Lent 4

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Welcome

Good morning everyone, today we are going to go over our last Lent sermon. Now I know that Lent is not over, but next week we are going to go back to the gospel of John and everything should line up to finish John just after Easter. As we start this morning, let’s read our passage together and then pray for God to teach us through his Word.
Matthew 26:1–13 NIV
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Prayer

The Setting

As we start this morning, I want you to think about a question. What is the most extravagant way someone has shown love to you? It might be from your spouse, a friend, even a complete stranger. But what is the most profound way anyone has ever shown you love? We read stories about what people do for those they love and often think, “They must really love them if they are willing to do that.” Moments where there really is a display of extravagant love. I really enjoy the idea of extravagant love. There is love, yes, but then there is extravagant love. We love many people, but there is something about extra-love. That’s kind of how I think about extravagant love, it is extra love, out of the ordinary realm of displaying love.
In Matthew, Mark, and John we read about a woman who displays extravagant love towards Christ, shortly before he is arrested. The setting for Matthew’s account of this story is found in the first 5 verses of chapter 26.
Matthew 26:1–5 NIV
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”
Jesus has just finished teaching on a lot of different things, when he once again tells the disciples that he is going to suffer and be killed. This is the first time though that Jesus gives them a time frame, Jesus knows that it will be passover when he is handed over. Notice the order of events in this passage. Jesus knows what is going to happen. While the leaders might think they are taking Jesus’ life, in actuality Jesus is willingly giving it up. Jesus acknowledges that he will be handed over to them before they even create their plan to arrest him. Jesus announces his coming death to the disciples and then the religious leaders gather. Jesus will submit to what is about to happen, but there should be no doubt for us that Jesus is the one in charge.

Mary’s Extravagant Love

Matthew then flashes back to a scene from earlier in the week. It is the Saturday night before Palm Sunday. Jesus is in the town of Bethany where his friends Mary and Martha lived and their brother Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. They are having dinner together when a woman comes and anoints Jesus’ head and body with a very expensive perfume.
Matthew 26:6–7 NIV
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
The town of Bethany was Jesus’ stopping grounds, just two miles outside of Jerusalem. At this time he is in the home of Simon the Leper. We don’t know exactly who Simon was, but he was most likely a former leper who Jesus had healed. We also know from the other gospel accounts that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus was there and this might also be their home. Some scholars have suggested that Simon is actually their father who Jesus healed previously, possibly explaining why Jesus has such a close relationship with this family. Matthew doesn’t give us the woman’s name, but John tells us that the woman who does this is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Matthew does tell us though that this is not just your average perfume. This is an expensive bottle that was likely somewhere in the range of a years salary. What is also interesting about this story is how such an expensive thing is given to Jesus, but Judas betrays Jesus for a much, much smaller amount. The thirty coins of silver that Judas was paid for betraying Jesus was worth nothing compared to this perfume.
In this action, we see a truly amazing act of extravagant love for Jesus. Mary wasn’t careful with the perfume. She didn’t just pour out a small amount on Jesus and save the rest. No, she poured the entire bottle on Jesus. This is a remarkable way to show love towards Jesus. Could you imagine if you saw someone do that very thing? If someone had a bottle of perfume that cost that much and you saw them use it, give it all to the one they loved, it would, and should, shock you! This is extra love, not just normal affection. But the disciples don’t think of it this way.

“What a Waste”

Matthew 26:8–9 NIV
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
The disciples watch in disbelief as Mary pours this expensive perfume on Jesus’ head, and they are offended at the waste of money. Wouldn’t it have been better to sell the perfume and give the money to the poor?
I think their response is pretty reasonable. God wants us to take care of the poor, in fact just previously in Matthew 25 Jesus told them one of the best ways to demonstrate love towards him was by taking care of the poor. Perhaps it is because of that the disciples look at what Mary does and can’t believe that she would waste it like that. What an incredible waste of money. The disciples reaction is also a reality that many of us will experience. There will always be people who consider following Jesus a waste. Why spend so much time in prayer, in worship, aren’t there better things to be doing? Why give to churches and ministries? Aren’t there ways to spend that money on yourself? I think it is good for us to recognize that there will be some people who view the time and support you give to God as a waste. I came across an interview with Bill Gates where he expressed that very thing. When he was asked in an interview about his views on God and the church. Gates responded, “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.” Just because some people might think it is a waste, does not make it true. Jesus acknowledges that to the disciples in the next section of the passage.

Jesus Defends Extravagant Love

Matthew 26:10–13 NIV
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Jesus defends Mary as having done a beautiful thing for him. Where the disciples saw only waste, Jesus saw a beautiful demonstration of love. As far as helping the poor, there will always be time to help the poor, but Jesus knows his time is limited. And as important as helping the poor is, there was something even more important right here, at this moment. The cross was looming in the near future, and Jesus tells the disciples that this woman anointed him with the perfume in order to prepare him for burial.
In other words, Mary gets it. The disciples still don’t understand that Jesus must die, but Mary does. She has spent time at the feet of Jesus, listening and learning from him. This may be the last time she sees Jesus, and so she gives him her best. She gives him her all. She breaks open the alabaster jar. She pours the perfume on his head. She shows Jesus an extravagant love that leaves you breathless. And Jesus calls it a beautiful thing.
As a result, Jesus says that what she has done will be preached along with the gospel throughout the world in her memory. And so Mary’s anointing of Jesus serves both as an example and a memorial. It is a beautiful example to us of unfettered devotion to Christ. And it is a memorial to Mary for her loving devotion to Christ.
As Jesus predicted, her story is still being told around the world. It is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John. We are talking about it in church today.
From this passage, there are two things that I was us to take away on this idea of Extravagant Love.

God’s Extravagant Love for Us

A. God sent his Son

This is love: God sent his Son. When Mary showed her love for Christ, she gave her very best; she gave her all. When God showed his love for us, he gave his very best; he gave his all. He sent his only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins.

B. Jesus came willingly

Not only did God send Jesus, but Jesus came willingly. Jesus told his disciples, “The Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matthew 26:1-2) Jesus knew that the cross was coming. He could have turned back at any time and walked the other way. But he didn’t. He set the wheels in motion and came willingly to die out of love for the Father and out of love for us. In effect he prayed, “Father, lead me, lead me to the cross.”

C. Jesus’ body was broken for you

And in God’s amazing, astounding, extravagant love, Jesus’ body was broken for you. Just as the alabaster jar was broken and the perfume poured out, so Jesus’ body was broken and his blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins. As valuable as Mary’s perfume was, it cannot compare to the infinite value of the blood of Jesus. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

Our Extravagant Love for God

A. We love him because he first loved us

1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) God doesn’t love us because we first loved him. We were sinners in need of a Savior. We love God because he first loved us. Our love for God will always be in proportion to our understanding of his love for us. Do you understand the price Jesus paid for you at the cross? Do you realize how much God loves you? If you do, then it will have a profound effect on your love for God.

C. What will you sacrifice/pour out for Christ?

And so I ask you this morning, what will you sacrifice for Christ? What will you pour out for him?
So what is your alabaster jar of perfume this morning? What is most important or valuable in life to you? Is it your family? Your children? Your spouse? Your career? Is it money? Influence? Approval? Friends? Would you give it all away for Christ? Will you give it all to him this morning?

Conclusion

No sacrifice is too great for Jesus. Mary showed her extravagant love for Jesus when she broke open her alabaster jar and poured out the perfume for Christ. God showed his extravagant love for us when Jesus’ body was broken and he poured out his life-blood for our sins. When we truly understand God’s extravagant love for us, we will show our extravagant love for him by bringing him our very best and pouring it out before him in worship and love and praise.
Frederick Bruner describes this passage in Matthew as a Call to Worship as we approach the passion narrative that follows. He writes: “It is a portal leading into the Passion, which says, ‘The way to enter this holy ground is like this woman – with a heart full of devotion.’ It is a Call to Worship.” (Bruner, Matthew, Volume 2, p. 945)
May this passage be our Call to Worship as we go into these next weeks of Lent. And like Mary, may we enter this season with a heart full of devotion and praise for Jesus our Savior. Let us pray.

Prayer

Lord, forgive us for putting aside our heart’s wild desire to worship You, whether for our own fear of embarrassment or the real threat of ridicule. Forgive us for not giving all we have toward your glory. We have not been nearly as grateful for your presence as we ought to be. We love you, Lord. Help us to love you more fully, fiercely, and readily today. Amen.

Benediction

May we offer our whole lives as living sacrifices, breaking our comforts and pouring out our whole lives as pure nard unto our Savior.
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