
There is no glory without suffering. Godís love is a perfecting love, not a pampering love. Jesus was perfected in obedience in the things which He suffered. The raising of Lazarus precipitated Jesusí arrest and the events that we call today "holy week."
The anointing of spikenard prepared Jesus for His death and burial. He tells us this Himself. The fragrance that filled the room announced to the spirit world that Jesus would pass through death to life, that He would be the offering pleasing to God. He is the fragrance of life to those who are called to life, and the fragrance of death to those destined to die. The spikenard represents a life poured out in a supreme act of worship. Mixed with Jesusí Blood and the spices of myrrh and aloes, the fragrance says to each and all in heaven and on earth that Jesus is Lord over death.
I believe Mary of Bethany heard the call for spikenard.
- She had a disposition to die with Christ, for it constituted the way to glory. The call for spikenard is a call to prepare yourself for death and burial, not a fleshly doing but a divine dying. Let death work in you. (2 Cor. 4.10, 12) Sacrifice is an offering up, not a giving up. It is the offering up of a life. If we plant ourselves in the likeness of His death, we shall reign with Him in His resurrection. If we suffer with Him we shall be with Him in the likeness of His resurrection.
- Mary of Bethany delights in the spontaneous act of worship recorded here. Jesus calls it a "good work." He says it will be remembered just as we are remembering it tonight wherever this gospel goes out.
- The call for spikenard is a call to a determination to worship Jesus in spirit and in truth. Judas represents the self-life, fretful, greedy, self-centered, fussy, lustful, hateful, envious, duplicity, superficial devotion. To hear when God calls for spikenard, we hear the call to die to sin, to self (Romans 6.11), to die to the world (Gal. 6.14), to die to the divisions of man, i.e., nationalism, gender, race, caste, culture, language (Eph. 2.13-17), to die to the Law (Romans 7.14). It is to hear the call to go for the glory with the promise that "to the one who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." (Rev. 3.21)
With a true vision of the greatness of God and the Holy Spirit igniting the fire within, our renewed spirit responds in worship. This finds expression in confessions, longings, acclamations, tears, songs, shouts, bowed heads, lifted hands, and obedient lives. Yes, obedience is an act of worship. (Romans 12.1, 2) The call for spikenard is a call to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service, or spiritual worship.
Mary of Bethany obeyed God as she took the spikenard and anointed Jesus Christ. She is one of the few recorded who ministered to Jesus directly. I believe she perceived as she obeyed, for she is not recorded as having gone to the tomb after Jesus rose from the dead. The anointing destroys the yoke. The anointing prepares one for the glory of God. The anointing consecrates one to the service of God. The anointing covered Jesus with the fragrance that when mixed with His Blood would be pleasing to the Father.
Spikenard. When it is poured out, what is dead will die, and what is alive will live. "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of Life." (Rev. 3.10) If we would see the glory of God we must:
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