John 12:1-8 A Sacred Extravagance WC McCarter
Were any of your Christmas celebrations over the top? Did you spend way too much money? Did your kids and grandkids receive way too many presents? Did you eat way too much food? Was your week overly extravagant? Extravagance is normally thought of in a negative sense in the Christian’s mind. We are to be humble and quiet people in this world, not loud, boisterous, flashy, and extravagant people. Let me say, I think that we should celebrate with all that we have on an occasion like Christmas. We should buy presents and bless our kids and families with as much as we can within reason at Christmas. I would like to share with you today a story about a sacred extravagance. Can it ever be a good thing? We will see!
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
The Occasion (1-2)
When you come to the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John, you see that Jesus’ public ministry is now coming to an end. By this time, He has set His face for Jerusalem where He will laid down His life for you and me on the cross. In the very next chapter, you find Jesus gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room. One of the last public events pictures Mary humbling herself to anoint the feet of the Lord, and then to parallel that we see Jesus in the next chapter humbling himself to wash His disciples’ feet. This is an amazing story. Of course, this story follows the account in the previous chapter of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The town of Bethany was now known for that great miracle. The occasion in Bethany is a supper. This word refers to the main meal of the day which usually took place in the evening.
The three siblings, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, were near and dear to the Lord. Christ spent a good bit of time with this family during His earthly ministry. He ate meals with them (Martha hosted the Lord and was irritated that her sister, Mary, did not help her, but was rebuked by Jesus because He basically said that sitting at His feet and learning of Him was the better thing than serving); He showed great emotion and love when Lazarus died, but raised him from the dead; and Mary is seen as a fully devoted follower of Christ as she sat at the Lord’s feet to learn from His teaching and then, as we see here, anoints Him with expensive oil. These three siblings experienced some of the most wonderful and memorable things any person has ever known.
Here, again, Lazarus is seen as a main character as he reclines at the table with the Lord; Martha is seen as working hard to serve the honored guest; and Mary is seen as making her devotion to the Lord very apparent.
The Overindulgence (3)
I would like to point out that Mary is mentioned at the beginning of chapter eleven as the one who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair. This woman became known for this particular event so that the Apostle could mention the occasion in reference to her before he even recorded the actual event. The people to whom he was writing knew the story about Mary and the Lord.
I think this event may also look forward to chapter 13 when Jesus, in the upper room, washes the disciples’ feet and commands them to do the same. We will be looking at that passage in a couple of weeks. First, let’s set the scene. In that culture, for special suppers, the guests would recline in the floor at a lowered table. They would lay on their left arms with their feet extended out away from the table, and they would eat with their right hands. Mary did not crawl under a table to get to the Lord’s feet. They were extended out and easily accessible for anointing. To wash/anoint someone’s feet was an act of humility. In that culture humility was not looked highly upon. It is a great Christian virtue because the Lord has taught us to be humble, and a servant is not greater than his master, but the culture on the whole found humility gross.
We cannot be certain, but the family who was hosting may have been wealthy or possibly this perfume was a family heirloom. In any case, this was a very expensive jar of oil. The perfume was made from a nard plant which was native to India. It was a flowering plant that people would pull up and crush the roots of to make perfume which is why it is sometimes called spikenard. Mary used this to anoint the feet of Jesus, surely an act of devotion, love, honor, and humility before her Lord. She even wiped His feet with her hair! I assume she did this to deal with the excess because Jesus’ feet could not absorb all that she poured on Him, but it was also a great act of humility. She used so much that the house was filled with the brilliant fragrance.
The Objection (4-6)
Maybe many people who were in the house thought the same thing, but John makes sure to point out that it was Judas who spoke up in objection to such extravagance. Who would do such a thing? This was a waste of something highly valuable, right? Wrong! As John is writing and looking back on this story, he cannot help but label Judas as the traitor that he proved to be. Judas is quoted as giving us the cost of this very expensive oil. A denarius was one day’s wage for a worker, so 300 denarii would be equivalent to a year’s worth of wages for the average person because they would not work on Sabbaths and other holy days. This woman has just poured out a year’s worth of wages on Jesus’ feet and wiped it up in her hair! This is unbelievable! Jesus will surely rebuke her, right? Wrong. Judas objected on the basis of the fact that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Of course, looking back on it, John knows why Judas said this. He was not concerned for the poor, but that there would not be some extra cash in the bag for Judas to grab for himself. It is not shocking that the Lord’s treasurer was a thief because we know that ultimately he was the Lord’s traitor. Apparently, it became well known that Judas would help himself to the money in the bag that was supposed to be for the Lord’s ministry and giving to the poor.
But this was a legitimate objection that Judas was making, right? I mean, most everyone would have thought the same thing whether they said it or not. What would Jesus do? Would he say, Judas, you are right; Mary has sinned? No.
The Objective (7-8)
When Mary brought out the perfume and began anointing the Lord, she “signaled more than she knew” (Carson, 430). Mary probably did not know that the Lord would have to die in only a few days. She was doing this out of humble devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, but she was prefiguring so much more without even knowing it! Jesus told Judas to “leave her alone.” Wow! The Lord goes on to say that Mary had kept the perfume for the day of His burial. Mary could not have known this nor anointed His feet with His death in mind. Everyone was oblivious to the Lord’s impending suffering. Mary had kept the perfume for such a time as this, a special time to honor someone like her Lord, but Jesus states that she had actually done much more without even knowing.
No one would have expected Jesus to say something about His burial at this point. They are having a festive supper and Mary was celebrating Jesus, but He now points to His burial. This passion was definitely on the Lord’s mind. Jesus quotes Deut 15:11 in saying that the poor will always be present. Then, in the last sentence we will look at today, Jesus states that He will be leaving. This will be the news that the disciples will hear in the Upper Room in the next chapter. This is the news that will confuse and devastate them. This is the news that the Lord will try to prepare them for. This is the news that will save us all from our sins!
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) Let others see your sacred extravagance. You do not have to be loud or boisterous, but give to the Lord with all that you have. This does not mean that you have to put on a show for people or let them see how much money you give. I am talking about being overly gracious- in your kindness, in your love, in your mercy, in your giving of all kinds of resources, and much more. Pour out all that you can in service to the Lord Jesus. Worldly things are not lasting, but the things of Christ are eternal.
(2) How is this related to evangelism? When you are extravagant concerning the things of God, the people around you will be greatly influenced. This kind of extravagance is letting others see your good works so that they may glorify our Father in heaven. It is not to draw attention to yourself, but to the One who has redeemed you from the curse of sin and saved you from the wrath to come.
(3) Notice how each of the people in this episode show their true colors. They all have their own reputations which were known then and even 2,000 years later.
Lazarus: the one Jesus had raised from the dead.
Martha: the one who worked hard at serving.
Mary: the one who learned from and anointed the Lord.
Judas Iscariot: the one who was a thief, worldly, a traitor, and demonic.