Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Condemned by Judas or Praised by Jesus?

 To the probing observer, portraits emerge from Scripture’s eternal pages.  Some are masterpieces of the rarest quality, startling the onlooker with the very presence of Christ.  “Sitting at the Feet of Jesus”— this caption underscores the life of Mary of Bethany.  A woman of faith, Mary discerned  what others did not.  Her words are few, but her actions testify of her heart for Christ’s words.  

It is Mary whom Christ commends on two occasions of note.  In Luke 10, Mary’s ability to perceive the “one needful thing” is praised over Martha’s well-intentioned service.  Later, at a feast commemorating Lazarus’ resurrection, Mary anoints Jesus’ body and receives the breath-taking commendation—
          “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath  done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her (Mark 14:9). 

Three Gospel writers record this story; comparing these narratives helps shape the incident in our minds:  Mary lavishly poured costly ointment upon both the head and the feet of her Messiah.
             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” (Mark 14:3).
            “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” (John 12:3).

Many sat under Christ’s teachings, heard His stories, and listened to His parables.  But Mary glimmers forth from Scripture’s pages as one who took away from Christ’s presence something others did not.  Even His own disciples balked at the reality of His crucifixion and burial, but she seems to have comprehended these difficult subjects, for Christ’s commentary sheds light upon her intentions: For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial” (Matt. 26:12). 

How often did Mary meditate upon the words of her Lord?Faith cometh by hearing,” Romans 10:17 tells us, “and hearing by the Word of God.”  So many heard the same message—and could not bear it.  Yet it seems Mary’s faith increased as she imbibed the Messiah's eternal words to her soul.  That faith produced vision, which caused her to  “get it” when others did not.

Mary’s actions illustrate her comprehension of the sacrifice urged in Romans 12:1-2—“I beseech [beg] you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”

It was as if Mary understood the mercy of God in allowing her to be part of Jesus' time on earth.  Using those moments, she drank deeply His words of life. Shaped by these eternal truths, she willingly poured out precious spikenard—worth about a year’s wages--upon His head and feet.

It’s reasonable—if we see what God has done for us—to present ourselves to Him.  But one will never present his body to Christ who has not first recognized the battle for his mind. Though Mary’s mind had been marred by sin—like every other creature's on the planet—drinking of Christ’s eternal words transformed her into a woman who willingly worshiped (even when others misunderstood).

A container of alabaster
It is only as the Word of God penetrates our minds that our reactions, our relationships, and our reality is affected.  Romans 1:21 says, “. . . when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”  Mary knew God.  And because of that, she chose in her life to glorify God’s Son, Jesus Christ. When Jesus came through her village of Bethany, she honored Him.  Martha opened up her home to Him—a noble and noteworthy service—but Mary clearly opened her heart to Him, for she let His words penetrate her thoughts, which resulted in actions that glorified Him.  

While Martha intruded upon Jesus’ teaching, calling for Him to rebuke her sister, impugning Him as “not caring,” Mary sat silently at His feet, imbibing His words.  Perhaps Martha inwardly ascribed “laziness” or “lack of awareness of the need at hand” to Mary’s desire for Christ’s teaching.  In reality, Mary saw the value of hearing God’s Words.

When God looks down upon our churches, our homes, and our daily lives, does He view believers that love His words?   How many today see the absolute necessity of  choosing the“one needful thing” that Christ commends?  How many base their every decision upon it, seek to obey its every precept, and willingly structure their lives around its eternal truths?

Mary was listening.  And she was listening to the right thing.  That’s why she heard that Christ would be buried and she did something about it.  That’s why she made the choices she did when Jesus visited her home. 

Dear believer, Jesus is visiting your home today.  Seeing your weariness, He beckons you to come to Him.  Come unto Me,” He invites, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  Christ longs to shape your mind to see the world from His perspective, to shape your thinking to prioritize His life.  How do you listen? 

Others attended the same sermons, heard the same parables, and saw the same miracles.  One of those was Judas.  When Mary anointed Christ’s body with precious ointment, Judas saw waste.  He saw a foolish woman, worthy to receive condemnation for her lavish sacrifice:
            “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?”            (John 12:5).
            This he said,” John writes, “not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:6). 

Interestingly, John tells us Judas started the contentious spirit that day, but Matthew indicates it was “the disciples” who “had indignation.”  How easy for one scorner in a crowd to get Jesus’ disciples to doubt the good intentions of other true believers!  One scorner’s comments can affect church members and bring them to “great indignation” for what appear to be culturally foolish actions of a truly devoted follower of Christ.  Judas seems to have riled up the other disciples against this dear saint, so that when Jesus understands the comments He asks them,
            “Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.  For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always” (Matt. 26:10).

While He commends the sacrificial spirit of Mary, Jesus rebukes the Judas spirit in the midst of His disciples. 

Who really heard His words?  Who really comprehended the vast superiority of His way?  Judas’ words sound pious—“Give to the poor!” but Mary’s whole-hearted sacrifice is what Christ commends.

Dear believer, do you respond negatively to the lavish sacrifices of God’s people?  At a graduation ceremony this past Sunday, young people testified that they would gladly serve Christ with their lives, pledging even to return their diplomas if they denied His Gospel.  A New Yorker spoke of his passion to return to that populous city to spread the Good News; a broken young man spoke of God’s capturing his heart and renewing his commitment to serve the people of Eastern Europe.

Does full-time ministry seem a waste?  Let us consider Christ’s opinion.  Does He honor such sacrifice?  In a world that has quadrupled in size in the last eighty years, we do well to question the lack of love for full-time ministry in the church, the supposed lack of “being called” to Christ’s harvest field.  Is the Judas mentality causing many to doubt the worthiness of sacrifice?

I love these words of William Booth, which sum up the spirit of Christ-honoring sacrifice: 

"'Not called!' did you say?  "Not heard the call,' I think you should say.  Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin.  Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help.  Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father's house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there.  Then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His word to the world."

Mary's lavish sacrifice reminds us that if we take the time to really hear Christ's words, we will clearly perceive our need to surrender our all to Him.