ANOTHER LOOK AT MARY’S FAITH
By Frank G. Tunstall
The astounding resurrection of Lazarus meant Jesus not only restored Lazarus but also reunited the family. To this day, Jesus delights to rebuild broken homes.
Jesus left Mary, Martha and Lazarus celebrating a happy reunion in Bethany and went with His disciples to Ephraim in the desert. This retreat gave the Lord and His disciples a final opportunity to rest before returning to Jerusalem and facing the ordeal of His cross. The Bible does not tell us how long this break lasted, but the evidence is clear that Jesus managed His time carefully. When His inner spiritual clock told Him the interval had ended, He headed back to Jerusalem.
Exactly six days before the Passover, perfectly on His schedule, Jesus arrived at Bethany (John 12:1). His timing was exact, and His crucifixion was only a few days away.
“Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served and Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:1-3 NIV).
Learning to Accept the Sovereignty of Agape Love
Martha, “the server,” is the woman of faith in the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection. The Martha’s of life who cook and wash the dishes can have just as much love for Jesus and just as much faith as do the Mary’s who sit at Jesus’ feet. In fact, they might grasp quicker the sovereign purposes of Jesus, who is “the resurrection and the life.”
Faith is a choice of the heart and is not determined solely by physical closeness to Jesus’ feet. The reason Martha did not get the answer she wanted from Jesus in Luke’s story was because she was preparing the meal as a duty, and not as a gift of worship. Luke said preparation of the meal had “distracted” her so that she did not appreciate fully the Guest who was in her home (Luke 10:38).
Mary’s very real emotional pain had convinced her she did not want to live out her life in her bereaved and depressed condition. When Martha told Mary that Jesus was calling for her, a thread of hope sprang up inside her and she started climbing out of the pit of her pain.
Mary’s suffering motivated her to realize what she needed to work on in her relationship with her Lord. Said another way, she had to learn to love Jesus on His terms, believing with her whole heart that He carried her best interests in His heart. She had to offer her service, not on the level of phileo, or friendship love with its expectations of returned favors, but climb to the level of agape love. Agape is the sovereign love of God that acts in our best interests as only He knows what is best, asking nothing in return.
Achieving this requires a mature faith that God has in His sovereign mind what is best for me, and you too, dear reader. This is true even when we do not understand His purposes. Embracing the agape love of God, in fact, is the foundation for accepting the sovereignty of God’s goodness in our daily living (1 John 4:8, 16).
Mary did figure this out and made the transition. Indeed! Jesus’ motives are to be trusted even when He does not answer our prayers the way we pray them.
Mary and Lazarus were living in Martha’s house (Luke 10:38). They no doubt had talked about the gift they could give Jesus at the dinner, wanting to show their love and appreciation. It is unthinkable Mary could have made a gift valued at a year’s wage without her sister and Lazarus in agreement. It was their act of worship too.
The meal probably took place in the home of Simon the leper, and Martha served the meal (Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3; John 12:2). Mary was her new self as a worshipper that night. With Jesus’ restoration of her brother, Mary’s whole world had changed; she had become a resurrection worshipper. Jesus’ retreat at Ephraim had given her adequate time to think it all through and climb to this whole new level of devotion. She had progressively absorbed how her brother’s death and resurrection had given such marvelous glory to God. She might have also begun to realize the miracle had blessed Jesus’ disciples with new faith to believe Jesus was the Son of God. Many of the villagers had made the confession as well.
Part of Mary’s healing process was dealing with her guilt. Remorse had probably hit her the hardest after Jesus left Bethany for the retreat at Ephraim (John 11:54). It is true she had woefully misjudged her Lord’s motives. Quite possibly she shed some more tears as she comprehended her big mistake. In the process of her recovery, she no doubt began to admit how she had mistrusted Jesus and put blame on Him that did not belong to Him. She surely felt ashamed of herself, and a shamed conscience routinely results in guilt trips – often harsh guilt trips.
The clouds in Mary’s sky continued to clear up as the Sonlight began to shine brighter and brighter in her soul. The conclusion Mary discovered transformed her into a prophetess.
Worth as the Basis for Worship
The English word, worship, has evolved from an Old English word, woerthship, that dates back to about 500 AD, and expresses worth or value. At its essence, worship is all about ascribing worth. Our worship reveals how valuable Jesus is to us.
Please, my reader, picture Mary on her knees at the dinner. She had become Jesus’ servant, doing the work of a slave—but more than a slave. She washed Jesus’ feet, not with water, but with very pricey, high drachma perfume. Then she wiped His feet with her hair. [The Apostle Paul later said he was the Lord’s slave too (Romans 1:1 – doulos = slave or servant)].
Mary’s tears no doubt also mingled with the fragrance, tears of both regret and gratitude. It is reasonable to believe while on her knees she poured out her heart to God amid her sobs.
What she did that evening was extravagantly worshipful. We are left to wonder what she said as she emptied the fragrance. Perhaps it was this:
“Thank you, Jesus, thank you. Thank you for what you did for my brother. And I’m so sorry; so sorry, please forgive me for mistrusting you; please, please forgive me!”
As the aroma of the perfume filled the house, the sweetness of Mary’s adoration had a spiritual fragrance all its own, and it was even more fragrant than the essence. Its message conveyed that Jesus, who had reunited their family, was worth the gift of their best, and so much more.
The agape love in the heart of Jesus had already forgiven Mary before she asked. All was well between Jesus and her. Now she had to accept that Jesus had forgiven her.
Mary showed Jesus the Heavenly Father’s kind of love, agape, with the family’s gift of the perfume and her willingness to wipe His feet with her hair. She gave Jesus what was best for Him, asking nothing in return. Mary just wanted to say, “Thank you.” She had become the Lord’s loyal servant for life.
Think about it. How does your life manifest that you are a servant, even a slave of Jesus Christ?
Conflict Tries to Crush Worship
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were in agreement, but Judas-the-thief was not. He would have been thrilled to get his hands on that jar of fragrance. Judas quickly estimated the worth of the perfume – a very valuable year’s wage! Judas was not alone; some of the other disciples were indignant too and joined Judas in his ugliness (Matthew 26:8).
Think about it. Most people take ten years and more to save a year’s wage. It was a huge gift.
The contrast between Mary and Judas could not be more evident. To Judas, her gift was a waste; Jesus was not worth it. In Judas’ warped thinking, distribution to the poor would have been the highest and best use of the fragrance’s value—with Judas keeping a goodly percentage, of course, as his own “honorable fee” for his hard work!
Yes, Judas knew what the jar was worth, but He did not know the worth of his Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus’ value was infinitely more than a year’s wage, and He defended Mary.
“Let her alone,” Jesus said to Judas. “She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me” (John 12:7–8 MSG).
Please consider, my reader. We must never forget what a strong advocate and protector we have in Jesus Christ (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 3:3; Ephesians 6:6).
As Jesus shielded Mary she clearly caught what He said, “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” In that moment Mary perceived the full picture and it told her why Lazarus was taken from them, albeit for only a few days.
Yes, Mary had the answer to her “Why” question – Why did my brother have to die? Now it all made sense. Lazarus was the prototype of what was about to happen to Jesus. At this juncture in her understanding, Mary became a prophetess.
Jesus Himself validated it: “She has done this for my burial.”
Mary perceived Jesus would be next; His enemies would succeed in killing Him. But Jesus would rise from the dead too!
The Apostle John’s record does not show Mary prophesied this with her words, but she certainly did with her deed. She had figured out a whole sphere of new meaning—not restoration to life that included facing death again, as was true with her brother, but resurrection unto immortality and eternal life. Her brother was the prototype, but Jesus alone was the firstfruits of resurrection life.
The family tomb could not hold Lazarus, and Jesus’ borrowed tomb would not hold Him either.
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were just what Jesus needed to help prepare the Son of Man for the flaming ordeal of the next few days. It would all end in about a week with Jesus impaled on three nails on a Roman cross the woodcutter left full of sharp splinters.
Mary gave the Lord the most valuable possession in their home, doing it in full faith in advance of His own death and burial. In her heart she knew the gift was not large enough, but it was their best, and Jesus accepted it as their act of worship.
Mary’s worship told Jesus there were millions more like Lazarus out there worldwide, and like Mary and Martha too, who would honor the unfathomable value to mankind of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. These people were waiting and hungry, yearning to hear the gospel and experience the forgiveness of God.
Regrettably, so many followers of Jesus let their value be defined by the curse of their sins. They never fully appreciate how the redeeming blood of Jesus redefines their worth. Our value to God, His great love for us, compelled Jesus to die on a cross in our place.
Dear reader, your Lord poured out His blood, dying in your place (John 3:1-3; Hebrews 12:1-3). How much is Jesus worth to you?
I’ve come to pour My praise on Him like oil…
Don’t be angry if I wash His feet with my tears
And I dry them with my hair.
You weren’t there the night He found me;
You did not feel what I felt When He wrapped His loving arms around me….
I’ve been forgiven and that’s why I love Him so much.
By: Janice Sjostran
Excerpted from Alabaster Box lyrics © Pure Psalms Music