Week of Dec. 27

The Sweet Aroma from the Perfume of Christian Witness

Read: John 12-14

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. . .Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
John 12:1, 3, ESV


It has been said, “It is best to be with those in time that we hope to be with in eternity.” Christian friendships are the best, aren’t they? Shawna and I have a close friend who has often invited us into her home for meals and fellowship. It is a lovely place, and we have enjoyed much laughter and a few tears, as well as joys and sorrows in that place. I am certain that you, too, have friends such as this one because this is the nature of Christian fellowship. Our relationship with our sister in Christ is deeply meaningful, but it also holds profound spiritual meaning. Have you ever thought about this truth? We will do so today! Let me illustrate the principle of Christian relationships today.

A Biblical Lens

Chapter 12 in John marks a new focus in the ministry of Jesus. The public phase of the Lord’s work was brought to a close with the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The high priest also determines that in order to maintain Jewish political stability with the occupying Romans that Jesus had to die (11:49-51). The anointing of Jesus follows in 12:1-3, and the triumphal entry in Jerusalem occurs soon thereafter. All of these events prepare the reader for the “Farewell Cycle” in the gospel. Some scholars see this chapter as a close to the first section of the book, while others view it as a transition to the Final section (cf. NAC). Regardless, this chapter provides us with important events that open the way for us to understand John’s message in the second major section of the gospel.

The setting is intimate in 12:1-7, as we will no doubt recognize, because Martha feels quite comfortable in complaining to Jesus about her sister and urging him to reprimand her (cf. Luke 10:38)! This event is recorded in all four gospels, so I am quite certain that there is more to the happening than the domestic stress between these two sisters. I am stitched to the heart of my godly sister, but I am sure there are times that she would wish for Jesus to reprimand me! Seriously, if we read carefully the various accounts, we will see there are some differences of perspective between each version of these events, but this should not cause us undo concern (see Matthew 26:2; Mark 14:1; Luke 7:40). The point? Let’s allow each gospel writer to communicate his inspired message in its specific context.

There are two very different sisters, but the point in the narrative is the one Savior! Martha is devoted to duties in the kitchen, while Mary emphasizes relationships. Both women were believers, and I find it comforting that Jesus interacts with these two very different women in a loving, caring manner. John, however, wants us to place these events within the context of the Passover, so we are to notice that his anointing is an entrée into the Death Story. We are not to be distracted from the main issue: The hour of the Son of God’s death is coming.

Most all of us will know the extreme value of the precious ointment that Mary poured over the feet of the Savior. However, we may not consider the washing of his feet which was considered to be a most degrading act! It was typically reserved for slaves or others to whom little “honor” was due (NAC). Mary took hold of the truth that the disciples were slow to grasp (13:8). Here is the big takeaway: She understood that bowing low gave others the occasion to elevate Jesus to the level which he was due. Slow your minds down. Besides, the kids are on Christmas break by now, and you may have a few extra moments to consider one further thing.

Though Mary’s act of submission does not eclipse the significance of Jesus’ coming sacrificial death, her witness has been remembered throughout the centuries. How do we measure witness in our culture? "People in pews and bucks in the bank" is usually how we seek to indicate that we are a thriving church (cf. 12:4-7). Judas and others gathered there were focused on quantity and economy, whereas Mary chose to place the emphasis on quality and eternity! Mary’s actions symbolize the words of Jesus about the seed that dies and bears much fruit (12:24). Here is the big moral question: What do our friendships and church fellowships truly communicate about Jesus’ love and sacrifice?

A Moral Pathway

Let me bring to our attention the rest of the story that I introduced when we began the devotional today. The first time we visited our friend, I could not help but notice a bowl filled with coffee beans. It rests prominently on a counter. Each time we make a visit, I make it a point to take one bean out of that bowl. I bring it home, and I place it inside a small baggie on my desk. I now have quite a few coffee beans! Those beans serve to remind me of the quality of our friendship and of the sweet aroma that our Christian relationship must bring to the Father. They also remind me to pray for our friend each day.

There will come a day when we have made enough visits, and I have collected enough beans, to grind them and enjoy a savory cup of reminder of the Christ-love and fellowship that we have felt in that home. This is the theology of the cross that should be evident in all our Christian relationships and churches. Our mutual submission to one another provides a clear view for those outside the faith to see the Savior who loves them enough to sacrifice his life for them (cf. Ephesians 5:21).

For Your Journaling

1. On what ground do you stand with your brothers and sisters in Christ? We love to say that all ground is level at the foot of the Cross, but we too often fail to stand there when we relate with others. With whom do you need to renew a Christian relationship that reflects your worship of Christ?

2. What do people take away from an encounter with your church? I often called folks and asked them this very question when I was a pastor. I truly wanted to know if we were elevating Christ through our ministries. How will your church make certain that nothing blocks the view of Christ being lifted up and drawing all humankind to him?

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock