What Commitment MeansErwin W. Lutzer | February 1, 1987
Selected highlights from this sermon
Mary did the unthinkable. She broke a jar of pure nard and poured it on Jesus. A year’s salary was spent as the scent permeated the room. While many were quick to criticize her decision, Jesus defended her costly gift.
Too often, Christians are spectators rather than committed followers. Many are unwilling to sacrifice, to pay the expensive price of surrendering their lives and their possessions to Jesus. We need to commit to His cause and pay any price to follow Him.
Sometimes in churches you have various families. This past week I read of a church that had the Tater families that attended. Here they are listed with some of their characteristics. Uncle Dick Tater had some very loveable characteristics and is usually easy to get along with, especially if he is allowed to have his own way. The truth of the matter is that he is going to have his way or else! His policy seems to be that of rule or ruin, and he usually ruins. That’s Dick Tater.
The aunt to the family is Hesi. Hesi Tater is the amiable wife of Uncle Dick Tater. She, too, has some very loveable qualities, but her greatest fault seems to be that of always waiting for someone else to go ahead. This characteristic is probably due in part to the dominant attitude of her husband.
Cousin Imma is quite an attractive young lady and has some qualities which are not seen by other members of the family, but her greatest lack is that of originality. She always wants to do what other people do. That’s, of course, Imma Tater.
Cousin Agi, Agi Tater, is the other girl in the family and is quite different from her mother or sister. Although she seems to be possessed of unflagging zeal and unlimited energy, she is constantly stirring up trouble.
Well, finally the last member of the family is Cousin Spec, Spec Tater. He is the only son in the family and seems to be obsessed with the idea that he is outnumbered by the feminine portion of the family. He’s a quiet, humble, unassuming sort of fellow. His worst fault is that he never does anything. He simply sits or stands quietly by, and looks on without much comment. That, of course, is Spec.
Today I want to speak to the “specs,” the spectators. Do you know that a person who studied hundreds of churches discovered that there is a twenty-thirty-fifty percent rule in most churches? Twenty percent of the people give 80% of the money. Thirty percent give the other 20%. And fifty percent give nothing. And this man says that the same is true for involvement and work at the church. Twenty percent of the people do 80% of the work. Thirty percent do the other 20% of the work. And 50% do nothing. They are the spectators.
We’re living in a day and age of low commitment, and people don’t have a whole lot of loyalties. We’re living at a time when people are very selfishly, oftentimes, asking, “What is in it for me?” And they ask that question about their church as they do about their job and about their country. And because of that low commitment, the cause of Christ suffers.
The fourteenth chapter of Mark. I want you to turn to that passage of Scripture, remarkable one indeed, where a woman by the name of Mary is in the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany. And this is the Mary that sat at the feet of Jesus and heard His words.
You say, “Well, how do you know it’s Mary because Mark doesn’t say that?” It’s because John tells us that it’s Mary who sat at the feet of Christ and heard His word. It is she that anoints the Lord with ointment. And it says, “While he was there at the house of Simon the Leper, a woman with an alabaster vial of costly perfume, or pure nard, broke the vial (or the flask) and poured it over his head.” Interestingly John says that she poured it on His feet. And that’s not a discrepancy. It just means that she took that flask and she broke it and she allowed the perfume to fall all over the master, about a pint of perfume, if you please, of the very expensive spikenard, which was taken from some of the leaves of a plant in the Himalayas. And she allowed that pint, nearly sixteen ounces of perfume, to be totally falling across the body of Christ. And Jesus said that wherever she goes in the world, or wherever the Gospel goes in the world, she will be spoken of in memory because of what she did. High commitment.
But before I speak on this passage today I want all of us to pray together, because I realize that there is nothing that I can say that will be of profit to you apart from the Holy Spirit of God, burning into our hearts the lessons that come to us from this passage of Scripture. You may be a young person. You may be an older person. Whoever you are. You may be a Christian. You may not be a Christian. Would you just bow in prayer in this moment and ask God to speak to your heart? Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for this lovely story of commitment and of love. And we ask that in these moments, that as we speak on this topic, that your blessed Holy Spirit will take these words and make them real. Cause them to explode in every single heart bowed in Your presence. We pray for those whose love has been dwindling. We ask that You will rekindle it. We pray for those who do not know You as Savior. We ask that You will draw them to Yourself. We pray for the young people with their temptations and with the struggles that they have in the right use of their time. We ask that Your Holy Spirit will speak to them as well. And we ask that each of us will be able to say that we are different because we have heard from the King. We ask in His name, Amen.
When Mary took that flask and broke it and the perfume poured over the body of Jesus, Jesus in commenting on that said, “She has done a good work.” Don’t you want to do a good work for God? Wouldn’t that be wonderful if God were to say to you someday, “You have done a good work,” and He would be able to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant?”
What are some of the lessons that come to us from this story about what constitutes a good work? The first lesson that we learn is that commitment to Christ, that loving commitment that we’re going to talk about today: that commitment costs. It costs.
You know the rest of the story. She did this, and it says that some (verse 4) were indignantly remarking to one another, “For what purpose has this perfume been wasted, for this perfume might have been sold for over 300 denarii, and the money given to the poor?” And they were scolding her. Remember that a denarius was a little silver coin that represented the wage that a working man would receive for one day. So if the cost of this perfume was 300 denarii, we are talking about an entire year’s wage in those days.
Did you know that perfume was sometimes purchased and it was kept in these little bottles as an investment? People would buy it. They wouldn’t necessarily buy gold coins, but they would buy perfume, because if you had perfume it was worth a lot of money, and it could be put away, and it didn’t occupy a lot of space. And people would buy these expensive perfumes that were imported, and then they would keep them and it would be their retirement fund. Some people think that Mary gave all she had. It may well have been her life savings—300 denarii in this flask, about 16 ounces, about the size of a pint.
What an investment love for Jesus Christ meant for her. What a cost it was when she realized that she was giving this so joyfully and so spontaneously because she loved the Master because of all the good things that Jesus Christ had done for her! It cost her money, first of all, and secondly, it cost her some misunderstanding.
Notice that the people, and this was begun by Judas, and then it was carried out by others...they all were indignant, and they said, “This could have been taken, and it could have been sold, and the money could have been given to the poor.” And so the text of Scripture here is very clear. They thought that she had done something that was a waste.
Do you remember when Jesus was going to feed the multitude, or before He did, Philip said to Him, “Two hundred denarii is not worth enough to feed all this multitude.” And what they were saying was that it would take more than 200 denarii to feed five thousand people. Perhaps 300 denarii would have fed a couple of thousand people. And so what they said was, “This could have been sold and it could have been given to the poor.” Suddenly they have this heart concern for the poor. I doubt whether they would have sold their own flasks, if they had any, and given it to the poor, but they saw Mary doing this and their comment was, “What waste!”
My dear friend, whenever you commit yourself fully to Jesus Christ and you love Him joyfully, you will find that there are people who will say to you, “What a waste!” I’ve known young people who have gone to the mission field, and they said, “You could have had a good career here at home. You could have been a computer operator. You could have gotten ahead in business. And there you are. You’re out in Africa or you are out in India, or you’re in some remote part of the world with all that ability. What a waste!” My dear friend, don’t you realize that when Jesus Christ died on the cross for us that His death was a sacrifice for sin, and from now on nothing that we do can be a waste. Nothing!
You know that we as Christians are not very committed I’m afraid. A couple of months ago, I caught a cab here in the city of Chicago. I caught it from the church here to go downtown, and struck up a conversation with the driver. I found out he was a Muslim from Damascus, Syria. I said to him, “Do you know the Qur’an by memory?” “Oh yes,” he said, “I read it every day.” I didn’t know that he had a Qur’an with him, but he took it off the dashboard, and he showed it to me, and then he laid it back. And as soon as he laid it back he said, “Oh, I forgot to kiss it.” And then he took it from the dashboard and he kissed it. I said, “Do you always kiss the Qur’an?” He said, “Every time I lay it down. Every time I pick it up.” He did it again. He kissed it.
He said, “I read from it.” [and I knew this was going to happen. This is designed here so that I can’t use my right hand.” I said, “Don’t use your right hand, and we’re going to make sure you can. We’re going to set it up on the right side,” so thank you. It worked.] But I said to him, “Do you read it? Do you memorize it?” He said, “Every day I read it during my spare moments.” And then he said, “You know, this April I’m going to go back to Damascus, Syria, because” he said, “in Syria among the Arabs, among the Muslims there is such a closely knit community,” he said, “no matter what your need is, somebody will help you, but” he said, “it’s not like that in America.” He said, “Here everybody does his own thing. Everybody is hurrying and stepping over people to get ahead.” He said, “I find much more community in Syria.” And I thought to myself, “Oh my!”
How many Christians are there who take the New Testament and who say, “I kiss it; I read it every single day? I carry it with me because this is my life, this is my bread, this is my butter.” My friend, that’s what commitment to Jesus Christ really is. Commitment to saying, “No matter what the cost is; no matter how much is involved, I love Him because He first loved me, and I give it to Him gladly and freely because He is worthy of everything. He is worthy of money. He is worthy of being misunderstood.”
The first lesson is that commitment costs. The second lesson is that commitment pays. It pays. What benefits did Mary receive as a result of this experience? Well, for one thing, she blessed a lot of people. You wish that they’d have accepted the blessing with a little bit more dignity, but the Bible says in John that the fragrance filled the whole house. Isn’t that beautiful? I mean you take a pint of genuine pure concentrated spikenard, and you pour it over the body of Jesus Christ, and the whole house is filled with the fragrance. What a beautiful thing!
To think that that fragrance was blessing the lives of everyone that was in the house, and giving that house an attractiveness that other houses on that block didn’t have! That’s one thing. She blessed the lives of others, but also and more importantly, she received the commendation and the defense of Christ.
I love this passage. It says that this perfume has been wasted. It might have been sold for over 300 denarii and given to the poor. And they were scolding her. Verse 6: “But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you bother her? She has done a good deed for me.’” And then Jesus said, “She did this in anticipation of my burial, and wherever the Gospel is preached, this story is going to be preached.” And my message today is the fulfillment of Jesus Christ’s words.
Many commentators look at this passage and they say, “You know, I don’t think that Mary knew that Jesus was going to die. She didn’t have that in her mind that she was doing this, anointing Him previously or before His burial. She just did it and then Jesus gave the act that extra meaning.” That’s a possibility. Maybe she didn’t quite know what she was doing.
I like to think that the commentators are wrong. Remember that this is the Mary who sat at the feet of Jesus Christ and she heard His words. Jesus never had a better listener than Mary. And I’d like to think that Mary knew a whole lot more possibly than the disciples did, that there, at the feet of Jesus Christ, she knew that He was going to die. And in those days, the body, after it was dead, was taken and washed and then it was perfumed. And she was doing this in anticipation of His death and His burial. And she, perhaps, knew what she was doing. But then Jesus did say something that she couldn’t have possibly anticipated. He said to her, “Wherever the Gospel is preached, this story is going to be preached too as a memorial to her”—that she could have never dreamt about, and that 2,000 years later, we’d be talking about the event.
Isn’t it wonderful how you do something for the Lord Jesus Christ and Jesus is the one that adds to it in ways that you could never possibly anticipate? You do a good deed, and you don’t know it but perhaps God has set up a whole string of dominos, and you kick one of those dominos, and you find a whole series of good events that flow from one decent, sane, loving act that was done without any fanfare. You find that it has repercussions in eternity. That’s just like God, isn’t it?
It is said that in India there are some weavers who weave their best clothes and rugs in the dark. They just sit there in the dark and they do it best that way. And it is only later when the shutters are opened and when the light comes in that you begin to see what they’ve been up to. And that’s the way it is going to be in the day of judgment. All kinds of little acts, done by Sunday school teachers here at The Moody Church that have gone unnoticed, but the encouragement that the Sunday school teachers give to the children. All kinds of little deeds of kindness, somebody helping, somebody else giving them money because they have need, and nobody knows about it. But those kindnesses done in the name of Jesus and for His glory—someday the light is going to come on and we’re going to find out what people have been up to, and we will see that the insignificant things that are done are going to be adequately and beautifully rewarded. It’s just like Jesus to give somebody a lot more than they’d have ever anticipated.
So commitment costs. Commitment also pays. Also commitment gives. Here we have to go back to the story itself. How did Mary give to Christ? First of all, she gave very generously. Oh, I can imagine a lot of people who’d have thought about anointing Jesus Christ, and taking an eye dropper and wondering how many drops they should give Him so that they look good and yet not have to give everything to get. Isn’t that the way we sometimes serve Christ?
But the economics of common sense and the economics of love oftentimes do not fit together. Love says, “Do it spontaneously, do it graciously, do it wondrously because the very privilege is an awesome one to serve Jesus,” and so you don’t hold back. You simply say, “If it’s for Christ, let’s do it.” That’s what real love is. It’s that cool, calculating commitment that says, “I don’t want to get too involved.” That’s the kind of commitment that is lukewarm about which God speaks so clearly in the Revelation.
You know that a girl despises a guy who has money and yet is very cheap towards her. He may be loaded with money. He can get a new car, but when it comes to buying a flower, he takes one that is a couple of day’s old that was on sale at K-Mart. Stingy! And so he tries to make up for it by telling her over and over again that he really loves her. Isn’t that the way we are with Christ? “My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine,” but somehow our hearts are really, really not in tune with giving toward Him. We hold back.
And so Mary gave generously. The Bible is very clear that God loves a cheerful giver, and you’ve heard it said many times that the word cheerful is hilarious. This was hilarity. I mean, there she is. She takes the flask and she breaks it and she allows this perfume to go over the body of Jesus Christ in its entirety. And everybody is scolding her and mocking her, but she’s having a blast. This is Christ. He is worth it! Why should we hold back when we speak about commitment to the one who is willing to go to the cross and die for us? So, it was a generous gift.
Also, it was a painful gift. What do I mean by painful? Well, I’d like to think of the fact that in that flask there was all this fragrance which could not possibly be released until the flask was broken. Some people think that she broke only the seal. That’s a possibility. The other possibility is that she broke the entire bottle because it was customary in those days that if you had a very important person use a flask or even a jar, it was broken later so that it could never be used again. And I tend to think that Mary took the whole thing and she used something else and she broke it discreetly, but just allowed all of it to pour onto Jesus. And I would like you to think for a moment of the fact that we as believers are really flasks, and inside of us is the perfume called Christ. This is consistent with Scripture. Paul says that we are a fragrance to the world.
We are to allow the fragrance of God to permeate not only church life, which is where it should begin, but really to affect the entire world, because I’ll tell you why. The world is walking in death. And no matter how much fun they seem to be having, and no matter how good it appears that they are having it, inwardly there is a deadness. There is a spiritual numbness. And so they look to us as believers in Jesus Christ to provide that fragrance, to season their world in such a way that the sting and the harshness of the reality of what it’s like out there (and all of us know what it’s like out there) would be taken away by the mellow, loving scent of a committed Christian. But you know that there is no way in the world that we can possibly allow that fragrance to come out unless we break. Unless we break!
The church, individual believers, contain the fragrance of Christ. We are the treasure. We have the treasure in earthen vessels, the Bible says, but the fragrance is released through breaking. And breaking comes by wasting. The text says, “’Why this waste?’ the disciples said.” Why this waste?
I want you to think for a moment of your spiritual gift. That’s been our emphasis during these weeks. I want you to think of it as that flask. God has given you a divine ability for service so that you can do something that nobody else is really able to do. God made you unique and He gifted you for service, and that’s what life is all about. That’s why your primary responsibility is to serve God. After all, God has given you the equipment with which to serve Him. If you’re a believer, He has redeemed you so that you might serve Him. What could possibly compete with such an honor? But some of you, I fear, have that gift in the flask. You’re playing it close to the vest. You are playing it safe. You are saying, “I don’t want to get involved. I don’t want to touch the lives of other people because that demands sacrifice. I want to just make sure that that perfume is within me and that I am content.”
The Holy Spirit of God says, “There is no way for you to be all that Christ intended you to be unless the fragrance is released,” and that only happens through crushing. It only happens through breaking. It only happens through you saying, “Jesus, here it is in its entirety.”
All of us, I think, have met Christians (you have and I have) who are absolutely convinced that they are never going to open up to God. Maybe they’ve been hurt. Maybe they’ve gone through a series of experiences that have been negative. Maybe they have long ago lost their faith and confidence in God and His people and His promises, and they say to themselves, “I just dare You, God. I dare You to get through to me. I dare You!”
There’s not much that can be said under those conditions except that we might be able to plead with people, to say, “Open your life to God so that the fragrance can come out.” It’s there if you’re a Christian. There is more potential in your life than you could have ever possibly realized. You have no way to know how that your life can be the fragrance that can heal an entire home, the home in which live. Your life can fill the entire room in your Sunday school classroom that you have responsibility for. Your life can fill any area that you are in with the fragrance of Christ. But there has to be release, and release always means the giving up of all of the things that we sometimes cherish and put ahead of Christ. And what God is asking us to do today is to simply let go, and say, “We want the fragrance of Christ to break forth at any cost, no matter how much is involved.”
Let me ask you a question. What would it cost you if Jesus were really and truly, absolutely and totally number one in your life? How much would it cost you? How much of your time would it cost you? How much of your money would it cost you? How much of your commitment would it cost you? How much of your social life would it cost you? What would it mean to say, “I want to love Christ even as Mary loved Christ: hilariously, joyfully, recklessly?” What would it cost you?
When I think of all that Christ has done for us, and I think of the breaking of this flask, I can’t help but think of the words of Christ: “Whosoever saves his life loses it.” The people who play it close to the vest, who play it safe are the ones that are going to be losers in the end. The people who don’t play it safe, the people who go for broke, the people who say, “If it’s for Jesus, let’s do it,” are the ones that are going to be rewarded.
Hang onto your little flask, keep it in your hip pocket. You lose it. Smash it in the presence of Christ. You gain it. You know that there is only one way that we can be all that God ever intended us to be and that is the willingness to die to our own plans and desires, and in the New Testament, that is referred to as the cross. And before Jesus died, He said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground, it abides alone, but if it dies, it’s going to bring forth much fruit.” There is a death to die, and it’s a death to self, and when we die, we become alive to Christ.
There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest, it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest sharpest spine, and dying, it rises above its own agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale. It has just one superlative song, but existence itself is the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles, for the best is only bought at the cost of great pain. And I might add, at the cost of death.
Let me speak to the fifty percent of you (if the statistics are accurate) who are not involved actively with Christ. What do you think God is going to say to you someday? Do you think that He’s going to say to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, for thou has listened to 4,400 messages; enter into the joy of my Lord?” Do you think that’s what He’s going to say?
Do you think He’s going to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant for thou hast come to church many times, and thou hast sung many times?” But if your heart is far from Christ, that isn’t what He’s going to say.
What God is calling us to do today as a church is to say, “If Jesus Christ is number one, what changes have to take place in my life? I can’t simply come and listen to sermon after sermon after sermon. I can’t do that. Jesus did a whole lot more for me than that. I can’t simply play at this business of being a Christian. I’ve got to go for broke. I’ve got to smash the bottle. I’ve got to do the whole thing because He’s worth every little ounce of my strength and power and energy.” That’s what commitment to Jesus Christ really means.
And if we are going to impact this city of Chicago, that’s the kind of commitment we are going to need from every single member and every single attender from the top to the bottom. It’s the kind of love that spills out fragrance because we’ve been smashed, we’ve been broken, we have said no to ourselves and yes to Christ, whatever the cost.
How many of you are willing to say today, “Pastor Lutzer, in light of what you’ve preached on, I know that there are things in my life that I have to change, and by God’s grace, I’m going to change them?” Would you raise your hand if you fit into that category? All over the auditorium people are raising their hand.That’s fine now. You can put them down. But I want to say to those of you who raised your hand, will you promise me, will you promise God that whatever He has said to you, you will do, no matter what the cost is? Will you promise me that, and then do it?
We are fighting battles in the world in society that are so great that this is no time for half-hearted commitment. There is no time for that, folks. The world is being overrun by evil, and we’re either going to do it or we’re not going to do it. We’re either going to be committed or we’re not going to be committed.
Father, we ask that You will enable each person who has raised his or her hand to follow through with whatever you require. We ask that very graciously You might not let them go until they have done it, whatever that cost may be. And we pray, Father, that You might help each of us to break the flask. We keep it, we lose it. We give it away, we gain it that the fragrance of Christ may be seen among us. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.