Reading: John 12. 1-9a
By reading the complementary accounts, we discover this ointment was in an alabaster box. Implied in the words ‘she brake the box’, Mark 14. 3, is that of complete devotion. Once the neck of that vessel was snapped and the contents outpoured, there was no gathering of it up again for reuse. This was then applied by means of her own hair. Not only was this a respectable custom, but it highlights to us the personal and intimate nature of her worship.
It is this beautiful blend of premeditation and yet spontaneity which brings pleasure to God. We learn that true worship is not merely empty sentimentality, nor is it cold formality. Rather, to worship ‘in spirit and in truth’, is the scriptural ideal. ‘The Father seeketh such to worship him’, John 4. 23. How true this ought to be of our collective worship. We bring what we have gathered in private but look for liberty and leading as we offer it. Oh, that our worship may always be fresh and never become stilted or stale.
Spices such as these would often be used to embalm a dead body; how appropriate this was! Mary was credited with keeping this, v. 7, ‘against the day of … [his] burying’. As we consider the wealth of her sacrifice and the testimony of our Lord concerning her, we realize that by faith Mary grasped something not only of who He was, but of what He must accomplish in Jerusalem. Christ Himself says in verse 8 that His hour was nigh at hand and He reminds them that, ‘me ye have not always’ and so Mary seizes the opportunity.
‘What a waste’ was the murmur of the crowd; ‘leave her be’, the response of Christ. The derision was sharp, but the defence was sweet. Having discerned his motives, the Lord rebukes Judas, since he cared not for the poor but for his own pocket. However, Mary’s portion was the applause of heaven, for she came with sincerity and not with pretence.
Her anointing of the Lord with spikenard, ‘sendeth forth the smell thereof’, S. of S. 1. 12. This costly perfume, known for its volatility, had far-reaching effects. In verse 3, ‘the house was filled with the odour of the ointment’. Its fragrance touched the very nostrils of God, and the people of Bethany knew that Jesus was in the house. Sweet is the thought, that the very garments they would later strip from Him, likely still bore the scent of this woman’s worship.
What an encouragement to us that, although our pre-occupation with Christ has a low value in the eyes of our fellow earth dwellers, it is recognized in heaven.
God is a jealous God and desires worshippers. ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve’, Luke 4. 8, were the words of Christ to Satan. Notice, there is an order there: worship and then service. When the people returned from captivity in Babylon, they re-erected the altar first before rebuilding. Elijah prayed first before his short but effective life of service, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself knew thirty quiet years in full communion with His Father, before His three years in public view. Worship should therefore be the priority of every genuine child of God.
He not only desires worship but deserves it. Surely there is no cost too great when we consider that He is ‘the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’, Gal. 2. 20. In an age that has so misconstrued the essence of worship, let us each follow the scriptural pattern, as exemplified by this dear woman.
‘Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her', Matt. 26. 13.