Small Beginnings (5)
“Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Mark 14.9
All who know the Lord Jesus would be overjoyed to hear Him say of something they had done, that it was a “beautiful work.”
This is how Jesus described Mary’s anointing His head with spikenard. The use of καλός – good or beautiful – is instructive here, because this word can signify both outward beauty and excellence as well as moral excellence and fittingness. Beauty is thus linked in Jesus’ mind with goodness, excellence, and what is appropriate and able to please. Mary’s outward work was beautiful, and it revealed a beautiful heart.
We can imagine that those who were in the home of Simon the leper on that occasion would have concurred. As the fragrance of Mary’s sacrifice wafted throughout the house, people would have raised their heads, sniffed the air curiously, taken a deep breath, and wondered about the source of this excellent aroma. And while certain people – including some of His disciples, egged on by Judas Iscariot (Matt. 26.8; Jn. 12.4) – expressed disapproval of such extravagance, Jesus rebuked them. He explained the purpose of Mary’s gesture and declared that this humble act of sacrifice, so beautiful in the moment, would waft like a fragrance throughout the ages and over the face of the earth, as Mary’s beautiful work would be forever inextricably linked to Jesus’ own story.
Mary’s act of devotion has served as an example for believers in every age and place. And like Mary’s oil, we can become a fragrance for Jesus in every place the Lord sends us, every moment of every day.
A controversial fragrance
Paul undoubtedly knew the story of Mary’s anointing. He identified himself and all true followers of Jesus Christ with that oil – precious commodities though whom Christ “diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place” (2 Cor. 2.14). Believers like Paul, who live devoted and sacrificial lives for Jesus, “are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (v. 15). Wherever they go, whatever they’re doing, they give off the aroma of Jesus. So completely immersed in Jesus were the first believers in Antioch, so much did Jesus fill their minds and conversations and shape their lives individually and together, that their neighbors took to calling them the “Christ ones” (Acts 11.26).
And, like the fragrance of Mary’s spikenard, that aroma can be a source of controversy. Some, detecting the fragrance of Christ in all our words and deeds, will be encouraged in the life of Christ. They will be drawn to Him, open to hearing about Him, eager to grow in and become more like Him, and committed to having the fragrance of Christ in themselves.
Others will find the fragrance of Christ in us a stench in their nostrils, and they’ll wonder about how we can waste so much time, effort and money on such nonsense. They may object to the fragrance of Jesus. They may revile and denounce us, demand that we keep our religion to ourselves, exclude us from their company, or worse.
Becoming a fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus Christ should be the objective of every believer. Paul commanded his readers to imitate him (1 Cor. 11.1). Whatever he did to become a fragrance of Jesus, we who believe in Him must embrace as our own callings. Our lives in all their many aspects, facets, dimensions, and undertakings can be the fragrance of Christ to the world, a fragrance that diffuses, arrests, affects, and draws many to a deeper love for Jesus.
But being a fragrance of Jesus to the people around us must be taken up anew every day and sustained diligently by first making sure that we are at all times a fragrant aroma to God.
Being a fragrance of Jesus, a beautiful work that draws others to Him, begins in prayer:
Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous!
For praise from the upright is beautiful (Ps. 33.1).
LORD, I cry out to You;
Make haste to me!
Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.
Let my prayer be set before You asincense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice (Ps. 141.1, 2).
By some mystery we cannot now understand, our prayers are regarded by God as a sweet fragrance, a beautiful thing. In heaven at this time, departed saints gather our fumbling efforts at prayer into bowls, and, working with a great angel, somehow sanctify and improve our prayers like the fragrance of incense (Rev. 5.8; 8.3-5). These prayers, received as a beautiful thing by God, engage the power of God for good and beautiful works on earth, and serve to make us a fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
If you would be a beautiful thing to God and a fragrance of Christ to the world, you must pray. You must begin your day in prayer. All your undertakings and activities must begin in prayer. You must work to make prayer without ceasing the fragrance of your daily life, praying about everything, giving thanks in all things, rejoicing in the Lord at every moment, and offering the loaves and fishes of your everyday life in amazing faith to Jesus. From small beginnings in prayer, great and thunderous works of the knowledge of Jesus can fill your Personal Mission Field for His glory (Rev. 8.5).
And then, at the end of the day, as you review your work for that day before the Lord of glory, if you listen carefully and wait long enough, you may hear Him say into the recesses of your soul, “You are My fragrant and beautiful work. Well done, good and faithful and fragrant servant.”
1. Have you identified your Personal Mission Field? Watch this brief video, then download the worksheet to map out your sector of the Lord’s field.
2. Is your prayer life sufficient to allow you to become a fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus? Do you want to be such a fragrance?
3. How can you encourage other believers to be a fragrance of Jesus to the people around them?
Next steps – Preparation: Share today’s article with a friend. Challenge your friend to join you in mapping out your Personal Mission Field, then get together to share and pray that you may daily increase as a fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus Christ to God and to the people around you.
T. M. Moore
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This week’s study is part 2 of a 3-part series, The Small Stuff. Each part consists of seven lessons and is available as a free PDF download at the end of the study. In the tag for part 7, we’ll give you a link to download part 2, “Small Beginnings” Why not line up some friends to study through all three parts of this series?
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.