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The Cost of Our Worship
We’re continuing our discussion about worship we started last week…the key points were: when we see the Lord, we see his holiness, recognise our sinfulness and therefore our natural response is worship, such is our appreciation of his grace.
But how do we view worship? Something we primarily do here on Sunday or is worship everything we do?  The phrase I shared a few weeks ago, in reference to gratitude to Jesus, was: our lives ought to be one big long thank you – that’s worship. Worship is not particular or peculiar to the place or any circumstances we might find ourselves in. We are, as A.W. Tozer puts it “called to an everlasting preoccupation with God!”. We are left in doubt about this from the scripture.
How we view worship, how much it costs me, how intentional we are to engage in worship, is how we view God. If we’re aware, we’re always in his presence, he is always watching, listening, if that is what we believe then worshippers are who we become. But with so many competing distractions our lives are often filled with greater competing preoccupations.
Imagine you’re invited to your own surprise birthday party and we all came along, you came into the room and we all jumped up and said, “Surprise!” And you were! “Oh my goodness, this is a birthday party…” And just as soon as we’d said surprise and gestured toward you we all went back to talking to each other: we totally ignored you, no gifts, no cards. There was no further sign or mention of the specialness of the event, and you were in the middle of all this, waiting for a cake or, something.
Finally, we all left and there you were. You’re left thinking, hang on, what kind of party was this? We came to the party, but we didn’t show up!
When it comes to our worship, at some point we have to decide, how much Jesus is worth for our worship. The answer is, of course, he’s worth everything, but do we deliver on that?
And I think the story we’re looking at today – Mary anointing Jesus with the expensive perfume – teaches us what worship is, when we see the worth of Jesus, when his worth is matched by our love for him, that is worship.
These verses challenge our motivation in our serving and worship. They address the risks of worship being for self-gratification and seeking self-satisfaction as if I need to get something out of it. “What did you get out of the worship today, how was the worship for you today…?” Perhaps we can turn such questions around: “What did you offer Jesus today…?”
Because the true motive for serving Christ is, we do what we do because he is worthy of everything we can do for him.
READ John 12:1-8
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. 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 Iscariot, 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.”
These verses are a lesson in giving Jesus all he is worth, generous worship, giving him all of our devotion and worship at great cost to our-selves – Mary poured it (the perfume) all out…the gratitude and the inexplicable cost of the act of worship. The story is also a lesson in guarding our hearts against self-preservation and selfishness too: Mary’s act demonstrates what ought to be true of our daily worship.
In the last chapter of Watchman Nee’s book, The Normal Christian Life he points out that in the parallel accounts of this story in Matthew (26:6-13) and Mark (14:3-9), all the disciples joined Judas in scolding Mary for wasting this expensive perfume on Jesus when it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus defends Mary by replying (Matthew 26:13), “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
Nee says that Jesus “intends that the preaching of the Gospel should issue in something along the very lines of the action of Mary here, namely, that people should come to Him and waste themselves on Him.” Or, to state it another way, the gospel is “to bring each one of us to a true estimate of His worth.”
Let’s look at principles we can draw from the characters in the story…
(Verses 1-2a) Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour.
This is a celebration of the resurrection of Lazarus, its focus is on Jesus, a dinner is held in his honour to express gratitude to Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead. King Jesus is in the house! And Lazarus this man once-dead now-living is right there reclining at the table as the product of their praying, and the power of Jesus. Mary and Martha have just seen their dead brother walk alive from the grave. What does that do for their sense of worship of Jesus?
The dinner, however, was just to set the scene…
(Verse 2b.) Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.
I like to think Martha and Mary and others in the home would have discussed their plans, they wanted it to be special after all Jesus was coming. Lazarus is probably quietly watching on, appreciating being alive and grateful to Jesus. Martha is in her usual place, serving and organising the meal, ensuring everything is in order and the meal is well served. Her service and gratitude is the worship of Jesus. But Mary is about to express her gratitude and worship of Jesus in a lavish way.
(Verse 3) 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.
So Martha’s role was to thank Jesus by seeing to the details of the dinner, and Mary’s role was to thank Jesus by pouring this expensive ointment out on Jesus. In both these ways, they would express their worship and gratitude for Jesus’ grace and power to raise Lazarus from the dead.
Mary so loved Jesus, that her desire to worship him, following what she had seen him do and who she believed he was, meant complete disregard to her self in terms of the cost of her worship.
Some might ask about the sensibility of such an act, was it foolish, irrational? We know it was worth about a year’s wages, let’s say in today’s terms 30k worth. Any way you figure it, Mary’s action was costly! She could have sold the perfume, given 90 per cent of the proceeds to poor people, and still had a sizeable amount to give to the Lord. But that is missing the point of the act.
And the Lord rebukes them “For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” He was not implying that the poor should not be helped, he was saying, “I am more worthy of your unselfish act of generosity and worship than all the world’s poor put together!” He was accepting the worship that Mary gave him because she rightly saw that he is worthy of all that we can give him and even more.
Because when we see who is he is, we’re not concerned about ourselves, we’re concerned about how he sees us and how we worship.
Mark 14…. Jesus said it was a beautiful thing she had done. What was beautiful about this act and why was it beautiful?
The consideration was less about the economic cost of the perfume and more on the investment being made in the Lord. The perfume that Mary had was not some side-street cheap and nasty watered down version, it was the real deal. For Mary, the spiritual investment was greater than the physical cost.
The bible calls faith, the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Mary had faith. Even though she had the benefit of having Jesus in person right there, faith required her to sacrifice that expensive perfume for a greater spiritual goal. What she gave only had earthly value – there were plenty of people who thought they had better ideas of what to do with the money – she saw beyond this to the eternal benefits.
You know the most striking part of this story is Mary’s disregard for what others thought (social costs), or may have been thinking – she wiped his feet with her hair – something respectable Jewish woman would never think of doing, in fact, was the act of someone with loose morals. Remember David danced before the Lord despite opposition. But his response was (2 Samuel 6:14-23) “I will become even more undignified than this, I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”
Mary had complete disregard for the financial cost and was concerned only with the Lord. There is no teaching here that suggests we are to imitate what Mary has done, however, the principle is, our worship is to cost us something – could be our dignity like David, could be your time, could be our finances. Is Jesus worth more than anything I own than all my finances (because he owns it all anyway!). Is he worth more than my pride, and how others might view my acts of love toward him?
When John Paton let it be known that he planned to move with his new bride to take the gospel to the cannibals in the South Sea Islands (mid-1800’s), an old man in his church said, “You’ll be eaten by cannibals!” “My dear sir (Paton said), you’re getting up in years and soon will be laid in the grave and eaten by worms. If I can but live and die honouring the Lord Jesus, it doesn’t matter to me whether I’m eaten by cannibals or by worms, because on resurrection day, my body will arise as fair as yours!”
(Verses 4-6) But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, 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.
Judas wasn’t concerned about the poor, at all, but more about the fact he thought that was a just a waste of good money, down the drain. Before we go taking the speck out of Judas’s eye…Judas’ response, tragically shows us the state of our hearts when not matched to the worth of Jesus.
It may not be a financial matter, but something quite different, where we’re placing greater worth on ourselves, our opinions, our feelings over those of the worth and worship of Jesus. Notice Judas’ attempts to appear genuine in his concern? But it was an affront to his real motivations, which was for money, not Jesus.
For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:7-10)
Martha served out of a heart of gratitude and thankfulness. Mary worshipped extravagantly and generously with no regard for herself, the cost, or for others. Judas’ was all about me, myself and I. The home is filled with the fragrance of the perfume but at the same time the betraying heart of Judas. And Jesus rebukes Judas, not hard to see why?!
(Verses 7-8) “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.”
There was a plan in place for the perfume, but Jesus did not see her act as reckless, or foolish but as worship. He accepted the worship that Mary gave Him because she rightly saw that he is worthy of all that we can give Him and even more.
“Leave her alone” Judas because she exemplifies what it means to love me. Jesus is saying, Judas your preference for money and self-serving blinds you to my worth. You “cannot serve two masters” (see Matthew 6).
Jesus is also saying something much subtler. I’m referring to his statement “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial” The perfume was already poured out, so why would Jesus say this? Here are two possible reasons:
- Jesus didn’t want Judas to disrupt Mary’s gratitude, love and worship after his death. Jesus wanted to preserve that, so he says “leave her alone” Judas, don’t you be a voice that spoils her love for me.
- And 2ndly, Jesus was indicating that Mary had anointed him in preparation for his sacrifice, death, burial…and didn’t want Judas distracting from that
The world screams at us to live and behave a certain way. God has changed, the world says, why doesn’t the church? In many cases, the church has, tragically. What you believe is no longer applicable and relevant.
There is a Judas-like voice that says, why do we need to do that, isn’t this good enough? Church, any voice that tells us to moderate the truth of our love and worship for Jesus, we do not listen to. Why? Because God does not accommodate what I think or feel is right, that makes me sovereign. Our affections for Jesus must be in keeping with who he is and what he deserves: all of us and everything! Any voice that tells you, or implies that Jesus is not worth our affections we do not listen to.
What did Mary see in Jesus that the disciple Judas Iscariot, didn’t? Because that affected their contrasting responses. Mary saw Jesus’ worth, grace and glory, Judas, well, did not! And so it follows when we are unable to see his worth, grace and glory, the focus becomes ourselves, Jesus (at best) takes second place!
There is no measure we can apply to our love and worship of Jesus, we cannot scale his worth, which is why the best we can do is to give him everything we are and have.
Reflecting on this story you might ask how do we know the difference between what is reckless and what is worship? Best answer; the motivation of your heart. (Does it match Jesus’ worth) If what you are giving or doing is in the first instance for Jesus’ glory, and for the kingdom of God…
What today for you is the equivalent of “pouring out the perfume on Jesus”; the equivalent of this kind of selfless, extravagant worship and giving ourselves uninhibited to Jesus?
At a pastors’ conference, Bill Mills told about a time when he was speaking to a group of Wycliffe missionaries in South America. On the last evening, as he ate dinner with the director and his wife, she told him how years before they had been assigned to translate the Bible into one of the local languages, a lengthy process then, often taking about twenty years.
During the process, the translators were teaching the Scriptures and seeing a new church emerging among the tribe. But as they came toward the end of the translation project, the tribal people became more and more involved in selling their crops for the drug trade and less and less interested in the Scriptures. When they finally finished the translation of the New Testament and scheduled a dedication service, not even one person came!
The missionary’s wife was angry and bitter. She had given twenty years of her life so that these people could have the Scriptures, then they didn’t want it! Reflecting on this season Bill said it is as though God has been washing His Word over my soul and healing me, and He has opened my eyes to see this all from His perspective. I am just beginning to realize now that we did it for Him! That is the only thing that makes any sense in all of this. We did it for God!… We do it for Him
There’s a story about a woman in Luke 7, a prostitute, but she learned to love Jesus. She also anointed the Lord and worshipped him. She also used perfume. This time it was Simon Peter who objected, he comes alongside Jesus and says (my words) “did you notice what she was doing over there?”
Listen to what He said, Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon Peter, “Have you noticed this woman? When I came into your home, you didn’t give me any water so that I could wash my feet. But she washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss.
But from the time that I came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You didn’t pour any olive oil on my head, but she’s poured this perfume upon my feet.” “Simon (Jesus said) let me tell you something. She has worshipped me, do you?
What is it we will pour out at the feet of Jesus that he will be glorified among us today?
What is Jesus saying to Fairfield Baptist this morning?…
Mary’s act of worship gives a biblical basis for evaluating our own act/s of worship, and Judas’ example helps us to test our motivations of worship. Mary didn’t do this out of duty or obligation, but sheer devotion and love for Jesus, and she gained this posture how? By sitting at His feet.
Worship is not about self-gratification, for me getting something out of it, or for me to feel good about myself. Worship puts self aside to focus fully on Jesus who is worthy of all we can give him…
What is it we will pour out at the feet of Jesus that he will be glorified among us today?
Let’s be a church that really does love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and it shows. Let’s not be ashamed of our love for Jesus, who is our Lord: he is worth it!
 Worship is constant because God is: he always is
 When I see him in all his glory, I will want to worship him
 What’s our equivalent?
 Nard was a rare and precious spice imported from northern India. Nard is a shrub whose leaves and “shoots” were harvested and taken by caravan to the west. Sometimes it was mixed with its own root to increase its weight. Note that Mary’s gift is called “pure” nard, meaning it had no additives. Nard smelled like gladiolus (gladiola) perfume (Pliny: “a sweet scent”) and had a red colour. It could be used in a variety of ways: in medicinal recipes, as an aromatic wine, as a breath scent, and as a perfume (for clothes and body). (NIV Comms John)
 That God is a God of love doesn’t mean (or ought to be confused with) he is approving and accepting of all behaviours immoral. The other side of the ‘coin’ is God hates sin. He judges sin. But makes a way nonetheless through Jesus…