A realization that comes most poignantly to me through preaching is that the pulpit is no pedestal. A preacher stands apart from his audience, facing them, with the cross behind him. As if he has the backing of God Himself. But he has no special knowledge, no elevated level of holiness, no increased amount of blessing. All he has is the attention of the crowd for a few short minutes.
Standing between the cross and the crowd, there is no other time when it is more evident to me that my proper position is on my hands and knees. It is a terrible day when a man begins to feel that his rightful place is in front of the people and not among them.
Set the scene:
• Near the end of Jesus’ ministry
• 3 years with the disciples
• Right before Judas went to betray Jesus
• Right before the Last Supper
• Right before the cross
• Last few days to be with disciples
Jesus knows what was going to happen; he tells them repeatedly that he is going to leave them soon.
Springtime in Israel. A cool evening. Jesus, disciples, a few guests. Relaxing after a meal.
Jesus Anointed at BethanyThe book of Mark does not identify the woman, but Luke says it was a “woman who had lived a sinful life” (possibly Mary Magdalene), and John says it was Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus. So this is either a sinful woman who turned from her ways and followed Jesus, or someone who saw Jesus raise her brother from the dead. In either case, Jesus has given her something that has changed her.
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.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? 5It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.
"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."
The Nard she pours is a rare spice from the Himalayas and was very expensive. A typical alabaster jar was thin and not more than 6 or 8 inches high. One of them said it was worth more than a year’s wages. It is probably her most treasured possession. She may have kept it with her at all times, maybe wearing it around her neck. Something to be savored a little bit at a time. But instead of a sprinkling, she snaps the neck off the jar and empties it on Jesus. So this would be like a 40,000 dollar bottle of Chanel or Calvin Klein, or AXE body spray, sprayed completely out. Can you imagine? When the disciples saw this, one of them says,
"Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.
I have to say I probably would have responded the same way. They could have done a lot of good with that money, or at least used the perfume slowly in sane amounts. I mean, be practical Mary. We do need be practical in order to manage our responsibilities and survive as students, and as employees, and as Christians. To be practical and efficient is to be a good steward of what God has given us.
But this is something so completely different, and Jesus recognized it. What Jesus saw in Mary was LOVE. And when someone is in love, practicality goes out the window. If you have ever loved someone like that, you know what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t, you still know it when you see it, because it is just insane. What Mary felt about Jesus was irrational, overwhelming, and looked crazy to the people witnessing it. But that is how love is supposed to work. A girl wouldn’t say to her boyfriend, “Boyfriend, thank you for loving me so efficiently.” Jesus understands this and calls her act of worship beautiful.
"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me…You will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."
Jesus shows us that worship is not about practicality, it is about EXTRAVAGANCE. In few other situations would it be beautiful to use a $40,000 bottle of perfume like that. It is not about the amount of money. The kind of worship that pleases God is the kind that is able to at times ignore practicality to tell Him that He is worthy of all glory and every glory. When I talk about worship, I don’t mean singing Jesus songs or coming to church. It is something more personal, something more inward than outward. It includes all the things we do at church, but is not limited to it. When we worship extravagantly we are telling God that He is our real treasure. We are saying that our earthly treasures come from Him anyway and that we value the giver more than the gift.
Practicality is about returns, but extravagance does not care. There are two ways to fix a car. One way is to fix it for functionality, to replace what is broken just to get it running. This is the most efficient way. The second way is to restore it, to meticulously make sure that every nut and bolt is shiny, even polishing the underside that no one will ever see. Very few people will be able to appreciate the time and effort that goes into it. But that car becomes more than just transportation; it becomes a treasure to its owner. So how do we treat our relationship with God? Do we just make sure that we have enough faith to get us through the week, or do we allow it to become personal, and passionate, and beautiful?
This is our daily relationship with Jesus. Spending time with God is not about getting the biggest return for our investment. It’s not about fulfilling a spirituality quota, or checking off another thing on the to-do list. But that’s how we treat it sometimes, if we even get that far. Or we show up to church every week because that’s what Christians do, but the other 6 days of the week belong to us. Again, that isn’t how love works. Being in a relationship with someone is 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It means they are a part of your life, wherever you are.
So how does a practical relationship with God become an extravagant one? We can go back a couple chapters and look at the poor widow in Mark 12:41.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.We can only start from wherever we are. We see over and over again in the gospels that Jesus cares less about the external circumstances of a person and more about their heart. These 2 pennies from this poor widow was no less extravagant than Mary’s expensive perfume. If you have never prayed in your life, a two word prayer could be as extravagant as two hours of prayer from someone else. If you have never read the bible before, reading for just 5 minutes a day could be equally as big a step. The point is that we give what we can, but God is always ushering us toward a fully committed relationship to Him. Toward a relationship where nothing else is more valuable to us. Toward an extravagant kind of worship.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
What I failed to cover the last time I gave this message I missed a very important point. We see now the kind of worship God desires from us, and a little bit of HOW. But the most important aspect is WHY? WHY does this woman decide to empty her most valuable possession on Jesus? WHY is this poor widow willing to give away what little she has to survive on?
See, Mary’s extravagant worship was not something she just decided to do on her own. It was a response. Jesus is in the business of loving the unlovable. What attracted people to him was that he was willing to associate with people that a man of his stature just wouldn’t. He was a teacher, a Rabbi, a prophet. Deserving of respect. Other men in his position would not have even gone near the house of Simon the Leper. Leprosy is a skin disease with no cure and lepers were considered unclean, sinful. They assumed that lepers did something to deserve their condition. They were less than human. Jesus could have stayed in any house in Bethany, but He chose Simon’s house. For Jesus to even walk inside is to say “Simon, though other men turn away from you in disgust, I acknowledge you as a human being, and I accept you as my friend.”
Mary, as a sinful woman, would have been shunned by society. She would have been used to being ignored, and looked down upon, and judged. Yet Jesus forgives her sins and welcomes her, even letting her touch him. Even just as a woman, she should never have entered the room where men were relaxing. Yet Jesus not only doesn’t rebuke her, he elevates her above the men in the room. This stuff was completely unheard of at the time. The important people were outraged by these kinds of things. Jesus was hated in polite society because he loved the unlovable. But the poor, the broken, the outcast, could only fall at his feet in worship.
And that’s what we are. Every single one of us; sinners, screw ups, unfaithful followers, men and women unworthy of God’s love. Yet he pours it out on us like expensive perfume from an alabaster jar. The vessel that was broken in order to deliver that love was Jesus himself, God’s most prized possession, sacrificed for us. Only this time, instead of Jesus being anointed for the cross…for death…we are anointed for life everlasting. Extravagant worship always comes at a cost, an expensive cost. But for Mary, her jar of expensive perfume was cheap in comparison to what Jesus had already given her. It was the only response she could have given. This is WHY extravagant worship is possible. Because God first loved US extravagantly.
So I will rejoin you now in lifting up a response to God, as forgiven sinners, as redeemed screw ups, as unworthy people trying to give up our alabaster jars in response to the alabaster jar broken for us on that cross 2000 years ago.
August 28th, 2011