The Meaning of Worship

Let us examine the incident with Mary in John 12 negatively, and seek to discover what she did not come to do on this memorable occasion. From this negative approach, we can learn much of the positive character of true worship.

Mary Did Not Come to Hear a Sermon

The greatest Teacher the world has ever known was there. It had been her privilege to sit at His feet and hear His words. But this was not her purpose as she came into the presence of the One she loved above all others. The Lord’s Supper exists to enable believers to remember Him, and thus give the worship of their hearts. The primary purpose of such a gathering is not to hear an exposition of the Word of God, good though this is, but to spend the time in occupation with the One who said: “This do in remembrance of Me.”

Mary Did Not Come to Make a Request

She had done this before (Jn. 11:32). Her purpose was not to pour out her soul in earnest supplication before Him who had omnipotence at His command. Though she realized the value of prayer, this was not the motive that actuated her. She came not to get, but to give. Likewise the Lord’s Supper does not exist for the purpose of enabling believers to supplicate the throne of grace, invaluable though prayer is.

Mary Did Not Come to Meet Fellow Believers

There were many there, and she loved those who loved her Lord; but it was not to enjoy fellowship with them that was her uppermost thought. She desired to be occupied with the Lord Himself, to the exclusion of every other person and thing on earth. Surely this should be the purpose that should animate every Christian. Fellowship with Christians is good and necessary, but it is not the greatest thing. Fellowship primarily is “with the Father and with His Son,” and fellowship with each other naturally flows from this.

Mary Did Not Come to be Refreshed by Him

After the humdrum round of duties, she might have argued that she needed the spiritual refreshment that only He could impart, but this was not her motive in coming. Surely nothing is more invigorating to the believer than to sit quietly in the presence of the Lord, there to have cares dissipate and the calm of heaven enter the soul. Yet Mary’s act teaches us that this is not the greatest thing in life. She came, not to be refreshed, but to refresh the Lord and fill His soul with joy!

By this act Mary anticipated the cross, and saw to it that her Lord was refreshed on the eve of His redemptive work. Her deed surely teaches us that worship is not intended to produce self-satisfaction in the believer, but to give satisfaction to the Saviour.

Mary Did Not Come to Meet the Host

We are not told who the host was on this occasion, but Mary had no eyes for him. She viewed the Lord as the host and came to do Him honor. Christendom, with its special caste of clergy, has largely eliminated from people’s minds the fact that Christ is the host at His own table. Scripture knows nothing of an officiating clergyman apart from whose presence the Lord’s Supper cannot be celebrated. May we give the Lord His rightful place, and refuse to allow any man, however pleasing his personality, however dynamic his leadership to rob Christ of His preeminence.

She Did Not Come Because it was Popular

The pent-up hatred of the world was about to break on the Son of God. He was “despised and rejected of men.” His popularity had waned, and the eve of His betrayal was at hand. It was “six days before the Passover” when the world would stain its hands with the blood of Christ, that Mary came with her love gift to pour on His feet. By this act she proclaimed louder than any words her sincere love and loyalty to One whom the world would not acknowledge.

The believer must also be prepared, in loyalty to his Lord and to His Word, to brave contempt in order to worship God in a manner pleasing to Him. The path of wholehearted discipleship has never been crowded or popular. The Christian who seeks to carry out those scriptural principles of gathering will find plenty of opposition, even from those who claim to be fundamental in their doctrine. He must be prepared to experience something of “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). He can rest assured that, as with Mary, faithfulness to the Lord shall not pass unnoticed.

Mary Did Not Come to Withhold Her Best

She poured it all out fully, freely, and joyously at the feet of her Lord. Note several things about this gift:

It was very costly (v. 3). To secure it she had denied herself many things perfectly legitimate for her own use. Since the laborer of that period received but a penny a day, her gift represented a year’s salary. Love is measured by the sacrifice it makes for its object. Our Lord “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). Can we do any less for Him? Worship which costs nothing is not worthy of the name. Her gift had been reserved for this purpose (v. 7). She had treasured in her heart the words that fell from His lips. Consequently, she knew He was to be betrayed, crucified, buried, and to rise again. The disciples never seemed to grasp the significance of His words, even though He used plain language. Mary thus had the signal honor of being the only one who anointed the Lord for His burial; the other women came too late (Mk. 16:6). Mary of Bethany had no need to go to the tomb; she knew that the One whose word had called Lazarus from death would take up the life He had laid down for her (Jn. 10:17-18). Her gift was brought to the feet of Christ (v. 3). Those feet which had walked the rugged roads of Israel, and had carried blessings everywhere they went, were indeed “beautiful” to her (Rom. 10:15). She knew those feet would soon carry Him to Calvary, there to be pierced for her transgressions. She knew also that He would one day occupy a throne and reign until God made His enemies His footstool (Ps. 110:1-2). She gladly gave her all to Him. The believer can surely profit by her noble example which received Christ’s unstinted commendation. Worship must be wholehearted if it is to be pleasing to Him. Lukewarm devotion, halfhearted praise, and divided affections are nauseating to Him (see Rev. 3:14-18). He rightly deserves the place of absolute preeminence. Her gift was accompanied by utter self-abnegation. After she had anointed His feet with the perfume, she wiped them with her hair. The Scripture informs us that a woman’s glory is her hair. Thus by this act she literally brought her glory to His feet in lowly, yet sublime adoration (1 Cor. 11:15). What a beautiful picture this is of that necessary heart humility which should characterize the worship of God’s people! God has distinctly declared that “no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Cor. 1:29). All the natural excellencies that man may possess must be brought into the dust in the presence of the God of the universe. Here brilliant intellect, physical skill, capable leadership, persuasive eloquence, magnetic personality, artistic genius, nobility of birth, or the possession of vast wealth has no place in the presence of Deity. Her gift filled the house with fragrance. She herself would long bear the fragrance of the spikenard. But each member of that company would also carry on his person some traces of that sweet perfume. True, there were those who criticized the act, and referred to it as “waste”; but the Lord’s commendation more than compensated her for the adverse criticism.

Scripture views worship as both an individual and collective act. It is only as each believer in an assembly brings to the feet of his Lord the perfume of his appreciation that the whole company of Christians will be affected. The sweet fragrance of such worship will linger pleasantly in the memory of those present. Furthermore, some of its savor will be carried by them to others, who will thus take note that they have “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13; see also 2 Chron. 5:13-14).

Copyright Uplook Ministries Used by permission

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