Study in John’s Gospel. Presentation 45. Extravagant Love Chap 12v1-8. Presentation 45. Introduction.
On Remembrance Sunday in the western world we remember those who have sacrificed their lives in defence of their nations’ freedom. Our Bible passage also speaks about remembranceand describes two acts of sacrifice.
The first was made by Mary, the sister of Lazarus. And the
second, the greatest sacrifice the world has known, made
by our Lord Jesus Christ. John, the gospel writer, wants
us to understand how these two sacrifices are tied
together for the first sheds light on the second and
the second helps us to understand the first.
Jesus appears to be attending a "thank-you" supper for the raising of Lazarus. This was no ordinary meal. The thing that the disciples remembered about it more than anything else was Mary’s action in v3 "Mary took a pound of costly perfumed ointment, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair".
What is happening? This supper marks
a significant event at the beginning of
the last week of Jesus’ life. He was
symbolically set apart for burial by
the only follower, who really
understood what lay ahead
Previously, when Jesus had spoken of his death, his disciples had failed to understand its necessity and importance. And even now, as the reality of the cross consumed more of Jesus’ thinking, his disciples are absorbed in selfish speculation. They argued among themselves about, who would be greatest in his kingdom. How insensitive and unsupportive! The awful agony that Jesus would endure upon the cross did not register with them but it did with Mary!
By breaking open her box of perfume over Jesus she showed
him that she understood. How do we explain the
depth of her spiritual understanding?
Quite simply she is always to be
found at Jesus’ feet.
If we do not know very much about spiritual things, is it because we do not spend much time at Jesus’ feet? If we want to grow strong spiritually, then we must learn from Jesus. You may say, “We do not live when Mary lived we cannot sit at Jesus feet today.”
Oh but we can as we study Scripture. In the Hebrew
idiom, ‘sitting at someone's feet’ meant to learn
from that person. That’s what Mary did. She drank
in all Jesus had to teach. Do we spend time really
studying our Bibles?
Years ago a young boy, was travelling by train with a well-known Bible teacher. The teacher was reading his Bible and the boy a newspaper. Finally, the boy looked at his companion and said,“I wish I knew the Bible
as well as you do.”
The teacher smiled and said, “You never will by
constantly reading the newspaper.”
The boy began to give more time to Bible reading.
In time he too became a well-known Bible teacher.
Of course not all will become Bible teachers but
if we want to become more spiritually aware,
then we need to become increasingly familiar
with this book.
Mary’s action is also remembered because it was extravagant. Her gift was worth a whole year’s wages, around £17,000 in today’s money. It was an extravagant gift but then extravagance is the language of love. If a young man takes his fiancée out to an Iranian restaurant for a meal and orders for himself Fesenjan, the most expensive meal on the menu,
and for her a cheese sandwich, she might
begin to question his love?
Love wants to give the best. When
Christians grumble about their service for
Jesus, saying, “It takes up so much of my
time and effort”, is that the language of
love? Surely not?
Mary’s gift was extravagant but it was not impetuous. Sometimes we offer gifts without giving too much thought to what we’re doing. And afterwards we ask, “What have I done?” We can get carried away in the heat of the moment. “Take it, take it”. We don’t think about what we have given. Afterwards we may regret our action but to save face we cannot withdraw our offer.
Mary was not impetuous! She had given this matter a
lot of thought. Jesus makes it clear in v7 that Mary
had intended to use her perfume for this very
purpose for some time. Long before she had
set it aside for the day of his burial.
Mary’s love was extravagant only because it was informed. Mary had much to be thankful for. Jesus had recently raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. But that is not the explanation for her extravagance! It was what Jesus was about to do for her, rather than what he had already done that made her act as she did. She knew that the crucifixion was imminent. She knew that Jesus was determined to die for his people including her! And this gift is given in answer to the question: "What can I do to show Jesus that I love him and understand what he is doing for me, for us?"
So she took her most precious possession and said, "I'll give Him that! Not just a drop but the whole thing. By breaking the container I will make it clear that I am holding nothing back for myself". Do you know the expression “those who love most, see furthest”? Well, Mary saw further than the other disciples and as we gain insight into the significance of the cross of Christ will our response be extravagant commitment. C.T. Studd played cricket for England. He was very wealthy but gave up fame and fortune to serve as a missionary overseas. When his action was criticised, he
wrote these words in his diary:
“If Jesus Christ is God and died
for me, can any sacrifice be
too great for me to make
Are you extravagant in your love for Jesus?
Many Christians hold back from extravagant commitment. Jesus is excluded from many areas of their lives, from certain decisions and relationships. They fear that their happiness will be seriously damaged if Jesus is given free access. Instead, he meets a series of “No Entry” signs, which have
been posted up on various doors in their lives.
I have never met a Christian who has said, 'I wish I had not given myself so enthusiastically to Jesus, for my life has become impoverished as a result’.
Mary's spiritual insight wasn’t shared by Judas. He viewed Mary’s extravagant love as a pitiful waste, “Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” v5.What do Judas’ words reveal? His criticism sounds so plausible - 'the need of the poor!' But behind this lies his own greedy, grasping hand. All he could see was waste, money to burn!
The irony is that it was Judas who was guilty
of waste. He wasted Jesus’ instruction, love and
grace and the opportunity becoming a loyal
disciple. Following Jesus for financial gain he
could understand, but to give and not to
count the cost – that was totally beyond
Jesus was not slow to come to Mary's defence. 'Leave her alone‘, he says, before commenting on the value of her service. Where Judas saw waste Jesus saw beauty. Mark’s record reads, 'she has done a beautiful thing!‘ Mk.14.6.She encouraged Jesus, when he needed it most and before it was too late. Often our service comes very late in the day.
Like Nicodemus and Joseph of
Arimatheawho brought 100lb of spices
to embalm the dead body of Jesus.
If they had publicly declared their love
sooner, might they have encouraged
Jesus on his way to the cross?
People are often late in expressing gratitude to their friends. A minute’s encouragement to someone when they’re still alive is more useful than an hour long eulogy once they’re dead! Will life pass you by before you are able to do anything beautiful for Jesus? You may answer, ‘I’m not in a position to do much for Jesus’.
In Mk. 14v8 Jesus commends Mary
saying, 'She did what she could'.
Mary was not as gifted as her sister.
She did not have Martha's domestic
skills. Mary’s area of service was
extremely limited. But she did
what she could!
Mary’s extravagant act brought blessing to others, "the house was filled with the odour of the ointment." How did that fragrance spread? Mary wiped Jesus’ perfumed feet with her hair and carried the fragrance of her gift with her. When she gave her gift with no thought of herself she had no idea that she might be the means of sharing blessing with others.
Is your life a blessing to others? Does the fragrance
of Jesus cling to your life? If not then do what
Mary did, bow down and pour out your
life before Jesus.
The story is told of a little boy, who was given a large red juicy apple. He wanted it all for himself and so went into the garden to eat it. But before he could take a bite, he heard the voices of friends approaching. He did not want to share his apple so he hid it.
This happened day after day. Then one day he was
completely alone and he retrieved his apple from its
hiding place. It was no longer red or juicy.
It was rotten. It had been eaten by worms!
When we selfishly hold onto our life and its
blessings we lose them.
Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus saying, “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." Mark 14v9. Mary's act was to be a
lasting memorial of her love for Jesus. Whatever else
happened during the meal has been forgotten but
Mary’s act has been remembered. You don’t need to
have a monument built with your name on it to be
remembered. Instead, build an extravagant love for
Jesus into your life. Share your possessions and
What did Jesus say? “For whoever wants to save
his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for
me and for the gospel will save it” Mark 8v35.
I read recently of a man who had always wanted to be a preacher but he had no gift for it. He was a successful businessman and wanted to be involved in Christian work. So he helped open up a city shelter for homeless
people. At weekends, he would roll up his sleeves, take a
bucket of water and clean the chairs and floor. No one
knew of his service. Then one day two junior colleagues
passed by and saw him scrubbing away. They were
appalled, and said, ‘a man in your position shouldn’t be
doing this.’ He replied, “I want to do it for Jesus sake”.
You see it is not what we do that is important but that
we do what we do from hearts fully surrendered
Jesus does not expect everyone to bring him the same kind of service. We all have different gifts. Have you ever said to him, “I'm really very ordinary but all I am I give to you”.That is the sort of extravagant love in which Jesus delights! Extravagant love means something different for each one of us. For parents it may mean allowing their child to serve God overseas. For some it may mean putting our service for God before our desire to accumulate wealth. It may mean opening up our home to offer
Christian hospitality to those
who are lonely and in need
It could also mean giving valuable time to engage in mission with your church. “But” you say “that might mean having to let go of many other things that I have worked for.” Only from this world’s perspective! Ask yourself, ‘What is it I hold dear?’ Would you be prepared to make that available to Jesus? Mary is remembered for her extravagant love.
How will you be remembered?
Some time ago I attended the
funeral service of a friend. As the
minister began to speak of her life
he said this, “There’s one thing we all
know about her; she loved Jesus”. What
an epitaph. I can think of none greater.