Reminiscere, The Second Sunday in Lent March 19, 2000
And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? “For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply. But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. “For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. “She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
In the name of Christ Jesus, who is so unique, the only one who is God and man, the only one who takes away your sin, dear believers in Him, dear fellow redeemed.
At the end of January, my extended family gathered in the Twin Cities. We put together a retirement/birthday party for my father, who by law was compelled to end his airlines career at the age of 60. After 32 years with Northwest Orient, he certainly deserved some recognition, which we were happy to give. Even if it meant spending the money, taking the time, traveling great distances in some cases, running around the metro area, looking after this or that detail. Looking back on all that we did, I can definitely say I’d do it again. And I believe the rest of the family would have the same response. We all agree that Dad is worth the effort, the expense, and the honor.
Well, isn’t that the way it goes in your family too? Your commitment to parents or children or spouse is largely based on a sense of love and value. These people mean too much for you not to take care of their needs and help them with their troubles, even if it means personal sacrifice to yourself. What would you give up for the people that you love? How much would you spend, how much would you do, how far would you travel, what personal comforts and convenience would you sacrifice for their sakes? We’d like to think that nothing in this world and nothing in our lives would become more important than the personal well-being of our loved ones.
On a much larger scale let’s apply the same thinking, the same questions toward Jesus Christ. What would you give up, how much would you spend or do or sacrifice for His sake? In our text Mary gave a response that illustrates a key point, something for us to take home and apply to ourselves long after the service is over. Based on her example, we discover the truth:
To put this truth into practice, to live it in your daily life—well, you know how it goes against the grain of human nature. You end up fighting yourself and losing. When it comes to the glory of God, the value of Christ, the honor, praise and thanks that we owe Him—we come up short so much of the time. We pass on the opportunities to give the Lord His due. You can put the blame on certain aspects of human nature within yourself. Pride, selfishness, weakness get in the way. Deep down, we horde and crave the attention, the time, the money, even the glory for ourselves. It’s like we’re stealing from God. Yes, let’s call it that. We end up stealing from Jesus what He alone deserves to have.
Do you see an example of that in the text? Do you notice any of the people stealing from our Lord? You can’t blame Simon the Leper—or shall we say, former leper. He was actually giving glory to Christ by having this special dinner and making Jesus the guest of honor. Though the Bible does not say when or where, it’s very likely that Jesus healed the man. And Simon was using the occasion to show his gratitude. The same could be said for Mary, sister of Lazarus, who with a new lease on life was there at the dinner party. Mary’s the woman who brought the expensive perfume and poured the entire contents on the Savior’s head. She followed through with very good intentions, which some of the disciples dared to criticize. Ah, we just identified the thieves. It’s hard for me to reproduce the indignation in their voices, but here’s what they said: “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than 300 denarii and given to the poor.”
I suppose one could argue the point from the angle of money. 300 denarii back then was equal to a year’s wages. Put that in terms of today’s dollars, and you come up with 25, 35 thousand or more, depending on the kind of work you do. How long did Mary have to save the money? How could she possibly give up this precious commodity, which may have consumed her life savings? How could she dump it all on the head and the feet of Jesus? How could she do that, when people nearby were living in squalor, not having enough food for themselves and their children? The question of the disciples, though short-sighted and ill-founded, is still worth an answer. Why did Mary do it?
Well, think back Not long before this, she and her sister Martha had stood before the grave of their dead brother. A sad, sad day suddenly changed. You can only imagine the swing of emotion: grief wiped away, tears dried on the face, joy filling the heart when Lazarus came out of the tomb, alive, completely healthy and back in her life again. All because she had this friend with tremendous power—almighty power to overturn death. She would not forget this day; she would not forget this miracle; she would not forget the Man who made the dead live.
Besides, there’s something else. Jesus shows you what the woman is thinking: “Why do you trouble her?&8221;, he said to the critics. She has done a good work for Me…. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.” Remember who this Mary is—the same woman who sat and listened carefully when Jesus came to her house. She saw tremendous value in His word, because everything He said made a difference. When Jesus spoke, lepers became healthy. When Jesus spoke, dead men came back to life. She could never doubt or downplay His word, ever. Naturally, when the conversation turned to the subject of His own death, she paid attention. She had the vision of faith to see that this death would not be a waste. His death would be a sacrifice for her, a payment made for her sins. She added up the value of this Man’s life in exchange for hers, and she came to one conclusion. She would honor His sacrifice by making one of her own. To her way of thinking and her way of acting, Jesus really was worth that much.
How much is He worth to you? Before you answer that, give yourself time to reflect. Think of the difference that Christ has made in your life. Look what He did for you. The Lord God, who could raise the dead, was willing to accept death for Himself. Though living a perfect life, He took responsibility for all of your guilt. Though deserving of the glory of God, He was willing to endure your shame and punishment. He was willing to go the distance, even though it meant the agony of hell, even though it meant the painful death of crucifixion. And do remember what all this accomplished. Through Christ crucified you get a perfect record. You get all of God’s love and approval. Not to mention the hope of eternal life and the promise of your own resurrection. Like Jesus said right before He raised Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”
How much is that worth to you? Life after death, forgiveness of all your sins, God on your side now and forever—how much is that worth? Can we find a way to count the cost? For us it was free, but man, did Jesus pay through the nose! Or shall we say, through hands and feet, through sheer agony of body and soul. When you look up at the sacrifice, who can estimate the value? God going through death, so that the people He made, the people who often ignore and disobey Him can now face Him without fear, with hope and joy and a life that never ends.
It is enough to leave you in a state of wonder and amazement. As you contemplate the cost and the value, your faith will have a very good impulse. Your faith wants to act like Mary. Your faith is looking for a way to thank Jesus and honor His sacrifice. Your faith knows… your faith knows that Jesus is worth that much.
Don’t let the impulse fade to nothing. Now is the time for action. Let your faith do the talking, even though your sinful nature complains in the background, suggesting that we postpone this good intention. Maybe some other time, maybe some other day. And don’t the reasons for delay sound so good and reasonable? The thing is—your sinful nature, the big complainer, will never become a fan of Jesus Christ. We have to tell our flesh to shut up and take our cue from Mary. Here’s a woman who seized a moment. She would not postpone this opportunity to honor Christ, while she still had the chance.
Now you realize no one told her to do any of this. She volunteered in every way: her time, her money, the original thought in her mind. She planned it, she did it as a willing fruit of faith. That’s the way it goes with Christ and the Christian. He volunteered to die for us. We volunteer to live for Him. We volunteer to put the Lord on display and recommend to others what He can do for them. We “campaign” for Jesus as the only one qualified to be Savior, Lord, and God of all other people.
I don’t know about you, but I have this tendency to fall back on the bare minimum. It’s a habit that could easily spill over into our spiritual lives. We find ourselves settling for the lower amount; we end up doing the least we can to honor Christ. Do you see what is so backwards and unacceptable with that kind of thinking? Jesus is worth so much more than the least we have to offer. Let’s give Him our best. It doesn’t have to be what Simon or Mary did. We can choose different ways to show the same love and devotion, the same honor and appreciation.
Let’s work from the basis of 1 Corinthians 10: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Put the principle in the form of a question: what can I do to show how much Jesus is worth? Break it down into categories. How can I honor Him with my thoughts? What can I say to make Him look good? How can I make Jesus shine with my wealth, my actions, my example? You won’t be at a loss for opportunity. If nothing else comes to mind, you still have the commandments to guide your thinking, your words and your lifestyle. You can do what He tells you to do, not with a sense of obligation, like you have to … but with a volunteer spirit, because you want to show how much He means, how much He is worth.
One place to focus is right here in church. Certainly you should come as receivers. Come and claim the forgiveness of your sins and the blessing of God’s Word. But while you’re here for the betterment of your faith, there is also the opportunity to give something back. We, like Mary, have come to honor Christ. Every hymn that we sing can be sung for Christ. Every word of praise in the liturgy can become a cheer for the One who is truly worth that much—and so much more.
What about the offering? Part of our worship involves money. Have you ever wondered why we collect the offering during the service? You could certainly do it some other way. You could mail it in, or drop it off on your way out to the car. But as a congregation, you choose not to, for a sound biblical reason. Your offering belongs in the service as an act of worship, like the Psalm writer said, “Give to the LORD glory and strength. Give to the LORD the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts.”
Once the service is over, you don’t have to wait until Sunday for another chance to demonstrate the priceless value of Christ. Every day at home or at work, with family or friends, we can stop and ask, “How can I honor Christ with this part of my life? Remember the cross when you answer the question. Keep Mary in mind as the good example. Put your Savior back up on that pedestal where He belongs. He really is worth that much. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.