Preaching Articles

In the Messianic prophecy of Psalm 45, we are told that the Lord’s garments smelled of myrrh and aloes. Before Jesus was buried, Nicodemus placed myrrh and aloes on His body. And he used the same amount that was used for royal burials — a hundred pounds worth. By this act, Nicodemus testified that he believed Jesus to be a king.

Now think with me. In addition to the perfume that Mary poured upon Him, the Lord’s body was covered with a hundred pounds of fragrant spices. So when He rose from the dead a few days later, He was fragrant. And His fragrance could be smelled from afar.

Point: the resurrected Christ has a scent. He emits the everlasting fragrance of resurrection.

Now we cannot physically smell Christ today, but our spiritual senses can detect the fragrance of His presence among us.

The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. The sense of smell is the most delicate of all the human senses. By it, we receive impressions beyond our sight and hearing. Fragrance cannot be hidden. It’s pervasive. When released, the fragrant influence of Jesus Christ cannot be hidden.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

As A.B. Simpson once put it, “Preaching without spiritual aroma is like a rose without fragrance. We can only get the perfume by getting more of Christ.”

In Matt. 26:6–13 we hear the only sermon that Judas ever preached. After Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume, Judas gives a three-word protest:

“Why this waste?”

When Judas saw Mary’s worshipful act, he exploded with criticism, saying, “Why are you being so wasteful? You could have helped the poor with this small fortune!”

But Mary stepped out in faith. Her act of extravagant love was shameless, selfless, and risked both embarrassment and the sneers and jeers of harsh criticism.

But love compelled her.

However, her act was rudely interrupted by a mean-spirited complaint. Her token of exquisite devotion exposed her own heart and the heart of Judas as well as the other disciples who agreed with him.

Judas sought to cloak the real motive behind his complaint with pious rhetoric. It was a case of cold-heartedness judging warm-heartedness under the guise of being spiritual.

Unfortunately, Judas is not alone in engaging in this behavior.

There are few things that are as close to God’s heart as helping the dispossessed and oppressed. Read your Old Testament. It’s spilling over with God’s concern for their plight. Jesus Himself was a poor man all His life. The poor were His representatives, not His rivals. But as important as caring for the poor is, Jesus Christ Himself is even more important. He is more valuable than any ministry, no matter how good or noble.

It’s possible to worship the god of “ministry” in place of Christ.

Interestingly, the Lord’s death, which Mary highlighted by her anointing, would eventually solve the problem of poverty forever.

The contrast between Mary and Judas is dramatic. In Mary, we see the light of love. In Judas, we see the darkness of sin. Mary anointed Jesus for burial; Judas prepared Him for betrayal. Mary loved Christ in preparation for His death; Judas helped bring about His death.

I’m comforted to know that Jesus is an advocate to all who give Him the place of preeminence. He rises to the defense of every Mary.

While Mary was misunderstood and denigrated, she never justified, defended or explained herself. Though she only speaks once in the Gospels, the legacy of her life speaks volumes by her actions. For these reasons, Mary came closer to Jesus’ inner heart than anyone else.

And her loving act is one case among several where a woman got it right while the men got it wrong. Every disciple of Christ has much to learn from Mary.

Why This Waste?

What you give to Christ equals the measure of His worth in your eyes. The worth of Jesus is immeasurable. It cannot be calculated. And nothing is too valuable for Him. Mary understood this.

Aware of the criticism that was leveled against her, Jesus said, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

The Lord was simply saying, “I am worth far more than the value of this perfume. The poor will always be present, and you can help them whenever you desire. But you will not always have Me with you in the flesh.”

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

What is waste? It is giving more than necessary. Waste is when you give a diamond to a dog. It is when you give something valuable to that which is inferior in worth. When something of value could be better spent elsewhere, we call it waste.

What Judas and the others were really saying was “The Lord isn’t worth it.”

Mark it down. Whenever you give that which is most valuable in your life to the Lord Jesus Christ, some of your fellow Christians will consider it to be waste.

“Why aren’t you going to college to prepare for a career?"

“Why are you wasting your youth?”

“Why did you break up with that person? They had a great job, and you could have had a wonderful future with them. You forfeited that relationship just because they weren’t as ‘religious’ as you are. Why are you wasting your future?”

“Why did you sell your house and move to a smaller house simply to get involved with that ministry? Why are you wasting your money?”

“Why did you quit your job and relocate to be involved with that church? You now have a lower-paying job. Why are you wasting your life?”

“Why did you use your stock dividends for that work of God? Why are you wasting your savings?”

Whenever you hear the complaint “Why this waste?” examine it carefully and consider whether you’re hearing the gospel of Judas or not.

If you are, then the Lord’s response where you are concerned is:

“Let him alone …”

“Let her alone …”

“He is doing a beautiful thing to Me.”

“She is doing a beautiful thing to Me.”

What some regard to be waste is beautiful in the Lord’s eyes. The truth is: the only way to keep yourself from wasting your life is to waste it on Jesus Christ!

Thus the answer to the question “Why this waste?” is simply “Because Christ is worthy.”  Watchman Nee once said that the Lord will never be satisfied without our “wasting” ourselves upon Him, and “real usefulness in the hand of God is measured in terms of waste.… [O]ur work for him springs out of our ministering to him.”

Jesus was given costly gifts when He entered into this world. And He was given a costly gift when He was about to exit it. Today, He is still worthy of our best. And it is still costly to anoint the head of Christ.

I believe the Lord has His crosshairs sighted on something in all of our lives—whatever we hold dearest. Your mind may immediately go to a person who has become a rival for your affections for Jesus. Or it may go to some vice that you know you need to abandon. But the more subtle competitors are actually spiritual things.

We’ve already mentioned that some make “Christian service” a god that competes with Jesus Christ. On that score, Henri Nouwen said that the main obstacle to love for God is service for God. But another competitor is theology. It’s possible to make theology our god instead of God Himself. We can love theology more than we love God.

The same is true for worship, believe it or not. It’s possible to love the act of singing worship and praise songs to the Lord more than we love the Lord Himself. It’s possible to love arguing on behalf of God (apologetics), evangelizing for God, preaching about God, writing about God and studying God (analyzing the Bible) more than loving God Himself.

All of these things are good, of course. But if they don’t lead us to the real person of Christ, they can become idols. If our hearts are awakened to discover the true worth of Jesus, we will be able to lay all things down at His feet. Herein lies the antidote to being a lukewarm Christian.

Our eyes must be opened to behold His peerless glory. Once that happens, we will realize that nothing is too good for Him, and we will break loose from our spiritual lethargy.

This, in fact, was Paul’s great prayer in Ephesians. That God would grant to us “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.”

Many a preacher has tried to guilt God’s people out of their lukewarm state, using shame, duty and condemnation as instruments. But such tools are short-lived.

To see Christ with eyes not physical is the cure for spiritual apathy. So expose yourself to ministries that know how to preach Christ in such glory that you’re awed by His greatness and you’re drawn to worship Him. Our alabaster boxes willingly yield at the sight of His peerless worth.

As a friend of mine once said, “The moment He set me free is the moment He captured me.”

This article is an excerpt from Frank Viola's new book, God's Favorite Place on Earth. If you purchase the book between May 1 and May 7, you'll receive 25 free books from 15 different authors! 

Frank Viola is a popular conference speaker and the best-selling author of numerous books on the deeper Christian life, including Revise Us Again, From Eternity to Here, Epic Jesus, and Jesus Manifesto (co-authored with Leonard Sweet). His blog, "Beyond Evangelical," is rated as one of the most popular in Christian circles today.

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Jonathan Hughes

commented on May 1, 2013

This is a very good post. One thing I must say is this. When a person makes an idol out of whatever will require a sacrifice of some sort justifying it as good even as the military or legal system justifies the ending of a persons life. That justification leads people to want to sacrafic people with a name like Gay or zoosexual too. Not seeking a sacrifice is not acting like Judas or the religious people against Jesus. People can analyze scripture correctly resulting in wanting to seek peace or go astray studying scripture seeking a sacrifice thinking God likes it.

Mike Brenneman

commented on May 1, 2013

Frank, I love your theme, it is a core concept of true Christianity, one that I still struggle with sometimes. Nonetheless I have a strong concern. Its seems like you used the scriptures incorrectly to make one point. Judas wasn't judging Mary, as you say. He was manipulating her because if the perfume was sold, he planned to steal some of the proceeds. John 12:6 "Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it." NASU Your point about theology "We can love theology more than we love God." is certainly true. On the other hand, to misuse His word dishonors Him. 2 Tim 2:15. "handle it accurately" A subtle danger can be to use His word anyway we want to make a point. I assume that your heart is right. I, too have made points that missed the context. Keep up the good fight.

Jeff Henderson

commented on May 1, 2013

Outstanding commentary and teaching. You capture the very essence of what Jesus was driving towards in his explanation to Simon the Leper in Luke's gospel account of this situation. In contrast to an earlier point, I do not believe you took scripture out of context, as you illuminated yet another view of the event, which is expanded upon in Luke's gospel. Thank you for honoring the Lord by not leaving your teaching at the superficial level, but allowing the Holy Spirit to take you, and your readers, beyond the face-value, to the depths of the treasure that scripture holds! Continue on dear brother, I look forward to more...

Jeff Henderson

commented on May 1, 2013

Outstanding commentary and teaching. You capture the very essence of what Jesus was driving towards in his explanation to Simon the Leper in Luke's gospel account of this situation. In contrast to an earlier point, I do not believe you took scripture out of context, as you illuminated yet another view of the event, which is expanded upon in Luke's gospel. Thank you for honoring the Lord by not leaving your teaching at the superficial level, but allowing the Holy Spirit to take you, and your readers, beyond the face-value, to the depths of the treasure that scripture holds! Continue on dear brother, I look forward to more...

Ephrem Hagos

commented on May 2, 2013

The worth of Christ is, indeed, unfathomable unless personally revealed. Thus, the "fragrance of the resurrection" is emitted from Christ's death on the cross, by his own free will and power, rather than from the empty tomb, as wildly anticipated by Mary (Matt. 26: 1-13); and also shared by ?many of God's people who had died? raised from death to life with Jesus (Ibid. 27: 50-56).

Charles Ingwe

commented on May 2, 2013

I strongly feel that the discourse is one that is inspiring. As much as I gree with Brenneman that Judas was a thief interested in dipping into the money box, the fact that Judas spoke after the calabash jar had been broken makes sense that Judas had lost hope of regaining the perfume and in utter disgust he proclaimed the stupid stance of Mary by wasting the perfume on christ. Greedy had created in Judas a self centredness which in turn made him fail to see the value of christ. So in this instance, we find all the flaws of Judas at play such that only highlighting the aspect of Judas being a thief does not fully picture him. Manipulation of Mary alone could have fit in well if the conversation had taken place before the jar was broken. Judas had no regard for christ but was set to serve mammon. Remember there is no serving two masters. Zacchaeus another thief met grace in christ and he saw the value of christ and was set to even restitute. Judas never saw this value and hence rebuked Mary.

John E Miller

commented on May 3, 2013

This is a really worthwhile and worthy article. How I wish that there were more articles like it. Mike Brenneman, Judas was indeed judging Mary. He was judging her by his own twisted standards. The Lord's defence of her proves this. The paragraph about the costly gifts and Jesus deserving nothing but our best is deeply challenging. This was a good article for a preacher to read.

Lorraine Littletron

commented on Mar 30, 2016

Mike. I do believe Judas was judging her. He regarded her as stupid and her stupidity in 'wasting' the ointment on Jesus denied his access to financial benefit. Not only that but he was angry with her as well. As keeper of the funds his selfish motives were arrogantly made plain. Not only this but his actions revealed his unbelief in who Christ was. He was there for the ride and his ride came to a crashing halt.

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