When the Beatles were at the very peak of their popularity, John Lennon made a very controversial statement in an interview with the Evening Standard, a British publication. Picked up by the American press, it caused a lot of people to get very angry at this band from England. Lennon said, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now: I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.”
Who’s more popular now? The Beatles have long since broken up, but Jesus is more popular than ever. When a 2013 Time magazine article listed the 100 most significant figures in world history, Jesus was in the No. 1 spot.
Jesus was popular in the first century as well, especially after he raised Lazarus from the dead. The name of Jesus was on everyone’s lips. Wherever he went, crowds of people thronged him.
Matthew 12 says that large crowds gathered to him, so he got into a boat and sat down because the crowd was standing on the beach. In effect, he needed a floating pulpit to get a little distance from the crowd. We read in Luke 12 that so many thousands of people gathered to hear Jesus that they were stepping on each other.
Jesus was very popular. But the same people who were singing his praises later shouted for his crucifixion. That is because they never really understood his real mission.
Even his own hand-picked disciples didn’t fully get it until he died and rose from the dead. But there was one exception. I would like to say it was Peter, James and John, the three Christ would take with him on certain occasions. But it wasn’t. Nor was it any other of the disciples that Jesus handpicked. In fact, it wasn’t a man at all. It was a woman with greater spiritual insight than those who effectively spent every waking hour of their lives with Jesus for some three extended years.
Who was the woman that seemed to get what all the guys missed? Her name was Mary, and she was the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It’s worth noting that every time we read of her, she is at the feet of Jesus. Maybe that’s why she had such great insight.
On one occasion when Jesus showed up at her house with the disciples, Martha was getting a little frustrated because she needed some help in the kitchen. She was frantically making the meal while Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha came out and demanded that her sister come help her. But Jesus said to Martha, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41–42 NIV). Jesus was saying. “Martha, listen. I appreciate the awesome food. But actually Mary is right in being here. She has chosen the one thing that really matters, which actually is better.”
Mary seemed to grasp an essential truth that was largely missed by the others. It was that Jesus had come to die. She had a unique understanding as to who he was and why he came. And because of this, she went on to bring the most incredible, valuable gift she could. Jesus was so moved by her sacrificial act that he commended her and said it would be a memorial that never would be forgotten.
So what did Mary do that so impressed Jesus? Did she deliver an amazing sermon? No. Did she pray an incredible prayer of faith? Actually, no. What she did was not very practical at all, really. You could even say it was somewhat impractical. But it was very heartfelt.
We read about it in John’s gospel: “Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. … Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair” (John 12: 1, 3 NIV).
There’s a good possibility that this bottle of perfume was a family heirloom. It was valued at $25,000–$30,000. Now, it would make sense if she had put a few drops on his feet. A little goes a long way. But Mary took the whole bottle and poured it on his feet. It was an act of complete devotion and adoration.
Judas Iscariot, a man who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing, instantly calculated how much of a waste it was. But it wasn’t about perfume at all; it was about sacrifice. Mary brought the most valuable possession she owned and gave it to Jesus.
We are living in a time and nation in which a lot of monuments are being torn down. But this is one monument that never will be torn down. It’s memorialized in time by Jesus himself. Jesus said that wherever the gospel is preached, the story of what this woman did would be told. This was a big deal to Jesus, and therefore it should be a big deal to us.
Maybe one of the reasons we don’t see the work of God on quite the same scale as the early church saw it is because these first-century believers had a sense of abandon about them. God would tell Philip go to the desert and wait for further direction, and he would do it. God would tell Peter to take a disabled man by the hand and pull him to his feet, and Peter would go for it. They took risks. They bet the farm on stuff. And God blessed them as a result. They simply were in love with Jesus.
I would rather try and fail in my attempt to bring glory to God than to never try anything at all – and even worse, to criticize others who try.
In Mark’s account of the same story, Jesus said, “She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (Mark 14:8 NIV). Mary did what she could. And the more we know of what Jesus did for us, the more we will want to do for him.
Nothing is ever wasted when it is done with the right motive for the glory of God. You can’t do everything. But we all can do something. We all need to do what we can, when we can do it.
Read more at The most insightful woman in Jesus’ life?