You can listen to the 11:00 a.m. version of this sermon by clicking here (mp3).
Six days before the Passover. Those are probably the most important words of our gospel. The Passover was when the Jewish people celebrated and remembered how God had brought them out of slavery and set them free—and on six days before one particular Passover, Mary, the sister of Lazarus—she was so grateful—Mary poured out a year’s wages’ worth of perfume on Jesus’ feet—preparing him to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Jewish people celebrate Passover in the spring. They remember how God sent plagues down on the slaveholding Egyptians, blood and frogs and lice and flies, animal death, boils, hail, locusts, darkness—and the death of the firstborn—and how God provided a substitute for the sins of the slaves—a young lamb was killed for them and its blood was put on the sides and the top of the door so the death angel would Passover their homes. And then the slaves left their slavery behind, traveling to the promised land.
The wages of sin is death. Sinners like me always get death in return. It’s just a question of when and how… but on that Passover a lamb was offered for sacrifice instead—looking ahead to the sacrifice Jesus would make that particular Passover celebration—six days after Mary poured a years’ worth of perfume on his feet and wiped them with her hair.
Every year Jewish people celebrate God’s gift of freedom—this year Passover begins on the evening of March 29… and that’s what was about to happen…” Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany…” Bethany was a town right next to the capital city—a very dangerous place for Jesus to be.
Jesus had last been in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, another Jewish Festival—you can read that in John 10:22—Jesus was almost killed then—but in John 10:34 it says “…They tried to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands”… verse 35 “he went away to the place where John at first baptized, and there he remained.”
So, Jesus stays there, safe across the Jordan river, teaching and healing people and pouring out God’s love… but then he hears some news.
This is John 11:
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 Thus he spoke, and then he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”So Jesus goes, from a safe place across the river, Jesus goes back to where he was under the threat of death. And when he is there… when he is there… Jesus does the most incredible thing. He raises Mary’s brother, Lazarus, from the dead. He had been dead four days.
There are people right now in 2010 by the way who claim to have been raised from the dead by the power of God—look up “The Finger of God” on the internet… God does wonders when we trust him--even today.
In any case, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. And that’s one of the things that accounts for Mary’s over-the-top thankfulness… we don’t know how Mary came to have a pound of incredibly expensive perfume, imported, probably from India—… maybe that’s how she and Martha made a living… maybe they were perfume merchants… but still, she was so possessed by gratitude that she did something that to me seems just crazy… she poured a whole year’s wages worth of perfume, tens of thousands of dollars worth—she poured it all on Jesus’ feet, and wiped her feet with her hair.
Such intimacy, such overflowing love. Such gratitude. Have you ever been possessed by such UNCONTAINABLE emotion that you ended up doing something that later on you think might have been just stupid? Something out of joy? Or have you seen someone else, dancing or singing for joy and you just think, calm down and grow up?
Mary was so joyful that she could not be self-contained or careful. She had to let her thankfulness flow. She didn’t care what anyone thought—she didn’t care what anyone might say—she was just needing to say thank you, thank you, thank you… to Jesus her Lord.
But it wasn’t all about Lazarus. Mary had very deep appreciation for Jesus’ teaching. There is a story in another place about Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet and just listening to him—listening to him teach—soaking up the wisdom and the peace and the love of God. When we get to know Jesus personally—when we come to know what he has done for us, then we want to learn from him too… and when we do learn from him our gratitude flows even more, beyond the thankfulness for the little and big miracles that happen every day to so many of us—protection from danger and illness, gifts of freedom, the provision of food and work—we give thanks for all those things and for the big miracles—healings from cancer—I’ve seen that happen—blessings of forgiveness and the renewal of hope… to thankfulness for Jesus’ teachings and the Word of God.
Comment about how Alpha has helped people appreciate God's Word.
But remember—it was six days before Passover. When we LEARN from Jesus we can know he comes not just to do the amazing thing in my life now, and not only to teach me wonderful truth, but especially to rescue me from slavery to my sinful self—to give himself as a substitute for the death and hell I deserve, to rescue me from all the terrible things I have done and the guilt I carry … to rescue me from what I deserve because of it… in fact, to rescue a whole world of sinners.
It was six days before Passover. Somehow, when Mary poured out that perfume on Jesus’ feet, it was not just about Lazarus being raised from the dead or just about being thankful for Jesus teachings—it was about the thankfulness of the whole world—the thankfulness of the world that Jesus was going to suffer and die for—at the festival of the Passover—six days from that time.
Oh, How I Love Jesus! (3x) Because He first loved me. There is a name I love to hear, I love to sing its worth, it sounds like music in my ear, the sweetest name on earth!
What would get you to spend a year’s wages out of gratitude? What would it take for you to step outside the common religious expressions of thanksgiving and just let emotions flow with praise? For Mary, it was her brother being raised from the dead, it was all that time spent listening to Jesus, hearing his heart for her and for you and for me, his wisdom, his love, his peace and his power that does not give up. But, though she may not have known it intellectually, it was really about what was going to happen six days later—when Jesus would give us life for us, rescuing every repentant sinner from the prison of sin and death.
One year’s wages? How about a WHOLE LIFE? Everything is a loss except what Jesus has done for us. So we pour out all for him—our bodies and souls, our wealth and talents, our work and our prayers… Our whole lives are an offering of praise.
Mary challenges me to let others know how much I love Jesus so they can love him too. Mary challenges me to think of my whole LIFE as an offering… poured out in jubilant thanks… because all who know Jesus—precious Jesus—all who know him are rescued from sin and despair, and brought to new life. Oh, How I love Jesus!
(At both hours of worship this sermon was followed by the song "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" -- a link to the audio is at Friday's post "To Make A Wretch His Treasure.")