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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The Lamb is worthy to receive all our honour
Text:John 12:1-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 79

Psalm 75:1-3

Psalm 47

Hymn 69

Hymn 81

Scripture reading: Revelation 5

Text:  John 12:1-8

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

In 1923, a baby boy was born to a family in Lower Barrington, Tasmania.  He was the youngest of 14 children.  Soon after his birth, the family moved to Latrobe.  When Australia entered into the Second World War, he was 18 years old and enlisted in the Navy.  Eventually he was assigned to the corvette HMAS Armidale.  On December 1, 1942, the ship was off the coast of Timor when it came under attack by Japanese fighters and bombers.  HMAS Armidale was hit by torpedoes and began to sink.  Sailors who jumped into the ocean were then strafed by the Japanese.  This young man from Tasmania manned one of the anti-aircraft guns to protect his fellow sailors.  He ended up going down with the ship, reportedly continuing to fire at the Japanese even after he was under water. 

For this act of selfless bravery, Teddy Sheean was awarded Australia’s highest military honour.  It took until last year, December of 2020, but Teddy Sheean was finally given the Victoria Cross for Australia.  The Victoria Cross for Australia is the "decoration for according recognition to persons who in the presence of the enemy, perform acts of the most conspicuous gallantry, or daring or pre-eminent acts of valour or self-sacrifice or display extreme devotion to duty."  There’s no doubt that Teddy Sheean was worthy of this award and many Tasmanians were pleased to see him finally get what he deserved.  Teddy Sheean deserved the Victoria Cross.

Those kinds of acts deserve recognition.  If that’s true for an ordinary human being who did something extraordinary for others, how much more true shouldn’t it be for our Lord Jesus Christ?  In what we read from Revelation 5, Christ is acclaimed as the Lamb worthy of the highest honours and praise.  It’s because of what he’s done – because he was slain, because he selflessly offered himself in the place of sinners.

In our passage for this morning from John, we also see Christ being acknowledged with great honour.  Here the Holy Spirit reveals to us why that should be universally the case.  God is telling us here how everyone should give the highest honours and praise to Jesus.  Why?  Because the Lamb of God is worthy of it.  So I preach to you God’s Word and the theme for the sermon is:  The Lamb is worthy to receive all our honour.

We’ll consider the honour:

  1. Displayed by one devoted disciple
  2. Denied by one deceitful disciple
  3. Defended by our deserving Lord

Why is Jesus called the Lamb of God in the Bible?  Why did both John the Baptist and John the apostle call him that?  Why did the myriads of angels call him the Lamb in Revelation 5?  It’s because Christ is the fulfillment of the sacrificial lamb in the Old Testament.  In particular, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover lamb. 

The feast of Passover was instituted in the book of Exodus, right before the people of Israel left Egypt.  There was going to be one last plague upon the land, the death of all the first-born.  God warned his people beforehand about it.  He also told them what they could do to avoid it.  If they would sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on their doorposts, then God would pass over their house and not kill the first-born.  The Passover lamb would function as a substitute for the first-born, protecting that life.  In the same way, Jesus would offer himself as a sacrifice on the cross.  His blood would be shed in the place of all who trust in him.  Now everyone who trusts in his sacrifice will have their life protected from eternal death.  God’s hellish wrath passes over us and we live eternally.  That’s why Jesus is called the Lamb of God.  He’s the ultimate Passover Lamb.

Now our passage tells us that we’re six days before Passover.  This is important.  The Passover Lamb is about to be sacrificed, the ultimate Passover Lamb.  Jesus is days away from the cross.             

That sets the stage for what happens in Bethany, just a short distance away from Jerusalem, the place where Jesus will be crucified.  It’s important to note how the Holy Spirit draws our attention back to Lazarus in verse 1.  Bethany is “where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”  Just in this one verse we have a hint of both the cross and what follows.  The Passover points to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  And Lazarus was raised from the dead as a sign that Christ has power over death.  It was a sign pointing ahead to Christ’s own resurrection.  Just like Lazarus, Jesus wasn’t going to stay dead after the cross.  This Passover Lamb was going to be unlike any other – he would be raised from the dead.

There in Bethany a dinner was held in honour of Jesus.  Notice how the dinner was “for him.”  Perhaps it was to celebrate what happened with Lazarus.  Whatever the reason was, we’re told that Lazarus was definitely there, alive and well.  He was one of those “reclining with him at table.”  That paints the picture of how dinners went in those days.  People didn’t sit on chairs around a table.  Instead, they reclined on pillows, resting on their elbows with their legs stretched out.  In the middle of the group would be a table fairly low to the ground.  Lazarus is one of the guests.  Together with everyone else, he’s eating and drinking.  This foreshadows what happens later after the resurrection of Jesus.  In John 21 we read of how the risen Jesus ate a breakfast of fish with his disciples.  That was one more proof that he was really alive as a physical flesh and blood human being.  Similarly, Lazarus is there eating and drinking, having dinner as a living human being, someone who’s been brought back from the dead.  Lazarus isn’t some ghost or character in their hallucination or dream.  He’s really alive.  Jesus really brought him back to life.

We can only try to imagine how thankful and happy that must have made Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus.  Their friend Jesus had brought their beloved brother back to life.  Therefore it made sense that they’d be there at the dinner too.  Martha served – maybe you’re thinking: why didn’t she recline at the table too?  In those days, it was customary for the men to recline around the table and for the women to serve.  Was Martha the only one serving, just like back in another famous story about Martha and Mary?  Well it doesn’t say that Martha was the only one and it doesn’t say Mary never helped. 

However, starting in verse 3, our attention is directed to Mary.  Our focus turns to her great display of honour for Jesus, the Passover Lamb about to be sacrificed.  Mary does something extravagant.  She has a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard.  This is a sort of perfume.  Later we find out from Judas that it’s worth about 300 denarii, that’s 300 days’ worth of wages, about a year’s worth.  In today’s terms, if we work with just the minimum wage of $20.33 per hour (in Australia) and a 7 hour work day, that comes to about $43,000.  She has $43,000 worth of perfume in that flask.  It’s $43,000 for a pound, just under half a kilogram.  Why is this perfume so expensive?  It’s made from a plant called spikenard.  It’s a flowering plant which only grows in the eastern Himalayas.  So the oil from this plant would have to first be gathered, then processed, and then shipped from the Himalayan Mountains to Judea – quite a distance.  The costs involved were what made this perfume so dear.  It certainly wasn’t meant for everyday use.  You’d save it for very special occasions.

Or for very special people.  Mary takes $43,000 worth of ointment made from pure nard and she anoints the feet of Jesus with it.  Notice the mention of his feet here.  In the parallel passages in the other gospels, the Holy Spirit tells us that Mary anointed the head and the body of Jesus.  That doesn’t exclude his feet.  And also here in John we’re not told that she ONLY anointed the feet of Jesus.  There’s room for what’s reported in the other gospels.  There’s no contradiction.  But the focus of John is on Jesus’ feet.  Why?  Mary is taking this $43,000 ointment and putting it on Jesus’ feet.  Even his feet are worthy.  Even the lowest part of his body, the part that treads on the dirty old ground, even his feet are worthy of this $43,000 ointment.  Even the feet of the Lamb are worthy to receive this honour.

And then she wiped his feet with her hair.  That would’ve been a shocking breach of decorum.  In that culture a woman would never let down her hair.  She’d only do that with her husband.  Letting down your hair was something intimate.  But that’s what Mary does here.  She’s showing her great love for Jesus.  She then takes her hair and wipes the feet of Jesus with it, again showing him how much she loves him and honours him.  As he is reclining at the table, she is at his feet, displaying the greatest devotion a disciple could.

Was Jesus worthy of this?  Was Jesus worth $43,000 of ointment?  Mary obviously thought so.  She realized that the Lamb of God was of infinite worth.  He was valuable for what he had done in raising her brother from the dead.  Jesus was valuable for what he would do in giving his life to pay for her sins.  So she honoured him with the greatest devotion she could display as one of his disciples, one of his followers.

Do you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus?  A disciple is someone who believes in Jesus and also follows him.  A disciple sees the worth of Jesus.  He or she sees the truth: that Jesus is worth far more than any amount of money.  The Lamb of God has infinite value to a disciple.  He’s valuable for what he’s done in his obedient life, in his sacrificial death, and in his glorious resurrection.  Jesus is valuable for what he does right now – interceding for us in heaven.  He’s infinitely valuable for what he will do for us when he returns, raising us up to live in the new heavens and new earth with him.  What Jesus has done for us, what he’s doing, and what he will do, makes him worth more than any silver, gold, or diamonds.  The fact that he is God in the flesh also makes him of infinite value to us as his disciples.  Nothing and no one is more precious than Jesus.  He is worthy of all our honour, all our love, all our devotion. 

Sadly, not everyone sees Jesus as being of infinite value.  In our day, many think Jesus is worthless.  To Judas Iscariot, Jesus was worth 30 pieces of silver.  That was the price he was paid for his betrayal of Jesus a few days from the event in our text.  But in our passage, he sees Mary pouring out $43,000 worth of ointment on Jesus and he’s appalled.  In his mind, there’s no way Jesus was worthy of this.  There’s no way Jesus deserved this extravagant treatment.

But when he opens his mouth what comes out sounds pious.  It sounds like Judas has a real concern for other people:  “Why was this ointment not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?”  In other words, Mary could have sold this flask for $43,000 and that money would have gone a long way to help the poor.  It sounds so noble, so rational.  It sounds compassionate and caring.  After all, who wouldn’t want to take care of the poor?  Isn’t that what a real disciple of Jesus would want to do?

Except Judas wasn’t interested in the poor at all.  His interest was selfish.  Verse 6 tells us Judas had a habit of helping himself to the moneybag.  The moneybag was like the treasury of Jesus and his disciples.  People would make contributions so Jesus and his disciples could eat and live.  Some of those contributions might also be used to help the poor.  Judas was in charge of it.  With that kind of access, there was no accountability and Judas could get away with stealing from Jesus and the disciples.

The Holy Spirit says here that Judas was a thief.  That’s what he really was.  He’d been called to be a disciple of Jesus, and on the outside it looked like he was.  But in secret he was something else.  He was living a double-life, a life of hypocrisy and delusion.  In reality, he was a fake disciple.  In reality, he was a thief.  He was a thief because he made it his practice to steal.  Not only does the Eighth Commandment clearly say, “You shall not steal,” but in 1 Corinthians 6 we learn that no thief shall inherit the kingdom of God.  No thief can be saved unless he repents, turns from his sin and believes in Jesus Christ.  But Judas didn’t repent.  Instead he cherished his sin and lived in it.  He loved money instead of Jesus.  Money was his idol.  He only followed Jesus because it gave him access to money, his real god.  For Judas, Jesus was simply a means to an end.

In the twisted thinking of Judas, Mary was the thief.  When Mary was pouring all this money down the drain, wasting it on Jesus, she was robbing Judas.  That was $43,000 to which he could have no access.  Judas would never be able to steal it.  Just think what you could do with $43,000!  And now it’s all on the body of Jesus, even on his feet.  Wasted!  Mary was robbing from Judas with her love and honour for Jesus. 

But objectively speaking, Judas Iscariot is the real thief and Mary is the real disciple.  Unlike Judas, Mary’s real devotion is for her Master Jesus.  To Mary, the person and work of Jesus is worth more than anything in the world.  Unlike Mary, the real devotion of Judas is to himself and to his sinful greed.  To Judas, Jesus is just a way to steal more money.  He was a thief and he had the deceitful heart of a thief.                         

The worst part of it was that he was robbing our Lord Jesus.  By denying him the honour he deserved, Judas Iscariot was stealing from our Saviour.  He was trying to get others to see Jesus the same way he saw him:  only valuable as a means to an end, and otherwise worthless.  You have to remember who Jesus is:  he’s God, he’s the Son of God, he’s the King of kings, he’s the one through whom all things were made, in him all things hold together, he is the head of the body (the church), he is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead.  That’s Jesus and Judas spits contempt on all of it.  By doing that, he is robbing the glory from our Lord Jesus.  He says he’s a disciple, but he’s dishonouring his Master, stealing from what he rightfully deserves.

Loved ones, we have to be careful here as we look at Judas, his thieving, his hypocrisy, his deceit as a disciple.  I look closely at Judas here and if I’m honest, there’s more of me in him than I might care to admit.  What about you?  Let’s think about it together.  Even as we profess ourselves to be Christians and disciples of our Lord Jesus, aren’t there sometimes stark differences between our creed and our conduct?  Aren’t there sometimes differences between the way we are in public and the way we are in private?  There’s hypocrisy in my life and I suspect in yours too.  I don’t like it, but it’s there.  Inasmuch as we hide it and pretend it isn’t there, there’s a bit of deceit going on with us too. 

And do we rob our Lord Jesus?  Today you still could do that with money.  You could do that by failing to recognize that the money you have isn’t really yours.  It belongs to the Lord and it’s been entrusted to you.  And God calls us to give of our first fruits.  If we don’t that, Scripture says we’re stealing from the Lord. 

But then there’s also stealing from the Lord by not living or speaking in a way which shows he’s valuable to us.  For example, sometimes employers will pressure you to work on a Sunday.  How do you respond to that?  You could say, “I can’t work on Sunday, I’m not allowed to.  My religion won’t let me.  I have to go to church twice.”  Does that kind of approach to the issue show how Christ is really worthy to receive all our honour?  No, instead, it says, “My Lord is a legalistic Slave-master with strict demands and I have to obey or else.”  You’re not showing that he’s valuable to you, but that he’s a burden you have to bear.  Your boss at work might be tough and difficult, but Jesus is tougher and even more difficult.  That doesn’t make our Lord Jesus out to be worthy of our honour or anyone’s honour.  We’re robbing him.

Brothers and sisters, if you’re like me and can see something of yourself in Judas here, let’s first of all hate it.  What an awful thing.  Jesus is worthy of all our honour, and any time we fail in that, it’s terrible.  Let’s hate it.  Let’s hate it for how it demeans our Lord, the Saviour we love.  But then let’s also look to Jesus as the Lamb of God who was offered on the cross to pay for these sins of ours.  Let’s trust that it’s all covered and paid for by the sacrifice of Christ crucified.  God promises that when we look to Christ, we’ll be forgiven.  And then we pray for the Holy Spirit to help us grow in our appreciation for our Saviour.  We pray for the Holy Spirit to give us hearts that want to honour Jesus with everything in our being, everything in our lives.  So, helped by the Holy Spirit, if we’re pressured to work on Sunday, we say something more like, “No, I don’t do that [not “I can’t”].  I love going to church on Sundays to hear the good news of what my Lord Jesus has done for me.  I love to be in the presence of my Saviour and his people.  I love to spend the day resting and worshipping him.  Sunday is the Lord’s Day and it’s the day I dedicate to honouring him.”  That’s another practical way you can show how the Lamb is worthy to receive all your honour.                    

The Lord who deserves that honour defends his true disciple in verses 7 and 8 of John 12.  That’s our last point.  Jesus doesn’t let Judas get away with his sin.  He gives a confronting rebuke:  “Leave her alone.”  This is a sharp word to the fake disciple, telling him to lay off. 

Then we get some words that are challenging to understand.  Our ESV has Jesus saying in verse 7, “so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.”  If you look in your Bible, you’ll see a footnote there.  If you look at the bottom of the page it says, “Leave her alone; she intended to keep it…”  I think that footnote is on the right track.  It means Mary did this with a view to Christ’s burial, to his impending death.  She knew he was going to soon die, and so she took this ointment that she’d saved up and anointed Jesus with it.  Two things stand out here. 

One is that more than any of the other disciples, Mary listened to Jesus.  She honoured him in that way too.  Jesus had spoken about his coming suffering, even his crucifixion, he’d talked about that several times.  Yet it seems like all the men disciples weren’t listening.  Mary was a good, listening disciple.  She was paying attention to what Jesus had said and Jesus is commending her for that.  A real disciple honours Jesus by listening to him.    

The other thing that stands out here is the fact that Mary was preparing Jesus for what was to come.  This pure nard was powerful stuff.  Back in verse 3, it said that the house was filled with its fragrance.  That strong smell would have lingered.  It would have lingered on the body of Jesus too, even into the next week as he came nearer the cross.  As one commentator put it, this fragrance might have been the last beautiful thing Jesus smelled before he went to the cross.  It would have encouraged him with her love for him.  It would have reminded him of why he was going to go through this hellish agony – to pay for her sins, and the sins of all who believe in him.  

Jesus ends by paraphrasing Deuteronomy 15:11.  Back in Deuteronomy, Moses told the people of Israel that they’d always have poor in the land.  Jesus reaffirms that.  If you want to help the poor – and you should – there are always plenty of opportunities to do that.  But Mary recognized that Jesus’ time was short.  He was nearing his death.  She acted in the right way in view of that.  She gave him the best honour she could in recognition of the time.  That’s the point.  The point here isn’t to leave the Church with a program for social action.  The Holy Spirit isn’t saying that now that Jesus is gone, let’s focus on the poor instead.  It’s not an either…or for us as disciples of our Lord Jesus today.  Just as we see in Revelation 5, the Lamb is still worthy to receive all honour.  At the same time, as disciples of our Lord, we’re to have a compassionate heart for the poor and help where we can.  It’s both…and, not either…or.  Both honour Jesus and care for the poor. 

But the focus here is on Christ and how he is worthy of infinite honour and praise.  Loved ones, this is one major reason why the age to come is eternal.  In the age to come, we’ll be consistently praising our Saviour.  And we’re going to do it perfectly and gloriously into eternity, time without end, into infinity.  There’ll never come a point where there’ll be enough honour for Christ.  It’ll just go on and on and on.  Because of who he is and what he’s done, that’s what he deserves.  Our Lord Jesus deserves the highest, the most infinite honours.  AMEN.


Our Lord Jesus,

You are the Lamb of God, worthy to receive all our honour.   You are God, the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  You are the one through whom all things were made, in whom all things hold together.  You are the head of the body (the church), the beginning and the firstborn from the dead.  We so much value what you did for us on the cross.  We treasure what you accomplished in your resurrection.  What you’re going to do at the end is precious to us too.  So we lift up your holy Name in adoration.  Lord, we love you and treasure you.  Lord, please help us with your Holy Spirit to really be your disciples.  Help us with your Holy Spirit so we would never rob you of your glory, but show your infinite value to others around us.  Lord, we think of people we know who don’t yet see your value.  Our hearts break for them.  We ask for your Holy Spirit to bless our efforts to share the gospel with them.  Lord, you deserve all praise from us and from all your creatures.  Let us be instruments in your hand to bring more of that praise to your Name.                                                              

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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