What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever done for love? A gift, an event, a trip? I took Karen to Wellington for a special birthday – flights, accommodation, meals. I’m sure you can better that one; someone’s bound to have managed Melbourne or Paris. Or perhaps you’ve given someone you love a car, maybe your parent or your child. The gift of devotion we’re talking about today cost a year’s wages ($50,000 $100,000, maybe $200,000 depending on what you make). Broken and poured out for a moment’s love. You can buy a bottle of Clive Christian Imperial Majesty for$215,000.
Or how about Jacob in the bible – he worked seven years for the hand of Rachel in marriage. Then he was tricked and had to work another seven years. Fourteen years - that’s devotion.
Let me tell you the story again simply and tell you why it matters. The author of this biography of Jesus, Mark, has sandwiched this story between two little stories of betrayal. Firstly the chief priests, the people who ran the religious establishment, had decided that they wanted to get rid of Jesus (betrayal from without). Quietly, sneakily, no fuss – just kill him. They are not just betraying Jesus, they are betraying their vocation. They were meant to uphold worship and Moses’ law, and they were stooping to a diabolical execution. The sixth commandment is pretty clear – do not kill.
After the woman’s act comes Judas (betrayal from within). He’s given three years devotion to Jesus, but now he’s had enough. For whatever reason, he’s decided it’s time to ditch Jesus and to make a little money along the way. So, dodgy behaviour by the priests followed by despicable behaviour by a close friend sandwiches this story of devotion.
Well what’s happened. Jesus has been stirring things up in the city and he’s slipped out to a quiet spot for dinner. The way that people ate in those days was to recline at a table, and as he’s doing this a woman, maybe Mary, comes and breaks the top of her perfume jar and pours out a year’s wages worth of beautiful scent. We don’t know if she’s a rich girl and has this incredibly expensive oil sitting around or whether she’s gone and gathered all her wealth to buy this vial for this special day. What we do know is that Jesus is touched. She has poured out her full measure of devotion. And Jesus, who knows that over the next few days he’s going to be killed, he just laps it up. His heart is ministered to by her devotion.
In fact, more than that. Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and those words mean “the anointed one”. The one marked by God as the people’s Saviour and Leader. Jesus is the only truly good King and Priest – he is perfection and he gave up his life in a supernatural sacrifice that took upon him our sin, so that we can take on his purity. He died for us.
There are two reactions in the story. Jesus’ reaction, which is incredibly positive and affirming. But then there are the other guests. Mark tells us that they are angry at her and shout, ‘Why did you do that? How could we have let you waste that! That’s a year’s worth of wages. We could have helped the poor.’ Perhaps, for some of them, they really didn’t get it and thought that when they took over the government of Israel and set up the new kingdom they would need lots of cash.
The language involved is that of sneering, “you stupid woman, don’t you know what you’ve done.” And Jesus says this ‘stupid’ woman has actually got it so right you wouldn’t believe.
The disciples despise this poor woman. And I can see her hanging out there. Having just done this act of incredible devotion, she must have been wondering “have I made a fool of myself?” It’s like she is hanging out there emotionally naked, no fig leaves of pretence, just super vulnerable. Like every guy who gets down on one knee to propose – you are just hanging out there. A little like Jesus is going to be on the cross – poured out, giving his last full measure of devotion for people who are sneering at him. And Jesus just embraces this woman. “You’ve got it so right. People in 2000 years time in a port city called Tauranga are going to be talking about what you did.” Jesus gave himself wholeheartedly for us, crucified God, and what he asks in return is our full measure of devotion.
I used to sing in public when I was a teenager. Scripture in song, just hum away and sing along. I remember doing so at a teenage camp. I’m not a great singer and I remember being ridiculed for that. Some kids teasing the life out of me. And it struck home, I don’t sing much anymore. But you know what this story tells me? Jesus loved my singing, my emotional nakedness towards him. That sounds weird, but what I mean is vulnerable, defenceless devotion. He loves it, because it’s reflecting his love for me. Like Pete Grieg said last week, it ministers to the father heart of God.
He loves it when you pour out your devotion to him. In dance, in song, in money, in gifts, in quality time. It pleases him.
Great King David when he recovered the Ark of the Covenant, the most holy thing in the world, danced near naked in the temple and his devotion pleased God. Yet Saul’s daughter Michal despised him for it. And criticised him. But God rebuked her, not David.
Defenceless devotion. I think of the early missionaries – what they gave for devotion. The men and women who came to New Zealand, giving up all they knew for the gospel’s sake.
I think of Ric and Louie in Manila. Louie is a dentist and yet she works in the poorest part of town, with the poorest of people. They live in her dental clinic so that she and Ric can bring Jesus’ love to the poorest of the poor.
Devotee or despiser. This message has a sting in it. Are you pouring out your devotion to God - By the way you do your work – By the way you raise your family - By the way you worship - By the way you live? Do you side with the cultured despisers or with the deeply devoted?
I’m going to ask you to make a response in a moment. Will you devote yourself to God again this Easter?
How do we show our devotion to Christ? I was reading an article last Saturday about a kiwi woman who had become a Muslim, and she was thinking about wearing the veil. We misunderstand the veil in the west. For a Muslim woman it is a sign of devotion, something she does for God.
What is your sign of devotion? Is it your voice – will you use the name Jesus in public during Lent? Or how will you show your devotion? I want to ask you if you willdevote yourself to Jesus this Easter. Perhaps it’s for the first time. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about following Jesus and today is the day. To pray and ask Jesus into your life. “Thank you Jesus that you love me and died on the cross for me. I’m sorry for the things I’ve done that are wrong. Please come into my life and take control.” Perhaps it’s just a time to renew your devotion.
If you want to, come forward and anoint the cross imagining pouring out your devotion to Jesus, and then come to me and I will anoint you as a sign of Jesus’ defenceless love to you.