Summary: What is Jesus worth to you? For Mary, He was worth everything that she possessed. For Judas He was worth 30 pieces of silver.


Text: Mark 14:1 – 11

Someone once said that worship is the act of sacrificially giving to Jesus something that is precious to us. What would that be for you? Your money? Your time? Your job? For the woman described in this scripture, it was a container of perfume. Let’s look at her story.

This story takes place just before Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Sometimes, historians back in Jesus’ day didn’t write things in chronological order; they ordered events together to show a comparison or contrast of some sort. Mark identifies the place as the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany. We know almost nothing about this man, but evidently he had suffered from leprosy, and Jesus had healed him.

Mark doesn’t mention the name of the woman, but John identifies her as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. John says that Martha was serving at this gathering and that Lazarus was sitting with Jesus. Their presence in the story has caused some to believe that Simon may have been their father, or at least a close relative.

Jesus is the guest of honor at this gathering, and as He sits and eats, Mary enters the room with an alabaster box of perfume. Scripture identifies this perfume as spikenard, which was a very expensive fragrance imported from India. In verse 5, this small container of perfume is valued at three hundred pence, which was the equivalent of a year’s salary for a common worker. Some believe that this perfume may have been Mary’s dowry. If that is true, it was probably all that she really possessed.

It was customary to wash the feet and anoint the head of a guest in your house, but Mary goes above and beyond. John says that she anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. She then breaks the container, and pours all of its contents on Jesus’ head.

Immediately, the disciples begin to criticize her. One gospel records that Judas is the most vocal. They claim that Mary has wasted this precious perfume, and that she should have sold it and given the money to the poor instead. Could you imagine how Mary must have felt? After pouring out everything she had as an act of worship, she gets criticized and ridiculed by the disciples of Jesus. I am sure that her heart must have been broken just like the alabaster box that had contained her perfume.

But Jesus puts a stop to their criticism. He tells the disciples to leave her alone, because she has done a good work for Him. He says that they can help the poor anytime they want, but that they will not have very many more opportunities to show their love for Him in person. Jesus had told His disciples on several occasions that He was going to Jerusalem to be put to death, and now He claims that Mary’s act of devotion will serve as the anointing for His death. Although Mary probably didn’t intend for her actions to be interpreted this way, the custom was to first bathe and then anoint the body of a dead person. After the body was anointed, the flask that contained the ointment was to be broken and laid with the body in the tomb. Jesus knew that He would be put to death as a criminal, and that He would be buried without the proper anointing.

Jesus goes on to state that wherever the Gospel is preached that Mary’s act of devotion would be discussed and remembered. We are part of the fulfillment of that prophecy here today as we look at this Scripture.

As I studied this passage, I learned several things. First of all, the alabaster box of ointment contained something that was very precious, but as long as it stayed in the container, it didn’t benefit anyone. John says that when the perfume was poured out upon Jesus that its fragrance filled the house. Jesus called the act a good work, and the original Greek actually means “a beautiful thing.” God has given each one of us a spiritual gift. It may be great faith, acts of service, hospitality, teaching, or some other gift. But if you keep that gift to yourself, it benefits no one. It is your responsibility as a Christian to figure out what your gift is, and then to use it for the glory of God and the benefit of those around you. What good is the gift of preaching if you never preach? What good is the gift of leadership if you never lead?

When Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, she walked away smelling like Jesus did. When we use what we have for Jesus, others can sense that we have been with Him. If your gift is mercy, you display the mercy that Jesus showed to us when He died in our place. If your gift is evangelism, then you display the love that Jesus has for sinners. The use of our spiritual gifts causes others to sense Jesus’ presence in our lives.

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Jeannie Mclemore

commented on Jan 1, 2014

I enjoyed reading this today and it will go along with the song I will be singing "Mary's Alabaster Box". Thank you, and God Bless you! JM

William Garrett

commented on Mar 5, 2014

superb illustration. I will use the idea in one of our Lent reflections. Thank you.

William Garrett

commented on Mar 5, 2014

superb illustration. I will use the idea in one of our Lent reflections. Thank you. Bill

Humphrey Ukeomah

commented on Mar 17, 2018

Your preaching is a food of my soul

Fran Lowe

commented on Sep 8, 2018

Awesome and relevant word for such a time as this! Amen and God bless you.

Saini Leana

commented on Apr 15, 2020

Powerful word , I read through and it really blessed me, and also i am challenged.

Jim Tah

commented on Mar 29, 2021

The fragrance of Jesus AUD $82,436. That is roughly the average annual full-time salary in Australia That is equivalent to what it cost Mary for expensive, sweet smelling perfume to pour on Jesus on the Monday before He died. Jesus recently raised her beloved brother, Lazarus from the dead. The crowds told Him not to open the gravestone, because Lazarus would smell after having been dead for many days. It was not because Lazarus would be decomposed, or unrecognizable, or look horrible or scary, but because they were afraid of the smell. However, they obeyed Jesus’ command despite the crowd and opened the tomb anyway. And Lazarus did not smell. Mary remembered that and was eternally grateful. So grateful, that she used the equivalent of AUD $82,436 on the best smelling perfume. She poured it on Jesus’ hair and feet and wiped His feet with her hair. For she remembered how she wept at those same feet earlier when Lazarus was dead and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And her brother was now alive and that alone was worth far more than the perfume. Just as her brother did not smell, she did not want Jesus to smell or even die in a few days’ time. The perfume smelt very good as it was very expensive. It was made of nard oil, so it would persist and not wash out easily with water. Comparatively small amounts of this same perfume were offered as a precious incense offering at the Tabernacle. However, the beautiful fragrance of Mary’s oily sacrifice would stick to clothes, rub onto others and linger for many weeks and months afterwards. As Jesus and Mary walked through Jerusalem during that final Passover week, everyone could smell them. Everyone asked what was that smell. Everyone heard that same story about Jesus raising Lazarus and then Mary’s cherished and treasured perfume of gratefulness to her Lord. As the disciples gathered in the upper room a few days later, the pleasing scent of that perfume permeated the atmosphere. The beautiful aroma of that event and His words of love that night, giving His body and blood for the world, would linger for thousands of years afterwards and be remembered and celebrated for countless generations to come. When the guards spat on Him, the whips tore into His back and as Jesus carried the cross through that ancient city, the magnificent fragrance of His suffering, despite His innocence and purity, rose up above the crowds to heaven. And all Heaven paid attention and noticed that beautiful aroma. When Jesus hung on the cross, Mary cried. She remembered her tears of despair at her brother’s funeral. But this time, her tears were for her Lord. She wiped her tears with her hair, that she used to wipe Jesus’ feet a few days earlier. She smelt the perfume in her hair that she poured at His feet. It reminded her of His promise, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”( John 11:40). For many centuries, the Israelite's Passover burnt offerings pleased God. It was not because it was tasty, or delicious, or flavorsome, or was beautifully presented. The scriptures record that God was pleased because of the beautiful aroma and smell of the sacrifice (Num. 28:24). Yes, God sniffs and checks our sacrifices to see if they are acceptable. But the Passover this year was different. God was truly pleased once and for all, with the fragrance of the perfume of His one and only Son’s perfect and untainted sacrifice. For it paid for the lives of many, bringing redemption for countless to come. As Mary heard about the empty tomb on Sunday morning, she could still smell her perfume and she remembered the fragrance of His presence, the sweet aroma of His sacrifice, the beautiful bouquet of his love. When the angel said, “He is not here. He is risen”, she remembered how her brother Lazarus also rose from the grave. She remembered Jesus’ words that she would also see Him again, the glory of God. She remembered Jesus’ same offer to all mankind, His promise to all who believe. When Jesus rose up to Heaven not too long after, the fragrance of Mary’s perfume would have wafted through the breeze among the crowds, as a reminder of His promise and His return. The scriptures do not record what Mary did with the perfume in her hair. Perhaps it was so expensive and as it reminded her of the One she loved, she did not wash it out. Maybe she cut her hair and kept that as a reminder of our Beloved. Jesus predicted, “I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." Matt. 26:13. I do not have any plans to die soon. However, if I were to pass away one day in the distant future, I would like this story read out at the funeral and for those who attend to wear their best perfume or cologne. For it will be a reaffirmation of this story from old, a reminder of our Beloved’s fragrant sacrifice and offering, of how much He paid, of how valuable and precious we are, of how much we are worth, about His promise of hope for the future and His soon return. And I pray that those present will be like Mary, and carry the fragrance of His presence through the rest of their journey on earth, touching others, spreading the beautiful aroma of His love and reminding others of His promise, until we all meet again at the precious feet of the One we love.

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