- Psalm 116
- John 12:1-11
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As with the Watergate scandal, may other political scandals are usually, at least in the early stages, preceded by destroying evidence. Only recently, if one can believe what the press tells us, thousands of emails were shredded from the private email server of Secretary Clinton. Without evidence there is no case.
In our chapter this morning we see the religious rulers in the time of Jesus Christ trying to destroy evidence: the evidence of the One who performed a miracle, and the evidence itself. That would settle their case, and bring peace.
Bethany, six days before the death of our Lord
Disregarding the orders of the Council
There is a connection between the dinner in honour of Christ and what happened earlier in Bethany. That connection is Christ. He caused people to gather in numbers. The occasion was the Passover in Jerusalem. The reason for their enquiry about Christ was about Lazarus whom some say was dead, but who is alive. They wanted to see it for themselves. This was in direct opposition to the orders and beliefs of the Jewish Council – Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.
But life in the little village of Bethany carried on. Quite publicly a dinner was arranged and Jesus was invited. The whole event was for his glory.
The owner of the house, Simon, wanted to express his praise for the One who healed him from the dreadful disease of leprosy. Cleansed from this unclean disease he was able to move freely in public, but more importantly, worship freely with the other people of God.
A village welcoming the Saviour
All in all we find ourselves in a welcoming village. It was maybe through the hospitality and friendliness of Lazarus and his two sisters that Bethany welcomed Christ. All of this inspite of the orders of the Jewish council.
Would it not be a wonderful attraction if Christians were more obedient to their Lord than to the world? Would it not be a wonderful attraction if our hospitality is rooted in our true love for the Lord who performed the miracle of salvation in our lives? The question is: is the love for our Lord overriding our circumstances, and is our love for our Lord known to those around us?
The place where Lazarus lived
Bethany was not known because Lazarus died there. Bethany was known because Lazarus was alive (John 12:1). The crowd from Jerusalem who expected Him to be at the Passover, happily travelled the three kilometres to see, not only Lazarus, but Jesus also. As far as the villagers were concerned, those who arrived from Jerusalem could have troublemakers – just as some of them were when Lazarus was raised from the dead. This is in fact what we read in the previous chapter:
But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. (John 11:46, NIV)
But with Jesus in their midst, the Light of the world, the One who has power of death, their attitude was one of friendly hospitality.
Shouldn’t we have the same attitude? Yes, we live in a hostile world who wants to silence the voice of the church. But love for Christ, and not fear for earthly authorities, should drive us.
More than just blood brother and sisters
There was another time when our Lord had visited Martha and Mary. Mary was at the feet of Christ all the time, and Martha complained to Him about it. He focussed her attention on more important things to begin with. It’s almost like:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33, NIV)
When Jesus arrived in Bethany after Lazarus had died, there was a change in Martha. She was the first of the sisters for run out to Him. There she made this confession:
“I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27, NIV)
When we meet her in Bethany at the dinner for Jesus, she was serving again, but it seems this time she understood that her gift was different to that of Mary. Yes, she surely worshipped Him, and with the others she did what she did for his glory. She also was resurrected, but in a spiritual way. Her preparation of food was in a certain way on par with Mary’s sitting at the feet of Christ: both of them brought glory to their Saviour.
Mary sat at the feet of Christ. Sitting at the feet of our Lord, He instructed her, and because of her closeness to Him she understood that He would be killed soon. Before that happens she had to anoint Him, not into a special office – He was born as the Word of God, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of this world. Her anointing Him was an expression of more than just her love for Him; it was proclamation. All along He said He was from God and equal to God; He said his words were the words of the Father; his works were was the Father gave Him to do.
When she took the alabaster flask with the very expensive pure nard oil out of her cupboard, she proclaimed to the world that He is indeed who He all along claimed He was – and that she worshipped Him for being God! For Him only the best would do.
The fact that she wiped the oil with her hair was an expression of her unity with Him. And when the aroma of the perfume drifted through the house, everyone knew about Christ who was present. Not her words, but her deed proclaimed his majesty. But it also proclaimed the reason for His coming into this world: His death was at hand. He came to die so that those who believe in Him will live eternally.
Lazarus, the friend
Lazarus reclined at the table – with Jesus! There he could talk to the One who raised him from the dead. There he had communion with his Lord. The Bible does not record one word of Lazarus. Many who are brought back out of so-called death or disease which is unto death, would want us to listen to their story and what they experienced on the other side. If ever there was someone who could easily take over the conversation around that table in Bethany in Simon’s house, it was Lazarus! Would not his testimony be invaluable – something to write about in the the church column of the local newspaper! The banners would read: “Come to Bethany and meet Lazarus. He will tell you about resurrection from the dead.”
But nothing of what he ever said was more important than the One who made it happen. “Come in – you’re welcome because Christ is here!”
In a sense then the small circle of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and the people of Bethany (and don’t forget about Simon, the leper) is what a congregation should look like: everyone busy with what God has gifted them with – but all united in one aim: to glorify Christ.
It’s never about who is the most important amongst the members. It’s all about how we, all members under Christ, give glory to Him who saved us. It’s how we present Him as Lord and Saviour, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.
Preparation for the sacrificial death of the Saviour
Anointing the Messiah for his death
Mary anointed Christ for his burial. The next Friday afternoon they nailed our Lord to the cross, His face was marred, his body broken, his flesh torn, covered in blood. He could not be anointed with oil. Even on the third day when He rose from the dead, those who wanted to anoint his body were too late: death could not hold Him.
The likes of Judas: the reason for His death
The very act of glorifying Christ through the rich and expensive nard oil, which was imported out of the north of India and bottled in alabaster imported out of Egypt, also brought the extreme horrible and loathsome of sinful human nature to the fore. The first words of Judas recorded by John reveals his stubborn unwillingness to bow before Christ as his King and Saviour. It is indeed true that the most innovative acts of kindness towards others can sometimes be a cover-up for disassociation with Jesus Christ. We hear it today too. Many people want to be more loving and gracious than Christ, and in the process call things He call sin, good. We hear that the only thing we need to do to others is to love them, as long as we do not judge them – and in the process pave the way to hell for them with acts of kindness.
But in a way Judas is to us an example of us all: sinners are the reason for the sacrificial death of Christ. We all need to find ourselves where Mary, Martha and Lazarus found themselves: like Martha, confessing that Christ is indeed the Son of God; like Mary, sitting at the feet of Christ pouring out the best we have for his glory; like Lazarus, made alive again, fully associating with Him.
Witness to the glory of Christ
He once was dead
Of Lazarus we know that he was once dead, but He was made alive by Christ. Paul writes:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 2:1–2, NIV)
We need a spiritual birth. We know now the Bible calls it to “be born again”. The way we were born does not take us to heaven. My friend, ask Christ to give you this new life; seek salvation with all sincerity.
He associated with Christ
We know the Bible says Lazarus was at the table with Christ. It was a witness to all who attended, including those who wanted to destroy all evidence of the powerful work of Christ. They wanted him dead. Just imagine threatening someone with death who have met Someone stronger than death!
But we read this about him:
for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in Him. (John 12:11, NIV)
If your are a Christian you are a child of God. How is it with your witness? Do other see Christ in you? Lazarus, together with the woman at the well, had an impact on people around them: people believed on account of their witness. How is it with your witness?
He was hated because of Christ
His association with Christ made him a target of the hatred of the Jews. Life in the footsteps of Christ leads to eternity, and that in itself is wonderful. But we need to take our cross and follow Him. Peter writes:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12–13, NIV)
Can I conclude with just one question? Is all of your life to the glory and honour of Christ who saved you from death and brought your over to life? Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 15 January 2017