Monday, August 31, 2009

Looking Again at the Alabaster Box

John 12:1-11


The Alabaster Box containing a pound of ointment of spikenard. It was Mary’s treasure chest, a Hope Chest, if you will. The Day was coming for it to be opened. This was not a whim, not a sudden impulse. Surely the emotion of the moment had been building within her: “Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this [alabaster box of ointment]”.

Mary’s heart anticipated what lay deepest in His, even before it found expression in words. She not only knew that He would die, but she apprehended the infinite preciousness and value of that death. And how more fitting could she have expressed this than by anointing His body “to the burying” (Mark 14:8)! Exposition of the Gospel of John, page 229, A. W. Pink

The Father ordered it that His beloved Son should be “anointed” here in this home at Bethany in the presence of Lazarus whom Christ has raised from the dead: it attested the power of His Own resurrection! Exposition of John, page 232, A. W. Pink.

Alabaster. A finely grained variety of gypsum, often white and translucent used for ornamental objects, such as lamp bases, figurines, etc. Alabastron. an oil jar char-acteristically having an elongated shape, narrow neck, flat-rimmed mouth, and rounded base, requiring a stand or support, chiefly used for fragrant ointments; a vase. Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary.

Spikenard, a costly oil derived from the dried roots and stems of the nard, an herb of Asia. Spikenard was imported from India in alabaster boxes. These were stored and used only for special occasions. When household guests arrived, they were usually anointed with this oil. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, page 855.

If one would depend upon the definitions given by Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, they are presented thusly: spikenard, [it is called nard also] pistikos: trustworthy, genuine. The word from which pistkos is taken is pistis: pursuasion, i.e. credence; mor. conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), esp. reliance upon Christ for salvation; by ext. the system of religious (Gospel) truth itself: - assurance, belief, faith, fidelity. But by all means, search it out for yourself.

Anointed for Burial.

Jesus suffered alone upon the cross. But might He have remembered the compassion of Mary; the costly ointment that she had allowed to flow freely down His brow and poured out upon His feet? Did she not weep as she anointed His feet? Did not the teardrops that fell from her eyes fall also upon His brow as she anointed His head? Teardrops mingled with the ointment: exceedingly precious was the ointment; exceedingly precious were the tears. Mary anointed the Lord for burial. Mary ‘broke’ the alabaster box. Was it not symbolic of her broken heart; a heart that was poured out before her Saviour?

Lazarus was dead.

“And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. . . [When Jesus arrived, he spoke to Martha, who in turn called Mary] “The Master is come and calleth for thee!” “The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. . .When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. . .Jesus wept” John 11:19,31,33,35. (Jesus related to Martha that I AM the Resurrection. It appears that she had not heard that before. When Mary came he did not tell her the same: why repeat that which she already knew?)

Jesus wept; He suffered with Mary; He was touched with the feeling of her infirmities. Now could she weep; now could she suffer with Him; she could be touched with the feeling of His infirmities. Mary felt what Paul wrote later: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering” Philippians 3:10.

There was “no beauty that we should desire him” Isa. 52:14, but Mary “worshiped the Lord in the beauty of holiness” Psalm 96:9. “We hid as it were our faces from him” Isa.53:3, but Mary “beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father” John 1:14, “We esteemed him not” Isa. 53:3, but ‘Unto Mary therefore which believed he was precious’ I Peter 2:7.

Since Orientals are so very demonstrative and emotional, it is difficult for those not acquainted with their customs to appreciate their method of expressing their sorrow, and their attempt to be comforted. In times of grief and sorrow, sackcloth is worn, and they often rend their garments in order to let people know how deep is their grief (II Sam. 3:31). Tears flow freely at such times and are considered to be a definite means of bringing comfort to sorrowing hearts (John 11:33).

Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, page 143, Fred H. Wight

The question of tears.

As Mary was anointing the body of Jesus for burial, it would have been unthinkable for her not to have wept. It would have broken custom and tradition; her love, devotion and worship for Him demanded it. The cross would afford no comfort; what prevented her from comforting Him before His death by the manifestation of tears?

Let us compare the ‘other’ account found in Luke chapter seven: “And one of the Pharisees desired him [Jesus] that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman of the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment” vs.36-38. In answer to the Pharisee’s objection Jesus replied, “I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much. . .” vs. 44-47.

Two women; two alabaster boxes of ointment; both anointed the feet of Jesus with ointment; both wiped His feet with the hairs of their head. One woman wept and the tears fell upon His feet, which she wiped with her hair. Tell me now, that Mary did not weep as she anointed the feet of the Lord that she worshiped; and wiped them with her hair for His forth-coming burial.

(The scripture says that Mary “broke” the alabaster box [Alabastron, an oil jar characteristically having an elongated shape, narrow neck, flat-rimmed mouth, and rounded base] Only Mark speaks of the Alabaster box being broken. “and she brake the box and poured it upon his head.” Did she smash it into pieces? Then the contents would have been splattered everywhere. Not to mention the impending danger from the sharp fragments being scattered in the process. In such case she could in no wise have poured it upon his head. Most likely, and from the scriptures we read: “against the day of my burying hath she kept this [alabaster box of ointment.” It was and continues to be so, that wines and other oils or perfumes have a seal; and this seal must be broken in order to open and pour forth the contents. Mary must have kept the seal undisturbed: the spikenard was for the Lord only. ‘Breaking’ the seal she could ‘pour’ the spikenard upon His head.)

Again we draw from an earlier quotation: “Spikenard was imported from India in alabaster boxes. These were stored and used only for special occasions. When household guests arrived, they were usually anointed with this oil.” We are familiar with “the anointing of oil.” In days gone by it was common for a pastor or someone else to go to the home of one who had an infirmity, put ‘anointing oil’ on their finger tips and place them upon the head of the sick before prayer. This, Mary did not do! She apparently poured the whole bottle upon the Lord Jesus! A small amount of the ointment upon the feet of the guest would have been noticeable, but discreet: but the whole house was filled with the aroma! Judas and the others did not strenuously object to the common practice of anointing. It was pouring a whole pound of spikenard upon the Lord! Now that was wasteful! Consider the other account of the woman who anointed Jesus at the house of the Pharisee: he did not object to the familiar practice of anointing a guest: his problem was that Jesus would allow a “sinner” to do so unto Him! A traveler, a guest, would not find it strange that his host should wash his feet, then dry them with a towel [Jesus did this to His disciples: I doubt that they had an alabaster box of spikenard in their possession!] and if he were a person of means and had the expensive spikenard; he would anoint the feet of his guest. [Odor Eaters and medicated foot powder were not available in that day!] Seeing to the comfort and refreshment of the guest was simply good etiquette!

[“Mary Magdalene has long been in popular tradition to “Mary the sinner,” and has been identified with the penitent who anointed Jesus. There were probably two anointings recorded in the gospels. . . There is no reliable evidence to connect Mary Magdalene with either anointing. When her name appears in Luke 8:2 there is not one word to connect it with the history that immediately precedes.” Unger’s Bible Dictionary, page 703.]

“Mary Magdalene out of whom he [Jesus] had cast seven devils” Mark 16:9. Does the account of the woman who anointed Jesus with the spikenard and the commendation of the Lord in her behalf even remotely resemble a woman possessed of seven devils?

But at this point I am a bit puzzled. In our text of John chapter twelve, we are given the account of Mary and the anointing of Jesus. A resurrected Lazarus was sitting at the table and observed all this with the others. Why then does John relay the account in chapter eleven of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, being sick, the following verse telling us, “(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)” Is the cart before the horse? How are we to identify with this when the second anointing never took place until after Lazarus’ resurrection? How are we to relate to something that has not yet happened - unless Mary was the same woman who is revealed in Luke’s gospel; she who came to the Pharisee’s house, fell at Jesus’ feet, anointing them with spikenard and tears? In Luke 10:39, Mary is seen sitting at the feet of Jesus, hearing His word; of which Jesus said, “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” vs.42. Notice also at the grave site of Lazarus: “Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet” John 11:32). “It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick” It would appear at least plausible that both anointings were done by the same woman, Mary of Bethany. The first anointing at the Pharisee’s house: surely this woman would have continued to follow Jesus; that we would have heard much more about her. And of Mary: how did she meet Jesus? Under what circumstances was she converted; when did she trust Christ for salvation? If she were the “sinner” in Luke chapter seven, the first account of the anointing of Jesus, then might she have returned home to Martha and Lazarus with a glowing testimony, leading to their conversion. Jesus was a frequent guest in their home. He loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and they loved Him; and Mary sat at His feet, listening to His teaching. From this she would come to know of His death, of His burial, of His resurrection. From this would the Holy Spirit have put into her heart to anoint Him for burial.

Valuable? Or Profitable?

The alabaster box of precious ointment of spikenard: it was valuable as it sat upon the stand or support; but it became profitable; its true value, its ultimate potential was realized, when it was poured out upon the brow and feet of the Lord Jesus.

What was more precious to the Lord Jesus; the ‘broken’ alabaster box of spikenard poured upon His head and feet - or she who bowed herself, broken, at His feet and anointed them with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head?

The blood of Christ was valuable to Himself, for the continuing life flow to His body; but it became exceedingly more precious and profitable when His body was broken and His blood, as a precious healing ointment, was poured out for wretched sinners. “What can wash away my sins; What can make me whole again; O precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow; No other fount I know; Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

“Paul wrote to Philemon concerning his servant who had previously fled to Rome; now saved, ands in the company of the Apostle: “Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me” Philemon vs.11. [The desire of the Lord is not for slaves, nor hired servants; but Sons with servant’s hearts.]

Few scriptures are more frequently quoted than Romans twelve one. Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God? I know what I am to do, but how to do it I cannot discern. May it not be accomplished by presenting ourselves, as it were, an alabaster box of ointment; broken, poured out unto the Lord, a living sacrifice? And let us do it “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” Ephesians 1:6.

Dishonorable mention.

How sad, how tragic, the ‘disciple’ Judas and those at the supper! They argued over what they thought to have been wasted. Indeed! Why waste costly ointment on Jesus when it could have been sold and “wisely” spent. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these “things” shall be added unto you.” They were counting the creation of greater value than its Creator? Surely not. Quibbling over the finite when the Infinite stood before them? “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” I Timothy 6:10. Shall we spend more time mooring over the quibbling of Judas and the others?

“Then Jesus said, Let her alone” John 12:7. How blessed! Christ is ever ready to defend His own! It was the Good Shepherd protecting His sheep from the wolf. Judas condemned Mary. . .But Christ knew her motive and commended her deed.

He whose Name is “as ointment poured forth” commended her, who all unconsciously fulfilled prophesy, “While the king sitteth at his table my spikenard sendeth forth the sweet smell thereof” Song of Solomon,1:3,12. So in a coming day He will reward even a cup of water which has been given in His name. Exposition of. John, page 241, A. W. Pink.

Thoughts for meditation.

Appreciation is not to be expressed to a musical instrument; rather to the musician who plays it. Focus not upon the alabaster box of spikenard but the One upon whom it was poured, and the hands that ‘broke’ the vessel and did the pouring.

In Matthew and Mark she is shown anointing His head with the Spikenard from the alabaster box; but in the gospel of John, it is His feet. Mary anointed the head of Christ as He is the Head of all creation, the Sovereign God, and is worthy of all honour: but she would do no less than have Him be Lord of her life; therefore she bowed before Him in worship and anointed His feet!

She wiped His feet with her hair; the glory of a woman. In total submission, Mary lay at His feet in willing worship. The odor of the Spikenard filled the house. As she arose, the smell of the ointment was in her hair. Everywhere she went, it was a testimony that she had been with Jesus! His glory was all about her!

I think it’s worth repeating! If one would truly worship the Lord, he should humble himself before His feet; he must long to know Him: let him break the seal of his alabaster box and pour forth the ointment unto the Lord; let him diligently, reverently, prayerfully, search the scriptures, for therein is to be found the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

“Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they [Mary Magdalene, and Joanna and Mary the mother of James] came to the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared” Luke 24:1. But Mary whose brother the Lord had raised, was not with them. She had done what she could: she had come aforehand to anoint the body of the Lord to the burying. (Mark 14:8). She believed her Lord was risen, as He said!

Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James; they had risen early, before dawn. Having gathered the spices that they had prepared, they went forth to the sepulchre that they might anoint the body of Jesus. Although He had told them of His forthcoming death and resurrection, they had chosen to ignore it. Such a thing could not be. They carried along with the spices the mentality of Thomas: “I will not believe!” Traditions and rituals they were willing to observe. Humanly speaking, what they intended to do was commendable. They would have someone roll back the stone that they might gain entrance into the place where lay the lifeless body of their departed friend, the Lord Jesus. There in the tomb would they continue to mourn His death. It is pitiable that these would come carrying the spices for the anointing of the dead. The ointments were a testimony as to their unbelief. The thought saddened me. Why could they not have had faith in the Word of the Lord? What of Mary Magdalene who cried, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.”

But do not all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose - sometimes even in the midst of our unbelief?!! These dear ones came being convinced of the worst: their friend Jesus was dead. They must anoint His body before the fourth day of His entombment. As Martha said concerning her brother Lazarus, who had been in the grave for four days, “By now he stinketh.” But no! I dare say that the tomb did not emit an unpleasant odor: perhaps rather the sweet fragrance of the lilies of the valley; of the Rose of Sharon! These ladies would come to anoint the deceased body of our Lord: but He would purpose that they come early that morning to the sepulchre that they might see the empty tomb; that Christ was indeed risen from the dead as He said! Their unbelief was turned to faith; their sadness to unspeakable Joy!

“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” I Peter 1:7b,8.

Hallelujah! Selah!

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