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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:An extravagant act.
Text:John 12:1-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering
 
Preached:2015-03-15
Added:2015-04-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Bible Translation:  NKJV

Psalm 9:1,4,5

Psalm 30:5

Psalm 45:1,3,4

Psalm 63:2,3

Hymn 77:1,2,3

Read:  John 11:45 – 12:11.

Text:  John 12:1-8.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How much is the Lord Jesus worth to you?  How great is your love for Him, how deep is your devotion?  What do you think of our Lord Jesus Christ – and how do you show it?

In our Bible reading this morning we read about a number of different people:  the chief priests and Pharisees, including Caiaphas the high priest, Mary and Judas.  They all had their opinions about the Lord Jesus and they ascribed to Him different measures of worth.  The Jewish leaders wanted him dead, and Judas was ready to sell him for thirty pieces of silver.  But Mary was different.  Mary loved the Lord Jesus and she valued Him.  And Mary demonstrated the depth of her love and devotion to her Lord by pouring a jar – a whole jar – of the most costly oil on the Lord Jesus Christ, bathing His feet with it – and then wiping his feet with her hair.

But what value do you place on the Lord Jesus?  How great is your love for Him, how deep is your devotion?  What value do you place not just on who He is but also one what He has done?

The Bible passage that we have before us this morning is an usual one and when we read this story about Mary – a woman – pouring a whole bottle of perfume over the Lord Jesus, washing His feet with it and drying His feet with her hair, many of us find the scene to be somewhat awkward.  But the Lord Jesus knew Mary, He knew her heart, He knew what had motivated her to do extraordinary thing.

And Jesus also knew the hearts of others.  He knew what was in the heart of Caiaphas the high priest as well as the other chief priests and Pharisees.  And He knew what was in the heart of Judas Iscariot.  And not only that, but our Lord Jesus Christ saw a significance in what Mary did that may well have been far beyond what she was thinking. “Let her alone”, Jesus said, “she has kept this for the day of My burial.”  What Mary did not only displayed the depth of her love and affection for her Lord Jesus, but it foretold the infinite value of His death.  And so I preach to you the Word of the Lord under the following heading:

An extravagant act foretells the infinite value of the death of Christ.

  1. What Mary did.
  2. What Jesus said.

 

1. What Mary did.

The Scripture passage we have before us this morning is an unusual one.  In our mind’s eye we can see it all happening.  It was six days before the Passover, a Sabbath day, most likely the late afternoon or early evening, and the day before the Lord Jesus would enter Jerusalem on a donkey.  Jesus and His disciples were in Bethany, a few kilometers outside of the city of Jerusalem, the village where His friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus were from.  The nation of Israel was buzzing with the news that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead, the chief priests were wringing their hands and wondering what to do, but Jesus’ friends and disciples were celebrating!

  A meal was being held in Jesus’ honour, a special dinner.  From Matthew 26 and Mark 14, where this story is also recorded, we can learn that the dinner was being held at the house of someone known as Simon the Leper.  And they were all there: Jesus, His disciples, Mary, Martha & Lazarus as well as others from Bethany and the surrounding region – enjoying a meal together, a special dinner in honor of the Lord Jesus.  Martha was busy as usual, serving the guests.  But once again, Mary wasn’t in the kitchen with her.  Mary had something else on her mind.  Mary loved the Lord Jesus and she wanted to show this to Him – and to everyone else – in a surprising way.

  Dinner had been served and the guests, including the Lord Jesus, were sitting (or more accurately reclining) at the table.  And then Mary walked into the room.  She was holding a bottle, a stone jar made of alabaster, that is of marble.  The jar itself was worth a lot of money but what was in the jar was incredibly valuable.  A pound of very costly oil of spikenard.  Actually it was a little less than a modern day pound; Bible commentators inform us that it would have been about 11 ounces, a bit less than half a litre in volume.  The spikenard oil was a type of perfume that had been produced from a plant that grew in Northern India, in the Himalayan mountains.  When it came to perfumes, this was the best of the best, the real stuff, pure nard.  Indeed it was so valuable that it was normally sold in very small bottles and applied sparingly and for special occasions.  Where Mary got a whole alabaster jar of it from we don’t know, but we do know how much it was worth.  According to the shrewd eye of Judas Iscariot, it was worth 300 denarii, a years wages for a working class man!  To put that into todays terms, if a man worked for 300 days in a year at $15 an hour for 12 hours a day, this spikenard oil would be worth an incredible $50,000!

And Mary took this bottle of oil and she stood before the Lord Jesus as he sat there, reclining at the table.  And reading John 12 in the light of Matthew 26 and Mark 14, this is what she did.  Mary took the alabaster jar, broke off its tapered neck and she began to pour.  She poured some on His head, she would have poured some on His body.  And then she poured it all over His feet!  And then Mary unpinned her hair – her beautiful hair, her glory as Paul describes a woman’s hair in 1 Corinthians 11:15 – Mary unpinned her hair, and wiped Jesus’ feet with it.

What an unusual thing to do! How strange!  How awkward!  Yes, in a sense, how offensive!  Imagine for a moment what it would have been like to have been there.  What would you have thought as you saw Mary do these things?  What things would have gone through your head as you saw her let down her hair and wipe the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ?  In fact, never mind what you would have thought had you been there, how do you feel about it now?  What was this woman Mary, a woman who obviously adored Jesus, what was she thinking by performing such a preposterous, such an extravagant act?  What would motivate her to do such an outlandish thing?  Mary was a woman, a single woman, and Jesus was a man, also single.  It just wasn’t normal, it just was not the done thing for a woman to approach a man in this manner.  And to let down your hair in public like that – that simply was not becoming for a respectable woman to do.  And didn’t Judas have a point when he complained about the waste?  A little perfume on the head or even the feet might have been okay.  But to put so much on that the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the oil?  One tip of the perfume bottle and it was all gone!  What are we to think about all of this?  What are we to do with this story about what Mary did?

But the Lord Jesus was not offended, nor did He consider what she had done to be awkward.  “Leave her alone!” He said to Judas Iscariot and to the other disciples who were agreeing with him.  And, Mark 14:6,

“She has done a beautiful thing for Me.”  (NIV)

Jesus understood what Mary was doing in this unusual act.  He knew what was motivating her; He knew what was in her heart.

And for us to understand this better, it would be helpful for us to remember who Mary was, what the Bible tells us about her.  This particular Mary was the sister of Martha and Lazarus and she was one of Jesus’ disciples.  In Luke 10:39, when Martha was busily distracted with much serving, Mary

“. . . sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.”

And when it says here that she sat at Jesus’ feet, what this means is that she submitted herself to His instruction, she listened to the Lord Jesus as one of His disciples.  That was a surprising thing for Mary, a woman, to do!  But Jesus approved of it, and He said to Martha

“. . . Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

And indeed it was not taken away from her.  Mary heard the words of her Saviour and she believed in Him.

And now just before this, in what was likely to be the reason for this supper that had been prepared in honour of the Lord Jesus, Lazarus, Mary’s brother, had been raise from the dead.  In John chapter 11 Jesus had said concerning Lazarus when he was still sick,

“This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  (John 11:4)

A short time later, Lazarus was dead.  But Jesus went there anyway.  And when he came there, Martha went out to meet Him, while Mary stayed at the house.  And Martha said to Jesus,

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”  (John 11:21,22)

The Lord Jesus then said,

“Your brother will rise again.”

To which Martha said,

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

But then Jesus said something astonishing:

I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”

  She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”  (John 11:25-27)

Now the Lord had said this to Martha, but Mary knew this too.  Mary had sat at Jesus’ feet: she believed in Him.  And when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Mary was there!  Mary had seen her dead brother walk out of the tomb!  And she knew who had made this possible.  She believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Resurrection and the Life.  She had, to use the words of John 1:14, she had beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  Mary had seen His glory.  Mary had experienced His grace.  Mary knew Him to be the Way, the Truth and the Life.  She may not yet have understood it all.  She may not yet have understood that in a week from then it would be the Lord Jesus Himself who would be laid in a tomb.  But this she knew:  Her brother who was dead was now alive!  And that was all because of the Lord Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life, because He is the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.

And that is why Mary took that alabaster jar, that is why she broke it open and that is why she poured all of it – all 300 denarii, all $50,000 worth – on her Lord Jesus.  For He is great!  He is wonderful!  His worth is beyond measure!  And that is why she put it not just on His head, but even more on His feet.  She poured out this love, this affection, on His feet because even the most lowly part of our Lord Jesus’ body, His feet, is worthy of the greatest honour.  You see, a disciple was expected to serve his teacher, but not even a disciple was expected to wash his master’s feet.  And a few days later, in John 13, the disciples were not prepared to wash Jesus’ feet, let alone the feet of one another.  But Mary washed Jesus’ feet with oil and wiped them with her hair.  Mary understood why, a few years earlier, John the Baptist had said concerning the Christ that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal.  And so Mary bathed Jesus’ feet in the most precious and most costly of perfumes, oil of nard or spikenard.  And then she took her hair, her most highly prized, her most exalted body part, and she wiped His feet with her hair.  This then was not some sort of a weird and awkward thing that Mary did but it was her way of telling her Lord or His greatness and of her lowliness.  She took her hair, the most beautiful, the most glorious and the most clean thing that was hers and she used it to wipe what was seen as the most lowly and potentially dirty body part of her Lord – his feet.  And in this way she humbled herself and she exalted her Lord!

Not so the Pharisees and the chief priests!  When some had gone to tell them that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, they had said to one another,

“What shall we do?  For this Man works many signs.  If we let Him alone like this everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

The Pharisees and the chief priests did not believe in the Lord Jesus.  They did not receive Him as the resurrection and the life.  Instead they were worried about the threat that He might be to their place, their position and to the nation.  They were afraid that His popularity might increase so much that the Lord Jesus would be a threat to the Roman government and that the Roman army would then come in, would kill many of the people and would strip the chief priests and the Pharisees of their favoured position.  But Caiaphas had the answer:  this Jesus must die.  And so he said in John 11:49,50 –

“You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.”

But Caiaphas did not know what he was saying.  Caiaphas meant to say that Jesus should be killed so that their lives might go on as before.  But what God meant was that this one Man, Jesus Christ, would die for the salvation of His people.  And so it would be!  It was just six days before the Passover, six days before a lamb would be slain.  But on this Passover it would not be a lamb but the Lamb of God who would die for the people.  Jesus Christ would be sacrificed, His blood would be poured out and He would die on a cross to take away the sin of the world.

  What is the Lord Jesus worth?  The chief priests and the Pharisees said “He is worth more to us dead than alive.”  And even though they were wrong (for they meant that it would be better for Him to die so that they could retain their place under the Roman government), even though they were wrong they were right.  But if they had known the truth, if they had received the Christ as the Son of God, then the Caiaphas should have been the one at that feast.  And then Caiaphas, as high priest and representative of the people of Israel, should have been on his knees at Jesus’ feet.  And Caiaphas should have come with ten gallons of spikenard oil.  And Caiaphas should have said, “Lord Jesus, we know that You have come from God and we know that You are the Son of God.  We know that You are the Resurrection and the Life.  Lord have mercy on us, for we are sinners!”

And so we must all do that.  No, we can not come to our Lord Jesus, wash His feet with spikenard oil and dry it with our hair.  “You do not always have Me with you”, Jesus said to Judas Iscariot, and that is true.  For He is in heaven and we are on earth.  But He deserves our love, He deserves our devotion.  We cannot hold back, we cannot be half hearted in our love for our Saviour.  Rather we must humble ourselves.  We need to understand why Simon Peter would say in Luke 5:8,

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

And we need to exclaim with the angels in Revelation 5:12,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive – not just spikenard oil but to receive – power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!

 

2. What Jesus said.

When Mary poured the oil on Jesus’ feet and wiped it with her hair, the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.  But not everyone was happy.  “What a waste!”  exclaimed Judas.

“Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”

And then John adds a little note in verse 6:

“This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.”

This is the only place in the Bible where we hear that Judas was a thief, but we can well understand it.  Judas was not born again.  Judas did not believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the Son of God.  Judas placed a higher value on the jar of oil and what it could mean to him than he did on the Lord Jesus Christ.  But Jesus knew what was in the heart of Judas Iscariot said to Judas and all the disciples,

“Leave her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.  For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

“Leave her alone!”  Jesus not only defended what Mary had done, but He delighted in it.  He was pleased with this sacrifice of love, of devotion and of thanksgiving.  “She has done a beautiful thing to Me”, Matthew and Mark record Jesus as saying.  “She has anointed My body for burial.”

Did Mary know this?  Did she understand that in a week from now her Lord would be lying in a tomb?  Did she have in inkling that on that day she would not be there to anoint His body with oil – and that when the women went to the tomb on the following Sunday they would be too late to anoint His body?  We do not really know the answers to those questions.  We do not know if Mary understood that Jesus would die.  But what Mary did was an act of love and devotion and of thankfulness to her Lord.  And Jesus honoured her for this.  And not only did He honour her, but He deepened the significance of what she had done.  Whereas Mary sought to honour Him as the giver of life, the Lord explained that what she had done would honour Him in His death!  And His death would have infinite value for all those who receive Him as their Lord and Saviour.

Judas didn’t get it.  Judas saw the empty jar and he said, “What a waste!”  But Mary had emptied that jar to exclaim “What a Saviour!”  Judas does not get it.  Judas was not born again, born from above.  The Word that is Christ had dwelled with him, he had witnessed his glory but the truth was not in Judas.  Judas Iscariot would go from that feast, he would find the Jewish leaders and He would sell his Lord for 30 pieces of silver – about 200 denarii, two thirds the value of that costly oil of spikenard.  And then Judas would die.  Judas would be separated from the love of Christ forever.

But what about you?  Do you get it?  What value do you place on the Lord Jesus?  How great is your love for Him, how deep is your devotion?  What value do you place not just on who He is but also one what He has done?  Let your love for Jesus be extravagant!  May He always be your greatest treasure!  May you see and believe in the infinite value of the death of Christ.  May you be thrilled, amazed, ever joyful and thankful and may you be filled with love and devotion to your Lord and Saviour.  For He who died now lives!  He is the resurrection and the life.  And He who believes in Him, though he may die yet he shall live.  Do you believe that?

“Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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