Intentional Acts of True / Thanksgiving Devotion
John 12:1-8

(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Intentional Acts of True/Thanksgiving Devotion

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected,

5 "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

7 "Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."

People of God:

IATDs - that's what this passage is all about. People were becoming more and more devoted to Jesus and they were expressing it openly in ever increasing ways. They even started doing IATDs -  Intentional Acts of True Devotion.

Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave and he came out struggling in the bondage of his grave clothing. But he came out, he had new life! Jesus had power even over death! The result was IATDs! People started following Jesus. Not only did they start following him, they become devoted to him, and their devotion was radical! Those who saw this resurrection put their faith in Jesus. The sense of the Greek in verse 45 is that people without reservation, without growing into it, at this one miracle put all their faith in him.

And it showed in IATDs. At one time the Jews had been devoted to the Pharisees and the law. Now in wholesale crowds they were turning to Jesus, becoming devoted to him, radically devoted to him with the kind of devotion that is dangerous:

"He'll upset the applecart! We can't have that around here! We'll lose our place and our power!" That was the thinking of the Pharisees, so they plotted to take Jesus life. We often think it was Jesus who got himself in trouble with the Pharisees, but the Pharisees wouldn't have cared a bit if he didn't have these followers with their IATDs. Their IATDs got him in trouble to.

Intentional Acts of True Devotion - they're powerful, they're dangerous, and they mark the lives of those who put their faith in Jesus. The question for each one of us this morning is this:

Is your life marked in that same way with IATDs?

Six days before the Passover another follower did an IATD. He hosted a dinner in honor of Jesus the undecorated rabbi. It probably irritated the Pharisees! They had worked for years, gone through their training, studied the endless commentaries on the Torah, they had their hard earned certificates hanging in conspicuous places, but here was this nobody, an untrained rabbi and people were throwing dinners in honour of him. IATDs are offensive! Such undeserved devotion breads jealousy!

The disciples were invited Peter, James, John, the rest of them, including Judas. Close friends, family were invited, Martha, Lazarus, Mary. At this celebration, Jesus was getting all the recognition.

And then Mary at one point during the meal bowed at Jesus feet, took a pint of pure nard, a perfume coming from the roots of a shrub in northern India worth a years wages (by today’s standards, $50,000 or more), and she poured it over Jesus feet. Not his head as was the custom. NO, she poured it on his feet, the place of giving unrestrained honour, and then loosening and uncovering her hair she wiped his feet - an Intentional Act of True Devotion, so rich, so deep, there could be no doubt with friend or foe that she loved him and was whole heartedly devoted to him.

Is your life marked by Intentional Acts of True Devotion?

Answer for yourself, as we look for just a few minutes at Mary's IATD.

First of all it was planned, it was  intentional. It involved the investment of a year's income in that culture. No small investment! This IATD had to be planned, set aside, prepared for until the right time came. It was an act of devotion intentionally out of the ordinary.

There are ordinary acts of true devotion shown in many ways, especially through habits. For example many people express their devotion to Christ through the habitual acts of true devotion of going to church, prayer and devotions at dinner time, all spiritually healthy life styles. I trust all of our lives are marked by Habitual Acts of True Devotion. But there is something about habits. They can be misinterpreted as a quality of the person: "He is a religious person, goes to church every Sunday, and very moral!" or "She's sure a caring individual! Look at all the charitable work she is involved in!"

But when a person does something out of the ordinary, an intentional “out of the ordinary” act, a costly demonstration of love, the world sees it as one of two things: Foolishness or an IATD!

The question of this morning is: Is your life marked with Intention, costly, planned acts of true devotion?

Mary's devotion was shown by an Act of Devotion! Her  act was public, bowing before Jesus' feet, pouring out this expensive perfume for all to see and smell, and the sweet pungent odor went throughout the house, and with that amount, probably the neighbourhood, and through scripture, throughout history!

Her act was not only financially expensive, it was  true worship, it was sacrificial, it was personally expensive. To let down her hair for a man in public was to mar her own reputation in that culture.

Her IATD was a public and expensive act of  thanksgiving. But there was a reason for it! It said "I love you my Lord" in an undeniable way (Slide 5 Animation 6), faith expressing itself through love - radically. It was not the kind of act designed to gain a good reputation or praise among men! Instead it did the exact opposite, publicly.

Do you believe you are devoted to Christ? The reason why I ask that question repeatedly is because our hearts are very good at deceiving us. We think we are truly thankfully devoted to Christ, but thinking and feeling is as far as it goes. Scripture has given us standards by which to measure our devotion to Christ! "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5) That is the standard and it is meant to be a measure! The standard of scripture for measuring our love for Christ is our action! Faith without works is dead says James. Scripture says to us: Show your faith through your works, your expensive maybe even dangerous Intentional Acts of Thanksgiving Devotion, so that even those he hate me can see that you love me deeply

This passage burns me when I read it, not in the sense that it makes me angry, but in the sense that it hurts to read it because it exposes my heart. Not only does it ask me if I am truly thankful, truly devoted to Christ, this passage asks me and it asks you if we are devoted to Christ like Mary.

Am I willing to radically express my love for Jesus, among those who know him, and even among those who do not know him? Am I willing to show my love for him in ways that will be very expensive for me, financially?, in terms of my reputation?, in terms of my life?

It hurts because I find my heart comes back with a dozen reasonable, rational arguments why I shouldn't radically show my love for him!

"You'll offend people Bill."

"Its hard to minister to people if you offend them Bill!"

"It’s a waste Bill, pearls before swine and all, you might get bitten!"

"Don't go overboard, people will think you've lost it!"

"Do what is safe,- show your love for Jesus in culturally acceptable ways, in ways they will understand!"

If I listen to my heart, what burns the worst is that I sound just a little to much like Judas, who rationally objected: "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It is worth a year's wages!"

And even though his argument sounds so reasonable, behind it was selfishness, self preservation, taking care of number one, begrudging the Lord of heaven and earth this small offering of thanksgiving devotion given by Mary, because he wanted a little piece of the pie for himself.

I speak for myself, it may be however that I speak for you to. Is your love for Christ of such a nature that it results in those dangerous, maybe even fanatic Intentional Acts of True Devotion to Jesus Christ? That is the first and most basic question that the scriptures have for us this morning; a question that the Lord wants each of us to answer because before anything and everything else in this entire world, He is to be our first love. And if you find in your heart the same rational arguments I do, the call of scripture is to turn to him afresh, with a renewed commitment to love him, a commitment of devotion shown by our action, an action that will stand up against God’s measuring stick.

That being the main point of this passage, there is a second point that comes out in this passage that is probably often misunderstood. Mary had poured the nard on Jesus feet. Jesus said "Leave her alone, it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial." Jesus here acknowledged that Mary's act was prophetic, it was an act preparing him for his burial.

Then Judas had his opportunity to speak, to give his rational justification for selfishness. In response to Judas' rationalization Jesus said

"You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."

Most people when reading that take it as a way of brushing aside Judas reasonable argument with a not so reasonable argument. Jesus was not necessarily poor or underfed. In fact he was at a banquet in his honour. Certainly Jesus had no obvious pressing need for the moment, though there were many poor who sure could have used a portion of those year's wages. It sounds like an unreasonable response to a reasonable though selfishly motivated argument.

It we understand it that way we have misunderstood what Jesus is saying.

"You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."

The main issue of this passage are Intentional Acts of True Devotion to Jesus Christ. What Jesus is saying here is that Mary rightly showed that devotion to him because he was present among them.

But throughout the rest of history, while Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, how are we to show our intentional acts of true devotion to Jesus? The answer is very simple: Jesus said "You always have the poor among you."

Today, to give ourselves in love to Jesus is to give ourselves to the poor, expensively, radically, as Isaiah says "Spend yourselves for the poor." Jesus is saying that one of our main expressions to true devotion to Jesus Christ is to give to the poor, the distressed, the defenceless, always remembering that to the least of his brothers that we give these gifts of love, we do it unto Him. Giving to the poor for the Christian is an act of worship to Jesus! Throughout history, we will always have the poor with us to express our Intentional Acts of True Devotion to Jesus Christ.

Greed has become a virtue in our culture! Making it and making it good gives people status in this culture. But we must beware: To keep our wealth to ourselves when we have the poor among us, to not give sacrificially to those in need is not only hating our neighbour, as James 2:5 teaches us, it also is, in effect, begrudging Christ true worship.

The clear teaching of this passage is that when we give of ourselves, its not only an act of love to our neighbour, its an expression of our devotion to Christ. Giving to the poor is worship in action. Giving to the poor, radically, expensively is a measurable IATD to Jesus!

Let me encourage you brothers and sisters to give for them, that is true religion! "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27) We always will have the poor among us so that by our love and service to them we might demonstrate our true devotion to Jesus Christ.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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