Summary: God calls us to prepare for death by basing our life on the death of Jesus.
We believe that God’s people need God’s word rightly applied in order to grow in faith and love and every grace. Thus the pastor has the two-fold task of exegesis and exposition. Exegesis is pulling God’s meaning out of a Bible text; exposition is explaining that divine meaning.
In churches like ours, which greatly value Biblical preaching, we determine which text to study in one of two ways. One method we used over the last twelve weeks. We took a topic (in this case, the church empowered by the Holy Spirit), and studied various texts which explain or apply that one theme. That is a topical series. The other way is to progress through a book of the Bible, each week taking the next section, seriatim (one after another). Between January 6 and May 18 of this year, we moved verse by verse from the seventh chapter of John through the end of the eleventh chapter. Today we resume that method.
Chapter 11 was a convenient place to pause because it ends the first major section of this book, that of Jesus’ public ministry. Beginning in chapter 13, Jesus’ teaches his chosen disciples exclusively. Chapter 12 serves as a transition—it moves us from the public teaching to private, from miracles and signs to the passion and great sign, the resurrection.
Those who study John’s Gospel soon discover the importance of “living parables,” events that really happened, which also taught greater theological truths. Jesus changed water into wine to prove to us that God’s grace is an intoxicating truth, a hilarious and happy mercy. He healed the lame so that you would trust him to heal your sin-sick soul. He multiplied bread and fish from a boy’s lunch into a feast for thousands so we would come to him for spiritual food and nourishment. The miracles proved the deity of Christ, certainly; additionally, they were signs pointing to the nature of God and of his good news of grace.
Today’s text is a living parable, though a different kind. Instead of performing the story, Jesus receives an act of devotion which points us to and prepares us for the culmination of his ministry—the cross. [Read John 12.1-11. Pray.]
A recent article in the New York Times commented on the fantastic wealth concentrated in certain parts of the country. In Palo Alto, California, the median home price is, apparently, well over $2,000,000 and the article specifically mentioned a 850 square foot house which recently sold for more than one million dollars. Wow.
The article interviewed a young man who lived in Palo Alto. He said “You know, out here, with ten million dollars you’re nothing.” Ten million dollars and you are nothing. I wonder how much money that young man thought it took to “make him something.”
Pastor John Ortberg recently published a book entitled, When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box. When he was a kid he always lost to his grandmother at Monopoly. She was ruthless and John says that every game ended with his giving his last dollar and piece of property to grandma, leaving him with only disappointment and sadness. The goal of the game is money, and grandma knew how to get all of it.
One summer, however, John met a kid who taught him some of the subtleties of Monopoly. Near the end of the summer he challenged his grandmother—and won! It was his moment of great glory. “Then,” Ortberg says, “I learned the final lesson—when the game is over, it all goes back in the box. All the houses, all the hotels, Boardwalk and Park Place, all that money—everything goes back in the box.” (Preaching, volume 24, number 2, 9).
Many people (even those NOT living in Palo Alto) base their hopes for fulfillment on stuff which goes back in the box. In the end, will what you counted as significant still count? In order to help us think about that question, notice three things in this passage.
1. To Live a Life That Counts, We Must Understand the Death of Jesus Prefigured In the Anointing (John 12.3-8)
This is a moving scene. The family of Lazarus, overjoyed by Jesus’ raising him from the dead, hosts a dinner party to honor and celebrate Jesus’ gift. There was wine and feasting, laughter and profuse gratitude. Over and over they must have said, “Tell us again, Laz, what it is like to be dead! What did Moses look like? Was Elijah there?”
While Lazarus thrilled the family with descriptions of the afterlife and the process of having one’s soul reenter the body with rotten flesh regenerating and fingers growing back, Mary must have been thinking of another event.
Everyone had heard about the time Jesus ate at the home of the inconsiderate Pharisee. That host neither washed the Lord’s feet (an expected act in a land where everyone walked dusty roads clad only in sandals), nor did he anoint Jesus’ head with oil. But a prostitute entered, and overwhelmed by the possibility of acceptance and forgiveness displayed in the presence of the Messiah, she begins to weep. The tears fall on Jesus’ feet and mix with the dust to make a muddy mess. She instinctively pulls the pin from her hair and began to wipe his feet clean. Remembering the healing ointment she carried with her, scented and so soothing to the skin, she rubs the Master’s feet and kisses them. Jesus used that event to teach how she who is forgiven much, loves much, but those who are forgiven little love little. Mary thought about that prostitute and knew that she loved Jesus much. She loved him for restoring her brother; she loved him for accepting her devotion; but mostly she loved him for his compassion and grace.