Memorable Faith (John 12)
On one summer day, I decided to go out for a run. After a mile of poor running, I found myself at the local Oakland Cemetery. Among the silent graves, I heard my lungs wheezing. And in an asthma attack, I scrabbled to the pavement. Once I caught my breath, I looked up to see this gravestone (pictured below).
How ironic! Here is this once lively “Happy Birthday” balloon that just happened to be airless at a dormant gravestone. I pondered, "Life certainly does take the wind out of us."
Here's a warm thought... We are going to die! Someday. Ouch! That's a cold reality we don't pounder often. It's the truth though. What are we going to do about it? Will you be remembered? And by what or by whom? What do you want to be remembered by? It's partly your choice.
All of us here, I assume, want to change the world in some significant way - big or small. We want to be remembered, and not forgotten. We want our lives to count. Even better... we want to stand as a memorial of faith to others. So. How do we accomplish such a large task?
What no better way than to look in the Bible for such an idea.
And before we dive into our passage today... I want to paint a picture for you of what is all going on and within this epic story:
We find Jesus at the peak of his ministry after raising Lazarus from the dead as both the gentiles and Jews are praising him in a larger following than before. However, this “peak” of glory for Jesus, is seen by the religious leaders as a threat to their own glory, religion and stability of their nation.
The story serves as an transition from this worship of believers to confrontation from unbelievers...
The passage we are going to look at today, memorializes the faith of a figure in the Bible of named Mary (the sister of Lazarus). In this account, we find Mary at the feet of Jesus, in worship. Search with me, to see when and where Jesus worshiped, and why it stands as an memorial for all today…
John chapter 12, starting at the first verse...
OK. When was Jesus reclining? Six days before... Passover. Seems like a non-essential detail... but that is where I was wrong. Just think about what week Jesus was in... take a look at the below dates and events:
OK. So we have Friday, March 27, circa 33AD with Jesus at Bethany, raising Lazarus up from the dead. The next day, Saturday, March 28, Jesus is invited to stay for a "party" held in his with Lazarus and his sisters (this is where Mary comes in). The following day, Sunday, March 29, Jesus is going to leave the comfortable place of Bethany to enter into Jerusalem for his last time as he was going to be slaughtered on the cross for our sins. This means... while Jesus was at the "party" where his resurrection powers were being celebrated, he was six days away from being our sacrificial lamb. What we will soon find out, is that while Jesus is a week before his burial enjoying a Saturday with friends... he will be anointed King that day.
It is here we should be alert to the fact that the above passage mentioned three people... Jesus, Lazarus, and Martha. But Lazarus and Martha share a sister... Mary. Where is Mary? Mary is always with here siblings in other passages! Well, she is not busy in the kitchen with Martha (like Martha normally is) serving the dinner... and she is not with Lazarus and Jesus at the dinner table. Where is Mary!!??
Check out verse 3...
Ok. Mary is on the floor. And she has nard. What the heck is nard? Sounds like it may be something nasty or gnarly? Nard is a flower/root (see in below photo). A special flower that was grown in India. Oil was extracted from the root and was exported to places like Rome. Nard was used by the Romans to anoint the head of their kings.
So Mary has a flask of perfume. But no ordinary flask... A flask of perfume normally would only hold about one once back in the day of Jesus. From what I know about perfume and cologne is that one once is really all what you needed if you were going to out several times a week. It can last you for several months. Plus, one-to-three oz is more gentle on your wallet... it's more of an economic size.
So Mary using an 11 once bottle... a Coca Cola bottle sized bottle of perfume... well, it's odd, not ordinary. All three gospel writers express how expensive this perfume was. Mary's bank account took a hit once she bought the bottle of this concentrated perfume oil. And it's right here that we see that this act of adoration of Jesus would denote a huge sacrifice given by Mary.
The story gets crazier. Now, Mary is this expensive pouring it on Jesus' feet. But why? No one wakes up and perfumes their feet! (Or do I just have clean feet?.) During that time anointing someone’s head and washing one’s feet were common place manners. You invite someone over, and when they come, you get down and cleanse their feet. But in Apostle Mark's recording, Mary breaks the jar of perfume which tell us that she used all of it. I don't know about you, but the only time I break a jar or cut into a plastic bottle of lotion... I am trying to get all the contents out... because I am a penny pincer! So for Mary to break the bottle... It is likely that Mary poured perfume on not just the feet of Jesus... but his head and shoulder. Thus, using all of the contents of the bottle.
The very word “pour” renders the application of the perfume to be of a scared or ceremonial anointing. Yeah, remember what I wrote above about Romans anointed their kings? It can be easily assumed through the perspective of John’s theme (his them being Jesus as "life" giver and king) that using Mary pouring perfume on Jesus is symbolizing His excellence as King... not not only a king... but a sacrificial lamb too!... Mark 16:1 tells us the procedure for anointing a dead body. First the Jews would prepare the body with anointment then wash it with water. Criminals sometimes were refused to receive such common treatment. In verse 3 of our text, this word “odor” (ὀσμή- “a, smell, odor") is used only in the New Testament to describes a fragrant, sweet smell that only accompanies an acceptable sacrifice.
Hold onto that thought.
Here is a story...
Tom, an established artist, learned about a genocide in Darfur of East Africa. He decided to memorialize, or to make aware of, the lost lives in genocide by creating sculpture and paintings. His heartfelt involvement in remembering such lives gave him night sweats and nightmares of Darfurus children calling out for help. In abandonment and passion, he concluded that God was calling him to the mission field to serve the people he had a heart for. He rounded up support, as he wrote his will, said goodbye to his family, and brought a one way ticket to East Africa.
Reflecting Mary's and Tom's stories, here is the thought so far: Heartfelt worship is the “abandonment” of human logic and culture to honor Christ as live. However, as you can assume, this type of worship will meet confrontation... not only from the world but more often from the very people who should be are cheerleaders..."Christians". How do we react when our worship is objected too?
Back to our passage...
Not too often would be side with Judas... but this time we just might. We might question Mary’s integrity, at this point, especially as Judas confronts her actions as illogical and inconsiderate. Why? Well...
1. Loose hair meant lose morals. Unmarried women were expected to cover their hair always as showing one’s hair showed bad character. Mary’s husband is not mentioned, but if she did have a husband this act would still look just as bad, especially in front of a pure rabbi.
2. Feet washing during a meal was held as improper for Jews. In the case for Mary, letting her hair down was an act of humiliation, a worshipful “abandonment.”
At this time, I want to tell us that we should pat attention to who Judas was, especially after Christ's supper in the upper room.... he is a covert pharisee. Well, he is was a tax-collector... but he, in his heart, is a pharisee. As Brennan Manning writes in his book Abba's Child, "The pharisee's forte in any age is blaming, accusing, and guilt-tripping others... Whenever we place blame, we are looking for a scapegoat for a real dislocation in which we ourselves are implicated" (page 64).
See, Judas accuses Mary’s worship with his fake intention to worship in serving the poor.
How do we know this to be so? Take a look...
Remember Tom?... In the mist of abandonment, Tom’s passion was met with gloming fear, doubt and guilt... But it wasn’t self-inflected. A church that once laid aside funds for airfare, withdrew their commitment - and even worse...their encouragement. The church pastor told Tom not to go, as the East Africa was to dangerous and if he were to be killed his family would be his church’s liability. Tom’s worshipful - joyful service could have been seriously damaged and extinguished on that day... as people told Tom his heartfelt commitment to Christ’s mission was wrong.
Here is what we learn from Tom and Mary: Heartfelt worship is the “abandonment” of human logic and culture to honor Christ as King.
In our selflessness, we attract those who are selfish - haters of Christ, and too often ones who wear a familiar face. How do we respond to such hateful opposition, how do we respond in order to continue glorifying Christ and not ourselves?
Mary was in full awe and worship of Jesus, being totally “sold out,” within being self un-conscience. Like a child presenting her glitter laden picture, with boundless, non-constrained emotion. And like a parent of such a child, Jesus, in the verses we are about to read, smiles in approval of Mary's constrained worship. Let's see how and why it matters to the story...
With John’s account of Judas being called out Jesus’ rebuke, the jury is in...
Notice how Mary didn't defend herself. Her intentions were not stated by her. Jesus was her advocate... and Jesus is the best advocate you can have. But you can only have Jesus defend you if you down bow down to the idol of self-preservation!
There are two significant things here.
1. Did you catch the new phrase that is recorded here... "You will always have the poor among you" ? Does Jesus' phrase sound familiar to you? Don't feel bad, I didn't recognize it either. The statement “There will always be poor...” is a quotation from Deuteronomy 15:11. In context, this segment of scripture is pointing to His death, and how these people need to be devotion to Jesus. Obviously, Mary got the message before anyone else did in the dining room.
2. The Greek word structure of Jesus' statement, “so that she may keep it for the day of my burial”... is better translated as “against the day of my buying has she kept this.” This tells us that Jesus is not telling Mary to hold onto the rest of the perfume. Nope. Jesus says that Mary used this perfume for the day of His burial.
The weight of Mary's worship and Jesus' proclamation is clarified by Matthew's record:
The word “burial”here is the Greek word ἐνταφιασμὁς it doesn't mean funeral, it means “a preparation of a corpse for burial, as by anointing".
Wow. Jesus tells us that Mary will be remembered for the preparation and anointing of the Son of God's body at his burial.
And Jesus proclaims that just as she has proclaimed his coming death as the Messiah, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, wherever the gospel is preached, Mary will be remembered. Mary will be in the story of Jesus... God wrote Mary into his story. And that my friends is the best story to be written in because it is eternal!
I began to think the other day... Godly folks are often mentioned once in the Bible. Some are only mentioned once. Some names are mentioned with little background information as to who they were related to, or even what they did that God saw as righteous. But here is Mary, and she will be remembered in the scriptures to be the one who anointed Jesus as Christ, Deliver... the revelation of who Jesus is to humanity.
This is an encouragement to us.... that....
When we continue in our commitment to Christ even though we are the object of criticism, we are remembered as a friend of God. Or to say it simply: When we remember Christ, Christ will remember you.
Back to Tom's story...
Despite the discouraging remarks of his church and extended family - making him out to be foolish and irresponsible - Tom went ahead and flew to Sudan, and even by himself ...without a team, without an backup plan, nor a interrupter on the ground. Although it took a while for people to finally support Tom’s mission work, he on runs a booming organization which has operated in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and now the Netherlands. As of early 2015, with only about five years of work, Tom’s organization has... Held 2 youth conferences, Established a school for over 600 (serves 17 tribes), Funded 8 deep water wells, Hosted several medical clinics, Trained over 60 pastors - and right now trying to establish a simulated village for training missionaries as medics. People’s memory of Tom is “Father of Mercy.” Tom’s story is the perfect picture of a memorable faith because of his of reckless abandonment in the face of hateful people.
Heartfelt worship doesn’t look for human affirmation, but lays aside pride in silent service to honor Christ even in the mist of hateful, and prideful eyes looking for fault. Like Mary, when we have humble service toward God, our faith will be remembered and even stand as an memorial in God’s story.
The Lord is communicating us in Jesus' anointing by Mary in John 12 is this major thought...
How do we get there? -- Worship should be any act of heartfelt “abandonment” which memorializes Christ’s identity and sacrifice and not our own. Causing us to lose control of our human logic in the wake of God’s love, toward a purpose of totally “abandonment” in total faith. And when we experience harsh, cold-hearted criticism from the world and even (and more often) from the church, we must not let others cover up our joy smiles with their disgusted brows - but continue to memorialize Christ’s sacrifice.
How might we have such “abandonment” in our lives today? After all, Jesus feet is not here to rub with oil - nor would that be a radical or even inappropriate cultural act. Perhaps we might do one or several of the following:
A. Abandon some of our pay check by giving to missions (even when we do not know how we will pay our bills).
B. Abandon the fear of looking ill-responsible to family members because we desire to choose a less paying job because you may perceive that it will glorify God more. Maybe that looks like pastoring, or maybe it's becoming a full time mother instead of joining the work force. Sounds radical enough, don’t you think? Somewhat illogical perhaps?!
C. Be purposeful in teaching and sharing with your kids and grand-kids about who you were before Christ and who you are now. Many of us who are older have indulgent pity as we look back to our past, and feel like past events are a disconnect mess, meaningless. It's tempting to breed contempt for the youth's positive abilities to think so positive and so innocently... their openness and boundless emotional expression... while we sit there hammered by time and suffering, thinking that events of our life are isolated and do not have any part of any glorious and purposeful story. "Only if they knew" we say to ourselves. BUT... With Christ, any event, bad or good, works into goodness... a story of how Christ redeems all times. Abandon your pity and express the joy of Christ's transforming work in you!
D. Heartfelt worship could look like giving up your preference in musical worship at your located Christian community to create unity in worship... not division.
E. We should expect accusations and criticism when we worship. Suppose you graduate from college, receive a position as pastor, youth minister, or marry a preacher, and you put to work all that you have learned into ministry. You seek God’s face daily to lead your hands in ministry. You have a firm-rooted family. Yet the people you serve fail to see your commitment. Even worse... they criticize you. Continue in your commitment. Precede in the passion to serve in the capacity God gave you, with the same joy when you started with... even if it means you leave with a good attitude not to give up loving people.
Remember Tom’s unrelenting faith in the mist of hateful people? It wasn’t easy, and it took at least half a decade for Tom’s faith to even show productive. But now, his faith serves an example of faith - a faith that is memorialized in the eyes of God and all those who hear his story and service.
When we aim to glorify God in all that we do, abandoning the status-quo, without preserving our own human dignity - true worship will be brought to the feet of Jesus and a strong-sweet fragrance will fill the lives around us as a testimony and memorial before God and man. Life certainly does take the wind out of us... but the worship we give today, will fill the air with which others will breath in, with an aroma - a memory of faith.
Thomas Kilian is an evangelist degreed in Christian Ministries, majoring in General Ministries, Biblical Exposition, and Biblical Studies. He is an 2018 recipient of the Stone-Campbell Promising Scholar Award. Kilian has counseled individuals regarding interpersonal, health, and religious problems
while performing spiritual education activities to the public through speaking and leading discussions. Five years of supplying preaching and lessons to churches across the United States. Mass evangelized, preaching at a conference of 3000 youth in Gambella, Ethiopia upon invitation from Mercy Partners. Cross-cultural evangelized upon entry into South Sudan twice to evangelize with a request from a host of local churches by hosting leadership conferences, youth conferences, and testifying on demand resulting in 63 baptisms in the River Nile. He led Museville Church for a year and a half, preaching, pastoring, and developing training and service programs. He currently evangelizes in the community of Chatham, VA., and is creating a universal online adaptive education system for empowering ministers.
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