Why was Jesus so anxious to broadcast her deed? Certainly He would not tack anything on the message that would detract. It must affirm the gospel. It must drive home the message He has given us to preach.
Remember the gospel is the story of Jesus-His life, death, resurrection and ascension. It means literally, "Good news." The story of Jesus is good news to everyone.
The sermon of Peter at Pentecost set the tone for the whole ministry of the New Testament church. He told them the story of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. One author says that "hanging on the cross, Christ was the gospel."
Mary's act of anointing Jesus was a portrait of the cross of Jesus. He had finally found a human being who had so understood and embraced His mission and message that she reflected it back to Him.
Mary got her last name from the city of Magdala, where evidently she lived when she first came in contact with Christ. Jesus made a trip to Magdala after a long period of ministry in Galilee. (Matthew 15:39) Mary was not always from Magdala, though. She started out where she ended up, living with her brother Lazarus and her sister Martha in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem.
But she underwent a great transformation, didn't she? She was raised as a well-bred Jewish girl in Bethany. She became a harlot from Magdala. One is led to ask, "How did it happen? How did she get from A to Z?"
Lets explore their family situation. Mary anointed Jesus at a feast held at Simon's house. In John chapter 12 we see that Martha served and Lazarus was present. Simon must have been a relative in order to have Martha serving. I don't think Martha was a professional caterer.
For some unknown reason there is no mention of the parents of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Where were they? Perhaps there was some tragic loss. It may have been a loss that was partly filled by the Pharisee Simon. Jewish girls were taught from the torah. Perhaps Simon became a mentor to Mary while she was young. He must have taken a paternal role in her life..
At some point Simon became intoxicated with the power he had over this young woman. We don't know the details of how he led her into sin, but we do know that he was responsible for how she ended up. You remember that Simon began to question Christ's divinity when He saw what Mary was doing in anointing Him. Simon thought, "If this man were a prophet, He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner" Luke 7. Jesus read his thoughts and gave him a message tucked away in a parable. It was a story of two debtors, one who owed ten times as much as the other. By the end of the parable, Simon knew that he was the greater debtor, and Mary the lesser.
Jesus spoke in this parable to every man of power who uses that power to cater to his own desire. He speaks to every abuser. He says, your victim may go on to become a great sinner, but you will be ten times as guilty because you got them started. Mary was known outwardly as a great sinner, but Simon was the more accountable.
What made it possible for Simon to do such a thing? He was known as an upright and good man. He read the Bible every day! He prayed often and fasted twice a week like a good Pharisee. Evidently many Pharisees had the same problem Simon had of secret immorality. Look in John chapter 8 at the story of the woman taken in adultery. You remember what Jesus said to those Pharisees who threw that woman down and recommended that she be stoned. "He that is without sin among you let him be the first to throw a stone at her." vs. 7. That phrase, "without sin" is from the Greek "anemertetos" which means "particular sin." In other words Jesus said, "He that is without this particular sin among you go ahead and stone her. He that is without the sin of immorality, go ahead and stone her." And they did what? They all left, one by one. They were all immoral.
But they were immoral in secret. Their sin was secret! One researcher named Patrick Carnes says that religious leaders are, "Always on display, always on call" and that "this makes them especially susceptible to a double life." This is how it happens. Wherever there is a standard of behavior held up without sufficient motivation given to reach that standard, people become hypocrites. When we preach the law without the gospel we manufacture hypocrites. The law tells us what we are supposed to be. Paul says in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is "the power of God for salvation." The law will tell you what you need to be, but it will not give you one iota of power to become what you need to be. The gospel will give you that power, but those poor Pharisees did not have the gospel. The Gospel came to them and they rejected Him. Therefore they had no power to overcome sin. They could only hide it. They could only go from being outward sinners to being secret sinners.
We can see in the scandal that has made America the laughingstock of the world that it is very difficult for men of power not to use that power for their own perverted purposes. They abuse their power and rob vulnerable people of power in the process. I am so glad to know that the man Christ Jesus, who was a Man of power if there ever was One, never misused His power, but gave His power away so that we could have power. In Philippians we are told that "He emptied Himself" Jesus emptied Himself of power. Lets read it. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the aform of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. But emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross." Philippians 2:5-8. Jesus gave up His power- emptied Himself of power so that we could have the power of God unto salvation. Such a welcome contrast He is to the men of power in this sick world.
But poor Mary. At a vulnerable time in her life her innocence was swept away. Suddenly she was isolated with her shameful secret. She thought that no one in Bethany would support her. She ran to Magdala, which was just about as far away as you can get from Bethany and still speak Hebrew. She tried to piece together what remained of her life.
But there was no life to piece together. She lived in the past, bitter and angry at the one who had stolen her happiness. When you are bitter toward someone, you may remove yourself physically from them, but you still live with them. They follow you everywhere you go because they live in your memory. With every remembrance of Simon, Mary felt the pain of humiliation afresh. Finally she decided that she would not be the victim any longer. She would enter a profession that would make her successful, even wealthy. She would get power back by using the very thing that was used to take her power away.
It's hard to conceive of how completely her innocence was lost. I used to work in New York city and I would walk by prostitutes on a regular basis. At times I felt the impulse to grab their shoulders, shake them and say, "You don't have to live like this! Christ died so that you can have a better life!" What held me back from doing that was fear. They were frightening to look at. They were obviously demon possessed like Mary.
We don't know exactly when Mary and Jesus first met, but if it was on his trip to Magdala, it was toward the end of His public ministry. Mary recognized in Jesus the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies she had learned about as a girl. She saw Him healing, heard Him preach, and recognized Isaiah 61:1 "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners." Maybe Mary longed for freedom from her addiction, but feared coming close to Jesus. After all, He was a "man of power." What won her over must have been the respect that she saw He had for women in general, and specifically for her. She was accustomed to religious men treating women like less than human-Pharisees would not even talk to their wives in public. Along came this Jesus and He had women disciples who traveled with Him! Look at Luke 8:1-3. Mary eventually became one of those disciples.
There is some discussion about how it all happened. We are told that Jesus cast "seven devils" out of Mary. (Mark 16:9) Some think that it happened all in one event. Others think it was gradual, with her falling back into sin six more times. I believe the latter, because I can think of no better way for Jesus to encourage those of us who keep falling than for Him to take the greatest joy in a woman who fell again and again and finally won the war!
Some people feel that overcoming sin is not an issue. It's true that overcoming all sin is not a requirement for salvation. Martin Luther was a terrible anti-Semite and apparently had a taste for beer. He had many character flaws. William Miller was closed to the Sabbath truth. Will they be lost because of their lack of perfection? Absolutely not. The reason I want to overcome sin is not because I think I will be lost if I don't. It's because I really want to reflect Jesus to the world. I also want to reflect Him back to Himself like Mary did. Jesus longs to see His love displayed in His people.
Perhaps Jesus anticipated that some people would reason, "It's true that Christ lived a perfect life, but He had one less temptation than I have. He was never tempted to discouragement because of His failure." Well, that is not true, because Jesus was "tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin" as it says in Hebrews 4:15, but it is hard sometimes to understand how a perfect man feel like a failure. Jesus can remind us of Mary, who failed over and over, but like the Proverb says, "A righteous man falls seven times and rises up again." (Proverbs 24:16)
Maybe there is someone here who had become discouraged with themselves because of repeated failure. Remember Mary. She failed so many times I presume the disciples told Jesus to give up on her. He didn't. He has not given up on you either. I will tell you how you can know for sure if there is hope for you. Take your hand and put it right under your nose. Do you feel breath coming in and out of your nostrils? If you do there is hope for you.
What was the lingering problem that afflicted Mary? I think it was the demon of bitterness. She came to the place where she knew that she was capable of being just like Simon. He used her and now she was using others. Even beyond that, Mary saw how her sin broke the heart of Christ. I imagine it this way. She does well for a while, but at some point one of the disciples or someone offends her, and she gets those old feelings of powerlessness. She leaves in a rage and resorts to the old way of regaining power. Then she realizes what she has done. She assumes that Jesus is finished with her now, and she sits in a room somewhere with the shades pulled. A knock is heard. She opens the door to find Jesus standing there. He has sought her out like the little lost lamb. He sees the insanity etched on her face and drops to His knees. Listening to Him praying to God for her deliverance, she feels her heart melt within her. She just can't resist His love.
Over and over this scene is replayed until the sixth time she cries out, "I just can't do it! I just can't be one of your disciples! I keep failing! Go on without me!" I can imagine Jesus speaking softly, "Mary, I will never give up on you. Please don't give up on Me!"
Sometime after Jesus trip to Magdala but before the feast at Simon's house, we have Matthew 18, the chapter of Jesus' teaching on forgiveness, which we will be looking at in more detail this afternoon. Mary probably heard that teaching, and realized that God was leading her to forgive Simon. Mary struggled like all of us do to forgive, but finally she must have realized that Christ really was the Messiah and that He had come to die for her sins. Suddenly she was not the victim anymore, Jesus was the victim. The thought that she could cause Him such pain broke her heart. Out flew the last demon of bitterness.
And in it's place grew forgiveness for Simon. Maybe she wrote him a letter or confronted him with what he had done to her, because Jesus had instructed His disciples to go to those who had sinned against them. Simon did not repent, because at the feast he is still looking scornfully upon Mary. Perhaps she shared her frustration with Jesus, and He assured her that He would deal with Simon. Jesus will deal with those who have hurt you as well.
Mary was a new person. No longer was she haunted by the face of a man who robbed her of peace and happiness. Instead she lived in the light of a God-man who had given it all back. How could she thank Him? Inspired with an outrageous idea, she took her savings, the equivalent of a year's wages, and walked to the apothecary. He showed her the $25 model, thinking he would have to go down from there. Boy was he in for a surprise! One after another bottle of perfume was rejected because it wasn't fine enough. Finally the man locked the front door of his shop and went into the safe for the finest bottle of ointment he had ever owned. It was an alabaster box, which once broken could never be resealed. It was designed to be given in one extravagant display of homage to a great king. It was exactly what she wanted.
Jesus had said that He would suffer and die. Mary was the only one who believed Him. She did not want Him to be buried without proper respects for who He was. Usually great Kings were anointed after death and before burying. Mary couldn't wait that long. Losing all self consciousness, she ran to the feast at Simon's house. None of the disciples wanted her there, especially Simon, but she went uninvited because she could not contain her gratitude to Christ any longer. Two gospels say that she anointed His head, and two say that she anointed His feet, so I think it's safe to assume that He was covered from head to toe with this precious ointment. No one took much note until the fragrance of spikenard filled the air. The disciples knew that smell, and perceived immediately that a huge amount of money had been spent, objecting to what they called "waste."
They were hoping that Jesus would turn to Mary and say something like, "Mary, it's a very poetic idea you came up with here, but next time you want to do something like this, counsel with some of the more experienced brethren. Mary, you're a sweet girl but you lack judgement."
Now what would we do if Jesus was coming to the McDonald road church and one of the board members recommended spending $20,000 on such a bottle of perfume? We would reject the idea as impractical, although we may but the perfume as an investment, sell it, and use the profit toward the new church organ.
But Jesus had different ideas of what was practical. You see, He had come to die for the sins of every soul. To make one person understand His mission was more value in the context of eternity than all the money in the world. Finally here was someone who grasped His love, His gift, His character. Her sacrificial giving looked so much like His cross that in looking upon her people would see a reflection of Himself.
There she was, a broken heart, with broken box in her hands. Never would this fountain be resealed. Soon Jesus would hang before the world, broken forever for our sins, wounds in His hands symbolizing His eternal sacrifice. There was Mary, surrounded by scorning men who could not comprehend her spirit. Soon Jesus would hang, surrounded by a mocking world. There was Mary, ointment flowing lavishly down the body of Jesus and soaking into the dirt floor. Soon Jesus would hang, His blood flowing in superabundance for every sin, even when that blood would never be appreciated by the majority of this world. There was Mary, fragrance pouring from her hand, filling the room with the evidence of love. Soon Jesus would hang, "an offering and a sacrifice to God as a sweet-smelling savor" Ephesians 5:1.
Hanging upon the cross Christ was the gospel. . . . This is our message, our argument, our doctrine, our warning to the impenitent, our encouragement for the sorrowing, the hope for every believer . If we can awaken an interest in men's minds that will cause them to fix their eyes on Christ, we may step aside, and ask them only to continue to fix their eyes upon the Lamb of God.-- Manuscript 49, 1898. Hanging upon the cross Christ was the gospel. Now we have a message, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world." Will not our church members keep their eyes fixed on a crucified and risen Saviour, in whom their hopes of eternal life are centered? This is our message, our argument, our doctrine, our warning to the impenitent, our encouragement for the sorrowing, the hope for every believer. If we can awaken an interest in men's minds that will cause them to fix their eyes on Christ, we may step aside, and ask them only to continue to fix their eyes upon the Lamb of God. They thus receive their lesson. Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. He whose eyes are fixed on Jesus will leave all. He will die to selfishness. He will believe in all the Word of God, which is so gloriously and wonderfully exalted in Christ.
Openning Song - "Jesus Saves" p. 340 Scripture - Ephesians 5:1,2 Closing Song - "Because He Lives" p. 526
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last updated 2/14/98 by Bob Beckett.