In the extravagance of her sacrifice Jesus saw the love of heaven poured out.
When Mary Magdalene first met Him, her life was a mess. Luke 8:1-3 tells us Jesus cast demons from her seven times! Imagine the kind of life Mary was living, if, when she met Jesus, demons called her “home.” The day Mary met Jesus, He changed her life (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). After she met the Master, she became His magnet. She devoted her finances to His cause. Wherever He went, she went too. By every action of her life, she placed Jesus first.
Trusting Him, Even When It’s Hard
When Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, fell sick, the sisters sent a message to Jesus. He replied, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). We have the benefit of knowing Lazarus was going to be resurrected, but all the sisters knew was that Jesus said Lazarus wouldn’t die, but he did. What do you do when you pray for someone and they die?
Four days later Jesus came, and Mary ran to fall at His feet (verse 32). Oh, that her habit would be ours! “It was for Lazarus that the greatest of Christ’s miracles was performed.”1 Lazarus’ experience reminds us to pray no matter how hopeless the outlook, because even though He appears to be four days late, God is still on time.
A Crowning Act
The crowning act of Mary’s devotion to Jesus happened the week before Calvary. Simon, a Pharisee Jesus had healed from leprosy, invited Jesus to his home in Bethany as a way of saying thanks. Contrary to traditional custom, Simon didn’t treat Jesus as the honored guest. All went well, until an uninvited woman whom John identifies as Mary (John 11:2), the sister of Martha and Lazarus, entered the room.
While listening to Jesus, Mary heard Him speak of His death. She had purchased an alabaster box of perfume—worth an entire year’s salary—for the sad day when she would anoint His body. But now the word on the street was that Jesus was about to be crowned King.
Mary had the perfect gift for a King. Martha told Mary she was catering for Simon’s feast, and that Jesus was going too. Mary saw her golden opportunity. She entered the house, “stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil” (Luke 7:38).
At Jesus’ feet, the memories of all He had done for her and everything He meant to her flooded her mind. Suddenly her gift seemed so inadequate to give to Jesus. As she broke her box a fountain deep inside her broke with it, and the tears began to flow. The Bible says a woman’s hair is her glory; Mary lay hers down at Jesus’ feet. Her act told Jesus, Lord, the lowest part of You is higher than the highest part of me.
As the scent of sacrifice filled the room, Judas smelled the money. The disciples joined him in a chorus of criticism: We love Jesus too, but this is ridiculous! She just poured 300 denarii down the drain that could’ve been given to the poor! (see John 12:4, 5). To put this in perspective, when Jesus fed the 5,000, it was 5,000 men plus their wives and children, and Philip told Jesus 200 denarii wouldn’t cover the bill (John 6:7). But 300 denarii might have. Mary’s gift could’ve funded the feeding of thousands.
As Simon watched, the Bible tells us that he said to himself: “If Jesus were a true prophet, He’d know this woman is a sinner” (see Luke 7:39). This is the Bible’s delicate way of saying Mary had lived a life of open immorality. How did Simon know this? How would a woman from a family like Mary’s end up being demon-possessed and a prostitute?
The Desire of Ages tells us what is implicit in the text: “Simon had led into sin the woman he now despised. She had been deeply wronged by him.”2 Elsewhere, Ellen White says Simon was Lazarus’ uncle, which made him her uncle too!3 Jesus could’ve exposed this massive skeleton in Simon’s closet, but He didn’t. Instead, He told a parable that concluded with this punchline: Those who are forgiven much, love much. Then turning to Mary, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (verse 48).
He then went on to say, “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” (Matt. 26:13). Jesus wanted the whole world to smell the fragrance of Mary’s gift! Why?
In her alabaster box broken at His feet, He saw His body, soon to be broken for us. In its precious perfume running to waste on the floor, He saw His blood “shed for many for the remission of sins” (verse 28), but hardly appreciated. In her motive He saw a reflection of His own in dying for us. Nothing but love led Jesus to Calvary! In the extravagance of her sacrifice Jesus saw the love of heaven poured out. Jesus said, “She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). He has done all He could to save us too.
A Mirrored Reflection
Jesus saw in Mary what He longs to see in us all: a mirrored reflection of His character. Judas could sell Jesus for 30 pieces of silver; but He’s worth so much more. He’s worth breaking the alabaster box of your life over. What is Jesus worth to you?
Some find it hard to stand for a living Saviour; Mary stood loyally by a dying one. From the day Jesus rescued her till the day He died for her—she was His devoted disciple. She was last at the cross and first at the tomb.
On that Sunday morning when she found the tomb empty, she was the one who raised the alarm with the disciples. Peter and John raced back to see it because of her. “Then the disciples went away again to their own homes. But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb” (John 20:10, 11).
Peter and John can go home; Mary can’t. Loving devotion to Jesus glued her to this place. When everyone walked away from her, Jesus had stayed. When no one had believed in her, Jesus had seen value in her. When her family hadn’t supported her, Jesus had stood up for her. When her brother died, Jesus had come and brought life. When the disciples had criticized her, Jesus had defended her. When she’d been abused, Jesus’ love had brought healing and peace to her wounded heart. Angels appeared to Mary and she didn’t even blink, because she was looking for Jesus.
“Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, ‘Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher)” (verses 14-16).
No one spoke her name like Jesus! “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me [Don’t hold me back], for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’” (verse 17).
I don’t blame Mary for wanting to hold on to Jesus! But Jesus tells her to let Him go for a very important reason. “[He] refused to receive the homage of His people until He had the assurance that His sacrifice was accepted by the Father.”4
Jesus was going to ascend to heaven in order for His sacrifice to be accepted. Imagine the excitement that pulsated throughout the unfallen universe. All heaven was waiting for this moment. But all heaven waited, because Jesus knew that in the shadows of that garden was a devoted, weeping woman looking for Him because she loved Him.
After this encounter, in my mind’s eye, I see her breathlessly bursting into a well-bolted upper room exclaiming: “I’ve just seen Jesus!” Seeing the Lord changed everything for Mary, and it changes everything for us too. Revelation 14:4 describes a people at the end of time “who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” Because, like Mary, they love Jesus. Will you say with me today, “Lord Jesus, I will go for You and be devoted to You till You come”?
1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 524. 2 Ibid., p. 566.
3 Ellen G. White, in Signs of the Times, May 9, 1900.
4 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 790.