John 12: Honoring the Lord Jesus
We are told whenever two or three gather together in His name, He is in the midst of them. The opening of John 12 gives us a time line: it is six days before the Passover. But John’s remembrance of this occasion also gives us a portrait of the local church where every week 2 or 3 are gathered in His name and He is in the midst of us.
Jesus started his ministry at a wedding. Now he closes his ministry by a visit to a home. The home is where the church began, and because of persecution it is where it often begins in many places in the world. Perhaps the church will return to homes where we enjoy fellowship with one another and with the Lord Jesus. We are told this dinner was given to honor Jesus.
Lazarus is a picture of the believer. Like Lazarus we were all dead spiritually in sin and trespasses. Now we are alive spiritually and in fellowship with Jesus, just as Lazarus on this fateful evening at supper with the Lord Jesus in this home. Lazarus’ life was a witness to the miraculous work of Jesus, raising him for the dead. You and I are witnesses to what Jesus has done in our lives. We are not what we used to be and are now in the process of sanctification to become like Jesus. Lazarus’ life was a witness to the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Martha was working, she was serving him. And Mary was at His feet, worshipping Him. In fact this story is about her act of worship.
Let’s look at Lazarus: he had suffered a grave illness; a disease so deadly it took his life. He was changed forever by this event as well as his sisters because they had all suffered and experienced a great loss, even though it was for the good and Lazarus was restored to health. For in the Christian life there are gains which can only come from suffering. I wish there was another way to learn certain truths and have our faith enlarged and strengthened, but it is clear suffering is a part of our life and journey of faith.
LOSSES IN SUFFERING
In every battle there are losses and suffering, even for the victor. Lazarus, Martha and Mary had learned this through the experience of Lazarus’ death. What were those losses?
LOSS OF CONTROL
As I have often stated, control is an illusion. It is like believing you are in control driving your car because you steer it, control the speed, and can stop it whenever you need to stop it. Until- you experience driving on ice. Black ice is what we are warned about, for it does not appear to be icy. We like predictability. We like the certainty of knowing the results like 2 +2= 4. We spend enormous amounts of time planning in business, and in life. Preparing to manage and predict and control, mapping out where we will go next week, and next year and beyond. But life cannot be managed, it can only be lived. Our first response when we experience loss of control is to regain control. Get our lives back on track, on schedule, our to-do list up to date and checked off. To not gain control is to be out of control. We feel shame because we are not meeting the standards our culture and society recognize as successful and good. Can you imagine the panic and the suffering of Martha and Mary upon the death of Lazarus? It was not just the loss of a loved one, it was the loss of someone on whom they depended to keep their life on track.
LOSS OF IDENTITY
The last 25 years of my career were the peak years of my career. I reached my peak earnings, ability and recognition. I had established a reputation and enjoyed the work I was doing. Then it was over in one day when our company was bought out by our joint venture partner. Men are known for their work, they identify with their career because it gives them identity and meaning and satisfaction. The more successful they are, the more satisfied they are. Then when time and age and change take this away, they suffer a loss of identity. The professional athlete has usually been recognized and idolized since they were teens. Actors and actresses were known for the roles they played. When they can no longer perform and are no longer needed for those purposes, they begin to wonder what is the purpose of life. For them and many of us, our purpose had been all about us and what we do.
We understand it is normal to mourn these losses. But these losses must not obscure our sense of what we can become. You may curse your fate or count your possibilities. Paul wanted to go to Rome to preach to the masses, perhaps envisioning filling up the Coliseum with thousands to hear his preaching. Instead, he ends up in a Roman prison in chains. His response: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that was has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. “ Really? This setback was a setup for a comeback. This evil was intended for good by God. Paul had learned and knew, God was working all things together for good for those who love the Lord, who have been called according to His purpose. His purpose is to make us like Jesus, to conform us to His image. And suffering losses of those things which entangle us is part of His plan.
LOSS OF CERTAINTY
What once was predictable is no longer predictable. Who or what can we depend on when these losses occur? What is the purpose of this suffering? Paul answers the question of us in 2 Corinthians 1: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered.” (Paul is giving us information we need to understand about suffering.) “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” (Paul is saying things were beyond our ability to control. We were hopeless.) The Paul tells us the reason this occurred to them and the reason this will happen to us. “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
We are to trust the Lord with all our heart, and lean not to our own understanding. In all our ways acknowledge Him and He shall make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3) And yet we feel we have lost our place in society. We are no longer needed in certain areas. Others, younger, smarter, better prepared have come to take our place. Sounds rather depressing, doesn’t it?
GAINS IN SUFFERING
- Clarified values. One of the greatest gains we make in suffering is to discover what is really important, really valuable. Our value system gets changed. Things which had been secondary become primary. Price tags get changed from the temporary to the eternal. This story of Mary and her sacrifice with the costly perfume revealed Judas’ value system. He knew the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Money which was his god became such a curse, he threw it away.
- Freedom. Mary had saved this over years. It represented either her dowry for when she got married or for her old age, her retirement plan. These things we believe we need to be happy can often become things which enslave us. We have loved those things- inanimate objects: houses, cars, clothes, jewelry, golf clubs, shotguns, etc. Why are so many of our age group now downsizing? Because we have spent a lifetime accumulating these things which we find at this time in our life, a burden to maintain.
- A new and deeper trust in God. Paul said those things which happened to them in Asia which caused them to suffer beyond their ability to endure happened so they would learn to trust, and rely on God, not on themselves. Let’s face it, most of us will not trust the Lord with all our heart, until we are out of options and must depend on Him completely.
AN ANALYSIS OF MARY’S ACT OF WORSHIP
Mary’s lavish gift makes us uncomfortable and it made Judas so uncomfortable he wanted her lavish gift to be condemned as wasteful. Jesus told Judas very quickly to leave her alone. When we read the account Mark, we read she first broke the alabaster box which contained this precious perfume worth a year’s wages cost.
- Mary did what she could do. Lazarus was enjoying fellowship with Jesus. Lazarus is never quoted in Scripture as saying anything. He was a quiet man. He enjoyed being with Jesus, fellowship was his act of worship. It was what Lazarus could do. Martha served the Lord by working, by serving food. She was a worker. She knew she was worshipping the Lord using the gift He had given her. Mary knew she could not cook like her sister Martha, I believe. She knew how much she loved to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to Him. He had taught her about life and death. She wanted to express her love for Him, just as Lazarus did with his witness, and Martha did with her gift of serving. How could she show Him how much she loved Him? What could she give Him? She could only give Him what she realized He had given her. She would give Him her perfume, her most valued possession. Her dowry, her life savings, for surely He had saved not only Lazarus but her and Martha also. She went and got her most valuable possession: her alabaster box of nard perfume. Mark’s account tells us she broke the box. I think she may have done that because something within her, was telling her not to go overboard. Just measure out a few drops, that would be sufficient and she could save the rest as she had planned for her dowry or when she was old and needed it. She broke it – because then she had no other options but to pour it all out on Jesus. Sometimes we look at others who have more talents for gifts than we do: a beautiful singing voice, the ability to play a musical instrument, or speak with great wisdom and insight and think we can do nothing like that. So rather than doing what we can- we do nothing. Jesus only wants us to give what we can. And we can only give what He has given us. The little boy had his lunch which his mother had given him. He could only give to Andrew what his mother had given to him. Jesus broke the bread and blessed it. Brokenness is a path to blessing. Mary broke the alabaster box for then there was no turning back. Moses had been stripped of his power and prestige and now 40 years after he left Egypt as a wanted murderer, God has called him to serve Him. Moses has nothing to give but a rod. God said give me what you have- the rod in your hand. Mary did what she could.
- Mary did that much. She could not give what she did not have. She could not give more than she had. She could only give what the Lord had given to her. He had given her brother life in place of death. And she knew He had given her eternal life also. He had given her hope and He had given her His love. How could she give back anything which matched His love and sacrifice for her? She could only give Him what she could. She could only do that much. And she did it. She did what she could with what she had, she did that much. She gave it to Jesus.
- Do it now. Sometimes Jesus tells us to do something in a small still voice. We rationalize we can’t do that right now, later on when we have the time and more resources we will do that the, but not now. If Mary had waited – she would have never had the opportunity to anoint Him. He would be dead and buried in a week. The women who went out on Sunday morning to anoint Him, did not get the opportunity to do so. Do it now- now is the appointed time.
Mary prepared Jesus for His death.
This is one the most important things we do is prepare people for death. We prepare people for dying. No one wants to think about that now.
But in preparing them for dying, we prepare them for living.
We help them and ourselves deal with suffering and loss.
We help them clarify their values. We provide them with freedom. Jesus said if you continue in His word, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. And if Jesus sets you free, you are free indeed. It was for freedom that Jesus set us free. Free to live life the way it is supposed to be lived by knowing the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
We often attend funeral which honor loved ones. We have dinners for people who have served faithfully to honor them for their faithful service.
Why not invite Jesus to your home and honor Him? I know you are thinking, what can I give Him that would match what He has done for me?
What can I do? You can only do what you can do You can only give what God has given you. You can do that much and you can do it now.
Worship is the center, the heart of Christianity. We need to come back to the heart of worship and Honor the Lord with our fellowship, with our service, with our giving which express our love.