August 24, 2003

The Fragrance of Love and the Stench of Greed

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: John Scripture: John 11:55– 12:11


The Fragrance of Love and the Stench of Greed

John 11:55-12:11
Sunday, August 24, 2003
Pastor Randy Smith

It's an exciting time for Chicago sports fans. It's the first time since 1908 that both the Cubs and White Sox have been in the playoff race this close to the end of the season. As the playoff hunt tightens, no doubt other cities around our great nation are also excited that their team may still be playing baseball in October. Baseball is our national pastime. But baseball can often be our national idol.

Maybe some need to ask themselves the follow questions: Do I get more exited about a new acquisition to the team than I do over a new convert to the faith? Have I contributed more to Major League Baseball than I have to the Lord's work this summer? Have I spent more time in front of the TV than in front of the Scriptures? Do I think more often of meeting my favorite player than meeting my Lord face-to-face? Do I spend more time talking about baseball than I do talking to God in prayer? Do I find more joy in going to a baseball game, than I do going to church?

This week I was reading about Ernie Harwell, the legendary play-by-play announcer of the Detroit Tigers. In 1991, the 73-year-old broadcaster was fired after faithfully serving over three decades as the voice of the Tigers. Harwell was surprised and disappointed, but the real measure of his greatness was seen in the wake of his firing. Rather than bad-mouthing the instigators of this unexpected action, Harwell practiced what he preached. As a born-again Christian, the veteran announcer chose to accept the circumstances as God's will for his life and to forgive those who had forced him out.

When asked later about his reaction to his dismissal, Harwell replied, "I refused to allow myself to be bitter. According to Romans 8:28, God causes the circumstances of our lives to work together for good. I had an assurance that he was in control and that I could trust him." He added, "Even though I love baseball, I love my Lord Jesus Christ much more."

This morning I would like to discuss a topic central to our Christian faith, loving the Lord Jesus Christ. Our account in chapter 12 today deals with many people and their love for Jesus Christ. Some were curious, others were hostile, one was hypocritical, a few were sincere, and one was extravagant. As I preach this sermon I want you to examine your own life to determine which category best describes your heart. Is your love encumbered by various idols (like baseball) that detract from a steadfast devotion, or can you say with Ernie Harwell, "I love my Lord Jesus Christ much more."

Before we begin, allow me to provide you with some background information that will make this account more understandable.

We left off last week with Jesus retreating to a small village called Ephraim (Jn. 11:54). Just months before His passion, Jesus spent this time privately training His disciples and preparing Himself for the Calvary road. Verse 1 of chapter 12 speaks of Jesus "therefore" returning to Bethany. Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem. The "therefore" indicates that the time for His departure had arrived. Verse 1 dates this visit only six days before the Passover. In less than a week, Jesus would be slaughtered in Jerusalem as the true Passover Lamb, fulfilling the prophecy from 11:51-52, "That Jesus was going to die for the nation and…the children of God who are scattered abroad."

Beginning in verse 2 and those which follow, we read about a special event that describes an intimate anointing of Jesus. All four gospels speak of Jesus being anointed. Therefore, Bible students throughout the centuries have sought to determine if there is any overlap in any of these narratives whereby some may be describing the same event. Without going into much detail, I believe Matthew, Mark and John depict the same occasion (variations-yes, discrepancies-no), while Luke's account which involves a different woman, a different host home and a different process of anointing speaks of a separate event. So if my analysis is correct, the accounts in Matthew and Mark will help provide some additional information to supplement the story before us in John this morning.

Let's begin our study. I have presented the 5 sermon points on the outline enclosed in your bulletin. Each point represents a different degree of love for the Savior. The different degrees form somewhat of a pyramid. Point 3 is the highest form of love and represents the tip of the pyramid, while the other points cascade down somewhat in descending order.

1. HESITATING LOVE (11:55-57; 12:9)

At one corner of the pyramid is hesitating love, point number 1. Hesitating love is demonstrated in chapter 11 verses 55-57. These people sought out Jesus because they were curious. Some may have exercised saving faith, but as we have seen throughout the book of John, these people were primarily interested in the sensational aspects of Christ's ministry. They followed Him when He was popular and did miracles, but were quick to desert Him when the goings got tough.

Beginning in verse 55, "Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover to purify themselves. So they were seeking for Jesus, and were saying to one another as they stood in the temple, 'What do you think; that He will not come to the feast at all?' Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it, so that they might seize Him" (Jn. 11:55-57). We see these people also make their presence again in 12:9. "The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead."

Hesitating love does not honor the Lord. It is self-seeking, disingenuous and superficial. It abides only when convenient or until something better comes along. Hesitating love fails to considerer the cost and departs at the slightest hint of persecution or sacrifice. This type of love is described in Christ's parable of the 4 soils. "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firmroot in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away" (Mt. 13:20-21). Hesitating love is always temporary and falls short of the devoted love Christ expects from His disciples.


In contrast, another type of love is honoring love. God-honoring love was demonstrated by the three siblings of the Bethany family. For now let's examine the actions of Martha and Lazarus.

First, notice in verse 2 that "Martha was serving" (verb tense-continuous activity). The beginning of verse 2 also indicates that the supper was in honor of Jesus. Therefore Mary was demonstrating her love for the Lord by serving Him.

Now you may be saying, "Wait a minute Pastor, wasn't Martha rebuked by Jesus in Luke 10 for serving? Wasn't she supposed to be at the feet of Jesus like her sister? Didn't she learn her lesson by this time?" I believe Martha did learn her lesson. Her rebuke in Luke 10 was not for her service, but rather her attitude during the service. Her circumstances in John 12 didn't change, but her heart did! This time she served the Lord for His honor. Before her spirit was complaining, now it was loving. Before her spirit was encumbered, now it was free. Before her spirit was anxious, now it was joyful.

Though everything we do as Christians is an act of service as "unto the Lord" (Eph. 5:22), the Spirit has given us various gifts to specifically minister to the church. And when we minister to the church we are ministering, like Martha, unto the body of Christ.

No doubt one of Martha's gifts was service. What is your gift? Do you enjoy using it as much as Martha did? Are you serving the Lord with a right attitude? Is your service bringing forth reproof or praise from our Lord? (Martha experienced both.). We're talking about God-honoring love through service. Do you want to honor the Lord with your love? If so, follow Martha's example and serve the Lord with the right attitude, showing yourself to be a good steward of the gifts He has graciously given you. And when you serve His church, you are serving Him just like Martha did! Remember our Lord said, "To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (Mt. 25:40).

Lazarus that Saturday evening also demonstrated God honoring love. The end of verse 2 says, "Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with (Jesus)." We demonstrate our love for the Lord when we serve Him. We also demonstrate our love the Lord when we commune with Him in fellowship. Lazarus took great delight in personal companionship with his Savior.

In Morning and Evening, C.H. Spurgeon made the follow comments on this text. "To have lived without constant intercourse with One of whom the Jews said, 'Behold how he loved Him,' would have been disgraceful to Lazarus, is it excusable in us whom Jesus has loved with an everlasting love? To have been cold to Him who wept over his lifeless corpse, would have argued great brutishness in Lazarus. What does it argue in us over whom the Saviour has not only wept, but bled? Come, brethren, who read this portion, let us return unto our heavenly Bridegroom, and ask for His Spirit that we may be on terms of closer intimacy with him, and henceforth sit at the table with him" (Nov. 21, Evening).

Everybody naturally enjoys being around those whom they love the most. Is your time with Jesus reflective of your love for Him? People may say they love Jesus, but what does it communicate to Him if He's lucky to get only one hour of their week each Sunday morning? Is that indicative of a loving relationship?

Do you honor your Savior through daily communication with Him in the Word and prayer? Do you long for church activities as a special way to corporately fellowship with the body of Christ? Is He on the forefront of your mind serving, as a grid through which every thought, word and deed must pass? Do you love Jesus? If so you will naturally hunger to fellowship with Him more than anyone else as did Lazarus.


Mary also demonstrated God-honoring love, but the manifestation of her love is one that is rarely witnessed among God's church. She had a great love for Jesus and it came forth in a great act of devotion. She confirmed her love for the Savior in such a profound way; I decided to put it in a separate category. As we move to point 3, I am calling Mary's love, humongous love. Verse 3, "Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."

The Holy Spirit was very specific in describing the object and the act of her devotion. In the beginning of verse 3, the object is referred to as "a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard." The word is nard and not lard. Mary did not anoint Jesus with butter, but rather scented oil extracted from the root and spike of the nard plant commonly grown in India. Because this large quantity of perfume was pure and rare, John tells us that it was "very costly." How costly you might wonder? Judas (of all people) helps us in verse 5 when he said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?" A denarius was equivalent to a day's wage. So three hundred denarii (omitting Sabbath and Holy Days when one did not work) was equivalent to a year's salary. Mary's act would be similar to you and I taking $50,000 and dumping it at the feet of Jesus.

This is a tremendous witness as to how much Mary valued Jesus. This is a tremendous witness as to how much Mary loved Jesus. Nothing was too costly to lavish upon her Savior. Her heart was akin to King David who said, "I will not offer (anything)…to the Lord my God which cost me nothing" (2 Sa. 24:24). Though we may tend to call her act one of great sacrifice, I believe Mary would beg to differ. Her actions were spontaneous and cheerfully given without duty. She gave the greatest thing she had to the greatest love of her life.

Men, do you remember when you first began dating your wife? No expense was spared! The finest clothes, the restaurants of her choice, nice flowers, expensive phone bills, creative gifts, etc. Some of you possibly even went so far as to clean out the inside of your car! I can still remember my first date with Julie. Because I couldn't find a parking spot in downtown Chicago, I parked in a loading zone and sacrificed the towing of my car rather than arrive any later for our date. Bottom line men: Money, time, sleep and personal interests were never considered! It wasn't a sacrifice. It was love!

Of course we still treat our wives this way! Right?

Well, this is how Mary loved her Savior. Her extravagant love for Jesus came naturally and joyfully. Three hundred denarii could have provided her with many "wants." A few vacations to the Black Sea, a bigger house, a nicer chariot, a new wardrobe, a couple recreation camels, etc. However, Mary knew that there was nothing she could have bought with this money that would have made her happier. Mary took more joy in giving to Jesus out of the overflow of her heart. This is what it comes down to folks. It's all an issue of our heart. For Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Mt. 6:21; Lk. 12:34). Our treasure is often that in which we've made the greatest investment. She was motivated by an enlarged heart and great faith. By faith she disregarded expense. By faith she knew she would be blessed by the giving. By faith she knew the Lord would praise her for actions.

Mary's bountiful gift reminds me of another godly individual who gave over and above "religious" expectations. The book of Acts says, "(Barnabas) owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet" (Ac. 4:37). Barnabas understanding the needs of the church sold his land and gave the proceeds to the leaders of the flock. He didn't even designate his giving! He simply said, "Here it is, use it as you deem best."

Mary's love was definitely extravagant. It was very humble as well. Verse 3 says after she gathered her costly perfume she "anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair."

Back in those days it was common to anoint the head of an important guest (and there is no doubt that Jesus was an important guest!), but washing the feet was a task assigned to the lowest slave. We will soon learn in the next chapter that the Lord taught His disciples about humility, by washing their feet. And it was those same disciples who competed with one another and begged Christ for the places of glory by His side in heaven. Yet Mary was content to be at Christ's feet. No Disciple throughout the gospels is witnessed as being as loving as that! As a matter of fact, every time she is mentioned in the gospels, she is always humbly stationed at the Lord's feet (Lk. 10:39; Jn. 11:32; 12:3). What humility!

Additionally, Mary wiped His feet not with some dirty rag, but rather her hair, a sign of a woman's glory according to 1 Cor. 11:15. She even broke some cultural taboos by letting down her hair in public. But just as Mary didn't care about the expense of the perfume, she didn't care about her own reputation. She only cared about Jesus! She offered the glad surrender of herself in all humility. "As the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume" (Jn. 12:3), her humble love for Jesus preached that famous line we've covered so often in this gospel, "He must increase, but I must decrease (Jn. 3:30)"


Well, whenever something happens that honors the Lord, you can bet the crafty Devil himself is there to stop it. He often uses people. This time he used Judas. Beginning in verse 4, "But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, 'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?' 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" (Jn. 12:5-6).

Judas thought Mary made a bad mistake by giving such an extravagant gift, and he guised it in such spiritual verbiage, a concern for the poor. Even up until the end none of the disciples ever would have guessed that Judas would betray their Savior. Judas appeared to be a loyal adherent to the faith. Judas appeared to love Jesus, but his love for Jesus was hypocritical. He is like the wolves that often lurk in the corridors of every church. They may appear as sheep. They may appear very devout and pious. But their real intentions, often unwillingly, to draw attention away from Christ through a variety of measures.

However, though crafty they may be, these wolves are fortunately identifiable. Jesus said they will be known by their fruits (Mt. 7:16). So let's compare the fruits of Judas with the fruits of Mary. Judas was selfish. Mary was selfless. Judas took joy in stealing. Mary took joy in giving. Judas was materially minded. Mary was spiritually minded. Judas was a profile of hell. Mary was a profile of heaven. Judas viewed worship as impractical. Mary viewed worship as unavoidable. Judas sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Mary presented Christ with three hundred denarii of perfume. Judas was concerned about taking for his money box. Mary was concerned about giving her life savings. Judas drew attention off of Christ. Mary drew attention on to Christ. Judas loved money. Mary loved Jesus. Judas was inspired by Satan. Mary was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Judas went to his own place. Mary assumed her place in the hearts of those who love Jesus. Of her our Lord said, "Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her" (Mk. 14:9).

The next time someone in the church, like Judas, thinks your gift is too big for Jesus, you remind him or her of this passage!

Since Judas lost out on this financial opportunity, he pursued another. Immediately he went to the high priests for money to hand over Jesus (Mk. 14:10). A few days later he, the hypocrite, would betray Jesus with a kiss (Lk. 22:48). A.W. Pink said, "Behind the rosebush, lurked a serpent." Judas rebuked Mary, but Jesus praised Mary. He is always ready to defend His own (Rev. 12:10)! Verses 7 and 8, "Therefore Jesus said, 'Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.'" If anything, Mary's extravagant gift of devotion signaled more than she probably knew, and Judas, the hypocrital traitor, revealed the true fruit of his character.

5. HOLLOW LOVE (12:10-11)

Finally, as we descend to the bottom of the pyramid, we witness hallow love. Some honored Jesus with their love, some hesitated, some were hypocritical, but many were hostile; they just outright hated Jesus. Ironically, those who hated Jesus the most were the most religious people in the land. We already learned that the religious leaders were planning to kill Jesus (Jn. 11:53). Now we learn that their hatred for Jesus spilled over to those who testified of Him. And who better was there to testify of Jesus, than the man He raised from the dead! Verses 10 and 11, "But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus."

Where on this pyramid do you find your love for Jesus? Is it humongous love like Mary? If so, are you demonstrating it in the same way she did through extravagant giving?

My vision for the Lord's work is huge! I am not content to live the average American pastor's life. Nor do I want health, wealth and prosperity. I want it said of me and hopefully of this church what was said of the faithful Christian disciples in the first century. "These men who have upset the world have come here also" (Ac. 17:6). We too must continue the tradition of our forefathers; we must upset the world for Christ. On the personal level we must live as ambassadors for Christ, conducting ourselves with holy conduct and bold evangelism. On the corporate level, we need a larger sanctuary to impact more lives for the gospel. We need a second pastor to get this church to the next level. We need to be more involved in world missions. And why stop there. I'd love to see a comprehensive Christian school (grades K-12). I'd love to see us buy out the WRAT radio station across the street. Let's boot Satan off the air and supply millions of people in the most populated state per capita with biblical songs and biblical sermons which they currently do not enjoy. Is the arm of the Lord too short to accomplish these goals for His glory? Can I get anybody to share this vision? Do we want to be comfortable or do we want to upset the world for Christ?

The vision is there The people power is there. The money is not. We need to pray. We need the Lord to raise up hearts like Mary. We will never reap bountifully if we sow sparingly (2 Cor. 9:6). Possibly you are giving all you've got, but possibly the Lord is testing your faith and asking you if your givings to Him are reflective of your love for Him. Are you "stor(ing) up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (Mt. 6:20)? Are you like the widow who gave not "out of (her) surplus, but…out of her poverty" (Mk. 12:44)? Are you like the Macedonian church that gave "beyond their ability" (2 Cor. 8:3) that "begged (to participate) in the support of the saints" (2 Cor. 8:4)? The Scriptures say the Lord praises liberal and cheerful givers (2 Cor. 8:2; 9:7) because they bring Him much glory from other people who witness such extraordinary devotion (2 Cor. 9:13).

I'm content to live on Macaroni and Cheese and drive an old Mini-Van. The money is not for me. But I'm not content to live these few years I have left on this planet if God not be glorified through the ministry of this church. I'd rather bartend at D'Jais than be a part of a church that just goes through the motions. What about you? Is the Lord calling you to up your weekly giving? Are you robbing Him of tithes and offerings (Mal. 2:8)? Many of you are committed to 10%. That's good! But 10% was an Old Covenant guide. How much more should we be giving in the New? Possibly the Lord is calling you to be a Mary? An extravagant gift of selfless devotion was well pleasing in His sight. Is that poor advice? Judas thought it was!

If you've been around me the past couple years, you'll testify that I rarely, if ever, preach on giving. I preach every sermon on the greatness of God and believe that once that is truly comprehended, the givings will naturally follow. Why did Mary give what she did? Because she knew her God was great and highly valued and worthy of that gift. We can all talk about our love for Jesus, but how are we showing it? Is our love for the Savior hallow, hesitating, hypocritical or is it humongous? Are we like Mary? Are we getting down on our knees before our Lord and pouring out our life to Him?

other sermons in this series

May 9


The Priority of A Disciple

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:18–25 Series: John

May 2


From Fishermen To Shepherds

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:15–17 Series: John

Apr 25


Fishing For Men

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:1–14 Series: John