Saturday, November 28, 2015

Triplets of Lavish Adoration: Mary of Bethany and the Alabaster Box

As we saw previously, there were three women named Mary in close relationship to Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry: His mother Mary, His disciple Mary Magdalene, and His dear friend Mary of Bethany. The pattern of triplets in Scripture, reflecting God’s triune nature, continues as we study Mary of Bethany in closer detail.

Mary of Bethany lived in a family unit of three, including herself, her sister Martha, and her brother Lazarus (John 11:1-5). The Bible tells us of three significant occasions in her life: she lavishly worshipped Jesus by anointing His feet with precious ointment (John 11:2; 12:3-8; Luke 7: 37-50); she listened quietly at His feet to soak up His wisdom (Luke 10:38-42); and she watched Him raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11: 1-45)

In Luke’s account of a woman anointing the feet of Jesus, Mary is not mentioned by name, and it may be that this was a separate incident involving a different woman from the account in John 12:(3-8), who clearly is Mary of Bethany. And yet John refers to Mary of Bethany as “that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair,” (John 11:2), suggesting that the woman described in Luke 7 may also be Mary of Bethany.
When Luke recounted the dinner party in which a woman, I believe Mary, anointed her Savior’s feet, he refers to her as a sinner (Luke 7: 37), which must have some special connotation as we are all sinners who have broken God’s laws (Romans 3:23; Psalm 14:1-3). The implication may be that she was well known to be living in sin. Her sinful condition was evident not only to herself, but also to Luke who wrote this account, and to Simon the Pharisee, the host of this event (Luke 7:39).

We can infer that Mary knew she was a sinner in need of Savior, as is evident by her humility (v. 38), sorrow (v. 38), and need for forgiveness (v. 42-43; 47-48). She must have known that she had come to the end of her own resources, could do nothing to save herself, and gave over all she had and all she was to let Jesus be Lord of her life. May we follow her example, repenting of our sins, trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), and inviting Him into our hearts to be Lord of our lives!

Mary pulled out all the stops when it came to worshipping Jesus. She sought Him out despite the danger, she tearfully repented (Luke 7: 38), and she adoringly ministered to Him. Simon was a Pharisee, a legalistic, self-righteous religious leader, and Mary was an infamous sinner. 

Yet she came, presumably uninvited, to Simon’s house because she knew Jesus would be there (v. 37). In so doing, she risked being thrown out by the host as he considered her to be unworthy (v. 39), being ridiculed by the dinner guests who disapproved of Jesus (v. 49) and of her (John 12:4-8), and even being rejected by Jesus Himself.

I believe that Mary was weeping tears of Godly sorrow (v. 38), in repentance for sin, similar to the tears of the Psalmist David (Psalm 6;119:136) and the “weeping prophet” Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1,18; Lamentations 3:48). She came to Jesus not in defiance but in humility, standing behind Him at His feet (the word “feet” is mentioned three times in Luke 7: 38).

She cleansed His feet by washing them with her tears and wiping them with her hair; she kissed His feet; and she anointed His feet with precious ointment (v. 38; 44-46). Jesus contrasts the poor hospitality of Simon, who omitted the host’s customary duties of foot washing, kiss of greeting, and anointing with oil, with Mary pouring out her whole being into these acts, elevating them from hospitality to extravagant worship (v. 44-46).

Simon did not invite Mary to his house, nor did Simon offer Jesus even standard hospitality, yet Mary showered Jesus with lavish hospitality. In essence, she invited Jesus into her whole being (body, soul, and spirit).

Foot washing, normally done by the lowliest servant (and, in the upper room by Christ Himself; John 13:4-17, who took on the form of a servant; Philippians 2:7), was necessary in those days to wash away the dust and grime accumulated by walking long distances in sandals over dirt roads. Yet foot washing is also symbolic of Christ washing away the sins of the world in His own blood (Romans 3:25), for He Himself had no sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Praise God that He forgives us if we ask Him! Jesus sees our tears of Godly sorrow and washes away our sins, just as the Holy Spirit led Mary to weep tears of repentance that cleansed the dust of the world from Christ’s feet.

Mary gave her body as a living sacrifice to Jesus (Romans 12:1), washing His feet with her flood of tears, drying them with her hair, and kissing them repeatedly with her mouth to show her devotion (Luke 7. 38; 44-46). On previous readings of this passage I had a mental image of Mary drying Jesus’ feet with her luxurious mane of long tresses. But on further study, I notice that the Bible does not say that she wiped His feet with her "hair," but with the “hairs of her head” (v. 38, 44).

It makes me wonder if Mary cut off or tore out sections of hair to use as a towel, making her devotion to Christ even more self-sacrificing. But it also reminds me that the very hairs of our head are numbered (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7), reflecting not only His perfect knowledge of us and His complete protection of us, but also the reckoning believers face at the Judgment Seat of Christ when He shows us how well we used, or failed to use, our body to glorify Him (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Mary not only sacrificed her pride and offered her body as a living sacrifice, but she also gave Him all her earthly treasure. She stored the precious ointment, identified in a similar account as spikenard (John 12:3) in a costly alabaster box, which may have represented her dowry or the sum of all her material possessions. Yet she broke open the box (similar account in Mark 14:3) and bestowed all the ointment lavishly on Jesus without considering the cost, because her heart was ignited by the Holy Spirit with passion to serve Him.

The broken box may represent Mary’s broken spirit as she came to Christ; the pouring out of all the ointment may symbolize her holding nothing back to save for future use (for she had faith in His provision); and the fragrance filling the air (John 12:3) reflecting the Holy Spirit entering her heart as she surrendered to Jesus as Lord of her life. 

As Jesus explained to Simon in a parable with three characters (a creditor and two debtors), the person who recognizes how much he has sinned, and how much he needs forgiveness, will have the greatest love for the One who forgives sin (Luke 7:40-43). Mary did this and gladly received Christ’s gifts of forgiveness, faith, and peace (v. 48-50). May we follow her example and pour out our whole being for Him!

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Make a Wish!

When I was a little girl, the best part of my birthday celebration was always blowing out the candles on the cake. Why? Because my parents always said “Make a wish!” and I believed that whatever I asked for in that moment would be mine.

But I attached a series of foolish superstitions to that belief. First, I had to make the wish silently – any wish spoken aloud would be null and void.

Second, it had to be the first wish that entered my mind after the magic words were spoken. I had to focus on a clear thought of what I actually wanted, and make sure that no extraneous idea entered my mind.

(It was like someone asking you not to think of a pink elephant – what is the first image your brain envisions, no matter how hard you try to stop it? Or like the scene in Ghostbusters where the monster who will destroy civilization takes on the form of the first thought that pops into the main character’s head – the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man).

Third, no one could speak between the invitation to “Make a wish!” and the completion of the entire ritual, meaning blowing out all the candles.

Fourth, every single candle had to be completely extinguished. Woe to the prankster who put candles that would relight on my cake! Their well-intentioned idea of a joke would result in my missing that year’s opportunity to wish for the single most important thing I wanted.

But, thankfully, decades later, I was saved by placing my faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). In Him, I have all I need (Philippians 4:19), and the unspeakable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) of eternal, abundant life (John 3:16; 10:10). I no longer need superstition, ritual or wishful thinking, for I am saved by grace, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9) I have the sure hope to be found only in our Saviour (Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:3).

Still, thinking about making a wish while blowing out birthday candles reminded me of times in the Bible where God granted a wish for one of His children – a limited-time opportunity of unlimited potential.

Jacob literally took matters into his hands and wrestled with God (in human form) all night, until He promised Jacob a blessing. That blessing led to God changing his name from Jacob (meaning supplanter) to Israel (meaning “of God”), for he became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people (Genesis 32:24-32).

God offered Solomon a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask for whatever he wished, and He promised to grant His request. Solomon could have asked for power, victory, or wealth, but instead he chose wisdom, so that he could be a good and just ruler of God’s chosen people. God answered Solomon’s prayer exceeding abundantly beyond what he could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20), making him not only the wisest man ever, but blessing him with riches and honor in addition (1 Kings 3:3-14).

God clearly values wisdom (Proverbs 4:5,7; 16:16) and is pleased when His children pray for it, so much so that He has promised to give it liberally to any of us who asks Him, without scolding us for needing it (James 1:5). He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5), so when we realize our own insufficiency apart from Him, He delights in giving us wisdom.

He has already given us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5) through His indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14), so if we yield to Him by dying to our sin nature (1 Corinthians 15:31; Romans 7:23-25), He will lead, guide and instruct us (John 14:16-17).

What a blessing to know that He will always answer “Yes!” to our prayer for wisdom, no matter how often we ask, and without requiring any rituals or conditions from us. Another prayer He will always answer “Yes!” is the prayer of a sinner asking to be saved (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13). How amazing that His unconditional gift of mercy, love and grace is free to all who ask!

And that brings me to the verse that has become part of my daily prayer, because I believe it is one of His most powerful promises. Jesus said:

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. (John 15:7)

Really? We can ask for anything and we will receive it? Yes, but this is a conditional, not an unconditional, promise. We must abide in Christ, meaning that we are saved and that our heart is right with Him, free of unconfessed sin. We must be as closely intertwined with Him as the branches are with the true Vine (v. 1). If we abide in Him and He abides in us, we will bear much fruit, but without Him, we can do nothing (v. 5).

The second condition attached to this amazing promise is that His words must abide in us. Clearly we cannot abide in Him, and His words in us, unless we are daily, devotedly, faithfully spending time in His Word and in prayer (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Hiding His Word in our heart keeps us from sin (Psalm 119:11), for we are cleansed by the washing of the Word (Ephesians 5:26). His Word delights us (Psalm 119:16), guides us as a Light to our path, and shows us His plan for our life (Psalm 119:105).

In other words, if we delight in God and His Word, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4), because He is what we desire. So, claiming John 15:7, what should we wish for? 

If we abide in Him and His words in us, we will value heavenly things above material things, and we will not be tempted to ask for riches, power, success or other worldly rewards (Matthew 6:20-21). If we abide in Him and His words in us, we will have faith that He will work all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28); joy in the Lord (Romans 5:11); and the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

These will keep us from the sins of unbelief (Mark 9:24) and discontentment (Philippians 4:10-13), so we will not be tempted to spend this promise foolishly in worrying over what He has already promised to provide (Matthew 6:8; 25-34). So what should born-again believers (John 3:3-8) in and on Christ who are internalizing His Word ask him for?

Lord, let me be in the center of your perfect will, which is the best blessing I could possibly have.

I believe this prayer acknowledges His infinite love (1 John 4:8), wisdom (Psalm 139:1-6) and power (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17,27)), wanting to do and able to do what is best for and with us, for only He has access to and control over all pieces of the puzzle. It recognizes that He is Lord of our life (Luke 1:38), and that He knows best how to bless us. Even Jesus yielded to the will of the Father, not only for His own life (Luke 22:42) but for the lives of all of us who have trusted Him (John 17).

Praise God that we don’t have to make a wish, follow childish superstitions, and hope in vain to have our deepest desires satisfied. God can and will grant the gift of salvation to every sinner who realizes he is lost and in need of a Saviour!  He can and will grant His child the blessing of being in the center of His perfect plan for our life if we abide in Him, and His words in us, and if we ask Him!

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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