Grab your Bibles, and turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter 12.
John 12:1a Six days before the Passover,
This is the third and final Passover of Jesus’ Ministry, meaning that this is the Triumphal Entry Passover!
This is the Last Supper Passover. These are the last few days of ministry before Jesus will enter Jerusalem for the last time and begin a sequence of events that will ultimately mean his flesh being ripped off and his body hanging on a criminal’s cross on our behalf. Now, the narrative of Calvary’s cross is not until chapter 19, but I want you to see that we are on the doorstep of the last Passover, and the events that will span the majority of what’s left in John’s Gospel. As we move into chapter 12, we will see that Jesus is going to make an important stop. He will break bread with his beloved friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.
John 12:1b-2 Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.
Jesus is making his way now to Jerusalem and stops in Bethany to spend some time with loved ones. John gives us narration that Lazarus is there. Just take that in for a moment. Lazarus is there.
A man four days rotting in the grave is there to greet Jesus with a hug and a meal. As phenomenal as the miracle is that Jesus raised him from physical death to live more days above ground—as awesome as that is—it is only a picture of the spiritual resurrection God gives his people when he raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life. He transfers us from our enslavement to sin and death to the eternal life in the kingdom of His glory. As we see Lazarus in his new physical life, don’t miss how God is using this to point us to the wonderful reality of spiritual resurrection. See a new man. I love to see a new man or woman in Christ who has been raised to “walk in the newness of life” as Paul describes it in Romans 6.
See life awakening, life transformation. No one else does this. No new routine, or new look, or new job, or new relationship, or new city does what only God can do in taking the sinful corpse and breathing new life into it—spiritual life! As I see Lazarus here with Jesus, I see an amazing picture of the new kingdom. The Resurrection (Jesus) and His resurrected people sitting together over a meal.
Verse 2 says, “So they gave a dinner for him there.” Our souls should long for the great feast with our God.
Isaiah 25:6-9 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Now, that’s dinner!
Christ in us means a great longing for the feast we will share w/ him one day in His heavenly courts. He will be the focus. He will be the reason for our praise. He will be our great treasure.
See here, that John is not just giving us a wasted narrative about Jesus randomly visiting a family for dinner. He is pointing us to the eternal dinner feast whereby we will lavish Him with worship and praise and enjoy Him and our resurrected family forever.
Now, before we look at Mary’s response to Jesus’ presence, let’s observe Martha and Lazarus.
John 12:2 Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.
First, we see Martha being Martha. Martha is a servant at her core. She is a doer. We see this in another visit Jesus had to this home.
Luke 10:38-42 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha is a servant. What a gift to have the spiritual gift of service—the desire and patience to tend to another’s needs, to put your needs aside to serve another, to host, to work for the good of another. Let all of us understand that while some are gifted for service, we are all called to be people who serve. We, as Christians, are to model our lives after Christ who is the suffering servant. Jesus modeled sacrificial service his entire ministry.
Now, the problem is that Martha is guilty of taking her service too far. We see this in her judgment of her sister for not doing enough in her eyes. We see this in Jesus’ admonishment of her being a worrier.
Martha suffers from a sinful tendency many of us suffer from. It is the mindset that says, “I must earn my way.” It is the person that thinks victory and salvation are earned and warranted for those who deliver.
Even though you have heard time and time again that you are saved by grace and not by anything you do, you feel the never-ending pull to perform, to earn, to prove yourself. But, we have to see that this heart, this identity, misses the core of the good news of the Gospel.
We saw this in Jesus telling the parable of the prodigal sons. Martha is like the elder brother who judged his younger brother for his loose living and lazy stewardship. In contrast, the elder brother followed all the rules and worked hard for the father. But, in the end, we see that the elder brother was just as lost as the younger brother, for in the end he didn’t want the father, only the father’s stuff. He just had another way of proving his idolatry and his lostness.
Notice in Luke’s gospel:
Mary is not commended for being lazy. She is commended for being centered on Christ. What we must see is that we are desperate for Christ alone. Only if Jesus is our prize; only if His work is our payment; only if He is our advocate and hope, will we have new life with God. Our earning is not enough. And, the things we earn will never satisfy.
For you who are like Martha and the elder brother, remember that sacrificial service is a good and God-honoring thing. Hard work and good stewardship are good and God-honoring things; but not at the expense of a devoted and intimate life with Christ. He must be primary. He must be the reason for our service and working. You must always be desperate for Him and not ever get caught up in earning or aiming for another prize.
Now, that’s Martha. What about Lazarus?
We see here that Lazarus is reclining at the table with Jesus. He is enjoying the company of his Master. This is so simple that we can miss its teaching point. Do you enjoy the company of Jesus everyday of your life? Is he the one you are focused on more than anything else? Here is what that looks like:
The highlight of our day is time with our Lord—not our family, not our jobs, not our social-media time, not our bath.
The highest practice of our life is being discipled or making disciples—more than work, more than vacations, more than TV shows or hot rods.
The first priority of our income is the regular and generous giving of our first fruits to our King for His eternal purposes.
The first priority of our marriages is the display of the Gospel and not love, or romance, or life partnership.
The highest priority of our week is corporate worship with our church family. It is not Friday night fun, or weekend rest, or work, or school.
The truth is there are a lot of things calling for our best time and attention and love. Many of these things we give in to all the time, but they let us down. Do you remember the song: “Nothing Compares to You”? Prince wrote it years ago, but Sinead O’Conner made it famous in 1990. It’s a song about someone whose lover has left them and at first, they think it’s cool because they get to do whatever they want, but what they find is that nothing compares to the love of their life. What is ironic is that even the love of their life can’t fulfill what only Jesus can.
If the love of your life, the devotion of your life, or the prize of your life is anything that is created, it is not everlasting. It will fail you. The bottom will fall out. Only Jesus sustains. Only Jesus satisfies forever.
Money will be taken, spent, or passed on.
Things will break, be used up, or passed on.
Relationships will last only as long as you live. But Jesus is forever.
Consider what you would do differently if, after your life were over, you were to get a chance to come back and do some things differently. What would you do? You and I don’t know, but I know someone who does. His name is Lazarus. And what is he doing with his extended days? He is sitting humbly and joyfully at the feet of Jesus! Essentially, he is saying, “Nothing Compares to You.”
The Scriptures speak of another man who was living life to the max and was given a new beginning and a new name. Saul became Paul and what did Paul wisely profess in his new life in Christ compared to the fame and success he knew in his former life as a high-ranking Jew?
By the way, what I am about to read to you, Paul is writing from jail where he is being falsely imprisoned because he stands for Jesus now. Listen to what Paul says:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:8-11
Is Jesus so central, so great, so worthy, so satisfying that everything else is counted as rubbish—not in and of itself but in comparison with Jesus? He is so high, so valuable, so central that nothing compares? This is the heartbeat of the one captivated by God.
Let me show you what this looks like as we look now to Mary’s response to Jesus’ presence.
John 12:3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
The expensive ointment was like a very expensive perfume today. The elixir was pure nard, also known as Spikenard, which is a fragrant oil derived from the root or spike of the nard plant which grows in the northern mountains of India. Indian spike was used for special anointing of the head. It has a rose-red color and a very sweet scent. This was pure Spikenard and not a cheaper, diluted oil. Therefore, it was very valuable.
Now, everything about this is out-of-bounds from what is normal.
The value of this ointment would have been very high and therefore not something you pour on feet—we’ll come back to this.
The fact that she did this at dinner would have been highly unusual.
The fact that she wiped off the anointing is unusual, as normally it would have been left there.
The fact that she unbound her hair and used it to wipe his feet would not only not have been done, but it would have been seen as scandalous by many onlookers.
See this for what it is: a beautiful scene of sacrificial worship.
The value of the perfume is a huge symbol of the depth of her sacrificial worship that we must not miss.
If I told you I had poured out a bottle of perfume in exaltation of the name of the Lord you would say, “Cool!” An average bottle of perfume is what, $50? And an expensive bottle is a few hundred? Ok. But what if I told you that that bottle was worth a year’s income?
Judas gives us the insight in verse 5 that its market value was three hundred denarii. That’s roughly a year’s worth of income. Now, with that in mind, consider the cost of her worship. The sacrifice of her devotion to Jesus as Lord.
She is all in. Her heart’s desire is for her Lord. She is not worried about the cost. Instead, it is her joy to be sacrificial in the value of her offering.
This is the picture Paul is painting about the heart that we should have in our giving to God in our financial tithes when he says, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7
She is not reluctant and holding tightly to her treasures. Now she is joyful, cheerful to give it to the Lord. Later Paul gives us another view of this kind of sacrificial worship in 2 Corinthians 8:2-3: Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, their wonderful joy and deep poverty have overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford but far more. And they did it of their own free will.
It was sacrificial. It cost them something. It was not their abundance or leftovers. It affected their livelihood.
Is this your heart toward your Master? Is it your joy to be his servant? To be his disciple? To give your lives away? Your most precious treasures for his namesake?
This is the true test of our heart.
There is a giving and a worship that we can muster up that is only surface level. It is in the realm of routine and obligation. There is a giving and serving and worship that can be done at a very surface level. And then there is a giving, a serving, and a worship that is an overflow of the heart—a deep affection that spills over in rich generosity and unbridled praise.
This is what we see here with Mary. She is not concerned about how she looks. She is all about her Lord. Her eyes are on her prize—her true treasure.
This is what Jesus meant when he said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21
So, is Jesus truly your treasure? If He is, then you will constantly be looking for ways to show that He is your true joy and prize in all that you do.
What does this practically look like in everyday life?
Pastor John Piper once said it this way:
You steward the money entrusted to you in such a way that shows money is not your treasure, Christ is!
You steward the food entrusted to you in such a way that it shows food is not your pleasure, Christ is!
You steward the friends and family entrusted to you in such a way that it shows they are not your treasure, Christ is!
You steward computers, toys, houses, and cars, entrusted to you in such a way that it shows these are not your treasure, Christ is!
The way we display the supreme worth of Jesus is by treasuring Him above all things and then making choices which make the joy we have in His supreme worth clearly evident to the world around us.
And if He is not that for you today; if He’s not that treasure for you, then pray—all day and all night if you have to;
feast in His Living Word day and night so that your heart would be so impacted with His truth, that you would treasure Jesus above everything else in your life.
Mary is sacrificial and worshipful in that she pours out a valuable treasure on the one that she treasures more.
Mary is sacrificial and worshipful in that she doesn’t care who is watching or that she is letting down her hair.
Mary is sacrificial and worshipful in that she is willing to dirty her hair with Jesus’ feet as she wipes off the oil.
See how low she is willing to go. See her laser focus on her Master. Her King. Her God.
It says, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
In the synoptic Gospels’ telling of this event Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Matthew 26:13 & Mark 14:9
The Hebrews scriptures taught that “a good name is better than fine perfume.” Ecclesiastes 7:1
The profession of the bride for her husband in the Song of Songs 1:2-3 speaks of the high value of these symbols saying, “… For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out …”
Is your life filled with the fragrance of worship for the name of Jesus Christ as Lord?
Is it the aroma of your days?
Is it the reputation of your life?
Is it the priority of your words?
Is it the devotion of your labor? Is it the firstfruits of your money?
Are you passionately devoted to Jesus; so much so that people who don’t share your heart’s affections see you as radical for Jesus?
May it growingly be so.
May our Lord truly be our greatest treasure and priority in life.