The Greatest Memorial

Memorial Day in the United States had its origins in the closing years of America’s Civil War (1861-65). In the early spring men and women would clear the weeds from fallen soldier’s graves and place flowers upon them. There were Ladies’ Auxiliaries formed to continue this practice. They commonly referred to this day as "Decoration Day".
     Waterloo, New York has been honored by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 with a Presidential Proclamation and by a 1996 Congressional "Concurrent Resolution" as "the birthplace of Memorial Day." The city designated May 5, 1967 to honor those soldiers who had given their lives in battle. They have continued to do so without interruption each year, except for changing the date to May 30th and later to the last Monday of May to harmonize with national observance.
     It has surfaced that Columbus, Georgia officially observed a day to honor the fallen soldiers on April 26, 1967. Perhaps other locales will come to light in time.
     Memorial Day grew out of the desire of many hearts in many places to honor those who gave their lives in a cause they considered worth dying for. Americans still consider these heroes worthy of a special day of honor.

Memorial Days of Scripture

The scriptures record several significant events that were to be observed with a Memorial Day:
     Concerning the Passover God spoke to Moses, "So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance." Exodus 12:14.  Devout Jews continue to observe the ordinance after over 3400 years. In connection with Passover, Christians observe the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ at Easter and the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
     As Israel prepared to cross the Jordan river and possess the promised land God instructed the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant to lead the way. As they did, the Jordan stopped flowing from above. God further instructed a man from each tribe to carry a stone down to the bed of the Jordan and place it there. After doing so they were to take a stone from the bed of the Jordan and place it in a pile on the shore of Canaan. God explained, "That this may be a sign among you, when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall answer them, that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; …and these stones shall become a memorial to the children of Israel forever.’" Joshua 4:6,7. These stones served as a visual object in the spiritual instruction of each generation in Israel for many years.
     Our Lord Jesus spoke of another memorial which in many ways, is the greatest memorial of all. It took place six days before the observance of Passover…and the crucifixion of Jesus.
     At this point in time the faithful of Israel are arriving in Jerusalem and its environs by the hundreds of thousands. Jesus arrives in the village of Bethany located on the crest of the Mount of Olives which overlooks Jerusalem from the East.  Jesus and His disciples are joyfully received into the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary…"whom Jesus loved."  Jesus recently raised Lazarus from the dead. We can only guess at the feelings of affection and exhilaration that filled the hearts of everyone at this reunion.
     A banquet is planned and prepared. Jesus and Lazarus are the guests of honor. Martha leads a little band of women in the preparation and before long the banquet is served.
       Almost unnoticed, Mary disappears from the scene. Martha looks around for her and not seeing her is tempted to believe that Mary is lazy. Suddenly Mary walked through the door carrying a beautiful alabaster box. She breaks the box which contains about a pound of the most costly perfume and proceeds to anoint the head and the feet of Jesus. Mary was immediately censured by Judas and criticized by the disciples, but she pleased her Master, and as long as He was pleased, she was happy.
     In Mary’s defense Jesus said, Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me…For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. 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 of her." Matthew 26:10,12, 13.
     Jesus seemed to be saying that the greatest memorials are those we erect by loving sacrifice in honor of Him.

I. Mary’s Good Deed Became A Memorial Of Sacrificial Love.

     The perfume with which Mary anointed Jesus was very costly. We are indebted to Judas Iscariot for figuring up the value of the perfume. He reckoned it at being worth 300 pence or denarii (Mark 14:5). From Matthew 20:1,2 we gather that a denarii was a days wage for a common laborer. When we consider that for Jews there are 52 Sabbaths in a year plus other holidays, this figures out to worth what it would take a laborer to earn in a year…and Mary poured it out on Jesus’ head and feet.
     Judas censured Mary because this valuable perfume was not used for something practical –like feeding the poor. May I say that from what I’ve learned about Mary and Judas from scripture, I would hazard a guess that Mary was current in her gifts to the poor and Judas was current in stealing from the funds that had been designated for the poor.
     Mary wanted to express her love and gratitude to Jesus for Him being willing to pay the redemption price to save her soul and only this costly perfume would do. Already, Mary had experienced unspeakable blessings from Jesus. Her brother Lazarus had been raised from the dead and while sitting at the feet of Jesus she…and she alone…had learned that Jesus must die as a sacrificial death for her sins and the sins of the world. (Luke 10:38-42; John 12:7) She grasped that the love Jesus had for her was beyond measure and her heart responded that her love for Him must be the same (I John 4:10,19.)

II. Mary’s Good Deed Became A Memorial of the Sacrificial Death of Jesus.

This truth is brought out clearly in John’s account of this event. "Then said Jesus, ‘let her alone’ she has kept this for the day of my burying."  John 12:7

     We have the record of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus as He taught in Luke 10:38-42.   Martha chided her for not helping more with the dinner preparations but Jesus defended Mary by saying that she had done "the one thing needful". I take this statement to mean that she not only sat at His feet but she listened to what he said closely enough that she understood what He was saying. Others heard Him say the same things Mary heard but they did not gain an understanding of what He said. This included Peter. Peter had grasped an understanding that Jesus was the Christ the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16) but when Jesus proceeded to teach that, "…He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and be raised on the third day", Peter’s response was "God forbid it LORD! This shall never happen to You." (Matthew 16:21,22) There is ample evidence that neither Peter nor the other eleven got it until after the resurrection. But Mary got it and from the time she got it she began saving up the precious perfume to anoint Him for His burial.
     It would be good to ask ourselves, "Have I got it?" If we haven’t we need to realize that the issue of our eternal destiny hangs on whether we get it and then whether we accept the sacrificial death of Christ for our sins as our sole basis for salvation. If we have got it and have received Jesus Christ as our Savior we ought to ask ourselves whether our gratitude and love to Christ measure up in light of Mary’s sacrificial gift. If not, we need to be working on our love and gratitude to Christ.

III. Mary’s Good Deed A Memorial Of Her Death To The World.

     The apostle John summed up what composes the present world system. He wrote, "Do not love the world, or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world---the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life---is not from the Father, but is of the world". 1st John 2:15, 16

     Mary had an alabaster box of perfume worth a working man’s wages for one year. What would she do with it? She could have displayed it prominently in her living room for neighbors and guests to admire…and envy. She could have splashed herself daily with the most expensive perfume known and when others inquired let them know the elite brand she wore. She could have impressed others with the value of her perfume and pointed out that she had a great deal of financial security in her wise investment. She could have also taken a page from Judas and, with great fanfare, made her gift available to meet the needs of the poor and then be known as Israel’s most compassionate philanthropist.
     But none of these things entered Mary’s heart for one second.   More important to her than anything else in the world was the fact that God’s Son was willing to receive the punishment for her sins and deliver her from the punishment for her sins and deliver her from the condemnation of God’s law. The perfume must be used to anoint Jesus for His burial. She poured it all out on His head and His feet. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life have lost their allurement to her. What did it matter if Judas censured her and the disciples criticized her? Jesus was pleased and that was enough.

     The apostle Paul relinquished the dignity of being a rabbi and the reputation of being the most fervent Pharisee of his generation, and yielded to Christ’s calling to be a missionary to the gentiles (non Jews). In this calling he stated that he was looked upon as "the offscouring (or scum) of the world". 1st Corinthians. 4:13. Paul was never backward about stating this was his personal choice and why he did it. Perhaps he said it best in Galatians 6:14, "But God forbid that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world".

     There are still people whose good deeds are a memorial of their death to the world. The following story appeared in the May 25th devotional of ‘Our Daily Bread’. "The letters stop me cold every time. Each month we receive another poignant prayer letter from missionary friends who serve in an African country where disease, especially AIDS, is killing people by the thousands. When these friends tell us about the ongoing tragedy, they are talking about people they know and love.

     Our friends don’t complain about the danger they are in or their struggle to raise a family amid hardship. Instead, they remind us of the souls of these people, some of whom literally die in their arms."

    When our good deeds are a memorial of sacrificial love; of the sacrificial death of Jesus and our death to the world they are the greatest memorials of all, "…where ever this gospel is preached in the whole world what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial of her".

Copyright © 2002 Thomas E Berry
All Scriptures quoted from NKJV unless otherwise noted

    Copyright © 2008 Truth Helpers Inc.