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Br Rd - FILLED WITH THE FRAGRANCE - John xii 13th Feb 2005 AM

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FILLED WITH THE FRAGRANCE

JOHN  12

12

 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pinta 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.

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.”a 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.

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.”

One thought links both our sermons today – this morning the fragrance that fills the house at Bethany, and this evening the smoke that fills the temple in Isaiah 6.   The one thought is of the presence and glory of God in the majesty and wonder of His presence.

This morning we are again at Bethany where last we stopped when we considered the raising of Lazarus.   We are onlookers at a feast held in honour of Jesus and it is a very remarkable occasion for all who attended that feast went home with the fragrance clinging to their garments – a reminder of the singular act of Mary whose devotion should provoke us to examine how we come into the presence of Jesus.

Tonight, God willing, we will come with Isaiah into the temple and share his experience of being in the presence of the Lord.    The “bottom line” will be whether anyone will notice that we have been in the presence of God today.  Will anyone know that you have worshipped the King of Kings?  Will anyone know that you are the better for time spent in His presence and in His worship?[1]  

It has been observed before – and is worth repeating – that John’s short description tells us how the characters acted:

À    Martha served

À    Lazarus was reclining at table with Him

À    Mary anointed Jesus

and

À    Judas criticised the wastefulness

I want to remind you of those people and the parts they played in this short narrative, but I want to consider the motives some of them display.  In particular John tells us about Judas’ motive, and the words of Jesus tell us about Mary’s motive.

If we are going to understand this story and its significance we have to set the scene.

The clouds are gathering.  The wonderful chapter eleven finishes with the plotting of the Jewish religious leaders to kill Jesus.  

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our placea and our nation.”

49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

John wants us to be in no doubt that God’s plan was being worked out – and even the words of Caiaphas have their place as we are being led inexorably to Calvary.

As the friends pause at Bethany so that a meal in Jesus’ honour may be held we have the opportunity to join them and to see how, despite the awful shadows and threats of those days – the friends were celebrating with a special meal.

Where Jesus is the darkness can be transformed.

Even though the shadows are gathering and the clouds of conflicts mass on the horizon, even though the awfulness of the cross is nearby – to be in the presence of Jesus is to know a life-giving and life altering power.

Every time we meet in His honour we should experience by the Holy Spirit the power of Jesus to change our lives too.  If we go away from worship without there being any change or even the consideration of change – then we have not truly been with Him at all.

I want to go home with the heady fragrance of Mary’s devotion clinging to my clothes.  I do not want to go home as Judas must have gone home with the dark thoughts of criticism and calculating selfishness.

Today – as that day at Bethany – God offers us the opportunity of change. We do not have to go home disenchanted or even the same as we came. I believe that God wants us to go from this place altered by being with Jesus.

First let us look at the those who were there in honour of Jesus:

Martha Served

2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served,

 

I guess she was comfortable with that!   (The Gk work is διηκονει !!)

She has only recently experienced the mountain top experience of hearing Him say “I am the resurrection and the life” – of seeing Lazarus come forth.

This is not a lapse on her part – on the contrary she is doing what she does best – but she is doing it IN JESUS’ HONOUR

We have heard from Luke that was an earlier occasion when she served Him too – but that time she allowed the business to get in the way of the blessing – and she has learned that it is important to listen and to sit at His feet.

I am reminded of the young Samuel after that momentous night when God spoke to him for the very first time and gave him a message to share with Eli.

1 Samuel 3 v 15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord.

After the spiritual experience comes duty.  After the vision – the need for service.

That is the lesson of Martha.

It is in the natural disposition of Martha to be practical and thoughtful, to celebrate the wonder of Jesus in that family’s life with a special meal.

MARTHA SERVED

And that makes me examine the nature of my own service to God.

He does not ask of me that for which He makes no provision. He loves to use my own particular gifts – even my own natural disposition – and he offers to transform what I do into a celebration of Himself.

I remind you of our motto text:

10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.[2]

Martha did what she was good at – and she did it best when she did it as to the Lord Jesus.

Fill thou my life, O Lord my God,
in every part with praise,
that my whole being may proclaim
thy being and thy ways.

Not for the lip of praise alone,
nor e'en the praising heart
I ask, but for a life made up
of praise in every part!

Praise in the common things of life,
its goings our and in;
praise in each duty and deed,
however small and mean.   
                                                            (Horatius Bonar 1866)

Lazarus was among those … at the table with him.

There will always be those who are – if you like – the ones whose presence is significant.   This was Bethany “where Lazarus lived whom Jesus had raised From the dead..”

Lazarus is never said to speak – though I am certain he often did and doubtless wisely and with something interesting to say – the gospels record his presence, his illness, his death and his resurrection.

The part Lazarus plays at the dinner is simply that of a guest.  He sits at the table with Jesus.  He is – just by being there – a reminder of the power of Jesus.

Although John does not record any words of Lazarus I cannot but believe he had to tell the story over and over again.   Many came to Bethany just to see Lazarus whom Jesus had raised.

So shalt thou, Lord, from me, e'en me,
receive the glory due;
and so shall I begin on earth
the song forever new.

So shall each fear, each fret, each care
be turned into a song,
and every winding of the way
the echo shall prolong;

So shall no part of day or night
from sacredness be free;
but all my life, in every step
be fellowship with thee.

I may not have the practical gifts of Martha – but I cannot escape the obligation of living my whole life in the presence of Christ – and in honour of Him.

How does my LIFE witness to Him?

Is there that about my everyday being that reminds folk of what God can do?

Lazarus sits nearby – he knows that he owes everything to Christ. And when the Master Himself is gone will not Lazarus with the others whose lives were changed by Jesus not testify over and over again – less by lip and more by life lived?

Mary … poured it on His feet

 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.

Without the presence of Lazarus and the labours of Martha the feast would have not been the same – BUT MARY FILLED THE HOUSE WITH FRAGRANCE!

Jesus is not called upon to comment on the living brother or the serving sister – but He is called upon to explain the MOTIVE of Mary’s extravagance.

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.”

His comments add a wonderful insight into this amazing action.

We know the perfume was costly – as we shall see in a moment – there were those who would put a price on it.  Jesus pays no attention to the cost – but He focuses on the motive.

I wonder if Mary had discussed it earlier with Martha or with Lazarus. It was to be an expensive gesture! 

There can be no doubt that it was done out of love and out of gratitude.  Mary, like her brother, says nothing that is recorded at the time – she simply pours a half litre of perfume on Jesus and wipes His feet with her hair.   It is a moment of touching intimacy and devotion – and Jesus makes it plain to them then and to us now, that this was done  FOR HIS BURIAL.

How often have we heard it remarked that a grieving relative wishes they had wasted what they had on their loved one before their death?  Mary knows what the dark clouds mean.   She too has heard the rumours and indeed the words of Jesus Himself that He is going up to Jerusalem where He will be captured and killed.   She has a flask of perfumed oil which she will use – not in part but in whole – to demonstrate to Him publicly what He means to her.

And, after His death – others will come to the tomb bearing perfumes and spices to embalm His body – but they will wish that like Mary they had done it whilst He was still with them.

I have no doubt at all that her actions were;

À    Extravagant

À    Sincere

À    Focussed

You cannot set a price on devotion – but you can forget to show it.

You can recognise emotion and its sincerity – or you can condemn it

You have to accept that it was ALL FOR JESUS.

But Judas…objected

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.”  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.

And John himself gives us an insight into the motive of Judas.

Not because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief.

This man criticised (and in the other gospels we find he is not alone!)

Where there are acts of extravagant devotion there will be voices raised in self righteous criticism.

Oh, Judas, did He not mean anything more to you?  Could you not understand her generosity?

His is the view of an unsympathetic age that sets no value on the outpouring of devotion and love for the Master.

À    It challenges the act with a “Why?”

À    It quantifies the gift – and can put a value on anything

À    It claims to speak for the poor – but does not care

Wherein did Judas’ priorities lie?

And where do mine?

As we turn away from the events at Bethany we are struck by the TWO CONTRASTS

of Mary’s devotion and Judas’ selfishness.

It is possible to respond to Jesus in all the glory of His resurrection power in these two ways.

To respond with SERVICE  with the witness of LIFE LIVED FOR HIM or with an act of INCREDIBLE PRODIGALITY

Or to respond with criticism  of others – with a hard faced hypocrisy that claims to set a value on the needy – with a selfishness that defies understanding.

How do we respond to the presence of Jesus?

Mary’s act left lingering in the air the mark of costly devotion

“a fragrance filled the house”

What mark will I make?


----

a Greek a litra (probably about 0.5 litre)

a Greek three hundred denarii

[1] I was much saddened last Sunday that the service finished on a note of discord

a Or temple

[2]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1984; Publsihed in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996 (electronic edition.) . Hodder & Stoughton: London

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