What are You Risking for the Resurrection?

This sermon can be listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!

How are you responding to the resurrection? You might be thinking that I have had too much sun and forgot that this is summer and not Easter. The Resurrection is something we talk about in the springtime when the crocuses are just starting to pop up, not when we are in the full bloom of summer. But in reality, the resurrection must be near and dear to our thinking all the time. Why? It is what we are staking our lives upon. The resurrection is the reason for our faith, the power for our living and the hope for our future. The Apostle Paul, a guy who at one time thought Christianity was a harmful myth that misled people and did everything in his power to destroy it including hunting and killing Christians, said this about the resurrection, But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14) Some translations say our preaching and faith is useless. So if we don’t think about, preach, cherish and put all our hope on the resurrection, we should stop what we are doing right now and instead eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die and become worm food. There are better things you and I could be doing with our time than believe in a guy who died almost 2000 years ago naked on a Roman Cross.

However, if the resurrection is true; if Jesus really did rise from the grave, then this is what is the most important thing you can believe and think about. To use a gambling term (I bet you don’t hear that from too many Baptists), you need to put all your chips on the resurrection. One woman did and we are still talking about her 2000 years later. Let’s read her story in John 12:1-11! Read John 12:1-11!

How are you responding to the resurrection? Before you even attempt to answer that question, some of you faithful students of God’s Word may be wondering why I am focusing on the resurrection in John 12 when it seems to have little to do with the resurrection. I mean this story is before Jesus rose from the grave. This is about a dinner party who was interrupted by an outlandish woman doing the work of a slave and washing Jesus’ feet with her hair. Well, context is king when we study the Bible so we need to understand that this story of Jesus’ feet being anointed by the woman is sandwiched between Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead, then the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and finally Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. It is a story sandwiched between Jesus showing Himself Lord even over death, Jesus showing Himself King even riding on a humble donkey and Jesus showing Himself Servant even washing His disciples’ feet.

All this to say that this story has much to do with the resurrection, particularly how Mary responds to Jesus after her brother has been raised from the dead. As a side note that requires clarification, there are other Mary’s mentioned in the New Testament: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, the woman who Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Mark 16:9). Now, don’t confuse Mary Magdalene with Mary, Lazarus’ sister, the Mary in this story. Clearly, John wants us to know that this Mary is Lazarus’ sister as we read in John 12:1-2, “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary…” Mary is obviously Lazarus’ sister, not a former prostitute.

Also, notice John gives us timelines so that we don’t confuse this story with another anointing of Jesus by an immoral woman as described in Luke 7:36-39, which happened earlier in Jesus’ ministry. The story we are studying happened six days before Passover as John 12:1 records. This story happened six days before the Angel of Death would once again take the life of a Firstborn, the difference being that instead of the blood of a little lamb painted above the doors of the Israelites protecting them from the Angel of Death like in the move The 10 Commandments. Jesus, the Lamb of God, would give His blood to protect us from death. In fact, “the one who raised Lazarus from the dead is about to go to His own death, as a sacrificial lamb, a Passover Lamb.”[1]

All of this is backdrop into this story of a woman who put everything on the line as a response to Jesus’ resurrection. She put her riches, her reputation and her relationships! Are you risking your riches, your reputation and your relationships for the resurrection? Mary started with risking her riches. The pure nard that she put on Jesus’ feet was extremely expensive. Most scholars believed that this “nard came all the way from India.”[2] I’ve been to India a couple of times. The smells there are incredibly rich and exotic. Nowadays, we can get things from India pretty quickly. Back then you didn’t have Fedex or U.P.S. It would take a long time to get such perfume from India to Palestine. And you would have to be very rich to get it. But Mary had a full pound of it. We know how much it cost per pound. How? Judas! Judas was an accountant. He could quickly tally the cost of such goods and in verse 5 he assesses the value at 300 denarii. Now, one denarii was worth one day’s wages, so 300 denarii was at least 10 months wages and possibly up to “a year’s wages.”[3] Now, I don’t know how much any of you make but I know the annual average household income in Cambridge is over $85,000. So I tried to think about what this amount would be like in today’s terms. This would be like one of us guys buying a brand new pickup truck valued at over $60,000 and giving it to Jesus without ever driving it. Or putting in a whole new kitchen with the latest appliances and gadgets and then giving it to Jesus without ever cooking a meal in it.

However, this was not just a donation by Mary, this was adoration. You see, Mary didn’t just risk her riches, maybe what surmounted to her retirement savings, but Mary risked her reputation. Mary didn’t just lay down her gift at Jesus’ feet like the Magi did so long ago when Jesus was a toddler in Bethlehem. No, Mary took the nard and put it on Jesus’ feet. Then she did something scandalous, she undid her hair and washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. As D.A. Carson asks, “Why would anyone wipe off perfume that had just been applied? And why would a respectable woman let down her tresses in male company?”[4] “Jewish women did not undo their hair.”[5] Even today, Jewish Orthodox married women wear wigs so that their hair is not seen by men other than their husbands. So think about that! Could it be like Oprah Winfrey or Kim Kardashian, very rich and powerful women, going to a homeless man and washing his feet with their hair? Why would Mary do such a thing? “She lays her own woman’s honor at the feet of Jesus. She takes that honor and makes it a towel for His holy feet.”[6] Warren Wiersbe reminds us, “She was misunderstood and criticized, but that is what usually happens when somebody gives his or her best to the Lord.”[7] Maybe you are giving your best to the Lord and nobody seems to understand or appreciate your sacrifice? Be encouraged! Jesus does! Keep going! Jesus wants more from you. Jesus wanted more from Mary. She had sat at Jesus’ feet before when Jesus visited their house at an earlier time (Luke 10:39-42). Long before Lazarus had died and rose from the grave! At that time, she had chosen the better dish over her sister who was wanting to do a lot for Jesus, but not just be with Jesus. Mary had always adored Jesus. Now, Mary goes from being a student of Jesus to giving a sacrifice to Jesus. Why? Why would she risk her riches and reputation for Jesus? Well to answer that question we need to remember that Jesus gave her brother back to her. Her beloved brother Lazarus had died. That’s tragic because Lazarus was possibly her only source of protection and income. So when Jesus arrived for Lazarus’ funeral, Mary fell once again at His feet. John 11:32-33 records what happened, “Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.” In fact, Jesus wept! (John 11:35) But then Jesus rose Lazarus from the grave! How would you respond if somebody rescued your loved one? You would be filled with gratitude. You would want to give them a hug. You would want to give them an expensive gift. You would want to take them out for an outlandish dinner to celebrate. All these things are what Martha and Mary are doing for Jesus.

So let me pause and recap. Mary risked her riches and reputation for the resurrection or to put it a different way in tracking with her spiritual journey. She went from listening to Jesus at His feet when He first came to visit, to lamenting to Jesus at His feet when her brother died to lavishing on Jesus at His feet when Jesus raised her brother from the grave. This is the journey that you might be on as well as you encounter Jesus. This journey will give you such a deeper appreciation for the resurrection, even cause you to risk everything for believing in it. You may go from just listening to Jesus because He is such a compelling Teacher, to lamenting to Jesus over the loss of a loved one that you believe Jesus could have done something about to lavishing on Jesus your love and worship for His death and resurrection. So are you just listening to Jesus or are you lamenting to Jesus? That could be a massive step forward in your trust of Jesus. Take your complaint to Jesus! Or are you at the point of lavishing your love and worship on Jesus because you are placing all your hope on the resurrection of Christ? When loved ones die and you get past the devastation of it, you begin to realize that the resurrection is where you put all your hope for the future. I have watched some of you grow so much since your spouse died because you are placing your hope in the Lord and the resurrection to a new heavens and new earth. I have been there standing over the single casket of baby twins, not knowing what to say at first, but then appealing to the only hope there is – Jesus and His resurrection.

And yet, risking riches and reputation for the resurrection may not be the most difficult thing you have to risk for the resurrection. No, the greatest risk for the resurrection may be your relationships. We see this in Mary’s life with her brother Lazarus. Her act of washing Jesus’ feet brought more attention to her brother Lazarus, even if that was not her intent. Risking ourselves for the resurrection will cause those you love to face greater questions. In Mary’s case, Lazarus was at that dinner too. And this caused the crowds to gather. Lazarus had become a sideshow. But as soon as the crowds ballooned, the jealousy of the Pharisees ballooned along with them. And this was cause to not only want Jesus to be killed, but as verses 10-11 tell us, “But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” You see, Warren Wiersbe reminds us, “If you will not accept the evidence of Christ, you must try to get rid of it.”[8] Maybe today you have not accepted the evidence of Christ and His resurrection and so you are trying to get rid of it? Many in our culture and educational system are trying to get rid of the evidence of Jesus and His resurrection. Jesus will prevail. He has for 2000 years. Think about the fallacy of trying to get rid of Jesus and His evidence. The Jews wanted to get rid of Lazarus by killing him. Which raises some questions? Wouldn’t have Lazarus just said, “Bring it on”? What was the worst thing that you could do? Kill me?” He had already died once and been resurrected. And who would the religious leaders kill first Lazarus or Jesus? If Lazarus first, Jesus might raise Lazarus again! So they chose Jesus! They went after the bigger prize. Little did they realize that killing Jesus first meant that Jesus would someday cause Lazarus to rise again! This fulfills Jesus’ promise in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?

If you believe, this will turn into a sweet aroma for this stinking world. In Matthew 26:13 Jesus promised, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” Mary’s offering and risk for the resurrection still has a fragrant smell. What a contrast to Judas! Nobody names their son Judas, but many name their daughters ‘Mary.’[9] “The very name ‘Iscariot’ exhales an evil odor, the absolute opposite of Mary’s ointment.”[10] And here’s the thing, Judas made a great business and socially just decision, at least on paper. It would have been smart to take a little ointment for Jesus’ feet and give the rest to the poor. He might have even got a tax deduction for giving to charity. But if you are just thinking about the financial impact or even the social impact in trying to help people and not considering Jesus, you are always aiming lower than you should. Jesus has to be the focus of our decision-making. Ask yourself, “What is best for Jesus?” If you do, He’ll take care of the rest! It is never just business. You know that scene in the 1972 movie The Godfather where Michael Corleone wants to order a Mafia hit on NYPD policeman. He says the famous line, “It’s not personal; it’s strictly business.” Well, Michael Corleone is wrong – it’s always personal! It’s always about relationships. And who can fix our relationships? JESUS!

Let me put it this way. Lori and I were discussing this week that a lot of people’s behavior, including our own, is driven by what other’s think of them. This is why people can be pretty good at work, school or in the community and then be selfish, inconsiderate and down right mean at home. We wondered whether real change can happen without community? Listen to what Paul Tripp says in this lengthy but worthwhile quote: “I understand why people, after experiencing the hurt and disappointment that so often mars our relationships, decide to live in isolation or in a comfortable collection of terminally casual relationships. I understand why people say to themselves, ‘I’ve been taken once and I won’t be taken again.’ I understand why married couples choose to live in long-term cold war relationships that lack intimate friendship and unity. I understand why ministry people often choose to live in functional isolation from the body of Christ. I understand why adult children choose to live a great distance away from their parents. I understand why many people dread the extended family gatherings that accompany the holidays. I understand why people hide their hurt and refuse to talk about painful topics with one another. I understand why people don’t ask for help or give help when asked. I understand that none of us have ever lived in one single relationship that hasn’t disappointed us in some way. I understand that relationships are hard … But for the believer, relationships are not a lifestyle option. No, they are an essential piece of God’s calling between your salvation and your final resurrection.”[11] Mary understood this truth and her story is the Gospel in action. She no longer was driven by what others thought, but what Jesus thought. And this has become a beautiful fragrance that has lasted 2000 years and gives us hope for our relationships today. Relationships are often repelling; Jesus’ can make them attractive once again. He can make us attractive again!

Maybe this is in part what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life? You see, Mary had a focus on preparing Jesus’ body for burial, but something happened. “It is significant that Mary of Bethany was not one of the women who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus.”[12] Why? Because she already had! She had prepared Jesus’ body for burial and probably wasn’t surprised when she heard about Jesus’ resurrection. She had seen resurrection before with her brother! And now her Lord, who claimed that He was the Resurrection, experienced it Himself. He was the reason for her faith, the power for her life and hope for her future. Jesus can be that for you too if you will trust in Him and risk your riches, your reputation and your relationships for Him!

[1] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 427.

[2] R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Columbus: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1942), 839.

[3] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 339.

[4] Carson, 426.

[5] Wiersbe, 339.

[6] Lenski, 840.

[7] Wiersbe, 339.

[8] Wiersbe, 340.

[9] Wiersbe, 339.

[10] Lenski, 841.

[11] Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies – August 20 (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2015)

[12] Wiersbe, 339.

 

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