On a moonlit night in the garden of Gethsemane two thousand years ago, blood, sweat, and tears poured forth from Jesus’s body – but something else penetrated the veil of darkness that night: the sweet aroma of Mary’s perfume …
In Old Testament times, only two objects were placed behind the Jewish Temple’s heavy curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place: the ark of the covenant and the golden alter of incense (Exodus 40:5, Hebrews 9:4). Even then, the incense was burned only once per year—on the Day of Atonement when the nation would present a fragrant offering with their sacrifice, seeking God’s forgiveness for their sins.
In chapter 14 of the gospel of Mark, we read about Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, who entered the room where Jesus was having dinner with his disciples. Breaking the wax seal of her alabaster jar and all cultural norms, Mary lovingly empties the expensive perfume, anointing Jesus’s head with the fragrant oil. A jar of this kind would typically contain about twelve ounces, allowing the oil to flow all the way to Jesus’s feet (see John 12:3).
Mary’s act was far more than a kind gesture of respect and adoration. The gift was equivalent to a whole year’s salary, but Mary’s gift was far more valuable than money. It is very possible that this gift was tied to her hope for marriage … her hope for a future. It was often saved for a young woman’s wedding day, when she would pour it on her husband as an act of devotion.
“While the king was at his table, my perfume gave forth its fragrance.” (Song of Solomon 1:12 NASB)
Mary gave Jesus the most precious and costly thing she owned—with no hope of any return in this life. Yet only One noticed the value of her extravagant gift: Jesus. Where the disciples saw a fool, Jesus saw a worshiper. What the disciples called a waste, Jesus received as a gift. Jesus saw Mary’s heart. He saw … Behind the Seen. Jesus was so taken by her selfless act that He declared her actions would be proclaimed for all eternity (Mark 14:1-9).
But the story doesn’t end there. A few days later, Jesus fell to his knees as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, tormented of soul for what He knew awaited Him. Hours later, Jesus is crucified … His blood, sweat, and tears intermingled with the faint aroma of Mary’s perfume. The King, the Christ of God, who is the Sacrificial Lamb, had been anointed, and then crowned with thorns as He presented His own life as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. In that moment, the Temple curtain that veiled the Most Holy Place was torn from top to bottom, forever removing the barrier that separated us from a Holy God Who loves us so deeply He was willing to pay for it with His Own Blood … And we are messengers of this glorious hope!
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV)
“ … walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2 ESV)