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

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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