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"Mary"

July 24, 2022 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: John 12:1-8, Exodus 12:108

Link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mb1nHPJLDis

Mary

John 11:45 – 12:8

July 24, 2022

Read John 11:45-12:8

This is the Word of the LORD.

This morning we pick up John’s narrative right after Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb.  They were in Bethany, about three miles east of the city.

John shifted his attention to the leaders in Jerusalem and the crisis Jesus was posing to them. John quoted the leaders discussing the problem: “What are we to do? …If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”  By the way, from a human perspective and from a look back in their nation’s history, they were not wrong.

The answer was provided by the High Priest, Caiaphas, who set forth –unintentionally prophetically – how things were going to go.  “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” John then added his editorial explanation, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

               Background to these verses.

Before we get too far into what happened, I want to spend a few moments looking at context.  First, the scene: the time was the days preceding the Passover, the remembrance of God’s deliverance of his people from bondage and slavery.  The Passover was when God did something truly unexpected: in the weakness and powerlessness of his people, God demonstrated his sovereign authority and plan for salvation. God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to “let my people go,” and to lead the people out of Egypt.

Now, in the gospel of John, Jesus had been doing mighty acts and saying the kinds of things that made clear he was claiming to be the Messiah, the prophet greater than Moses.  As Passover was approaching, the hopes and expectations were growing that God was going to do something incredible to overthrow the Romans.  It was no wonder the leaders were concerned.

Second, from the crisis of the leaders, the scene transitioned to the episode with Mary; from the consternation of things spiraling out of control to the joy of being in Jesus’ presence celebrating Lazarus being alive.  On the face of it, the two stories seem unrelated; however, they compare and contrast the anxiousness of the leaders with the serene calm of Jesus.

The chief priests and the scribes wanted to arrest Jesus.  It was well known.  It was so well known that the gossip in town was, “Jesus is not going to come to the Passover in Jerusalem, is he?”  There was a bounty on him; there were orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let the authorities know so that they could arrest him.  That was quite a commitment on their part because Passover was one of the three main celebrations in Jerusalem and the city swelled in population from about 50,000 to 250,000.  People came from all over to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem.

Contrast their urgency with Jesus’ calm demeanor.  He was in Bethany reclining and enjoying a meal.  He was not tense.  He was relaxed.  Yes, the disciples were pretty stressed and on edge because of Jesus’ activity in Jerusalem.  They knew that things were moving towards some sort of confrontation.  But Jesus?  He was enjoying this dinner with friends, rejoicing with them about Lazarus.

So, while they were at this dinner, Mary anointed Jesus with oil.  Whether she knew the full significance of what she was doing – which was unlikely – she acted out of affection.  One commenter noted, “The people around Jesus are being caught up in the climax of all of salvation history.  They are acting for their own reasons, yet they are players in a drama that they do not understand, doing and saying things with significance beyond their imaginings.”[1]

Her breaking open the jar and pouring this “very costly perfume made of pure nard,” was startling.  This kind of ointment was often a family heirloom, passed on from mother to daughter.  This was an act of incredible devotion.  To put it in context, the cost of the jar and the ointment would have been more than sufficient to fund feeding the 5,000.  It was an extraordinary extravagance in a village of farmers, fishermen, and small craftsmen.[2]

Judas objected.  Now, John editorialized (again) to point out that Judas was being disingenuous.  John wrote that Judas complained about the waste of money because he was skimming from the group’s till.  However, we miss something if we do not understand how Judas was approaching this deception.  Judas was counting on the disciples’ being shocked by the context of the act.  One of the elements of the Passover tradition was to give to charities for the poor.  Specifically, during the Passover celebration people would give a tithe to the Temple, and a tenth of the Temple offering would go to the poor in Jerusalem.  So, Judas reasonably anticipated that the other disciples’ reaction should have been something to the effect of, “Gah!?!  What are you doing?  Have you lost your mind?  That is so wasteful!”

Jesus defended Mary against Judas’ rebuke.  It is interesting to note that Mary did not explain herself; but rather, Jesus gave the meaning to her act.  Specifically, he told the disciples that she was anointing his body beforehand for burial.  That had to have caused another double take from the disciples.  “Wait…what?  Your burial?”  There was Jesus, very much alive, talking casually about how he was being anointed ahead of time for his impending death.

So, what do we do with this episode?

               God was preparing the Passover Lamb.

The context is very important.  Jesus knew what was coming as he was headed into Jerusalem.  He understood what was going to take place, what it would require, and what it meant.  Most of all, Jesus knew that the Scriptures would need to be fulfilled; including those talking about what would occur with the Suffering Servant, the Messiah.  In short: God was preparing Jesus to be the Passover Lamb.

The process by which the atonement price would be paid – one man dying for the nation – was foreshadowed long before by the process and commands given for the first Passover; that is, the same Passover that all the people coming to Jerusalem had traveled to commemorate.  At the original Passover, specific instructions were to be followed in the preparation of the lamb that would be sacrificed.  Then, judgment on the sin of Egypt came to all houses except those for which the blood of a lamb had been painted on the door posts and mantles, showing that an atoning sacrifice had been made according to God’s command.

Here, in a much greater way, Jesus was being prepared to fill the role that John the Baptist had proclaimed at the beginning of the gospel, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

“They are acting for their own reasons, yet they are players in a drama that they do not understand, doing and saying things with significance beyond their imaginings.”[3]

Friends, the things that seem so big to us now, the things that seem so overwhelming, are all known to God long before they are experienced by us.  God has been working, is working, always will be working to accomplish his purposes – even through the generations.

Isaiah 42 says,

            8 I am the LORD, that is my name;

                              my glory I give to no other,

                              nor my praise to idols.

             9  See, the former things have come to pass,

                              and new things I now declare;

                              before they spring forth,

                              I tell you of them.

It is important we look with eyes of faith to see God’s hand at work.  For example, God had (and has) been consistent in his approach to judgment and grace.  The Passover meal was a foreshadowing – a lesser version of the primary thing – in which God revealed his grace.  Judgment for sin was satisfied and redemption from the consequences was accomplished. For Israel, it involved deliverance from bondage and slavery in Egypt.  For those for whom Jesus served as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, it was salvation and deliverance from bondage and slavery to sin and death.

I tell you this to remind you to not be overwhelmed by the here and now.  Remember and hold onto God’s larger purpose.  When we remember who God is and what God has promised, we can let go of the worry and anxiety and consternation of all that is around us.  Yes, we are still aware, but the troubles of the world – as large as they are – do not take away from the joy we have of being found in Jesus.  Look: Jesus was present at the dinner, even while being aware of what he was being prepared to do.  Mary was present at the dinner, not fully aware of the significance of what she was doing.  The point is that we often do not have (or need) a full comprehension of the meaning of our worship, but God does.  That’s enough.

Don’t begrudge other Christians their devotion to Christ.

Further, the episode with Mary demonstrates that we need to not begrudge other believers’ devotion to Christ.  Make no mistake, what Mary was doing was worship. Mary was not expressing an intellectual affirmation of an idea.  She was not adhering to a doctrine or a dogma.  She had not come to anoint Jesus for what she would take from it or how she would grow or learn from the experience.  She came to him as an act of love and devotion.  It was an outpouring of her a personal relationship with Jesus.  Worship is more than going through the motions and being present; worship is an investment of your best in loving devotion to Jesus, personally.

I do not want to discount the mind by suggesting doctrine is unimportant.  It is very important.  We have seen the consequences of wrong teaching too many times not to recognize how important it is.  However, doctrine only informs faith, it is not the same as faith.

Worship is personal.  Worship is intimate.  Worship is vulnerable.  God designed us to worship.  And, the truth is, we all worship, whether we realize it or not.  You give of yourself to whatever you worship . If you were to chart your time, your energy, your resources during a week or month, you would have a pretty good picture of what or whom you actually worship.  Here, without obligation, without any sense of reservation or inhibition, Mary took what was most valuable to her and offered it to the one who was most valuable to her.

When Judas grumbled, Jesus said, “Leave her alone.  In other words, he was saying, “You are worried about this?”  For years I took comfort in “well, that’s only because it was Judas,” but, it should be a wake-up call about how dense we can be when it comes to Jesus.  Maybe I will just speak for myself: it points out how dense I can be when it comes to Jesus.

It is amazing to think of how we still act like Judas here.  Christians feel remarkably free to be notoriously harsh on other Christians.  We spend a lot of time and energy criticizing one another.  This is true within congregations, and it is true among congregations.  We often act like we are judges on reality shows with a responsibility to weigh in on someone else’s worship performance: it was too enthusiastic; it was not enthusiastic enough.  That church demands too much; it does not demand enough. They sing strange songs; they only sing songs that they have sung for two hundred years.  They do strange things; they do not do anything much at all.  They abided by the government’s lockdown and mask orders in response to Romans 13, or they defied the government’s orders in the name of freedom . The scandal!  The shame!  How can they call themselves Christians?

Instead of rejoicing at another congregation’s efforts to reach out in the midst of the brokenness of these chaotic days, we are tempted to sit in judgment about what others are doing and how they are doing it (wrongly).  There is something competitive in our natures that cause us to be critical of how others are either doing things better than we are, or to feel better about ourselves because we think we are doing better than they are.

Instead of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we spend time comparing ourselves with others to see how well we are loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We focus on ourselves . Mary focused on Jesus.

Mary simply acted in loving devotion to Jesus.  This was her way, her thing, her act of worship.  And Jesus received it as worship.  His response about the poor was not to denigrate the poor; his response about the poor showed how much Jesus valued her love for him.

In essence, Jesus was saying, “She is not the enemy.  She is not the problem.  She is not opposed to me, so do not be opposed to her.”  Actually, Jesus’ rebuke was both a warning to us and also a great word of encouragement.  Jesus will stand up for those who love him . Jesus honors those who love him.  

God blesses our love

Finally, God blesses our love because he uses it for his plan of salvation.  Mary thought she was doing a loving act towards Jesus; and she was.  Jesus said that she was preparing his body ahead of time for burial (again predicting his passion); and it was that, too.  He was being prepared to be the Passover Lamb, to be our Great High Priest.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

But also it was something more.  John was pointing out that she was anointing Jesus to be King.

In the Old Testament, there are a number of times when a prophet or priest was sent out to anoint a king.  The most widely remembered is Samuel being sent to Jesse to anoint one of his sons; Samuel looked over a number of them until they brought in the ruddy one who was out in the fields as a shepherd: that one, David, Samuel anointed as king.  It was years before David took the throne, but the anointing was real.

Here, in the presence of his closest followers, Mary’s anointment with this precious nard served to bless Jesus’ mission to be the Messiah.  The coronation of his kingship would be on the cross.  The title, “King of the Jews” would be nailed above his head.  His crown would be made of thorns, fashioned by the Roman soldiers who beat him.  His royal robe would be torn and lots would be cast for it.  It was unlike any anointing that the world had ever seen; and that is just like God.

When we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; when we express that love in worship or acts of praise, God blesses that love.  Jesus used Mary’s act of love to again predict his victory over death.  Whenever her act of love is told – wherever the gospel is told – the glory of the king is revealed again.

Think about it: we are remembering her act as we proclaim the gospel this morning. Was that her purpose?  No.  She was simply loving Jesus.  Was that God’s purpose? Yes.

God’s plans are bigger and more wonderful than we can imagine.  “Faith,” says the writer of Hebrews, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”  Paul writes in Romans, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Amen.”

On whom or what would you break the jar and pour out your most precious ointment?

As you think about that, think about what God has done.  Think about baptism: Jesus joined with us in order to redeem us and claim us for the kingdom of God.  Think about communion – the Lord’s Supper.  As we consider Mary’s worship, it reminds us of the broken jar: Jesus’ body, broken for us.  It reminds us of the pouring out of this very costly ointment: the blood of Jesus, shed for us.  Jesus instructed us to remember because was his victory meal celebrated before his arrest and crucifixion, in which he declared his power over sin, over the grave, over death, and his resurrection glory as King of the Kingdom of God.

“You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”  “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

Amen.

Questions:

  1. On whom or what would you break the jar and pour out your most precious ointment?  How do you show your love?
  2. Do you ever catch yourself comparing your spiritual walk with others or judging others’ life of faith?
  3. Many people struggle with accepting Jesus’ atoning sacrifice – whether it is uncertainty about how or why it is effective for them – or – why God did not accomplish his purpose some other way. How would you describe to someone asking, “How does Jesus’ life actually impact mine?”

 

[1] Rodney A. Whitacre, IVP NT Commentary, John, p. 301

[2] Ron Kernaghan, IVP New Testament Commentary, Mark, p. 276-277.

[3] Rodney A. Whitacre, IVP NT Commentary, John, p. 301