Study 9 MARY, WHEN SHE PERFORMED A BEAUTIFUL ACT
OUR LORD’S COMMENDATIONS
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: Mark 14:3-9; Commendation: Verses 6-9)
At the heart of our Lord’s commendation of Mary He used the words, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” This is the theme for our study. Just as Mary did something beautiful for the Lord, so may we, and receive His commendation. What caused Jesus to speak of this “beautiful thing”? A feast was in progress; the host was Simon the Leper who had been healed by the Lord. The chief guest was Jesus; the disciples were also present, as well as Martha (Mary’s sister), and their brother Lazarus - look up John 12:1-11. During the feast Mary poured the contents of an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume over our Lord’s head and feet. Judas criticised her for what she had done (John 12:4-5), but Jesus commended her. Why was her act so beautiful?
1. MARY’S ACT WAS BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE IT WAS AN ACT OF LOVE FOR HER LORD.
When she broke the jar of very expensive perfume and anointed our Lord, Mary was expressing her heart’s love and devotion to Him. The aroma of the ointment was beautiful as it filled the house, but more beautiful to Jesus was the love and affection of Mary; for nothing is so precious to Him as the love of His people. In John’s account he tells us that at the feast Martha was serving the guests, Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus, and Mary anointed Him (John 12:1-3). Martha gives us a picture of service for the Lord; Lazarus, sitting with Him, gives us a picture of fellowship with the Lord; but Mary gives us a picture of devotion to the Lord. Each of these three things is beautiful to Jesus, but most beautiful is Mary’s devotion. He wants our service and our fellowship, but most of all He wants our love. Undoubtedly Mary loved Jesus for all He had done for her in raising her brother Lazarus and for all that He was yet to do for her at Calvary’s cross, yet the beauty of her love was that she loved Him for Himself; she loved His Person apart from His works, and that surely is the highest and the best love we can give Him. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), and because He gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20); but above all, we love Him because “he is altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:16). How can we show our love to Him? Anything, however small, done out of love for the Lord is a beautiful thing in His eyes.
2. MARY’S ACT WAS BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE IT ENTAILED CONSIDERABLE SACRIFICE.
Mark tells us that this ointment was ”very expensive” (Mark 14:3). Judas, who criticised Mary, said that the ointment ”could have been sold for more than a year’s wages” (Mark 14:5). It was a large amount to spend on one single act of love, and Mary could have anointed Jesus with a far less costly gift than this. She could have bought some cheap oil to anoint Him, but she wanted to give Him the best and the most precious - look up 2 Samuel 24:24. Do we give to the point of sacrifice? Whenever we give sacrificially, prompted by love, then He calls our act “beautiful”.
3. MARY’S ACT WAS BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE SHE PREPARED FOR WHAT SHE DID.
This was not something done on the spur of the moment. She thought out what she would do, and the significance of it, and made her preparations. Mark 14:8 makes this clear. Who can doubt that while she sat at His feet and heard His word (Luke 10:39), Jesus would have spoken to her about His death, burial and resurrection. She would have listened and have resolved to honour Him with her gift; then she made careful preparation so that when the time and opportunity came she would be ready. How it must please our Lord when our hearts are so moved that we begin to fill some beautiful alabaster jar with precious treasure so that we may express our love to Him! Such expressions of love fill the house with an aroma that is very beautiful to Him.
4. MARY’S ACT WAS BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE IT WAS DONE WITHOUT ANY FUSS.
She did not speak about it before or afterwards; she just did it. There was no parading of her intentions, no feeling of self-satisfaction when it was done. Her act was beautiful in the silent way in which she did it - now look up 1 Peter 3:4. Meekness, quietness of spirit and humility are beautiful to the Lord. Moffat translates these words, ”The immortal beauty of a meek and quiet spirit is very precious in the sight of God.” Some people parade their good deeds and give an impression of self-importance - but notice what the psalmist tells us in Psalm 149:4. This means that any lovely thing done out of love for the Lord Jesus is reflected in our own lives.
5. MARY’S ACT WAS BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE SHE DID IT IN COMPLETE DISREGARD OF CRITICISM.
Most of this came from Judas (John 12:4-5), who incidentally was well esteemed among his brethren; (they had not realised at this point that he was to be the betrayer of his Lord, nor that he was a thief). What if Mary had regarded what people said about her? She would not have anointed her Lord. She would have found it hard to be criticised by Judas. If Peter, John or Thomas had criticised her she might have expected that - but Judas! And today far less spectacular deeds than this call forth criticism from others, not only from the world but sometimes from believers. What was the secret of Mary’s action? Surely it was that Jesus filled Mary’s vision. The Lord was first in her life. Let us copy Mary. Others may criticise, doubt or misunderstand us, but there is One who knows our hearts and will commend us for our action - and that is Jesus.
We are to do everything “for the sake of the Lord Jesus”. Then it will be something “beautiful” for Him.