The Cost of Worshipping Jesus
The Plan for Holy Week
Within the Anglican church in Ireland, you would typically find that this is the week of all weeks in terms of the life of the Parish. You might say it would be #buzzing! As we look to the Cross and then celebrate the resurrection of Jesus! It saddens me that we are not able to gather together, to worship God, think of what this week means, and (most importantly) hear the word of God proclaimed and taught. I know as I look back many Holy Week’s across the years were vital to my faith, discipleship and growing in Christ. The services I attended always challenged my walk and appreciation for all that Christ had done.
This Holy Week 2020, I am going to attempt to write a daily reflection from one of the readings we would have been otherwise using in church. They will be full of random capital letters, spelling mistakes, and endlessly long sentences. I pray that despite all that and more, you will find some encouragement. If you follow Jesus that it will encourage you in your walk with him, and challenge you to live out what we have been called to. Maybe in this week, with all that is going on in the wold: covid, fear, isolation, distancing, economic pressure, this week of all weeks that you are looking for answers that you will find them in the life, death, resurrection and person of Jesus Christ.
Remembering the Context
A Journey in Context
We will be journeying from John 12 onwards this week. However, it would be amiss and negligent not to place it all in the right context. We need to read this passage in light of John Chapter 11. Maybe even stop reading this (for a few minutes!) and go read/listen to John 11. Jesus hears of the death of one of his closest friends and is moved to action, even when his own life has been threatened there (11:8), he sets out to do what no-one else can do. To bring life from death. After arriving Jesus finds that Lazarus has been dead for four days (the point being he is dead-dead) a reality to which Jesus declares: “Your brother will rise again.” (11:23).
A Summary of the Gospel
While Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the perhaps one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible, and important to that passage and our reading this week. I think the most powerful section of this chapter is the narrative in verses 25 to 27:
‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”’
John 11:25-27 CSB
It is a declaration of what is ahead. It reminds us of the reality of the Cross that in dying, Jesus defeated death. Furthermore, it shows us what is important to know the blessing that comes from the Cross – belief. Verse 25 & 26 are a summary of the good news of Jesus Christ; then, verse 27 shows us how to avail of it in response. The message of Holy Week is not good news unless we first avail of the resurrection of Christ, through faith.
A Shadow is Cast
As Chapter 11 goes on, we see Jesus comfort two sisters and then raise their brother from the dead. A moment where Jesus displayed his ultimate authority and showed that he was the one to whom death answered. For our passage today it also helps to set the scene. Remember that the news of Lazarus will spread fast because there have been many come out of Jerusalem to join in the mourning. Some of that crowd (who had come out to visit Mary and Martha) see what happened and believe, others see what happens and see a threat, going to the Pharisee (religious authorities) and informing them of all that has happened. A meeting is called, and from that moment, it is decided that Jesus must be dealt with, he must die. This is the context: the authorities can no longer ignore Jesus or the threat he poses. His name would evoke a reaction strong in either love or hate. This we must hold in our memory as we read John 12:1-11.
Passage – John 12:1-11 (CSB)
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’s feet, and wiped his feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it. 7 Jesus answered, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of my burial. 8 For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 9 Then a large crowd of the Jews learned he was there. They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one he had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, 11 because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.
Back to Bethany (12:1-2)
A short amount of time has passed since Lazarus coming out of the tomb. Yet, it is still dominant to the narrative we are reading today. Straight away we are told that we are back in Bethany for the Passover feast. Jesus is not in the city, but where Lazarus is. Two more times, we see Lazarus mentioned in this chapter, and both refer to him as the one whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Why? To highlight the power and authority of Jesus and foretell of the resurrection that would be made available to all. The four major characters from Chapter Eleven feature again: Jesus, Lazarus, and the grateful sisters: Mary and Martha. A feast has been prepared to celebrate a new life and a friend. A reminder to us in these days to be thankful for all that we have received and will receive in Christ, and perhaps of the importance of gathering together (especially in this easter of Social Isolation and distancing). Thus, the scene is set for us, and there are three things I want to pull from this passage:
- True Worship has a cost.
- True Worship provokes a reaction.
- True Worship requires presence.
1 – True Worship has a Cost (3)
A Beautiful Picture
In this one short verse, I think we see one of the most beautiful images of Worship in the Bible. I love it! The enthusiasm and the overflow of joy that is shown. Today, for us, it is the model of what it means to worship Jesus. Think of all that we have seen, think of all that has been done! Imagine if you were Mary how you would feel towards Jesus as you looked at him at that feast. You would be overcome with joy, you would want to thank him, and yet know that words would not be enough. Nothing you could say would suffice to express how you would feel in terms of thankfulness for the gift you have received. Mary’s thankfulness overflows into Worship as she takes expensive perfume and anoints the feet of Jesus. She has received Grace upon Grace from Jesus Christ, and it overflows into an act of spontaneous-genuine Worship.
No Cost is too great
Worship that has a cost in the value of the perfume, but a cost that is worth it because this woman had grasped what she has received from Jesus. The anointing of the feet of Jesus (in Jewish culture the most despised part of the body) saying to us that there was nothing too valuable to give to Christ or to use in Worship of him. He is worthy of everything that we have, and all that we are. Thus, here we see the cost of Worship and the value of Jesus. I also love the intimacy that we see here, for all of this is done in closeness to Jesus; physical, spiritual and emotional closeness.
What Do We Worship At
Anything in this world that has value will have a cost equal to or greater than that value. A devoted football fan will spend thousands of pounds a year going to see their team, a collector will spend hours searching for the right item, and money to acquire it. The person who has truly grasped the wonder of the gift of Grace will be transformed, and that transformation will show in how they worship the one from whom they received it. This does not mean that suddenly we are waving flags, or lifting hands high. No! It is so much more: it means that which we value shows in our life. Our whole life should show our love of Christ as we worship him. As Mary uses her most valued possession and body to worship Jesus, she models for us true Worship. That Worship is not just the singing of a song in church on a Sunday, or in the car going down the M1 but that Worship is life! All of it! This Worship is intimate – the washing of feet with hair. This Worship carries out – The fragrance of the perfume affecting those who come into contact with it! Today let us grasp who Jesus as we worship him with our all, and as we worship him may that Worship carry out like a sweet fragrance and draw others to him still.
2 – True Worship Provokes a Reaction (3-6)
What we have witnessed is the most beautiful and intimate moments in the New Testament, and it is not long until a bad smell begins to make us feel sick. As Judas witnesses the devotion, the Worship he cannot grasp it and so speaks up:
“Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” – John 12:5
His statement highlights for us the cost of Mary’s act. A year’s wages of perfume is used in a single act of devotion and thankfulness! To some that may seem a bit mad, to the true follower of Christ ( one who knows the gift of Grace we have received) it seems barely enough. Yet, what Judas reminds us is that in a world that sees Christ yet chooses not to see Him as He is (The Lord), True Worship of him will provoke a reaction. The world cannot understand the beauty of which it cannot see. Nor appreciate a gift that it will not receive. So today of all days, we are reminded at the start of this Holy Week that to truly worship Jesus Christ will provoke the err of the world. Amid the stresses and strains of Covid-19, self-isolation, and social distancing, perhaps we have those in our family who cannot understand where we place our hope. Maybe some colleagues can’t wait for the moment our guard is down to remind us that we are meant to be ‘good-living.’ Yet we must continue to trust in and worship Jesus.
Even in Church! Of all places ‘True Worship’ of Jesus can draw disgust, the worst can be from who claim to follow him. Again, I do not mean towards those who are noticeable in the singing of songs because they use their hands or express themselves differently. It can be in many ways. As true Worship is whole-life Worship, so to critics can point to any area of our life. It can be those who are ‘passionate’ about the things of Jesus told them to be passionate about. Perhaps they are being told to calm down and to mellow with time.
Mary the Model
Mary is our model, not for the mountain tops of faith, but in our daily existence, we are to worship him with all that we are. As we worship him, we are to expect opposition because the true Worship of Jesus will draw the disdain of the world, and that is okay. By the Holy Spirit he will strengthen us to live for him and with him. Today during this crises and all the questions that come with it, let us turn afresh to the Lord and rejoice in all that we have receive. Let us remember that if we walk with Jesus through faith there is nothing this world can do! Let us faces the Judas in our moments of faith and Worship with the confidence of Christ. Let us stand firm in our Worship and trust of Christ, and not only expect opposition but rejoice in it as a mark of what we have received. True Worship Provokes a Reaction.
3 – True Worship Requires Presence (7-8)
“An idol is something that we look to for things that only God can give.” – Tim Keller
You cannot be good at something which you never do: I can read all the books about a sport and master the knowledge of it, but if I never play it I cannot call myself a master of it. Nor, can you love someone you have not spent time with. Quality requires presence and love require’s commitment. In the same way, you cannot worship something you do not commit to our love. If you want to know the value of something to someone, then survey the time and resources they give to it.
True Worship requires true presence, that is what Jesus means by his response to the judgement of Judas on the act of Mary. Jesus knows the heart of Judas, he knows that the altruism on show here is a cover for avarice. He knows that Judas is ridiculing the true Worship of Mary because he worships at another alter, the alter of wealth. For his concern is not for the poor, but the loose he has suffered. Judas was worshipping an idol and living in its presence, a worship that had stopped him from seeing the beauty and truth of Christ, a truth Mary had grasped not because she has better vision but because she gives her presence to Jesus. As love requires presence, so does worship. Mary has sat at the feet of Jesus and grasped who he is, her Worship is not just because Lazarus lives, it is because she sees and knows Jesus. The response of Jesus to Judas justifies this intimacy and commitment to being with him above all else.
“but you do not always have me.”
This is not a call to ignore social responsibility or the work of ministers of mercy, especially in these days. With all the hurt that will come in the months ahead. As follows of Jesus, we are to never tire of doing good (see Galatians 5). Yet, as followers of Jesus, our priority must be a presence with Jesus above all else, above busyness for God, above family, work, friends, and the needs of the world.
Why? because it is there as we are with him, and we grow in the love of him, that by the Holy Spirit we become like him. This is the wonder of Worship and presence! We don’t spend time with Jesus to escape the world build up enough strength to face it for another few days. No, we fight for presence, we commit to spending time with Jesus, in Worship of him, because it is there we are transformed and will be transformed. To be used by him in his world; to build his kingdom, and to advance his cause. Today let us renew our commitment to be like Mary and seek Jesus above all else, whether that is all that needs to be done (Luke 10) or in the face of world opposition (John 12) let us seek Jesus, love him, and be transformed as we worship him.
“In the process of being worshiped… God communicates his presence to men.” – C. S. Lewis
What Presence Looks like
Worshipful presence is more than singing old Hymns in Church, attending worship rooms for the experience, or singing the latest 15 minutes marathon worship songs form the trendiest church. Worshipful presence is daily Christian living for Christ, with Christ but the power of his Holy Spirit for the Glory of God. So never think it unattainable, or only for ‘full-time Christians.’ To be a disciple of Jesus is to worship in the normality of our daily routine:
- A people of his word: Those who seek to know Jesus through the Study of Word (Logos) – Jesus. To love Jesus is to love your Bible. All of it! Old and New. That means personal devotions, house groups, reading around and reading the Bible.
- We are a people of Prayer: As Worship requires presence, so presence requires communication. When Mary was with Jesus, she would not have just sat there with puppy dog eyes, she would have spoken to him, and known him as a friend. We too are called to communicate with God, and as we study his word, we communicate our thanks, needs, concerns and request as we pray to him.
- We are his body: When we come to Christ, we are drawn into something beyond ourselves, and so we worship him together as one body. In these days, we cannot gather together physically, but we meet in different ways. I love that I hear stories of Zoom small groups and people phoning one another to pray and to encourage. To worship Christ and be transformed is to commit to being with those of same heart and mind. It is together we learn to know more of him and to make him know more.
“Worship changes the worshiper into the image of the One worshipped.”
– Jack Hayford
Mary worshipped Christ, was changed into his image and used by him. Judas worshipped money and wealth, and rather than save his life, he lost it. Today ask yourself what are you worshipping?
Conclusion: He is Worthy of our Worship
“As many have learned and later taught, you don’t realise Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” – Tim Keller
Our passage finishes with the difficult scene of the Pharisees plotting to kill Lazarus because of what he represents (10-11). In him, people see the hope and glory of Jesus. Lazarus reminds of the simple truth that Christ is worthy of our Worship. Today we face a multiplicity of fears, worries and concerns. For some idols of power and strength have evaporated in a moment. For others, the cause you have given your life to has died in the pause of Covid, and you are wondering where do you turn now. The answer is simple – Jesus. He is the foundation that cannot fail, the rock that will stand in the storm and the one who we can trust in all season to be with us and to guide us.
So this Monday of Holy Week for the Christian, my prayer is that you would be challenged to consider your view of Worship. To ask what it means to worship Jesus? Perhaps you have been at church all your life, and are wondering if you are truly in awe of Jesus. Maybe you are reading this and do not yet consider yourself a follower of Jesus. Then it is my prayer that you will have seen one who is greater than anything this world can offer. One who loved you so much that he died for you to offer you the gift that no one else could – relationship with God through faith in him. That as we go from here, we see that true Worship has a cost, and it is worth it! That true Worship will provoke a reaction, and we are to stand firm; and, that to truly worship Jesus, we must be with Jesus.
“When men worship Jesus Christ, they do not fall at his feet in broken submission, but in wondering love. A man does not say, ‘I cannot resist a might like that.’ He says, ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.’ A man does not say, ‘I am battered into surrender.’ He says, ‘I am lost in wonder, love, and praise.’” – William Barclay
Resources for Passage
A Prayer To Consider
I love this old prayer from the book the valley of vision (page 104 & 5) because it expresses the wonder of what we have received and why we worship, but more than that it challenges us to live it out, so that others too may see Jesus and come to worship him.
“O Saviour of Sinner,
Thy name is excellent,
thy glory high,
thy compassion unfailing,
thy condescension wonderful,
thy mercy tender.”
“I bless thee for the discoveries, invitations,
promises of the Gospel
for in them is pardon for rebels,
liberty for captives,
health for the sick,
salvation for the lost.”
“I come to thee in thy beloved name of Jesus;
re-impress thy image upon my soul;
Raise me above the smiles and frowns of this world,
regarding it as a light thing to be judged by men.”
“May thy approbation by my only aim,
thy Word my only rule.
Make me to abhor that which grieves thy Holy Spirit,
to suspect consolation of a worldly nature,
to shun a careless way of life,
to reprove evil,
to instruct with meekness those who oppose me,
to be gentle and patient towards all men,
to be not only a professor but an example of the Gospel,
displaying in every relation, office, and condition its excellency, loveliness and advantages. How little have I illustrated my principles
and improved my privileges!
How seldom have I served my generation!
How often have I injured and not recommended my redeemer!
How few are those blessed through me!
In many things I have offended,
in all come short of thy Glory;
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.”
Questions to consider?
- What do we worship above or beside Christ? What do we need to set aside to see him more clearly?
- How do we understand worship? Where must we excuse our narrow view and apple a whole life theory of Worship?
- How is our quiet time, devotional walk with God? Is it a priority or an after thought and how could we make room for it, to avail of it?
- Perhaps we have found ourselves with more time due to Covid-19, how could we use this time to seek more of God and grow in our love and dependance of him?
- What do we miss about Church, and our Church family now? How could we find ways to fill in that gap?
- In what way does Mary challenge us to change and apply to our lives?
- Where are we guilty of being Judases in our reaction to other brother and sisters of the faith?
- Do we truly Worship Jesus, or has it been just a show?
- The Message of Worship: Celebrating The Glory Of God In The Whole Of Life (The Bible Speaks Today Themes)
- Whole Life Worship – LICC & Study Guide
- For the Glory of God: Recovering a biblical Theology of Worship