A SCENTED SERVICE
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
APRIL 3, 2016
6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.
— Matthew 26:6-13, ESV
Follow your nose. There are many places you can go and know you are there by the smell. Even people who don’t drink coffee love coffee shops. Everybody loves the smell of a bakery or donut shop. And who can go to the movies and resist a bag of hot popcorn?
Historically, churches have been known for the scent of candles and incense. Not only do they symbolize the light of God’s word and the presence of the Holy Spirit, in ancient days they covered up the musty odors of the buildings and, in some cases, the irregularly bathed bodies of the congregation. Today, we use candles in our church for the former, not the latter, reasons.
However, in this day and age, people can be known by their smells, too. Some ladies wear distinctive perfumes and some gentleman can leave a lingering scent of after shave long after they’ve left the room. No matters how quiet he is, we know when our dog, Atticus, has entered into the living room because he is, to say it kindly, gassy.
In our text at hand, which depicts the final days in the public ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, we get to know the characters by their smell. Simon, somehow related to or otherwise affiliated with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, smelled like a skin creme a leper might have used. Lazarus smelled like embalming fluid, lingering from before Jesus raised him from the dead. Martha smelled like food, of course. But Mary smelled like a broken and spilled out bottle of wonderful perfume.
Jesus loved each one, smells and all, but He singled out Mary. He said she would be remembered forever for what she had done, and we are proof that she is! Why were Mary’s actions, her scented service for the Lord, so very important?
The Pattern of Mary’s Life
Though this act seems to define Mary, it is not definitive of this great lady. Mary was no one hit wonder. She should not be limited to merely fifteen minutes of fame. Her one shining moment was not a fluke, it was the faithful culmination of a long-standing devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee first met Mary of Bethany in Judea on one of His many pilgrimages to the city of Jerusalem. It was during our Lord’s public ministry in which he went about proclaiming the kingdom of God and offering Himself as the promised King and Messiah. Most of the people chose not to believe in Jesus, but Mary was different.
Mary professed her faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. She proved it by her hunger for the word of God (ref. Luke 10:38-42). She witnessed it at the funeral of her beloved brother, Lazarus (ref. John 11). And, she poured it out in front of God and everybody on this special occasion, just days before the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord.
Saving faith is not merely a profession, it is a practice. It is an ongoing hunger for God’s word, a constant commitment to congregate with God’s people, and a steadfast willingness to sacrifice self for the glory of God’s Son.
Most professing Christians today are hanging their hats on one relatively brief moment in their lives. When their lives are over, they are going to be horrified by Jesus’ judgment and rejection (ref. Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46; 1 John 2:3-6). One moment did not make Mary, and one momentary profession of faith does not make you a Christian. A true Christian, like Mary, is one who makes a constant and total commitment of life to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Cost of Mary’s Perfume
You have probably already heard the joke about the chicken and the pig walking down the road. They approach a diner advertising the morning special, bacon and eggs. The chicken wanted to go in and get breakfast, but the pig refused by saying, “For you it’s a small contribution, for me it’s total sacrifice!”
A true follower of Jesus knows Christianity it is not mere mental assent, not a momentary ritual, not a part-time job on sporadic Sundays. It is your life. It is giving all you are to the One who has given all He is for you. Mary’s scented service for the Lord is, as Jesus pointed out, a “beautiful” illustration of genuine, sacrificial, saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mary’s bottle of expensive perfume was not an uncommon possession. Many Jewish women in her day would save up all their lives to buy such perfume, which came in a crude jar made much like a modern day piggy bank. You saved it and saved it and in order to use it once, and then you had to break the bank and use it all up. Typically, this was done on one’s wedding day.
The alabaster jar of perfume would have been the most precious, valuable possession a Jewish women could have owned. It represented her life savings, her life’s inventory, her life dreams, her entire life: past, present, and future. And as you can see, or smell, Mary gave all of her life to the Lord.
“And once it was broken and spilled out,
A fragrance filled all the room.
Like a prisoner released from his shackles,
Like a spirit set free from the tomb.
Broken and spilled out, Just for love of You, Jesus.
My most precious treasure, lavished on thee,
Broken and spilled out, and poured at Your feet.
In sweet abandon, let me be spilled out, and used up for Thee.”
— Gloria Gaither
The Scent of Mary’s Sacrifice
Put yourself in the midst of this scented service. Simon must have wondered why Mary would give her life savings to Jesus. Martha must have wondered why Mary wasn’t helping in the kitchen. Lazarus might have wondered why Mary didn’t use the perfume on his body when he died the first time. Judas, who smelled like a rat, wondered aloud why this valuable jar wasn't sold and given to the poor, but religious hypocrites are always saying things like that. But what does it look like, what does it smell like to you?
Mary’s sacrifice smells like genuine faith, as I have stated, along with total commitment, which is what constitutes saving faith. But it also smells peculiar, by that I mean particular, specific. Mary’s sacrifice smells like faith and commitment to the whole gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mary called on the name of the “Lord” Jesus Christ (ref. John 11:32). Mary understood, and may have been the only one, that Christ had come to sacrifice Himself as our Savior, too. She offered her sacrifice, in the words of Jesus, “to prepare me for my burial.”
Mary committed her life to the life of Christ. Mary committed her life to the death of Christ. Mary committed her life to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, Mary committed her life to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Have you?
For years I have witnessed the gospel to people, as a believer, and counseled people about salvation, as a pastor. A child or adolescent is always a challenge. When their parents being them to me and say they want to accept Christ as Lord and Savior, I ask them a couple of questions. What is your favorite toy, gadget, thing, possession? Would you give it up and give it over to Jesus, right now? So many have honestly answered, “No.” If they are not ready to give a little thing to Christ, they are certainly not ready to give their lives to Christ, are they?
You cannot buy your salvation with toys, money, or perfume. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But genuine salvation is never alone. It comes with deep faith, total commitment, and willingness to give all you have and all you are for Him who gave His life for us. That’s what Christianity looks like and smells like. It smells like a scented service, like Mary and a broken bottle of gospel perfume.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org