Sunday, July 17, 2016
"Anointing Jesus" Sermon: John 12:1-8
July 17, 2016 Second Reformed Church
We last saw Jesus in Ephraim, and there the Pharisees decided that for the good of the nation – for the good of the stability of the Sanhedrin – for the good of the power and perks of the priests living under the watchful eye of Rome – they had to find a way to put Jesus to death.
And we read:
“Six days before the Passover, 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.”
In looking at the rest of the text and keeping in mind that days are counted from sundown to sundown in Judaism, scholars agree that Jesus arrived Friday night before the Passover, the dinner described – which the other Gospels tells us was at the house of Simon the leper – a party celebrating Lazarus’ resurrection – was that Saturday evening, with the so-called “Triumphal Entry” that Sunday morning.
So Jesus and the disciples arrived at the house of Simon the leper on Friday evening to share the Sabbath with them and to be ready to celebrate at the dinner Saturday evening – they were back in Bethany. Simon was hosting the celebration, and Martha was serving the guests. Lazarus reclined at the table – the honored guest. Minimally, with Jesus and His apostles, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and Simon, the party was for a group of seventeen.
Can we picture the party? A good friend of the family was hosting a party to celebrate Lazarus’ resurrection. What a joy after such sudden sorrow. Jesus was there – Who raised Lazarus by the Power of God – and His disciples with Him. Jesus was happy to be with His good friends in the home of their friend, Simon. Food and drink were being offered all around. What a time of joy before the crucifixion. Joy, thanksgiving, food, friends, and drink all around. Have you ever been to a joyous celebration like that?
And then the smell of ointment – not ointment like “Blue Ice” or “Ben Gay,” but a beautiful, exotic aroma in an ointment form – longer-lasting than a mere perfume.
And we see, Jesus is worth all of our best.
“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.”
Ah, Mary. We have the consistent portrayal of the sisters: Martha, the DIY sister, is running back and forth, serving the food and drink, making sure everything is just perfect and everyone is satisfied and happy with the party refreshments, but Mary sat at Jesus’ feet at the table – as was custom – for women to sit at the feet or behind the men.
And Mary took out a bottle of ointment. It was a large bottle. The word that is used actually indicates twelve ounces – a large amount of ointment. And this was not ointment from the dollar store – this was pure nard.
Nard is an ointment that is made from an aromatic herb which grows in the Himalayas between Turkey and India. So, this ointment would have come from a distance. But this was not just an ointment with nard in it – this was pure nard – this was the costliest, the most fragrant, the purest ointment that could be obtained. Based on its size and purity, Judas estimated it would have been worth three hundred denarii.
Now, a denarii was the pay given to the average day laborer for a day’s work at that time. It would have been worth about $20 two thousand years ago – that was the average pay for the average day’s work two thousand years ago. The whole jar was estimated at costing three hundred denarii – about $6,000 in the money of two thousand years ago.
Another was to think of it would be that it was worth three hundred days pay – ten months pay. The 2015 income tax records [not including government officials] show that the residents of Irvington earned salaries between $19,000 and $135,000, with the average income being $51,000.
If we were to put this history in Irvington in 2015 with a person of average income, ten months of salary would be $42,500. So we can think of it like this – if we put this bottle of ointment in our circumstance, we could say it was worth $42,500 – three hundred denarii – three hundred days pay – ten months pay.
Where did Mary get such an expensive bottle of ointment? We don’t know. But we do know what she did with it: she anointed Jesus with it.
Anointing was usually just done on the head, but as we see from the other Gospels, she began by anointing Jesus’ head – and John tells us she anointed Him down to His feet – Mary emptied out the entire bottle of ointment on Jesus. She spread the entire bottle of this precious ointment from Jesus’ head to His feet. She spread $42,500 worth of ointment over Him.
And as the ointment ran down His body and began to drip from His feet, Mary used her hair to catch the excess and massage it into Jesus’ feet.
Do we have that picture?
Mary, in thanks to Jesus for His raising her beloved brother, Lazarus, from the dead, and in love of Jesus as her God and Savior – as she and her sister had confessed Him at the tomb, she thought it only right to greet Jesus and anoint Him with all of this expensive ointment in devotion to Him – as a lavish sacrifice to Him – to show how much He was worth to her.
What is He worth to you and me?
Every mere human being is born a sinner, guilty of sin, under the Wrath of God – and none of us can do anything about that because we are born spiritual dead in our sins. But God chose to glorify Himself and show His great love to us by paying the debt we owed Him Himself.
God came to earth in the person of Jesus, lived a righteous life – which He credited to our accounts – so we are now seen as righteous before God. And Jesus took our sins from our account and credited them to His own account so He would suffer the eternal Wrath of God for each one of us on the cross. And then He rose because death could not hold Him – and death cannot hold us – what is He worth?
Jesus is here. What have we done with the stuff and the talents we have – in joy – to show how much we believe Jesus is worth? Do our friends and families look at us and the things we do and naturally conclude that we believe Jesus is worthy of all we are and have and the best of who we are and what we have?
Consider also as we think about this – people were anointed to holding some office. Kings and prophets were anointed. The Savior that God promised to send was called “Messiah” or “Christ” – both of which literally mean “the anointed one.” There is no reason to think that Mary had this symbolic meaning in mind, but as we read the Scripture, we can see that it is obviously placed there so were would recognize the symbolic declaration of Jesus being God the Son, the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One Who came to save His people.
So Mary believed and showed that she believed that Jesus was worth all of her best.
I pray that we all use all of our very best to worship and glorify Jesus, because He is worthy of all of our very best.
Second, nothing is wasted in the worship of Jesus.
“But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
Judas could not comprehend the generosity in Mary’s worship: “No one is worthy – and no one needs – to be anointed with an entire bottle of ointment! No one is worthy – and no one needs to be anointed with $42,500 worth of ointment! And if there was anyone who was worthy of such excess, he or she would refuse it while there are so many people starving and without basic needs! It was a waste to pour it over Jesus when it could have been sold and the money used to help the poor suffering around us!”
Judas was an embezzler. Judas oversaw the money for Jesus and His inner circle, and Judas stole money from Jesus to line his own pockets. Judas was angry because he thought he was more worthy of stealing the money the ointment was worth than anointing Jesus with it.
Perhaps he would have given some of the money to the people he was crying out for, but most of the money would go to his salary, bookkeeping, office supplies, and various fees – we’ve seen this on the news.
And, unfortunately, we call sinners to pastor our churches – I am one of them. And we have sinners count the money and write the checks and greet you after worship and serve you coffee and pie – and every one of us is tempted to sin and every one of us sins – and because we are sinners, we hold back because we rightly believe that you can’t trust sinners!
And so we end up giving of ourselves just what we are willing to risk to lose and still feel like we are taking care of our portion of the church.
We have a tendency to think, “Well, I’ve got Jesus down, down, down, down, down in my heart, but He’s not here. If He was here, I would trust Him with more than I trust the church with.”
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is here. He is here spiritually. He is here in the reading and preaching of the Word of God. He is here in the sacraments. He is here – living within each one of us who believes. No, He is not physically here, but He is really here, and no matter how true it is that the church is a bunch of sinful people, we are the body of Christ together, and Christ is here now as the Head of the body. Our primary focus and the primary meaning of our gathering and giving of ourselves is not the bills, but the worth of Jesus.
Judas was not a believer; he did not believe the Gospel. He thought Jesus was a great teacher who got out of hand with what He was teaching. But he didn’t believe that Jesus is God the Messiah – the Christ – the One Who is worthy of all of our best. Yet if Jesus truly is God the Promised Savior that nothing is wasted that is offered with faith in Jesus Alone and in worship.
People who don’t believe might see it as a waste. Why do you waste your money on that church? Why do you waste your time with that church? Why do you waste your abilities giving them to that church? Wouldn’t you help more people giving that to such and such a politician or to an environmental group or to a soup kitchen?
Listen: everything we do here should have to do with the worship of Jesus – showing through our words and actions how worthy – how worthwhile – we believe Jesus is – and if we believe He is Messiah – isn’t He worth absolutely everything?
My hope is not in this building. My hope is not in all of you. My hope is in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, He Who credited me with His righteousness and took my sin and the punishment for my sin on Him and secured my salvation through His Resurrection. So, pray God, I am will to give everything I have and am to Him because nothing is wasted in the worship of Jesus.
What about you?
And third, Jesus is sovereign over our worship.
“Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.’”
Jesus responded to Judas strongly:
Jesus told Judas to leave her alone, because what she was doing was entirely appropriate. In fact, she was moved by the Holy Spirit to begin Jesus’ burial preparations in this act of anointing His body as it would act as a preservative and would keep critters from consuming His body.
Jesus did not commend Mary to say that this is something that should occur on a regular basis, but, in the Sovereignty of God, God moved her to make this profound gift and to give it to Jesus in the spirit of thanksgiving and worship – yes, in joy – as He continued to move towards accomplishing the work God anointed Him to accomplish.
And then Jesus told Judas that there would always be poor people, but He would not be physically present much longer – and we can take this as a pretty harsh statement: didn’t Jesus care about the poor? Was He saying, “Who cares about the poor, focus on Me?”
No, Jesus cared about the poor very much – as we see in the Gospels – and as Paul notes in his letters – those who follow Jesus tend to be the poor, the sick, the needy. Jesus does not appeal to those who believe they have everything they need and don’t need help.
What Jesus was saying – knowing in His Divinity that Judas was a thief – and that was why he was concerned about the money – Jesus was telling Judas something along the lines of: “This act of Mary’s was sovereignly ordained to prepared Me for death. There will always be people in need that you can and should minister to – if you really care.”
Jesus was dead and in the grave six days later.
But He rose from the dead on the third day to the Glory of the Father and for our salvation and for the life we would lead as the Church until His return.
What is He worth to us?
How will we show it and live it?
Almighty God we thank You for sending Your Son. We thank You that You ordained that Mary would show the incredible worth of the Anointed One, and that this history would be recorded as an example for us. Help us to know You and Your worth in all Three Persons. We ask that the Holy Spirit would show us that our view of You is still too small. Be pleased to amaze us and change us, and may all glory be to You. In Jesus Name, Amen.