Mary – Sister of Martha and Lazarus

Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:1-8

There are several women in the Bible named Mary, but we know that our text refers to Mary the sister of Lazarus because the scripture tells us so:

John 11:1-2 – Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.  (It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)

It appears as though this trio of siblings were very close to Jesus.  The scripture tells us that Jesus loved all three of them:

John 11:5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.

Therefore, it is not surprising to us that Jesus stops in Bethany to see them when he is on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified.  As we would imagine, they have a dinner for Jesus.  The host of the dinner was Simon.  

Matthew 26:6 – Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper…

Let’s take a small detour in our study.  What do you know about leprosy?

It was an incurable skin disease that caused sores or nodules on the skin.  One of its prominent characteristics is loss of feeling in the part of the body affected by the leprosy.  Because they did not feel pain, lepers would often severely injure themselves. 

Leprosy also deforms the body by causing the hair and nails to fall off.  It destroys or distorts the bones and joints, especially in the hands and feet.  It also caused general muscle atrophy.  It was a horrible disease that had no cure.

Back in Bible times, a leper was considered unclean, and they were required to live outside the city or camp.  If they moved among the people, they were forced to yell “leper” out loud, so people knew they were coming by.  They were essentially outcasts in their society.  Life was hopeless for the leper, because there was no cure for this disease. 

So, why would a leper be sitting at the table eating with healthy men?

The answer is: He wouldn’t!

Therefore, we conclude that at some point in time Jesus cured Simon of his leprosy (he certainly was not cured by medical science).  That would explain why Simon hosted the dinner and why Jesus attended. 

Notice that even though he was cured, the stigma of the disease was still associated with Simon.  They didn’t call him ‘Simon the clean’ or ‘Simon who was healed’, did they?  No, they still referred to him as Simon the leper.

Anyway, they had a big dinner party.

I imagine that as they reclined at the table, they did many of the same things we do.  They probably told stories, shared memories, enjoyed the food, laughed and perhaps discussed the issues of their day.  At this time, the Passover was right around the corner and the city of Jerusalem was overflowing with people who had come to celebrate the feast.  As this was the Passover when Jesus would die, there was a lot to talk about.

In the midst of this celebration, an unusual event occurs.

Mark 14:3 – …as he [Jesus] was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 

The word ‘ointment’ does not quite convey the proper meaning of the text.  This was actually a very expensive perfume; it was a liquid, used solely to give a pleasant fragrance.   What she broke was the seal, not the container itself.  John tells us that the amount of the perfume was a Roman pound, which is about 12 ounces (about the size of a can of soda pop). 

We are not surprised that this perfume runs down his body, all the way to his feet, as noted in the gospel of John:

John 12:3 –  Mary… anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

It is easy to imagine the love and gratitude that motivated Mary.  She sees Jesus at the table and no doubt remembers the hours she spent sitting at his feet, listening to his words about the kingdom of Heaven.  Through his teaching, she found wisdom, forgiveness of sin and peace.  Next to Jesus reclines her brother, alive and well!  The very one who had been dead in the grave for four entire days now sat next to her savior, laughing and eating.  Jesus had resurrected and restored him to Mary and Martha!

Perhaps too, she remembered Jesus’ own words of his impending death.  She could see the hate and fury of his enemies and she may have sensed that time was short for Jesus. 

If she wanted to honor him, now was the time.  If she waited, her opportunity would be lost.

So, having freely received life and goodness from Jesus, she desires to show love in return – no gift could have been too costly or too precious for her savior!

Of course, there were those who did not understand her motivation:

Matthew 26:8-9 – and when the disciples saw it, they were indignant saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

Imagine, for a moment, that you are Mary.  You are acting out of pure, loving motives.  You ‘go out on a limb’ to serve Jesus in a way that no one else has ever done.  You did not hold anything back; you gave of your money, your time and yourself.  You have 100% of yourself invested in this act of love and devotion.

And then…your act of love is publicly scorned and questioned by those closest to Jesus.  I imagine the words of the disciples cut her deeply, probably to her very core.  Maybe she felt her face turning red.  Perhaps she had to choke back some tears at this stinging rebuke. Maybe she wanted to run and hide.  Can you imagine the embarrassment she felt?

Immediately, before she is forced to try and defend her actions, Jesus weighs in on the issue.  He defends Mary in front of the whole gathering.

Matthew 26:10-11  –  But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking that God does not care for the poor.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Even in the Old Testament law, God made provisions for taking care of the poor. 

Clearly, there is something else going on here. The disciples, who were looking for an immediate end to the Roman government and an equally immediate coming of the kingdom of God, did not seem to fully understand that Jesus was about to die. Jesus uses this opportunity to once again clearly confirm his death.

He then honors Mary by saying that her act of love would be proclaimed to the whole world!

Mark 14:9 – And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.

And so, ever since that time, her story has been shared with generation after generation. 

Which people in this biblical account do you most clearly identify with? 

Perhaps you are like Simon the leper.  Maybe you were once an outcast in your community.  It could have been for any number of reasons.  Maybe you were the one who abused alcohol or drugs.  Maybe you were the one who needed attention and affirmation and you sought it in multiple partners of the opposite sex.  Maybe you were the one who was harsh and judgmental toward others. 

Regardless of the circumstances, know this: like Simon, you can be forgiven and set free! 

There is nothing you can do that Jesus cannot forgive!  He paid the price for ALL sin, even the sins we like to classify as ‘big’ ones.  All you need to do is repent and ask him to forgive you.  He will cleanse you with his blood and make you into a new creature in Christ.   Don’t wait – he is willing to do it now!

What has you in bondage?  There is no chain that our God cannot break!  Don’t wait – ask him now.

John 8:36 – He whom the Son sets free is free indeed. 

This narrative shows that people will remember your past.  At first, that may depress you, especially if you know you are no longer the person who did those awful things.  But what this really is, is a testimony opportunity.  When someone remembered Simon as the leper, he could respond, “True!  I used to be a leper, but Jesus has set me free!  Now I am totally healed.  Would you like to be free of your bondages?  Jesus can do it for you!”

If you past has been washed by the blood of Christ, it is no longer an embarrassment, it is a testimony.  Rather than being ashamed of it, use it as a chance to testify to the goodness of Christ.  Your testimony could really encourage someone else.

What about Mary?  I think we can all identify with her in some regards, which is one of the reasons I believe God preserved this lesson for us three times in the New Testament.

We saw that Mary gave Jesus a precious gift, a gift that no one else could give.  What about you?  What gifts can you offer him?  One thing you can offer is your praise.

Since you have been uniquely made, and you have unique life experiences, you praise and worship God in a unique way.  For example, Mary had her brother raised from the dead and restored to her.  Can you imagine the praise that she gave to Jesus for that? 

I can’t give God praise for resurrection in the same way that Mary did, because no one in my family has ever been raised from the dead.  However, you and I probably have some neat instances of things that God has done for us that Mary did not experience.  As a result, we have reasons to praise and rejoice in God our savior that Mary did not have.  What unique praise can you give him?

What about your talents and skills?  No one else paints like you, welds like you, or nurses like you.  The bible tells us that whatever we do, we should do it with all our might as unto the Lord.

Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men

The disciples, particularly Judas Iscariot, felt that Mary’s act of service was a waste.  The truth is, acts of spiritual devotion are often scorned by the world as fanatic or foolish.  Those who do not have a relationship with Christ cannot understand our deep love for him, and they cannot understand that we would do anything for him, even if it seems foolish or embarrassing or illogical to the world. 

Think back to when you were dating your spouse.  Did you do things that seemed silly to others, but they meant a lot to that special person in your life?  You didn’t care what others thought, did you?  The only thing that mattered was the opinion of the one you loved.

Know this:  No act of service to God is a waste.  When you love and serve him, he accepts and cherishes every act of love you give to him. When your service is unique, like Mary’s, that makes it more special, not less!

Did you notice that Mary did not allow others (or their opinions) to keep her from Christ? She could easily have said to herself ‘I’ll wait until there aren’t so many people around’ or ‘What will people say about me if I do this’ or ‘I bet someone else would be better at this than I will be’ or ‘what if something goes wrong’.  She didn’t let any of those thoughts stop her, did she? 

Let me share a biblical truth with you.  Mary served by ministering to Jesus’ body in a physical sense.  Now that Jesus has been glorified, he is the head of the church and we are what…. His body!

1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

Perhaps you have been serving the body of Christ and you were criticized for it.  Maybe someone told you that you have no business serving in a certain capacity in the church.  Maybe you did something, but the fruit of it is not yet evident and it looks like a failure.  Maybe you are placing limits on your service to God based on the opinions of others.  If that applies to you, I encourage you to look for affirmation from Christ, not people.  He is the one you are serving.  As he continues to open doors, I encourage you not to give up or to wait – continue serving!

The fragrance of Mary’s devotion filled the entire house, and probably spilled outside.  People noticed it even if they didn’t see it.  Good deeds are like a perfume released into a room.  They affect many more people than you know.  Why don’t you release your acts of service to Christ and let him use them to reach as many people as he wants?  When you get to heaven, you may very well find out that you impacted people you didn’t even know about.

Finally, we find that the apostle Paul had a lot to say about love and service. 

1 Corinthians 13:1-2 – Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angles, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

As Christians, we can get wrapped up in religious activity, without really loving those we are supposed to be serving.   If we serve out of a loving heart like Mary did, we can be sure that we please our Lord and have an impact on our world. 

So, let me offer your some encouragement:  If you are serving the body of Christ in love, continue to do so, even when others criticize.  God will sustain and reward you in the end. 

Let me offer you some relief:  Let guilt go.  Your past is in the past and it has been forgiven and forgotten by your savior.  It has been cast as far from you as the east is from the west.  If others remember the past, don’t be embarrassed – use that as an opportunity for testimony.

Let me offer your some strength:  The love of Christ is so deep and so wide, that we cannot comprehend it.  He loves us unconditionally.  He loved us while we were yet sinners.  He loved us so much that he gave the ultimate gift – his only Son.  In light of such love, can we not fully love him in return?

2 thoughts on “Mary – Sister of Martha and Lazarus

  1. What a great lesson. I felt like it was all for me. I have struggled with shame from my past, allowing other to criticize my works of service to the point of not feeling worthy to do it anymore and not remembering just how much I and truly loved by Him. Thank you for this lesson.
    Dena

    Like

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