Complete Devotion to Christ
by Trever Calvert
Mark chapter 14 is one of the longest chapters in the New Testament and includes several events from the last few days of Jesus’ life. Recorded there are His observance of the Passover with His disciples, the institution of the Lord’s supper, Jesus’ memorable prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, His arrest and trial before the Sanhedrin council, and the denial of Peter – one of His “faithful three” apostles.
The chapter begins with the Jewish leaders’ plot to kill the Messiah – a plan which quickly begins to materialize a few verses later when Judas agrees to betray Jesus. But nestled in between the plotting of verses one and two and the betrayal in verses 10 and 11 we find one of the most beautiful examples of reverence and honor for God in all the Bible. Conversely, it is also, perhaps, one of the most underappreciated stories in the life of our Lord.
In verses three through nine we read of a woman who takes a jar of oil and anoints the head of Jesus. We find from John’s gospel account that she also anoints Jesus’ feet with the oil and wipes them with her hair (John 12:3). John provides us with the woman’s identity – she is Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
The gospel according to Luke is the only account that does not record this event; however, Luke does provide us with a very important view into Mary’s heart. In chapter 10 beginning at verse 38 we read a simple, yet profound story in which Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened intently to His every word. Meanwhile, Mary’s sister Martha was busy serving Jesus and the other guests who had gathered at their house. Martha was resentful that she was having to work alone, but Jesus quickly made her aware that Mary had wisely chosen to prioritize listening to His teachings. Mary blocked out everyone and everything else around her and focused solely on Jesus.
Keep this image of Mary in mind as we return to Mark 14 and the anointing at Bethany. Mary’s jar was made of alabaster – a white colored type of gypsum. It was often used in the ancient world to make things such as vases and statues and was considered an expensive material. What was even more remarkable about the jar Mary owned was its contents. It was filled with spikenard oil, a substance derived from a plant (Nardostachys jatamansi) found mainly in the Himalayas. It was very valuable, and Judas Iscariot estimates its worth was“greater than 300 denarii” (John 12:5) – roughly a year’s wages for the common laborer. So, we see that both the jar and its contents were very costly.
Interestingly, the most precious characteristic of this item was not its monetary value. In Jesus’ day this type of oil-filled jar was mainly reserved for two purposes: 1. As a dowry for marriage or, 2. As an anointing oil for one’s death. Additionally, it could have possibly been in a family for a couple of generations. Mary may have very well looked upon this jar at various points throughout her life and dreamed of her wedding day when she would have the opportunity to present it to her husband and his family.
With this knowledge in mind, we can view her sacrifice of the jar with even greater appreciation and amazement. When she broke the flask and emptied it of its contents, she was literally pouring out her future on Jesus Christ. She risked being socially disapproved of and ridiculed for “this waste” – as the disciplesreferred to it (Matthew 26:8). However, there was no hesitation on Mary’s part. Her mind was closed off to the thoughts and opinions of others and she focused squarely on providing this act of reverence and honor to her Lord. She didn’t know if she would have the chance to anoint Jesus for burial after His death, so she seizes what she thinks could be her only opportunity and anoints Him while He is still alive.
Jesus responded to the disciples’ criticism of Mary in Mark 14:8 by saying, “She has done what she could.” This may seem like an insignificant phrase to us but essentially what Jesus said was, “she has done everything she could.” She sacrificed her most treasured possession, as well as her future, in order to provide a single act of service to Jesus. That is why He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Mark 14:9).
The application for us is simple, yet what is simple is often difficult to emulate. The reason why we struggle to do what Mary did is because we succumb to the various distractions of our busy lives. It may be our jobs, hobbies, or temptations that prevent us from rendering our greatest service to God. Perhaps we are afraid of what others might say if we were to fully devote ourselves to Him. Regardless of our excuses; however, we need to have the perspective that Mary did – an unwavering focus on Jesus Christ. We should strive to offer up our lives in complete devotion to Him. After all, there is no sacrifice that we can make that will ever be too great for God. Let us follow Mary’s example and give our heavenly Father everything so that it may be said of each of us in the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You’ve done what you could.”