Summary: Like Isaiah in the temple - the home at Bethany is filled with the fragrance of Mary’s anointing
FILLED WITH THE FRAGRANCE
Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pinta of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”a 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
One thought links both our sermons today – this morning the fragrance that fills the house at Bethany, and this evening the smoke that fills the temple in Isaiah 6. The one thought is of the presence and glory of God in the majesty and wonder of His presence.
This morning we are again at Bethany where last we stopped when we considered the raising of Lazarus. We are onlookers at a feast held in honour of Jesus and it is a very remarkable occasion for all who attended that feast went home with the fragrance clinging to their garments – a reminder of the singular act of Mary whose devotion should provoke us to examine how we come into the presence of Jesus.
Tonight, God willing, we will come with Isaiah into the temple and share his experience of being in the presence of the Lord. The “bottom line” will be whether anyone will notice that we have been in the presence of God today. Will anyone know that you have worshipped the King of Kings? Will anyone know that you are the better for time spent in His presence and in His worship?
It has been observed before – and is worth repeating – that John’s short description tells us how the characters acted:
Lazarus was reclining at table with Him
Mary anointed Jesus
Judas criticised the wastefulness
I want to remind you of those people and the parts they played in this short narrative, but I want to consider the motives some of them display. In particular John tells us about Judas’ motive, and the words of Jesus tell us about Mary’s motive.
If we are going to understand this story and its significance we have to set the scene.
The clouds are gathering. The wonderful chapter eleven finishes with the plotting of the Jewish religious leaders to kill Jesus.
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our placea and our nation.”
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
John wants us to be in no doubt that God’s plan was being worked out – and even the words of Caiaphas have their place as we are being led inexorably to Calvary.
As the friends pause at Bethany so that a meal in Jesus’ honour may be held we have the opportunity to join them and to see how, despite the awful shadows and threats of those days – the friends were celebrating with a special meal.
Where Jesus is the darkness can be transformed.
Even though the shadows are gathering and the clouds of conflicts mass on the horizon, even though the awfulness of the cross is nearby – to be in the presence of Jesus is to know a life-giving and life altering power.