There’s no doubt that the topic of giving and anything related to our finances is uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for pastors and it’s uncomfortable for congregations. But God never said that we should be comfortable with His Word, but He did say that His Word would nourish us and sometimes with nourishment and growth come growing pains, and pain is not a comfortable word.
As you have discovered if you have been trekking through our study on the 40 Day Journey To A More Generous Life, God’s Word is laden with messages on the act of giving – on the worship of giving. So why don’t we preach about it more? Maybe, just maybe because it hits at the deepest core of our sin – pride. We’re too prideful – sometimes our thinking is a self-centered way of thinking which goes something like this: “This is my money. I work for a living. I have slaved over this job, put my life on the line, built this career and have earned this position and have been compensated adequately for the work I have done”. When all along it is truly God’s money. It is God that opens doors to the job opportunities in our life, not our hard work. It is God and His will that is in control, not ours. It is not our hands that bless us, it is the blessing of God’s hands upon our lives (and we praise Him for that). When we submit to Him and we take hold of the fact that He is the One who blesses and wills, then we will be doubly blessed and we will want to pour that blessing on others, instead of selfishly keeping it to ourselves to build ourselves up and our own glory. And when we give to others, we do not give ourselves glory, but all glory goes to the One, our Lord and God, who blesses and thus we live a generous life. God doesn’t need 40 days to make you a generous person – He just needs an open heart and mind.
Sacrificial worship is the topic of this message today. What do you think of when you hear the word sacrifice? Is it a bad word? A good word? Do you think of something that you what to do or of something that you don’t want to do.
The woman who anointed Jesus understood sacrifice - to a point where she took on a no holds bar attitude toward her worship of Jesus – there was no limit or barrier in regard to how much she was willing to sacrifice to Him.
Let’s look at the passage again:
6” Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had leprosy,”
7” During supper, a woman came in with a beautiful jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head.”
The setting is Bethany – a small community outside of Jerusalem and a place that many came to see lodging during the annual Passover celebration – and this would be Jesus’ final Passover. He is visiting Simon, a man He probably healed of leperousy, and according to John 12, the famous Lazuras, who He raised from the dead, was with them. These three men are reclining around the table along with the 12 disciples. Lazuras’ sisters, Martha and Mary, were also in attendance and Martha was at her usual job of serving the food. John records that her sister, Mary, was actually the woman who anointed Jesus. I could imagine Mary, excited that her brother’s healer had come to town, probably rushed home and brought back with her this expensive perfume and so this introduces the primary object of this story.
This perfume’s worth is described by the gospel writers as being costly and high priced and John’s and Mark’s account give us the disciple’s estimation: 300 denarii! Now it is hard to translate what that would be in today’s US dollars, but scholars have done some research and estimate that a denarii translates roughly into $20 US. You do the math… that’s $6000 worth of perfume. 300 denarii was the approximate yearly salary for a common laborer. You may think – what kind of perfume is this?
This perfume was made from the oil of an herb plant called nard and was only found in India in Biblical times, so this was a precious import and it could very well have been a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation. In biblical times, perfume was stored in an alabaster jar and could only be used once. Once you broke the seal of the jar, it had to be used at that moment, or it would loose its fragrance. Mary knew that this would be a one time deal. She was willing to give it all or nothing.
In this day it was custom to anoint the head of important guests, but Mary’s actions were above and beyond. Using this perfume was an incredible sacrifice on her part and we can see in the following verses that the people around table were not too happy with what she had done. Continuing on in verse 8 and 9:
8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
There are always critiques. There were in Jesus’ day and there are now. This woman greatly sacrificed a prized possession – an asset she could have sold off for a large amount of money to help her have a comfortable life in her old age. She sacrificed this to her Messiah, having full faith and trust in Him that He would care for her needs. Yet, she was rebuked right there in the house, right after she did it, by Jesus’ disciples nonetheless. It states in Mark that they scolded her, like a parent scolding a child. She must have been devastated.
Have you been criticized for sacrificing for Christ? Have you greatly given of your time, resources and money to His kingdom purposes, yet only to receive a “scolding” from family members, friends, co-workers and/or classmates? Have you even been criticized for the way in which you worship? Even by fellow believers?
I am sure many have been criticized throughout history for their zeal in their worship of the Lord. One person I know of is King David. Turn with me to 2 Samuel 6:14:
14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.
17 They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.
20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
21 David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”
Yes, God loves a worshiper with zeal and He has much to say on the way we worship Him. And in every instance it boils down to one thing: the heart. God has ordained ritualistic styles of worship through the animal sacrifices and offerings of Old Testament times. He has ordained singing of our voices, clapping and raising of hands as we sometimes in the Psalms. He has ordained the playing of instruments. He has ordained using creativity in teaching as our Lord did so many times through His parables and stories. He has ordained using freedom in worship as we see Him and the disciples freely singing a hymn of praise at the Last Supper. He has ordained private prayers and public prayers. He has ordained the sacrificial giving of His people to the kingdom’s work. But all of these manifestations of worship do not matter to God if there is no heart behind it. It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that “heart”.
Turn with me to Isaiah chapter 1, starting in verse 10:
10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 “The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
God doesn’t want meaningless ritual. Even from the very first sacrifice of Abel and Cain, He was concerned with one thing: our hearts. If the tree is bad, how can it produce good fruit? Likewise, if our hearts our bad, how can we produce authentic worship?
Mary’s worship was authentic! Certainly the outward manifestation of her worship was important, but more important yet was her heart in her anointing of Jesus. Jesus knew her heart and so instead of joining her critics, He rebuked them as we see starting in verse 10:
“Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.
Why was it beautiful? It was beautiful because of her heart. Why was Abel’s sacrifice more beautiful than Cain’s? Because of his heart. Why was David’s dancing for the Lord beautiful? Because of his heart. Why was the offering of the woman who gave at the temple gate – an offering that consisted of two pennies - more beautiful than those offerings that were large in sum? Because of her heart. Continuing on in verse 11:
11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Is Jesus saying “Don’t give to the poor”? Not at all. In fact the placement of this story in Matthew is very intriguing. Matthew just recorded Jesus as saying at the end of the previous chapter, these words:
“To the extent that you did it [referring to acts of kindness and giving to the poor] to the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to Me”
Jesus cares about the poor and the hungry. His ministry was all about meeting the physical needs of the people. He healed them. He fed them. But more than the physical needs of the people He cares about their hearts. He cares about their souls. He cares about their spiritual condition. In fact, He cared so much that, according to Isaiah 53, He was “pierced for our transgressions (our sins),… and crushed for our iniquities.”
It is not that Jesus does not want us to imitate Him in meeting the physical needs of the poor and to reach out in meeting the spiritual needs of the world through the message of the Gospel. It’s not that Jesus does not care about these things. He does. But what He cares about more than anything in the world is that your heart, my heart, all of our hearts are right with Him before we give Him a sacrifice of worship. What does that mean? What does it mean to have our hearts right with God?
First it means that we have asked Jesus Christ to be our Savior. I come to a place of recognizing my spiritual condition, that I am utterly and totally depraved, unable to save myself. That I am born a sinner, this is my inheritance as a son of Adam, and that God is a Holy God that loves us, but cannot accept us for who we are apart from the sacrifice of Christ who conquered spiritual death for us through His sacrifice. Romans 3:23 states that all have fallen short of God’s standards and Romans 6:23 states that we are destined for certain spiritual death, eternal death because of our fallen state. John 3:16 states that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son to die for us. And Ephesians 2:8 states that this is gift of eternal life is a free gift of God and there is nothing that we can do to earn it, but believe it. So that is number one to having our hearts right with God.
You might say, Pastor Rick – I have that. I have believed that Jesus Christ is my Savior, that He died for my sins. Then I must ask you – do you have fellowship with Him? Do You have fellowship with Him? You see, I believe that theologically we can be saved and be sealed and that we can be sure of that. But at the same time, we can also break our fellowship with God. For instance - If my son Caden were to do something in disobedience to me, there would be a tension in our fellowship. Is he still my son? Yes. He is still my son and I will always love him and he will always be my son. Is there something that needs to be done to fix that fellowship? Yes, he needs to confess to me that he was disobedient – and I would say “Yes you were – what can you do next time to not make that same mistake.” By confession, he is agreeing with me that he was being disobedient.
It is the same with our relationship to God. He is always our Father and we are always His children – no matter what we do. There are times when we break fellowship with Him through our sin and disobedience. We need not to go to Him and seek His forgivesness because He has already done that for there is only one sacrifice for all sins. What we need to do is go to Him and confess, or agree, with Him that we have sinned and then our fellowship can be fixed and we will experience the peace that comes with having a right relationship with God. This is the second step toward having our hearts right with God.
I believe that the third is having a right attitude toward our brother or sister in Christ. Jesus asks us in Matthew 5:23-24:
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
It matters greatly to Jesus that we are reconciled to each other before we give to Him. In fact, so much that in 1 John 4, John goes so far to say that if we are not loving each other, then we must not love God. I truly believe that if our congregation and the many congregations across McHenry county, Illinois and America would swallow their pride and seek reconciliation with each other – we would see an outpouring of the Spirit upon His church and we would see a revival break out that would rival the Great Awakenings of the 1600s. Have you reconciled with a fellow brother or sister? Take that first step and do it today!
To be in right fellowship and have a right heart in worship, we must:
1. Accept Jesus as Your Savior.
2. Agree with Him in confession if you have sinned
3. Seek out those who you have sinned against or have sinned against you. Seek reconciliation.
And these three steps are not done with our own power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit who enables and empowers us into righteous living.
Having a right heart will naturally manifest the kind of worship that Jesus wants from us. Our example set forth in scripture, Mary’s right heart manifested sacrificial worship - she gave something to her Lord that was precious, that meant a lot to her. She took a great risk of humiliation to perform this act of worship. And God blessed her for it and created from this action an example for all of His followers to imitate in our daily lives.
There are many thoughts about what worship is and what it isn’t. I want you to see is that the battle line of worship is not whether or not we should have guitars or organs in worship. It is not a battle between styles or genres of music. Instead, now get this point if you get any point in today’s message – the battle line in worship is whether we are being transformed by God through Jesus Christ and how we are going to respond to that transformation. It is about seeking Him with our mind, body, soul and heart. It is about our responding to what He has done for us by sacrificially giving Him our most precious and valuable assets, whether that means financially or time or however God has blessed you with talents and abilities.
There was once this Christian missionary school teacher living a country dominated by Islam. He himself was once Muslim and now stood in conversation with another Muslim. The Muslim asked him “How much is your salary?” The teacher replied “$50 dollars a week.” “Why, you could get ten times that in a government school!” “Yes, but I teach not for money – I teach for God.” “Well – but are those all the clothes the missionaries provide for you? Don’t you have a robe also?” The humble teacher looked down at his cotton shirt and pants. “No, these are sufficient,” he replied. The Muslim shook his head. “I never thought there was anything to this Jesus religion,” he observed thoughtfully, “but there must be, if a man will give up his robe and his rightful wage for it.”
Do you want to be a light for the world? Then give Jesus sacrificial worship. People will notice. They will either hate you for it or love God. God deserves our all for He has given His all through His Son. As in the words of King David, “I will become even more undignified than this” if it means to give God a sacrifice of worship.
Giving is first and foremost an act of worship. Worship is first and foremost a sacrifice of ourselves in response to a God who loves us.