LIFE TO THE DEAD PARTY
by Pastor Mike Fortune
September 20, 2008
Life comes from...
- Knowing the time [John 12:1-2; John 11:49-50; Luke 9:51]
- Recognizing the risk [John 12:3-8; John 11:8; 1 Timothy 6:10]
- Settling for nothing less [John 12:9-11; Mark 8:36; Ephesians 5:1-2]
Kidnapping is big business in Colombia. In an average year, more than twenty one hundred people are abducted, though most are later released for ransom. And that’s what the 49 year old diamond mining executive Norbert Reinhart was hoping would happen. When along with his toothbrush, some books, and a camera, he reportedly stuffed $100k in his knapsack and walked into the Colombian jungle in October 1998 to pay the ransom for one of his employees.
Ed Leonard, a 60 year old driller who worked for Reinhart’s company had been taken captive by the rebel group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and held hostage for more than three months. Reinhart’s wife Robin begged him not to go. He had two young children at home. The Colombian embassy and government officials begged him not to go. It wasn’t safe. But Reinhart had promised Leonard, a man he had hired over the phone, that the job was safe. And he was going to do whatever it took to get him home.
So on October 6, 1998 Norbert Reinhart marched up a desolate road into the Colombian jungle to meet his employee for the first time. “You must be Ed Leonard,” Reinhart said, upon finally meeting and shaking the older man’s hand. “Your shift is over. It’s time for you to go home.” And with that he handed over the money to the rebels, traded places with Leonard, and became their captive. The world was stunned. Some called Reinhart crazy. “Let the government and hostage professionals handle it” they said. But the negotiations had dragged on and on. When Reinhart was unexpectedly released several months later, he summed up the experience by saying, “I just did what I had to do.”
I think that’s what Mary decided as well. When Jesus returned to Bethany to resurrect her brother Lazarus from the dead, John 11:20 says she didn’t go out to greet Him. She held back. Still hurting from the assumed slight of Jesus not appearing in time to heal her baby brother. Who would be responsible for carrying on the family name. But not this time. Because she knew the time. Recognized the risk. And settled for nothing less. Love and gratitude for Jesus overwhelmed her hurt and frustration bringing not only physical but spiritual life to that dead party. I believe she simply had to do what she would do next. And because she did, her story is still being told to this day.
We’re starting a new sermon series today, actually reviving the one we started last spring in the Gospel of John, entitled Life to the Dead. I wanted to wait on the re-start so its conclusion would land right around Halloween so if you have any friends or family interested in that, maybe they would be interested in this as well. So invite them. We sent out a postcard to some folks on our church books and to the folks we met at our car show inviting them too. So please pick up a card on the table, or another for Pathfinders or Adventurers which also just started, and invite your friends and family and co-workers. What’s the worse they could say in response? No! Ooh, crushing I know. You can tell them your pastor told you to. And that he’s speaking at the 11 o’clock and 5 o’clock service. Okay, commercial over.
Today we’re going to begin in John 12. So if you brought your Bibles with you, please turn in them with me so we can read verses 1-11. “1Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3Then 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. 4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5"Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." 6He 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. 7"Leave her alone," Jesus replied. " It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me." 9Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.’”
Life comes from knowing the time
Point number one this week is Life comes from knowing the time. This party was being held in Bethany, a small village about 2 miles southeast of Jerusalem according to John 11:18. Which is the same town where Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived according to John 12:1. Though Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary and Lazarus according to John 11:5, this party wasn’t in their house. According to Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3 it was in Simon the former leper’s house.
The Bible doesn’t say Simon was a former leper, but he had to be because no one with an active case of leprosy would be able to attend such a gathering like this much less host it. Lepers were ceremonially unclean and banished from populated areas according to Leviticus 13:45-46. But since Jesus healed all who came to Him [Luke 6:19], Simon was apparently one of those folks Jesus healed. And in fact, Luke 5:12-15 describes just such an incident. Though it does not identify Simon by name.
But since Lazarus was also at this party according to John 12:2 and because Simon lived in the same town, perhaps this party was also thrown to honor Jesus for resurrecting Lazarus as John 12:1 implies. Though the strikingly similar story in Luke 7 describes Simon as a Pharisee, he apparently was one of those Jews who had a change of heart. John 11:45 says many of the Jews who had seen what Jesus did for Lazarus put their faith in Him. So we think Simon the former leper and Pharisee was one of them. But if Simon the leper was also a Pharisee, he should’ve known how dangerous the invitation to attend his party would be to Jesus. Who had withdrawn himself to a desert village called Ephraim shortly after the resurrection of Lazarus according to John 11:54. But as we saw last week, when we studied the story of the 2 disciples walking toward Emmaus after the resurrection, where Jesus is invited, he goes. So Simon the former leper, who had a change of heart about Jesus, invited Him to his home to party. And Jesus always goes where He is invited. Even when it’s dangerous.
And in this case, it really was dangerous. Because Mark 14:1 says “the chief priests” [also known as the Sadducees] and the teachers of the law [also known as the Pharisees] were now both looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. Previously to this, the Sadducees really didn’t care about helping the Pharisees get Jesus. They got along with them as poorly and rudely as they got along with everyone else. The Jewish historian Josephus said the Sadducees were known to be “in the conversation with their peers are as rude as to aliens” [NIV Study Bible text note on John 11:49]. And until now, Jesus wasn’t bothering them. So who cares about the Pharisees? They believed in an end time resurrection. Sadducees did not. But with the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus publicly and thoroughly destroyed their theology. And that made them mad.
So they joined forces with the Pharisees and consistent with their typically rude behavior and communication skills, the high priest that year, Caiaphas, erupts at them in John 11:49 “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
But it was Caiphas who was clueless. Because unbeknownst to him, according to John 11:51, he did not say this on his own. His words were prophetic because Jesus would die not just for him and the Jewish nation whether they accepted Him or not, but also according to John 11:52 for the “Scattered children of God” which I think includes you and me.
Mary knew the time
But the not so funny thing is Mary was the only one at this party to grasp this. Point number, she knew the time. As should have all of the disciples. Because Jesus straight out told them long before Bethany in Matthew 17:22-23, “‘22The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. 23They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.” Luke 9:51 adds, “51As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” The King James says, “He set his face as flint.” And when He did, the disciples didn’t like it. In John 11:8 they say, “8But Rabbi, a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”
So they should have understood all this before the party in Bethany. Which took place on Sabbath. Six days before Passover. And in case they did, Jesus straight out tells them during the following week, two days before Passover according to Matthew 26:2, that “2As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
She recognized the risk
So they all knew the time. Point number one. But only Mary did some thing about it. Point number two. Mary recognized the risk. Verse 3 says, “3Then 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.”
Though unromantic by name, nard perfume was rare. It was made from aromatic oil extracted from the root of a plant grown mainly in India. In other words, it was imported. You couldn’t buy this perfume at Wal Mart or even Macy’s. In fact, there is no perfume today that can even compare in worth. At 300 denarii, it would be worth approximately $30k today!
Alabaster on the other hand was very common. Easily carved, it became smooth and translucent when polished. It was formed into ornate jars, boxes, vases, and flasks. But the origin and type of the bottle wasn’t really significant. It still isn’t. What matters most and what matters today is the treasure it contains. And the treasure Mary poured out that day was more expensive than perfume. Because she was pouring out her heart. I think recognizing the risk means making yourself vulnerable. It means letting your hair down in public. Something no woman ever did in public. It means letting your guard down. Leading with your heart not your head. Mary knew the time. She recognized the risk. That people would think poorly of her. That stories would fly and rumors would swirl. And thanks to Dan Brown’s still popular novel Da Vinci Code, they’re still flying! So to combat those, let me toss in here one important fact.
When the Sadducees and Pharisees were plotting to arrest and kill Jesus, please note that none of their accusations had anything to do with improper relationships with women. Luke 8:3 says a number of women followed Jesus “providing for his needs.” But that is not a sinister statement of innuendo. That is simply saying Jesus allowed the women who didn’t have children or other responsibilities at home to follow Him and learn just as much about Him and His kingdom as the men. Which you have to understand was extremely rare. Other rabbis never let women sit at their feet much less touch them and pour perfume on them. But Jesus not only allowed Mary, He encouraged her. Jesus was so radical in His love for people. He loved men and women like crazy! But he treated them all equally the same. Remember, Jesus was invited to this banquet. Mary was not. She crashed it. That Mary was willing to do so is cool. But that Jesus doesn’t criticize her for doing so is even cooler don’t you think?
She acted with courage from a heart of love
So Mary knows the time and recognizes the risk not because she has insider information or because she was more dearly loved than anyone else. She is simply responding to Jesus out of a heart overflowing with love for Him. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” And actions have always spoken louder than words. I think Mary would’ve really liked to be a member in a church that shouts the gospel with their lives don’t you?
Did you know the English word for courage comes from the French word coeur, which means ‘heart’? It’s true. That's why we say, “Don't lose heart.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon there's always someone to tell you you're wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action, and follow it to the end, requires the same courage a soldier needs. Peace has its victories but it takes brave men [and I might add women, as our passage today reveals], it takes brave men and women to win them.”
We can see this is true from the life of the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah who wanted to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. When his enemies threatened him, Nehemiah says in chapter 6:11, “Should a man like me run away?...I will not” (Nehemiah 6:11 NIV). As a result he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in a record 52 days and got a book in the Bible named after him. How's that for courage?
She anointed Jesus
Well, Mary knew the time. Point number one. She recognized the risk. Point number two. Previously, she held back. But not this time. This time, with the bravery and courage all the disciples combined clearly lacked, she who had been forgiven much gave as much as she could. It’s not the amount of money this perfume cost that is significant. As staggering as it was. It was the fact that in breaking open the bottle, she poured its contents out on top of Jesus’ feet and wiped the excess with her hair in the same way that Isaiah 53:12 prophesied hundreds of years earlier that the suffering servant would “Pour out his life unto death” on the cross. Both Matthew 26:12 and John 12:7 indicate that she poured out the contents completely aware that she was anointing Jesus for his near death on the cross and impending burial.
She was going and showing that, point number three, she was going to settle for nothing less than Jesus. He was going to be her all in all. He was going to be her King eternal. Who would lead and she would follow long after death did they part. But Judas had no intention of going any farther. He despised anything that distracted Jesus from the cause of overthrowing the Romans and establishing his long awaited kingdom on earth. He wasn’t like the rest of the disciples. The only non-Galilean of the group, this city slicker from Kerioth was determined to make his mark on the world. And sadly, he did. The story of Jesus’ anointing is recounted in all four Gospels as is that of Judas’ betrayal. But only Matthew highlights the amount for which Judas sold Jesus—30 pieces of silver. Which is the exact amount prophesied 400 years before in Zechariah 11:12-13. It was the standard price paid for a slave in Exodus 21:32. Approximately 120 denarii. Less than half the amount of money Mary had so extravagantly spilled on Jesus’ feet.
Point number one. Life comes from knowing the time. Point number two. Life comes from recognizing the risk. And point number three. Life comes from courageously settling for nothing less than following Jesus’ lead. In Mark 8:36-37 Jesus asks, “36What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Do we settle for less than fully following Jesus?
Norbert Reinhart may have stunned the world in the same way that Mary stunned the guests at that party. But what must stun Jesus, who also stepped into harm’s way, but didn’t walk away unscathed, is that after all the lavish love He shows us and all the ways He reveals his unsurpassed compassion and grace on each of us in equal measure, what must stun Jesus is that some of us would still rather settle for less than half of Him. Or in some cases, even none of Him.
Yes, it takes courage to say yes to Jesus. To stand up and shout publicly by the life you live day in and day out that you are following Him. It’s extremely unorthodox and unusual and not normal. But it’s SO worth it. And this is a place, not a perfect place, put a sincere place full of people willing to cheer you on as you do so. So stun the world. Pour out your life for His sake. And the world will tell your story too. Which is exactly what Matthew 26:13 says would happen. Jesus said, “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.” Mary knew the time. Recognized the risk. And settled for nothing less. And so should we.
Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 2 says we should do this because, “God loved us with such a great love. That even when we were dead because of our sins, He made us alive by what Christ did for us.” In other words, our Father’s business is about bringing life to the dead. “You have been saved from the punishment of sin by His loving‑favor. God has given us a place with Christ in the heavens. He did this to show us through all the time to come the great riches of His loving‑favor through Jesus Christ.” Thank you Jesus. Would you please listen to the words of this song? David Crowder Band “Come Awake.”