One of the most magnificent structures in the world is the cathedral in Milan, Italy. It is such a large structure it has five front doors. Each door leads to a different aisle in the sanctuary. The center three doors have carvings of note. Over the arch of one of the side doors is a carved wreath of roses, and underneath it is the words, “All which pleases is but for a moment.” Over arch of the other side door is sculptured a cross, and underneath it is the words, “All which troubles us is but for a moment.” But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, “Only the eternal is important.” It is the eternal we are going to look at in the next weeks. The eternal grabs our attention today.
We find ourselves today in the twelfth chapter of John, verse one through eleven. According to the text, it is a few days before the Passover. Jesus is in Bethany. Jerusalem and Bethany are approximately two miles apart. It just so happened, Jesus has friends who lived in Bethany, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus normally had an open invitation to their home. However, this time Jesus has a formal invitation. The women wanted to thank Jesus for resurrecting their brother, so they hold a dinner in Jesus’s honor. Jesus never traveled alone. He brings the twelve, along with a nameless crowd. The crowd was extra-large because they wanted to see the newly resurrected Lazarus.
The event is going off as planned. Everyone is having a wonderful time. Martha is serving. Lazarus is reclining at the table. It is Mary who does the unexpected. She took a pint of perfume nard and pours it on Jesus’ feet, wiping it with her hair. Mary seems to have some insider information. It is almost as if she was anticipating the week to come. Consider these two facts with me. First, she anoints Jesus like the dead were anointed. Second, she anoints Jesus’s feet like Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. The obvious happens. The house is filled with the odor of that sweet perfume. Everyone seems to handle the anointing, except one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot. He protests the waste. He is not completely wrong. The nard was expensive. He would have made the perfect church member in the twenty-first century. None of us believe money should be wasted. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned. The very least they could have done is sell the nard and given the money to the poor. Jesus deflects his criticism and applauds Mary for her priorities. Would Jesus applaud your priorities? We always sacrifice for those that we love. How much are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus.
Where were you on March 2, 2012? It is remembered as one of the most violent weather days in the history of our country. There were 140 tornados sighted that day, 76 confirmed landings. Thirty-nine people were killed. We prayed for the grieving, and all the lives that were changed that day, but we were inspired by one, Stephanie Decker.
On that day, Stephanie was a 37-year-old wife and mother, who lived in Henryville, Indiana. It was like a living nightmare. A tornado slammed into her home. With no other option, she acted like a human shield and laid on top of her children to protect them. The good news is everyone survived. The bad news is Stephanie lost both legs, one above the knee, one below the knee. Years later, she does not regret her sacrifice because she saved her children. It is a sacrifice she said she would do again. It is a sacrifice I hope I never have to make. I do not know how her children can look at her legs and question her love for them. I do not know how anyone can question her love for her children. We sacrifice the most for the people we love the most. That leads us to the question of the day. How much are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?
How much money are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Imagine the scene with your sacrificed imagination. It is impossible to read this story and ignore the financial issues. You can still buy a pint of nard on the internet. It will cost you approximately $625 for a single pint. No wonder Judas Iscarot was shocked by her extravagance. It seemed economically impossible for a common to own such a possession. Some believe, Mary received the nard from her parents as a wedding gift for her wedding night. Mary sacrificed a great amount of money to show her devotion to Jesus. How much money are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?
The Biblical standard for giving is the tithe, 10%. That is a challenge for a great number of people. According to Vanco, only 5% of all church goers’ tithe? 77% of all tithers give more than 10% The average church goer gives approximately $17 per week. That is $884 per year. It is the question I have asked you for the past quarter of a century. If everyone gave the amount to the church that you give to the church, would our ministry contract or expand? How much money are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love.
How much time are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Imagine the scene with your sacrificed imagination. The house is filled with guests and there are a million things to do. There is food that needs to be cooked. There are dishes that need to be washed. There are children that need to be entertained. There are a million things to do, so where is Mary. She is sitting at the feet of Jesus absorbing every word. It was not that those other things were not important. It was that this was an opportunity that could not be missed. You can do housework anytime, but you cannot always sit at the feet of Jesus. Mary sacrificed valuable time to sit at the feet of Jesus. How much time are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?
It is impossible for our generation to sit at the feet of Jesus. However, that changes nothing. How much time do you spend with Jesus? I am not talking about the time you spend in the church building or the time you spend fundraising for the church. I am talking about spending time practicing the Holy Habits. How much time do you spend meditating? How much time do you spend studying your Bible? How much time do you spend in worship? How much time do you spend in prayer? How much time are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love.
How much pride are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Imagine the scene with your sacrificed imagination. The fact that Mary anointed Jesus’s feet is significant. That sounds odd to our generation. It was odd to her generation too for two reasons. First, usually someone’s head was anointed, not their feet. Second, Hebrew women never unwrapped their hair in public. They only unwrapped their hair at home. Both expose her humility. How much pride are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?
Humility is not emptying yourself of self-worth. Humility is embracing your self-worth and your gifts and offering those things to the glory of God. Are you hoarding your gifts or are you using your gifts to bring glory to God? How much pride are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love. Let me state the obvious. During the next two weeks the issue is not how much we have sacrificed for God. The issue is how much God has sacrificed for us. In the Gospel lesson, only Mary seems to see the big picture. Only Mary, understands the events to come will have eternal consequences.
Jesus sacrificed it all because he loves us! You know the story, but it is worth repeating. It all began with the incarnation. God left the perfection of heaven to slum it with people like us. The incarnation of God, Jesus was born in the ordinary, yet he lived an extraordinary life. Let me make the point clear so there can be no confusion. Jesus’s father was God, and his mother was a poor young woman by the name of Mary. The most famous stepfather in his Joseph, a simple carpenter. At twelve years old, Jesus’s spiritual uniqueness became clear, yet he did not begin his ministry until he was thirty. That ministry only lasted three years, but it changed the world. In a nutshell, he simply loved everyone. Healing the sick and teaching about the Kingdom of God, Jesus threatened the orthodox leaders of his day. So threatened, they decided Jesus had to be eliminated. The plan was simply, but deadly. During the Passover, a few days after everyone cheered Jesus as he entered the city, one of Jesus’s own, Judas Iscariot, agreed to betray Jesus. He was arrested after the Passover meal on Thursday evening. Jesus was tried twice, once by his own people and again by the Romans. It was the Roman, Pontius Pilot, official who gave the death sentence. Hours later the order was carried out. Jesus died Roman style, on a cross between two criminals. The Sunday crowd has abandoned him, but the faithful remained. They saw him draw his last breath. They saw him take out his lifeless body. They cried because all hope was lost and they were the ones who asked the question, “Why?” No knowing the happy ending we call Easter, they wrestled with the harsh reality, Jesus was dead.
It was a powerful moment in the history of the world. Jesus, the incarnation of God, was dead. Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love. This is not doubt about it. Jesus loved us so he sacrificed it all for us. It has been said many times:
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.
The only things that matter are eternal!