I wonder what you think of when you think of the word ‘worship?’ For some of us, we will think of our Sunday Gatherings when we come together to ‘worship’ God. Some of us might think of a particular type of Christian music. Still, some of us might think of those who tend to express themselves more outwardly in singing. Worship is a word that can have many different things to those of us who follow Jesus, and then even outside the church, it will mean different things. Worship is something that every human will do: they will either worship God or something; thus, for the disciple of Jesus, the choice and hope are that we make Jesus the centre of our worship and that our worship of him brings Glory to his name and lets those around us see something worth giving their lives to.
“If we look too some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts.” – Timothy Keller
What I have learned over the years is that people look for security in life is often the thing that they are worshipping. Even if they do not realise it. As society has become more modern, and the spiritual notions have slipped from the language of every day and the imagery of our minds, we seem to have convinced ourselves that we have somehow outgrown those who went before us. We picture the pagan societies of Rome or Greek that had temples to god’s to cover every possibility of life: Family Success, Wealth, Weather, farming and humour ourselves at how simple they must have been. We convince ourselves that we do not worship, so that we go to work and slave to earn more money to buy more things that we have convinced ourselves will mark us happy. We might not worship at the temples of the old, but often we are full-time residents at the temples of new, worshipping the same idols nonetheless.
Our Passage this Monday of Holy Week 2021 brings us to a scene that we might all know: Jesus is the house of Mary and Martha, and they are reclining at the table when Mary anoints his feet with the most expense perfume that anyone could find. Then Mary is confronted by Judas before Jesus speaks to them all and teaches them the truth about following him. There are many different ways to come at this passage and much we should consider if time was to alone us, yet what I want us to think about today is Worship’s challenge. Namely two questions:
- What do we worship?
- How do our lives display our worship?
Passage (John 12:1-11 NIV)
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 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.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. ” 6 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.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” 9 Meanwhile, a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
In the Moments after a Miracle (1-2)
As we read about Marys anointing of the feet of Jesus, we need to remember just what Jesus had done for this family moments ago. Jesus is in the sisters’ house, and they are reclining at the table because they are having dinner in honour of Jesus. Why? Verse one reminds us ‘Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.’ Here were two sisters who had lost their beloved brother and had lived with that pain and reality for three days until Jesus arrived at the scene and spoke him from death to life; out of the darkness of the tomb into the light of the presence of Christ. What must it have been like to sit in that house, and every time you looked at your brother, you had to pinch yourself to make sure it was real! Jesus had given them a new life, and the sisters wanted to express their thanks for all that he had done. Hence, they thew a dinner for Jesus, John mentioning in verse two that Martha served – more than likely this was here was of thanking Jesus for what he had done. She worshipped him by serving him there. Martha models the way of discipleship, in response to what Christ has done, we serve him; and in the presence of Christ we serve him.
How would you express thanks in such a situation? I do not think any of us could truly comprehend the emotions that one would feel in the moments after a miracle. Yet, what was clear was that the sisters and Lazarus loved Jesus and wanted to honour him. They had received something from him that they did not earn nor deserve. They would have known that nothing they could do would ever equal what Jesus had done for them at that moment, yet, they still wanted and knew they must do something to express their thanks and appreciation of him. They wanted to honour him with their lives, or you could say they wanted to Worship him.
True Worship Lived Out (3)
We all know that person who is a little bit more extravagant than the rest of us; they are more expressive in life, more out there. In some ways, they make us uncomfortable, yet, if we are honest, we almost envy their lack of fear and freedom. I think when I read about Mary in this passage that she would be just like that. There was nothing hidden when it came to Mary, she would wear her heart on her sleeve, and her life would display that which she wanted to be known for. She would be that extravagant person, that ‘out there’ Christian that makes us feel a bit uncomfortable by how serious they are about their faith and how seriously they want us to take their faith. At this moment with Mary and Jesus, we see what true worship of God looks like and how it affect our whole life.
We see that true worship grasps the wonder of the gift received and knows nothing can be done or offered in return, yet in thankful responses, offer all that it had. Mary had just received her brother back from the dead; there was no human scale by which to value such an act or the return of life. It was a gift of grace that could never be repaid. Mary received that gift gratefully but also wanted to display her thanks in some way. Hence, the use of the most expensive perfume she could find poured on the feet of Jesus and then wiped down with her hair. The value of the perfume would not come close to that value of the gift Christ had bestowed on them, but the act of worship captures for us the love Mary had for Jesus and her desire to serve him; it captures for us the overwhelming thanks she has for Jesus. It might not be enough, but it expresses the thankfulness for the gift received. Furthermore, it challenges us to consider how our lives express our thanks for the new life we have received from Christ on the Cross.
Secondly, Marys’ act challenges us to remember the intimacy of following Jesus; she is at his feet using her hair. In response to what Jesus has done, she expresses her thanks for him intimately, not fearful of social convention or norms. She has one desire on her heart, to draw close to Jesus. True Worship of Jesus requires intimacy with him; thus, in response to the gift of new life from the cross, it is not that we run from the debt we owed. Rather, the debt taken upon him reveals his heart and goodness to us, and such knowledge brings us closer to him.
Finally, Mary’s act reminds us of the effect of worship on those around us. John notes that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.’ A somewhat strange detail to include; yet, one that reminds us of the effect of worship. Worship is not an inward thing that bears no effect on our life or the world around us. We worship an inward orientation towards something, and that focus bears fruit outward: how we live in the world around us. Simply, what we worship is made known by the fruit of our living; it affects our relationship, our interactions and our choices. Judas displays his idol worship (of money) in the moments after, by his rebuke and even knowing the price of what Mary had just used. Mary displays for us what she worships in how she responds to Jesus, and John notes the effects of that act – the room was filled was the scent of her worship. Our worship will affect the world around us, so let us make sure that our lives display our worship of Christ so that others too can come to know the joy of intimacy with him.
A Glimpse of Idolatry (4-6)
“As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.”
Our lives will display what we are living for. We might be able to hide it most of the time, but there will be moments where our heart’s true desire slips out. Thus, even in the presence of God incarnate, we have one who still chooses to worship other gods, one who still chooses to trust in idols. Judas has surveyed all that Christ has done over the years. He has heard him teach, seen him heal, and now just witnessed him bring a dead man back to life. He has seen it all, yet he has seen nothing! Why? Because his heart belongs to something else, and where the hearts live, the eyes look. Hence, even in the Shadow of Lazarus rising from the dead, he does not see this sister’s act as one of honour but a waste of money. Not because it could be given to the poor, but because of what enters the moneybag, he dipped his hands into. At that moment, Mary displays the orientation of her heart – to Jesus, and in response, Judas displayed the desire of his – money. What we see is a glimpse of Idolatry and a challenge to consider ourselves.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” – Jeremiah 19:9-10
True Worship Validated (7-8)
“Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so.” —D.A. Carson
To What does our heart belong? Here even in the presence of Jesus, there was one who saw him and yet never understood him because he found the allures of the world more promising still. He could hide it from the disciples but not from God, and eventually, his fruit found him out. Mary received her brother’s life and expresses thanks and honour to Jesus for it by an extravagant act of Worship because she grasped it was invaluable: Judas stole from the money bag and would exchange the life of his friend for the value of 30 pieces of silver.1
Here, we see two acts influenced by the human heart’s longings, and unsurprisingly only one act is validated by Jesus – Marts act of honour. To the rebuke of Judas, Jesus rebuked:
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” – John 12:7-8 NIV
Jesus’s words point out that Mary’s act both foretells what is ahead, that he would soon die (perhaps she had started to grasp the sum of his teaching). Thus, there was a prophetic element to the worship of Mary. Yet, Jesus also commended her as right at that moment on the simple basis that he was there! He knew Judas’s heart that he had no desire to help the poor, yet using the same imagery, he points to the world’s reality – there will always be poor: but they will know always be in his incarnate presence. Thus Marys act of worship was validated and held up for all who would hear about it in the days to come. Mary was right to express her thanks as she did! What do we worship?
Conclusion: What Do you Worship
We all worship something, and today we see two people display two different hearts of Worship. Mary responds to Jesus, and Judas longs for more of his idol – money. Mary responds because she has received, and Judas longs because he needs more. Thus, the question: “What do We Worship?” We all worship something; we all trust something to give us that thing we are looking for. Yet, there is only one place to worship in this world where we respond in faith and thanks because we know we have already received – the feet of Jesus. Mary grasped that, and the disciples would grasp it further still as he died and rose again and granted them new life through faith; millions have grasped it across history as they have lived worshipful lives in repose to Jesus, as they have made him known in all that they do, and in some cases have laid down their life.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we cannot save our selves from the curse of sin, but there is one who can if only through faith we look to him. Then we live our lives in response to this Grace received. Every other place of worship requires an offering, requires us to bring something to the table – Judas worshipped money, and thus he acted to acquire it by whatever means he could. His fruit displayed the desires of his heart, such was the allure of the idol that he would steal from his friends and take from the poor (the money bag), that he would point out ‘fault’ while hiding his own (his response to Mary), and that he would willingly lead enemies to take the life of his Friend and Mentor for a few pieces of silver and the cost of a field.
Idol worship takes, it took Judas morality and ethics, it took the life of his friend, and it would eventually take his life. Whereas Gospel worship gives: Christ takes our sin upon himself and offers us the fullness of life both now and forever with him. Today let us look to Mary, model our lives on her and make sure our lives express our worship of Christ so that others can know the wonder of living with him.
“The worship to which we are called in our renewed state is far too important to be left to personal preferences, to whims or to marketing strategies. It is the pleasing of God that is at the heart of worship. Therefore, our worship must be informed at every point by the Word of God as we seek God’s own instructions for worship that are pleasing to Him.”
- Matthew 26:15 ↩