A broken vessel releases the best for Jesus.
And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. (Mark 14:3)
This is a beautifully poignant story of a woman’s devotion that touches our hearts and inspires us to want to respond in worshiping Him. It strips away all semblance of pretence and reaches right down to the spirit. The simplicity is perhaps its most powerful message. There are no frills and no fanfare. It simply happens quietly and with reverence for Him born of a deep humility. We see a brave and courageous heart willing to give the best for Jesus. But we also see a prophetic message captured in a single act of worship. What is essentially a ‘minor event’ if taken at face value can both inspire and challenge us in our worship and service in ways that will transform us forever. It shakes our expectations and tumbles our reticence. Without a single word, this woman dares us to question the real motives in our intimacy with Him.
The best for Jesus defies social conventions.
Not much has really changed between this moment and right now. While our customs and social expectations may have changed, human attitudes have not. We are still ‘judged’ by whether or not we conform. The world, which includes families, friends, colleagues, and even strangers, will judge our responses to Jesus by worldly standards. While it’s perfectly acceptable to go all out in pursuit of our goals or dreams, giving our best for Jesus is frowned upon. We’re religious zealots at best, crazies or Bible-thumping charismaniacs. There will always be something else that others feel is a better use for the all we seek to lay at the cross. Giving it to the poor is as good an argument today as it was then. The idea is that giving to Jesus serves no earthly purpose. It’s too spiritual to be any earthly good.
This precious women faced those same societal pressures. For one thing, she laid her reputation on the line. For a woman, such a public act would likely have serious social repercussions. While there is debate, most scholars believe that she was Mary of Bethany – the same sister to Lazarus who learned by sitting at Jesus’ feet. They argue that the woman who wept over Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair, who was identified as a woman of ill repute, relates to a separate incident. All this is theoretical, of course. What really matters is that she defied the societal norms of the time. She entered a woman alone and courageously worshiped our Lord in public and with the finest she had. She desired only the best for Jesus, and that gave the courage to face ridicule and condemnation from the world without hesitation.
True worship brings the best for Jesus.
Whoever she was, it’s unlikely that she was enormously affluent. Yet her gift was spikenard, an extremely costly perfumed oil. She did not compromise but brought the best for Jesus. This, of course, is where the prophetic weaves itself in. Her act of worship in the here and now spoke of His death and resurrection. It was customary at the time that anyone facing death arranged all things needed for proper burial before the time. Jesus, of course, had spoken of His death many times, but the people and the disciples somehow never managed to get their heads around the reality of it. Being the day before the Sabbath, there was no time to properly prepare Him for burial. Yet God inspired this woman to anoint the King of Kings and Son of God with the most expensive oil available at the time. Not detail in His death was incomplete.
We will never know why she had the oil. It could have been preparation for her own death or for that of someone else. She may have purchased it ‘in case’ and had it stored. Whatever the practical facts, it became her offering of true worship. What had been set aside for another purpose was willingly surrendered. It became the expression of her love and a sacrifice to honour Him. When we add this to her courage in giving what might well be her reputation, we see what it means to give our best for Jesus. She held nothing back, neither her possessions nor herself. Part of giving our best also means giving our all. It means facing ridicule or being ostracised or criticised. It’s a matter of worshiping with all we have and are despite the negative response from those around us. True worship always carries a cost.
True worship always points to the cross.
This woman may not have acted with a prophetic knowledge. We have no way of knowing whether this was a deliberate response to the knowledge of His coming death or not. But Jesus knew and pointed the prophetic relevance out to those around Him. Her act of worship, her giving of her all and her best for Jesus, was honoured by Him as an example to us to always look to the cross. In this woman we see the example of how we should worship – to give our all and our best at the foot of the cross. Her action speaks powerfully of the yielding of self – all that we are and all that we have – without holding back. There is a prophetic reminder that our lives are to be given just as Christ’s was. True worship includes our lives – living sacrifices in a daily surrender-response to the cross.
Society will always advise everything in moderation. It will always encourage us to be practical and to balance our devotion with common sense. Why give the best for Jesus when we can give what is affordable or acceptable? We shouldn’t give our all to Him because we need to hold something in reserve in case we need it. Today’s verse throws all that overboard. It challenges natural conventions and logic because it brings in the principle of divine multiplication. When she worshiped Jesus in this way, she pointed us to the cross. What Jesus did there – what He sowed – has brought a harvest greater than we could ever have imagined. At Calvary, what seemed like a waste of time and devotion actually became the most powerfully multiplied victory ever recorded. When a single person worships in this way, God will always multiply the simple blessing to others.
Do we truly give the best for Jesus?
This is the challenge that emerges from today’s verse. Do we give our all and our best for Jesus? To answer this honestly, we must step alongside this remarkable woman and compare ourselves to the pattern Jesus Himself points to. Her worship was unhurried. She didn’t rush in and leave as quickly as possible. Her action risked her social reputation and demanded her full attention. She gave the most costly and precious thing she had. Spikenard represents the fragrance of pure worship, which holds nothing back. She set aside the time deliberately and completely. Through her sacrifice, the Son of God was glorified for the supernatural work He would do. A single humble woman prophesied through action of the greatest truth the world has ever known. Let us determine those things we hold back and, like her, freely yield our all and our best in pure adoration to our Lord.
The jar was broken, pointing to His broken body. But it also speaks the truth that we should come in worship with broken hearts and contrite spirits. The best and the all is released through the breaking. Jesus is our example in holding nothing back
Lord Jesus, forgive us for holding back and for rendering worship that does not bring either our all or our best for You. Help us to look to the cross and to yield ourselves in willing sacrifice. Grant us the grace to see our selfishness and to ignore the dictates of the world. Lord, help us to put You first in everything, knowing that all we give You will be multiplied supernaturally to the world for Your eternal praise and glory.