Good morning! Welcome to worship! Have you been watching the summer Olympics? The sacrifice and hard work of the athletes is inspiring. Their joy, smiles, their integrity and grace in victory and defeat is infectious. Many of them have overcome incredible adversity to get to Rio. After watching these courageous kids, I feel a little ashamed of the things I whine and complain about. Anybody agree?
The story of the Gospel is rooted in an even greater sacrifice. Many scholars believe the letter to the Hebrews was written by a Jewish Christian named Apollos. Now that’s a pretty athletic name! He writes in athletic language. In Hebrew 12 he compares our Christian life to completing a marathon in front of grandstands filled with cheering fans.
He says, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out of us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning it shame… consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Heb 12:1-3
This summer, we’ve been following Jesus through the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is in the last two days of his life on earth. It’s the gun lap, the final sprint to the finish. Only it’s not a gold medal and a multi-million dollar endorsement contract that await him. It’s the pain, shame, and agony of death by crucifixion on a Roman cross.
Let’s open our Bibles to Mark 14. It’s the night before the last supper - the night before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is in Bethany, a mile and a half east of Jerusalem. He’s spending one last night of peace in his favorite place on earth - the home of Simon who he healed of leprosy and his three adult children - Lazarus, who he raised from the dead, and Martha and Mary.
Over in Jerusalem, things aren’t so peaceful. “… the chief priests and teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.” Mk 14:1
Since the time of Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve, human beings have tried to solve their problems by murdering others. And it’s always the most innocent and powerless that are killed first. Jesus took our murderous nature upon himself and defeat it with his love.
Meanwhile, back in Bethany things are quiet, cozy, peaceful – at least as much as you can expect. Everyone knew the storm clouds were gathering.
Vs 3 “While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” Mk 14:3
John writing much later writes she also anointed his feet and wiped them with her hair. Her action was a sign of extravagant love and devotion. So much so that it embarrassed and offended the disciples. Have you ever responded like that to someone else’s generosity?
The little alabaster flask was sealed in such a way that the only way to open it was to break it. It was intended as a one-time application. It was filled with an aromatic ointment called “nard”. The disciples tell us that this little flask was worth a year’s wages. You figure it out.
We have no indication that Mary’s family was wealthy. So where did she get such an extravagant gift? It may have been an heirloom or an inheritance. It might have been her dowry which would mean, it was her only hope of one day being married.
In any case, Mary brought the most valuable thing she possessed and poured it all on Jesus head and feet. The aroma of her gift filled the room. What a beautiful thing to do! What an amazing act of worship! Yet that’s not how the disciples responded - at least most of them.
“Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.” Mk 14:4-5
It’s amazing how judgmental some people get over somebody else’s generosity! Was their complaining motivated by greed or jealousy? Maybe both? Maybe they wanted to be in control of how Mary chose to share her wealth. In any case, it stinks doesn’t it?
The Gospel of John tells us that Judas Iscariot was the instigator of their criticism. He wrote “(Judas) didn’t say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; and as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” John 12:6
Gentle Mary is expressing her love for Jesus and the sacrifice he is about to make and his disciples are pompously criticizing and condemning her. If I’d been Jesus I would have been furious. I would have blasted them. Or made a whip and drove them out like he did with the money changers at the temple! At least, I hope that’s what I would do. But maybe I would have joined right in with the others in criticizing her. That would be a shame wouldn’t it!
But look how Jesus responds. He refuses to let their sin distract him from the job the Father has called him to do. This week in my devotions I read how God has made us two promises. First, he told Moses that He is just and will never let sin go unpunished. Then 400 years later he told David that he is merciful and He will not punish us as our sins deserve.
How is this possible? The answer is the cross. On the cross, the Father put our sins on Jesus where Jesus paid the penalty in full for our sin. Then, the Father clothes us in Jesus’ righteousness as a gift we receive by faith. One the cross, Jesus made a way for God to justly punish sin to the fullest degree, and yet forgives it at the same time.
How do you respond to a love like that? The disciples hadn’t figured that out yet. But Mary knew. She brought everything she had and poured it out as an act of worship before the God who created her, loved her, and would soon go to the cross for her.
Let’s look at Jesus’ defense of Mary’s worship. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Mark 14:6-9
“Leave her alone!” I love that! For those who take the risk to express their devotion as Mary did, you have an advocate. The world may ridicule you, criticize you, make fun of you for your devotion to Jesus. But you have an advocate who accepts your worship.
In a few minutes, we are going to process out to our new sanctuary. We will face criticism for what we are doing. Some will say, “Shouldn’t that money have been used to care for the poor?”
Maybe, but maybe our motivation was like Mary’s. Certainly one of our reasons for taking such a risk was to create space for youth ministry so this room could be used for basketball, volleyball, banquets, and special events. A second reason was to enhance our worship and continue to fulfill the Great Commission here in the north Flathead.
But what if, like Mary, our biggest reason for this magnificent sacrifice was simply an extravagant expression of love and honor for Jesus, the One who gave everything to save us? Isn’t that reason enough? Regardless of what anyone else may say about it!
What if the legacy we leave for the next generation is just like Mary’s? Jesus said, “She did what she could … 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.”
The last lap is always the most difficult. But champions don’t quit, they finish well. They run with perseverance the race set before them. They set their eyes on Jesus. They endure the cross, scorning its shame, they don’t give up. They bring what they have and they pour it out extravagantly, generously, abundantly and the Lord delights in honoring their sacrifice. To God be the Glory!