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Mar 29, 2015

"Wasting" Your LIfe... Well

"Wasting" Your LIfe... Well

Passage: John 12:1-13

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Palm Sunday 2015

Keywords: celebration, costly, disappointment, extravagance, gratitude, lazarus, palm sunday, resurrection, treasure


This event in John 12 happened the same weekend as Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. It was the critical event in turning Judas against Jesus and turning the crowds to Jesus. It is one of the Bible's best studies in extravagant gratitude and what it may cost us to be grateful.


Wasting Your Life…Well!

John 12:1-36

March 29, 2015

Get acquainted:

Have any of you literally been saved from death by the heroic actions of another?  If so, you should appreciate this next question just a little more than the rest of us.

  • If you had $35,000 in the bank and wanted to throw a party for someone who literally saved your life, what would you do?

Gratitude is an amazing and powerful quality. Just try to imagine a world without gratitude.  No words of appreciation…no ‘thank you’ cards or letters…no smiles acknowledging a kind gesture.  Nada!

Thankfully, our God loves goodness, kindness, mercy and grace so much that He is himself a grateful God.  And since we’re made in His image, gratitude in response to good, like all God’s moral character qualities, is something that brings us closer to God. It is something that has the power to change our relationship with most people for the better.

ILL:  My oldest sister, Ann, who was rather quiet and shy as a child, at some point in our family journey as kids, decided to become more verbal about her gratitude.  So she made it a point to thank every member of the family whenever they did something nice to her.  By my parents’ own admission, she started reshaping our family culture in a wonderfully refreshing way. Low and behold, we all started to be more grateful.  We all started to express appreciation for the good things others in the family were doing for us.  Gratitude is powerful…and contagious, apparently. 

On this Palm Sunday at which we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago, I’d like us to look at a story that the Apostle John records happened that same weekend Jesus entered Jerusalem before His crucifixion.  It happened in the home of some of Jesus’ best friends, in a little village called Bethany that was about 2 miles down the road from Jerusalem. 

            In John 11, we have the miracle recorded of Jesus raising his good friend, Lazarus, from the dead.   Lazarus’ death and 4-day-later resurrection from the dead were events that had a profound impact upon Jesus’ closest friends and even upon the timing of his own death.  How Jesus dealt with Lazarus’ death (basically by a miraculous resurrection) brought Jesus into closer contact and even deeper conflict with those who would shortly nail him to the cross. 

But John 12 is a party, the last true celebration given in Jesus’ honor before he dies.  It is a party thrown by three people whose worlds had been turned completely upside down when, months earlier, the head of their family, Lazarus, had died unexpectedly.  His death had provoked a “crisis of faith” in his two sisters who were largely dependent on him for stability and survival. And then, in the midst of deep grief, Jesus had done a completely unexpected miracle. Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead a full four days after he was laid to rest in a tomb. 

Unless we happen to have had the horrible experience of being notified that our loved one has died when, in fact, that was not the case, we have little comprehension for the magnitude of the change that this miracle of Jesus had in Mary, and Martha’s lives.   

So here in John 12, Lazarus and his sisters are hosting a party, a “Resurrection Party.”  Has anyone here ever been to a “Resurrection Party”???  Probably not.

So this party was pretty unique. Lazarus was back; no disabilities, not linger effects, no lost mobility, no brain damage.  And these three family members really wanted the world to know how deeply grateful they were for what Jesus had done for all of them.

APP:  You know, I think that every time we gather as God’s children to worship, to pray, to study His word and to break bread together, it should be a celebration in which everyone brings something!  Not everyone will have experienced resurrection power that week.  But someone will have.  SOMEONE will have seen God work that week in some way for which they are deeply grateful.  And when we come together as one family in Jesus Christ, we’re “throwing a party” in honor of Jesus who can bring life out of death.  Every time we gather, we know who the party is FOR; we just don’t all know yet WHAT it is that we’ll be praising Him for. 

I hope you see weekly worship gatherings that way. God wants us to experience times together where everyone comes prepared to share something with the family members in this celebration. 

It may be a need you want others to pray about. 

It may be an answer to prayer that you’ve experienced this week.

 It might be a passage of scripture… or a testimony of praise

It might be a song or hymn or “spiritual song” that you want us all to share in. 

Whatever it is, WELCOME TO THE PARTY…a worship party! We’re here to celebrate our Savior Jesus Christ.  We’re here to marvel at (and sometimes wrestle with) his wisdom.  We’re here to exalt His greatness and enjoy His presence.  We may be going through the worst experience of our life, but we need to be reminded that God is still faithfully sustaining others around us and doing some pretty amazing things among us. 

So let’s take a few minutes today to do that.  Do you have a testimony of thanksgiving you want to give in 60 seconds or less here today “in honor of Jesus”? 

[Allow for sharing.]

Mine this week:  meeting with one of the apartment building “gate-keepers”/managers who is anxious to have us help him build Christ-infused community in his building.  And we’ve been praying for this for 8 years! 

So let’s read John 12:1-3

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Notice that everyone in the Lazarus’ household had something to contribute to the party.  (The party may have actually been served in Simon the Leaper’s house, not theirs, according to the other Gospel accounts.)  Regardless of where it was held, Lazarus and his sisters were all involved in thanking Jesus in some way.

APP:  So what or where are the parties given today in Jesus’ honor?  (Worship services? Praise gatherings?  Prayer services?)  WHO are the saints serving there?  Musicians, technicians, ushers, greeters, parking lot attendants, unseen laborers like the cleaning crew who mops the floors and cleans the bathrooms, those who prepare the PowerPoint slides, those who set up chairs, do the bookkeeping, print the bulletins, put out the parking signs, teach the children, hold the babies so parents can worship and learn, plan the services, administrate the logistics.  Most people have no idea how many people it takes to plan and pull off a “party” in honor of Jesus every week.  

Well, at this particular party in John 11, Martha “served.”  This was her apparent “love language.”  The best way task-oriented Martha figured she could say a huge THANK YOU to Jesus for bringing her brother back to life was through her serving at the party given in His honor. Unlike the other account we have of her serving Jesus (Lk. 10), she wasn’t frustrated with her sister Mary this time.  She had apparently learned that different people have different ways of expressing their gratitude and love for Jesus…and she was now good with that. 

Lazarus, for his part, “was among those reclining at the table with [Jesus].”  So what is he contributing to the party besides his appetite?J Well, when you ARE the resident miracle, your presence is probably the best thing you can bring to the party.

APP:  It’s amazing how many people who have experienced the miraculous, life-changing work of Christ can simply fail to “show up to the party” that is given to honor Jesus.  Just being present IS a gift every child of God brings to the “party” of any gathering of God’s kids.  Some of the most moving times of honoring Jesus I’ve ever experienced were times of simply worshipping God. Whether in Pastor’s gatherings of 40,000 or prayer groups of less than a dozen, whenever and wherever people come together with the primary agenda of honoring Jesus, amazing things happen.  That’s what I hope every gathering of Mosaic is—a time to honor Christ.

Now, when you get to Mary, it may look like she is doing something pretty much on her own.But I don’t think that’s what’s happening.  I really think that the whole family—Lazarus, Mary and Martha—were all in on this.  Interdependent families don’t give away the family nest egg like this without all the important decision makers having signed off.  I think they all had talked this one over ahead of time.  Mary just got to be the one to administer the gift to Jesus.

Whatever the exact situation was, I’m pretty sure that Mary’s actions were not some rogue, spur-of-the-moment, independent decision to spend the family fortune in one moment.  I think the whole family was fully on-board with her decision to pour out the family savings on Jesus himself. 

This was an act of extravagant gratitude by three people who had already experienced the power of Christ to overcome life’s worst-case scenario, death.  They knew that no matter what life would bring from this point on, Jesus’ word and the goodness of God was something bigger than anything else they would have to face.  They now knew that they didn’t need to have a “back-up” plan.  They didn’t need to have an “ace in the hole” just in case the bottom fell out of life again.  They had experienced that Jesus was more than enough, and their faith rose to the occasion.  There was nothing, not even death itself, which could undo their faith in God’s care for them now. 

So the question naturally comes to mind, “Why hadn’t they used it on their beloved brother Lazarus when he died just days earlier?”  The Scripture doesn’t tell us but I don’t think it takes a lot of reasoning power to figure out the possible options.  It is possible that their family was so well-to-do that they had other vials of the perfume and could easily spare it here. Possible, but that still doesn’t explain why they wouldn’t have used some for Lazarus’ burial. Martha’s expectation of the body stinking after 4 days in the tomb was because they hadn’t embalmed the body.

I’m thinking that it is more likely that they had so few resources that the two single sisters, Martha and Mary, decided to forego an expensive embalming and just burry Lazarus immediately upon death.  This vial of expensive perfume might have been their entire “nest egg,” the only things these two sisters had standing between them and poverty to take care of them when Lazarus was no longer around to provide for them. 

Let’s take note of some of the ways that extravagant gratitude can cost you and me.



Pure nard was a spice that came from the Himalaya Mountains in the far north of India. It had to be imported to Israel at great cost. Judas estimates that it could have been sold for 300 denarii, which was equivalent to about 300 days’ pay for a working man (Matt. 20:2). Figuring $10 an hour, 300 eight-hour days adds up to $24,000! Any way you figure it, Mary’s action was extravagantly costly!

Judas and the disciples, who according to the other Gospels joined him in scolding Mary, were only being sensible: She could have sold this jar of perfume, given 90 percent of the money to help a lot of poor people, and still had a sizable amount to give to the Lord.

But were they really sensible?

The Lord rebukes them (John 12:8), For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” He was not saying that we should not help the poor, but He was saying, “I am more worthy of your unselfish devotion and gratitude 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.

As Isaac Watts put it (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”):

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

The point is, devotion to Christ will cost you financially. If He bought you with His blood, you don’t own anything. It’s all His and He can direct you to give some or all of it for His kingdom purposes. Probably, most of us would have sold the perfume, given ten percent to the Lord, and pocketed the rest to spend on getting a later model mule! J  But Mary gave it all because she knew that Jesus is worth it.

APP:  So let’s ask ourselves: Is our devotion to the Lord costing us financially? If others looked at how we spend our money, would they conclude that we must love Jesus more than anyone or anything else around?

APP:  Do you see why worship is SO important? 

Do you see why cultivating a spirit of thanksgiving is SO vital?  Often gratitude and thankfulness are statements of faith.  Regardless of an uncertain present and future, gratitude says, “I’ve experienced the goodness and power of Christ in a way that moves me to generosity of heart and actions that would normally jeopardize my future security.  But I don’t care about that.  I care much more about showing my gratitude than trying to guarantee my future financial future or winning points from peers.” 

            This is also one of the reasons why financial giving has always been an important part of the worship experience of God’s children in every generation.  It’s an act of faith in the unlimited God in the face of limited resources in an uncertain world.  Giving changes US!  And it will often change how God deals with us as well. 

Well, not everybody is going to agree with or applaud extravagant gratitude.  Just look at John 12:4-6.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

While John the Evangelist here singles out Judas for special criticism, the other parallel Gospel passages in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 say that Mary came under the critical eyes of many of Jesus’ disciples. We’re told they became “indignant” and criticized her “harshly.” 


As difficult as it is to understand, sometimes our biggest critics when it comes to extravagant gratitude will be the people of God.  We think we know better how someone else should spend their resources of time or money or talent on God.  We criticize these brothers and sisters for building this building or that ministry that costs a lot of money.  We think (probably a bit arrogantly) that we could do it better, cheaper, more economically and with better stewardship.  We fault this group of God’s children who worship differently than we do, who express their love and praise of God in ways that may seem to boarder on embarrassing to us. 

But who are we to criticize?  Jesus came to Mary’s defense in a very strong and direct way.  And I bet he is still doing that today!  I’ll bet you can hear Christ saying in heaven, “Leave him or her alone!  Why are you bothering them?  They have done a beautiful thing to me.” 

Jesus not only deserves our extravagant gratitude; he humbly receives it.  He’s not embarrassed by it like others around us might be.  He’s the One being in the universe for whom such overflowing praise and adoration IS absolutely appropriate.  He is the One being who deserves to have stadiums full of His fans—cheering him, waving at him, shouting for him, singing to him, and doing anything honorable and praiseworthy for and to Him, the matchless Savior of our souls who will one day shout for us as raises us from the grave with a shout of victory over death. 

Mary brought something personal.  When vs. 3 says that “she poured it [the perfume] on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair,” it is giving us a little more information than either Matthew or Mark give in their respective Gospel accounts of the same event (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9).  Comparing all those accounts of the same event, it becomes clear that Mary, while anointing Jesus’ head (which was very customary), went beyond the normal level of honor and poured the perfume on his feet as well.  (He would have been reclining at the low table with his feet extended back from the table.) 

Mary is taking the role of a servant.  And by letting down her probably-braided hair, she is treating Jesus as only a woman would her much-loved husband or a close family member.   

By doing so, she is opening herself up to great criticism, not just for the amount of financial wealth she poured out on one singular person, but for the way in which she is showing her extravagant gratitude.  Most of us would have been somewhat embarrassed by her behavior…even in our American culture.  She is stepping way beyond the bounds of a normal show of public honor.  She’s bordering on the embarrassing! But then, she doesn’t care! When you’ve experienced a miracle with the magnitude of a resurrection, your gratitude may grow to be embarrassingly generous and heart-felt too.

APP:  So ask yourself, “Do I treasure Jesus and expressing my gratitude to him more than my pride?” Or, am I more concerned about what others think about me? People may think you’re a zealot or a religious fanatic. But what matters is what Jesus thinks about your selfless devotion to Him.


Judas led the attack, but the other disciples echoed his criticism. Matthew 26:8 reports, “But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, ‘Why this waste?’” They were only being pragmatic and sensible. The money could have benefitted many poor families. But instead, it was all wasted on Jesus. Or, was it wasted?

Count on it: If you give yourself without reserve to Jesus, you will be criticized and the loudest criticism will come from some church people who will say that they’re only using common sense in how the Lord’s resources are spent.

ILL:  The story is told of John Paton, missionary in the 19th century to the New Hebrides Islands (Now called Vanuatu), a chain of islands 450 miles long between Hawaii and Australia. 

The first two missionaries to land there, John Williams and James Harris from the London Missionary Society landed in 1839.  Both of these missionaries were killed and eaten by cannibals on the island of Erromanga on November 20 of that year, only minutes after going ashore.

Just nineteen years later, in 1858, John Paton, then age 33, let it be known that he planned to move with his new bride to take the gospel to these cannibals in the South Sea Islands, an old man in his church scolded him saying, “You’ll be eaten by cannibals!”

Growing exasperated, Paton replied, “My dear sir, 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 honoring the Lord Jesus, it doesn’t matter to me whether I’m eaten by cannibals or by worms, and on resurrection day, my body will arise as fair as yours!” [Modified from John G. Paton Autobiography [Banner of Truth], ed. by his brother James Paton, p. 56]   

By the way, in less than five months, both his wife and their newborn son had both died of illness on those islands.  Extravagant gratitude to Christ will at times be very costly…and involve taking criticism from others.

This passage in John 12 presents us with a remarkable contrast to this kind of selfless devotion and extravagant gratitude.  Look at vs. 4—

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

Miracles are stubborn things to fight against…especially ones that involve a resurrection!  Here is Judas, one who had just seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and he’s irate about Mary’s lavish love towards the one who raised her brother from the dead!  He’s not smelling the fragrance of the ointment or the fervency of Lazarus’ family’s love; he’s seeing a lost opportunity for personal enrichment.

            And then Jesus rebukes him (along with the other disciples he got to complain along with him).  Rather than accept the rebuke and let the Holy Spirit do the needed convicting, I think this is probably the very incident that Judas clings to as he starts to make his murderous plans to be done with Jesus. 

            John pairs Judas’ greed in this story up with the Pharisees’ jealousy over Jesus growing popularity because of Lazarus’ resurrection.  John, who knew Jesus intimately, is linking the hatred of the Pharisees with the disappointment of Judas. 

This was the incident that apparently pushed Judas over the edge. When Jesus came to Mary’s defense with more talk about His death, Judas decided it was time to go to the authorities and betray Jesus. [Both Matthew and Mark place this event out of chronological sequence to connect it with Judas’ betrayal.]

So for a measly 30 pieces of silver, Judas allowed personal greed and disappointment to destroy personal gratitude and devotion.

You see, those are the two choices we have whenever live does or doesn’t turn out the way we hope and pray it will.  Just days earlier, life was not turning out for Mary and Martha at all like they had hoped and prayed.  It was not a disappointment over money.  Their brother was dead.  Their life was turned inside out.  Their best friend and the One they believed was the Holy One prophesied to save their whole nation had not saved the one even he loved deeply from death.  Talk about disappointment! 

But those two women wrestled through it.  They met up with Jesus on the road to that cemetery.  They argued with him, expressed their hurt and pain, and yet continued to put their faith in Him.  But Judas nursed his disappointment into full-blown hatred that filled his pocket with money while temporarily snuffing out the Light of the World. 

APP:  This is the same challenge every one of us faces when God doesn’t do things when, where or how we think He should.  Disappointment so easily turns to disgust rather than trust.  And we so easily turn to questioning and criticizing God rather than affirming faith and love in the midst of our own darkness. 

            This past week we received some disappointing news about the renovation costs of the building we’ve been working on so many months.  For two days I fought the demons of discouragement and despair.  This dream that we have all been working so diligently for of a ministry center seemed as dead as Lazarus. Jesus seemed as distant to me as he must have seemed to Mary and Martha when they laid Lazarus in the tomb with Jesus nowhere to be found despite their best attempts to reach him. 

            And then God brought me back to this passage.  And in my study, He also brought me to this story.  It’s about a pastor who was speaking to a group of Wycliffe Bible Translator 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 Indian tribal languages. This lengthy and tedious process had taken decades of their lives. 

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. The translation of the N.T. was finally finished and a dedication service scheduled. But on that day they had joyously anticipated for decades, not even one person from that people group came!

This missionary wife was angry and bitter. She had given twenty years of her life so that these people could have the Scriptures, and they didn’t even want them! But that week, as the Word of God was ministered to her, that Word she wanted to have such power in other people began to speak to her heart.   She confessed to that visiting pastor,

“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!”

[Cited from a message by Steven J. Cole, https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-64-wasting-your-life-jesus-john-121-11 on 3.28.2015.]

So often in life, isn’t that the only thing that makes any sense?  If we are doing life for ourselves, we will become disappointed and disillusioned when things don’t work out the way we had dreamed.  But if we are living life for Christ, spending our lives for Christ…letting go of our lives in what may look like a fruitless enterprise at times…then God will grant the faith to trust him in the dark times and heap lavish praise and gratitude on him in the resurrection times.    

The world may scorn us and reject our message. Other believers may criticize us and not appreciate what we’re doing. But we aren’t wasting our lives if we spend them in extravagant gratitude to Jesus.


Questions for further study & reflection:

1.  How many different responses were there in this passage to Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead?  Why do you think that was so? 

2.  How does common sense and wisdom fit in with extravagant gratitude and devotion to Christ as demonstrated by Mary?  How can we make more room for both in our lives at the same time? 

3.  How can we demonstrate that we treasure Jesus more than the things we own?  What biblical principles should we apply when making decisions about savings, retirement plans, insurance and holding wealth and possessions of any kind?

4.  What would you say are your true driving motives for doing things like participating in worship, serving others, giving, parenting, praying, being married, sharing Christ, etc?  What reveals what truly motivates us?  How does your love for God affect and shape how you serve, love and minister to others?  How might you make love for Jesus Christ a more dominant motivation for those actions and relationships?

5.  Have you ever been criticized for your extravagant love for Jesus Christ?  What can you learn from this passage about how God, others and you can respond to criticism from others?

6. In verse 8, Jesus acknowledges, “the poor you always have with you.”   After looking at Mt. 11:5; 19:21; Mk. 12:43; Lk. 14:21; 16:19-31; 19:8; 2 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 2:10; James 2:1-6, talk about what you think God wants us to do for and with the poor and how?