Imagine being alive when Jesus Christ walked the Earth. Imagine knowing Him, talking with Him, relaxing with Him. The Bible indicates that He had an attractive personality; He was a positive and friendly man.
Though He spent a lot of time with 12 men in particular, He also had several female friends and disciples.
One of these female disciples did something that made Christ say, “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.”
That’s quite a statement! How would you feel if this were said about you? What a woman this must have been to receive such adulation from, of all people, the Son of God!
It seems fitting then that we should study what she did.
Serving Right Focus
The first mention of this woman is in Luke 10. “Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house” (verse 38).
This village was Bethany, which is situated at the base of the Mount of Olives, just 2 miles from Jerusalem. This woman, Martha, is not the focus of this article, but she is still a remarkable, admirable woman whom you will also get to know better.
“And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word” (verse 39). Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet”; that means she was learning from Him (see Acts 22:3)—she was one of His students, or disciples.
“But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me” (Luke 10:40). She was “cumbered” by it. So this goes much deeper than just carrying out a physical service.
It is a woman’s role to serve and take care of the house. There is great glory in that job.
Martha was no doubt great at what she did. But she was “cumbered about much serving,” or distracted and over-occupied.
In Martha’s defense, she was preparing a meal for the Son of God! This would not have been so wrong, but she brought it up to her Master: Doesn’t it bother you that I’m doing all this myself? Could you tell Mary to get up and help me?
If we want to get noticed for serving, then we have a problem. It is possible to serve with the wrong motivation, or without 100 percent pure, godly motivation.
“And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (verses 41-42).
“Martha, Martha ….” Jesus didn’t light into her or start a huge lecture. The language here appears to be friendly exhortation partly to defend what Mary was doing. But Christ did tell her what her problem was, and it was not that she was serving: “[T]hou art careful and troubled about many things ….” That means she was anxious or disturbed. Christ was telling Martha that she was getting distracted with physical things.
“[O]ne thing is needful,” Christ said. Martha was probably making more food than was necessary and getting overly worried about it. Christ was essentially saying, Martha, I only need one dish. What Mary is getting at this table is the better thing to receive, and no one can take it away from her. The spiritual is more important than the physical, regardless of how important the physical may seem.
If we see the meaning and the vision in our physical responsibilities, then we will put the priority on the spiritual. And as long as we have the right motive behind it all, we will have things in the right order. And we can see how, if we do get caught up in the physical activity, we could get offended at someone who’s sitting down studying or listening to a lecture.
Martha needed her perspective adjusted. She thought, If the Messiah is here, then we can honor Him by preparing all this food and entertainment and making Him comfortable. But Mary was more on-target in that she knew why Christ was there. He was there to teach. If He comes to teach, then the way you honor Him is by listening. Sure, make sure He’s comfortable and has something to eat, but then listen and learn.
Apply this to your life. How does Christ educate you? How do you sit at His feet? Leaving one of those situations to say, Oh I need to go clean my room so I get a reward, is having the wrong focus and motivation. What better reward than to hear what God is saying to you?
What you see in both women, however, is that Jesus is the best friend of the family. They loved Him dearly, and wanted to serve Him and learn from Him. This makes both these women admirable.
What a woman who applies the qualities of both of these women: hanging on every word of Christ and learning how to serve, manage and guard a house!
The Resurrection of Lazarus
Wherever the gospel is preached, Christ said, “There shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.” Those were the words Christ used to describe a towering act of faith committed by Mary of Bethany.
We come now to this moment. First, we must lay some groundwork for what informed and strengthened Mary’s faith: She witnessed the resurrection of her brother!
When Christ returned to Bethany, Martha and Mary’s brother Lazarus had been dead four days. By this time, many Jews had come to comfort the two sisters, meaning Christ’s miracle would soon be witnessed by many people—making it that much more powerful.
You can study this miracle in John 11 (our free booklet John’s Gospel: The Love of God also explains it in great detail). Jesus was actually foreshadowing His own resurrection. When Christ was later resurrected, the disciples had such a hard time understanding it was really Him! It seems that Mary of Bethany, however, got that lesson from Lazarus’s resurrection!
When Mary heard Jesus had come, she went outside immediately. John 11:31 says the Jews who were comforting Mary, assuming she was leaving to visit Lazarus’s grave, went with her. But Mary wasn’t going to the dead, but to the God of life! And this meant more people would witness what Jesus was about to do!
“When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled” (verse 33). Mary’s weeping in particular troubled Christ. He then asked where they had laid Lazarus.
When they took the stone off Lazarus’s grave, Jesus uttered a short prayer, thanking God for the miracle He was about to perform. Shortly thereafter, a man bound in graveclothes from head to foot inched his way out of the grave. Jesus told those there to loose him and let him go.
Lazarus was alive!
Notice what this miracle did: “Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him” (verse 45). The quiet, obedient, humble Mary led a multitude to Jesus Christ to see the greatest physical miracle He performed in His entire life! Can your example lead people to see God’s miracles? Can people follow you to the point where they see the fruits in your life and want to believe and obey God?
Special Dinner Before Christ’s Death
You can see, from the rest of the chapter, that some told the Pharisees about this miracle, and this act stirred the hatred of the Jews more than anything.
John 12 shows it was close to the time of Christ’s last Passover: “Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper, and Martha served …” (verses 1-2). What a beautiful statement about a woman of the Bible: She served!
Verse 2 shows that this meal was to celebrate Lazarus’s resurrection. Imagine eating again with a man who had fallen sick and died several days before!
It seems now that Mary’s faith hit a new high. “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” (verse 3).
This was very costly ointment. Mark’s account says she had to break the box to get the ointment out; the box was probably worth a lot too (Mark 14:3). It was a one-time thing.
But notice what then happened in John 12:4-5: “Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” Judas estimated this to be worth nearly the annual salary of a working man. But don’t think Judas wanted to give it to the poor: “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (verse 6).
Christ then responded, “Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (verses 7-8). How often is the Son of God sitting at your table? And He wasn’t going to be on Earth that much longer.
In Matthew’s account of this incident, Christ said: “Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. … For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial” (Matthew 26:10, 12).
Jesus explained that He was going to Jerusalem to die. Though the disciples didn’t quite get this, Christ patiently kept explaining it. Mary seems to have understood this better than the 12 disciples!
How much was it worth to have the Son of God die? To have Him sacrifice Himself the way He did in His beating and death? Think about it. Upon repentance, we can now be forgiven of breaking God’s perfect, loving law—because the penalty has already been paid. What a price was paid so we could be healed physically and spiritually! We cannot put a price on that.
Knowing how much His death was worth, what Mary poured on Christ was worth a pittance!
Verse 13 continues: “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.”
Mary stands as an example of faith, trust and commitment to God. She believed what Christ said, and she served. Her total commitment of herself and all her resources to Jesus stands as a memorial and testimony to all in God’s Church of what true Christianity really is: to follow Jesus in faith, all the way, with all we have!
Mary was honored to pour out that precious ointment on Christ. She gave everything she had to serve Him. Isn’t that what God the Father and Jesus Christ did for us? It appears she was the first one to truly understand Christ’s death and resurrection. So she poured her ointment for His burial on Him while He was still alive, at a dinner celebrating Lazarus’s resurrection—which was intended to point to Christ’s resurrection.
If you read the accounts of Christ’s burial, you’ll see two other Marys bringing the ointments to the grave after He was buried. Mary of Bethany, however, didn’t show up. John tells us that when Christ was resurrected, He appeared to Mary Magdalene. Even she had trouble understanding His resurrection—but when she did, she went and told the 12 disciples. Those men didn’t believe her and her friends. They thought she was crazy!
Mary of Bethany’s faith preceded all this and was summed up in that great act of love and kindness toward her Savior, Master and Friend. It encapsulated everything about her that we all must emulate. She was an attentive student, a great servant, humble, full of controlled emotion, and held nothing back from God. She was full of faith after seeing one of Christ’s greatest miracles, and she understood what His life, death and resurrection were worth. That’s why Christ said that what she did went hand in hand with what the gospel was all about: believing, living by, and pouring all your heart and soul into obeying every word of God!