Mary of Bethany: A Prophetic Model to an End-time Generation – Nathan Shaw
Mary of Bethany is definitely one of my favorite bible characters. I love her extravagant devotion to Jesus. Jesus gave His twelve disciples authority to perform dramatic signs and wonders (Matthew 10:1). The sick were healed and the demonized were set free. No such thing is recorded about Mary. She is distinguished simply because she is so often at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39, John 11:32, 12:3).
John chapter 13 reveals Jesus washing His disciples feet with water. Back up only one chapter and you encounter Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with costly oil and wiping them with her hair—Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil (John 12:3). Mary’s action changed the atmosphere in the house. Two powerful fragrances were released: The natural fragrance of spikenard and the spiritual fragrance of worship and devotion.
Judas reacted. "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" (John 12:5). Judas knew exactly how much the expensive oil was worth in dollar terms (the equivalent of a years wages). But he didn’t only react because of the apparent waste. The spiritual fragrance of Mary’s worship exposed Judas’ heart. There was a clash of two spiritual governments. Mary released the government of love. Judas released the government of greed—This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it (John 12:6). Government exerts influence and changes atmospheres.
Recently I was preaching about the clash of these two spiritual governments. Several days later God instantaneously gave me deeper insight. This is what He showed me. In this passage resources move in three directions:
- Toward Jesus—Mary’s expensive oil poured on Jesus’ feet.
- Toward the poor—a significant portion of the money in the money box was for the poor.
- Toward Judas—Judas was stealing money from the money box.
These three directions represent three different types of ministry:
- Ministry to God. I like to call this "extravagant waste" (see Matthew 26:8).
- Ministry to people. I like to call this "human need."
- Self serving. I like to call this "greed."
All ministry fits into one or other of these three categories. And I don’t just mean public ministry. The five-fold ministry spoken of in Ephesians 4:11 is given to equip all Christians to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12).
“Extravagant waste” is the highest level of ministry. It puts everything at God’s disposal. This level of ministry requires greater vulnerability to God—not just serving Him or working with Him, but sitting at His feet. To the natural eye it can look excessively wasteful. Why waste all your time sitting at the feet of Jesus? Why waste a years wages in a moment of time?
“Human need” is also a very powerful level of ministry. It uses resources—time, money, energy—to manifest the heart of God. People are healed, delivered, transformed, set free from poverty etc. The majority of the miracles recorded in the gospels ministered directly to human need. Consider a blind person. Not only could they not see, they were also unable to work. When a blind person received their sight they were also delivered from a life of poverty. It is normal for people who regularly witness supernatural miracles to be deeply impacted by the heart of God toward people.
“Greed” is the lowest level of ministry. The mantra of this level of ministry is—“What’s in this for me?” Greed takes that which belongs to others. The money in the money box was for ministry expenses and for the poor. When we are young in our Christian walk our motives are often selfish. But as we grow this changes. God is gracious toward us in our immaturity. More than just immature, however, Judas was being dishonest. Consider also that he walked with Jesus and the other disciples. He was around people who were serious in their commitment to God and hungry to learn and grow. His selfish greed was inexcusable. Eventually Judas became so vulnerable to the assignment of the enemy that it says Satan entered him (Luke 22:3).
Jesus defended Mary’s extravagant devotion: "Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always" (John 12:7-8). Jesus had informed His disciples several times that He was going to die, but they didn’t seem to understand. Mary understood that Jesus was going to die and anointed Him for the day of His burial. Because Mary sat at Jesus’ feet she had rare insight into the heart of God. She understood the purpose of Jesus’ mission. She discerned His need and His deep vulnerability. Going to the cross was no easy task. By anointing Him with costly oil she ministered directly to His heart. She recognized a unique opportunity that others missed.
The primary purpose of priestly ministry is to minister to the heart of God. The sons of Zadok were commended for this (Ezekiel 40:46, 44:15, 48:11), however, we are all called as priest (1 Peter 2:5, Revelation 1:6). Those who minister primarily to human need can easily become vulnerable to burnout. Human need is vast and the work can be arduous. Those who learn the secret of ministering to God’s heart are supernaturally sustained. Those who minister to human need and neglect to minister to God’s heart become vulnerable to the assignments of the enemy. That’s why Peter, James and John fell asleep during Jesus most vulnerable hour (Matthew 26:36-36, Mark 14:32-42).
Mary changed the atmosphere by ministering to God’s heart. It created a violent clash in the spirit. This clash could have seriously affected Mary. However, Jesus defended her. She was cocooned from the impact of the clash because of her intimacy with Him. The twelve disciples walked with Jesus and were given authority to perform signs and wonders. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. The truth is we don’t have to choose between signs and wonders or sitting at Jesus’ feet. We are called to do both. Mary is a prophetic model to an end-time generation. The signs and wonders that will come forth because of her prophetic model will far surpass the signs and wonders the disciples released in their life times. God is calling forth many like Mary of Bethany in this generation. Are you one of them?
© 2017 Nathan Shaw.
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