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Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.”[1]

The scene is the dinner at Bethany in honour of Jesus as a celebration of Lazarus’ raising from the dead. We know what Mary did, and we know what Martha and Lazarus did, and we know what Judas Iscariot said, which was agreed with by some of the twelve.[2] For we have read often enough from verse 1-6, but how often are we distracted by the players on stage, Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Judas, as we watch and listen to what they said that we miss what Jesus was saying.

Mark’s gospel records for us these words of Jesus: “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. The poor you will always have, and you can help them anytime you want. But you will not always have Me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on My body beforehand to prepare Me for My burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”[3]

Martha and Lazarus did what was reasonable. Martha, as usual, continued to serve and Lazarus, having just recovered from a life-changing event, was relieved and taking it easy. Judas, seeing a whole year’s worth of wages being poured on Jesus and therefore ‘wasted’ in a sense, spoke up and said what was reasonable. No one there really shared what Jesus knew and what Mary had heard, that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem to get Himself killed. Particularly for Jesus, who alone could see the irony of the situation; a celebration in honour of Him because one who was dead is alive, yet He who is alive is about to die. The very irony of the situation may have driven Mary to doing something she had not intended to do.

Listen to what Jesus said carefully, “Leave her alone. It was meant that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial.”[4] We do not know who intended this besides Mary, but Jesus was pointing out to the disciples something that we have all missed. Mary did not plan or intend to pour the perfume out that night. She had intended that she would save the perfume for the day of Jesus’ burial. Having listened to Jesus as she did, Mary had made plans in anticipation of Jesus’ words coming to pass. She had set aside the precious perfume worth a year’s wages for the day of Jesus’ burial. She did not intend to do it that night at the dinner at all. However, something happened. Something snapped in her perhaps and that which she had planned and intended secretly, she threw aside and poured the perfume on Jesus. She did something she did not intend to do. Thus, the act of her anointing of Jesus was completely spontaneous. Yes, she had set the perfume aside, but no, it was not meant for that night. It was meant for the day of His burial, which was not that night!

So, why did she do it? Perhaps watching Martha serve, Lazarus relaxing and the twelve conversing amongst themselves generally having a good time, it occurred to her that they had not listened to Jesus and if they had heard, had not taken it seriously. Hadn’t He told them clearly as Matthew recorded: From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go on to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the Law and that He must be killed and on the third day raised to life[5]? And had they forgotten the rebuke Peter received? Had they already forgotten that six days after Peter was rebuked, three of them were on that Mount of Transfiguration where they received the command of the New Covenant from the Father, “Listen to Him!”[6]

In the midst of the celebration stood this one disciple who did listen—watching her fellow disciples celebrate as if their Master was not facing the greatest test of His life. She had to do something. What could she do? The perfume she had intended for the day of His burial… she could anoint Him now! Action speaks when those who have ears are not listening. Anointing Jesus as she did, the smell of the perfume filled the room. Her action and the aroma of the perfume stopped the general conversation and she brought the focus of attention back to the Lord. Yes, they were watching her and their comments were about her action, from Judas and some of the others, but at least they were now seeing and commenting on what she was doing for Jesus and to Jesus.

That is how we are, have been and can be… we can be so distracted by the momentary triumph of the moment that we forget what the Master is really planning. We forget, in the midst of our transient comforts and manifestation of the answers to our prayers, when God has clearly told us what He has plans for. Likewise, not only our triumphs and moments of comfort and solace distract us, but also the moments of our distresses, failures and apparent lack of answer from God. It is no wonder that Jesus said it was “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth”[7] that choke us and make us unfruitful. The worries of this life, which we are all familiar with, and the deceitfulness of wealth, which many of us are not familiar with, are like the valley and mountaintop experiences of walking with the Lord. The low times and the good times, and the reason they can choke us is because they make us forget what Jesus has said and where He is going. This is a problem common to all, except those who have disciplined themselves to listen carefully and even then, you may not escape its choking clutches.

Mary had to do something, for in the midst of the celebration, they had forgotten that He was going to Jerusalem to die. They had forgotten His final destination just because the overnight stopover was enjoyable. She did what she could… The perfume she had kept intending to use for the day of His burial, she would now use ahead of time and anoint Him so that it would do two things: fix for her that she is as good as dead, so that the remaining days that were left with Him still alive no longer mattered. What mattered now was to see the rest of His words come to pass, that after these days, He would be raised from the dead. She would steel herself, her whole being for a future rendezvous, rather than hang onto the transient present, for a future point in time when she would never lose Him again, not to death, not to anyone or anything. For her, the out-pouring of that perfume removed the valleys and the peaks, it made straight the highway of righteousness, so that even in the valley of the darkness of the day of His crucifixion, she would see and remember, “My perfume… He wears My perfume on that cross.” Her actions had been proven right. She had not saved it until He was dead when He could not smell it, but perhaps all through His night at Gethsemane, His night of torture, and now His day of crucifixion, He carried the scent and the aroma of one who loved Him because she had listened to Him. Whatever tears, whatever torment she would feel that day of the cross, she knew, in three days, in three days, He will arise, as surely as He is dying, as He said He would. As she poured out the perfume, she poured out herself and this first thing she did for herself.

The second thing it would do was to draw the others’ attention back to Jesus, those who were too busy with their own world. Martha busy serving as usual; Lazarus basking in the miracle; the twelve, well, probably still arguing about who is the greatest amongst them, who drove out more demons, who knew first that Jesus always intended to raise Lazarus, who should be leading them if Jesus did die, and so on and so on… a conversation amongst disciples that is no different from any conversation amongst any group of disciples. The times and the respective individuals may have changed; the topics have not. And she succeeded. She drew their attention back to the Master so that they could hear what the Master would say to them. She provoked them to silence and then astonishment and then loosened their tongues to say something to which the Master could make a response. Look closer and listen more carefully now. This beautiful thing wasn’t just that she anointed Him, no, she did something she had not intended to do and drew the disciples’ attention back to Jesus and at the same time, committed herself to what she believed of the Lord’s words, He was going to be killed. This beautification, the beautiful thing is not just one action, but a whole complex of motives – action, reaction, even of perfume challenging the nostrils. But to be able to appreciate it, you and I have to learn to stop, watch and listen, and listen again. To watch carefully and to listen carefully what Jesus is saying and doing. Had I listened more carefully, I would have heard before today that she intended the perfume for the day of His burial, not for the night’s celebration. Hearing that is what opened my eyes to really see the deeper motives of Mary and why truly, “What she has done, will be told in memory of her.”

So far, by and large, it has been worries of this life that have been choking us, everything from our natural relationships to our natural meals – a house, a job, some money to pay bills, our health and our conflicts with other people – all swelling around us like a tornado. Many have already fallen by the wayside. Now, as yet, you have not been tested by the deceitfulness of wealth, the distraction that success brings. Be forewarned now, so that when it happens, you will know that it is the Lord who has spoken. Just like the twelve at the dinner at Bethany, coming successes can and will distract each of us so that we forget just where the Lord is heading.

The raising of Lazarus was not just another miracle that Jesus wanted to add to His belt, no. It was not just another sign of His love for Mary and Martha. It was all that and much more. It was a direct provocation against the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin to cause them to attack Jesus. Immediately after the raising of Lazarus, the Pharisees began their plotting,[8] and the celebration so galvanized the opposition that it is written: So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well.[9]

The coming successes are not to prove that you love Him or that you are chosen. It is all that and more. It is to galvanize the enemies’ resistance and harden their hearts to ensure that the kings of the Earth will be there to fight against Jesus as He arrives. So, see the reason for the coming successes and learn to be sober, as Mary was. She was not overcome by emotions as one would think… on the surface, yes, but listen carefully to Jesus, and you will see that our sister, through all her emotional upheavals, maintained a singular sobriety of mind and action, a mind that directed her actions to cause all to listen to Jesus. What she did made Jesus the centre of attention again, not Lazarus and their transient problems of the day. Her action was premature and impulsive, for it was not intended for that day, but the moment demanded it. Mary was flexible in her response to the needs of Jesus, a flexibility that defied reason, but a flexibility that love that sought out Life against all odds alone could manifest. If she believed as a reasonable person, He would die and that was it… a memory. If she believed beyond reason, her action spurred in her the hope of the R/resurrection. She would not dwell on the coming burial, but have it done now, so that she would be free to look to the Resurrection where her love for Him would not be a memory, but be her life.

Likewise now, the disciples are by and large distracted. Many are still comparing one with another as to who is greater, closer or more anointed and who is more connected, and who predicted what and who failed, who got rebuked and who got rewarded, whilst others are only thinking of themselves, what they can get out of it for themselves, just like Judas Iscariot. Others are basking in the glory of their triumphs as their ministry grows ever larger in reputation and their networks are even more extensive. In the midst of all of this, many have forgotten Jesus is coming back. Like Mary, (if only they were) plans have been made for the future. So forgotten is the need to prepare for the arrival of Jesus that the church that is aware of the days of distress that are coming are praying to be raptured before these days arrive, while the rest of the church is planning to really serve Him when they get to Heaven. In the meantime, it is each to his own affairs and the devil take the hindmost.

You have been called, chosen and elected to have the command restored and told to read the scriptures a multitude of times, more than any other fellowship has ever been told, not because you can find eternal life by searching the scriptures alone without coming to Him, or so that you would be so elitist that you could exclude everyone else… no. It is so that you learn to recognize, as I have learnt to recognize, that listening carefully to Him is the key of getting to know Him and reading the word carefully, frequently, laboriously, is a part, but not all of that process. If solving your problems and overcoming your inadequacies on Earth until you arrived in Heaven was God’s plan for you, you would not have been called, chosen and elected to be here. You could have been planted in any church with bigger and better programs and auditoriums with more experience and wisdom in dealing with the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth, in their own sight. No, it is preparing for the Lord’s arrival on Earth despite your problems and inadequacies that you have been called, chosen and elected.

Look and see… the party is distracted and the Lord is not the centre of their attention. We need to do something now, with what we intended for later… to draw their attention to the intent of the Lord and galvanize the resolve of the enemy, just like Mary did. And what is the nard we all have that we have been storing for later? What is this perfume we can pour out now that we have saved for later? It is the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. Many of us have plans to come to know Him more… later, when He arrives or when we get to Heaven; plans to do miracles… later; plans to do what He has been doing… later. The purpose of raising you up to full power to do what He has been dong and to bring each of you into an intimate knowledge of Him in such a way that you look and sound like the one who had lost all reason, is so that the disciples might be drawn back to listening to Jesus and the enemy might be galvanized to fight Him.

Like Mary, understand, it will not be our words that will attract their attention, but our actions. Mary said nothing but poured the perfume, and the action and the fragrance captured their attention back to Jesus. As much as you and I have been trained to be eloquent in our preaching and profound in our revelations, they mean nothing without full power in our actions.

Our senior sister did what she could without the Holy Spirit’s power, and brought forward what she intended to do later, and drew the church’s attention back to Jesus so that Jesus could remind them of His impending death when He said, “When she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.”[10] And we have the Holy Spirit, could we not then do much more?

Consider what we have saved up and intended for later that we can do now or bring forward that will cause the disciples to turn their attention back to Jesus so that He might remind them, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Listen carefully to what the Holy Spirit is saying and let not the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth distract you, for the Lord will show you what you can do as an individual like Mary, and what we can do as a fellowship that would appear as unreasonable as pouring a whole year’s wages on Jesus in the form of a bottle of nard. Look at Mary’s reward and remember the Lord’s words, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what He has done.”[11]

The fragrance of the outpoured nard was proof of love, proven beyond all reason. Where is your bottle of nard elect?

AMEN


 

[1] John 12:1-8

[2] Mark 14:4

[3] Mark 14:6-9

[4] John 12:7

[5] Matthew 16:21

[6] Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35

[7] Matthew 13:22

[8] John 11:46-53

[9] John 12:9-11

[10] Matthew 26:12

[11] Revelation 22:12

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