The Lord’s Day
July 27, 2008
“Extravagant Love for Jesus #1”
Dr. Derek W.
“Sing unto God, with high affections raise,” that’s what
the choir was singing! “With high affections raise,” and that’s what we’re going
to be thinking about.
The next couple of weeks Ligon is away, and I thought
we’d do a little series of two sermons, both of which deal with examples of
extraordinary affection for Jesus Christ. As the choir was singing Judas
Maccabeus, I was thinking of the words of Jonathan Edwards, that true
Christianity consists primarily in the affections, and that’s the test. That’s
going to be the whole point of the sermon this morning. How much do we love
Turn with me to Mark 14, a very familiar story of a
woman breaking open a jar of some kind of very expensive ointment or nard, or
you might think of it as perfume. It was meant for anointing a body, and the
entire incident is embarrassing. Let’s read together, and before we do so, let’s
look to God in prayer. Let us pray.
Father, we thank You for the Bible. Thank You for
this passage of Scripture that is now before us. Every word of it, every jot and
tittle of it has been given by inspiration of God. You breathed it out and You
caused it to come into being. We pray that we might read, and mark, and learn,
and inwardly digest. Teach us the things that You would have us know, and give
us hearts that fall in love with you all over again. We ask it for Jesus’ sake.
This is God’s holy and inerrant word:
“It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened
Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest Him by
stealth and kill him, for they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an
uproar from the people.’
[Now Mark in his Gospel has placed this next part of the
story out of sequence a little, for reasons that we needn’t go into now. But
John tells us that actually the next part took place four days earlier. It was
just a week before Passover, and they’re in a house. They’re having dinner.
“And while He was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He
was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure
nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over His head. There
were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like
that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii
and given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone.
Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always
have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you
will not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body
beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is
proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’
So far, God’s holy, inerrant word.
Mark gives us a setting. Jesus is on His way to
Jerusalem. He’s on His way to Jerusalem, of course, to die. He is going to be
betrayed, He is going to be tried, and He is going to be crucified. There are
plots. Evil men are conniving. There’s darkness; there’s malevolence; there’s a
brooding atmosphere all around. Inexorably these next few days are going to lead
to the darkest days Jerusalem has ever seen, and in the midst of it there’s this
extraordinary, beautiful thing. There’s a light that shines with an
incandescence that takes your breath away.
He’s in Bethany. Bethany is a couple of miles from
Jerusalem, to the west of Jerusalem. You could walk there — I don’t know…thirty
or forty minutes, at a casual pace — of an evening, having spent the day in
Jerusalem. Jesus often spent days in Bethany when He was in Jerusalem, in the
house of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. They’re not in that house now; they’re in
the house of a man called Simon the leper. Maybe Jesus has healed him. Maybe
he’s a relative of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
They’re at a thanksgiving dinner in honor of Jesus,
and there are rules. (You Southerners know all about the rules of etiquette when
you’re invited to dinner: how you dress, what you say, what you take…do you take
a gift or don’t you?) And then all of a sudden something embarrassing happens. I
mean extraordinarily embarrassing! You don’t know which way to look; you don’t
know what to say. You want the thing to go away. It’s like being in a restaurant
and the waiter drops the plate right in front of you and the whole dinner is on
the floor…and you know, it’s embarrassing. You feel sorry for the waiter, you
wish it hadn’t happened…it’s something of that nature.
There’s the sound of what is possibly breaking glass,
and then the room is filled with an aroma — a very pleasant aroma, an expensive
aroma. Chanel No. whatever…5? This is actually an aroma of ointment that was
for one purpose only: for anointing a body. Well, we won’t go into all of that
now, but it was probably Mary’s. It may have been given to her. It may have been
a family heirloom. But the point of it is that it was very expensive. It was
worth, in verse 5, 300 denarii. A denarius is what an average man would earn in
one day, so 300 denarii is about a year’s salary for an average person. That’s a
lot of money — a lot of money, just to pour on someone’s head!
There are three things here: three people; three
groups of people; three responses. It’s like as if a camera is focusing on
different responses to this incident. And there’s a question. There’s a subtext
for you and me: it’s “Which one of these groups are you in?” You know, if you’d
been there, where would you have been? What would you have said? What would you
have thought? It’s meant to challenge you, and to challenge you not so much in
the area and level of your reason and rationality, but in your heart, in your
There’s Mary, and Mary has done an extravagant thing.
It’s beyond description what she has done. They’re at dinner in Simon the
leper’s house. I don’t know how many are there; let’s say there are twenty
people there. There may have been more. Jesus is there. Martha is there. Lazarus
is there. Lazarus of course has just been raised from the dead — not an everyday
occurrence. It’s still fresh in Mary’s mind and heart. Imagine — and we can
imagine — the sense of wonder and euphoria and joy and awe that they were having
dinner…. And you want to know what’s on the menu! But Mark isn’t interested in
telling you what they had for dinner (you know — were there hors d’oeuvres? Was
there a dessert?) because that’s trivial in comparison to something far more
significant that’s taking place here.
As Mary sees and hears and sits beside Jesus — Jesus,
whom she has already understood as to His significance…. She’s a changed woman.
She’s a converted woman. She’s come to appreciate who Jesus is, and as she
thinks about the things that Jesus had said, and maybe was saying now at the
dinner, and as she looks at Him and begins to be overtaken with this profound
sense of emotion, she does it.
Now she must have contemplated it a little. I can’t
decide how much contemplation she’d given this. I was more definite in the first
service, but during the break I began to rethink it. Now I’m not so sure. She
took the flask with her for sure, so she was definitely going to do something.
You know, you don’t take this thing. This is something you keep in your safe at
home. You know, if the fire burns the house down, this thing is safe. The fact
that she had taken it with her to Simon the leper’s house says to me she was
going to do something with it. Maybe she was thinking, “I’ll give it to Him.
He’s talking about going to Jerusalem to be crucified, to be killed. I’ll give
it to Him for His anointing of His body.” That would be such a wonderful thing
to do, don’t you think? And then, you know, in the heat of the moment as she
looks at Him and she listens to Him, and her heart is just filled and she’s
bursting with affection and her cup is overflowing, she does it! She does this
crazy thing! This completely over-the-top, irrational thing: she breaks it! She
doesn’t take the…whatever it was…(you know the cork or whatever it was in
the top)…she doesn’t do that and begin to pour, and then Martha says, “Mary,
what in the world are you doing?” and grabs the bottle. No. She does something
and there’s no turning back. Once it’s broken, that’s it. It’s going to happen.
And she pours this twenty – thirty – forty thousand dollars’ worth of perfume on
You know, you come home from work, and your wife…you
know there’s something up, you know? The dinner’s on the table, and there are
candles lit, and you think, “Oh! There’s something up.” And she says, “You know,
honey…” [Well, my wife doesn’t call me ‘honey’…that’s an American thing! But you
know….] She says, “I need to tell you something,” and you brace yourself. This
is going to be big! And she says, “You know that car you bought me? I love that
car. But you know, Bill Wymond called today and he needed something for the
choir, and I just gave it to him!”
It’s in that order. (Well, maybe not the choir thing,
but it’s in that order.) It’s something that just takes your breath away. It’s
completely irrational. But she did it because she loved Jesus. That’s the thing.
She loved Him. Her heart went out to Him. She understood who He was. She was
overcome by the fact that He was going to die for her.
You know, this is the only anointing that He got. You
know, they packed all those spices around His body preparing Him for an
anointing that would have taken place on Sunday morning after the Shabbat, but
of course when they got there on Sunday morning the body wasn’t there. So this
is the only anointing that He ever got, and she was the one who did it — this
And there’s a question here. There’s a real question
here: Do you know anything about this? Do you know anything at all about what it
is that moved her to do this?
You see, there were other responses. There were
others, and they were indignant. They said, “She has broken cardinal rules of
social etiquette. No, it’s much worse than that. It’s not just that she’s
embarrassed us at a family meal in a friend’s house.” Mark says, “There were
some who said to themselves indignantly…” [in verse 5] “…and they
scolded her.” The word indignantly in Greek is a word that actually has
onomatopaic qualities about it. It’s actually a word which means to snort.
[Now snort in the twenty-first century has several meanings. I mean the
meaning of the sound that it makes.] They were just angry! They were fuming! And
what they said was, “What a waste! What a terrible, terrible waste.”
I was telling the folks in the first service this
morning — and it’s not a story I tell often, but it seemed appropriate here. I
remember a couple of days after graduating from university. I had just finished
a university degree in mathematics. And I remember telling my father, who wasn’t
a believer…I remember telling him, “God is calling me into the ministry. I am
going to be a minister.” I knew it, I was sure of it, I was certain of it. And
his immediate response was, “What a waste!” [Now, I don’t need therapy! I’m fine
about it. I’ve long since come to terms with it.] But it was the response of
these people: “What a waste.”
And you know, you can understand it, can’t you? It
was utterly irrational. If you sat down and thought about it, you’d want to say
to Mary, “You know, Mary, next time you have one of these urges, call me. Let’s
talk first! Let’s find some other way of saying ‘Jesus, I love You.’” And maybe
that’s right. Maybe in another setting what she did was completely irrational
and over the top, but the point is she did it because that’s where her heart
was. And Jesus says — and I love this…I just love this. He said, “She did a
beautiful thing.” She did a thing of beauty.
Actually, He does three things.
The first thing He does is to defend her. Don’t you
like that about Jesus, that He defends you? You know, against your friends,
against your family? They’re saying that you’re crazy, that your affection is
over the top. “Too much religion is a very bad thing,” my vicar told me the day
after I was converted. Imagine that! He didn’t know Jesus. He knew about Him,
but he didn’t know Him. And he said to me the day after I was converted and I
told him that I’d been converted… he said, “No, you haven’t. You know too much
religion is a very bad thing.” How can you have too much religion? How can you
have too much of Jesus? Jesus defends her. He stands up for her. They were
bullying her, and He asks them the question: “Why are you bothering her?” And I
suspect the reason He asks this question is to indicate to them that the reason
they were behaving the way they were, and the reason they were responding the
way they were responding is because of guilt in their hearts. Because all they
could see was perfume, and all she could see was Jesus. And He says what she did
was beautiful. It’s a word that can also mean appropriate. “She
did it for My burial.”
Do you see what He’s saying? You know, Mary…it may
well be over the top. It may well be extravagant. You know, on another day I
would want to sit down and say, ‘You know, Mary, maybe this isn’t the best way
to do this.’ But you know, she got it! She got it! She understood who Jesus was.
She understood that in Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sins; that in Jesus
Christ there is resurrection, there is hope, there is life! There’s everything!
She was guided, Calvin says, by the breath of the
You know, I love to go through graveyards. I know
it’s kind of weird, but I love to go through graveyards and I love to read
what’s on tombstones, especially old, old tombstones. And there was a time when
they wrote just extraordinary poetry, and sometimes very candid poetry, about
lost loved ones. I’m not going to quote any. I was going to, but it would just
distract from what I’m trying to say. Do you know what’s on her tombstone? “She
loved Jesus. She really, really loved Jesus.” Now how can that be bad?
You know there’s a subtext here. It’s asking you and
it’s asking me, “Where’s your heart today? Where’s your affection…your affection
for Jesus?” Does it ever reach the point where your affection for Jesus just
overflows? And maybe, occasionally, irrationally? I don’t think this passage is
saying it’s okay to behave irrationally; I don’t think that’s what the passage
is trying to say to us. But it is saying there are times in our experience of
Christ when our love for Him is so great and so much it seems as though we want
to give ourselves away to Him. Have you ever felt like that? You want Him to
have everything there is of you, and it doesn’t matter what the consequences are
because it’s your relationship to Christ that is the most important thing of
And Jesus saw it, and He said that’s a really
William Cowper, the great hymn writer who often
struggled with his own affections, of course…a man who had serious issues with
“Lord, it is my chief complaint
That my love is weak and faint;
Yet, I love Thee, and adore.
Oh, for grace to love Thee more!”
Let’s pray together.
Our Father, this passage is so very familiar to
us, and we want it to speak to our hearts this morning. We do want to love You,
Lord Jesus, more than we do. Holy Spirit, kindle a flame within our hearts for
You, that we might be out and out for You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Let’s sing together the words of the hymn My
Jesus, I Love Thee, No. 648.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and
the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
message has been lightly edited and formatted for the web page. No attempt has
been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to
produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an
established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the
reader should presume any error to be with the transcriber/editor rather than
with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permissions
information, please visit the
FPC Website, Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.
To view recordings of our entire services, visit our Facebook page.