(077) The Gospel of John 22: Worship & Idolatry

Notes & Transcripts

The Gospel of John XXII:

Worship & Idolatry

John 12:1-8

June 28, 2009



·         028 (p2), 35 & 38 in Leftovers

·         My journal

·         Matt 26:6ff, Mark 14:3ff, Luke 7:37ff and 10:38ff


• Mary displayed an extravagant devotion to Jesus by anointing him with perfume worth $50,000 (one year’s wages).

• We are worshipers by nature. We will glorify, adore, be devoted to something, either God or else lesser things.

• As God is the source of all that is good and right, we find that we are most happy and fulfilled when we pursue him.

• We become like what we worship.

• Both bad things (like Judas’ greed) and good things (like caring for the poor) can become idols.


• Inspire the church to become increasingly more passionate in their pursuit of God above all this world has to offer.

Scripture reading: John 12:1-8


We are back in John – we should never stray too far from Jesus, from this actual words and presence.

John is the most theological of the Gospels, offering not just stories of Jesus life but also rich, philosophical teachings. It is the both the simplest and the most complex. Its purpose:

John 20:31   31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

That’s the purpose of our series. Don’t think “may have life” means “get saved.” That is the starting point, not the finish line. Without the cross, we would be separated from God, but now the Christian life is a journey of finding “abundant life.”

·         My purpose is that we all find more abundant life.

Rhetorical function vrs. images

There are two ways to look at today’s passage:

1. Rhetorical function (it’s role in the larger story)

John is setting the stage for Jesus’ death, not as a victim, but a willing sacrifice, interpreting everything through his goal. In Matthew and Mark, it sets the stage for Judas’ betrayal.

2. A picture of worship and devotion

This story struck a chord in the early church, developing a life of its own and appearing in all the Gospels.

The soul of this story is the beautiful picture Mary’s love and devotion to Jesus. At its core it is a contrast Mary’s faithfulness and Judas’ faithlessness, between her worship and his idolatry.

·         Idolatry seems a strange word for it, not theft or greed, but we’ll talk about that later.

Worshiping Jesus

It is that picture that we will focus on today. This sermon is a study of worship, but more than a study, it is a call to passionately love Jesus like Mary did, to desire God as more than all the lesser joys we seek.

·         We will begin by looking worship and idolatry, then worship as God’s gift to us, not our gift to him.

Prayer: Find your life in John, and learn from Mary about worship. Help us confront our own idols.

What is worship? (Indebted to Driscoll’s sermon on worship)

Worship is not the songs we sing before and after the sermon. As a person who does not “get into” singing, this offer a little comfort. I am not off the hook – songs inspire worship.

·         This isn’t a worship service, it’s “worship training service.”

What is worship? To love and devote ourselves to something we believe to be of surpassing value. It means to center your life around something, making sacrifices for it.

Q   Do you see how this is not a “worship service”?

Worship means around the clock, 24/7 devotion and obedience to God, not just 1½ hours once a week. If it doesn’t happen the other 166.5 hours, it is not worship, any more that a husband that is faithful 98% of the time is concerned faithful.

·         It is not without reason that adultery is a frequent metaphor for idolatry – God wants all of us. 

The best we can do is encourage each other to wholehearted devotion God, to remind each other that he is the very best thing, that he is worthy of our full devotion and obedience.

Mary’s worship

The first time we hear of Mary, it is of her devotion to Jesus:

Luke 10:38-42  As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Her love and devotion to Jesus is clear. But even still, this story represents not only love but also sacrifice.

John 12:3   3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

·         The feet were dirtiest body part body, lowest servant washed.

·         A woman’s hair was her glory (1 Cor. 11:15), typically hidden.

But this also represents a significant sacrifice.

·         Nard was an extract of this plant, imported from India.

·         The perfume cost a year’s wages, felt value of $50,000.

That’s a lot of money – the only way an ordinary family would have this much was a dowry, without which a woman couldn’t get married.

Again, worship is to love and devote ourselves to something we believe to be of surpassing value, to make sacrifices for it, as Mary devoted herself to Jesus.

We are made to worship

The important point is that our choice is not whether or not to worship, but what we will worship. We are made to worship and we will worship something.

·         The reason worship is part of our nature is that we are made in God’s image and he is full of worship.

Does that seem odd to say? God is Trinity, three parts and within the Trinity there is an outpouring of love, devotion, and honor. We see this in the way Jesus talks about the Father.

·         The Shack gives a great representation of this.

Idolatry = Worshiping the wrong things

We will pour ourselves into someone or something, and the only one worthy of receiving our worship is God. And when we worship him we find our highest joy.

But ever since the fall we tend to worship the wrong things, which is idolatry. We think of idolatry as offering sacrifices to little tiki idols, but it simply means to pour yourself into something other than God.

“Bad” idols

Our idols can be something bad, as with Judas:

John 12:4-6   4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected,  5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”  6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Money was Judas’ idol. In stark contrast to Mary, he worshipped money more than Jesus. He served it and sacrificed to it, sacrificing his integrity, his friends, and his Lord.

·         Some think Judas had noble motives, but it was the money.

Idols corrupt us! What depths of depravity must have been in Judas, to be walking with the very image of God’s righteousness yet he still so hardened his heart to steal and betray.

“Good” idols

But an idol can also be good things, placed above God.

John 12:7-8   7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Even though he knew Judas’ heart, Jesus still contradicted the point about giving to the poor. In essence he is saying that loving him is more important than giving to the poor. This is a bigger point than it seems:

·         Many (most?) of our idols are good things out of proportion.

“You take a good thing, make it a god things, and that’s a bad thing.” (Mark Driscoll).

Looking at my own life, I can see many times I have justified an idol because it was a “good thing,” such as shortchanging my time with God for the sake of my family (it would be better to shortchange my personal time).

·         CS Lewis: When a good thing becomes a god, it becomes a demon.

When we worship idol, we find that even the best thing becomes corrupted into a perversion. All of the joys of this life come from God and only remain joys so long as they are under him.

Finding our idols

Knowing that idols can be anything that take our devotion away from God, good or bad, let’s look at what our idols are:

Q   Deep down in my heart who/what do I love, cherish, treasure, long for the most?

Q   Who/what do I make sacrifices for?

Q   Where do I give the firstfruits of your wealth?

Q   Where do I give the firstfruits of your time?

Q   Who/what is my Lord, ruling my life and determining how I live?

Q   Who/what will I sin for? (When we sin, we worship an idol.)

Q   Who/what is my Judge I am living to earn the approval of?  

Q   Where do I run for comfort (e.g. the fridge, alcohol, the television, a person, a place, a hobby)?

Q   Who/what makes me happiest?

Our highest joy

It is that last question that for me is heart of this sermon. Who brings you the most joy in life? It is clear from every story we have of Mary that Jesus brought her the most joy.

·         Another way to define worship is that which you take the highest joy in.

·         I don’t like that definition because it lays my soul bare and strips away the ways I hide my idolatry.

Many of you can perhaps easily say “God,” but for me it has not been that easy. God works with us all in his time on various things, and for me the past several months has been finding my highest joy in God, giving him my greatest devotion.

At the conference I went to, the central thing God challenged me on was this question: Is it evident that I love and desire God more passionately than anything else, even the gifts he gives?

The honest answer is “no” and God’s current journey for me is focusing my life to where he is my highest joy, the thing I desire more than anything.

·         It is not wrong to find joy in other things, but where is my highest joy?

I am starting to refer to these other things as little joys, the beauty of the sunset, my wife, my girls, laughter with friends, shooting Matt in paintball.  All of these little joys are reflections of the joy that should send our eyes back to him.

God is the only one worth pouring our lives into, and when we give ourselves to him, we get back all of the little joy, but in their proper place.

·         There is nothing wrong with me enjoying a dessert that Marilyn makes, but if I enjoy it more than her, there is a problem.

Our highest duty and greatest joy

We were made and chosen for the purpose of praising God. He is very intent on making an everlasting name for himself.

1 Peter 2:9   9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Is it strange to think of God welcoming, demanding praise? Is he egotistical? Why is he against idolatry? Why can he be jealous?

God will not share his glory with anything else because he’s the only things worthy of worship. Anything else falls short, leaves us disappointed, and steals us from the real thing.

·         What would we say if our children were to date a complete loser, who used them, and didn’t love them?

·         “You can do so much better!”

God delights in our worship not because he needs it or it adds to him, but because we need it. We’ll worship something, either him who is light, good and joy or idols that are cruel masters.

Our God is a happy God, the source of all joy, and when God calls us to worship him, he is calling us to delight in him, to find that in him our joy.

·         Worship is God’s gift to us, not ours to him.


Q   What is your highest joy?

My hope is that the Holy Spirit will take these feeble words and build in you a passion for God, a desire for him above all else, as he is just beginning to do in me.

·         In this I am a “co-journeyer” and surpassed by several of you.  

Our mission is to “be a Christian community that strives to glorify God and engage our culture” and it is glorifying God that is of supreme importance.

It is my prayer for all of us that we becomes more captivated by God, more enthralled by him, and when that happens we will show the world that he is desirable above all else.

Q & A

as we sing...

Evaluate yourself, use this time as “worship training,” are you making God your highest joy, the center of your life, and the object of your devotion?


May we become more captivated by you, more enthralled by you, and hence show the world that you are desirable above all else.

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