Have you noticed that some things in our society are getting extravagant and expensive? I heard in the news the other day of people who are willing to go on a waiting list for three months and pay over $500 for a meal which would probably cost less than $50 in ingredients. It is now not uncommon to hear of cars worth more than houses and certain ladies handbags made from leather (and sometimes synthetic leather) are being sold and bought for thousands of dollars. When it comes the things that please us the most, the words “extravagant” and “expensive” don’t even come into consideration. Why? Because your affection for the item or object out weighs any cost. This brings us to a story of a lady who displayed lavish love toward Jesus Christ, and yet some viewed this as wasteful and worthless. Our passage begins by setting the scene,
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead” (12:1).
This is possibly around a few weeks after the events in 11:45-53 and it is likely that Jesus has just left the house of Zaccheus, which was in Jericho (Luke 19:1-10). The mention of this being “Six days before the Passover” is significant. This means it is Saturday, and on the coming Friday Jesus is going to be crucified. The events in these opening verses occur on the eve of what is commonly referred to as Passion Week, which officially begins in 12:12, which is the account of the Triumphal Entry. After Jesus arrived “they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table” (12:2).
Martha is displaying her characteristic behaviour and she is busy serving. I smile when I read the words, “and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table”. Of course there is nothing strange about that, but I certainly picture Lazarus really enjoying his new lease of life after he was raised from the dead! According to Matthew, this was at Simon’s (who was formerly a leper) house (Matt. 26:6). This is the setting. After comparing the accounts in both Matthew and Mark along with John, it becomes apparent that there were at least 17 people present – the twelve disciples, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Simon the Leper, and of course Jesus. That is the setting.
Now in the midst of the conversations, Mary approaches Jesus and displays an act that displays lavish love toward Jesus. This is then followed by an objection led by Judas Iscariot that is a complete contrast to Mary.
Sermon Summary: In this message we will two contrasting examples of how one views the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. THE DELIGHT OF SELFLESS DEVOTION (12:3)
Mary provides us with a profound example of selfless devotion. This loving devotion, which she displayed toward to the Lord Jesus Christ, was characterized by three important truths. This provides us with magnificent portrait of Christian devotion. John records,
Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (12:3).
The first important truth to observe is Mary’s sacrificial love. John writes, “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus”. In Matthew and Mark’s account, we learn that Mary also anointed His head (Matt. 26:7 and Mark 14:3). Mary took around 325 grams of an “expensive ointment made from pure nard”. This ointment was imported from northern India and was valuable and precious item. Later on we discover that this could have been “sold for three hundred denarii”. A denarius was a silver coin that would be the payment for an average days labor. Removing Sabbath days and holy days, three hundred denarii is about a years worth of wages. This was indeed a sacrificial act. We are not entirely sure why or how Mary obtained such an expensive item.
Sacrificial love shows devotion with the willingness of giving up what is precious. It was clear that Mary treasured Jesus Christ more than wealth and possessions. She was lavish in her sacrificial love for Christ because she treasured Him.
The second important truth to observe is Mary’s submissive love. After she poured this expensive ointment Mary “anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair”. By placing herself at His feet was a sign of humility, adoration, worship and submission. Mary understood who Jesus was and she responded with submissive love.
It is one thing to go around saying that you love Jesus. But if this is not demonstrated by a submission to His Lordship, then your love is not genuine. Without hesitation and with humility, Mary found herself treasuring Jesus Christ by displaying a submissive love. Whenever we read of Mary being in the presence of Jesus she is at His feet. When He was teaching, she sat there listening (Luke 10:39). When she was grieving and Jesus called for her, “she fell at His feet” (11:32). And here she is worshiping Him by anointing His feet with perfume and washing them with her hair (John 12:3). Mary was a woman who understood who Jesus was and delighted in worshipping Him with a submissive love.
The final important truth that completes the portrait of Mary’s devotion is her scented love. Now that sounds a little strange, but look at what John adds at the end of verse 3,“The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume”. If you were there, wherever you were in the room you could smell the fragrance of this expensive perfume. The beautiful scent was a reminder of Mary’s lavish love toward the Lord Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we need to display a kind of devotion to Christ that permeates through society and leaves a glorious scent. How can this be done? Every time a husband loves his life they way he is commanded to he there is a fragrance of love. Every time a wife displays the respect and honour toward her husband, there is a fragrance of love. Every time Christians show the love of Christ to one another they are leaving a beautiful scent of Christian love in the air. When believers are not displaying the love of Christ to each other, instead of a beautiful scent, they start carrying around with them a sickly stench of sin.
Mary’s actions of sacrificial, submissive, and scented love create a beautiful portrait of selfless devotion. This is what we are all called to do as the people of God.
2. THE DANGER OF SELFISH DESIRE (12:4-6)
In complete contrast to the example of Mary is that of Judas Iscariot. Verse 4 begins, “But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him)”. The word “but” reveals the contrast and with the advantage of hindsight, John reveals that Judas was poised to betray Jesus. You can see how the stage has been set. The religious leaders have made a formal decision to arrest and kill Jesus. Judas has been a fraud the entire time and now all that is needed is a meeting between him and the leaders.
Once Judas saw this extravagant and expensive display, he asked “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (12:5). Judas sounds so spiritual and noble, but notice what John adds,
“He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (12:6).
Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, was a false convert. He was driven by the love of money and he had the audacity to steal from the money used to fund the Lord’s ministry. According to Matthew (26:8) and Mark (14:4), the other disciples chimed in and agreed with Judas. Sadly the venom of Judah’s selfishness influenced the others. However, they were looking at this from a practical point of view. Though they were wrong in their rebuke, their motive was to actually help the poor. In contrast, Judas was saying this because he wanted the money for himself. This is one of the marks of a false teacher (1 Tim. 6:10; 2 Tim. 3:2). We need to understand that wherever there is a faithful desire or act to honour Jesus Christ, there will be opposition. Jesus rebukes this charge by saying, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (12:7-8).
It is possible that Mary understood that Jesus is going to die and in faith and adoration does this in preparation for His burial. Also, Jesus is not saying that they should not give to the poor. Instead, He is saying that you need to take advantage of the opportunity to worship and be with Him while there is still time. The important things of the world should never take the place of worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ. In-fact, true worship of Him will compel us to show care and mercy toward others.
This passage concludes with more hostility. John records,
9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
Why plot to kill Lazarus? Lazarus was a walking and talking witness of the power and Person of Jesus Christ. Judas wanted to silence the selfless devotion of Mary, and the religious leaders wanted to silence the living testimony of Lazarus.
Mary had affection for Jesus Christ that was so great that it gushed out lavishly. Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ with a lavish love? If you have trusted Him for the forgiveness of your sins, remember that He came into this world, died in your place so that you may have eternal life.
The story is told of a lovely, tender and talented actress. As she was walking through the streets in a major city she came across a sad sight. She saw a pale and sick girl lying on a couch through a half opened door. Desiring to be somewhat of a comfort, she entered in to speak to this girl. To her amazement, the actress discovered that this little girl was a devoted Christian and displayed amazing submission, patience and love for Christ. This actress gave serious thought to Christian and then was converted! She then told her father, who was the leader of the theater, that she is a believer and has plans to abandon the stage. Her father not pleased by this tried to persuade her not to do this, as they would lose their good living and the business. Loving her father, she hesitantly followed his instructions. The time came for her performance on the stage. As the curtains were pulled back, an unexpected glowing beam shone from her face and she uttered the words,
My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.