5 Lent proper C5
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 12:1-8 Sermon
March 21, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
163 "O Worship The King, All Glorious Above"
385 "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less"
438 "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee"
446 "Ye Servants Of God, Your Master Proclaim"
EXTRAVAGENCE AT ITS BEST
TEXT (vs. 3-5): "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.'"
"Oh, you shouldn't have!" I would imagine we've all heard those words many times in our lives. And when we do, it's usually the response of somebody to whom we've given some sort of gift.
Here's a good example. It's Mothers' Day, and the whole family decides to make the day special for the family matriarch. And so, everybody presents her with their cards and gifts, which are heart-felt tokens of their appreciation. As mother looks at and treasures each card, and opens the various gifts, she smiles with tears in her eyes and says, "Oh, you shouldn't have!"
This is actually more of a platitude than anything. Mother is trying to give the impression that she feels so unworthy to be receiving all of this kind attention. But even so, she appreciates it, and she is very happy about it.
However if the family actually took her comments seriously and didn't do anything for Mothers' Day, she would be crushed. Or even worse, if the family were to say, "Okay, if that's the way you want it," and then proceeded to take all of her cards and gifts back, she would be completely devastated. But somehow, offering a simple "thank-you" doesn't seem self-deprecating enough; and so mum (or whoever the recipient of the gift might be) will mutter something along the lines of "not being worthy of this kindness" or simply, "oh, you shouldn't have!"
This morning, I'm going to use an old illustration, of which I was recently reminded. Perhaps you've heard of the Koh-i-noor diamond that is part of the royal crown jewels kept in the Tower of London. There are many legends and supposed curses that surround the background of this famous stone; but in more recent history, let's look at how it came to be where it is today.
This diamond originally came from India. In 1850, after a very tumultuous history, it wound up being a gift to Queen Victoria by Maharajaah Duleep Singh after the British assumed control of the country. At the ripe old age of 13, the Maharajaah Duleep presented this diamond to the Queen as a gift, even though many people regarded it as a spoil of the war.
Some years later, when the Maharajaah was a grown man, he went to visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace. While he was visiting her, he made a very strange request. He asked that the Koh-i-noor diamond be brought to him there at the palace.
The Queen was nonplussed. She had no idea what was going on; but out of honor to her distinguished guest, she ordered that the diamond be brought from the Tower of London under heavy guard to Buckingham Palace. The precious stone was then placed in the Maharajaah's hands.
He took it and walked straight to the queen and knelt at her feet. "Your Highness," he said, "I gave you this jewel when I was a child, too young to know what I was doing." Then he continued, "I want to give it to you again, in the fullness of my strength, with all my heart, and affection and gratitude, fully realizing all that I do."
Now that he knew the diamond's full value, he still wanted the Queen to have it. He made his gift publicly, with devotion and with gratitude. Now the Maharajaah fully understood the profound extravagance of the gift he was giving. There had been sharp criticism for years about this whole incident. The people in India felt that Queen Victoria should have returned the gift when it was originally given, because it was taking advantage of the Maharajaah's youth and naivety. However the Maharajaah himself attempted to put an end to all this controversy by presenting the gift again, knowing full well the value of what he was giving.
As we look at our text for today, we can see the various aspects of gift giving along with the associated reactions. And as we study this, we will indeed see examples of extravagance at its best.
Our story begins with Jesus and his disciples visiting the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus--two sisters and a brother. We know that these people were close friends with Jesus, and that he often visited in their home when he wanted to sort of "get away from it all" and take a breather from the pressing duties of his ministry.
Just prior to this, Jesus had performed the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the tomb for four days, and his body had started to decompose. This miracle caused the many people gathered there to put their faith in him. This was a very dramatic demonstration of the fact that Jesus was indeed true God, in that he could do things only God could do. No ordinary human being ever had the power to raise someone from the dead in and of themselves. This had to be God, there could be no doubt about that. Lazarus was living proof, and he was there eating with them at the table.
The dinner was in Jesus' honor. This was about the only way that they could thank him for what he had done. Martha's talent was in the kitchen, and so she prepared the meal for Jesus and his disciples. She did what she could do, and her extravagance was measured in calories and kilojoules. This had to be quite a feast, and everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Even though Martha and Mary were both very faithful and loyal (as was Lazarus), Mary was not quite as domesticated as Martha. And so she thanks him in a way that only she could do, and honors him far beyond even what any dignitary would experience.
She has this perfume on hand that was very expensive. The Bible tells us that it was worth about 300 denarii. To understand the value of this, a good day's wage was one denarius; so the perfume Mary uses to anoint Jesus' feet cost about a normal year's income.
As we unravel this scene, there are many things happening that go way beyond what was considered normal and customary. Washing the feet of a guest was proper etiquette. The roads were dusty, and people walked great distances. Having one's feet washed was both refreshing and cleansing. However this was the job done by the lowest servant; but Mary submits herself to Jesus in this role.
It was also customary to anoint an honored guest; however his head was the thing to anoint, and not his feet. And then, he would be anointed with only a very small amount of the expensive perfume. Here Mary anoints Jesus' feet, and she dumps the whole bottle out.
It was also never proper for a woman to let down her hair in public. This was the sign of a woman with loose morals. However Mary not only lets down her hair, but dries Jesus' feet with it. All things considered, there was no doubt as to Mary's full submission to her Lord, and the gratitude she had for him and his ministry.
Throughout all of this, Jesus never made any self-deprecating remarks. He never said, "Oh, you shouldn't have," or "I don't deserve all of this." He never scolded Mary for being too extravagant, or for showing her love and devotion to him.
The criticism came from Judas Iscariot instead. In verse 5 of our text Judas says, 5 "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages. " Yes, let Judas take an instance of worship and devotion, and turn it into an argument over money. After all, Mary didn't have to dump out the whole bottle; a few drops would have sufficed. And then, it didn't have to be expensive perfume; something cheaper could have sufficed. And if Jesus' feet needed washing, why not just use some soap and water instead? That would only have made sense.
But Jesus turns the tables on him. Verses 7-8 of our text read: 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."
Many things were about to take place, and this is where it was starting. In just about two weeks' time, Jesus would be arrested, beaten, illegally tried, convicted, and crucified. Jesus was giving the most extravagant gift of all. He would give his life to pay for the sins of the whole world, for all of humanity. And his supreme sacrifice of love was worth far more than all of the perfume or the biggest diamond in the whole world.
But to take this extravagant miracle of love and put a price tag on it like Judas did suddenly cheapens it. Mary was giving herself completely to her Lord, including all she had. She knew her sinfulness and what Jesus was doing for her. She could only approach him with a humble and contrite heart, in a spirit of love and thanksgiving for the new life she received through faith alone.
In less than a month, we'll be at that magic date we all dread--April 15th. As you prepare your income tax, I'd like you to take a look at that line with your reported income. How willing would you be to take that money, all of it, and buy a bottle of perfume just to dump it on somebody's feet, even if that somebody is Jesus? I know I'd have many problems doing that myself.
But even so, we experience difficulty when it comes to spending money for the glory of God and the furtherance of his kingdom. In so many instances we can justify giving ourselves the best, and be satisfied with giving our Lord second-best. We can even justify wasting dollars on ourselves, but we turn into Judases so easily when it comes to the church spending pennies on what we think is extravagance.
I have a couple short illustrations. One church had been using the same old electronic organ for about 50 years, and it was in bad repair. It desperately needed replacement. For quite a few years, this battle went on in the church.
It wasn't until a new pastor came that people began to change their way of thinking. Without really knowing anybody in the congregation, the pastor pointed out that people were very quick to buy themselves the latest television, the best stereo system, and the most modern appliances. Who among the church members would still be satisfied using the TV or stereo or kitchen appliances they had 50 years ago? If they wouldn't do this in their own homes, why should they be satisfied with doing it in God's house?
The second one is a church that had an old coal furnace and no air conditioning. They felt that since they only used the building once a week, and there weren't that many months of cold weather, the pastor could stoke the furnace on Saturday night, and they could get along just fine the way they had for years.
Then an older lady died, and left a huge chunk of money to the church to be specifically used for a new heating and air conditioning system. It would be completely paid for. But people argued that they were getting along just fine, and the money would be better spent in missions. As a result, no new furnace and air conditioning was installed. About half the congregation left after this decision was made, and less than ten years later the congregation folded. The Judas syndrome had succeeded in their midst.
Extravagance seems to be such a bad word; but when it comes to Jesus and his extravagance, where would we be without it? Jesus took his life, his very life and gave it all for the likes of you and me. In Romans chapter 5 verse 8 Paul writes: "8But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
That's the epitome of extravagance. Jesus shows us his love in the best way possible. He has paid the price for our sins in the only way that price could have been paid. That price was his innocent suffering and death. It's like the old Lenten hymn says,
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in. (SBH 77:4)
As extravagant as Jesus' gift to us is, and as much as it cost him, it costs us absolutely nothing. There's an old saying that goes, "The price of salvation wasn't cheap, but it's free." Through faith alone, and nothing but faith alone, we have everything Jesus has to offer. We experience God's grace and love through faith in Jesus. Our sin has been completely paid for, and it has been completely removed from us. Jesus took that sin upon himself and carried it to the cross. We owe Jesus everything, but he asks nothing from us in return except for our faith.
At the beginning, I talked about the Maharajaah giving the Koh-i-noor diamond (Koh-i-noor means "mountain of light"). I didn't mention the size or value of the diamond, other than it was big and valuable. Now I want you to know the details. When the Maharajaah gave the diamond to the Queen, it weighed just over 186 carats. Even after it was cut and re-faceted in the mid 1800's, today it still weighs just under 106 carats. In comparison, the very famous Hope Diamond is dwarfed at 45.52 carats. The dollar value of the Koh-i-noor diamond is actually beyond price; but according to current standards, the value would be estimated at well over 500 million dollars. That's quite an extravagant gift!
As we journey once again in spirit to those last days leading up to Calvary's cross, may we always remember the priceless gift our Saviour has given us out of his tremendous love for us, a gift that Judas Iscariot so foolishly rejected. This priceless gift is ours, by grace alone through faith alone.
Let us then remember the words of the hymnwriter:
Thy life was given for me,
Thy blood, O Lord, was shed,
That I might ransomed be,
And quickened from the dead.
Thy life was given for me,
What have I done for thee?
And thou hast brought to me,
Down from thy home above,
Salvation full and free,
Thy pardon and thy love.
Great gifts thou broughtest me,
What have I brought to thee? (SBH 513:1,3)