A Sweet Aroma and a Putrid Stench

John 12:1-8 (ESV): 12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”


Leviticus 23:18 (ESV): 18 And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.


Ephesians 5:2 (ESV): 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.


There are many places where the Bible makes reference to sacrifices producing an aroma that is pleasing to God. This starts all the way back in the Old Testament. Animals were repetitively sacrificed in order to make atonement for sin, pointing to the need for a perfect sacrificial lamb that was ultimately realized in Jesus Christ. Certainly, in John 12, we can infer that Mary’s act must have been a pleasing aroma to her Savior who so willingly participated in what, under other circumstances, would have been a scandalous act. As she took down her hair, poured out very expensive perfume, and began to wipe Jesus feet, we are told that the sweet-smelling aroma filled the house. This beautiful act involved adoration as demonstrated by her method of choice, and it involved sacrifice, exhibited in the fact that the oil could have sold for 300 denarii. Any study Bible will tell you that amount was roughly equivalent to a year’s wages. But, Mary loved Jesus. No sacrifice was too costly for Him, no object of affection so worthy.

Then, Judas arrived to the party. I can just imagine him waving his hands back and forth in front of his face as he walks in irritated by the smell, and proceeds to get fighting mad at the loss of potential revenue. You see Judas had a god too. Only it wasn’t the some one as Mary’s. So, this aroma that was so lovely to the LORD was met by the putrid stench of Judas’ affection for money, which seeped through his thin veneer of concern for the poor.

But Jesus set him straight, protecting the fragility and substance of the moment. He received her worship and saw it from eternity past. It had a divine purpose. It was meant to foreshadow the reason that the Son of God came to earth in the form of a man. For in about a week’s time, it was Jesus himself that was the sweet aroma to the LORD. He was the Lamb on the altar atoning for the sins of mankind, a once and for all sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. So, let those of us that have had our hearts transformed by the Savior join with Mary in pouring out our lives in sacrificial adoration of the only one who is worthy of worship.

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