There is much to glean from the story of Mary of Bethany. I am stirred by two realities from Matt Candler’s notes here ,concerning her story. First, I am provoked by Jesus’ directive that wherever His gospel is preached her story must also be included with it. (Mk 14:9). Secondly, I am stirred by what the “fragrance ministry” (worship & prayer ministry) represents throughout the Word and where the Lord is bringing it before His return.
Mary of Bethany’s story is significant to us not only because of her personal extravagant devotion but also because she operated in a forerunner spirit in partnering with Jesus’ leadership. She saw where Jesus was going and partnered with Him “beforehand.” She did this by anointing Him with perfume on His feet before He went to the cross, so that as He carried it, he was reminded of the perfume of our love, of the bride’s love was the joy set before Him.
We will partner with Him beforehand in that in Revelation 8 we see one of the most dramatic pictures around the throne of God concerning prayer. The angel of the golden altar is given two different types of incense to offer together on the golden altar. The angel was given “much incense” (representing the intercession of Christ) to offer it with the prayers of all the saints, which is also described as incense in Rev. 5:8. When the angel offers these two incenses upon the coals of the altar, one comingled perfumed fragrance arises before God! In other words, our prayers—joined with the intercession of Jesus—are one fragrance in unity and partnership with the leadership of Jesus.
In this hour of history, the Lord is establishing the fragrance ministry of worship and intercession all over the globe, with the prayer movement, IHOP and otherwise. Like Mary we must hear where Jesus is leading the church in this hour, and offer our ministry of incense (prayer) beforehand with a focused abandonment bearing the indignation and reproach of others. The heart that Mary had of entirety and extravagance is the requirement for the fragrance to come forth. Like Mary, we must personally listen to where He is going by hearing His Word and partner with Him entirely, doing all that we can do in love.
Below is an Overview of her Devotion
- Mary’s Choice to Hear Jesus’ Words (One Thing) – Luke 10:38-42
- Mary’s Trust in Jesus’ Delay – John 11:28-35
- Mary’s Extravagant Worship – Matt 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8
- One reason why this story is so important is that we discover that it is not just apostles and church leaders that are important to the Lord’s heart in shaping history. Everyone can relate to Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. The Scripture sets them forth as having no special gifting, impact, mission, or leadership, but they captured the heart of Jesus like we can.
- We can postulate that the parents of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus passed away leaving Martha the house (Lk. 10:38) and Mary a costly flask of perfume (Mk. 14:3) as their inheritance.
- Mary was single-hearted. She developed a paradigm of living before an audience of One. She was deeply connected to one Man—Jesus (unmoved by criticism, etc.). Mary had a vision to be an extravagant worshiper of God. Somewhere, it connected to her that SHE “could do this,” She lived her life in this posture at His feet, hearing and responding to His word.
- Mary Heard Jesus’ Word – Mary desired to hear the Word in as much as it empowered her to love (vs. arguments, facts, etc.). We want to hear His Word in a way that causes us to receive His love and empowers our heart to love Him in return.
Mary’s Extravagant Worship – Matt 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8
1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany (arrived Friday night from Jericho, Lk 19), where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. 2 There they made Him a supper (Saturday night, Shabbat meal ending Sabbath); and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 4 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. (Jn. 12:1-7)
- This scene takes place at a dinner at Simon the Lepers house on a Saturday night. There are between 17-30 people at this dinner in honor of Jesus. Martha is characteristically serving. Jesus has said repeatedly that He is going to die. The apostles don’t get it; Mary has heard Him refer to this in some context and wants to respond in love. She seems to be the only one who grasps the significance of what is going on besides Jesus’ mother. It is interesting that Jesus chooses Bethany as His place of rest. Jesus wants to be with this family, not Nicodemus the renowned teacher of Israel, not Joseph of Aremethea, etc. He wants to be with this family—His friends..
- Mary Anoints Jesus – Mary breaks the flask and pours the whole thing on Jesus’ head. This was equivalent to a year’s wages (maybe a modern-day equivalent of about $40,000). This was Mary’s inheritance, her future. She falls down on her knees and begins to use her hair, getting it wet, washing Jesus’ feet. 1 Cor. 11 tells us that a woman’s glory was her hair and here Mary uses her glory to do the most menial task of washing feet. Jesus Himself washes His disciples’ feet highlighting how they ought to serve one another in love later in Jn. 13. Undoubtedly, the memory of when Mary washed Jesus’ feet was still vivid in their minds.
- Indignant Leaders – Mary was criticized about 3 months earlier by Martha, now she is criticized by the senior leaders of the apostolic church. Jesus is sitting quietly drenched in fragrance. One of them speaks up and criticizes her. Jesus is silent. Jesus’ silence reveals everyone’s hearts. A spirit of devotion reveals the hearts of others. Jesus is letting all the reactions come forth. I wonder what Mary is thinking during Jesus’ silence? The apostles appealed to serving the poor as their reason to criticize Mary’s extravagance. They appealed to a scriptural mandate to serve
- Mary’s Silence – Mary is silent at the rebukes of the others because she is living before the audience of One. She is not trying to draw attention to herself. She is being moved by the Holy Spirit. She took no thought of how the others would respond. She was not trying to do something ‘unusual’ or ‘exotic’ for the sake of it, to show others her extravagance. Mary was lost in God. She had no concept of being seen as extravagant. She had no more knowledge that this was going to be recorded.
Jesus’ Approval of Mary
7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” (Jn 12:1-8)
10 “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. (Mt 26:10)
8 She has DONE WHAT SHE COULD. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. 9 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” (Mk 14:8-9)
Jesus wants her story to always be told with the gospel, because for the last days church, Jesus has chosen nourishing and cherishing, by the washing of the water of the Word (praying Scripture/worship with the Word) as an avenue to our spotlessness (Eph 5). Mary models this in sitting at His feet, hearing His word as a primary calling.
1. She Has Done What She Could – Jesus will vindicate the lifestyle that cultivates a heart that is responsive to God in love. Mary’s act of devotion is remembered through all history. Rare acts of devotion come from cultivating a spirit of entire devotion as a daily lifestyle.
2. She has Done a Good Work – we were created for good works in Christ (Eph. 2:13). Jesus calls Mary’s act of extravagant devotion a good work, this work flowing out of extravagant love. Jesus endorses these works.
3. Kept for the Day – I believe that Mary heard about the ‘sinful woman’ who washed Jesus’ feet with fragrant oil and tears (see also Lk. 7:37-47) and how Jesus honored her gift and pondered of doing the same at some point with her inheritance. Then at some point, Mary ‘heard’ and ‘saw’ where Jesus ‘was going’ (to die) and concluded she anoint Him ‘beforehand’ (the cross). Mary does the unthinkable!
4. The Priority of Jesus over Ministry – “The poor you have with you always.” Jesus uses the most significant responsibility of serving the poor and declares that touching His heart is even more important. Jesus highlights the poor because the poor are the first and highest responsibility of the church (Is. 61:1; Matt 11; Gal. 2:10). He is in no way demeaning the ministry to the poor, but rather highlighting the duty of the church to care for the poor.
5. Tell Mary’s story when you preach the Gospel – Jesus directs his disciples to comingle Mary’s story wherever His story (the gospel) is told. I believe that Jesus looked into the heart of this young woman and recognized an eternal attribute of His own love – a love that gives entirely. This is the epitome of what Jesus desires (Jn. 17:26).