Shopping! That's probably a word you don't want to hear right now. Malls and super stores have commandeered much of our time and money in the past month. Shopping is over, though. I don't like shopping. I felt like I was in a video game the last time I was in Walmart. Well, we have people who work at Walmart. We pray for you. I was being bounced around, back and forth. And I wasn't even Christmas hopping. I just wanted the staples of life. And then we had to wait in line for six hours. It seemed like it. Ooh! A bad place. I don't know. I get a little crazy when I'm in a store like that. If you see me there, just forgive me, okay? I can't control it. I know. My whole family was at Walmart this past week. Mistake. Well, while my wife and daughter were on the food side, my son and I went to where we usually go, where the Hot Wheels are. We were looking at different things and enjoying ourselves. It was hard to get in there to it. Then we saw something we didn't expect. We saw this box of toy reptiles and animals. My son discovered a rat. It looked so real. I picked it up and it felt real. I almost gave me the willies to hold that toy rat. It was white and dirty. It had rolled around on the floor and collected dust and dirt and it had a long pink tail. It looked nasty. Of course we said, "Let's show it to the girls."
It took us about a half hour to get from that section back over to where we could find them in the pasta section of Walmart. They were duly impressed with our rat that we had found, and enjoyed it immensely. I didn't want to go all the way back to the toy section to take the rat back where we got it. It was just too much like work. For those of you that work at Walmart, I apologize. Anyway, I lovingly curled that rat around a jar of spaghetti sauce. Anyway, I don't like shopping. So, I do strange things. Many of you have resolved to do your Christmas shopping earlier next year, a resolution that will go the same mysterious place where all the other resolutions go. And it will be at the last minute all over again.
Mary was doing her Christmas shopping when no one else was. The shopping center was no more crowded than usual. No one ran over her on their way to some super sale. Yet her shopping was more intense than any she had ever done. You see, she was shopping for the Man of her dreams. It had to be an awesome gift because He was an awesome man. He treated her like a princess, in spite of who she knew herself to really be. He loved her unconditionally, unlike the other men in her life who always expected something in return. Well, actually, this man did expect something in return but it was something noble, something that would actually benefit her. But enough speculation on that. She wanted to give him something different than that, something extra, something that he would not expect; a gift, a present.
She had thought about it for weeks. What would a Man like this enjoy, when He already seemed to have everything? A thought kept circulating in her mind that she did not understand. Yet it seemed like an appropriate gift for some reason. She kept second guessing herself but had finally come to some sort of resolve as she walked through the mall. She turned into a store she had been to many times before; PERFUMES 'R US.
He heard the bell ring as she entered the store. The clerk looked up to see one of his usual customers Mary. He mentally rolled his eyes but physically smiled at his customer. He knew what she wanted, the usual cheap perfume that she used in her own business. He did not approve of her lifestyle and hoped that few had noticed her as she entered his establishment, yet she was a source of income to him in a small way. Funny, he had not seen her in quite a while. As he reached up to the shelf that contained her usual cheap perfume, she shook her head and said, "I want something nicer than that." Well, this was unusual! But, then again, special celebrations were coming up soon. "Let me show you something that is better." He reached to another shelf and pulled down a small, plain, wooden box. Removing the lid, he revealed a light pink dust. "I make this myself from crushed rose petals out of my garden. It has a light scent, but nice. It is only $4.99."
He was a little surprised when she shook her head and asked for something better. He pulled down a carved wooden box. "This is called Lily of the Valley. You could get this down the street for $24.99. For you $20.00 even."
Again she shook her head. "I was looking for something more special than that." The shopkeeper's hopes rose a little. Maybe he would actually make a profit from Mary today. He went to the other side of the store an pulled from the shelf a box made of ornate brass. "Now this is the best that I make. It is my own invention and quite nice if I do say so myself! But I warn you in advance. It is not cheap! I import the ingredients all the way from Caesarea Philippi. This is similar to what those pagans offer to their gods on the altars. But, I think it is nice, with a little touch behind the ears. I can't let it go for less than $150.00!"
Expecting her to gasp and go back to the $20.00 Lily of the Valley, he was the one who gasped when she shook her head again. "This is not for me! It is for Someone very special! Do you have anything better?" "But of course I have better! I did not build my reputation by selling this cheap... Oh never mind! Let me show you something special. From under the counter he pulled a box made of pure silver. "Have you ever heard of Frankincense? I import from South Arabia and it comes in on the Caravan from Midian. In fact, the Frankincense tree was transported there from the Horn of Africa. They cut into the bark and the resin that is removed gives off a sweet scent if it is warmed. That is why this is better used as an incense rather than a perfume. This costs no less than $5000.00! An believe me when I say that I'm making just enough to feed my family when I let it go for that!"
If it were not for the serious expression on her face he would have thought this a joke as she again shook her head. "Do you have anything more special than Frankincense?" "Who is this gift for, may I ask?" "Never you mind. Let's just say that He is the King of my heart!" Again he reached under the counter and pulled out a wooden cask. He unlocked it to reveal a red velvet lining. Inside was a small container made of gold. "This is Myrrh! I have it imported all the way from Somalia on the Egyptian Caravan. The Egyptian Caravan only comes through once a year. Priests from the Temple and the best physicians are my only customers for this. This will cost you $10.000! How are you expecting to pay? I can offer you no credit."
"I am not expecting credit! I have been saving for a long time! Do you have anything better than this?" Now beyond shock and disbelief, the shopkeeper asked Mary to wait while he went to the back. Shortly he returned through the curtain which was the door to his residence. Now with a lower voice he said, "I keep this in the back where it is safer. It is called Spikenard or just Nard. It is from the Valerian family, Nardostachys jatamansi. This plant does not grow below 11,000 feet and has to be imported all the way from the Himalayan Mountains in India! Have you ever heard of India?" "I don't care about India. How much?" "Well, let me show it to you first." He then revealed what he had brought from the back of his shop. Reaching into a purple silk bag laced with golden treads he pulled out a small box made of pure Alabaster. "I cannot allow you to smell this perfume because to do so, I would have to break the Alabaster. It cannot be resealed. Once it is opened, it must be used. It is mostly used by the wealthy for anointing the dead. Now, before you go shaking your head again and asking for better, I must warn you. This is the best that I have. You will not find this or any better in any other shop in Jerusalem! It is the best that there is!" "How much?" "$20,000.00 dollars." Without blinking or bartering, Mary pulled out a large heavy bag. As the sound of the gold coins hit the counter she said, "I'll take it!"
Turn with me to John 12. The story of what took place after my attempt at historical fiction is recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. obviously an important story. Today we'll gt details from three of those books: John, Luke and Mark. We're starting in the book of John.
John 12:1-8. Six days before th Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him. Then Mary took about a pint 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.
But one of His disciples, Judas Ascariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." 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.
"Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."
Now, turn to Luke 7:39-50. When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is that she is a sinner." Who did he say it to? He said it to himself. So, it make the next verse a bit interesting.
Jesus answered him. Jesus knows what's going on in our heads, doesn't He. Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
Tell me, Teacher," he said.
"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for My feet, but she wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give Me a kiss, but she this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing My feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she poured perfume on My feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven for she loved much. But he who has been given forgiven little loves little."
Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
The other guest began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
Jesus said to the woman, "You faith has save you, go in peace."
Now, look at Mark; Mark 14:9 . "I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." Do you think she knew that when she entered the perfume shop that day? That we would be talking about her two thousand years later? Had she known, she would have passed out.
This story is an interesting picture of God's church. This one feast had people from all different walks of life with differing personalities and various needs with assorted motivations.
Simon, the host of the feast, was truly grateful for being healed of leprosy earlier by Jesus. Who wouldn't be? That's like being healed of AIDS on the spot, the scourge of society. But, He wasn't sure about this Jesus being the Messiah thing. He didn't really believe that. He wasn't even sure of Jesus being a prophet. After all, he wouldn't let her touch Him id Jesus only knew. But he felt that he owed Jesus some sort of recognition. Some people today feel the same way. They know that Jesus has done something for them so they need to acknowledge it in some way. They may do some things within the congregation motivated by the need to do and the need to be seen doing. They may even bring up their past service to make sure that it is not forgotten. Like Simon, they may feel that the acts and motivations of others do not some how measure up.
Judas, considered the most intelligent and noble of the disciples was very interested in keeping that reputation alive, in spite what he was really like. He enjoyed being seen with Jesus and as a mover and shaker in the deeds of the day. When his facade was challenged that day, he became bitter, vengeful, and a betrayer of the cause and the Man he had relished being seen with. He chose new friends who would recognize his value. Some today may be a part of the church because it is the thing to do. It is a place to be. It is the place to show their leadership abilities in relative safety. Yet, if motivation is questioned, they are offended and become arrogant.
Martha, loved for her hosting abilities, was often distracted by the urgent from the important. She was recorded as having the attitude of doing much with no support from others. She often felt used. Some today may be so busy doing that they for get the reason for doing. They feel that no one understands or appreciates how much they actually do. They are in danger of becoming resentful and throwing in the towel.
Then there are those whom we know are present in the story but their reactions to these events are not known. They represent the people who are invited but are not sure who the players are and what the events mean. They have a wait and see attitude. Often never coming to a real decision as to where they will fit in if at all. They are in danger of falling through the cracks without being noticed.
Then there is Mary. The most silent yet interesting figure, besides Jesus, at the party. She is believed to be the lowest in the social order. Yet, she no longer cares. In fact, she no longer cares about many things! She's become carefree. She does not care that her sister wishes she would be more practical and help more with the serving and the dishes. She does not care that people still give her the reputation of the lifestyle that she has given up. She does not care that people are discussing her as if she was not there. She does not care that by changing her lifestyle, people will say, "Aha, see, you were wrong, weren't you?" She doesn't care any more. She does not care that she just spent a whole year's wages on the Man that she loves. But He cares!
Jesus cares for Mary! Oh, he cares for the Simons (Those who make a show of love as long as it is convenient) and the Judases (Those who are in it for what they can get out of it) and the Marthas (Those who work hard on the urgent at the expense of the important) and the others (Those who sit on the fence). Yes, Jesus loves each of them as much as he loves Mary. Just because we're not at His feet does not mean He doesn't love us.
This week, I spoke to a man. I had just met him in the hallway. We were talking about the weather. He suddenly burst into tears. His child had chosen a path away from that which was best. The father could see what the end result of that decision would be. Does he love his child less? No, if he did, his heart would not be breaking today. When we choose a path that God did not ordain for us, He does not love us any less. In fact, He probably thinks about us more, wishing that we'd come back to that path. If he loved us less, His heart would not be breaking.
Yes, Jesus loves and would die for each person at that feast, including Judas. But Mary is different. Mary cares back. Jesus knows that here is a person who actually understands to a great degree what He has done and is doing for her. Ironically, she is considered by others to be an outsider, a sinner. She's not part of the church. Yet she understands Jesus more than they. She does not understand everything. She had heard Jesus speak of His death. So she purchased this perfume to anoint His dead body. But then she had heard others speak of making Jesus King of Israel. With a glad and grateful heart she chooses to anoint Him as King. But in actuality, her actions were very appropriate and symbolic. The only people anointed for burial before their death were criminals because after an execution, there was seldom an honorable burial. Yet she did not know that Jesus would quickly meet such a death, the death of a criminal. In fact, her actions helped speed up the process. Judas left the party in such a huff that he went straight to the priests to betray Jesus. Our actions also helped bring about His death. Even the good that we try to do. Fortunately it is not so much about right and wrong as it is about who loves you and who you love.
Yes, Jesus's love caused a desire in Mary's heart to do as He said, to go and sin no more. Yet it caused a desire to do more than that, to give her heart to Him! To give everything she had to Him! To anoint Him as King of her life no matter what the others thought! No matter what the cost. How is it possible to do this? The answer is in the text, "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven----for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." These words were spoken to Simon. Simon, a leader of the church, felt little need of forgiveness. He was, after all, a Pharisee. The synonyms given for pharisee in my computer are interesting: Fraud, Hypocrite, Phony, Pretender. Yet, in Bible times, the word "Pharisee" would have brought to mind words like: Holy, Saint, Honest, Righteous. It was people like Simon who brought down the reputation of the church. He felt little need of forgiveness so he was forgiven little and loved little.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:31-5:2 (NKJV), Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice.
Therefore be followers of God as dear children.
And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
I hope that your resolution for the new year will be much deeper than a desire to shop earlier for Christmas or to lose 10 pounds. Resolve to give your life without reservation to Jesus. Allow the important to outweigh the urgent. Forgive others, even when they don't deserve it or ask for it. Don't worry about what others think. Don't worry that if you change you are admitting that the previous path you chose was not the best. Sacrifice your pride. Sacrifice anything that comes between you and this resolve. Then, the fragrance of your decision will flood the room and all will know who is King of your heart!
Resources: Bible Amplifier-- John, by Jon Pauline Bible Amplifier Matthew, by George Knight Outline Studies in Luke, by Griffith Thomas Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary vol. 5 Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary Encyclopedia of the Bible, edited by John Drane Hymn of Praise: #125, Joy to the World Scripture: Mark 14:6.7 Hymn of Response: #138, Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow
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last updated 4/12/04 by Bob Beckett.