Episode 26: Who in the Bible Best Modeled Jesus’ First and Greatest Commandment? (Hint: She was: M__y o_ B_t__n_!) Can you Guess?
Welcome to episode #26 of the Bible Reading podcast! We’ve made it through 25 episodes, which I think is a bit of a milestone. I hope this pod is an encouragement to you, and that it helps to drive you towards daily Bible reading. One of my motivations for continuing to do the show is your comments, reviews on iTunes, emails, and when you share the show on social media. As a podcaster, that is very exciting and it kind of propels you forward – and that’s true for any podcast, but especially true for a daily podcast. Another motivation for continuing is the very interesting fact that a few of my kids regularly listen to the podcast, because our whole family is going through the Bible together this year. (I think I’m safe to mention this today, because we have church tomorrow/Sunday, when this episode comes out, and they will probably be too busy to listen on Sunday. Anyway, its a big encouragement, and that it seems to sometimes spur them on towards wanting to be in the Word of God more and understand it. And that is our goal on this show – to urge people on in God’s Word – deeper in reading it, deeper in understanding it, and deeper in following it. Onward and upward!
Our focus today is an unsung woman in the Bible who is one of my heroes, and her name is Mary of Bethany. We learn about Mary in all four Gospels, and every time we see her, she manages to be at the feet of Jesus.
A few episodes ago, we read through Matthew 22 together, and we heard the best question I think anybody ever asked Jesus: What is the first/greatest (i.e. MOST IMPORTANT) commandment? And His answer was that the greatest and most important commandment in life was to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. I believe that Mary of Bethany, whom we encounter today in Matthew 26, is perhaps the best example of a first commandment life in the entire Bible. Let’s read about her!
Now the Matthew passage we read doesn’t identify the woman who did this incredible act of worship, but John 12 does:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of fragrant oil—pure and expensive nard—anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.4 Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray Him), said, 5 “Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it.7 Jesus answered, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of My burial. 8 For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”John 12:1-8
If the Lord enables it, I plan on doing this daily podcast all year – not missing a single day. If that happens, we will encounter Mary of Bethany in our reading several times, and each time I hope to point to her as a great example of somebody who “gets it” – the most important commandment! Hope you don’t mind me talking about her too much!
You see, one of the great dangers of our Christian walk is that we will overemphasize the trivial and under-emphasize the critically important. Indeed, Satan himself often works to keep Christians from focusing on the greatest commandment, and tries very hard to deceive us into spending all of our time and energy on comparatively minor activities:
2 Corinthians 11:3
I am afraid, lest as the serpent [Satan] deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
The enemy’s attack is designed to lead us away from pure, sincere, simple devotion to Jesus. Spiritual Warfare. Is it succeeding?
When we first encounter Mary, we see her in Luke 10:39: “Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha was distracted with much serving. Scripture calls us to serve much and to help to meet humanitarian needs in a practical way BUT NOT FIRST. Distracted: (Greek word: Perispao) – Drawn away, busy.. With what? Much Serving the word there means Deaconing/Ministry. It is possible to be distracted by overmuch serving, and under sitting at the feet of Jesus in worship and the intake of His Word.
J Jesus Himself here tells Martha that Mary made the best choice possible – she chose the good thing in sitting at the feet of Jesus, feasting on His words in adoration. Serving is good – but if we serve/minister overmuch and worship and feast on the Word of God too little, we will have a catastrophic failure. The first commandment (loving God) must come first – it is the first priority.
Consider her WASTE– she blew her life savings in five minutes. WHAT A WASTE, the disciples say. I say – WHAT AN INVESTMENT. She made this investment 2 thousand years ago, and it thunderstruck the creator of the world and the redeemer of mankind. Others saw her as wasting her life, but She live her life in the greatest way possible. We know more about her than all but 10 of the Apostles, and many other heroes of the Bible.
What she has done will be remembered – Something provocative: I believe that every pope will be behind Mary of Bethany in the Kingdom of Heaven. Most pastors, church leaders, missionaries too.
Consider this: Often people criticize the Bible as backwards in its relationship to women. In truth, however, it is amazing how many female heroines are praised in the Bible. Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalane, Syro-Phoenician Woman, Deborah, The women who traveled with Jesus and took care of them.
Mary understood what Jesus meant about His death – she likely understood when the disciples were still clueless, because she was preparing Him for His burial. Think of all the people Jesus could have invested in before His death. Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Silas, Barnabas, etc. Jesus went to Mary, Martha and Lazarus.