John 11 tells the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. We find early in the chapter that a message was sent to Jesus that Lazarus was sick, and He was asked to come and heal him. But Jesus tarried. It is significant to note that Jesus did not come until Lazarus had been dead and laid in the tomb for four days. Why? Because many of the Jews then, like many Christians today, did not understand the state of the dead. They were confused by Greek philosophy and the devil’s lie to Eve that a person can be disobedient and still not die—a lie he continues to promote.
After Adam and Eve sinned, the human race was destined to die as a consequence of sin. Only Enoch and Elijah were taken to heaven without experiencing death. Satan is a proven liar, but when he is proven wrong, he changes tactics—he invents a new theory. This new theory regarding death, spiritualism, said that when someone dies, there was still something left inside that does not die, but went to another place. The Egyptians believed in the afterlife and prepared elaborate boats that were buried in the tombs with their pharaohs so that they would have transportation for their journey there. The Greeks believed a person went to the underworld—Hades—but by using a spiritualist, their family and friends could contact and talk with them. We find an example of this in 1 Samuel 28, where it tells of Saul going to the witch of Endor to contact Samuel after he had died.
Ellen White says that since the time of Adam, the devil has been preparing for his final deception, his final battle against the church. One of his most effective ways to take over the world in the last days is regarding the state of the dead.
The Jews had mixed this pagan spiritualism into their own doctrine, and at the time of Lazarus’ death, believed and taught that after a person died their spirit hovered around the body for three days. In those days, when someone died, they were not embalmed and, because of the climate in which they lived, they had to be buried right away. When Jesus raised the widow of Nain’s son at his funeral (Luke 7:11–17), the Jews claimed that he wasn’t really dead because it had not been three days since he had died. Consequently, Jesus deliberately waited until Lazarus had been dead for four days so that there could be no doubt that Lazarus was really dead. In fact, he was so dead that his body had already begun to decompose and smell. No one could argue that Lazarus was not dead.
“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil [from the alabaster box] and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” John 11:1, 2 (see also Luke 7:37, 38).
Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is believed to be Mary Magdalene or Mary of Magdala, the woman caught in the sin of adultery and brought to Jesus by the Pharisees to be condemned. (See John 8:3–11 and The Desire of Ages, 460–462.) Jesus knew Mary because He had seven times cast out the demons that had held her in sin. Jesus did not condemn her; indeed, He forgave her and told her to “go and sin no more.” That was the beginning of a new life of purity for Mary. But He also knew Mary because He had spent many hours of solitude in the siblings’ home in Bethany.
“There was one home that He loved to visit—the home of Lazarus, and Mary, and Martha; for in the atmosphere of faith and love His spirit had rest. … He had been glad to escape to this peaceful household, away from the suspicion and jealousy of the angry Pharisees. He found a sincere welcome, a pure, holy friendship. Here He could speak with simplicity and perfect freedom, knowing that His words would be understood and treasured.” My Life Today, 208
Simon the Pharisee, was the uncle of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He was looked upon with great respect, but while we don’t know all the details of what he did, Ellen White says that he was responsible for Mary becoming a prostitute. Most people, even today, think of Mary as being a terrible sinner, but Simon’s guilt was much greater because of his actions.
Simon had once been a leper, but Jesus had healed him. To show his gratitude, Simon decided to prepare a feast for Jesus and His disciples. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were there. When it was time to sit down for the feast, Simon was on one side of Jesus and Lazarus was on the other. Martha was serving.
Mary had heard Jesus speak of His approaching death. He had forgiven her, set her free from her old life of sin and Ellen White says that she loved Him and wanted to do something special for Him. So she had purchased an alabaster box filled with oil of nard with which to anoint His body after His death. Oil of nard is something like musk oil and was very, very expensive, likely almost a year’s worth of wages. It was a great personal sacrifice for Mary to purchase the oil.
People were traveling into Jerusalem from all over the world because the time to celebrate the Passover was near. The news that Jesus of Nazareth, this prophet from Galilee, had raised Lazarus from the dead four days after his death had spread everywhere. The people all over Jerusalem and the surrounding area were filled with excitement. Everyone wanted to meet Lazarus and Jesus. They wanted to hear more about how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and Lazarus had a wonderful testimony to share. He declared that Jesus was the Son of God. To make this declaration was the reason he had been raised from the dead. However, the disciples were excited for a different reason: they believed that now was the time that Jesus would be crowned king.
During the feast at Simon’s house, Mary decided that if Jesus was going to be crowned king, now would be the best time to express her love and thankfulness to Him. Unnoticed, she anointed Jesus’ head and feet. With her long hair, she wiped the oil from His feet, and the Bible says that the fragrance filled the house.
Oil of nard, once applied to the skin, cannot easily be washed off. The perfume remains on one’s skin for many days no matter how often one bathes. Mark 14:8, 9 says, “ ‘She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.’ ” [Emphasis supplied.] This anointing was so important that Jesus said whenever the gospel is preached, it would be a memorial to Mary’s love for Him. Her life had been broken, ruined, and Jesus had forgiven her, taken away her guilt, and made her whole again.
There is something special to consider about Mary. There were only two present when Jesus died on the cross who truly understood the significance of His death. Mary Magdalene was one of those two. There were only two people in all the earth who understood that Jesus’ death would provide the way for mankind to be redeemed from the penalty of sin. And as horrible as Jesus’ crucifixion was, He took not only the burden of sin to the cross, but also the reminder, the fragrance, of Mary’s love on His head and feet. As He hung between earth and heaven, dying for the sins of the world, He knew there was one person who loved Him and understood what He was doing for her. My dear friend, do you appreciate what Jesus has done for you? Do you remember that Jesus would have died just for Mary, just for you?
After Mary had anointed Jesus and the fragrance of the oil had filled the house revealing what she had done, Judas was not happy. He knew right away that this oil could have been sold for a large amount, and put in the treasury. As the treasurer of the disciples’ money, he said that the money spent on the oil would have been better spent in taking care of the poor. But John 12:3–6 tells us that Judas didn’t care for the poor. He was a thief and was simply using the idea of helping the poor as a guise to cover up his own covetousness. Christ’s Object Lessons says that self-justification originated with the devil and that it has been practiced by every son and daughter of Adam since Adam and Eve sinned.
Matthew makes it very clear that the spirit of Judas affected all the disciples; they all began to murmur about this. Simon also was affected by Judas’ speech. He began to question in his mind whether Jesus was even a prophet, much less the Messiah or the Son of God. Simon had been healed of leprosy by Jesus, but he thought that if this Man was a prophet, He would know this woman was a sinner and would not have allowed her to touch Him.
When we read this story in the Greek, we see that Jesus saw their thoughts. We find His response to Simon in Luke 7:40–48: “ ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ So he said, ‘Teacher, say it.’ ‘There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’ And He said to him, ‘You have rightly judged.’ Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.’ Then He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ ”
Simon was filled with terror because he understood the point that Jesus was making in His parable. He immediately realized that Jesus knew what he had been thinking and had answered his unspoken thought. He realized that Mary was a sinner who was forgiven, and he was a sinner who was not. Mary appreciated what had been done for her. Simon had not appreciated what had been done for him.
“Simon’s coldness and neglect toward the Saviour showed how little he appreciated the mercy he had received. He had thought he honored Jesus by inviting Him to his house, but he now saw himself as he really was. While he thought himself reading his Guest, his Guest had been reading him. He saw how true Christ’s judgment of him was. His religion had been a robe of Pharisaism. He had despised the compassion of Jesus. He had not recognized Him as the representative of God. While Mary was a sinner pardoned, he was a sinner unpardoned. The rigid rule of justice he had desired to enforce against her condemned him [because his guilt was far greater than hers].” The Desire of Ages, 567
Simon never forgot this act of compassion. The more he thought about it, he was awestruck by the fact that Jesus had explained his true situation without publicly rebuking him. Jesus had regarded his feelings and Simon was humbled by Jesus’ kindness and thoughtfulness. As a result, he repented and was converted and became a disciple of Christ. If you are in the kingdom of heaven, you will meet both Simon and Mary there.
“Christ values acts of heartfelt courtesy. When anyone did Him a favor, with heavenly politeness He blessed the actor. He did not refuse the simplest flower plucked by the hand of a child, and offered to Him in love. He accepted the offerings of children, and blessed the givers, inscribing their names in the book of life. In the Scriptures, Mary’s anointing of Jesus is mentioned as distinguishing her from the other Marys. Acts of love and reverence for Jesus are an evidence of faith in Him as the Son of God. And the Holy Spirit mentions, as evidences of [this] woman’s loyalty to Christ: ‘If she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.’ 1 Timothy 5:10
“Christ delighted in the earnest desire of Mary to do the will of her Lord. He accepted the wealth of pure affection which His disciples did not, would not, understand. … That ointment was a symbol of the heart of the giver.” Ibid., 564.
“They [the disciples after the resurrection] no longer cast blame upon Mary, but upon themselves. Oh, if they could have taken back their censuring, their presenting the poor as more worthy of the gift than was Christ! They felt the reproof keenly as they took from the cross the bruised body of their Lord.
“The same want is evident in our world today. But few appreciate all that Christ is to them. If they did, the great love of Mary would be expressed, the anointing would be freely bestowed.” Ibid., 565
O friends, the alabaster box needs to be purchased and broken again. Do you and I appreciate what Jesus is to us, or do we possess the hardness displayed by the disciples? Are we willing to sacrifice everything to show that we love Jesus and understand what He has made available to us by His sacrifice on the cross?
“Mary had been looked upon as a great sinner, but Christ knew the circumstances that had shaped her life. He might have extinguished every spark of hope in her soul, but He did not. It was He who had lifted her from despair and ruin. Seven times she had heard His rebuke of the demons that controlled her heart and mind. She had heard His strong cries to the Father in her behalf. She knew how offensive is sin to His unsullied purity, and in His strength she had overcome.
“When to human eyes her case appeared hopeless, Christ saw in Mary capabilities for good. He saw the better traits of her character. The plan of redemption has invested humanity with great possibilities, and in Mary these possibilities were to be realized. Through His grace she became a partaker of the divine nature. … It was Mary who sat at His feet and learned of Him. It was Mary who poured upon His head the precious anointing oil, and bathed His feet with her tears. Mary stood beside the cross, and followed Him to the sepulcher. Mary was first at the tomb after His resurrection. It was Mary who first proclaimed a risen Saviour.” Ibid., 568
“Now when He [Christ] rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.” Mark 16:9. When Jesus rose from the grave after His sacrifice to save mankind, He appeared first to Mary, the one who had wept at His feet because she understood her own unworthiness and keenly felt Jesus’ love and forgiveness for her.
Jesus knows all about your case, just as He knew all about hers. He knows our past, what is inside our minds, our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, and our characters. You may be saying to yourself, I am a terrible sinner, and you may be. None of us can truthfully say that we are not terrible sinners. But here is the marvelous truth: the worse we are, the more we need Jesus, the more willing He is to help us.
The same Jesus that reached to the very bottom of the pit of sin to help Mary and Simon is still the same today. Luke 14:22, 23 says, “And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.’ ”
Now is the time to go out into the highways and hedges. God is pulling people up out of the pit of sin, people involved in every kind of sin imaginable—murder, homosexuality, prostitution, fornication, adultery, stealing, lying, swindling, drinking, all kinds of drugs—people willing to repent, who realize that they desperately need a change, a change that comes only from Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit continues to speak to the hearts of men and women, those who realize they are helpless, hopeless, and in bondage. And when a person hears the gospel, responds to the Holy Spirit, realizes that this is a sick way to live, and that they cannot escape it by themselves, then Jesus says, I will deliver you.
Jesus wants to save you. If you are tired of sin, and if you would like to have a completely different life, one in harmony with the law of God, if you would like to be clean and pure, holy and righteous, and if you would like to have joy in your heart and eternal life with Jesus, He will help you when you surrender your life to Him.
May we have a heart that responds to God’s love. We must appreciate His love enough that we will want to express it to Him. He will deliver us from our degradation and sin, and restore us to a life of purity, holiness, and righteousness. May the alabaster box be broken and spilled out once again.
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.