Encounter with Christ – Mary of Bethany

22 02 2009

encounters-mary-of-bethanyThe city of Bethany is situated about two miles from Jerusalem. Jesus had visited there many times. On this occasion he was back in town to visit his close friends: Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Bethany had only recently experienced its miracle: Lazarus’ emergence from the tomb after four days. To celebrate, the sisters and Lazarus had Jesus into their home for an evening. Jesus and Lazarus reclined by the table. Martha was slaving away to get food on the table. The disciples were busy in their own conversations. And then, it happened… Mary stooped at Jesus’ feet. She began to anoint him.

This is one of the most memorable stories of the scriptures, but it starts much further back than this. It begins in the same place, much earlier in Christ’s ministry. Our first Encounter is Mary of Bethany.

Mary had heard Christ’s words

In Luke 10:38 and ff, the story of Christ’s first visit with Mary, Martha and Lazarus is related. Martha opened up her house to Jesus. The story continues as we first meet Mary: [she] sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

First we see that Mary heard Christ’s words. She sat at His feet and soaked up His wisdom. Picture it. Mary took the time to hear. She would not waste a moment of time with Jesus.

Martha, upset that Mary wasn’t helping her complained to Jesus. “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus, responded so well by saying, “Mary has chosen that…which will not be taken away from her.” Martha was slaving over a meal – something temporary. Mary was listening to everlasting truth.

Mary had seen Christ’s power

Mary had heard Christ’s words and she had seen Christ’s power. The scriptures seem to imply that Jesus had built up a very strong relationship with the Bethany siblings. When Lazarus fell ill, the sisters sent word to Christ to come and see the brother. But Jesus waited. Lazarus passed. This is a long passage, so bear with me, but I’d like to read it in its entirety.

John 11:17-44: So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.” Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

When He finally arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had already been buried for four days. Why four days? Jesus referenced an answer a few verses earlier in John 10:14b,15: “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.” Why in the world would He be glad that He wasn’t there?! His friend Lazarus had died and He missed it. He could have healed him and saved everyone the pain of a friend’s death. Oliver B Greene states that “their faith would be strengthened and they would be made better witnesses through the raising of Lazarus.”

Back to Mary…she was at home when Martha informed her that Jesus was calling for her and when she arrived, she fell at Jesus’ feet and cried her heart out to Him and they wept together.

But then Jesus does what she cannot expect. He calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Imagine her emotions. Imagine what changed inside of her at that exact moment. She moved from exasperation and anguish aimed at Jesus’ seeming lack of concern for her brother to absolute love and adoration for the One who called her brother from the grave.

Mary gave Christ her very best

Mary had heard Christ’s words, she had seen his power and then she gave her very best. Fast forward and Jesus is back in Bethany. This time Lazarus and the sisters have Jesus over for dinner, most likely to celebrate the recent raising of Lazarus.

John 12:1-8: Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

Halfway through the party, Mary interrupts everything. She stoops down and begins to anoint Christ’s feet. Over and over , we see Mary at Jesus’ feet. When we first meet her, she drinks from the fountain of wisdom at Jesus feet. At Lazarus’ tomb, she pours her heart out at Jesus’ feet. And finally at this meal, we find her again at Jesus’ feet. Is there something we are missing? Have we lost the compulsion to spend time at the foot of our Savior? Listening to Him speak…crying out to Him with our prayers and our pains…worshipping Him with our best.

This last action of anointing his feet in itself was a sign of absolute servitude. No one of any status would dare touch another’s feet. The feet were the dirtiest part of the body. Not only that but she poured what the Bible calls pure nard over his feet. This was a perfume used to anoint the dead during or after burial. And it was NOT cheap! Judas Iscariot raved when he saw her pouring out the perfume. He claimed it could be sold for 300 denarii. A denarius was one day’s wage. This was no Wal-Mart perfume. This was a lifetime investment. Mary gave her very best!

Principles of worship that we can learn from Mary:

1. True life worship involves our time – listening to Christ

2. True life worship involves our money – her perfume was very expensive

3. True life worship is noticeable – the fragrance filled the room

4. True life worship requires our very best – nard was a lifetime investment

5. True life worship gets labeled as crazy – people might say it’s too extravagant/ too expensive


Have you heard Christ’s words? His words confront us each time we read Scripture. His words enter our lives as we take time to pray and meditate. His words challenge us when we sit in these pews and hear a sermon.

Have you seen Christ’s power? His power saves us. His power changes our lives and the lives of people we know. His power heals even today.

Have you given Him your very best? Does your tithe and offering speak to the change Christ has brought to your life? How do you spend your time? Do you dedicate yourself to His service? Does true life worship identify you as someone who has had an encounter with Christ?




One response

23 02 2009
Martin LaBar

That looks like a solid sermon.

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