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Priceless Worship

The Gospel of John: Believe  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  35:16
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In the mid to late 2000s, the Master Card company ran a series of commercials where they would put prices on a variety of items - then the commentator would conclude that the collective sum of those things is “priceless.”
Their whole point is that not everything is valued in money, but for the things that are - there is MasterCard.
Things in our lives have value or costs. Even coming together as a church has a cost - and I’m not referring to any offering you may put in the offering box or through online giving. There is the cost of time. There is the cost of comfort. There is the cost of quiet. But I hope that our time worshiping God together is priceless - that it has value beyond what we can count.
For some people, the only price they can place on worship is “what’s in it for me.” It’s all about what I can get out of it; what I can learn, how I can be fed, how I can be served?
Today, as we continue our study in the book of John, we come to an interesting encounter where the extravagant worship of one sparked greed in another and fueled the jealousy of still others.
If you have your Bibles, open them to John 12.
Three weeks ago, we considered chapter 11 where Jesus showed up four days late to the sickness of Lazarus, who ended up dying. Jesus brought him back to life and then left town for a while.
Here in chapter 12, we’re back in the same town (Bethany) - about 2 miles from Jerusalem, with the same family - Martha, Mary, and Lazarus - and we find Jesus and his disciples with them because they are throwing a party for Jesus. Many others are gathered around as well.
As we look at this passage, we’re going to look at it in reverse, primarily because I’d like for us to reflect on Mary’s act more fully As we conclude.
So, with this feast and all of the people that were gathering around Jesus (in fact the next day would be the triumphal entry - where thousands would escort Jesus into Jerusalem) and with the fact that a dead man was now walking (Lazarus), several of the religious leaders expose their...

Extravagant Jealousy (9-11)

John 12:9–11 ESV
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. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
Our sinful human natures have a way of allowing jealousy to hinder the good work of God in other people’s lives. Here, the religious leaders were threatened by the crowd that was following Jesus - not to mention their curiosity about Lazarus. So, instead of celebrating and joining in, they are scheming to kill Jesus and Lazarus.
We’ve seen over the last several chapters how time and time again signs, encounters, conversations, and more have resulted in obstinance from the religious leaders.
The signs point to Jesus as the Messiah - but these religious leaders simply won’t believe.
His teachings reveal truths about God - but they refuse to listen.
They are threatened by Jesus and his growing following - threatened because they fear they will lose their power. In fact, in the previous chapter we saw this clearly.
John 11:47–48 ESV
So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
But how often do we find ourselves in similar situations. We look at other churches and think - why are they growing so quickly? What are we doing wrong? What are they doing right? We could also look at other individuals and see God using them and out of jealousy undermine the very good work that God is doing - talking poorly about them.
We get into a comparison game. Rather than seeking God and pursuing His will for our lives, we jealously long for the work that God is doing in someone else’s life. Jealousy can easily be masked as a form of covetousness - longing for that which someone else has.
Ultimately, these religious leaders will get their wish with Jesus. Within a week, he will be on the cross. And yet their act of jealousy will be the very thing that God uses to accomplish his redemptive plan through Jesus Christ.
But their jealous devices are not without assistance. In this encounter, we also get to see how Judas displays...

Extravagant Greed (4-8)

For a little context, if you remember from the scripture reading earlier, Mary took some expensive ointment and poured it on Jesus.
John 12:4–8 ESV
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 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. Jesus said, “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.”
Now, it’s important for us to remember that as John is writing this, he is looking back over many many years. He does not have any clairvoyance when it comes to Judas. All of these events are historical for John. So when he writes about Judas taking money - they learned about it after the fact.
Now, Judas is quite perceptive in recognizing the value of what Mary poured on Jesus - it was worth about 300 denarii - which is about a year’s wage for a day laborer. If we were to translate that into modern dollars, it could be worth around $36,000 for a person earning $15/hour. That is quite a jar of perfume! That could do a lot of good for the poor. That could do a lot of good for a lot of things!
At the same time, it leaves a lot of room for Judas to help himself to some. No one would miss a few denarii here or there.
But, Judas wasn’t the only one who struggled with the sin of greed or covetousness. In 1 Sam. 2 - the sons of Eli disqualified themselves from ministry because they dishonored the sacrifices that were offered to the Lord and kept for themselves the best parts of the meat.
In Hosea, the priests were reprimanded because they were greedy for the gain that would come from the sacrifices that the people of Israel would offer (Hos. 4:8). It’s almost like the priests were hoping people would sin so that the offerings would come in to pay more of their salary.
Jesus, in the book of Luke even challenged his followers to be careful about greed or covetousness:
Luke 12:15 ESV
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
There are so many areas in which we could think about and apply biblical principals to this.
Here, Judas’ greed seemed to be focused on financial resources or gain. Our society is so consumer oriented that marketers and manufacturers play our our greedy natures in order to get us to purchase the next greatest gadget or item of convenience. Apple and Samsung will always have upgraded phones to buy. TV manufacturers will frequently upgrade their technology, creating opportunities for newer viewing experiences. There are toys that correspond with the latest movies, clothes that change with every season and so much more.
As I’ve reflected on this passage some personally, I’ve been wrestling a bit. Some of you may know, I love cars. I love to read about them, learn about them and more. I wish I could work on them - but my brother got those skills. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine emailed me to let me know he was getting rid of his car - a kind of car that I’ve been following for years - a high mileage electric car. It’s even in the color that I like - dark blue. He’s offering below blue book value.
Am I greedy or covetous for taking advantage of this? Are we being unwise or imprudent? I’m not sure. We’re not diminishing our giving.
All that to say - sometimes greed/covetousness is easy to spot - other times, it’s more challenging. I think we have to pay attention to how the Spirit of God is working in us.
Greed isn’t limited to material possessions. I think we can even find them in the good things at church:
worship styles
positions - of authority or leaders?
gifts (spiritual gifts) or talents -
Our consumeristic American culture makes biblical and covenantal commitment to a church challenging. We like a church as long as it suits our needs or desires and then either leave or go virtual.
This is partly why meaningful membership is so vital to a church. Our covenant together means that we care about one another and us together more than we care about our individual preferences. It means we’ll reach out to see how others are doing (the directories are helpful tools in that regard). It also means that if there are problems, challenges or blind spots in ministry that we’ll work together to come up with solutions that resemble our culture and community instead of cookie-cutting a solution from a mega church across the country or around the world.
Ultimately meaningful membership means that we is more important than me.
As we read in this passage earlier we ultimately find that the greed of Judas and the jealousy of the religious leaders was sparked because of Mary’s...

Extravagant Worship (1-3)

John 12:1–3 ESV
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 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.
Several weeks before this event, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. His siblings, Martha and Mary, were at once heart broken and then were joyous with Lazarus’ return.
Because of the threats and the tensions that were rising at that time, Jesus went away for a while. Now, upon his return, the family has decided to throw a party in His honor. It appears that this was no small dinner. There could have been somewhere over 20 people at the home for this event.
Several commentators have suggested that this was a meal following the conclusion of a Sabbath rest - so a Saturday evening event - which would have been followed by an Habdalah - or synagogue service (Carson and Mishnah).
The next day became the day of the Triumphal Entry - traditionally seen as the Sunday prior to Easter or Palm Sunday.
So this big meal is interrupted by a fragrant offering of extravagant worship.
As we already read, Mary took some ointment and poured it over Jesus. This act of worship was quite profound and costly.
Milne notes six qualities to Mary’s act of worship. As we reflect on Milne’s summary - let’s consider our worship and what we can learn from Mary in this regard:
humble - now, imagine the setting for a moment. Jesus and the others are likely surrounding a low table. They are propped up on one side by pillows and their elbow (likely their left sides). Their feet are either behind them or underneath them. So Mary, in order to anoint his feet, gets on her knees, taking the posture of a servant. In fact, nearly every time we see Mary in the gospels, we find her at Jesus feet (Luke 10:39 - at his feet listening, John 11:32 - fell at his feet). Now she expresses her “devotion” to Jesus by anointing his feet.
In our worship - so often we stand - and rightly so - in awe or adoration of God. But I wonder, how often do we take an attitude of humility or a posture of servitude? Milne comments in response:
“True service for Jesus springs from a whole-hearted commitment to him as Lord. The feet of Jesus is where service for him begins.”
Not only is Mary’s act humble, Milne suggests that it is...
perceptive - While so many people are celebrating and acting in a way to honor Jesus, Mary seems to sense the weight of what is coming for Jesus - not fully knowing what actually is coming. In her perception - she acts.
timely - As people start to balk at the extravagance of her gift, Jesus notes that Mary’s anointing was saved for this moment in time - to be saved for his burial. She acted when she was moved to act. She did not wait for another time. How often do our acts of worship or service get put off for a time that is more convenient or comfortable? I would guess that doing what she did took a bit of courage - especially after the criticism she received.
which brings us to our next point, her act of worship was...
criticized - Judas takes the lead here in this criticism - stating that these resources could be used for a “better” purpose. Our worship of God will be criticized by others. Outsiders don’t understand why we would devote so much attention to ancient words from an ancient book. They might criticize our devotion and adherence to “old-fashioned” values (which we would call biblical). Some people might even wonder why we would give up a couple of hours on a Sunday morning to sing, read, study, and spend time together - all the while thinking there are better things to do like riding motor cycles, hunting, fishing, or playing sports. I believe our worship is meaningful and misunderstood. We should resolve to be vigilant even in the face of criticism.
Next, Milne’ notes that her gift was...
extravagant - We already mentioned the value of this perfume. This was a very expensive gift to bestow on Jesus. For Mary - no cost was too great to bestow upon Jesus. Jesus is worthy of our greatest gifts.
Now for our worship to be extravagant, do we need to empty our pocketbooks, wallets, and bank accounts? I dont think so. Jesus has still given us responsibilities and obligations to fulfill with those resources. But I do think we need to reflect on what we deem as valuable and precious. This ointment may have been a family heirloom or something she was reserving for a special occasion, but Mary poured it out for Jesus at this occasion.
finally, Mary’s gift was...
fruitful - John tells us that the fragrance of the perfume filled the house. In addition to that, the fragrance probably would have lingered on Jesus for the next several days - being a pleasant reminder of her gift. What’s more, her gift has been reflected upon for centuries - it is still bearing fruit today.
What kind of fruit does our worship bear? Are individually impacted by what God is doing in our midst? Are our gifts (whether financial or time or talents) bearing fruit for the Kingdom - or are we simply fulfilling an obligation or duty?

Closing thoughts

Mary’s extravagant act of worship sparked greed among some and jealousy among others - and yet all of those provide some points of reflection for us. Where are we jealous of others? Where are we greedy? Where do we hold back in our worship?
But, I think it’s important for us to recognize that no matter how extravagant our worship may be, God demonstrated ultimate extravagance in his gift of Jesus for us. Paul writes in Titus 3:4-7
Titus 3:4–7 ESV
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Beloved - you are an heir with Christ - not because of your extravagant acts of worship - but because of God’s loving kindness. Rest and rejoice in that.
Friend - God’s love for you far out weighs any act of religious piety that you could muster. He made a way for you to be in relationship with him by addressing your sin problem and mine - paying for them on the cross - with the perfect blood of Jesus. If you’ve not yet trusted in him, or even if you wonder why you need a savior, ask someone around you or let’s get together this week to discuss that. He paid the most extravagant price so that you might walk in the assurance of eternal life.
Let’s pray.
Ephesians 3:20–21 ESV
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Beeke, Joel R. and Paul M. Smiley. Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 2: Man and Christ. Wheaton, IL. Crossway, 2020.
Burge, Gary M. The NIV Application Commentary: John. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991.
Crossway Bibles. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008.
Gangel, Kenneth O. John. Vol. 4. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.
Milne, Bruce. The Message of John (The Bible Speaks Today). Downers Grove, IL. Inter-Varsity Press, 1993
Neusner, Jacob. The Mishnah : A New Translation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.
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