The response of love
Those who by God's grace have come to understand the cross of Christ and to rest in the redemption he provided there gladly join Isaac Watts in saying:
The love of God in Christ calls for love from me - a fiery, burning love.
There is no passage that so challenges me on this point of my love for Christ as John 12. There I find Mary bowing in wonder and adoration before Jesus to pour out costly ointment upon him. Her example forces me to examine myself and moves me to pour out the ointment of my life in adoring service to the Lord who loved me and gave himself for me.
The sight of Jesus sitting there at the table with the brother she thought she had lost overwhelmed Mary. On top of that, she realized that Jesus himself was about to die (verse 7). Jesus had predicted it on several occasions, but only Mary seems to have really understood what it was all about. William Hendriksen says, 'Mary was, perhaps, the best listener Jesus ever had.
She left the room for a moment, returned with some very costly ointment and anointed Jesus' head (Matthew 26:7) and his feet. She then, in violation of the customs of her day, loosed her long hair in public and began to dry Jesus' feet with her hair.
This passage has always seemed to me to be one of the most moving and powerful in all Scripture. It forces me to examine myself. I cannot read it without asking myself two pointed questions.
Do I love Christ?
First, I ask do I love Christ? Perhaps someone will respond to that question by saying, 'Well, it's easy to see why Mary loved Jesus. After all, he did raise her brother from the dead. Anyone who experienced that would love Christ.'
We have just as many powerful and compelling reasons to love Christ as Mary did. The fact is that every Christian has already experienced something far more significant than Mary, Martha and Lazarus experienced. Each child of God has already had a resurrection of his or her own. The Bible tells us we were all 'dead in trespasses and sin' (Ephesians 2:1), but God, through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, has 'made us alive together with Christ' (Ephesians 2:5) and 'raised us up together' (Ephesians 2:6).
This is not just true of some Christians, but of all without exception. This has already happened to each child of God for the simple reason that one cannot be a child of God without it.
But there is another resurrection awaiting the child of God - the resurrection of the body. When a believer dies we take his body and place it in a grave, but the Bible makes it clear that the grave is not the final word for that body. A glad day is coming when the body of each believer is going to be raised from the dead. Jesus Christ himself is going to return to this earth with a blast from the heavenly trumpet and with the shout of the archangel, and all the 'dead in Christ' will rise from their graves (I Thessalonians 4:16), and will receive new bodies like the glorious body the Lord Jesus now has.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that God has done for us in and through Christ, things that call us to love him. He has given us his Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. He has given us his Word to instruct us. He has given us the inestimable privilege of coming to his throne of grace in prayer.
Oh, how we should love Christ for all that he has done for us! Yes, every Christian loves Christ to some degree. Tell me you do not love Christ, and I will say without hesitation that you are not a Christian. But those of us who love Christ have ample and abundant reasons to love him to a greater degree than ever before.
What about those who are not children of God? What about those who do not yet love Christ? They also have abundant reasons for loving Christ. He came from heaven's glory to this earth to do what was necessary for our sins to be forgiven. He made it possible by his life and death for us to experience resurrection from the deadness of our sins. He is the one who will come again and take his people home to share this glory in heaven.
He now issues a warm and gracious invitation. He says 'whosoever will' may come and partake of this marvellous salvation he has provided.
In addition to all of that, this Lord who has provided everything necessary for you to be saved and this Lord who now graciously invites you to be saved also spares your life and gives you the opportunity to be saved. Yes, your times are in his hand. Every breath you take is a precious gift from his hand. It is by his good pleasure that you rise from your bed each morning and go about your work. Each day he allows you to do so gives you an additional opportunity to turn to him and to begin to love him.
Surely, we cannot read this account of Mary's love without thinking about this first question: do I love Christ as I ought?
What am I doing to show my love for Christ?
But Mary's act forces me to deal with another burning question, namely, what am I doing to show my love for Christ?
I do not doubt for a moment that there were others at that supper who loved Jesus. Jesus had twelve disciples and eleven of them had a true love for him. Martha certainly loved Christ and expressed it in helping to get the supper ready for him. But I think it safe to say that no one else there loved Jesus like Mary did. The greatness of her love is proved by both the costliness of the gift and the openness with which she gave it.
Consider the costliness of her gift. The ointment, according to the assessment of Judas Iscariot, was worth three hundred denarii (verse 5). Commentators tell us that amount has nearly an entire year's wages for a working man! And she poured it all out on Jesus!
Then there was her openness in giving it. She could have done the same thing in the privacy of her own home with only her sister and brother present, but she did it in the presence of all Jesus' disciples and the other supper guests. She certainly knew she would be criticized for both the 'indecency' of loosing her hair and the costliness of the gift, but she was too absorbed with Jesus to care.
What are we doing to show our love for Christ? Are we giving sacrificially and openly as Mary did? Many think it is possible to love Christ without doing anything to show it. They limit love to feeling, but love always manifests itself in action.
How can we show our love for Christ? By worship. By giving sacrificially to his work. By openly expressing our faith in him even when it attracts scorn and ridicule from the Judases of this world. By ministering to those who are in need.
Mary has set a high standard. We can love Christ to a lesser degree, but we know in our heart of hearts that we ought to be striving to emulate Mary's example. If he has done no less for us than he did for her, we should settle for nothing less than her type of love.
Mary was not the only one that night to say something about this vital issue of loving Christ. Judas may not have realized it, but he answered these two questions that same night. His answer to the first was a resounding 'No!' and his answer to the second was a loud 'Nothing!' He professed to be shocked and indignant over such extravagant waste, and he wasted no time in letting everyone know that the ointment should have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor.
John lets us know Judas was not the champion of the poor he pretended to be (verse 6). His indignation was due to the fact that he saw a missed opportunity. If Mary had decided to give the ointment to the poor, she would almost certainly have asked Jesus to be the channel, and Jesus, in turn, would have asked Judas, the treasurer of the disciples, to sell the ointment. Judas could then have dipped into the proceeds and further feathered his own nest.
Judas had no love for Jesus at all and before the week was over sold him to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver. What a difference between Mary and Judas! She gave Jesus an offering that was worth two and a half times the amount Judas received for betraying him.
We have in Mary and Judas, then, differing answers on the question of loving Christ. May God help us to keep company with Mary and to love Christ with a fervent unashamed love.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.