It is perhaps to be expected, in fact it is almost inevitable, that demonstrations of our Lord’s power should produce worship on the part of His people. It was just so at Bethany, resulting in some of the sweetest “Memories of Olivet.” The Pharisees may have been angered by His miracles, and indeed they now took counsel together to put Jesus to death, issuing an arrogant decree that anyone who knew where He was should declare it so that they could arrest Him (John 11:53, 57), but those who knew Him and loved Him at Bethany had very different thoughts about Him. They prepared hospitality for Him and enjoyed happy and loving fellowship with Him, in complete disregard of the decree of their religious leaders. “There,” at Bethany, “they made Him a supper” (John 12:2).
The Eloquence of Silence
Those must have been blessed hours! Lazarus was alive, sitting at the table with Him Who had raised him from the dead. Martha enjoyed her serving now, not cumbered with care as on an earlier occasion (Luke 10:40). And Mary worshipped.
In all that we know of Lazarus he never speaks! No words of his have been recorded for us. We do appreciate those brethren in the assembly who can rise and suitably lead the saints in expressions of praise and adoration. We need such. But many dear brethren do remain seated in silent sincerity, as indeed do the sisters, and they worship nevertheless. We must appreciate this too, for all contribute to the holy atmosphere of a worshiping company. Lazarus sits at the table with Him Whom he loves, fellowshipping in the quietness of the supper.
The Expression of Service
Martha is busy. Hers is the service described by the word “deacon.” Strong’s definition of the word says much for Martha and her ministry. He writes, “diakonoeo; to be an attendant, i.e. wait upon (menially or as a host or friend).” Martha’s very name means “mistress.” She may have been the mistress in that Bethany household but she was happy to serve. And again, we need such in the assembly, brethren and sisters, who without complaint or murmur are content to serve the Lord and His people in whatever way they can. Much service, done quietly in the background, may often remain unrecognised and may seem to go unrewarded. But He knows, and in due time will suitably reward His servants.
The Excellence of Sweetness
Mary of Bethany seems to be always at the Savior’s feet. In Luke 10 she is at His feet learning. In John 11 she is at His feet weeping. In John 12 she is at His feet worshiping. Perhaps it may be said that in Luke 10 she knows Him as a Prophet. In John 11 she knows Him as a Priest. But in John 12 she is at the feet of the King, and Mary could well have quoted the words of another who said, “While the King is at His table, my spikenard sendeth forth its fragrance” (Song of Solomon 1:12 JND). She has indeed made Bethany a “house of sweetness.”
Mary brings a pound of ointment of spikenard. It was “very costly,” John says, for it was the perfume of pure unadulterated nard. Sometimes nard was mixed with lesser expensive balsams, but this was undiluted genuine nard of great price. We are not indebted to Judas Iscariot for very much, but we are for this, that he tells us the value of Mary’s spikenard (John 12:5). It could have been sold, he says, for three hundred pence. Three hundred days wages! A year’s income! It could have been given to the poor, he remarks. John observes, with hindsight, that it was not that Judas cared for the poor. He was a thief and carried the bag! How sad in the extreme, that that should be counted waste which was lavished upon the Savior.
Mary anointed the feet of Christ with her spikenard, and wiped His anointed feet with her hair, and to those who murmured Jesus said, “Let her alone: against the day of My burying hath she kept this.” “Kept” is a strong word (tereo). It means that she watched it, guarded it, retained it, and reserved it for Him in preparation for His burial. But this raises several questions. First, what would she have done with her spikenard if the little family had never ever come to know the Lord? Would she have poured it upon the dead form of her brother? Perhaps, but they had found a Friend Who was closer than a brother, and, after the death of Lazarus, Mary was still reserving her treasure for Him. Second, if she had been keeping the spikenard for the Lord in burial, why anoint Him now, at this moment of His life?
There seems to be little doubt that Mary, sitting quietly, meditatively, at the Master’s feet, had grasped things which the men had not. She knew certainly that He was going to die, but did she learn, while she sat there, that He would rise again? He had tried to teach His disciples this, but somehow they had failed to understand. Had Mary come to the conclusion that the Savior would not really need her embalming spikenard? Well, she would not be denied the holy privilege and she would anoint Him now with that which she had intended for His burial. Precious privilege indeed!
There is a lovely principle here. Mary could not have done what she did without the fragrance of it clinging to her own person. It was in her very hair! And is it not so, that we cannot truly worship without something of the sweetness of that holy exercise remaining with us, and upon us, making our lives and testimonies fragrant for Him Whom we love?
“We meditate on matchless worth
That marked His outward ways,
And told the inner glories forth –
Too much for mortal gaze.
“We muse on more than heart can hold,
On more than tongue can tell,
And simply say, like those of old,
‘He hath done all things well.’”