Opposite Responses to Grace

Opposite Responses to Grace

Mar 25, 2018

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Category: The Passion of Christ



Well, today is Palm Sunday and so this week and next week we are going to augment our 1 Corinthians study by focusing on the passion week of Christ. Here's how this message is going to help supplement our study of 1 Corinthians. So far we have come to see that it was the sin of pride that threatening to break apart the Corinthian church. And this pride had all sorts of expressions:

  • pride in favoring men,
  • pride in the flaunting of wealth,
  • pride in the use of spiritual gifts.

Last week we talked about this one specific case of pride that expressed itself in sexual sin. And we said the big deal here was not the actual expression of sin (because in Christ all sin can be forgiven), but the prideful refusal to confess the sin, to submit the desire.

And in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul compares this kind of prideful rebellion to yeast in bread. And the reason he compares it to yeast is because just like yeast, sinful pride has this invisible, way of growing very quickly and consuming, destroying and taking over the heart. There is this dangerous progression of unconfessed pride where just like yeast, it begins to eat away at the soul and consume the soul and it eventually leads a person to the point where he is totally destroyed, totally refusing to come under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

And the frightening question we raised was this:

How long does it take for unconfessed pride to morph into unredeemable rebellion? How long does sin need to incubate in this unconfessed state before it spawns into this frightening rebel state? And the answer was: it's very hard to say. But it does and when it does, it is soul-destroying.

And so the application to all of us last week was, be quick to repent. Be quick to confess. Keep short accounts with God. Be quick to throw yourself at the feet of Jesus and humble yourself and reconfess him as Lord and Master!

And the application from last week is still the same this week. All are welcome to come to Jesus just as they are, but none are welcome to stay that way. You came last week with areas of your life that needed resubmitting to Jesus. And you come this week the same way. We all come today with new areas of our life that need resubmitting to Jesus Christ. We are welcome to come as we are but we are not welcome to stay that way.

Well today is Palm Sunday and what we are going to be looking at today is a comparison of two people who responded to Jesus in two totally opposite ways - Mary who came to Jesus as she was, but did not stay that way. She humbled herself at the feet of Jesus, and allowed Christ to clean her, to wash her, to restore and heal her.

And then there was Judas who came as he was but left as he came, hardened, proud, self-centered and that pride literally destroyed his soul. **The Bible deliberately lays these two characters right next to each other in the text we are going to look at today and I don't think a person can find a sharper contrast anywhere in the Scriptures between EXACTLY what we talked about last week. So that will be the structure of our message today. We have Exhibit A, we have Exhibit B and then we will compare them and draw some conclusions.

So open your Bibles to John chapter 12.

Now how is this connected to Palm Sunday? Normally on Palm Sunday we remember the events in Jesus' life that happened on the Sunday one week prior to his resurrection - the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem where the crowds lay down their garments for Jesus and put palm branches down on the ground and welcome him as king.

And we will reference that but the focus of today is not on what happened Sunday morning but on an event that happened two evenings before, a dinner that happened Friday night.

So the text begins with a time marker - six days before the passover... this is Friday night. Now where was Jesus Thursday? Jesus was in Jericho Thursday. Which means that Jesus and his disciples woke up early Friday made the 8 hour, 15 miles journey that ascends out of the dead sea basin an elevation of about 3400 feet all the way up to Bethany which sits just on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It's a very, long, very dusty journey so they were undoubtedly absolutely exhausted when they arrived at the home.

Just so you can get an idea of how difficult the journey was and how inhospitable this place is, here's actually a picture of that area:

And a picture of the Roman Road that went from Jericho to Jerusalem:

And the destination we are told was Bethany, the home of Simon the leper. He almost certainly wasn't a leper currently, but he had been formerly. Perhaps Jesus had healed this man. Remember that Bethany was the home town of Lazarus. And so it appears that one of the primary drivers of this party was Lazarus himself. Apparently there was the custom was that you threw a dinner for anyone who was kind enough to raise you from the dead.

Now what happens next is shocking. Actually, it's beyond shocking. So you can imagine Jesus sitting at the table with his disciples and Lazarus is there and they are reclining and recovering from the long journey. Lazarus' sister Martha is busy doing what she does best, serving. She is busy making sure the napkins are folded just right, making sure the lemonade bowl is just right, and then we get this scene. From across the room here comes Mary and she's holding something very carefully.

So what you have here is interesting

Now I want you to try to imagine what is going on here. Perfume was part of ANE culture for the same reason it's part of our culture. People stink. The only difference between our modern culture and their ANE culture is that they stank more. That's not a slam, that's just a fact.

  • They didn't have running water.
  • They lived in a hot place without air conditioning.
  • They didn't have washing machines.
  • They cook over open fires

How do you smell after three days of camping? In every single possible way, they were dirtier, sweatier, stinkier than we are. And so perfume was a way to sweeten the environment. You can imagine if it's been a particularly hot day and you have an evening party and people have been traveling to get there and it's hot, the odors might be particularly strong. It would have been customary as part of a greeting to dab your finger in a box of perfume and touch a person on the forehead with it.

The particular perfume mentioned here is spikenard. It comes from a rare flower that grows only in the Himalayas at very high altitudes. I was reading about this and apparently it helps insomnia so if anyone is traveling to the Himalayas let me know. So in order to make the oil, you have to pick the flower, boil it, distill it down. It's a huge process. So you can see why this would be so expensive. How much would you charge to walk from Israel to the Himalayas and grind up a pound of flower juice?

Now we read here that Mary comes out with one pound of this perfume. This is a Roman measurement but turns out it is close enough to our own so just picture a pound of flower juice from the Himalayas - it's an absurd amount. In the parallel passage in Mat. 26 we are told that this perfume was contained in an alabaster box or vase of some sort which would have looked something like this:

Alabaster was an imported stone from Egypt and would have been extremely expensive. It's one thing to truck in stone from a different part of the world, but if your method transportation is hand-carrying, the price goes up. This had to have been a family heirloom of sorts.

So you have crushed Himalayan flower juice put into an imported Egyptian stone jar.

So she takes this extremely expensive container and cracks it open (a symbol that she's intentionally giving it all) and pours the contents on Jesus' head - a pound of the stuff. And the fragrance that must have filled the room would have just arrested everyone there. And you can imagine it dripping down his hair and onto his clothes and onto his feet and she stoops down and cleans his feet with her hair.

Now what you really need to appreciate about this story is the exorbitant, unrestrained, outrageous costliness of this anointing. We see the actual cost of the perfume in the rebuke that comes next.

I don't think Judas

Now how much is 300, denarii? That's something like $50,000. For them, rather than in dollars this might be better calculated in meals. We think in terms of currency, they think in terms of bread and meeting their basic needs. This would have been enough to feed 15,000 people a meal. This was very likely the families life savings. This was very likely the families entire security. You didn't have ROTH IRA's or mutual funds or index funds. I mean this was it. Your investments consisted of sheep and perfume boxes. What do you fall back on in times of catastrophe?

Mary comes in and just dumps the whole thing on Jesus. When's the last time you honored a guest by cleaning out your 401k and giving your guest a 50,000 box of chocolates? It's so over-the-top. Mary just has this attitude, give it all. It's totally worth it. If I had more, I'd give that too. There's no amount too much. She's just trying to give everything.

I always thought it was so gracious of the gospel writers to not record what Martha said at this point. From the little glimpses we get of Martha, even if Martha was in on this, it just must have made her squirm. She had to be thinking to herself. Here's this big party and I'm slaving away. And what is Mary doing? Wasting the family inheritance. That's just like her. But it's not just Martha whose thinking this.

It's the reaction of everyone, "Whoa, that's too much." That's a waste. Every instinct in us as we read this passage is the same. Really? Was that the best use. Was that rally necessary?

And the parallel passage in Mt says that all the disciples murmured and Judas spoke for the disciples and I think Judas was speaking for not just the disciples, not just everyone in the room. He is speaking for us as well.

Where's your sense of proportion Mary? That's an inordinate usage. Isn't that being a bit rash and foolish? You can honor someone without dumping out your life savings. Mary, get a hold of your emotions. Mary get your proportions right. And what Jesus says is shocking. Mary's sense of proportion is perfect. She gave everything. That's perfect. That's exactly what she should do. That's exactly what you all should do. That's what it means to call me LORD.

So you have this beautiful act of love and devotion and expression of lordship. So that is exhibit A Now let's look at Judas.

Now you can imagine Judas dark in the shadows just stewing over this. You see his rebuke there and it feels so evil. In six days he's going to betray Jesus. And just those words, stewing in the shadow, betraying Jesus. I mean, we pretty much just add our Amen to Dante who throws him into the deepest pit of hell.

It's easy to see Judas as a monster. But believe me, believe me, there is a Judas in all of us. And the more I studied and thought about it this week, the more Judas I saw in myself.

I want you to think what is going through Judas' mind right now. The eaisest way to do that is to transport yourself into that upper room conversation, on that Thursday evening with Jesus.

Do you remember Jesus, he says, "One of you will betray me tonight." And what is the response of all the disciples? They all say, "Is it me?" Let that sink in a little. Is this characteristic of the disciples? The disciples are the last people in the world to ever admit weakness in themselves. The disciples show themselves over and over and over and over again to be spirituality obtuse, to think of themselves more highly than they ought, more magnificent than they are, more strong than they are.

When Jesus said to Peter, "Peter, you are going to deny me." What does Peter say? Oh, I feared that all along. I am so weak, “Oh! Help me.” No. He says, “You have the wrong guy, Lord. I don't know about these other guys, but one thing I can guarantee you, it won't be me."

The disciples never agree there is something wrong with them. They’re always the most unaware of their sins. So when Jesus says, “Somebody is going to betray me,” it’s completely against their nature to be cut to heart and question themselves, “Am I the one?”

Why this sudden softness? Here's a suggestion that I think is very, very likely. I think it very, very likely that they were all having the same idea as Judas. I think they were internally sweating bullets. I think they were all really having doubts about this whole Messiah/King thing.

Listen carefully to what I mean by this. Today is Palm Sunday and we consider the triumphal entry. Anyone who studies the triumphal entry knows one thing: Jesus Christ did not accidentally have a triumphal entry.

Jesus Christ came into Jerusalem proclaimed publicly by the crowd that he was the king of Israel, that he was the son of David, and that he was the messianic promised king. Jesus didn’t accidentally run into that. He didn’t walk in and everybody just came up and he said, “Oh what a surprise! How nice of you all!"

All four gospels made the point absolutely explicitly that Jesus set this up. And this setup was in direct response to the pressure put on by the religious elite. Now in John 11 we get a little insight into the conversations that are churning on the streets.

You see the religious elite were trying to beat Jesus out of the bushes. There was a price on his head. They wanted him dead. This was common knowledge. Everyone was asking the same question, "Do you think he will come up to the feast at all?"

Well he came all right. And in the manner of his coming he was very, very intentionally punching a one way ticket. And I think the disciples all knew this. He came into Jerusalem, and he said, “I am the new king of Israel. I am the Messiah.”

Here's the problem with saying, "I am the new King of Israel." Israel already one. You can't have two. That kind of entry forces their hand. They now have two options: kill him or bow to him. Either his little band of followers is going to organize themselves and overthrow the current administration or the current administration squashes him. History has watched this happen hundreds of times.

When you get to chapter 22, you see the religious elite saying, “What are we going go do? We have to destroy him. How are we going to do it?”

It wasn’t a question of “Will we do it?” or “Should we do it?” It was, “We have to do it. What are the means?”

Judas is smart. He sees this happening. But here's the thing. I think they all see this happening. And maybe now, the words of Jesus where he predicted his death are starting to sink in. Maybe he was serious. Is Jesus giving up? Is Jesus just going to let the Romans destroy him?

Judas thought something every single disciple had to be thinking. Jesus what in the world are you doing?

  • Don't you see how upset the leaders of the city are?
  • You haven't done anything.
  • You just keep teaching and it makes them more and more angry.
  • You have no military protection.
  • They are closing in like wolves and you seem to be totally oblivious.
  • You seem totally unconcerned. Are you actually impotent?

The disciples have to be flicking the sand in the hourglass. It is just a matter of time before he’s crushed. They've watched it happen to others. Rome invented crucifixion to deal with people like this. It's actually invented to put down these insubordinate, pretender kings. The cross was designed to communicate: this is what happens to those who walk into the city and say, "I am King." That kind of describes Jesus, don't you think. You know the disciples have seen dozens of people on crosses in their lifetime.

What occurred to Judas is what occurred to every one of them, perhaps Jesus really will die? And what does THAT mean for me? So when they are in that upper room and Jesus says, "One of you will betray me, I think the reason they all turned to one another and said, “Is it me?” is because they all knew they were capable of it. They were all in the mode of hedging their bets. The reality of being crushed by Rome drew uncomfortably close, ominously close. What if Rome decides to make an example of me. What if we are following the wrong guy? What if I end up on a cross along side of Jesus. Is that worth it?

The train of thought is, “If I don’t ingratiate myself with the enemies of Jesus now, I’m going to be crucified alongside of him.” If you can't beat em, join em. I think what all of them thought but none would vocalize is that folks, we are approaching a decision point.

When you see it like that, you realize any of us could have done that. Any of us could have seen that pressure coming and walked out. In fact, all of them did. Peter did. All of the disciples did. They all scattered like cockroaches.

Here's the point: Anyone who knows their own heart knows there is a part of you that wants to sell Jesus off when it starts to cost."

I means sure, as long as things are going well, it’s great.

  • I'll call myself a Christian when there is money to be made.
  • I'll call myself a Christian when I get praised or when things are going easy or when there is some social benefit to me.
  • Of course all of the disciples loved the idea of being on the ground floor of this empire-crushing, kingdom movement.
  • Who doesn't like the idea of that.
  • Who wouldn't have wanted to be on the ground floor of Facebook or Amazon or Google.
  • When Jesus becomes king of the world, I can say I helped start this thing. I'm in place of influence. Fame through association.

But when it begins to cost you, there is a tremendous desire to sell him off, to get out before you loose it all. Judas was playing Jesus like the stock market. You're in when the market is rising, when things are hot, you are all in, but when the market starts to dip, when you predict a downturn in the economy you pull out your investments. You have no shame in pulling everything out. Why in the world would I stick with this investment when it's failing? It makes no sense at all. If the only priority is your own personal gain, and you are not gaining, then get out. You look for what's next and you transfer your investments. This is what Judas was doing. He was transferring his investments to the religious leaders.

Judas was of course using Jesus. We see in this text in many ways. His concern for the poor was a total sham. He was stealing from the money bag. If he could not profit from the bag then he would profit from Jesus. He was prepared to sell Jesus for 1/3 the price of the ointment cost. But it was way more than that. If Jesus is popular, I'm with him. If I can get something out of this, I will stick around. What benefit can I get out of it?

So that is Exhibit B.

Now let's look at these side by side. Let's compare Mary and Judas. Exhibit A and B.

What is the essential difference between Mary and Judas?

  • Both of them were sinners.
  • Both of them knew Jesus.
  • Both of them followed him around.
  • Both of them heard his words.
  • Both of them saw him do miracles.
  • Both interacted with Jesus personally and saw him interact with people.
  • Both looked into his eyes and saw his eyes look into them.

And yet their ends could not be more different:

In the end Mary is blessed beyond words. She is overflowing with joy in her act of self-sacrifice. She just melts before Jesus' feet in a puddle of worship. In the parallel passage in Mt she is given this incredible honor.

And here we are proclaiming what she has done. This is Mary's end.

How about Judas? In the end Judas is swinging from a self-made gallows and because the branch breaks or his body rots, his body falls upon the ground and splits open. Lovely. What does Jesus say about Judas, the most chilling of all words ever spoken to any man, "It would have been better if he had never been born."

Look at the difference between these two! You have the son of God in all his glorious heat and one melts like wax and the other is hardened into an unredeemable stone by the same heat.

  • He knew the nearness of Christ's betrayal and hated the more
  • She knew the nearness of Christ's death and loved the more.

So in the end, they were so different, and yet if you were to have known them a year earlier, they would have looked so similar. Externally, if you were to look at Judas and Mary listening to Jesus a year earlier, they are eating bread and fish, listening to his words as he preaches the Sermon on the Mount. What is the difference between them? They look the same.

Let this sink in a bit. When Jesus said to his disciples in the upper room, one of you will betray me, they didn't all say to themselves, "Well, it's obvious who he's talking about. Why doesn't he just say his name, we all know who he is." No, they genuinely didn't know. Judas looked just like the rest.

What's the difference? If you boil it down it's this. Mary loved Jesus. Judas used him.

Here's what is really interesting about the way God has structured the world. If times are good, if things are really hopping, you actually will have a very hard time telling the difference. It's hard to believe but it's true. In good times, you will hardly be able to distinguish between the person who is using you and the person who is loving you. That might sound crazy but think about it.

In any relationship there is always a tremendous amount of give and take, an incredible amount of I'll-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine. There's always a tremendous amount of codependency where I benefit from having you in my life and you benefit from having me in your life. And that's not a bad thing.

God designed relationships to meet our own personal needs. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. That's the way it works. That's why we have small groups. That's why we practice the one-anothers.

But if that's the only reason we are in the relationship, we are totally using people. It's very revealing.

  • If we say, "Unless you meet my needs, I'm out;
  • unless you fulfill me the way I want to be fulfilled, I'm going to make you suffer
  • unless you love me the way I need to be loved, unless you give me what I want, unless you make me feel the way I want to feel, I'm going to give you the silent treament.
  • I'm going to make your life miserable until you give me what I want.
  • If we talk like that we don't love a person, we are using them."

The true test of love comes when all of the sudden you are not receiving anything. What happens to the heart at that point? Are you loving or using? If you don't get what you want, is there a revolt? Does the air-raid siren of justice go off in your heart and you begin demanding your rights? This is a 50/50 relationship and I'm giving 51 percent. I demand my 1 percent. You see, love gives and does not complain, even when it receives nothing. It gives; it doesn't begrudge. It gives because it loves. It gives not for any merit in the person, not for any benefit I derive from knowing the person, it gives because that is what love is. Love at it's very core is giving, self-sacrificing, agape love, unconditional love.

Do you see how Mary and Judas are polar opposites.

Judas loves Jesus like he loves stock. Nobody loves the stock. They love the money they get from the stock. Judas loved the money he got from the bag. Judas love the fame of being associated with Jesus. Judas loved the power. But the second that was threatened, the second that stock began to dip, he was out. Judas used Jesus.

But loves goes a totally different direction. When everyone else abandons you, I will be with you. I don't care if the whole world rejects you and persecutes me and laughs at me, I don't care. I will give you everything. In fact, I'll give you everything even if you aren't asking. Look what Mary did. Jesus didn't ask for it. She just gives because she loves. One of the best pieces of counseling advice in the world is to try to inspire people in their marriages and relationships to just give. Give, give, give, give, give. Which is just another way of saying love, love, love, love, love. Love by giving like Mary. Just dump yourself out. Who cares about me. Who cares about my security, my happiness, my well-being, the only thing I care about it giving to you.

So let me ask you. Are you Judas or Mary? Do you only love God if he gives you what you want? And the second he doesn't give you what you want, you are you angry at him? You're using him. You don't love him. This is one of the reasons God allows trials to come into our lives. It flushes out our true motives. I only love God insomuch as he gives me what I want. That's not love. That's using him. That's the way you treat a genie in a bottle.

What if God uses that same logic on you? I only love you insomuch as you give me what I want, but the second you make my life hard or miserable or show disrespect, or are ungrateful, well I'm out.

Are you a Mary or a Judas?

Now let's tie this back to how we started. Mary came as she was but did not leave as she came. She allowed Jesus to change her. What really does that mean to allow someone to change you? It means you give them control. You give them the reigns. You give them everything.

And the whole picture of what Mary did in this passage is a picture of ultimate submission to Jesus Christ as Lord. I give you it all. Even if you don't ask for it I give it to you. You get it all. And the second you give him everything he gives you everything. The healing, the blessing, the cleansing comes only when you give him everything. Mary was changed when she decided to give it all to Jesus.

Judas on the other hand was willing to give something. Of course he was. We all recognize we have to give something in relationships. There's always give and take. Sure I'll stick around this guy. I'll say a few religious words here and there. I'll call him a great teacher. Because if I do that, I can dip my hand in the money box. If I do that my life is easier in some ways and better. But no way was he going to give everything. No way am I going to call this guy Lord. No way am I going to trust my life to this guy.

  • Judas gave some and was lost; Mary gave everything and was found
  • Judas used Jesus, Mary loved Jesus,
  • Judas came as he was and left as he came; Mary came as she was and was transformed.
  • Judas was hardened by love; Mary was softened by it.

And what I want to do as we conclude this morning is to consider our reaction as we approach the person of Jesus. Jesus functions like a knife cutting through culture, doesn't he. When he confronts you have to pick a side. The blade of his person forces you to choose, will you love him and worship him and fall at his feet in humility and cry out I need you and pour out your precious treasures in front of him and say, it's yours, it's all yours. You are LORD.

Or will you, like Judas, hedge, fold your arms in skepticism, resent him, stiffen against him, frown upon him, begrudge him and embitter yourself against him.

What are you going to do with Jesus? This is both the problem and the beauty with Jesus. He won't let you go. He won't let you hide. He won't let you walk away and say, "Can we deal with this later?"

Now you may have a genuine reservation with Jesus here. What should I love him the way you describe, this complete surrender, this absolute pouring out of my treasure on his feet? Why should I love Jesus like that? And the answer is, because he first loved you like that.

Come back this Friday evening at 7pm as we contemplate and consider the love of Jesus in pouring out himself on the cross. You see it his initiating love that allows us to love in return. Let's pray.