March 21st, 2010 John 12:1-11
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.
3 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.
4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said,
5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
6 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.
7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.
8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
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.
Being reckless means that you have disregard for the consequences of your actions.
Mary was labeled reckless by her friends.
- This action cost her family a lot of money. This perfume was made of pure nard and was worth a whole year of employment. Most of us don’t know someone willing to give away that much of their family wealth. Mary was that kind of a rare person.
- This action cost her some respect. Her community of friends and acquaintances argued with her logic to waste this much money in her private worship. Mary and her family lived in a small town filled with low income workers. She wasn’t high society. This resource could have been sold and used to bless many. Her actions were immoderate, lavish, unprecedented and open to criticism. She appeared to be acting reckless.
Mary pulled out a family treasure and poured it all over Jesus’ body. From His head down to His feet the other Gospels tell us. Then in a display of lowliness and poverty of spirit, she let down her long, thick, black, Mediterranean hair and wiped Jesus feet clean.
This was not the act of a new convert. Her actions are from deep emotions that had been building through the years. She had no regard for the cost of her actions. Mary is offering worship as only a mature believer can.
She offered reckless adoration to our Savior.
I would hope this story makes us all a little jealous and thankful at the same time.
- Thankful that through Mary’s actions our Lord was lifted up to the place He belonged in the eyes of all that were there that day. Jesus was a man of sorry and acquainted with grief, but in this moment, Jesus was shown the worship and respect that we know in our hearts He deserves. Praise God for people like Mary who with one act of reckless adoration force the community to see Jesus in a new light and force them to ask if He is really worthy of that lavish and immoderate gift.
- And we should be a little jealous too. Jealous that there might come a moment in our life when we might act with the same recklessness that the world would ask us, “Is Jesus the right place to waste that resource?” “Is He really worthy that much?” “What did Jesus do to deserve that?”
- What Jesus did to Lazarus brought people to faith. Mary’s act of reckless adoration brought people to worship. Both acts are achieving their results even today.
Let’s rightly identify this Mary. There are six or seven women in the Bible named Mary. This is not the same woman, or the same event, where a prostitute anointed Jesus’ feet as she wept in gratitude for Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. That passage is in Luke 7.
No, our passage in John 12:1-11 is paralleled in Matthew 26 and Mark 14 where we get the extra information that the bottle was large enough that Mary was able to pour the perfume over Jesus head, shoulders, and even His feet. She poured out the whole bottle.
Mary was the sister of Martha and Lazarus. The same Martha who chewed Jesus out for letting her do all the work while Mary sat as an attentive disciple at Jesus’ feet. The same Martha who chewed Jesus out for not coming sooner when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick. The same Lazarus who died and brought Jesus to weeping when Jesus came to Lazarus’ tomb.
This family was apart of the inner circle of Jesus’ closest relationships. They were like many of us who from an early age have known the scriptures that are able to make us wise unto salvation. Mary was apart of the core group. She had participated quietly within the church for many years, but at this critical moment she was looking to surprise her family and herself with a gift greater than anything anyone would deem her capable of giving.
Mary sensed the end was approaching. The hostility of the religious leaders was now directed toward her brother as well as Jesus. Her years of careful giving and worship were noble and exemplary, but it was time for a life defining moment. This was her moment, and she knew it.
So Mary created this opportunity to worship Jesus in a lavish way. She and Martha and Lazarus threw a party in Jesus’ honor at the home of Simon the leper. Simon was a leper cleansed by Jesus and he had a home big enough for the guest-list.
It was at this planned event that Mary pulls out the most valuable thing she owned.
Picture yourself in that moment. You are standing a room over from Jesus and the crowd. You are holding a bottle worth all the money you could hope to earn that next year. Your heart is racing. Your love for Jesus keeps pushing down the logic of your mind that says the financial gift is too extravagant.
What will people say? What will your family think? Will Jesus accept such a lavish gift for Himself when there is so much suffering in the world? You decide you don’t really care what every one thinks. You are left with one nagging question.
“Will Jesus be o.k. with this?”
Let me tell you a little more about this gift.
- At this time, pure nard was only found on the high pasture land of the Himalayan Mountains between Tibet and India. It was not only a valuable asset, but a rare one.
- The bottle was a unique container fashioned by the most talented of glass blowers.
- The artisan would blow the glass bottle, fill it with this almost priceless perfume, and then before the glass cooled, the top of bottle would be pulled and twisted closed thus sealing the bottle permanently. There was no cap or cork.
- The only way to open the bottle was by breaking the glass at the top.
- This decision to open the bottle could not be undone.
- Specifically, this myrrh was the best burial ointment that could be purchased for embalming. Like buying the best casket for a parent, this bottle was the best you could buy to honor the memory of a loved one at the time of their death.
- It is also very possible that this item was purchased by the family when Lazarus died, and then in anticipation of Jesus coming, they chose not to use it.
- It is also very possible that this item was owned as a family heirloom for generations. Something that each generation chose not to consume, but rather pass on to the next generation.
Regardless, no one would have faulted Mary for holding on to it. It was too precious. But it is that fact alone, it’s precious value, that makes it fitting to reflect what is in her heart toward Jesus.
It reminds us of others in the scriptures who offered precious things in worship to God.
The mighty men of King David heard him sigh for a drink from the Bethlehem well which was behind the enemy lines of the Philistines. These soldiers risked their life to get some of that water, but King David said he would not drink it but rather poured it out before the Lord in worship.
It reminds us of Elisha who was called by God to be a prophet. He offered to God the only family asset he owned, his very expensive farming equipment. He slaughtered all the cattle and used the equipment to build a fire for the sacrifice. He worshipped God by laying his most important earthy asset on the alter, literally. He did this publically like Mary. Everybody in the town ate a meal from that sacrifice, and then Elisha followed God.
Mary also offered to God something she couldn’t take back. Moved in her soul with gratitude and love, she broke the top of the glass and poured it on the head, body and feet of our Lord.
Don’t miss this truth. There is great spiritual reward in doing something without moderation for the Lord. I do not think that this exhortation is primarily directed toward new believers in Christ, but rather life followers who are called upon by God to make an extravagant act of personal devotion and sacrifice as a capstone to their life of regular worship.
Consider what Jesus had done for her. Jesus befriended her and her family. Jesus personally taught her the scriptures. Jesus wept with her when she was heartbroken. Jesus raised her brother to life. Jesus blessed her and her family with eternal life, and nothing she could do would ever repay that debt. She keenly felt her debt of love and wished to make a public display of her gratitude and faith.
So she did the most lavish thing she could. Her act of love exceeded the limits of reason and necessity. It was elaborate. It was lavish, but it wasn’t disproportionate or unwarranted. It got her in trouble with the community, but Jesus thought it was brilliant.
What else do we need to know to be motivated to do the same? Jesus defended her.
This act of reckless adoration testified to the unbelieving world the worth of Jesus. Can we think of a bolder way to make that truth known? She did it quietly and without fanfare, but it forever speaks to Christ’s glory.
Kings brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh at His birth. Now His significance is again celebrated by this gift just before His death.
Our gifts have the same effect. The world stands up and takes notice. Lavish gifts which further Christ’s kingdom memorialize your faith and love. It lifts up Christ and is a great testimony to your family, your children, and to the world that you seek heavenly treasures over earthly stuff.
But the gift does more than just lift up Christ and stamp our faith as genuine. We ourselves become beautified by the release of the gift. When Mary opened that bottle and released the contents, the whole house was filled with the beautiful fragrance. She brought the faith perspective to Jesus’ pending death. In the sorrow there would be joy and beauty. She celebrated the glory of the suffering Messiah. She had hope that even after death there would be joy.
The embalming smell on Mary reminded people that she too was released from the evil powers of this world. Her suffering had ended. Her misery over. She was living Romans 6 and it wasn’t even written yet. She was baptized with the beautiful smell of being dead to the false idols of her surrounding world. Words of rebuke had no effect upon her. She was alive to eternal things by the One who claimed to be the resurrection and the life. These words were spoken to her while she stood next to the tomb of her brother, who was now alive, proof that Jesus had power over death.
The Bible says that where your treasure is, there is your heart also. She placed her treasure on Christ. She found her heart captured by the heavenly promises in the Gospel and in the person of Jesus Christ. Her reckless adoration united her soul with the heart of Jesus.
Mary is a model of a mature believer giving her best. But she is only a model. There is another person who is the perfect model of selfless giving. The Father gave the Only Begotten Son, and Jesus is the perfect example, the divine example, of self sacrifice.
Jesus is our model for letting go. Jesus held the most precious place of influence and power we could ever imagine. He was in the form of Deity, but He decided that that wasn’t something to be grasped at all cost. He made Himself of the opposite reputation. He took the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of man. And being found in the fashion of a normal man, He humbled Himself even further to the Father’s will all the way to death on a cross.
The Father rewarded Jesus for being able to let go. So too those who live for Jesus in this life will be lifted up by the Father. By faith we are united in Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. The Father blessed His Son. Jesus blessed Mary. Jesus will bless you.
Jesus divested Himself of glory that He might love us. It appeared reckless, but in fact it was the wisdom of the Father planned out before the foundation of the world. The Father is calling us to appear just as reckless: to lose our life for His sake, that in the end, we might find it.
Mary reaffirmed to the world Jesus’ worth by lavishly displaying her love for Him. Matthew 26:13 says, Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.
What do we hold in our hands this morning that could produce the same effect? Are we ready to pour it out in worship to Jesus?
May God bless all of us with the wisdom to know how and when to do that. Amen.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.