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John 12:1-11 The Risk and Cost of Worship

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Sunday, May 4, 2008 – Communion Sunday

The risk and cost of worship!

John 12:1-11

5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

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 putting their faith in Him.          John 12:5 & 11-12 NIV

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John 12:1-11 (NIV)

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at 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 putting their faith in Him.

During our study in John’s Gospel chapter 11 and the story of Jesus raising Lazarus after having been dead four days, several of you had fun with the King James Version’s rendition of John 11:39 (KJV) 39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. It made us all too aware of the gift that God has given us of sense, particularly the sense of smell. Thankfully, not all smells are as repulsive as death.

Though I am not a coffee drinker, I very much enjoy the aroma of brewing coffee. And, I’m sure that it is more than just a pleasant smell to me; that it has pleasant associations, as well.

That is true, I believe, for many of the smells we either enjoy or detest.

I once overheard someone giving advice to wives who do the cooking. The speaker suggested that the first thing you do when starting dinner is to fry some onions so that the moment her husband comes in the door he is welcomed with the pleasant message that dinner is well on its way.

The story we look at this morning features six characters, though there likely were at least 11 other guests at the dinner table that day. Once again we are back in the town of Bethany and Jesus is the guest of honor.

I believe that it is appropriate that when we approach a Scripture text that we use some restraint in drawing too quickly an application to our personal circumstances. We need to exercise discipline and work to understand the context and the intended message. As we live in the text and learn the lessons from its context, we are then ready to apply those lessons to our personal lives.

Some texts are easier than others to discern an appropriate application. But, even with the easier texts, the longer we linger in them the more find riches we find. And that is so true of our text for today.

In essence, John 12:1-11 is a worship service or thank offering. That is, four of the key players in this story had come to an agreement that they were going to put on a dinner to honor Jesus with expressions of personal gratitude. They could have expressed their gratitude in a variety of ways, but this foursome agreed to a dinner in honor of their dear friend Jesus.

Who are these four worship planners? We are introduced to three of them early in the story. John 12:1-11 (NIV)

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at 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, . . .

Thus far we have Martha, Lazarus and Mary as the organizers of this special event. We have to go outside of this immediate text to learn of the fourth planner. We find out about him when we read of the same event in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.

Matthew 26:6-7 (NIV)

6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on His head as He was reclining at the table.

Mark 14:3 (NIV)

3 While He was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on His head.

So, the fourth member of this worship planning team was the host, Simon the Leper. Now you won’t be able to find the story of Simon being healed by Jesus of his leprosy. For some reason it is not recorded, at least not including his name. But obviously, Simon the Leper is no longer a leper and was healed by Jesus. Mark 1, Matthew 8 and Luke 5 each record a story of Jesus healing a leper. And it’s possible that the leper in those stories was this Simon.

Simon was also from Bethany and he, like Martha, Mary and Lazarus had very good reason to say “thank You” to Jesus. Thus the decision to host a dinner in His honor.

Now, given that there was a warrant out for the arrest of Jesus, it’s possible that having this dinner at Simon’s home, instead of Martha’s, would draw less attention, particularly with the notoriety that Lazarus now has after Jesus raised him from the dead.

Prior to Jesus returning to Bethany, He has been in seclusion with His disciples near Ephraim. With Passover at hand, Jesus heads toward Jerusalem by way of Bethany. The event of this dinner in Bethany begins the final march to the cross for Jesus. How appropriate, therefore, that some of the most grateful followers of Jesus put on an event to honor the One who heals the sick and brings the dead back to life.

You may be familiar with another time that Jesus was in Bethany and Martha was all busy straightening up her house and fixing a meal for Jesus. That event provides us with a very valuable comparison that helps us see things we may otherwise miss.

Educators often use near identical pictures to help their students discover the difference between them, and thus sharpen their observation skills. That same teaching tool can be used with our story for today. Placing this week’s text right alongside the Luke text will help us see something different, that something has changed. What do you notice has changed?

Luke 10:38-41 (NIV)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!”   John 12:1-3 (NIV)1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at 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.  

I realize that these are but snippets from these two stories, but we have enough to work with.

How does our text from John differ from the Luke text? You probably are spotting a number of differences, like the Luke text does not mention Lazarus or there is no perfume in the Luke text. But, for me a profound difference in these two stories is the absence of complaining by Martha. Something has happened to Martha. She’s a changed woman. And I trace that back to the events of John 11.

It is true that Jesus had rebuked Martha for allowing herself to get all discombobulated over her preparations as His hostess, and likely she took to heart His admonishment. But, her interactions with Jesus surrounding His raising her brother from the dead offer an even greater clue as to the change that took place in Martha. She had come to realize deeply and personally that Jesus was her life. That the miracles she had witnessed were simply signs pointing to the greater reality that Jesus changes lives from within. That when a person believes in Him, He effectively unites Himself with that person and transforms him. And that had happened to Martha.

Though her offering of love was still her service, was still her making excellent preparations and delicious dinners, what was different was her focus. Because her focus was on offering her heart of thanks to Jesus, she was not preoccupied with complaining about what her sister was or was not doing.

What united this foursome was their common indebtedness to Jesus. Thus, they planned to honor their Lord with a dinner. This worship service, this dinner that was given to express deep gratitude, was born out of the deep and abiding gratitude in the hearts of Martha, Mary, Lazarus and Simon the Leper.

John makes much to do about the expensive perfume that Mary pours on Jesus’ feet. And we will, too. But, before we do, I think it should be noted that Martha is also giving Jesus a fragrant offering. Without a doubt, Simon’s house was filled with the aroma of the cooking food.

When I walked into the north annex this morning, I was immediately aware that our Hispanic friends had cooked some of their ethnic foods in the kitchen. The aroma and fragrance still remained wafting in the air.

So, let’s not miss the fragrant offering that Martha is making as her part of this worship service.

And, what about Lazarus? He too was giving honor to His Lord in his conversation while reclining at the table. His purpose was to direct attention to Jesus. Though he was receiving lots of attention and notoriety, as part of the planning team for this event of honor, his desire was to point others to Jesus while he himself lived in gratitude to Jesus.

Similarly for Simon the Leper. Not only did he provide the place for this meal, but we can imagine that he joined in with Lazarus in making Jesus the topic of conversation.

Worship is not about us. It’s about the Lord, who He is and what He has done. It’s about offering thanks to the One truly deserving it.

So John, after telling us that Martha served a meal and Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Jesus, now tells us about Mary’s act of worship. She takes a bottle of perfume and pours it on Jesus. But, this wasn’t any ordinary perfume. It was exceptionally expensive. It was reserved for this occasion. It was very pleasantly fragrant, especially to Jesus.

But, even more profound, I believe, is that this act of worship was planned. What makes me convinced of this? One doesn’t just carry around in her purse a special perfume worth nearly a year’s wages. Plus, this event was not at Mary’s house, so she needed to have come prepared to offer this perfume.

Thus, we also see that this act of worship was a sacrifice, a premeditated sacrifice. For how long Mary had been planning this, we don’t know. But, she probably was aware of the worshipful act by the sinful woman whom Jesus had forgiven, how she had washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. And, she probably recalled the joy of seating at Jesus’ feet on a previous visit and she began to ask herself, how can I say “thank You” to Him?

And the clincher came when Jesus raised her brother from the dead. Nothing would be spared to express her deep gratitude.

Sadly, in the midst of this beautiful banquet to honor Jesus, complaint is registered, a act of worship is criticized. Can you imagine how it must have felt to be Mary? To have come with this special love offering and be criticized for it, must have wounded her soul.

John makes the point that Judas Iscariot, a thief who cared nothing for the poor, was the ringmaster for this complaint. The other gospels indicate that some or several of the disciples joined with Judas in this complaint.

Mark 14:4-5 (NIV)

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.

Matthew 26:8-9 (NIV)

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.”

Criticism is contagious. It spreads like wildfire and even good intentioned persons can get caught up in it. But, it has the potential of stifling worship. And it does exactly that for the complainer. Criticism is like poison and can be used by the devil to kill genuine worship.

But notice, Jesus did not remain silent. Though He was the honored guest, He took charge of the situation and issues a rebuke. He even gives special meaning to her act of worship, a meaning that she very possibly did not have in mind until He said 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.”

In her defense, Jesus make a most remarkable statement, a statement that is either full of arrogance or one that can only be said by someone who is God. 8 “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.”

You see, it makes all the difference in the world who the guest of honor in our lives is. Worship is reserved for God. That’s why this Thank You Dinner was more than just a meal to say “thanks.” It was a worship service with Jesus being the focus of their worship.

The story closes with the mounting of opposition against Jesus and even plans by the Sanhedrin to kill Lazarus, too.

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 putting their faith in Him.

So, what can we take from this story for personal application?

First, we must put our faith in Jesus Christ. He is the source of life and transformation. He alone can forgive sins. He alone can take us who are dead in our sins and make us alive by His Spirit. The basis for our gratitude starts with our awareness of our indebtedness to Jesus.

Second, we need to prepare for worship, reserving time to review God’s goodness and planning what our offering will be. Songs of praise and worship express this well:

We lift our voices, we lift our hands. We lift our lives up to You, We are an offering. Lord, use our voices; Lord, use our hands, Lord, use our lives, they are Yours. We are an offering.

All that we have, all that we are, All that we hope to be we give to You, We give to You.

Third, we need to offer something of value when we worship. We need to understand what impresses God. The Old Testament frequently speaks of burnt offerings as being a fragrant and pleasing aroma to God. He wants us to offer our lives to Him. We are the perfume. We are the valuable offering.

The Apostle Paul figured it out.

Philippians 3:7-14

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, put your faith in Jesus Christ. Prepare for worship. And offer something of value when we worship.

As our preparation for communion, I would like us to think on the words of this song by Matt Redman.

ONCE AGAIN - by Matt Redman

Jesus Christ, I think upon Your sacrifice
You became nothing, poured out to death
Many times I've wondered at Your gift of life
And I'm in that place once again
I'm in that place once again

And once again I look upon the cross where You died
I'm humbled by Your mercy and I'm broken inside
Once again I thank You
Once again I pour out my life

Now You are exalted to the highest place
King of the heavens where one day I'll bow
But for now, I marvel at Your saving grace
And I'm full of praise once again
I'm full of praise once again

Thank You for the cross
Thank You for the cross
Thank You for the cross, my Friend

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