The Book of John

Wednesday: Jesus and Mary of Bethany


Theme: Mary’s Extravagant Love
In this week’s lessons, we learn about Mary’s love for Jesus, and see that our own love for and service of the Lord needs to be self-sacrificing as well.
Scripture:John 12:1-11
Now the second thing, in addition to the extravagance, is Mary’s love, and I would even combine the two by saying that what we see in the story is the extravagance of her love. Real love is always extravagant. Love isn’t cautious about what it gives or what it promises. Love always promises the most. It gives everything it can, and beyond. You only have to read 1 Corinthians 13 to find out something about what love is like, and that’s the kind of love that Mary was showing here. You see, it wasn’t just a case of this woman being, as we might say, flighty in the way she handled material possessions. Life was hard, and people were careful with what they had. Mary was not used to throwing gifts around, and certainly not a gift of this nature.
Rather, Mary acts as she does because she is recognizing, as we’re going to find out in the continuation of the story, what Jesus is about to do. She’s looking into his face, she understands what’s going to come, and she’s saying to herself, “Isn’t there something I can do to show my love for him?” And what she wants to do is give him something, so she thinks naturally of her most valued possession, this bottle of perfume. I don’t know what this woman had, but in those days, most people had very little. This was probably in the nature of a dowry for her. At any rate, she’s saying to herself, “Well, I’m going to give it to show my love to Jesus Christ.”
That causes me to ask a question that we need to ask of ourselves: Are we extravagant in our love for Jesus Christ? If you’re a Christian, and someone were to ask you if you love Jesus, you would say, “Of course I do.” And you’d be right to say that. He died for you. We love because he first loved us. But the question is, are you extravagant in your love, as this woman was? Or do you give what you think perhaps is the necessary requirement of love or the minimum of love, or even the modicum of love, but really hold back from loving with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, as this woman was trying to do?
You say, “Oh, yes, but this is a very serious kind of world, and you have to be cautious in this world. You have to be careful. You can’t be too extravagant in this world, because after all you have to think of your future.” Let me suggest that if you are extravagant in demonstrating your love for Jesus Christ, he will not fault you for it. The world may fault you for it. It may say, as Judas did, “What a foolish waste of your ointment, to pour it out on Jesus!” But Jesus didn’t fault Mary for doing it. He praised her instead. The world may say to you, “Oh, to spend your money on Christian work in order that other people might find out about Jesus Christ, what a foolish thing–when you have to think about retirement and inflation and all those things.” Then, even if the world doesn’t say it, your family will. They’ll say, “Look, he gave it all way, and I was hoping that I would get it myself.”
And it’s not just the question of money, either; it’s also a question of time. You see, if you spend your time on other people because you love Jesus Christ, there are people who are going to resent that. They’re going to say you should be spending time on them. Why are you wasting yourself that way? Well, I want to suggest that one way of measuring our love for Jesus Christ is in terms of our most precious possession or possessions. Now we can ask ourselves how willing we are to part with those, or to share them, or to use them in order to show love for Jesus Christ.
What’s your most precious possession? For some people it’s their house. Many pour all their time into that. They spend all their time choosing the right kind of furniture, curtains, carpets, and all decorations that make a home beautiful. Now it’s wonderful to have a beautiful home, but if that’s the thing that is most precious in your life, then something is wrong. Are you willing to use your home for Jesus Christ? Are you willing to hold a Bible study there, maybe inconveniencing yourself? Are you willing to bring the neighborhood kids in and if possible teach them about Jesus?
How about your bank account? Some people consider that their most precious thing. Now I know you have to be careful in our day to some extent. We don’t have the network of family relationships that they did have in these ancient times, where as you grow old there would be family members who would take care of you. That has broken down in our society. People don’t care for one another as they did in the past, or even as still happens in other parts of the world. Now I know there really is a legitimate area of concern where you say I have to provide properly for my future. But there is a difference between being prudent and hoarding our possessions. I ask the question, do you love your bank account more than you love Jesus Christ? Or are you willing to part with that precious possession or a part of it?
How about your reputation? For some people a reputation is their most precious possession. They don’t have a whole lot of money, and maybe they don’t have a house, but they’re highly regarded among their co-workers as hard, driving, and successful. If you tell them that in their various relationships at work or in the community, they ought to be a witness for Jesus Christ, they might say, “Oh, I couldn’t do that. I mean, that would destroy the influence I have at the office. I’d never get ahead if I did that because I’m regarded well, and if they begin to think that I’m religious, well, they’ll think I’m some kind of a fanatic.”
How about yourself? What is your most precious possession? It might not be our house, our bank account, or our reputation. But maybe what is most important is not Jesus Christ, but ourselves. We would rather Jesus not make too many demands on us, but leave us alone to do what we want to do with our own lives. But that’s not what the Christian life is like at all. We have to give up our own definition of values, our own views of pleasure, our own thoughts about what is right and wrong, our own ideas of success. In the final analysis that’s what discipleship is all about. Will you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus? That’s what he commanded his disciples to do. If you love him, you’ll do it. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Are you extravagant in your love? Do you even really love him at all? Because if you do really love him, you’ll give him yourself. Judas said, “She’s wasting it on Jesus.” And your friends will say, “You’re wasting your life on Jesus.” But Jesus will not fault you for the gift.
Study Questions:

Why does Mary show such extravagant love?
Read 1 Corinthians 13. In what ways does Jesus live out this chapter? In what ways are you to show this kind of love?

Application: Mary had her expensive perfume that she was willing to part with out of her devotion to Christ. How can you demonstrate your love to Christ by what possessions you are willing to part with, or at least to be more generous with than you may have been in the past?

Study Questions
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