The AnointedRev. Philip Miller | March 21, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
One of the scariest realities in the Gospels is the Pharisees seeing Jesus right in front of them , yet they missed Him. Or Judas, who was one of the inner circle and yet betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
These stories are a warning. You can be good, moral, religious, generous, well thought of, and listen to the finest sermons, yet you can still miss Jesus entirely.
Then there’s Mary, who lavishly anointed Jesus’ feet with a priceless perfume in adoration, gratitude, awe, and worship of Jesus.
Everyone can meet the same Jesus, but there can be wildly varied responses. In this message, Pastor Miller explains the difference between a true encounter with the glory of Jesus that changes us, and a superficial encounter that won’t last in the end.
One of the scariest realities in all the Gospels is how close we can be to Jesus and miss Him entirely. We’ve been watching, chapter after chapter, as Jesus has been right there in front of the Pharisees, but they miss Him completely. He is calling, but they can’t hear Him. His glory is shining, but they can’t see Him and they want to kill Him instead.
What’s even scarier to me is Judas. For almost three years he’s been with Jesus. Like the rest of the disciples he’s experienced Jesus up close and in person. He’s heard what He has taught. He’s seen what He has done. He even served in a leadership role as the treasurer of the group of disciples. And yet in less than a week he will betray Jesus for thirty shekels of Tyrian silver. See the Pharisees and Judas, they were so close to Jesus, and yet missed Him. They were so far away.
I think this serves for us as a kind of warning, doesn’t it, that you can be moral, you can be religious, you can attend all kinds of religious gatherings, you can give to the poor, you can do good in society, you can be well thought of by others, you can even hang around the right group of true authentic disciples, listen to the very finest of sermons, even hold a leadership position within the religious community, and be that close to the glory of Jesus, and yet miss Him entirely. His glory can be right there and yet you can’t see it.
Now, on the other hand, in contrast with the Pharisees and Judas, we have Mary. Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha who, as we will see in today’s passage, in loving abandonment anoints Jesus’ feet lavishly with a priceless perfume in adoration and gratitude and awe and worship of Jesus. You see, she sees who He is. Here we have the same Jesus, but very different, wildly different responses. What makes that difference, huh? See Mary had a true encounter with the glory of Jesus. It deeply changed her, whereas the others simply did not. There’s was a superficial exposure to the glory of Jesus, not a true encounter. And if that’s the question for us, which group are we in? Have we had a true encounter with the glory of Jesus that has radically changed our lives, or is ours the superficial encounter that won’t last in the end? That is the question.
We’re going to tackle that very question this morning, and if you would open your Bibles to John 11:54 over into chapter 12, verse 11. Today we’re going to see three signs that we’ve truly encountered Jesus’ glory. Three signs that we’ve truly encountered Jesus’ glory. Let me give them to you upfront so you can write them down and take notes, if that’s helpful to you.
The first sign is the stirring of our affections. The second sign is the shattering of our idols. And the third sign is the satisfying of our souls. The stirring of our affections, the shattering of our idols, and the satisfying of our souls.
Now, what we’re going to do this morning is we’re going to walk through the text as a whole, and then we’re going to drill down on these three signs that we’ve truly encountered the glory of Jesus.
Would you bow your heads as we begin and let’s pray together?
Heavenly Father, we pray today that you would show us what it means to be like Mary and not like Judas or the Pharisees. Father, there’s something of great danger, that we could be so close to Christ and miss Him entirely. We don’t want to be those people. Help us to see your Son. Help His glory to drive deep in our hearts and change us forever. We pray that, even today, you might do that in our hearts and in our lives, for we pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.
John 11:54, if you’ll read along with me here. “Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.”
Now pause for just a moment here. You will remember that there is a full-on plan to kill Jesus. The council has met, the plan has been hatched, and the pieces are moving. So Jesus removes Himself. He leaves Bethany, which is just a couple miles from Jerusalem, and He goes some miles away to Ephraim where He can lay low for awhile.
Verse 55: “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves.” Of course, there were very many ways to become unclean, and so they are coming to cleanse themselves in preparation of this feast.
Verse 56: “They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?’ Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.”
So here we have everyone on the lookout for Jesus.
Chapter 12:1: “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.”
So we have a time-stamp here, don’t we? We are six days out now from Passover, so this is the Saturday prior to Good Friday. Okay? So we are less than a week before Jesus will be crucified. Jesus has less than a week to live, and He knows it. He returns to Bethany, knowing what dangers await Him. He’s just two miles, as we’ve said, from Jerusalem, and so He is now easily within reach of the religious authorities that are after Him, and so the tension is mounting. It is ominous if you can feel it.
And here they throw a lavish dinner for Jesus. This is a big deal. This would have been the evening meal most likely. It was well-orchestrated. Jesus is the guest of honor. Lazarus is at His side, the man that He raised from the dead. Martha is serving, which is very typical of Martha if you know her character from other stories in the Gospel, and Mary has a plan.
Verse 3: “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.”
Now, this is a lavish display of affection. It is totally excessive. Let me see if I can help you see how big a deal this is. This is a pound of pure nard, which would have been eleven fluid ounces of this fragrance, essential oil from India. It is extracted from the root and spike of the nard plant. And in verse five we’re going to learn that it is worth three-hundred denarii. Now a denarii was equivalent to basically a day’s wage for a blue collar worker. Okay? So let’s just do some quick math here. You know, I wasn’t a math major in college, but I think I’ve got this right. If you assume the Illinois, you know, state minimum wage of eleven dollars an hour okay? And they worked basically twelve-hour days in that era. So eleven dollars times twelve hours a day times 300 days, that’s about the value of 300 denarii. That comes to, in today’s economy $39,600. That’s the value of this perfume. It’s basically a year’s wages. Right? A year’s salary.
Now we don’t know how she came to have such an incredibly valuable oil like this. Some scholars surmise that it was maybe her dowry that she has used here, or maybe it’s a family heirloom. Perhaps it belonged to her mother, and she’s been hanging on to it. It’s possible that it was intended, something she was saving, like an emergency fund that she had turned into a commodity to keep it safe, or perhaps she’s been holding on to this for a special day like her wedding. We don’t know for sure where she got this, but what is probably fair to say is that this is most likely the most valuable treasure she possessed. And she pours it all out, lavishly anointing her Jesus. Reckless, devotion, passion, and she holds nothing back in the worship of her Jesus. Don’t you see that?
Now John notes two things in particular here he wants us to pay attention to. First is that she anointed His feet. She anointed His feet, and secondly she wiped them with her hair. Both of theses are odd things. First-century feet, you will recall, were nasty. They were nasty. (chuckles) They shared the roads with donkeys and horses and cattle. And if you’ve ever seen a parade, you know what kinds of things are left behind on the road after the animals come through. And they wore sandals, and they are trodding those dirty roads covered with manure. Their feet were gross, and the servants themselves hated washing feet.
So this is the dirtiest, nastiest part of Jesus that’s being washed here. And in contrast Mary’s hair is in sharp relief here. At a lavish party like this Mary certainly would have washed her hair, and probably done it up very nicely, styled it beautifully. And so here we have this contrast. She takes her greatest treasure that is worth thousands of dollars, a year’s salary, tens of thousands of dollars, and her beautiful hair, which was probably the cleanest and most beautiful part of who she was, and she anoints and wipes the lowliest and dirtiest feet of Jesus. Why? Because the very lowest of Jesus is deserving of the very highest of us, don’t you see?
Now, what would prompt Mary to do this lavish act of worship, dirtying her hair like this? Well, friends, she saw the glory of God. Don’t you remember back in chapter 11, verse 40, Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” And then He said, “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus has given her brother back. Jesus is her resurrection, don’t you see? And Jesus has become her life. And so she pours out this ointment, and she pours out herself in worship of her Jesus.
“But (verse 4) 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?’”
See, Mary sees this as an act of extravagant worship, and Judas sees it as excessively wasteful. And all this avowed poverty, on the part of Judas’ concern for the poor, is simply a mask for his ulterior motives.
Look at verse 6. “He said this (John adds), 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.” See, John tells us that Judas wasn’t really as altruistic as he portrays here. Apparently at some point it came out later, that Judas had been embezzling funds for his own use.
Now look at how Jesus responds. Verse 7: “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.’”
“Leave her alone, Judas. Get off her case so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” He’s saying, “Listen, Mary has done a good thing here. My own burial day is near. It’s right around the corner, just days away. And you know how people lavish gifts and spend exorbitant amounts of money on funerals? You know how they do this? It’s a way to show honor and the dignity of what somebody meant to us. Mary’s just being lavish upfront, because she senses what’s coming. The poor you always have with you. Judas, if you’re concerned about the poor, don’t worry. You can have a whole lifetime of caring for the poor, but you won’t always have me. My days are numbered.”
So somehow, I don’t know how, but apparently Mary has intuited what’s coming, that this week will be Jesus’ last week on Earth. Perhaps she’s heard the rumors that the council has met and that they’re after Jesus. They’ve made instructions for His arrest. She knows that they tried to stone Him now several times, but then He came and raised her brother from the dead, and it escalated everything, and she knows it can’t be long. I mean, if they were mad at Jesus before, they’ve got to be livid now. It can’t be long, and this is maybe her last chance to show Jesus just how much He means to her, how much He’s changed her life, how much He’s become her life. And so she holds nothing back.
And of course, Judas doesn’t get that. He would never part with $39,000 worth of ointment for Jesus, not when in a week he’ll betray Jesus for the equivalent of $8,000. What a contrast.
Verse 9: “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 contrast in this passage is so striking. Don’t you see it? In the very center you have this beautiful display of lavish affection and worship and loving devotion, and it is bracketed on either side by murderous plotting. And in the very middle the only person with a line other than Jesus is the one who will betray Jesus, and he’s sitting right at the table.
So at the heart of this story, you have a true encounter with the glory of Jesus, and it is surrounded on every side by those who have had a superficial exposure to His glory that didn’t change them. What makes that difference? What are the signs that we’ve truly encountered Jesus’ glory?
The first sign is this: It’s the stirring of our affections, the stirring of our affections. Mary’s lavish worship of Jesus here, friends, comes from the overflow of her affections, doesn’t it? This is more than a rational response, although she certainly thought it out. This is more than an emotional response, although she certainly enacts it with great feeling. It’s more than a volitional response where she’s just gutting it out, although she has willingly given all that she has. No, this is an affection that’s coming out. Her affections have been changed and stirred. Her desires have changed. Her longings have changed. Her dreams have changed. Don’t you see? Jesus has melted her out. He has turned her world on end. There is nothing now that Mary desires more than to be with Jesus and lavish Him with all of her love and affection.
And we know, friends, that we have truly encountered Jesus’ glory when He becomes our deepest longing. We know that we have truly encountered Jesus’ glory when He becomes our deepest longing. One of the signs of a true encounter with the glory of Jesus is that our affections change. Our affections change, our desires change, our longings change, our dreams are fundamentally altered, and we simply want Jesus. He becomes our desire. We want Him simply and truly and earnestly for who He is.
We gain what Jonathan Edwards, an eighteenth-century religious leader, pastor, evangelist called the religious affections. God gives us His religious affections, affections for God. This is what he writes in a book titled “The Religious Affections.”
“He who has no religious affection, is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart.”
Edwards is telling us that one of the foolproof marks of saving faith, of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or a true encounter with the glory of Jesus is changed affections, that we hunger for God, that we desire His Spirit, that we long for our Jesus. Edwards goes on to write this:
“But saints and angels behold that glory of God which consists in the beauty of His holiness; and it is this sight only that will melt and humble the hearts of men, wean them from the world, draw them to God, and effectually change them...The first glimpse of the moral and spiritual glory of God shining into the heart produces all these effects as it were with omnipotent power, which nothing can withstand.”
Friends, to behold the glory of Jesus, to really let it sink in and change us, is to come alive spiritually. It is to be forever transformed. Mary beheld His glory, don’t you see? And she came alive with faith and worship. This is a true encounter with the glory of Jesus, and in contrast, Judas and the Pharisees did not. Theirs was a superficial exposure.
Now the second sign that we’ve truly encountered Jesus’ glory is the shattering of our idols, the shattering of our idols. One of the most foundational questions of life is this. Whose glory are you living for? Whose glory are you living for? And the truth of the matter is you can only really live for one glory at a time. As Jesus will put it, “You cannot serve both God and money. You cannot serve two masters.” And that was Judas’s main problem. Don’t you see it here? Jesus’ glory was revealed in raising Lazarus from the dead, and so Mary breaks open her greatest treasure, costly beyond measure, and gives it all up in worship of her Jesus. But Judas, Judas loved money. He lived for the glory of money and all that money could give him. That’s why he was embezzling funds on the side. It’s why he’s about to sell Jesus to make a few bucks on the side. And don’t you see? Mary worshiped Jesus, but Judas worshiped money. It was his idol and it destroyed him in the end.
This is why Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:6–11, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.”
See, this was fundamentally the Pharisees’ main problem too. Oh, it wasn’t money so much that they worshiped, but they had idols in their hearts as well. Remember back in chapter 11, verse 48, at the council? They said this. “If we let him (Jesus) go on like this everyone will believe in him and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” Remember that? Do you see their idols in that verse? “Everyone will believe in Him.” Popularity. They’re afraid of losing their social standing and influence. You see this: “The Romans will take away our place.” Position. They’ve ingratiated themselves with the powerful overlords, and if the situation gets out of hand they’re afraid they’re going to lose their placement as rulers and authorities in the nation. They’ll lose their jobs, their titles, their honor, their position. “The Romans will take away our nation.” They’re worried about losing power, that their nation is at risk. It might slip from their grip and then it would be lost and their power would be gone.
Popularity, position, and power, and so don’t you see when Jesus’ glory shows up in all of its splendor, it forces us to decide whose glory are we living for. And Judas, who worshiped money, was living for his own glory, don’t you see? And the Pharisees who worshiped popularity and position and power, they were living for their own glory. But Mary, who lavishly gave up her greatest treasure in the world, was living for Jesus’ glory. Don’t you see?
Imagine what that thing could have bought her in terms of life and travel and pleasure and opportunities and savings and security. But she gave it all up. Why? Because, friends, we know we’ve truly encountered Jesus’ glory when He becomes our greatest treasure. We know that we have truly encountered Jesus’ glory when He becomes our greatest treasure.
For Mary, giving up a $39,000 ointment was nothing in comparison to seeing a smile of delight upon the face of her Jesus. That was an even trade. That was better than an even trade in her mind because He had become her greatest treasure. He had become her heart’s desire. He had become her supreme happiness, and everything else paled in comparison.
So Judas and the Pharisees are living for themselves, trying to find happiness in all the wrong places, and in the end, it destroyed them, didn’t it? But Mary, Mary has found a priceless treasure.
Blaise Pascal, a philosopher of a bygone era, writes this in his Pensées: “There was once in man a true happiness of which there now remains to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all of his surroundings...but these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable Object, that is to say, only by God Himself.” He is saying, “There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God Himself.”
C.S. Lewis writes in “The Weight of Glory” one of my favorite quotations in all the world: “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Lewis says, “Money, sex, ambition, popularity, power, all of this, it’s child’s play, mud pies in the slum.” No, Mary has found the holiday at sea, don’t you see?
As Augustine writes in his confession, “Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Or as the apostle Paul writes in Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
See, friends, when Jesus becomes our supreme value, we gladly shatter our idols in lavish worship of the one who has become to us our greatest treasure. It is a sign that we have truly encountered Jesus in His glory. Not only are our affections stirred, but our idols are shattered.
And the third sign is the satisfying of our souls, the satisfying of our souls, the third sign that we’ve truly encountered Jesus’ glory. Notice that this, this wasn’t a grudging act of duty on Mary’s part. No, this was an overflow of joyous delight in Him. And friends, we know we’ve truly encountered Jesus’ glory when He becomes our highest joy. We know we have truly encountered Jesus’ glory when He becomes our highest joy.
If you think about it, real worship always flows from joy, from enjoyment. Again, C.S. Lewis in another of his books, in “The Reflection on the Psalms” writes this: “All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise...The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside...players praising their favorite game...Just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely?’ ‘Wasn’t it glorious?’ ‘Don’t you think that magnificent?’ The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about...I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete until it is expressed...The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him, which is why David writes in Psalm 37, verse 4, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of His heart.’”
See, when God becomes our delight, friends, God freely gives us Himself.
Psalm 42:1–2: “As the deer pants for the flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Do you see His affections, His desires, His yearnings?
Psalm 63:1–8: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” Don’t you see? Mary herself could have echoed these very words as she sat at Jesus’ feet.
Psalm 34:8: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”
Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
See, friends, to truly encounter Jesus’ glory is to find joyous delight in Him, is to have our souls satisfied in Him so that we overflow with worship, awe, and praise. It’s a sign we have encountered His glory truly.
So here’s your takeaways for today: Number one, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. You’ll recognize that maybe from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. So here’s the question: Does Jesus’ glory stir your affections, friends? Does Jesus’ glory shatter your idols? Does Jesus’ glory satisfy your souls? Are you willing, like Paul, to count everything as loss in exchange for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, your Lord? Would you, like Mary, give a year’s salary if it meant bring a smile to the face of your Jesus? Whose glory are you living for? In other words, is Jesus your resurrection and your life? Is Jesus your resurrection and your life?
You see, Mary didn’t work herself up into this. This is an overflow. It’s a response to what Jesus has already done for her. Jesus raised her brother from the dead, and in doing so He signed His own death certificate. And Mary knows it. She knows what’s coming. To raise Lazarus from the dead put Jesus on the radar of the Pharisees, and they will come and snuff out Jesus. Mary understands this. This is why she’s breaking open the ointment. She saved it for the day of His burial. Mary knows that Jesus would rather die than be parted from Lazarus. Jesus died so that Lazarus might live. She knows He’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and Passover is at hand, and the lambs are about to be slaughtered. The Lamb must die for the sins of the world, and that includes Mary’s own sins.
Mary understood. The only way we live, friends, is if the Lamb dies, and Jesus was going to do that in just a few days for all of them. If we are to enjoy resurrection life, friends, Jesus must be crucified, and He does this for us.
Friends, here’s the logic. If Jesus gave up everything for us, how can we hold back anything from Him? If Jesus gave up everything for us, how can we hold back anything from Him?
Have you truly encountered the glory of Jesus? Have you? Let’s pray.
Father, we have a lot of soul-searching to do. We confess that we so often try to serve two masters. We try to have our cake and eat it too. We try to hold on to Christ with one hand and hold on to all the other glories that we think give us life in the other. But if Jesus is our resurrection, then He is our life, and there can be no other real life but that which is found in Him. Teach us to let go of everything else that we might have more of Jesus. Stir our affections. Shatter our idols. Satisfy our souls we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.