Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Character Study On Mary Of Bethany: A Pattern For Following Jesus Christ

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John 11:1-4 "Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 

Seeing a detail I had never noticed before

Today's post begins with an admission regarding the parenthetical remark made by the Apostle John in John 11:2 - "It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick." So what is my admission? I had never noticed this little comment until reading through John 11 this past week. I marvel at how often one can read and re-read a familiar passage of the Biblical text, teach on it or preach on it - and still find something new upon a later time of study. John's comment here is designed to help the reader think back to the specific identity of Mary of Bethany. All exceptional writing ought to help the reader connect with lead characters. The inspired text of scripture accomplishes this better than any other piece of literature. 

Mary's biography of how she was first met by the Lord Jesus Christ frames for the reader why this family was so special to Him. Over a period of time, He got to know not only Mary, but her sister Martha and presumably her brother Lazarus whom he would resuscitate from the dead (that is, bring back to life what was previously dead). Today's post wants to explore who Mary of Bethany was and what lessons we can learn from her story as a follower of Jesus Christ. We can note the following pattern for discipleship in the life of Mary of Bethany...

Mary of Bethany: The One Who Wanted To Pattern Her Life In The Footsteps Of Jesus

Concerning this remark made by John about Mary in John 11:2, the Bible Knowledge Commentary has the following remark:

"Luke added some information on the two sisters Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38–42). This Mary … was the same one who later (see John 12:1–10) poured perfume on the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair. However, John may be assuming that the original readers of his Gospel already had some knowledge of Mary (cf. Mark 14:3–9)."

If we consider the cross references mentioned in the above quotation, we can develop a profile of Mary's journey of devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Luke 10:38-42 records one of the first episodes involving Mary, Martha and Jesus - 

"Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Mary, we could say, was the disciple that wanted to follow the Lord Jesus in such a way as to be in earshot of his teachings. She literally wanted to follow in the footsteps of her Lord - as seen in her efforts to "sit at His feet", an expression of humility and eagerness to learn. But what else can we learn about Mary and her journey of discipleship with the Lord Jesus...

Mary of Bethany: The Disciple That Was Willing To Pay The Cost Of Following Jesus

We've seen how Mary of Bethany wanted to have her life patterned after the Master. In discipleship, we discover that there not only needs to be a willingness to follow Jesus, but also to die to self and pay the price of whatever it takes to follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). John makes reference to Mary's sacrificial act of pouring oil upon Jesus and wiping His feet with her hair (see John 11:2). In John's Gospel, this act is recorded in John 12:1-8, following Jesus' raising of Lazarus. John 12:3 specifically states - "Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."  John's specific reference to Mary's act is of such significance that he attaches this act as the chief identity marker of Mary. We find this particular act of Mary of Bethany recorded in the other Gospels.

Mark 14:1-8 records the same scene of Mary's devoted act. We pick up the text in Mark 14:3 "While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head." The particular vial which Mary had was made of a costly material called "alabaster", filled with an even costlier perfume from the orient (likely India) called "nard", as pictured what it might had been like below:

To release the precious perfume inside the vial, one would simply "snap" the slender neck of the alabaster vessel and pour out its contents. What Mary did cost the equivalency of a year's wages. She was dramatizing her life's desire to pour out her love, at whatever cost. Extravagant? yes! Costly? definitely! Worth it? only one person was worth such devotion: Jesus.  

Interestingly enough, not only do the Pharisees respond harshly to Jesus, but also the disciples (see Matthew 26:8)! We can tell by the reaction of the people witnessing this act that its cost was steep - too steep for sentiment and convention. Following Jesus will cost everything - if need be: convention, convenience or even one's life. Mary of Bethany wanted to pattern her life in Jesus footsteps and she was willing to pay the price. But what else can we learn about discipleship from Mary of Bethany's devotion to the Lord Jesus?

Mary of Bethany: Powerful testimony to other people

When it comes to following Jesus Christ, discipleship is not just about "me and Jesus". Whenever anyone counts the cost and by faith follows the Lord Jesus Christ, their life ought to be such that others will be influenced to do the same. In Matthew 26:1-13 we see this same turn of events. In both Mark's versions and Matthew's, we see Jesus make reference to Mary's act being included in the proclamation of the Gospel for ages to come. We read in Matthew 26:13 "Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” 

Whenever we read Jesus' statement concerning Mary, how do we know that what He said came true? The fact that we read of her act in three of the four Gospel accounts (Matthew 26:1-13; Mark 14:1-8; John 12:1-8) tells us that this act was meant to be read, preached about and embedded in the memories of God's people. The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, edited by Walter Elwell, notes the following:

"Jesus’ word of commendation that her act will be remembered “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world” (v. 9) evidences his consciousness of an interval of evangelization between his death and return at the end of the age."

Closing thoughts:

Today's post was about a character study on the life of Mary of Bethany. We began by considering a remark made by the Apostle John in John 11:2 concerning her anointing of Jesus. We then explored the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John to discover lessons for discipleship and how Mary grew in her her devotion to Jesus. We discovered the following life lessons to apply to the following of Jesus Christ today:

1. Pattern one's life in the footsteps of Jesus.

2. Pay whatever price necessary to follow Jesus.

3. Present a testimony that will encourage others to follow Jesus.

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