The Devotion Of A True Christian And The Glory Of Jesus – John 12:1-11

The Devotion Of A True Christian And The Glory Of Jesus

Nick Esch, 12/10/2017 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Our passage picks up just after the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus powerfully raised Lazarus from the grave, but in so doing He stirs the Jewish leaders and authorities to both fear and anger, to the point that they put out a death warrant for Jesus. So He withdrew from them for a short time; but now our text shows Jesus heading back towards Jerusalem. In verse one we read, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”

Now this is the third and final Passover mentioned in the Gospel of John. The Passover was a Jewish celebration in memory of God passing over the Israelites during His final plague on Egypt, when He brought death on Egypt; and this final plague led to the Exodus—God freeing His people from slavery to Egypt… God in His grace passed over Israel and in His power freed Israel. So this was a celebration of God’s power and grace. And this Passover is particularly special, because God in His providence, in His power and grace chose to make this the week that Jesus would die. So John is telling us, that since it is the week of the Passover, since it is the week of the cross, Jesus therefore came to Bethany.

Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is where all the people are who want to kill Jesus. At the end of chapter 11, the Jewish leaders gave orders, saying if anyone knew where Jesus was they were to tell them, so that they might arrest him, and they wanted to arrest Him so that they could kill Him. Yet, Jesus goes right back into this area where He’s a wanted man. So Jesus is moving towards danger here; He’s not running from it… The One who raised Lazarus from the grave is heading towards His own grave. So in part that’s what the “therefore” means in verse one; because it was the time of the Passover, it was time for Jesus to head towards the cross. But Jesus goes back to Bethany specifically for a reason. He goes back to the family He has just been ministering to. He goes back to the family whom He told, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He told them and showed them actually. And what He was communicating was that He is the very power and the point of the resurrection and of life…

It’s all about Jesus… He’s the point… And so in going back to this family 6 days before His death, He’s seeking to make sure that in 6 days, at another grave—at His grave—that they still remember all of this, they don’t lose their sense of amazement and joy; that they don’t lose their faith… That they rest and rejoice in the fact that He is indeed the resurrection and the life, and that if He can raise Lazarus He will indeed raise Himself in power… He wants them to remember that He is in control and that all of this is happening for His glory and their good—just like the death and resurrection of Lazarus…

Well, in verse two we see that this family is still overwhelmed with gratitude, they are still overjoyed and amazed by grace, “So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.” This is a celebration of the resurrection of Lazarus; it’s a thank you dinner for Jesus’ power and grace in raising Lazarus, and even more so it’s a thank you dinner simply to thank Jesus for being Jesus. This is a dinner that is fueled by grace.

Martha, the one to whom Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is there happily serving. She seems to be the one tending to all of the details of the feast. She’s pouring herself out in service for Jesus, because she knows that Jesus is the point of her life; so she uses her gifts, she uses her time and energy to serve Jesus—doing it all with great joy, still in utter amazement of the grace that He has lavished on her family. And Lazarus is there reclining at the table with Jesus, not needing to say or do anything else, because the mere fact that he is present at the dinner, that he has air in his lungs and that his heart is beating is a testimony to God’s amazing grace in Christ. So he’s there as a witness to the mercy and grace, to the power of Jesus. His very presence at the dinner communicates to everyone around them that Jesus is indeed the resurrection and the life…

So both Martha and Lazarus are serving Jesus in their own way. And it should be noted that they are doing this at great risk to themselves. Friends, Jesus was a wanted man; the death warrant has already been issued. Yet here they are having dinner with Him; and this wasn’t just some secret dinner with just Jesus and the family… There were others there… It says Lazarus was just one of those at the table with Jesus. Surely there was a house full of people still in awe of the resurrection of Lazarus and the power of Jesus. So having a dinner like this was incredibly risky, because it won’t be long before those who want Jesus dead hear that He’s there, and when they hear that this family is serving Jesus—is aiding and abetting a wanted man, these same people will no doubt come after them as well. Oh, but that is not their concern… Their concern is Jesus…

Church, let that be a lesson for us. We must not cave to outside pressures that seek to sway us from our devotion to Jesus. We mustn’t let the world control how faithful to Jesus we are. We must commit ourselves to faithfulness to Jesus, come what may. The world may take no notice of us, or it may condemn us; either way our concern must only be faithfulness, our concern must be Jesus. That’s what Martha and Lazarus model for us here. Amazed by grace and overwhelmed by joy they are completely devoted to Jesus… But next we see an even greater picture of devotion to Jesus…

In verse three we read, “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” This verse starts with “therefore” because we’re being told that, since this is a dinner in honor of Jesus, that is why Mary does what she does next. So to honor Christ, to make much of Him, to magnify His glory, Mary takes a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anoints Jesus’ feet; from the parallel accounts of this in Matthew and Mark we’re told that she breaks the jar that it was in and pours all of this expensive ointment out on Jesus, even some on His head. We get an idea of how expensive this ointment is in verse five when Judas says, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” Three hundred denarii was about the same as a years worth of wages for the minimum wage worker. Put into today’s terms this would have cost at least $25,000 or so…

Now this family doesn’t seem to be wealthy, so this was either something they bought with their life savings, or it was a family heirloom, or something they were holding on to to sell one day… Nard was a very expensive fragrance from India. Perfumes and naturals oils and the like are fairly expensive today, but nothing like this. This is more than just something they had around the house; this is so extravagant that it seems to be their financial security—something they could sell when they needed it… It would be like us cashing in all of our 401K or insurance policies, or taking our life savings and giving it all away for the cause of Christ. So we see Mary here in the same risky position as Martha and Lazarus—knowing that word would get out that they were with Jesus… But she takes it a step further, risking even more… She’s willing to sacrifice her financial security for the glory of Christ…

Mary is willing to risk her earthly security on every front: her safety and her finances. Now why would she do that? Well, what does she know? She knows that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; He’s the very power and point of the resurrection and life. Indeed, He says that He is the great I Am… He is God… Sure, she could lose her life because of her devotion to Jesus, but she knows that Jesus—being God—has power over life and death… Man can take life, but Jesus can give life… And what’s more, Jesus is the very point of life… And in knowing that, she’s willing to give up everything to honor Him. Because while three hundred denarii can buy a lot of stuff, none of that stuff will satisfy her heart, none of that will satisfy her soul like Jesus. Jesus is why she exists… Jesus is why we exist… He is the very point of life… Therefore satisfaction is found in Him alone… So though she is giving up her earthly security, in Christ she is safe and satisfied.

You see, one of our major problems is that we view death as the worst thing that can happen to someone… But that simply isn’t the case. Hell is the worst thing that can happen to someone… Hell, wrath, condemnation… These are eternal tragedies… Death may hurt for a time, but God’s wrath is forever… But, for the Christian this is not so… “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)… We may very well lose our lives in our devotion to Jesus, but God’s Word promises us, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). And beloved, if that’s true we can risk everything for the glory of Christ. And that’s exactly what Mary is modeling for us here… Beloved, if you can’t be separated from Jesus, what can man do to you? Oh! How we should be sold out for His glory… He is good… He is God… And He is ours and we are His… Forever…

So Mary, in her joy, in her amazement of grace, in her devotion to Jesus gives up her earthly security; but that’s not all she gives up. It says she anoints the feet of Jesus. Now understand, Bethany, where they are, is in the Middle East; and the Middle East is hot… And at this time, in this cultural context baths didn’t happen all that often… And along with that, most everyone walked around in sandals or barefoot, and the streets that everyone walked on were also walked on by all kinds of animals. And so the streets were often covered in the dung of animals. And so, everyone’s feet were especially disgusting. This was just the reality that they lived in. In fact feet were so disgusting that even most slaves had rights that said their masters couldn’t make them clean their feet. But what do we see here?… We see Martha anointing the feet of Jesus… She’s pouring the ointment out on His feet, she’s rubbing it in, and then she wipes them off…

A slave could not be asked to do this! They had rights… Well so did Mary… But Mary lays down her rights for Jesus. Oh, how we need to get this… Here in America this is all anyone talks about… “I have rights… It’s my right…” Well, that may be well and good for America, but being a Christian is a lot different than being an American. Being a Christian means being willing to lay down your rights for the glory of Christ. It means being willing to do anything in service to Jesus. Nothing is below us…

This is what’s being communicated here. A task that was believed to be below the lowliest of servants is not below Mary… In fact Mary is humbly doing this, because she knows that she’s actually below this task… Beloved, what are we but sinners saved by grace… As John the Baptist put it, Jesus is mightier than us; indeed we are not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals… Jesus is mighty, and infinitely worthy of all praise, honor, and glory… We are below Him, therefore there is nothing that His Word could call us to do that is beneath us…

He is infinitely holy and perfect and glorious in every way… And we are sinners who have offended His infinite glory and therefore we are infinitely guilty… So we are infinitely unworthy… But He is good, and gracious, and loving, and merciful… So by grace through faith in Christ we are saved and redeemed out of our unworthiness and brought into His worthiness… We are covered in His righteousness… But that doesn’t mean that now service to Christ is below us; but just the opposite… That means that we should now be so compelled by grace that we will joyfully serve Christ in whatever way He calls us to… We will gladly lay down our rights for the cause of Christ… Indeed that’s what Mary does here… I wonder if we’re willing to do the same… Are we willing to give up our rights for the glory of Jesus—that others might see how glorious He is through our lives? Are we willing to get uncomfortable for the cause of Christ? To do what we wouldn’t normally do, to go where we wouldn’t normally go, to give what we wouldn’t normally give, to open our lives to those we wouldn’t normally be around, to open our homes, to lay ourselves bare for the cause of Christ? Sure we have rights… We have rights to privacy and safety and the like… But are we willing to give them up for the glory of Jesus? Many aren’t even willing to give up their time for Jesus, let alone their rights… I wonder, have we confused being an American with being a Christian?

Well, Mary seems to be very clear on what it means to be a Christian; she gives up her earthly security, she gives up her rights, all for the glory of Jesus. But that’s not all she gives up. As I said earlier, she pours the ointment out on His feet, she rubs it in, and then she wipes them off with her hair… In Israel at this time, it was scandalous for a woman to let down her hair in public; it was something that typically only happened around the family, and usually only around a woman’s husband. A man could actually divorce his wife for letting down her hair in public, because when a woman did so—in part—it was seen as a sign of affection and intimacy… And indeed that is what Mary is showing here… Not in an improper manner… She’s not putting the moves on Jesus as it were… But she’s saying that she’s surrendering herself to Him… That she loves Him above all else… That her affection is on Him… Jesus is her great love…

So this would have seemed scandalous to those watching… They would have been amazed by this… But the really amazing thing is what she does with her hair once it’s down. She wipes His feet with her hair… God’s Word tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:15 that a woman’s hair is her glory… So Mary takes her “glory” (if you will) and she wipes Jesus’ feet with it. Mary takes down her hair in love, and then she shows her love by taking her hair, by taking her glory and using it to display His glory. She takes her glory and she gives it to Jesus… She takes her glory and casts it at Jesus’ feet. Do you see what she’s saying here by doing this? She’s saying glory to Christ alone… She’s giving her glory for the glory of Jesus…

But then there’s this contrast here starting in verse four to verse six. “But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.” He was a thief, and there was no selfish gain to be had in simply glorifying Christ. He saw Mary’s act of glorifying Christ as a waste, because he was a thief… He wasn’t just a thief financially, he was a glory thief… Now he was disguised as a disciple, but he wasn’t one… He didn’t care about the glory of Christ, he cared about his bank account, he cared about his own glory… Judas valued money over Jesus; and really that showed that he valued himself over Jesus… But Mary on the other hand joyfully gave up her security, her rights, and even her glory for the glory of Jesus… She valued Jesus above all… And you see, that’s why she could let go of all of these things; treasuring Christ frees us up to sacrifice who we are and what we have for the glory of Christ; when we truly treasure Jesus we are enabled to live for His glory…

Now if we were to graph this out, if we had two columns, one with Mary at the top and one with Judas at the top; one describing the type of person Mary is, and the other describing the type of person Judas is… If we did that, and then we took all the people like Mary and put them in her column and took all the people like Judas and put them in his column, which column would you be in? Are you more like Mary or like Judas? Are you a devoted disciple like Mary or a disguised disciple, who isn’t really a disciple at all? Are you willing to give up your glory for the glory of Christ, or are you a glory thief? What do you treasure most? Is it money, is it security, is it safety? Well God’s Word calls you to be willing to sacrifice all of those things for the cause of Christ… Do you treasure your time, your privacy, your family above all else? Well God’s Word calls you to leverage those things for the glory of Christ… And friends, if you aren’t willing to sacrifice these things for Jesus’ sake then you don’t really treasure Christ at all… If you don’t treasure Christ above all you don’t treasure Christ at all… If Jesus is Lord, if Jesus is God then He must be supreme… If we put anything before Him then that is what we truly treasure, that is what we worship, not Jesus.

Beloved, we no doubt will give up much if we are truly devoted to Jesus, but it’s worth it… He is infinitely satisfying… And if God is for us, who can be against us? Remember, if we are really Jesus’ disciples, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Look at how Jesus responds to Judas in verses seven and eight. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” Jesus defends her… He backs her up… He’s for her… He says, “Leave her alone…” And trust me, Judas left her alone… he backed off… I mean if Jesus can tell Lazarus while he was dead and in the grave to get up, then He can tell Judas while he’s dead in his sins to shut up.

Now these verses are interesting because Jesus says, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” But the other Gospel accounts tell us that she has already poured all of the ointment out on Jesus… If that’s true, what’s He saying here? Well, it seems to be two things: 1) that in anointing Him, she was preparing Him for His burial, meaning for His death, for the cross. And 2) what Jesus is saying He wants her to keep for the day of His burial is her sense of amazement and joy; He wants her to keep her faith and her zeal for His glory… It’s good that she has this zeal for His glory while He’s here, but He’ll soon be gone, and the need for those who pour out their lives for the fame of Jesus will be great… You see, after Jesus lives, dies, rises, and ascends on high, His glory is displayed through His people who live for His glory… So Jesus tells Judas, “Leave her alone!”

Beloved, as long as this world is broken there will always be glory thieves. As long as this world is broken there will always be those who seek to sway and discourage those who are sold out for Jesus. Unfortunately this reality is all too common in the church; by church, I mean all churches. There are always people like Judas in the church who are disguised as disciples, who are really only about their own glory, not the glory of Jesus. People who seem like Christians, but really it’s all about them, not all about Jesus. Sure they may go to church, or even be members of a church, or even be leaders in a church, but they’re only there for themselves; they’re out to get, not to give… Unfortunately this is why so many view the actions and the posture of Mary here as strange… The fact that Mary would joyfully give up her earthly security, her rights, and her glory seems radical to many who claim to be Christians; but friends, this is simply what true Biblical Christianity looks like… Is this what your Christianity looks like? There is a cost to true Christianity; true devotion to Jesus demands a willingness to count all things as loss for the sake of Jesus… But friends, Jesus is far better than anything we may lose… As Paul said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8)… Again, we will give up much if we are truly devoted to Jesus, but it’s worth it… He is infinitely satisfying… And He is for us… He has our back… Nothing can separate us from Him… And if we have Him, we have all that we could ever need…

Now, all of this comes to a head in the last few verses. Starting in verse nine we read, “When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” The risk that Martha, Lazarus, and Mary were taking becomes a reality. The death warrant that was out for Jesus extends to Lazarus as well. And the reason is clear. Their lives, their devotion displayed the glory of Jesus, and therefore many believed in Jesus… Lazarus Himself was a walking testimony to the glory of Christ. But this whole family was the type of people that made you think of Jesus. If you were a Christian and you got around them they stirred your affection for Christ, they increased your zeal for Jesus. If you weren’t a Christian and you got around them you heard about the glories of Christ and you saw their devotion to Him in and through their lives… And now that devotion is going to lead to Lazarus’ death… But he’s been there before, and if Jesus could raise him once, surely He can do it again… No doubt, Lazarus’ devotion was unshaken under the threat of death…

But isn’t this exactly how we should be? You see, Lazarus was a threat to the Jewish leaders because his life was a testimony to the power of Christ. They wanted to kill him, not because of what he had done for Jesus, but because of what Jesus had done for him. You see, that’s why he was such a powerful witness; that’s why his life was such a testimony to the power of Christ. It wasn’t about what he was doing, it was about what Jesus had done for Him; he was dead, but now he lives… Oh, and is this not true of us? Were we not dead in our sins, and yet now we live? Were we not headed towards eternal death in hell, but then God made us alive with Christ? Beloved, if you are truly a Christian you are like Lazarus, and if we are truly Christians we should all be like Mary—we should all be that devoted… Now our devotion may very well lead us to our death as it seems to for Lazarus, but not even death can separate us from Jesus…

And even Jesus Himself is encountering death here… In coming to this family, in going to this dinner, Jesus was heading towards the cross. He’s going to give His life as a ransom for many. At this point in the Gospel of John Jesus has lived the perfect life for God’s glory that we should be living, and now He’s going to the cross to die the death that we deserve to die for our sin. He’s going to the cross to pay a debt He did not owe, because we owe a debt that we cannot pay… And He will go… And He will die… He will satisfy God’s wrath due us on the cross and give up His life. But He will not stay dead… No, no… He is the resurrection and the life… He gets up on the third day, showing Himself to be truly God, who has power over life and death; and He will give life to all who are willing to give their life to Him… For all who will repent of their sin and trust in Him, for all who are willing to die to themselves and live for Him, for all who will give up their earthly security for eternal security in Him, for all who will give up their rights and be made right with Him, for all who will lay down their glory at His feet and live for His glory instead… For all who have faith in Him, He is the resurrection and the life… So will you? Are you? Does this describe you? Are you willing to give all the glory to Jesus?