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But thank God! He has made us His captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now He uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. […the fragrance of the knowledge of Him[1]] But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task?[2]

One classic example is again from the one who listened intently to Jesus, and on hearing what He said, she was given the understanding and began to practise in her mind the necessary preparations for the requirements needed for that which she had heard and understood. For Jesus said, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to My teaching more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”[3] “Even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.”[4]

And though we have heard this story many times and have been given much understanding, in particular, of Mary Magdalene’s flexibility in her preparations for Jesus’ burial, there is always and will always be more to be shown to those who seek and listen. Today, it is the power of the perfume of those whose lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God with the fragrance of the knowledge of Him, for “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding,”[5] which is a life-giving perfume to those who are being saved, and to those who are perishing a dreadful smell of death and doom.

For it has been written for us: A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor [in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper]. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with Him. Then Mary took a [327 grams alabaster] jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, [pure nard], and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping His feet with her hair. [She broke the jar and poured the perfume on His head.] The house was filled with the fragrance. [Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?] But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray Him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself. [And they rebuked her harshly.] “Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have Me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on My body beforehand to prepare for My burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand Him over.[6]

To Jesus, what Mary did was the fragrance of the knowledge of Him rising up to God, and was given to understanding because she listened attentively to Him. Whereas to those who were indignant it was the dreadful smell of death and doom, and most particularly for the one about whom Jesus later spoke, None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”[7]

Mary’s actions released such a fragrance, both in the natural and in the spiritual, so much so, that it caused some present to rise up in self-righteous indignation at the seemingly excessiveness and the offensiveness of this gift to her Lord. For it was of such an outward show that was in appearance so inappropriate, yet was absolute in its pure motive of apt propriety, poured out in the driving urgent desperation of her heartfelt responsiveness in listening to Him, with a thankful, self-sacrificing, humble, submissive, lovingly exquisite and elegant, extravagant and unstinting action of kindness, mercy and grace, yet all held together with a seriously careful and weighty preparation of one who had practised His words, seeking diligently and attentively for the rightful opportunistic moment of its application.

And to the one who had also heard Jesus speaking of His imminent death but had not listened, so therefore had no room for any form of extravagance to Jesus, but only had in mind the needs of the poor, considering himself as one who was needy, it proved too poignant a thorn in his tender flesh for him to humble himself in repentance, particularly as he had voiced his self-righteous reasoning, which is Satan, because he had not in mind the things of God but of men. For when Jesus, in response to those other’s harsh rebuke of Mary as well as to Judas’ lame, undiscerning remark that he had lashed out with, which came from a heart of thievery and self-indulgence, factually replied with the truth of Mary’s actions, it was too much, too humiliating, for Judas Iscariot, and it was in that moment of a retaliatory spiteful motive that Judas determined to betray Jesus.

But he had not imagined the outcome of his pride, which would not allow him to repent of his bitterness at the correction that Jesus afforded him when He told him the truth of Mary’s actions, and that she had understood something that he had not and still did not, so much so that what she did that he disagreed with publicly for which he had received a public correction, would be told in memory of her wherever the Gospel is preached. For to be a thief was to be a liar as he had kept his sin of thieving from the disciple’s money from them, for if they had have known, they would never have allowed him to be in charge of their money; but Jesus’ knew… “Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear Me! For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”[8]

Yet Judas was not a murderer, for he realised the extent of the truth of his own folly when he realised that Jesus had been condemned to die, and he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”[9] For Judas was to experience these very words spoken against haughty Jerusalem: Instead of fragrance there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-dressed hair, baldness; instead of fine clothing, sackcloth; instead of beauty, branding,[10] when he went out and hanged himself.[11]

How could he be set free then? For Jesus had said to the people who had believed in Him but had not begun to remain faithful to His teachings, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”[12] And He prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”[13]

For Jesus had previously said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. I live because of the living Father who sent Me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on Me will live because of Me.”[14]

And at the Last Supper, Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then He broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this to remember Me.” After supper He took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the New Covenant between God and His people—an agreement confirmed with My blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you. But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray Me. For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays Him.” The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing.[15] And they looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table. Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” So that disciple leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when He had dipped it, He gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.” None of the others at the table knew what Jesus meant. Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Jesus was telling him to go and pay for the food or to give some money to the poor. So Judas left at once, going out into the night.[16]

Even though Satan entered him for the second time[17], Judas had just prior eaten of the flesh of Jesus and drunk His blood by Jesus’ adroit sovereign choice, so that Jesus would remain in Him and Judas could remain in Jesus. For the Fragrance of the Power of Understanding that was provoked through Mary’s actions brought both the dreadful smell of death and doom as well as that of the life-giving perfume, for the Life brought was by Jesus’ supreme plan as He deftly led Judas to the understanding of the truth of his folly, for His reply to Judas and the others was not a harsh rebuke as they had given Mary, but one factually and gently spoken in truth.

Jesus gave His life for all so that all may live and have life abundantly, whether by destruction or by listening to Him, for this is the Fragrance of the Power of Understanding. Amen


[1] NIV

[2] 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 [NLT]

[3] Mark 4:24-25 [NLT]

[4] Luke 8:18 [NLT]

[5] Proverbs 9:10

[6] John 12:2-6; [Mark 14:3-5]; Mark 14:6-10 [NLT]

[7] John 17:12 [NIV]

[8] John 8:43-44 [NLT]

[9] Matthew 27:3-4 [NLT]

[10] Isaiah 3:24 [NIV]

[11] Matthew 27:5

[12] John 8:32,34-36 [NLT]

[13] Luke 23:34

[14] John 6:53-57

[15] Luke 22:17-23

[16] John 13:22-30 NLT

[17] Luke 22:3 (1st time)


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