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God’s Word for You

Mark 14:9 The good work of Mary

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, December 9, 2023

9 “Amen, I tell you: Wherever the gospel is preached into the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Here at the end of Mary’s good deed, with the blessing of Jesus, there are two or three things for us to examine, to ponder, and then apply to ourselves. First, What does Jesus mean when he blesses her in this way? Second, Where do good works come from? Third, How does anyone know that what they have done is a good work, or not?

Firstly, the meaning of Jesus’ blessing. Here the meaning is not concealed at all, but completely present in the text: Wherever the gospel of our Lord’s words and works is preached, anywhere in the world, this thing that Mary did will be told as a part of the account. She became a part of our Savior’s works and mission on earth to save us from our sins. That doesn’t mean that she should be given credit as a co-Savior in some way. No one is our Savior apart from our Lord Jesus Christ alone. But the people who were with Jesus and who asked him questions, were healed by him, and especially those who confessed their faith in him, such as the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:22,27), Peter (Matthew 16:16), the Samaritan woman (John 4:29), are all caught up in the proclamation of Jesus the Savior. Mary anointed the Anointed One, and although his anointing as Christ was done by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38), she, too, poured oil upon him, doing humbly and privately what the High Priest of Israel would have jealously reserved for himself, if only he had believed that Jesus truly was the Christ. Who else should have anointed the Messiah? But he conspired against him instead, to kill him (Mark 14:1). So, like Moses’ wife in the desert, Mary did what someone else should have done, because it could not be left undone (Exodus 4:25).

Secondly: Where do good works come from? Philosophers and theologians like to find classes or categories, usually to help with the memory, so that this or that concept or idea is not left out by accident. Martin Chemnitz (an important Lutheran minister and professor in the generation after Luther), quipped that “if some rather keen person were to examine them (such classes) very carefully, he perhaps would have something with which he could find fault. For most of the expressions do wander among multiple classes” (Chemnitz’ Works VIII:1073). Yet for the sake of being brief, I offer these sources of good works:

1, The ‘causing cause’ or efficient cause (also called the principal cause), which is the Holy Spirit. He is the one who commands and prescribes our good works, and he is the one who regenerates and renews man with our new life in Christ and drives us forward to do good works. Our good works are properly called “the fruits of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), not the spirit of the person, but of the Holy Spirit himself working in us. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

2, The ‘instrumental cause’ that makes a specific contribution to our good works by guiding us and giving us the power to do them is the Word of God, the Bible. The Word is the imperishable seed through which we are born again and made fruitful (1 Peter 1:23). Specifically, it is the gospel through which the Holy Spirit is given. “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing (the gospel) that you heard?” (Galatians 3:2). The Word of God (1) shows what good works are, (2) teaches how they should be done to please God, (3) encourages and drives us to good works, and (4) confers and gives us good works to perform.

3, The ‘cooperating cause’ that brings forth our holy behavior (2 Peter 3:11) is the mind and will of the Chrsitian, renewed by the Holy Spirit. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, and new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This brings us to thirdly: How do I know that what I do is a good work? Good works come from the will of God, and the clearest proclamation of his will for us is in the Ten Commandments and the way that the Commandments are explained by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Exodus 20; Matthew 5-7). “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9). And Jesus says: “Blessed are they who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28). When the Christian does these things (worships God alone, uses God’s name as God would have us use it, honors his parents and authorities, loves his neighbor as himself) out of love for Christ and out of thanks for all God does, then he knows that he has done well; a good work, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Even when that good deed is marred with sin and error, it is sanctified by the Spirit and is perfect in God’s sight, for Jesus’ sake. For “it is not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ that God justified those who believe (Galatians 3:14; Augsburg Confession V:3). We do not rely on our deeds to merit anything, least of all justification from God for forgiveness, but believing that “when you have done all these things, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants’” (Luke 17:10).

So we believe that our good works are like a cobblestone path stretching out before us, each stone laid there by God for us to do. If we choose to step on one stone and not on another, that is, to do one good work and not another just now, it is not a sin at all. For I may choose to make soup for my family for lunch today or perhaps sandwiches, but either would be good, and I do not sin by choosing one and omitting the other.

Whatever we do, we do from faith and love. The Holy Spirit urges us, the Bible guides us, and our faith responds. Give glory to God, and trust that his mercy endures forever.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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