A Beautiful Thing

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God knows our heart.

John(86) (Part of the Believe(74) series)
by Stuart Johns(233) on March 15, 2020 (Sunday Morning(343))

Witnessing(11), Work(3), Worship(26)


A Beautiful Thing

(John 12:1-11)



“In Leadership, pastor and author Stu Weber writes:


My youngest son is the third of three boys. The first two are high-powered; the third is not any less high-powered, but he's the third out of three. By the time you've had a brother who's All-Conference this and another brother who's All-Conference that, there's not much left for you to do.


As a father, I worried about our caboose. He is the most sensitive of the three. To encourage him, I spent a lot of time with him in the outdoors—camping, hunting, fishing. Anybody who has spent time in the outdoors knows that a pocketknife is essential gear—the man with the best blade gets the job done. So, whenever you're setting up camp, you're always looking for the knife.


My son Ryan had a pocketknife that became his identity. His older brothers always had to ask him to use the knife as we were setting up camp. That became his status in the tribe. He was the man with the blade.


My birthday came around one year, and my family was planning a party for me. Earlier in the afternoon my youngest walked into my office at home where I was studying. At first I didn't hear him; I felt him—I could sense his presence—and I turned around.


He had chosen this moment because he wanted to give me a birthday present, but not at the birthday party. He wanted it to be just me and him. He handed me a present, and I opened it—it was his knife.”


Stu Weber, "What It Takes to Reach Men," Leadership (Fall 1994), p.128.




  • ME

    • Auto-Pilot

        • It happens from time-to-time that as a Pastor, I can go into auto-pilot mode

        • I can prepare services for Wednesday evenings or Sunday mornings without thinking too much about it

        • I can accomplish my work without engaging my heart

    • Holy Spirit led

        • Most times I’m engaging my heart by seeking the filling of the Holy Spirit in preparing the worship service

        • I want the Lord to transform me as I’m preparing for Wednesday evenings, Sunday mornings, and any discipleship opportunities throughout the week

        • There are times when I’m worshipping the Lord and allow the words to really sink in and when that happens it’s hard not to cry

        • I’m engaging my heart and mind in worshiping the Lord


  • WE

    • It’s easy for all of us to fall into the habit of just mindlessly doing our work without engaging our heart and mind

    • It can also happen when we worship the Lord

        • We don’t really engage our hearts and minds in worship, but just go through the motions

        • We know the tune and the words by heart, but don’t sing them from the heart (we don’t allow the message to transform us)


This passage is rich with all kinds of themes, but there are two main themes we’re going to focus on. ​​ We’re going to see that the Christian life is a balance of three things: ​​ work, worship, and witness. ​​ We’re also going to see the contrast between the heart of Mary and the heart of Judas. ​​ John wants us to understand that . . .


BIG IDEA – ​​ God knows our heart.


He knows our heart as we work for Him, as we worship Him, and as we witness for Him.


Let’s pray


  • GOD (John 12:1-11)

    • Work (vv. 1-2)

        • Background information

          • John gives us a time stamp

            • It is six days before the Passover

            • Passover would begin on Thursday evening, so Jesus would have arrived on the preceding Saturday

            • According to how days were determined in Jewish culture, Saturday would have started after sundown on Friday

            • The meal honoring Jesus probably took place on Saturday evening, after sundown, when Sabbath had officially ended [Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Gospel According to John, 427]

          • John also gives us a location

            • He is back in Bethany

            • It’s not the Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, but the Bethany where Lazarus lived with his two sisters, Martha and Mary

            • It was the one that was less than two miles from Jerusalem

            • We also know that it isn’t some other Lazarus that John is talking about, but the one that Jesus raised from the dead

          • These specific identifiers let us know exactly where Jesus is, six days prior to Passover

        • Meal in Jesus’ honor

          • There is a meal that has been prepared in Jesus’ honor

            • We know from John 11:54 that Jesus left Bethany, after raising Lazarus from the dead, and went up to a region near the desert to the village of Ephraim

              • Perhaps in His haste to leave the area around Jerusalem, there was not time to provide a meal in Jesus’ honor

              • They weren’t going to miss another opportunity to honor Jesus for what He did in raising Lazarus

            • Where did the meal take place?

              • If we only read the record found in the Gospel of John, we could very easily assume that the meal was hosted at the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary

              • But, Gospel writers, Matthew (26:6-13) and Mark (14:3-9), also record the anointing of Jesus by a woman in the village named Bethany

              • When we read those two accounts we know that the meal was hosted in the home of a man named Simon the Leper

              • Since John does not record an actual location, it is not inconceivable that it was hosted in Simon’s home (this removes any contradiction that some see in the Gospel writer’s accounts)

            • What we see next is Martha’s servant heart

          • Martha helped to serve

            • It didn’t matter whether the meal was hosted in her home or not, Martha has this incredible servants heart

            • She steps right in and helps to serve the meal at Simon’s home

            • She’s not concerned about who is or isn’t helping to serve at this point

            • Jesus knew Martha’s heart and the reason behind why she was willing to serve, even at someone else’s home

            • Her servant heart was one of her spiritual gifts and a beautiful character trait – it was a beautiful thing

            • God knows our heart.

              • He knows why we serve others

              • He knows whether or not our intentions are genuine or self-seeking

              • When we serve Jesus by serving others, with the right heart attitude, it’s a beautiful thing

              • I really appreciate those of you who serve the Lord through serving Idaville Church as a volunteer, and our community through the Gettysburg Soup Kitchen, Upper Adams Food Pantry, New Hope Mobile Food Pantry, Operation Christmas Child, Ingathering, the Hallelujah Party, and many other opportunities

              • You can also view your work as worship

                • You can connect your faith and work

                • We’re hosting the Work As Worship Retreat again for the third year in row

                • This is a one-day retreat on Friday, May 15, 2020 that’s part of the RightNow Media ministry

                • I appreciate the 8 tenets of Work As Worship

                  • Work is good

                  • Sin corrupted work

                  • Jesus makes it possible for work to be redeemed

                  • God gave us a mission

                  • We carry Christ into our work

                  • God grows us through our work

                  • God can do more with our work than we can imagine

                  • Work is worship

              • I want to encourage you to continue to serve the Lord with the right heart attitude, whether it’s at work, at home, in your neighborhood, or at church

            • Martha was doing what came natural to her, she served

          • Lazarus was reclining at the table with Jesus

            • It’s a pretty good guess that Simon the Leper was also in attendance at the meal

            • When we look at the account in Matthew’s Gospel, we know that Jesus’ disciples are there

            • John names Judas Iscariot as being present

            • We aren’t given any other names of potential attendees, but perhaps there were more from the village of Bethany

        • The first scene shows us that the Christian life should include work/service with the right heart attitude

        • As we continue with the meal scene, we’ll also see that worship, with the right heart attitude, is important to the Christian life

    • Worship (vv. 3-8)

        • Mary anoints Jesus’ body

          • The perfume

            • We’re not told where she got it from – it may have been part of her dowry or a family heirloom

            • Amount

              • John says it was a pint

              • In the Greek it is litra (probably about 0.5 liter)

              • For us westerners it would about 11 to 12 ounces (about the amount of a can of soda – show picture)

              • Matthew and Mark both mention that it was in an alabaster jar (show picture of an alabaster jar from Cyprus)

            • Type

              • Mark and John mention that the type of perfume was pure nard

              • “Nard, also known as spikenard is a fragrant oil derived from the root and spike (hair stem) of the nard plant, which grows in the mountains of northern India (Harrison 1966: ​​ 48-49).” ​​ [Köstenberger, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, John, 360]

              • The color of nard would have been a deep, rich red color, like a red rose

              • It smelled like gladiola, a sweet scent [Burge, The NIV Application Commentary, John, 338]

              • Some people diluted it or added other ingredients to it

                • Notice, that the nard Mary had, was pure

                • The rare Greek word for “pure” may mean “genuine”

                • Hers was not diluted and did not have any additives

              • That was probably why the cost of this jar of perfume was considered so much

            • Cost

              • John says it was expensive perfume

              • Matthew and Mark mention that it was very expensive perfume

              • Judas explains that the jar of nard was worth a year’s wages

              • That would have been about 300 denarii

                • A day’s wage was one denarii

                • They did not work on the Sabbath (52 days) and on special feast and festival days (13 days)

                • To relate that to today’s wages, we have to look at the minimum wage for Pennsylvania which is $7.25 an hour

                • So, if someone earning minimum wage, worked 40 hours a week, their annual income would be $15,000

                • Imagine pouring a $15,000 jar of perfume on someone

            • That’s exactly what Mary did

          • The act

            • Mary poured the pure nard on Jesus’ body

              • We have to look at all three accounts again to understand what Mary did

                • John tells us that Mary poured the pure nard on Jesus’ feet

                • Matthew and Mark tell us that Mary poured the nard on Jesus’ head

                • Some people want to use this discrepancy as a way to marginalize and minimize the inerrancy of Scripture

                • The amount of the nard was nearly 12 ounces, which is a considerable amount to pour just on Jesus’ feet

                • More than likely, Mary started with His head and then moved to His feet

                • In Matthew and Mark’s accounts, when Jesus defends Mary’s action, He says that Mary poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial (Matt. 26:12; Mar. 14:8)

                • “John emphasizes Jesus’ feet to show the sheer act of humble devotion on Mary’s part and to provide a contrast with the foot-washing of the next chapter.” ​​ [Burge, 339]

                • So there’s not a contradiction in the three accounts, but rather John is focusing on just one part of the pouring out of the nard

              • Mary pours it on Jesus’ body and then does something perhaps unexpected

            • Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair

              • The washing of feet was a task reserved for a servant within the household and not the members of the household, yet Mary is taking on the form of a servant as she worships Jesus

              • Women in the 1st Century rarely if ever let their hair down in public

                • Also, women would usually have their head covered

                • Married women especially guarded their hair

                • The only person who routinely saw a woman with her hair uncovered and let down would have been her husband and perhaps her father, if she was unmarried

                • Women who walked around with their hair uncovered and let down would have been considered to have loose morals [Köstenberger, 362]

              • Mary is again showing an incredible act of humility, devotion, and worship of Jesus

                • In a spiritual sense she was already acting like the bride of Christ – she was letting her hair down

                • Jesus knew her heart

                • Her act of devotion and worship was a beautiful thing

            • “She [Mary] brings out the best, most extravagant, most expensive ointment of the day, and she pours every ounce on him. ​​ Her gift is her way of yelling from the top of the mountain, ‘Jesus is worth it!’” ​​ [Carter & Wredberg, Christ-Centered Exposition: ​​ Exalting Jesus in John, 242]

          • Application

            • PRINCIPLE #1 – God is pleased when we give our best to Him in humility, devotion, and worship.

            • We don’t have the luxury of Jesus being right in front of us in physical form, like Mary did

            • Perhaps the first step in imitating Mary’s humility, devotion, and worship is to have a correct understanding of who Jesus is

              • Jesus is God

              • He is almighty, infinite, and Creator

              • He came from heaven to earth to take our punishment for sin, by dying on a cross

              • “. . . he is the all-satisfying, wondrous, joyful God who promises to give peace, blessing, and satisfaction in himself to those who come to him.” ​​ [Carter & Wredberg, 242]

              • When we truly understand who Jesus is, then giving Him our best is the natural response

            • Our best will be different than someone else’s best

              • There’s not just one answer for everyone

              • That would take away from us doing the hard work of thinking about what Jesus would love, and how we can demonstrate our love for Him [Carter & Wredberg, 242]

              • What time, talent, or resource would you consider your best, and are you willing to give it to Jesus?

              • If you already know what it is and you are already giving it to Jesus, then I want to encourage you to continue to do that

              • Perhaps you’re like others who need to take time to really think about what Jesus would love, that you have or do, and then determine to demonstrate your love for Him by offering it to Him in humility, devotion, and worship

              • What are you best at? (numbers, teaching, relationships, cooking, hunting, fishing, car repair, electrical, plumbing, shopping, hospitality, listening, etc.) [Are you willing to use it in a way that demonstrates humility, devotion, and worship for Jesus?]

              • What do you have that is the best? [Are you willing to offer it to the Lord as a way of demonstrating humility, devotion, and worship of Jesus?]

            • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Determine the best of my time, talents, and resources and offer them to Jesus as a demonstration of my humility, devotion, and worship of Him.

          • God knows our heart and when we offer our best to Him it’s a beautiful thing

          • God knew Judas Iscariot’s heart and eventually Jesus’ disciples also knew

        • Judas Iscariot and others objection

          • Who was objecting?

            • John identifies just Judas Iscariot as objecting to Mary’s use of the pure nard

            • Matthew says that the disciples were indignant (Matt. 26:8)

            • Mark keeps us guessing by saying that some of those present were indignant (Mark 14:4)

            • Perhaps Judas was the first one to speak up, but he said what the others were thinking and feeling

            • When we look at Judas’ words, without having information that is revealed later, we may have agreed with him also, just like the disciples and some of those present did

            • At this point, the other disciples did not know that Judas was plotting to betray Jesus

            • John is writing after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection

          • What were they objecting to?

            • Judas wanted to know why this expensive jar of perfume, that was worth a year’s wages, wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor

            • Matthew and Mark record the disciples and some of those present as stating that Mary’s act of humility, devotion, and worship, was a waste (Matt. 26:8; Mar. 14:4)

          • Judas’ motives were not pure

            • Here we see a contrast between Mary and Judas

              • Mary offered pure nard

              • Judas makes a pious statement that shows concern for the poor, but with impure motives

            • Judas was only concerned about his own selfish gain

              • John tells us that Judas didn’t make this statement because he cared about the poor

              • He made the statement because he was a thief

              • He would help himself to the money in the box as the assigned keeper of the money box

              • “Because I am my church’s financial secretary, my children are familiar with the weekly trip to the bank. ​​ But one day my 3-year-old opened the bank bag and looked in.

                ‘Where did all that money come from?’ he asked

                ‘From the collection plates at church.’

                David looked at me wide-eyed. ​​ ‘Does God know you did that?’”

                Linda J. Beck, Chicora, Penn. Christian Reader, “Kids of the Kingdom.”


            • PRINCIPLE #2 – God knows our true motives

              • We may object to how funds are being used, simply because we’re jealous that we don’t have the funds to do the same things

              • It can happen in our family, at work, or at church

              • We aren’t necessarily upset that funds are being spent a certain way, but we’re upset that they’re not being spent on things that we consider important

              • We may find ourselves envying, what others have the financial resources to do, that we don’t have the financial resources to do

                • I have to confess that there have been times in my life when I’ve felt that way in my own personal life and also as it relates to the church

                • I don’t find it as much in my personal life anymore

                • I see what other churches are doing, because they have the financial and personnel resources available, and wish that we could be doing those same things

                • I believe that sometimes we’re not entrusted with the same financial and personnel resources as others, because God knows our true motives and that we would not use the resources as He designed or desires

                • Luke 12:47-48, “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. ​​ But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. ​​ From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

                • James 4:2b-3, You do not have, because you do not ask God. ​​ When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

              • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Make sure that my motives are pure before I object to someone else’s extravagant demonstration of humility, devotion, and worship of the Lord.

              • God knows our heart.

          • Jesus knew what was in Judas and the other disciples’ hearts when they objected to Mary’s act of devotion and worship, so He defends her

        • Jesus defends Mary’s actions

          • Leave her alone and stop bothering her

            • Jesus tells Judas and the others (Mark 14:6) to leave Mary alone

            • Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus says, what Mary has done to Him is a beautiful thing (Matt. 26:10; Mark 14:6)

          • Foreshadowing of Jesus’ burial

            • John mentions that the pure nard was intended to be saved for the day of His burial

            • Matthew and Mark state that the act of pouring the perfume on His body, beforehand, was to prepare for His burial (Matt. 26:12; Mark 14:8)

            • All three times that we see Mary in the Gospels she is at Jesus’ feet

              • While Martha was busy with preparations Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him (Luke 10:38-42)

              • When Jesus arrives after Lazarus has died, Mary goes out to meet Him and falls at His feet (John 11:32)

              • She was at Jesus’ feet as He reclined at the dinner table and then poured the pure nard on His feet

              • I believe she already understood what Jesus had said about His death and burial, even if His disciples did not yet understand

              • While it certainly isn’t hard and fast proof, it’s interesting, as some commentators point out, that Mary of Bethany is not mentioned at Jesus’ cross or as one of the women that went to the tomb on the first day of the week

              • Perhaps Mary understood that Jesus’ death was not the end for Him, but that He would rise again

              • She anoints His body as an act of devotion and belief in Him as the Messiah and Son of God

            • Jesus makes a pretty strong statement in Mary’s defense

              • While John does not record His words, Matthew and Mark do

              • “I tell you the truth, wherever this [the] gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matt. 26:13; Mark 14:9)

              • This is a significant endorsement for Mary’s act of humility, devotion, and worship

              • We should strive to have the same endorsement from our Lord and Savior

            • As part of Jesus’ defense of Mary, He mentions the issue of the poor that Judas brings up

          • Taking care of the poor

            • I like Mark’s accounting of Jesus’ words

            • The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. ​​ But you will not always have me. (Mark 14:7)

            • The poor weren’t going anywhere; they would have plenty of time to help them, and God would provide the resources needed

            • Jesus needed His followers to understand what was about to happen to Him

              • Within a week He was going to give His life as a perfect sacrifice for humanity to take away their sin

              • After that He would ascend into heaven and sit down at the right hand of the Father, where He would intercede for them

        • Mary’s act of humility, devotion, and worship is another important part of our Christian life, as is witnessing

    • Witness (vv. 9-11)

        • News of Jesus’ arrival in Bethany spread fast

        • It’s assumed that the large crowd of Jews came from Jerusalem

        • They not only came to see Jesus, but also to see Lazarus

          • Perhaps they were not close friends with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, so they didn’t come to His funeral or stay for the time of mourning following his death

          • Since they knew Jesus was going to be there, they thought they could also appease their curiosity about Lazarus

        • The chief priests aren’t happy about this turn of events

          • While John doesn’t record Lazarus saying anything, his life is a testimony and witness of the power of God through Jesus

          • This power of God is what was drawing people to Jesus and they were putting their faith in Him

          • This would never do for the chief priests

            • They realized that just killing Jesus would not stop God’s redemptive plan

            • When the Apostles were being persecuted and brought before the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel speaks an important word

            • Read Acts 5:35-39

          • The chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well

            • The Greek word for “made plans” is the exact same one that was used in John 11:53 and is translated as “plotted”

              • Last week I mentioned that it should really be translated as “they resolved”

              • They had made up their minds about the need to kill Lazarus, just like they had done concerning Jesus

            • PRINCIPLE #3 – One sin leads to another.

              • Last week Caiaphas had justified killing Jesus by using the idea of the sacrificial system, that had one lamb/goat sacrificed for the nation (Day of Atonement) or one family (Passover)

              • Now the chief priests are justifying the killing of a second person

              • We’ve heard the term “gateway drugs”

              • That’s what justification of sin does for us also

                • It’s like a gateway sin that opens the door to stronger, more powerful and addictive sin

                • Think for a moment about a habitual sin that you may be struggling with and have begun to justify

                • Perhaps you haven’t moved on to another sin yet, but are you being tempted to?

                • Maybe you’ve already taken the step into stronger, more powerful and addictive sin

                • Accountability is the key to overcoming habitual sin and stopping the progression from justifying our sin, which opens the door to greater sin

              • My Next Step Today Is To: ​​ Confess my sin to the Lord and seek out another believer who will hold me accountable.


  • YOU

    • Will you give your best to the Lord today?

    • Are there some motives that you need to make sure are pure?

    • Is there sin that needs to be confessed?


  • WE

    • Perhaps someone will approach you this week about holding them accountable – will you respond positively to that request?



“In the Preaching Today illustration Mark Buchanan on Real Community, pastor and author Mark Buchanan shares the conversion story of an alcoholic named Wanda. In a 2008 article for Leadership journal, Mark was able to tell the rest of her story:


Wanda did well for about eight months—got into Alpha and a 12-step group, got her kids back. Then she didn't do well, in and out—mostly out—of rehab. Then she vanished.


Then one day she called again, sober, after a year in rehab in Vancouver. She was getting out the next week.


Could she come home?


Her first Sunday back, I initially didn't recognize her. She looked healthy. Dressed and in her right mind.


I was preaching on the ten lepers Jesus healed, and the one, a Samaritan, who returned to give thanks. I said that anyone who has been cleansed by Jesus, who wants to be made whole by him, worships at his feet in deep thankfulness, in utmost desperation. They have nowhere else they want to go. And then, to close, I reminded people we have a tradition at our church: anyone can come up to the front and pray with one of our prayer ministers.


Wanda came forward. But she didn't go to a prayer minister. She walked onto the platform, between the guitarist and the drummer, and stretched her hands heavenward. She worshiped like One Leper returning.


A woman who didn't know her, and who isn't on the prayer team, walked up, put her arm around her, and worshiped, too.


Then—you could hear it—all of us worshiped with deeper thankfulness, out of greater desperation. Out of the storeroom had come new treasures as well as old, and the Kingdom hovered very close.


Condensed from our sister publication Leadership Journal, © 2008 Christianity Today International. For more articles like this, visit Leadershipjournal.net.


Mark Buchanan, "Treasures Old and New," Leadership journal (Fall 2008), p. 114