From the Pastor's Desk 

Extravagant Love for Jesus

7-16-17

            Let's pray.

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            Extravagant.  That is usually a word we use with a negative connotation or to refer to the rich and famous and how they live.  For the most part, extravagance has a connotation of waste and excess.  Celebrities can be extravagant because they are used to getting the best of the best.  They have plenty of money to pretty much buy whatever it is that they really want.  But even in the world of high paid movie stars and professional athletes, there have been a few gifts given that help define for us the very meaning of extravagant.

            For instance, in 2011, Nick Cannon gave Mariah Carey a $400,000 Rolls Royce.  That might not be expensive for a Rolls Royce and no doubt she has plenty of other cars to drive, if she does any driving herself at all.  But that's still pretty extravagant.  For Christmas 2012, Angelina Jolie bought Brad Pitt a waterfall in California.  I don't even know how one would go about doing that, and I don't know what else to say about it.  Finally, in 2015, professional boxer Floyd Mayweather received a young tiger as a gift from his employees.  Who would even think to do such a thing?

            But extravagance isn't always a bad thing.  This morning as we continue on with our series of sermons on the gospel of John, we're going to see where Jesus received an extravagant gift, and it was totally appropriate and reasonable.  We're also going to see where we need to do what we can to be extravagant in our love for Jesus.

            Jesus had been spending considerable time in the capital city of Jerusalem.  He had celebrated a couple of festivals there and was busy preaching the word and ministering to people with needs.  As good as all of that is, what He did created conflict with the Jewish religious authorities.  They didn't like what He was doing and they didn't like people following Him.  So they actually tried to seize Him to kill Him, but it wasn't time quite yet for that to happen.

            But the final blow came when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  After doing that, many more people believed in Him and started following Him.  That led the Jewish ruling council to decide to take active measures to put Jesus to death.  Once that was decided, Jesus went to the wilderness until it was time for Him to make His final return to the city.

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            Today, we're going to be reading John 12:1-11.  We see here where Jesus is done spending time in the wilderness and is working His way back for His final return to Jerusalem.  On His way there, He makes a stop in Bethany and visits Lazarus, Mary and Martha.  This visit took place only six days before the Passover celebration began.  People were eagerly anticipating His appearance in Jerusalem. 

            From a human perspective, Jesus seemed to be in danger.  But He was safe because He was doing God's will and protected by the Father.  I think that there's something we can learn from that.  For us there is a time for self-preservation.  We need to defend ourselves when we're threatened.  We need to try to take care of ourselves in terms of our health and our physical existence.  It might be wise not to take any unnecessary risks or do anything overly foolish that might put ourselves or our loved ones in danger.

            On the other hand, there is also a time to risk our lives if necessary for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the kingdom of God.  We can't back off preaching and teaching the truth of God's Word just because we might be persecuted for it.  We can't water down God's truth, or back off from service or ministry just because it might offend other people.  Taking risks that God wants us to take as part of our walk of obedience with Him, is the way we should be living.

            As Jesus is in Bethany at the home of His close friends, they throw a dinner party for Him.  The guests were reclining at the table like they always did back then.  They would be lying on the floor propped up on their left elbow, with their face towards the table and their feet away from it.  Most tables were low to the ground and shaped like a "U."  That would have made it easy for Mary to do what she did.

            What Mary does here is to provide a great example of showing extravagant love to Jesus.  We are told that she took a pound of fragrant oil, expensive nard and anointed Jesus' feet with it and then wiped His feet with her hair. 

            This act was very generous.  I think we're safe in assuming that she gave absolutely all that she had, the very best and most expensive item that she owned and used it in a lavish expression of love for her Lord.  Those who truly love Jesus give Him the very best that they have.

            This pound of ointment would have cost about 300 denarii, or about a year's worth of wages for an average worker.  It's possible that it was something that had been in Mary's family for quite some time.  They might have only used it in small portions as a perfume on special occasions.

            After she poured the ointment on His feet, she then wiped His feet with her hair.  That again is an act that helps explain the great depth of her devotion to Christ.  A woman's hair was regarded as her glory.  She would have had to let her hair down first, which was strictly forbidden by Jewish law.  A woman never did that in public.  But she didn't care; she needed to do it for Jesus.

            What Mary did was also personal.  This was apparently a rather wealthy family and if that is the case, she could have had a servant do this for her.  There were potentially other ways for her to express her love for Jesus.  But instead of doing that, she made it personal.  Having someone else do it wouldn't have been as noble of a gesture.  She loved Jesus and she wanted to do something herself to show that love to Him. 

            This act of Mary's was an act of faith.  Anointing Him shows the depth of her faith in Jesus.  Her anointing Him expressed how much she believed that He was the Messiah; that He was God in the flesh; her Lord and Savior.  God's anointed should be our anointed.  We need to pour on Him our best affections, above and before all else.

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            You would think that everyone who is at this dinner party is in tune with Jesus and who He is and what He's doing, especially the disciples.  Not so fast my friend.  Not everyone who was there that day appreciated what Mary did.  We shouldn't be surprised to find that Judas, one of Christ's own 12 hand-picked disciples, objected to this display of affection.

            Judas objected but then tried at least to cover his true intentions and motives with a pious religious sounding reason.  Let's paraphrase.  Judas said, "This is a waste.  This is a lot of money going down the drain.  It could have been used to help the poor."  He even asks, "Why was this money not given to the poor?"  That question actually has an easy answer.  It was better bestowed on the Lord Jesus Christ.

            John then gives us further insight into why Judas was actually protesting Mary's act of devotion for Jesus.  He was a thief.  He coveted the money he thought she was wasting.  Judas was the group's treasurer and would keep the money for them.  Jesus and His disciples had very little in terms of material or financial resources.  They had no land; they had no merchandise; they had no place to stay.  They only had what was probably a box or coffer.  They received whatever money they did have from contributions of good people they knew.  They would keep that in the box to cover their subsistence and then whatever was left over they would give to the poor. 

            Even though the group entrusted him with the money, Judas would steal from Jesus and the disciples.  That thought should shock us.  But before we get too indignant and self-righteous and holier-than-thou, we need to look to our own hearts.  Ask yourself this:  Are you stealing from the Lord?  No, of course, not we would all answer indignantly. 

            But if you're not tithing according to the way God wants you to tithe, then you are literally and directly stealing from God.  Malachi 3:8-10.  We all have good reasons not to give.  Too many bills; I can't afford to; we're saving for a trip; trying to get the kids through college; blah, blah, blah.  Stop stealing from God and start giving like He wants you to give.  No matter how good your excuses might sound to you, it's still a sin to rob God.

            John calls Judas a thief and that could refer to a number of different things.  He may have been literally guilty of taking money right out of the box for his own personal use.  Maybe he was at the moment planning on taking some of the money but hadn't done it yet.  It's also possible that being referred to as a thief simply meant he loved money and was guilty of coveting, which is the same and just as bad as actual, literal thievery. 

            Just think about the implications of that for just a moment.  The worst of men can lurk in the heart of the most noble professions.  Many people act and talk like they love Jesus and are a true follower, yet they really don't care anything for Him at all.  It's even possible to have people right here in our own fellowship who are just going through the motions and paying Christ lip-service, but who truly don't know the Lord.  Even teachers, preachers, deacons and pastors can serve in those positions without being truly born again. 

            Don't bother trying to figure out who it might be in our church.  Don't be trying to casually look around the room to see if you can figure out who it might be that's here and acting the part but not truly of the Lord.  From all outward appearances they are OK.  Only God knows the true condition of the human heart; only God can properly judge the soul and where one truly is at spiritually.

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            Jesus comes to Mary's defense in light of Judas' attack on her actions.  In the Holman it reads that Jesus said, "Leave her alone. '  Jesus will never stop or rebuke anyone who sincerely desires to please Him.  Even if others would not do the same as Mary, Jesus at least tells them to allow her to do it.

            We don't all worship or respond or serve Jesus in exactly the same way.  Take our worship for example.  Some people like to sing and they sing out loud.  Others are more quiet and sometimes really don't even sing out loud at all.  There are some who like to clap or raise their hands, others are much more reserved in their public worship.  As long as we are doing everything in a godly manner according to biblical principles, then we need to be OK with different people engaging the Lord differently.  If someone is different than you, and is not unbiblical in their approach, leave them alone.

            Jesus reveals here and alludes to His impending and upcoming death.  He states that Mary did this for the day of His burial.  We could paraphrase it this way:  "You do not begrudge the ointment used for the embalming of your dead friends, nor say that it should be sold and given to the poor.  The day of my death is now at hand and she has anointed a body that is already as good as dead."

            It's possible that Mary had originally purchased this expensive perfume to be used in laying out His body for burial.  Now, instead, she was using it to express her devotion to Him while He was still alive.  He saw it as a symbolic embalming of His body for burial.  There would be no shortage of opportunity for them to do good to the poor.  The time for expression of devotion however, was growing short. 

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            With Jesus being in Bethany and Bethany being so close to Jerusalem, crowds were starting to form.  People were coming to see Jesus and they were also coming to see Lazarus.  Maybe they were even coming to see the two of them together.  It's possible some in the crowd came to confirm their faith in Christ.  Maybe others were looking to hear the story of the resurrection from Lazarus himself.  No doubt, there were plenty in the crowd who just wanted to satisfy their curiosity in a man who had died and was now living.  It could be that some wanted to ask Lazarus some questions about what it was like to be dead.

            This all fed into the growing agitation and frustration of the Jewish religious leaders.  They were becoming more and more desperate to get rid of Jesus and stop His influence.  They had put the word out that anyone who knew where He was needed to report that to the authorities or risk being thrown out of the temple.  But no one apparently was helping them.

            As the crowds continued to grow around Jesus the Jews made another important decision.  They would kill Lazarus as well as Jesus.  Since Lazarus was the one who was resurrected, he was part of this problem as well.  Since he was part of the problem, he would need to die.

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            We see here where all three members of this family who were friends to Jesus had important parts to play.  Martha was all about work.  She was a server and that's how she was gifted and that is what she did best. 

            Lazarus was witness.  As we said, there are no recorded words of Lazarus anywhere in Scripture.  But he was still a witness to who Jesus is and to what Jesus can do.  He's still a witness for us today, all these many years later. 

            Lastly Mary was all about worship.  She took extraordinary measures in this story to show her amazing and extravagant love for Jesus.  She spared no expense and knew that showering Christ with love was and is the most important thing that we can do in life.

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            The Christian life should be extravagant.  Not in the way many TV preachers want us to think that we should have the biggest, best and most expensive of everything.  That is not of God.  But we should be extravagant in how we live for the Lord and in how we love the Lord.  The Christian life ought to be a beautiful balance of these three attributes we see in Lazarus, Martha and Mary. 

            We should examine our own hearts and homes to ask whether we are bringing joy to His heart by our worship, work and witness.  Are you an extravagant witness for the Lord?  Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19.  We have been commissioned by God to be His witnesses.  Wherever we go and whatever we do needs to be focused on being a good witness for Jesus.  That involves living a life that glorifies Him and being a verbal witness to others about what Christ has done for us.  Go and make disciples. 

            That is the essence of what our lives should be about.  We don't have to be in full time ministry or service to be used by God to make disciples.  Everyone and anyone can do that.  We just need to be determined to be used by Him that way and obey Him every step of our lives.  Be extravagant in your witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.

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            What about work?  Is your work extravagant for the Lord?  Phil. 2:12-13.  We are told here to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  That doesn't mean we can earn our salvation through good works.  It is clear in Scripture that salvation is not earned that way.  But once we are saved, we are to show that we belong to Christ by the way we live and by the things we do.  Verse 13 helps explain it further.  We can do good things; we can perform good works, because it is Christ who is working in us and through us. 

            What work is God calling you to do?  What do you need to continue doing that you're already involved with?  What new area of service do you need to start getting involved with?  How can you obey Christ today in a way that will make a difference in our community or that will make a difference in someone's life?  Be extravagant in your work for the Lord.

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            Are you an extravagant worshiper?  Worship is what it's all about because God is a great God who is worthy of our worship and our praise.  1 Chron. 16:29; John 4:24.  We come before God and worship Him because He deserves it just because He is God.  He is awesome.  We are exhorted here in 1 Chronicles to worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.  Our worship should be done in spirit and in truth.  God and who He is and His truth as revealed to us in His Word are the basis for our worship.

            We should worship Him when we rise up and when we lie down.  We should worship Him at work and at play.  We should worship Him with our family and with our friends.  We should worship God when we're by ourselves and when we are with others here at church.  Anytime and all times are good times for us to worship God.  Is your worship extravagant?

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            As our singers and musicians come now, we invite you to live extravagantly for the Lord.  What we mean by that is that we need to show extravagant love for God and for Jesus all of the time.  If there are any public professions that you need to make this morning we invite you to do that now as we stand and sing.

 

            Prayer.