Photo. Carmel, 17 Mile Drive. Richard Blick 2011.
54Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.
55Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country toJerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
1Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at the table. 3Mary 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. 4But 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?” 6He 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. 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
9When 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. 10So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
What do we do with the 7th of 7 miracles that John uses to draw us into true belief? Jesus turns water to wine, he heals some people, he feeds the 5000 then walks on water, he heals the blind man, then John uses the raising of Lazarus back to life from the dead as the climax of his gospel story. Christ did many more than 7 miracles. However, John uses these specific miracles to woo us to believe that Jesus is God’s son and thereafter worship Him.
John 20:30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these [seven miracles] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
What is belief? Belief is leaning on something in such a way as if it gives way you fall. Proverbs 3 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, / and do not lean on your own understanding.” It has been said that this Hebrew word TRUST conveys the idea of putting one’s entire weight on something [illustrate with the pulpit leaning with 5% weight and leaning so as to fall].
When John calls us to belief, he is not calling us to lean a little. He is calling us to lean with all our weight, all our hopes.
Last week Pastor Kyle walked us through Jesus raising from the dead Jesus’ dear family friend, Lazarus. What happens next after this incredible event? How do the eye witnesses respond? How does Lazarus’ family respond? What do the disciples do and say? How are their lives radically changed forever, or not?
What we will come to find out today from this passage is this:
The Big Idea: Mary responds in the freedom of worship – true belief “leans as if to fall.”
John offers us in this passage a series of great contrasts. Both Mary and Judas saw Lazarus raised from the dead. One responds in what John is painting as true belief and thereby worships in freedom. One responds using great religious terms but dies in slavery to the worship of other things.
Thesis: Mary and Judas show us a stark contrast in what it means to believe and not believe. We see this contrast through answering three questions:
Point One: What are their treasures?
The story from our passage today is a very simple one: Jesus has just brought to life one of his best friends, the family has a big dinner for him Saturday night the week of preparations for the passover the following weekend, at the table their feet are away from the table as they recline and eat, Mary comes in and anoints his feet with this radically expensive perfume oil, Jesus makes the connection then to his upcoming death that they still don’t understand at this point, and Judas says maybe we should have given the money to the poor and just used water.
So what are the two treasures?
A. Mary’s dowry
Vs. 3+5 [read] The oil was equivalent to a year’s worth of labor, if you had work every day and never bought food with the wages. This would be like taking your IRA and cashing it out. According to www.city-data.com/ Estimated median household income in 2009 was $43,107. Remember, last week’s passage in John 11mentions nothing of Mary having parents alive still nor a husband. This was her nest egg – her money for a rainy day. This very well could have been her dowry.
B Judas’ savings plan:
What is Judas’ treasure? [read verse 6].
Judas has a savings plan for ole Judas if this doesn’t work out as he plans. Remember what we have learned from this book of John’s: most of the Jewish people were looking for a political leader to rise up and overthrow the Romans. Judas spends 3 years with Jesus at this point and has “visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in his head” that he will be the Secretary of the Treasury in this new kingdom! His savings plan is government wages.
However, his savings plan has a backup plan. If this Jesus-kingdom thing does not work he has another plan that he is leaning on. He will retire comfortably with the hidden stash he has been siphoning off the team’s money.
Judas is not leaning on Jesus with his whole weight as if to fall. Therefore he is not truly believing since John is telling us true believing means leaning as if to fall. The contrast in this story is that Mary does not have a backup plan but Judas does.
The interesting thing about our Old Testament reading from Psalm 118 is that it is a song, a song that is sung every year in this week’s preparation for the passover. The passover was a festival observed once a year that was over a thousand years old. It was a living parable or story acted out over a long dinner that was supposed to remind the Jewish people what happened the night that God freed them from the hundreds of years of slavery under the cruelty of the Egyptians. In the 10th and final plague that God sent on the Egyptians, the angel of death killed the first born of every family, and livestock for that matter, who did not have the blood of a young lamb painted on the door post of their homes that night.
So in preparation for this festival, listen to what they sang as I read key verses in our OT Reading from Psalm 118. Mary and Judas are going to this meal with Jesus on this Saturday afternoon / evening, probably singing this song.
Contrast treasures to the verses… [read vs 5-8]
Can you picture this as true for Mary? Can you picture Judas hearing these words and being checked out, these words leaving a hollow sound in his soul?
Summary: What are their treasures? Mary has a treasure that is quite possibly her dowry or family’s savings. Judas has a treasure that is a savings plan that works if Jesus turns out to be some kind of a king or not.
Point Two: What are their beliefs?
A. Mary’s tomorrows: Mary is banking all her hopes for tomorrow on Jesus.
Her brother was dead as we studied last week. This meant that, since there is no mention of parents or husband, she is on her own in a world where she can’t just get a job and provide for herself. This is why Jesus was angry as we learned last week. The world was not meant to be broken – we live in a post Genesis 3 world.
Now her brother is alive to take care of her. She learned a valuable lesson and then goes further, she spends her dowry on Christ. She is saying that Christ is better than a husband, romance, food, etc. Having Christ is the treasure she wants. She is not bound to her oil or money. She is bound to a better treasure – having Christ! If this Jesus is God’s son and can raise people from the dead because he IS the resurrection, then even if she can’t see the path that her future will take, she knows that she will be fine in His care and love.
What does the oil represent? Why oil? There are at least two things in John’s mind on this oil.
First, Jesus ties this to his upcoming burial. [read verse 7] Ironically, Jesus is having this meal / event with Lazarus who he just raised from the dead and is preparing for his own death this week. In just one week Nicodemus will bring pounds and pounds of spices and oils to embalm Jesus’ body. Even after telling his disciples of his upcoming death and that he came for the sole purpose of dying, they still do not see it coming.
Secondly, the oil is a tie back to the Old Testament where Israel’s kings were anointed as king with oil. In 1 Samuel 16 we read the story of Samuel going to Jesse’s sons and saying are these all the sons you have? God told me to anoint one as King. Jesse says he has a young son who is with the sheep. Samuel says bring him here. ” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.”
The message that John has for us is that Jesus is the ultimate King David, the ultimate King that was anointed with oil. All the kings who were anointed with oil up to that point were all pointing to this king. In a humble, radical gesture, we see a woman who feels unworthy to anoint his head and anoints his feet as Jesus reclines from the table.
Mary is banking all of her tomorrows on Jesus. If he is not God’s son, she has leaned in such a way as to fall. She believes.
B. Judas’s religious words: he believes he will be fine either way – if Jesus is the conquering king with him as treasurer or if he is happily retired if this thing goes down in flames.
What if we read this passage again without John’s commentary on Judas’ heart nor knowing the rest of the story? [read vs 3-5 without the parenthesis]. We see a guy that wants to give money to the poor. Who wants to argue with me that giving money to the poor is stupid or wrong? No one would take that side of the argument.
Do you see what is happening? Judas uses religion to hide a heart far from God. Judas is a case study in the awful reality that there are two ways to go to hell: by being very vey bad and by being very, very good. He looked good. He committed to Jesus for 3 years. He knew what to say. However, John gives us a look into Judas’ heart because he knows how the story ends. Though his outside actions are good looking, his heart and affections are not leaning on Jesus as if to fall. This is the definition of religion. Christianity, however, is not religion, it is a deep, personal relationship like Mary has with Christ.
At the heart of religion, we want to get things from God but not get God. The tell tale sign we are doing this is when we give up on God after he does not hold up his end of the bargain, so we say. We pray, go to church, serve on boards for the poor, try to do good to others, pray for our kids, then one of our kids gets sick or someone close to us dies and we say, “God I don’t deserve this because I did all these things. I am done with you.” Have any of you given up on God like that?
See the contrast in belief: Mary is leaning as if to fall on Jesus for all her tomorrows because all she wants is Jesus. Judas is leaning one foot on Jesus’ new kingdom of kicking out the Romans and one on his backup plan for himself.
Remember the reflection quote on the screen at the start of the sermon? “…our real problem is that every one of us is building our identity on something besides Jesus. “If I have that, if I get my deepest wish, then everything will be okay.” …if you never quite get it, you’re angry, unhappy, empty. But if you do get it, you ultimately feel more empty, more unhappy.”
– Tim Keller, Kings Cross
We do know the rest of the story of Judas, right? Judas sells out Jesus, he gets money- 30 pieces of silver, and then kills himself. Instead of the object of his worship bringing him freedom, it brings him death. He was bound. The interesting contrast in this passage is that Mary’s belief led her to the freedom of worship and Judas had binding treasure that left him unsatisfied. Ironically, how did Judas die? He gets the money, it doesn’t satisfy, and he binds a rope around his neck and hangs himself. Even in his death we see this picture of Judas’ “binding treasure.”
If we are honest, we are more like Judas than we normally will readily admit.
Everyone is leaning on something. We all worship. It is not a question of IF you worship but WHAT do you worship.
Five helpful pointers to uncover what we are leaning on?
a. Our stories: What stories do you tell others? What story did I just tell out at dinner? What story did I hear? We recount what we worship.
b. If Only: What is your “if only…” I would have X, I would be happy. Movie with the kids last night. Exodus reference to the quail in the wilderness.
c. One Day: What is your “one day” what do you day dream about? One day we will build that dream house. One day I will find my place in a community and please people. One day I will get married.
d. Money spent: What do we spend our money on? Go back and look. We spend money on that which we value.
e. Grief vs. devastation: when things go bad for you, grief is normal but different types of grief based on is you mainly lean on security, having a name, romance, kids, power, etc. Example of two people at the bank who get passed over for promotion and also breakup with their significant others the same month. It is good to cry but one is devastated because of the job and one from the relationship. We are all wired differently. The other punchline is that it is not either grief OR devastation but usually both / and in every situation. Don’t look for just one, “well, I recovered from my breakup inside 30 days so that must not be what I am leaning on.” It might be 80/20. These things that happen to us happen to reveal what it is that we are leaning too heavily upon other than the treasure of Christ like we learn from Mary.
The good things of this world – family, love, food, marriage, etc. – are to stir our affections for God and not be worshipped in and of themselves. The lesson from this passage is that Jesus is the only treasure that when bound to him brings freedom not un-satisfaction and slavery. Mary banks all her tomorrows on Jesus and Judas leans heavily on himself.
Point Three: How does Mary get to freedom?
What is striking about this story is that BOTH Mary AND Judas see the power of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead but only one gets to freedom – the other to death. How? There are really two answers – Mary knew two things:
a. Mary knew she had a lasting treasure that stands up to the entire weight of her leaning.
We get the hint from Psalm 118, the song she would have been singing as the week of Passover preparation began. Verse 26 we all recognize as what the people say when on the following Monday of this week when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the Donkey.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
Listen, however, to the next verse.
27 The Lord is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
Jesus, this very week he came to Bethany, was going to become THE festal sacrifice TIED to the alter of the cross. All the animals killed in the old testament pointed to one thing – the ultimate lamb who one day would make peace with God for ALL who are followers of Christ. It was on the cross that Jesus took the things that enslave us, that capture our affections, that we hold to for our safety and satisfaction other than God. He experienced the ultimate state of being BOUND in sin. He experienced this so much that his own Father turned his back on Him in the dark on the cross.
Don’t you see: he was bound in our sin so that we could be free from it? That is what freed Mary from being bound to some jar of oil and be freed to pour it on a better Treasure!
B. Mary knew that she was God’s treasure.
In last weeks passage we hear multiple times that “Jesus loves this family.” John 11: 5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. All throughout this passage we hear that Jesus loved them. Jesus treasured them.
She knew the truths in Psalm 118 [read vs 1]. She is with Jesus, and this is God’s son. He has the power to raise her brother. He is God. He will never leave her. She knows that His steadfast love WILL endure forever. He is the greatest treasure!
We also know these truths as Peter would write them later in I Peter 2 that we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s PRIZED POSESSION.
We will not change as people and have a radical response of free worship like Mary until we really KNOW this love and not just know this love theoretically as fact. You see, Judas knew these things too. He saw Jesus love. He saw him raise their friend Lazarus. But he did not lean with his full weight upon Jesus. It is not enough to only know these things intellectually. We must know them experientially, personally, first-hand.
Our hymn we sing, Redeemed, Restored, Forgiven says it well:
1. Once on a dreary mountain / We wandered far and wide,
Far from the cleansing fountain / Far from the pierced side
But Jesus sought and found us / And washed our guilt away
With cords of love He bound us / To be His own today
Indeed, we are bound by different cords, cords of LOVE to the all-satisfying Treasure of God!
What stirs your affections for Christ? Do you rehearse these truths of the Gospel in your head and to others daily? Drink long and deeply on this: the One who was perfect was bound to the alter so that you could be free from all that binds you and enjoy the worship the Living God!
So, this story leaves us hanging: vs 56 says, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” Jesus time has now come. John mentions three Passovers in his book. This is the one where the feast will be set but instead of the lamb being ON the table, he will be AT the table! The story of redemption is marching unstoppable to the next scene, the pinnacle of all of history. Come back next week as this drama unfolds!
What are you leaning on? Is it starting to buckle under your weight or have you already moved on to another one after the last train wreck? Jesus was bound so that you could live free!
One of the greatest proofs of God’s existence is that if we have leaned on everything else in this world (sex, money, and power, etc.), and it has collapsed under our weight, then we must have been made to lean on something else not in this world, namely God.
God is real. Come, live in radical freedom and worship like Mary with all your weight, hopes, dreams, upon Jesus!