On a moonlit night at the garden of Gethsemane many years ago, blood, sweat, and tears poured forth from Jesus’s body as He prayed – 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 heavy curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the Temple: the ark of the covenant and the golden alter of incense (Exodus 40:5, Hebrews 9:4). The incense was burned only once per year on the Day of Atonement. This is when the nation would present a fragrant offering with their sacrifice, seeking God’s forgiveness for their sins.
Mary’s Extravagant Gift
In chapter 14 of the gospel of Mark, we read about Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Mary entered the room where Jesus was having dinner with his disciples. Breaking her alabaster jar of very expensive perfume and all cultural norms, Mary lovingly emptied the contents. She anointed Jesus’s head with the fragrant oil.
Mary’s act was far more than a kind gesture of respect and adoration. The gift was equivalent to a whole year’s salary and possibly 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.
Mary gave Jesus the most precious 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)
The story doesn’t end there. Days later, Jesus fell to his knees as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. We cannot even imagine the torment of His soul knowing what awaited Him. Perhaps the fragrance of Mary’s sweet perfume lingered in the air around Him as He awaited His accusers. Hours later, Jesus is crucified … His blood, sweat, and tears intermingled with the faint aroma of Mary’s perfume.
A Fragrant Offering
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. The barrier that separated us from a Holy God was removed forever. The One Who loves us so deeply was willing to pay for it with His Own Blood.
“ … Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2 ESV)
One sacrifice paid it all. Have you received God’s extravagant gift? He is Jesus, Christ the King, the Son of God.
“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)
This article is an excerpt from Week Six, “Witnessing God’s Passion,” in my Bible study, HAGAR: Rediscovering the God Who Sees Me.
Shadia is a passionate Bible teacher, author and speaker who has a heart for seeing lives transformed by the power of God’s Word. She holds a master’s in biblical and theological studies from Western Seminary and is author of several books and Bible studies.