Mary at His Feet

Mary at His Feet

The study of the ‘Marys’ of the New Testament is a delightful one. According to Robert Young’s Analytical Concordance there were seven of them. Probably, all were believers devoted to our Lord Jesus. Much more is written about some of them than others: notably, Mary the mother of the Lord; Mary Magdalene; and Mary of Bethany, who is the subject of this article. The latter is in many ways the loveliest character of them all. In all three chapters which mention her, Mary of Bethany is found low at Jesus’ feet in an attitude of quiet humility, and in only one chapter does she speak to Him. In the other two chapters her attitude and actions speak both to Him and to us far louder than any words ever could. Let us, then, study her relationship with her Lord in the chapters which mention her in their chronological order with a view to learning from her precious and important lessons concerning our own relationship with the Lord Jesus.

1. Learning in the School of Christ

In Luke chapter 10 verses 38 to 42 we find the first vignette of the family at Bethany, who were one of the few households who really welcomed the Lord Jesus into their midst and gave Him His rightful place amongst them. This family is an example and fore-view of all the families down the age of grace since then who have owned Jesus as Lord and given Him first place in their daily lives. They, like us, had occasional frictions and problems, but they brought these to Him, and He resolved them all. In Luke 10 Jesus quietly and graciously defused an atmosphere of tension and potential friction between Martha, the owner of the house, and Mary, her probably younger and quieter sister. Martha was acting as an over-busy and flustered hostess at the meal she was preparing for the Lord, while Mary was taking greater delight in sitting at Jesus’ feet and drinking in all He was saying to her. Clearly, the two sisters had different temperaments and ways of expressing their appreciation of the Lord Jesus. Martha was a diligent servant of the Lord, while Mary was a humble disciple of Christ who listened before she acted in service for Him. Notice that the verses do not say that Mary never engaged in service with Martha, but that she ‘also’ sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His Word.

She was not unpractical in her expression of discipleship, but simply had her priorities right, putting worship and communion with the Lord before service for Him.

As Christian disciples, we too need times of regular private and quiet communion with our Lord in prayer and Bible study before, and as well as, times of diligent and enthusiastic service for Him. The former periods of quiet learning at His feet will the better fit us for busy service on His behalf. Otherwise, we shall probably make mistakes in service through ignorance of His Word and will.

Furthermore, it was undoubtedly at the feet of Jesus that Mary learned the truths of His coming death, burial, and resurrection which decisively guided her later actions towards Him. Yes, learning quietly in the school of Christ is essential preparation for living for Him in this world. Then the strain and stress which leads to friction in both the Christian home and assembly will be relieved and replaced by a quietly ordered life which confesses ‘the beauty of Thy peace’, as the hymn writer once put it.

2. Lamenting the Sorrows of Life

The second vignette of the family at Bethany is found in John chapter 11. There the scene is a more troubled one, as Mary and Martha have called for Jesus to come to heal their brother Lazarus of his terminal illness. The Lord delayed setting out for Bethany for two further days; in fact, until He knew Lazarus was dead. Now He had a wonderful design of love for the whole family in this delay; for it gave Him the opportunity to reveal Himself, not simply as the healer of the sick, but rather as the Resurrection and the Life by raising Lazarus from the dead. In that way He fulfilled His statement at the beginning of the chapter that, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God’. Yet the Lord was not in any way unsympathetic or unfeeling towards Mary when she came and fell at His feet, and then wistfully told Him that, if He had been there earlier, her brother would not have died. Jesus did not reply to her directly, but groaned in the spirit at the sight of Mary’s very evident grief, and openly wept with her as He empathised with them all in the deep sadness caused by the death of a loved one. He had the final answer to the situation in the resurrection power of His Word, and used it immediately after He had wept; but He still showed priestly sympathy for the suffering family, thus proving that He really loved them all. When we, like Mary, are lamenting the sorrows of life at the graveside of a loved one, let us remember that the Lord Jesus is both the final answer to the problems that sin has brought into the world, and the perfect sympathizer with our resultant sufferings. Through a most traumatic experience Mary learned to trust her Lord more fully, and to find in Him all her needs met. So too can we.

3. Loving her Lord Sacrificially

John chapter 12 is the lovely sequel to the raising of Lazarus from the dead in chapter 11. Here we have the third and final vignette of the family at Bethany six days before the Passover, when Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb of God for sin. Both the Jewish leaders and also most of the people had rejected the Incarnate Son of God and only sought His death. He had no settled home in this world; but here we see that He was always a most welcome and honoured Guest at Bethany, whence He visited Jerusalem every day during the last week of His earthly ministry. The scene of the supper which the family made Him at Bethany is very beautiful, and so reminiscent of many similar Christian family and local assembly gatherings, when believers all through the present age of grace have made much of their Lord in a world which still rejects Him. Here Mary assumes a leading role in expressing her love and appreciation for her Lord by breaking her most treasured box of very costly ointment, pouring it all out over both His feet and also His head, according to Matthew and Mark, and then carefully wiping His feet with her long hair, thus denoting the abasement of her natural glory in His Presence. The traitor did not appreciate what he thought to be a complete waste of money, but the Lord certainly did appreciate her devoted and sacrificial worship, and her motive in expressing it at that particular time. For He understood that Mary had realized that He was soon to die, be buried, and then rise from the dead. Her earlier close communion with Him, when she had listened to His Word, had taught her more than probably anyone else concerning the events which were shortly to take place at Calvary. So, while she could, she acted out of love to her Lord, and gave perhaps all she had for Him to appreciate; for soon the opportunity would be gone forever. Her action was spiritually intelligent, loving, and sacrificial.

As a result, as the Lord Himself said, the fame of her deed that day has never ceased to be spoken about during subsequent Christian history. The name of Mary of Bethany has always since that day been closely associated with the subject of Christian worship. She did not say a word then, but the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment which she had sacrificed for Him. What an encouragement for Christian sisters!

We must ask, therefore, how deep is our own appreciation of our Lord Jesus Christ today? How spiritually intelligent and timely is it? How devoted and costly to our natural pride and possessions? Let Mary of Bethany be an enduring example to all of us, not only of humble discipleship, but also of sacrificial worship of the Saviour who gave Himself up for us. In short, how often are we, too, ‘at His feet’?




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