Today we are moving back into our study of the Gospel of John. As we turn the page to John 12, it is important for us to look back and to look forward. In looking back we are reminded of what had taken place in John 11. Jesus had just raised Lazarus’ from the grave where he had been for four days. Of the seven “signs” or miracles of Jesus that John highlights for us in his Gospel, this is the greatest one of all because it shows us that Jesus has power even over the grave. As we turn and look in the other direction, as we look forward, we recognize that Jesus is now facing the final week of His life before He will go to the Cross. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning and then we will see what we can learn. Turn with me to John 12:1-11 and let’s read together.
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” 9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. (John 12:1-11 NIV)
It’s a beautiful story. Those whose lives had been profoundly changed by Jesus decided to hold a dinner in His honor. Before we dig into the story I want to point out to you that there are stories of a woman anointing Jesus in each of the four Gospels. The stories are found in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-38, and in John 12:1-11. Matthew and Mark’s stories are similar to the story that we are going to study this morning although there are some slight differences. Some of the similarities are: the anointing took place at Bethany. John doesn’t tell us the exact location within the village of Bethany, but Matthew and Mark tell us it happened at the home of a man named Simon the leper. The unnamed woman in Matthew and Mark anointed Jesus with nard, just like Mary in our story found in John. In Matthew some of the crowd became upset at the woman for her waste. In Mark, the disciples were upset at the waste of such an expensive perfume, but Jesus defended her action. In John, only Judas was upset with what Mary had done.
In Luke’s Gospel the story is different. The banquet to honor Jesus was held in the home of a man who was a Pharisee. The woman who anointed Jesus was an “immoral” woman. She wept at Jesus’ feet, dried them with her hair, and then poured perfume on them. The Pharisee was indignant. He thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is– that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39 NIV) Jesus told a story that put the Pharisee in his place and then forgave the woman for her sin. We could take more time to look at the similarities and differences of the stories found in the four Gospels, but suffice it to say that most Bible teachers believe the stories in Matthew, Mark, and John are all about the same event: Mary’s anointing of Jesus following the raising of her brother from the dead. The story in Luke is an altogether different event that happened in Jesus’ life.
As I’ve been studying this story this week there is something that has really jumped out at me that I want to share with you. Over and over again when we read the Gospels we find Mary at Jesus’ feet. Let me share with you what I’m talking about. Some of you probably remember the story of when Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha. The story is found in Luke 10:38-42. Turn there with me and let’s read together.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed– or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)
Luke tells us that Martha was distracted by all of the work that needed to be done, but Mary chose what was more important…just to sit at Jesus’ feet and drink in His every word. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. The meal could wait. The housework would remain long after He was gone. Mary hungered and thirsts to hear whatever her Lord had to say. I could spend the rest of our time this morning talking about this one lesson we learn from Mary, but we have much more to talk about. Let me just ask you one question: “When was the last time you sat at Jesus’ feet, hungry to hear from Him?” You might ask, “How would I do that? Mary literally sat at Jesus’ feet, but I don’t have that opportunity.” That’s a great question, a very important question. I have an answer for you. Every time you and I open God’s Word we have an opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet. Before you ever open the Bible stop and pray. Pray something like, “Lord, I’m hungry and thirsty. I want to hear from You. Lord, I need to hear from You today. Will you speak to me as I sit at Your feet and listen for Your voice as I read Your Word?” I will assure you that He will.
Mary not only sat at Jesus’ feet to hear from the Lord, but we also find Mary at Jesus’ feet when she was broken. You’ll remember the source of her brokenness as we just spent several weeks studying John 11, the story of the sickness and death of Mary’s dear brother Lazarus. The two sisters, Mary and Martha, had sent word to Jesus letting Him know that His friend Lazarus was ill. Their exact words, John tells us, were, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (John 11:3 NIV) Lazarus died before Jesus arrived at Bethany. When He did arrive we read,
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32 NIV)
The very next verse tells us that Mary was weeping at Jesus’ feet. This has been a week in which I’ve had the privilege to spend time with some of our friends who are going through a very difficult time. There are some of you who are with us this morning who are going through a very difficult time. During the years that I’ve been working as a pastor I’ve been with hundreds of people who were broken for one reason or another. I can say with absolute confidence that there is no better place for the broken to shed their tears than at the feet of Jesus. Let me encourage you to take your tears, take your heavy heart, and fall at Jesus’ feet.
There is another instance in which we find Mary at Jesus’ feet and it is in the Scripture that is before us this morning. Turn with me to John 12:3 and let’s read it together.
3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3 NIV)
Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as a disciple, she fell at Jesus’ feet loaded down with a broken heart and oozing grief, and now we find Mary at Jesus’ feet in worship and adoration. Before we get to Mary’s motivation I want to fill you in on some important details about Mary’s act of worship and devotion. The first thing I want to point out to you is that Mary took a “pint,” some translations read, “a pound,” but the Greek word is “?????” (litra) which is the Roman designation for pound. Don’t think 16 ounces because the Roman pound weighed 11 ounces. Mary had about 11 ounces of “pure nard” which John tells us was “expensive perfume.” Nard is an oil that is extracted from the root and spikes that shoot out from the one root of an Indian plant that grows in the Himalaya mountains of Nepal, China, and India. The perfume that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with was pure, not the kind that you could get at the corner gas stations in Bethany that were knock-offs of the real deal. Because of its purity and uniqueness it was really expensive. We can get an idea of just how expensive it was by taking a look at John 12:5. In verse 5, after Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, Judas was livid. He asked, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” (John 12:5 NIV) Some of your translations say, “three hundred denarii,” which is the same thing as saying, “a year’s wages.” One denarius was the daily wage of the average laborer in Jesus’ day so three hundred denarii was a year’s wages because no money would be earned on Sabbaths or other holy days.
Some people have tried to figure out what the current value of the costly perfume would be in today’s money. I’ve read all kinds of hypothesis this past week, but I’ve come up with what I think can give us a better understanding of the extravagance of Mary’s act. What do you earn in one year? Let’s suppose that what you earn in one year is what the perfume would cost you. You would have to work for an entire year to purchase that little 11 ounce bottle of perfume. Mark tells us that she broke the jar and poured out the entire contents. There was no holding any back for herself for her own personal use. Every ounce of her most prized possession was poured out as an expression of worship and adoration to Jesus.
I mentioned that according to John’s account, Judas was indignant with the waste. He let it be known that the perfume could have been put to better use if it had been sold and the money given to the poor. Matthew and Mark give us more information and let us know that it wasn’t just Judas who objected to what Mary had done. Mark writes,
4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. (Mark 14:4-5 NIV)
So, we find out that some of those present felt the same way that Judas felt. The crowd at Simon’s house were humanitarians who had a heart for the poor. That’s biblical isn’t it? Of course it is. Mark doesn’t tell us specifically who objected, he just said, “Some of those present…” If we will turn to Matthew 26:8-9 we can see the blurred images of the faces of the indignant become clear. Read along with me. Matthew writes,
8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” (Matthew 26:8-9 NIV)
Not just Judas, but the disciples, those who had sat at Jesus’ feet themselves and listened to Him teach about the importance of caring for the “least of these,” they were the ones who objected to Mary’s act of extravagance. Why would John single out Judas? That’s a good question and he tells us why in verse 6. Read along with me.
6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6 NIV)
John, in recording the story of what happened that day in Bethany, was writing in hindsight. All of the disciples objected to what Mary had done, but one disciple in particular had ulterior motives. Judas was skimming from the money that others generously gave to Jesus to carry out His ministry. In Luke 8 we can read about the generosity of those who loved and believed in Jesus. Luke tells us,
3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:3 NIV)
People would give out of the generosity of their hearts and Judas would take whatever he wanted because he was the treasurer for Jesus. Just think about how Judas could have lined his pockets if Mary had donated the perfume, worth a year’s wages, to Jesus’ ministry instead of wasting it all by pouring it over His feet and head. James Montgomery Boice writes,
Out of his greed Judas eventually sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver, an amount probably equal to 120 denarii. Mary gave Jesus an offering worth two-an-a-half times that amount. Judas kept the bag, from which he pilfered. Mary broke her box in order that all might be given to Jesus. Judas sought to turn attention from Jesus. Mary sought to turn it to him. (Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of John: Volume 3. Pg. 918-919.)
Judas believed that extravagance was only acceptable when he could profit from it, but the other disciples had a real concern. Just think of what could have been done with the money that could have come from the sale of the perfume! The hungry could have been fed, the homeless could have been housed, and the list goes on and on. And Jesus calls us to do all of these things and more. Yet, in this instance, Jesus responded to the indignation of the disciples by saying,
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7-8 NIV)
The idea that we get is that Mary knew that Jesus’ time on the earth was growing short. We’re told that in John 12:1 where we learned that it was six days before the Passover, six days before Jesus would be crucified and buried. How did Mary know when everyone else missed what was coming? Those closest to Jesus, His disciples, even though they heard Jesus speak often about His imminent death, missed it, but Mary somehow knew that Jesus’ time was drawing near.
If you just read John’s account of what Jesus said to those in the house, then His words might be a little confusing. It sounds like Jesus is saying that Mary is saving the perfume for the day of His burial. If we read Matthew and Mark we can get a better understanding. Listen to what Matthew and Mark record.
12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. (Matthew 26:12 NIV)
8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. (Mark 14:8 NIV)
Now it makes more sense doesn’t it? Mary knows that she’s not going to have Jesus with her much longer. She knows that this might very well be the last time that she has access to Jesus before He’s taken away from her. There will be plenty of time to give money to the poor. There will be plenty of opportunities to help those who are hungry. Every single day for the rest of her life she will be presented with the needs of those who are hurting, but not today! Today, this very moment, is her moment, her opportunity to express her love, devotion, and gratitude to Jesus. Mary’s heart of love for Jesus was expressed in her extravagant worship of Jesus. Mary’s heart of gratitude for Jesus was expressed in her extravagant worship of Jesus. Her extravagant worship was expressed by pouring out her most prized possession on His feet and then wiping them with her hair.
I want you to notice something that I think is really important for those of us who hear about Mary’s love and gratitude for Jesus and it stirs something in us. When you think about how Jesus has blessed you by going to the Cross in your place it stirs something in you doesn’t it? When you think about how He has blessed you throughout your life it stirs something in you doesn’t it? When you think about how He has comforted you during the most broken times of your life it stirs something in you doesn’t it? For some of us, meditating on who He is and what He has done stirs something so powerful in us that it moves us to want to express our worship, to vocalize our gratitude, but there is that thought in the back of our mind, “What will they think? What will others think?”
Did you notice that when Judas and the other disciples began to express their displeasure, when they were indignant with her extravagant act, Mary was unmoved? For Mary there was no one else in the house that day. She was so focused on Jesus that she gave not one thought to what others were thinking when she poured out her expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus. She knew that women weren’t to let down their hair in public, but she didn’t give it a thought as she wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. Mary knew what the perfume was worth, but there was One who was worth even more to her and her desire to honor Him outweighed any thought of the cost of the perfume. Mary was consumed with love for her Lord and Savior and she wanted Him to know it.
How about you? Is your heart spilling over with love for Jesus this morning? If you are follower of Jesus, can you think of the last time that you were so overwhelmed by His love, grace, and mercy that you expressed your love and devotion in an extravagant way? Let me ask you another question. Those of you who are followers of Jesus, has your relationship with Jesus grown cold and stale? Is your worship of Jesus nothing more than attending a worship service on Sunday? Oh, my dear friend, God wants much more for you than that today. It has been my prayer this week that this story of Mary would be used by the Holy Spirit to ignite within each of us a powerful recognition of who He is and what He has done for each of us so that we might be moved like Mary.
I want to speak to my friends who are here this morning who are not followers of Jesus. Let me say to you that I know this probably doesn’t make much sense to you at this point in your life. When you entered this sanctuary Jesus was probably nothing more than an ethereal, esoteric concept, not a Person who is more present than the person next to you. You’ve heard people, probably friends of yours, talk about Jesus with sincerity, maybe passion, but you just don’t get it, you’ve never understood it. I can totally relate to where you are right now because I lived that way for years. Let me share with you what happened to me. As I said, I didn’t get it either, but I knew something was missing, something was lacking in my life. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, I could never fill that place deep inside of me that was empty. Neither could I shake the thought of the possibility that “they” might be right—Jesus could possibly be who they claimed Him to be. Even more importantly, Jesus might even be who He claimed to be. I didn’t know how to pray, but I prayed the most unintelligible prayer ever, and He heard my prayer.
For the last 37 years of my life I’ve been learning about Him, walking with Him, telling Him about my troubles, listening to Him teach me from His Word, and it has been more than I ever dreamed. I’m still learning, listening, and telling Him what’s going on and what I don’t understand to this day. There’s so much I don’t know, but this one thing I do know—I need to join Mary at Jesus’ feet or I will live like Judas, focused solely on me. I want to give you an opportunity this morning to come to Jesus. Come with your questions. Come with your doubts. Come with your scars and secrets that you hope no one will ever find out about. Bring them all to Jesus…He already knows all of that, but He wants you to know Him. Won’t you come?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
November 15, 2015