Pastor David B. Curtis

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Why this Waste?

John 12:1-11

Delivered 10/08/17

Today as we look at the story of Mary's anointing of Yeshua, which was an act of worship, we see that the disciples response was, "Why this waste?" This is often the question that non-believers ask when they see a believer who's life is focused on Christ. To the lost, and sometimes even to other believers, a life of complete devotion to Christ is considered a waste. Is worship a waste? Are we wasting our time and money when we give them in service to Christ? The world may think so, but our Lord does not.

We have been looking at chapter 11 for the past four weeks. In this chapter we see Yeshua's seventh and final sign of raising Lazarus from the dead. Yeshua stands at the open tomb of Lazarus and calls out, "Lazarus come out!" And the man who had been dead for four days comes out. Verifying what Yeshua had said, "I am the resurrection and the life." The response of the crowd of mourners was:

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, John 11:45 ESV

This amazing sign causes many of the Jews to believe, and their belief causes the Jewish leaders to seek to kill Yeshua:

So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. John 11:53 ESV

In contrast to the hatred that the religious leaders manifested, stands the love that Mary demonstrated toward the One she had come to believe in. This story of Mary's love and worship of Christ is bracketed by the Jewish leaderships' desire to kill Him.

So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, John 12:10 ESV

Just as in the end of chapter 11 they wanted to kill Yeshua, because many were coming to believe in Him:

because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Yeshua. John 12:11 ESV

The more the people realized who Yeshua was and placed their trust in Him the more the leaders ramped up their attempts to kill Him. So sandwiched in between these two events of the chief priests murderous plots to kill Yeshua is the story of the sacrificial love and worship of Christ by Mary of Bethany.

The first eleven chapters of this Gospel describe the ministry of our Lord Yeshua from Lazarus' perspective, it covers a period of about three years. But the second half of the book from chapter 12 to the end in chapter 21 covers one week.

Six days before the Passover, Yeshua therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Yeshua had raised from the dead. John 12:1 ESV

"Six days before the Passover"—this is six days before Yeshua's death. So beginning at chapter 12 we are in the last week of Yeshua's life. The Passover always takes place on the 14th of Nisan, which means that this dinner is taking place on the 8th of Nisan. Most commentators put this dinner on Saturday, the Sabbath because they see Christ's death taking place on Friday. That time line doesn't work for me, but I certainly could be wrong. If we are to accept literally that Yeshua spent three days and three nights in the grave, we must put the crucifixion on Wednesday, which is really a position that predates that Roman Church's view of a Friday crucifixion.

The feast of the Passover: The Passover was the first of the three annual feasts that all Jewish males were originally expected to attend. All male Jews within a fifteen mile radius of Jerusalem had to come to Jerusalem for the Passover. But far more actually came, some from a long distance. Yeshua regularly attended Jerusalem for the Passover, as did many Galileans. For a month before the feast, Jewish synagogues would expound the meaning of the Passover and the lesson was taught daily in their schools. Roads were put in order and bridges repaired. Graves in the vicinity of Jerusalem would be whitewashed so that no one would tread on them by accident and thus be rendered "unclean," excluding them from the feast. During the Passover all lodging was free, and the city was so packed that outlying villages had to lodge visitors, while others would camp out in the vicinity.

On the 10th day of Nisan a lamb "without blemish" had to be set aside for each participating group (usually, but not necessarily, a family group) of around ten or twenty persons. These family or other groupings would share a lamb, and one or more of their number would go to the Temple with an unblemished lamb for sacrifice. Each Passover lamb was slain in the Temple as a sacrifice by a member of the group, the blood being caught in bowls by the priests and offered at the altar. The representative would then return with the carcass, which would be eaten at the Passover meal in memory of the great deliverance from Egypt when God slew the firstborn of Egypt and passed over the houses where the blood from a lamb was smeared on the doorposts and lintel (Exodus 12).

Passover is a type, or picture of something much greater—it pictured the redemption of God's elect through the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God, the Lord Yeshua the Christ:

Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. Exodus 12:3 ESV

Who is the anti-type of the lamb? It is the Lord Yeshua. A lamb is rather symbolic in Christological interpretation. How do we know this? We learn this in the New Testament. When Yeshua first appears publicly, John the Baptist introduces Him as the "Lamb of God":

The next day he saw Yeshua coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 ESV

Lazarus was speaking to a 1st Century Jewish audience. The image of "Lamb" would have communicated to them a lamb as a sacrifice. Writing to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul draws the parallel for all time when he says:

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:7 ESV

The Lamb was to be a male lamb, one year old, without spot or blemish. Peter states that Yeshua was such a sacrifice:

but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:19 ESV

The typical significance of the Passover is very clear in the New Testament writings. Probably no Mosaic institution is a more perfect type than this. The first Passover was celebrated on the 14th of Nisan. And almost two thousand years later, Yeshua was crucified on the 14th of Nisan. While Israel was celebrating their Passover, Yeshua, the true Lamb of God, was being crucified. He was the Lamb of God that the ancient Passover lamb typified. He died to save us from God's judgments, just as that lamb died instead of the first-born.

Passover pictures the substitutionary DEATH of the Messiah as the Passover Lamb. Yeshua was buried on the same day He was killed, Passover. He was put in the earth before the sun set on the 14th of Nisan. Unleavened Bread starts on the 15th of Nisan and pictures deliverance. The children of Israel left Egypt on the first day of Unleavened Bread and had crossed the Red Sea by the end of the seven day feast. Unleavened Bread is a seven day feast picturing a perfect redemption. FIRST FRUITS pictures the RESURRECTION of the Messiah. Do you see the Gospel in the feasts?

So, as we have seen, Israel's Passover was a very important annual event for the Jews and is steeped in biblical regulation as well as centuries of cultural tradition. Every aspects of the Passover shares one thing in common, they all point to the person and work of the Messiah, our Savior, Yeshua the Christ. And here we see the chief priests and the scribes, those who for all their lives had observed this Passover awaiting Israel's Messiah, were now planning to kill Yeshua, who was the Christ. They were so blinded by their tradition that they could not see God's Lamb, who was standing right in front of them. They were working around the Passover, which points to Christ, while working to kill Christ.

Six days before the Passover, Yeshua therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Yeshua had raised from the dead. John 12:1 ESV

The chapter begins with a dinner in Bethany. Yeshua comes back to Bethany because it is now time for Him to die. Bethany is a village at the foot of the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives less than two miles from Jerusalem. They are having a dinner in honor of Yeshua and what He has done for Lazarus.

So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. John 12:2 ESV

Most biblical scholars assume that since Judas is mentioned by name in the account of the dinner in John 12:2-11 that all the apostles were present at this gathering along with the family Yeshua loved: Martha, Mary, and Lazarus of Bethany.

Where was this dinner held? Lazarus doesn't tell us, but Mark does:

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. Mark 14:3 ESV

Some believe that "Simon the leper" was the father of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, and that's certainly possible. There is no way to know this for sure. What we do know is that Simon was a resident of Bethany who had obviously been healed by the Lord of his leprosy. Leprosy was a disease that made a person an outcast among his people. Simon had been an outcast, but Yeshua touched him, and he was healed. Now he is again a part of society, and takes advantage of an opportunity to express love and appreciation for the Savior. Their dining together is a picture of fellowship.

So there are two very special people reclining at the table with Yeshua. One is an ex-leper and another is an ex-dead man.

"Martha served"—this is consistent with what we see of here in Luke 10:38-42, where she is busy serving the Lord and His disciples. The word here "served" is the Greek word diahoneo, from which we get the word "deacon." Martha is doing something here that we are all called to do:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13 ESV

We're all called to be servants of the Lord and servants of each other.

"Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table"—so we have sitting here the man who was dead, but now is alive, as well as the man who is alive, but will soon be dead.

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Yeshua and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. John 12:3 ESV

All four Gospels have the account of a woman anointing Yeshua with precious ointment and agree on enough detail and language to suggest that they are all telling the same story. With the exception of Luke, all the Gospels locate the incident at Bethany on the eve of, or during, Passion Week and make the anointing prophetic of the burial of Yeshua.

Matthew's and Mark's Gospels mention the dinner at Bethany but they place the day of the dinner two days before the Passover. Why the difference? We have to understand that the time indicators in Matthew/Mark are notoriously loose. These Evangelists often order their accounts according to topic, not chronology.

Luke tells the anointing story in a way that puts it entirely at odds with the three other accounts. He places the story much earlier in Yeshua' career (Luke 7:36-50), drops the Bethany location and the reference to Yeshua's burial, and changes the story to give it an entirely different point. Many see this as an entirely different incident, but I think that the similarities to the other Gospels are too strong to dismiss it. For example:

And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, Luke 7:37 ESV

Luke's phrase "an alabaster flask of ointment" is identical, word for word, with what we have in Mark 14:3. Mark says the anointing took place in Bethany at the house of "Simon the leper," and Luke has Yeshua addressing His host as "Simon." Do we have two different anointings that both involve "an alabaster flask of ointment" and happened in the houses of two different men named "Simon"? I think it is clear that Luke's anointing story is the same story found in the other three Gospels—a story that Luke moved and adapted for his own purposes of theological teaching.

Luke's anointing story does not name the woman (any more than the other Synoptics do), but he does make the unique specification that she was a woman "who was a sinner." Then, immediately following the anointing story, Luke names some women who traveled with Yeshua:

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Luke 8:1-2 ESV

Here we see "Mary, who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out."So is Luke hinting that Mary Magdalene was the sinful woman who had done the anointing? Possibly!

Let me pose to you a possibility: Lazarus's sister, Mary, and Mary Magdalene may be the same woman. The Fourth Gospel has Mary (with her sister Martha) at the raising of brother Lazarus. Next, still in the company of her brother and sister, she anoints Yeshua for His burial. Next (now called Mary Magdalene) she is at the cross, still with her brother (now called "the disciple whom Yeshua loved"). And finally, she is the discoverer of the empty tomb who runs to tell her brother ("the disciple whom Yeshua loved") and Peter. If Mary, Lazarus's sister, and Mary Magdalene are one person, then her story moves directly from Lazarus to "the disciple whom Yeshua loved" and proves that they are also one person.

The Fourth Gospel has carefully paired Mary with Lazarus in certain episodes and then paired Mary Magdalene with "the disciple whom Yeshua loved" in certain episodes. This pattern could hardly be coincidental; it must be an effort to tell us something.

So Mary, Lazarus's sister, is also called Mary Magdalene from whom seven demons had gone out. I think knowing who this woman is helps us to understand what she does.

Verse 3 begins with "therefore," the point is that since this is a dinner to honor and thank Yeshua for His gift of life, Mary will now make her presentation: "Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Yeshua and wiped his feet with her hair"this "expensive ointment made from pure nard" was probably an oil extracted from an East Indian plant in the Himalayas and which bore the same name as the plant. It was very costly because of the expense of importing it from India and transporting it to foreign lands.

Mark tells us that this perfume was in an "alabaster vial," which is a white, pure, marble type of stone that is formed from stalactites in caves. Because the perfumed oil was very expensive, the bottle was designed only to release it slowly.

Lazarus tells us that Mary anointed Yeshua's feet, which were easily accessible to her as He lay, oriental fashion, on the couch beside the table. Mark tells us that she broke the vial and then poured it out on Christ's head. So did she anoint His feet or His head? D.A. Carson explains: "It is far too large a quantity to have been poured out over the head alone. Second, in both Matthew (26:12) and Mark (14:8), Jesus is reported as saying that the perfume was poured on His body in anticipation of His burial—a strange way of referring to His head alone. These two observations strongly suggest that the perfume was applied to more than Jesus' head or his feet." (Carson, D. A. [1991]. The Gospel according to John [pp. 424-431]. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids,MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.)

Anointing the whole body to include the feet was part of burial practices and in fact Yeshua will equate Mary's actions with preparation of His burial in verse 7. Mary is unconsciously performing a prophetic act by anointing Yeshua.

In the most lavish act of worship that Mary could imagine, she took this valuable treasure and expended all of it upon Christ. She did not shake a few drops out, as though offering Him a little of what was precious to her. She broke the alabaster vial to release all of its precious contents upon her Lord Yeshua.

Now, when we hear these stories, I think in our minds we have an image of this oily stuff running down His face—kind of goopy and messy. But the reality is this perfume was very light, and the moment it touched Him it would have quickly evaporated and just left this absolutely wondrous aroma.

What Mary did here is worship! Mary had an attitude of devotion to Yeshua. When we talk about worship, primarily we think of this—the worship service. Worship is more than just getting together to read Bible passages, sing songs, pray, listen to somebody preach—true worship comes from the heart. It's an expression of adoration. Worship can take place here, but just because we're here doesn't necessarily mean we're worshiping. If it's not coming out of our heart, then it's just a ritual—and ritual, without the corresponding heart-attitude, has never satisfied God.

What is worship? Worship is honor and adoration directed to Yahweh. The New Testament uses several words for worship. Two of them are particularly noteworthy: proskuneo, which means: "to kiss toward, to bow down." It signifies humble adoration. Another word used for worship is latreuo, which means: "rendering honor or paying homage." Both terms carry the idea of giving, because worship is giving something to Yahweh. It begins with the giving of ourselves, and then of our attitudes, and then our possessions.

I believe that the Scriptures teach that our GIVING IS WORSHIP. Notice what Paul said to the Philippians:

I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Philippians 4:18 ESV

Paul viewed their gift as an offering to God, "a sacrifice that was well pleasing." Notice the words Paul uses here —"fragrant" is from the Greek word euodia, and "offering" is from the word osme, and "sacrifice" is from the Greek word thusia. All three of these words are used in Ephesians 5 of Christ's sacrificial offering of Himself to God in man's behalf.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant [euodia]offering [osme] and sacrifice [thusia] to God. Ephesians 5:2 ESV

"Christ loved us and give himself…"—because Christ loved, He gave. I don't think that you can disassociate loving and giving. These words express the language of worship —giving is an expression of worship!

True worship comes out of a desire to please God, to show one's gratitude to God, to show one's love for God. True worship comes from the heart—a right reason behind it. And if we offer up something to God (time, physical effort, prayer, money, service to others) with the right heart, a heart of love and adoration and thanksgiving, then that is true worship. This is what Mary is doing; she is worshiping her God.

Mary didn't just pour a few drops of ointment on Yeshua. She poured out all the contents! Her love was not calculated, but extravagant.

"Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" John 12:5 ESV

Here we learn that this perfume was worth over three hundred denarii (a denarii was a day's wage in that day). In other words, this ointment was worth over a year's wage. Today this would be the equivalent of around $35,000. This was true extravagance. This was true worship. This probably represented all of Mary's life savings. She had probably invested everything in this one precious perfume that was probably being saved for burial; that would have been common.

Just as we find in Luke's Gospel, Martha served while Mary again offers worship. Mary is sitting at Yeshua's feet while her sister worked in the kitchen to prepare a meal. She was hanging on every word. To her, Yeshua was the most important person in the world. And the Lord commended her for her action.

Those who are in love with Yeshua and are overflowing with gratitude to Him sometimes do some strange things. At least outwardly they appear strange. Mary loved the Lord. Yeshua had been a real friend to her. He had filled her life with hope. He had cast seven demons out of her. He had been there during some of the most difficult times of her life. Certainly one was when her brother, Lazarus, died. But Yeshua had come, and her brother Lazarus was miraculously raised from the dead and given back to her.

Now they were there, all together, having one last meal together. No doubt, she thought this may be her last chance to do something special for her Lord. So she seized the opportunity and took an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, broke it, and anointed Him with it. Lazarus tells us that his sister Mary wiped Yeshua's "feet with her hair," this is an act of humility. Normally Jewish women never unbound their hair in public, since loose hair was a sign of loose morals.

"The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume"this is a note characteristic of someone who was there. It was in Mary's hair, so that everywhere she went, the fragrance went with her. Lazarus' death caused a stink, but Mary's worship caused a fragrant aroma.

In the later rabbinic literature, Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.1.1 states "The fragrance of good oil is diffused from the bedroom to the dining hall, but a good name is diffused from one end of the world to the other." If this saying was known in the first century, this might be Lazarus' way of indicating that Mary's act of devotion would be spoken of throughout the entire world [compare Mark 14:9].

If you want to follow Mary's example of devotion to Yeshua, you have to follow her example of sitting at Yeshua's feet, listening to His word (Luke 10:39). Every time we encounter Mary in the Gospels, she is at Yeshua' feet—first, learning from Him; then, pouring out her sorrow to Him; and now, expressing her love and devotion to Him. You won't love the Lord as you should unless you've spent much time at His feet. You do that by spending consistent time in the Word and in prayer.

So Mary is worshiping her Lord in a very extravagant manner. She had the right, the freedom, the prerogative to do what she did, but notice the attitude of the disciples:

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?" John 12:4-5 ESV

Mark puts it this way:

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. Mark 14:4-5 ESV

What Mary did didn't make a lot of sense to most. Immediately, the nit-pickers and complainers began to talk. The terminology is very strong. It says they responded very "indignantly"—that's a Greek word that means "to respond with violent anger." They were very upset: "This perfume could have been sold for three hundred denarii and could have fed the poor."

We see from our text that Judas is the one who first verbalized a protest, and the others followed his lead. Judas just couldn't stomach what was happening. All he saw was that a costly ointment, worth over a year's wages, had been poured out and ruined. Immediately, his mind began to calculate just how much money that ointment could have been sold for. Imaging how this must have made Mary feel.

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. John 12:6 ESV

Judas' concern for the poor was really an excuse to steal for himself. If that ointment was sold he would have gotten the money. The parallel accounts in Matthew and Mark seem to indicate that after this incident Judas went away immediately and made his deal with the Jewish authorities to deliver up Yeshua.

Yeshua said, "Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. John 12:7 ESV

Normally you wouldn't anoint the feet of a living person [but the head—cf. Mk 14:3] but you could anoint the feet of a corpse while preparing it for burial. So Mary performed (maybe unconsciously, maybe not) a prophetic or symbolic action—one which Yeshua understood, but which the disciples did not. "So that she may keep it"—Yeshua probably meant that the disciples should permit Mary to keep the custom of anointing for burial.

Mark adds this:

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." Mark 14:9 ESV

The Lord makes a promise, a promise that the sacrifice of this woman, Mary of Bethany, will be spoken of in the whole world. What book of the Bible do you tell an unbeliever to read that they may come to understand and believe the Gospel? John. What book of the Bible says that it was written that men might believe in Yeshua? The Fourth Gospel! And in this Gospel is this story of Mary's worship. After twenty centuries of Christianity, everywhere the Gospel is preached, we hear the story of Mary of Bethany's lavish worship and devotion to Yeshua her Savior.

Here we are today, 2,000 years later, fulfilling this very word, telling again of the act of Mary of Bethany, when she anointed our Lord in worship.

For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me." John 12:8 ESV

This statement by Yeshua has been misinterpreted by people to excuse themselves from providing for the poor. They use the excuse that Yeshua said there would always be poor people, and so solving poverty is impossible. But Yeshua is referring to Deuteronomy 15:

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.' Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV

The teaching is not to neglect the poor, but if there were no poor there would be no opportunities to show how much we love God. If you study the history of the evangelical Church you would find that there is no company of people who have done more for the poor and downtrodden than the Christian Church.

"But you do not always have me"—Yeshua is saying, "I am more worthy of your unselfish devotion than all the world's poor put together!" Yeshua can say this because He is the Son of God and is due the same honor as His Father:

that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. John 5:23 ESV

He was accepting the worship that Mary gave Him because He is God and worthy of our worship. By saying, "You always have the poor you don't always have me," Yeshua is telling them that He should be their focus—especially in these days prior to His death.

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Yeshua was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. John 12:9 ESV

The implication is that Lazarus had become something of a celebrity. The term"Jews" here refers to the crowd of people present in Jerusalem for Passover, and not the religious authorities.

So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, John 12:10 ESV

As long as witnesses could point to a living, breathing Lazarus there was physical proof of Yeshua's power, but if Lazarus was dead the evidence no longer existed.

because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Yeshua. John 12:11 ESV

They believed that Yeshua was the Messiah, because only God could give life as Yeshua has given live back to Lazarus after he had been dead for 4 days.

Mary wasn't worshiping Yeshua out of duty or pragmatism, but out of sheer devotion. Mary did what she did because she had a perception of Christ that even the apostles at this point lacked. She knew that He was worthy of extravagant love and she knew this because she had spent time sitting at His feet.

Can we worship Yeshua today the way Mary did? You may say, "No," because He is not longer physically with us. But notice what Yeshua said:

And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' Matthew 25:40 ESV

When you, out of a heart of love, serve others, you are serving and worshiping Christ.

When the world sees a life devoted to Christ they may ask, "Why this waste?" Other believers may criticize us for giving too much, for serving to much. But we aren't wasting our lives if we spend them in selfless devotion for Christ.

So how does your worship of Yeshua compare to that of Mary? If others aren't mocking our worship, we may want to spend more time sitting at His feet.

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