Just days before Gethsemane and Calvary, as Jesus dined with His followers, Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, came and broke open a costly flask of fragrant spikenard and poured it without reservation on the head of the Lord (Matt. 26:6–13; John 12:1–8). He knew that in just a few days His head would be torn with thorns and the hair that now glistened with fragrant oil would soon be matted with blood and spit. Somehow, perhaps because she had been listening, Mary knew this too. To their shame, seemingly the disciples shook their heads and said, “Why this waste?” Sometimes the strongest and most hurtful voices of opposition to lavish, loving, risk-taking abandon come from other Christians. But Jesus rebuked them, saying: “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me” (Matt. 26:10).
Once as I was traveling in the Middle East, I made a brief stop in Bahrain, a tiny island kingdom off the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. I wanted to track down the remnants of the ministry of one of my missionary heroes, Samuel Zwemer. Zwemer is known as the “Apostle to Islam” because of his pioneering gospel work to the Muslim world. I visited the hospital in Bahrain that he, his wife Amy, and their team started in 1903—one of the first hospitals in all of Arabia. But there was something else I wanted to see, so I went to the Old Christian Cemetery, a dusty half-acre enclosed by a high wall. Buried there were sailors, soldiers, and diplomats who died in service in Bahrain, and crosses stood stark against the brown, barren ground. It’s a lonely spot. There were also many small graves of children, who were the most vulnerable to the epidemics that swept through the island with fearful unpredictability. Among them were the graves of Amy and Ruth Zwemer.
In July 1904, dysentery ravaged the community. Within the space of a week, the Zwemers buried their firstborn, a seven-year-old daughter named Amy, and their youngest daughter, three-year-old Ruth. Zwemer wrote little about this in his memoirs. However, years later he pulled back the curtain of his and Amy’s grief and in so doing showed the depths of their sorrow—and their worship—as they buried their precious ones. Zwemer said that his wife wrote their daughters’ epitaph, which said simply, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive riches.”
Just like Mary of Bethany, Amy of Bahrain’s tearful, worshipful act is a reminder that following our Cross Bearer—and all that requires—is ultimately only for an audience of One. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that love keeps no record of wrongs, and neither does love keep a record of acts of sacrifice and service and suffering. And yet, the One we love never forgets His own. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isa. 43:1).