Walk with Jesus: Prepared for Burial
Midweek Lent 2
Walk with Jesus: Prepared for Burial
Text: John 12:1-11
It had to have been one of the most talked about events of the time. In the marketplace, on the streets, around the dinner table—everyone must have been talking about it. “Did you hear? . . . Did you hear? . . . He was dead . . . Now he’s alive . . . Lazarus . . . Jesus raised him from the dead.” Everyone in the little village of Bethany and in nearby Jerusalem must have known and talked about it.
It was a polarizing event though. Many who saw the miracle or heard about it put their faith in Jesus. But many others hated him all the more. We’re told in the Bible that from that day forward the Sanhedrin plotted to take Jesus’ life. So for a while Jesus went to a small and quiet village.
Then came the Passover. Would Jesus come? Would he show up? The Sanhedrin ordered that Jesus be arrested at the first conveniently quiet moment available.
But Jesus was not afraid. He was not afraid to be arrested. He was not afraid to die. That is what he came for. So Jesus made his way back toward Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover (which was going to be on what we call Maundy Thursday). On Friday, a week before Good Friday, here’s what happened: “Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.”
It’s no surprise a dinner was given to honor Jesus. This was likely the first time they had seen Jesus since he had raised Lazarus. We’re told in the Bible the dinner was at the house of a man named Simon the Leper. Perhaps Jesus healed him, too. How could the people of tiny Bethany thank Jesus enough for all he had done, in particular Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary?
But as this joyous and thank-filled dinner took place, Mary did something very special. Verse 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.”
Nard is a middle eastern plant that was made into perfume. Pure nard would be even more potent and precious. Where Mary got such expensive perfume we don’t know. We recall how much Mary loved Jesus from past stories. When Jesus came for dinner to their house once before Martha was again serving but Mary sat at Jesus feet to listen. This time she had a different objective. She took the perfume and poured it on his head (the other gospels tell us), as if anointing him. Then she poured some on his feet and in complete humility wiped them clean with her own hair. You would be hard pressed to find a sign of greater humility honoring and worshiping someone than wiping their feet with expensive perfume and your own hair.
But not everyone appreciated the act. Verse 4: “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘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.”
Judas seems to make a valid point. Couldn’t this perfume been put to better use? Couldn’t Mary have been a better steward? Couldn’t she have honored him with oil on his head and washing his feet with her hair and some water? If it was worth an entire year’s wage, was pouring it out on Jesus’ feet for a few seconds really the best idea? Couldn’t it be sold so that more money could go to help more people, like the poor perhaps? Outwardly it sounds like a valid point, but inwardly Judas was filled with evil. He was driven only by greed. He would have preferred to sell the perfume so that he could steal some of it from the money bag like he was used to doing.
Jesus answered the objection: “‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’” Mary was honoring Jesus as Lord and King. Mary’s faith showed the greatest understanding of his real purpose on this earth. Mary was preparing him for his burial. The poor would always be around, but Jesus wouldn’t.
Like raising Lazarus from the dead, this dinner was also very polarizing. Here are the closing words: “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.” Many more Jews were coming to Jesus and believing in him. But others, especially the leaders, hated him all the more and wanted to kill Jesus and Lazarus now.
This story presents to us three different viewpoints and reactions to Jesus. Which one do you identify with? The first one is that of the Jewish leaders. Jesus was offensive to them. The more they saw him, the more they heard him, the more they hated him and wanted him dead. You’re here tonight, so I’ll assume that viewpoint doesn’t represent you.
The second reaction to Jesus is that of Judas. Judas was a disciple of Jesus. How much his heart was always in it is hard to determine. What we do know for sure is that his heart was often distracted by the things of this world, specifically money. There was no way Judas could fully appreciate Jesus or fully understand Mary’s actions when his heart wasn’t fully focused on Jesus.
That I can relate to. My heart can’t fully appreciate Jesus or fully understand what Mary did when my heart is focused on other things of this world, specifically money.
Who hasn’t heard talk about budgets or offerings at a church and thought, “Oh great, more money talks”? Who hasn’t at least sometimes if not many times thought, “I guess I better give my offering again”?
Or I think about stories I’ve heard. A friend pastor told me once about a man who was a new Christian and a new member of his church. They were working on buying land so they could build a church sometime soon. The man didn’t have a lot of money to give, but he decided to sell one of his brand new Harley Davidson motorcycles and give all the money to the church. That was a lot of money—over $10,000! Or I think of the president of Wisconsin Lutheran College (the college whose choir will be here in two weeks). He went to visit an elderly woman and he shared a video of the mission of their Christian college. The woman pulled out her checkbook and wrote him a check for one million dollars! Or how about the man who wrote a $50,000 check to renovate and refurbish the organ at my father’s church.
We hear stories like that I bet our gut reaction often is, “Oh, I could never do that. How could I sell something nice I bought and enjoy and paid good money for?” “How could I just give away one million dollars? There is so much more you could do with that money. You could at least share it among several charities.” “$50,000 for refurbishing an organ? Really? Couldn’t that money go to mission work instead?”
But those are reactions that are just like the one Judas had. When we are focused on the amount of money or the amount of worldly things that money could buy or on the money we lose when we give it away, that is very clear evidence that our heart is in the wrong place. Hearts that are focused on Jesus don’t see dollar signs or lost goods. Hearts that are focused on Jesus aren’t afraid of losing money or not being able to survive and make it.
Just look at Mary, the third viewpoint and reaction to Jesus we see in the story. Could she have done more worldly good, could she have been more financially secure if she saved or sold that perfume worth maybe $30,000-$50,000 today? Probably. But that was of no concern to Mary. She wasn’t focused on that. She was focused on Jesus. And because she was, there was only one thing her heart wanted to do—thank him and worship him with her very best.
You see, Mary knew who Jesus was and what he came to do. Mary already saw his power over death when Jesus raised her brother from the dead. She also knew that Jesus’ final victory over death was yet to come. While all the disciples were sad and distraught about Jesus dying, while Peter was trying to stop Jesus from dying and Judas was about to betray Jesus to his death, here’s Mary knowing that Jesus needed to die. Mary, the simple, quiet woman from the tiny village of Bethany was the one among them all that “got it” the most. Jesus came to pay for her sin with his death so that she could go on to live forever, just like Jesus promised her sister Martha not too long before: “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Mary knew what Jesus came to do for her, so in humble faith and in deepest love-driven thanks, Mary prepared Jesus for his burial.
That’s what hearts focused on Jesus do. They do wild and crazy things, strange things to the rest of the world, because they are filled with humble thanks and joy.
There was a man that was diagnosed with and dying from cancer. He had been an unbeliever most of his life. But he started attending our sister church, Our Savior’s Lutheran in Port Orange. The Word of God touched his heart and he ended up taking instructional classes with Pastor Dobberstein. The eternal life that Jesus promised him filled him with joy. He wanted to know more about where we get all these WELS pastors from who share such good news. So he took a trip to visit our Seminary in Wisconsin. He thought it was the coolest thing that all those young men were studying to share that same good news he now knew. Not long after, the man died from cancer. Sure enough, to the surprise of many, he ended up leaving a bequest to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary—$750,000!
Hearts that are focused on the death of Jesus Christ don’t care much about numbers or time or amount of work. Hearts focused on Jesus have blinders on to the world and simply live in humble, love-driven thanks. Those kinds of hearts do the strangest things. They give freely and generously and gladly. They give up time to pull weeds and wash church windows and repair leaky school sinks. They help count offerings or organize for rummage sales. They pass out information at kids carnivals or invite coworkers to come and hear what they know and love so much.
This Lent, Walk with Jesus. See him this week Prepared for Burial and then Walk with Jesus each week as he approaches his cross. This Lent and every day, keep your focus on Christ and his cross, and then let your heart go wild with amazing acts of thanks and love. Walk with Jesus, and you’ll be just like Mary, too.