The Demonstration of an Extravagant Love

Bible Book: John  12 : 2-8
Subject: Love for Jesus; Action, Love Becoming

It is important for us to love the Lord with all of our hearts. It is important for us to love one another. We want the very foundation and fabric of this church to be love.

I was thinking about this whole idea of love some time ago when I went into a Waffle House. As I sat there, an elderly couple drove up to the restaurant in a pickup truck. They came in the restaurant and they sat near me. After they ordered their meal, the lady went to the restroom. As I got up to leave I decided that I would talk to the old gentleman, and I said, "I'm Gerald Harris. I'm a Baptist preacher. Very soon I'm going to be preaching upon the importance of love. Am I correct in assuming that the lady that came into the restaurant with you is your wife?"

He said, "That's right."

I realized that I was getting nowhere fast, so I said to him, "Look, mister, I don't mean to pry, but this thing of love is so important to me. I just wonder if you remember the first time you ever kissed your wife?"

The old fellow turned around and looked up at me, and he said, "Preacher, I can't even remember the last time I kissed my wife."

So I came out of the Waffle House disappointed because I was not able to get an illustration of extravagant love from the old gentleman there. But I want to tell you that true love will find a way to express itself.

In our message for this morning we're going to see the demonstration of an extravagant love. Now, it's interesting that this same story we read in John 12 is also found in Matthew 26 and Mark 14. If Hollywood were to make a movie based on our text, the camera would begin to focus in on the little town of Bethany, and then zero in on the house of Simon the leper. A number of the friends of Jesus have come together to give a supper in his honor. In the text we're told that Lazarus, Mary and Martha were among those present.

We see here that Jesus loved fellowship with his friends. He was not a long-faced hermit. He did not live a life of isolation. But he was a joyous Savior who wanted to bring warmth and happiness to every heart. It is true that we have a sweet fellowship with Christ in this church. But we can have that same kind of fellowship with him in our homes and wherever we go. We ought to invite Christ to be our companion wherever we go.

I say reverently that if he is simply a Sunday Christ, and if we can't feel his presence on weekdays in the shop or in the office or in the home, he is not adequate for our needs. But we know that he is adequate. He is the Christ for every day and every place. If we don't feel his presence in everyday life, it is our fault. It is because we are not living close enough to him.

Now, let us study this picture. Jesus and the others are seated around the table. Maybe the meal is over and they're just talking for a while. Then we see something happen that should capture our hearts. We see an exquisite example of the lavish devotion of a loving heart.

Look in verse 3 of our text (read). This apparently is Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Mary loved Jesus very much. Her heart was full of gratitude toward Christ. Now she wants to express her love and appreciation. Let us notice several things about this text.

I. Mary's Preference

In our text we get a clear picture of Mary's preference - her preference is indicated as reference to where she was in relation to Jesus Christ. She sat at his feet. This was her preference. This was a priority for Mary - to sit at the feet of Jesus Christ.

You know, sometimes football players have what they call fumbleitis. They fumble the ball. And I have known of coaches who would have their running backs carry a football with them all week long, to their college classes, to the cafeteria just to get them used to carrying the ball and not fumble the ball.

Ricky Walters has been one of the premier running backs for the National Football League for several years. Last year he played for the San Francisco Forty Miners. He was known for gaining good yardage and having the ability to hold on to the ball. And at the end of the year he became a free agent. This simply meant that he could sign a contract with whichever team he wanted to. Of course, most of those athletes sign a contract with the team from which they can get the most money. And so he was signed at a very high price by the Philadelphia Eagles. And in the very first game with the Eagles, he fumbled the ball two or three times. The Eagles lost and he had a chaotic debut with the Philadelphia Eagles. Because, you see, in football you have to make holding on to the ball a priority.

John Heisman, for whom the Heisman trophy is named, defined a football on the first day of practice. This is what he said. “This is a prolate spheroid; an elongated sphere in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over somewhat smaller rubber tubing - it’s better to have died a small boy than to fumble this.” Now, that’s one way to establish a priority.

Well, Mary had her priorities right. She had established her preference. In verse 2 of John 12 we read that Martha served the tables. We see that Lazarus sat with Jesus. But where was Mary? She was at his feet. The Bible says that 'Mary….anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair....!

I remember another time when Mary was at the feet of Jesus. Look in Luke 10:38-39. Here we see where Mary positioned herself (read). There is an old song that I used to hear as a boy. It goes something like this:

"Sitting at the feet of Jesus

Where I love to kneel and pray,

Till his goodness and his mercy

Drive the shadows from my way."

I like that. Amen? Amen! So we read Luke 10 and we find Mary at the feet of Jesus. We read John 12 and we find Mary at the feet of Jesus. Now, I want to ask you to look with me at John 11, verse 32. Mary and Martha had sent a messenger to Jesus to request his presence in Bethany. Lazarus was very sick. Jesus made his way to Bethany, but when he arrived in town, Lazarus had been dead four days. When Mary heard that Jesus had come, notice what she did. In verse 32 of John 11 the Bible says, "Then when Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying to him. Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

In Luke 10 Mary took time to sit at his feet in prosperity. In John 11 she returned to his feet in adversity. Here in our text she is seen going to his feet in the fellowship of his sufferings.

Surely these stories are speaking to us very powerfully, if we will but listen to them. Do you know why there is so much anxiety and restlessness among people today - even church people? Do you know why people lack the assurance of their salvation? Do you know why there is so much doubt and fear? I'll tell you why. It's because we take so little time to sit at the feet of Jesus. We get so busy forming committees and promoting organizations and doing "our own thing" that we forget the one really needful thing - that is taking time to sit at his feet in devotion and discipleship.

Some years ago Martha Jean and I took a trip to the Middle East. We met a Dr. Gill who was the professor of the philosophy department of New York City University, teaching primarily the philosophy of religion. We had breakfast with him one morning. He told us that he had studied under all four of the great twentieth century German theologians – the only man alive who had personally sat at the feet of all four men; Barth, Brunner, Bultmann and Neibuhr. He said that Time Magazine did a special article to report the fact that he sat at the feet of these four great German theologians.

I guess I ought to be ashamed to admit it, but as he sat there and gave us an autobiographical sketch of his academic conquests, and as we sat there and listened, I was not impressed. Now, I’m not knocking Dr. Gill. I want you to understand that. It is fine to sit at the feet of scholarly men. It is good to hear the discourse of noble men. But it is infinitely better to sit at the feet of Jesus.

“Feasting on the riches of His grace, resting ‘neath His sheltering wing, Always looking on His smiling face, that is why I shout and sing, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…..”

Now, there you see Mary’s preference. Her priority was to sit at the feet of Jesus.

II. Mary’s Present

When Mary came to kneel at the feet of Jesus, she brought something very precious- a gift for Jesus. Look again in verse 3 of our text ( read). Notice it was "very costly." Mark agrees that the ointment was "very precious."

Now, I want you to read on (read verses 4-6).

You know, I shall always be indebted to Judas for figuring up the price of that box of costly ointment. He did it to rebuke her, but we will let his figure stand. We would never have known how much it cost if Judas had not marked it down in his pocketbook that it might be given to the poor. How he begrudged that ointment. He calculated the value at 300 denarii.

Now, a denarii was the equivalent to a working man's wage for one day. In other words, this alabaster box of perfume represented very nearly a whole year's wages.

Or we may think of it in this way. When Jesus and his disciples were discussing how the multitudes 12 were to be fed, Philip's answer was that 200 pennyworth, or denarii, would scarcely be enough to feed them. And this alabaster box of perfume would cost as much money as it would take to feed a crowd of 5000 people.

It was something as precious as that that this woman gave to Jesus. And she gave it to him because it was the most precious thing she had.

Look in verse 7 (read). Notice the phrase "kept this." This box with its precious ointment had not recently been acquired. It was not something that Mary just had lying around. It was something dear to Mary. She had been saving it, guarding it, holding it, treasuring it, keeping it for just the right moment.

So Mary put her best at the feet of Jesus. There was no stint, no selfish reservation, no dodging, no seeing how little she could give - she just gave her best.

The question is this. Are you giving your best to Jesus? Sometimes I think we give our best to the wrong causes. The story is told of the mischievous boy who got inside a store and changed the price tags on some of the merchandise. He put a low price tag on the valuable articles and a high price tag on the articles of low value. He had a piano selling for ten cents and a box of paper clips selling for a thousand dollars. That’s the trouble with so many of us today. We put great value on the wrong things that are worth so little and not enough value on the things of the spirit.

We have our priorities turned upside down. The average American family will spend $400 a year on alcoholic beverages, but they won’t give that much to the church. The average American will spend more time watching television in one day that he will spend inside a church in the course of an entire month.

We’re more concerned about calories that Christ. We’re more concerned about the book of the month than the Bible. We’re more concerned about stocks and bonds than we are tithes and offerings. We’ve just got our priorities topsy turvy, and most of us haven’t given Jesus our best. But Mary gave to the Lord the best that she had.

Some years ago I had an opportunity to meet David Ring. David Ring is an evangelist. He is physically handicapped. He has Cerebral Palsy, a debilitating illness. He is almost totally uncoordinated. Sometimes you have difficulty understanding exactly what he says. But God is using him in a magnificent way. Quite often he will preach on Jerry Falwell’s television program. I remember the first time that I net David Ring. He said to me, “Brother Gerald, you find it difficult to believe that God would call me into the ministry, don’t you?”

This was before I had heard him preach, and I was speechless. I couldn't say a word. Then he said, "Well, I find it strange myself that God would call me to preach. But God has called me. I'm going to give to God my best." Then he said, "I know my best isn't much. It's probably nothing compared to your best. I'm weak, I'm slow, I've got a speech impediment, I'm a stumbling spastic, my best seems but a trifle, but I'm giving it to God."

Then I heard David Ring preach, and I said, "Praise the Lord, hallelujah, what a spokesman for God!" Thousands of people have been saved under the ministry of David Ring.

My question to you this morning is this. Are you giving your best to the Master? He and he alone is worthy of the best that you have. God the Heavenly Father has given the world his best - even his only begotten Son. God's way of giving should be our way of giving.

Now, we’ve considered Mary’s present-her best- ointment pure and precious kept for the right moment and for the right person. This brings us to the third point I want to consider.

III. Mary’s Purpose

Why did Mary sit at the feet of Jesus? Why did she pour out this costly ointment upon Jesus? First of all, I am sure that Mary was motivated by love. As we shall see in a moment, Mary seemed to understand who Jesus was. I believe she adored him and worshipped him because she knew he was sent from God.

A couple of years ago some quack theologian came out with the idea that Jesus and this Mary were lovers and had an erotic affair going. Bologna! The Bible says that “he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet was without sin.” The Bible says “he did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.”

The love that Mary had for Jesus was a high and a holy love, for she saw something in his divine nature that even the disciples did not see. Mary gave her best to Jesus because she loved him. And that's a good reason; that's a good motive; that's a good purpose.

I go to preachers' meetings occasionally and I'll hear one preacher say, "Oh, if I could only get my people to tithe."

Another one says, "I wish I could get my people to witness."

Somebody says, "I wish I could get them back to church on Wednesday night."

One poor pastor said, "I wish I could get my people to be cooperative."

Do you know what I wish? I just wish that everyone of us would fall deeply in love with Jesus Christ. That's where the water hits the wheel. Listen, if a man loves Jesus, I mean if he really loves the Lord, he's going to tithe; he's going to witness; he's going to be faithful to the church; he's going to be cooperative.

Do you remember what Jesus said about the Ephesian church? He said they had left their first love. They just didn't love Jesus as before. Friend, how much do you love Jesus? This was Mary's purpose. She broke the alabaster box and anointed Jesus because of her love for him. She did it to show her love. That was her purpose; that was her motivation.

But she had another purpose; another reason for giving her best - gratitude. Two months earlier Jesus had raised up Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was the brother of Mary. Mary's heart swelled with gratitude for this and so many other things which Jesus had done.

Then I think Mary was expressing gratitude for what Jesus was about to do - on Calvary. Mary was perceptive. I believe Mary knew that Jesus was going to die on a Judean hillside to pay the sin debt for all mankind.

Jesus had previously announced his approaching death, but the disciples seemed oblivious to it. Listen to the words of Matthew 16:21-22 (read). But instead of closing her mind to the prediction as the disciples seemed to do, Mary believed it. She apparently realized that when the tragedy struck there would be no more time for customary courtesies, so she wanted to anoint the body of Jesus as if in preparation for his burial. The praise Jesus out-poured upon her in Matthew's account of this episode makes no sense unless you realize that Mary had comprehended the mission of Jesus. Notice the words of Jesus in Matthew 26:12 (read)

Mary, out of gratitude for what Christ had done and for what Christ would soon do - even on Calvary's Cross - anoints the body of Christ. This was Mary's purpose. Do you see the cross in this story? This is a beautiful demonstration of extravagant love on the part of Mary and on the part of Jesus.

It's amazing to me how the word of God is saturated with the cross. Everywhere you look, if you'll look carefully, you'll see the cross. It's just simply thrilling to see how this best present Mary could give, kept for many, many days in a secret place, and poured out upon Jesus could point to the cross and the crucified Savior.

I suppose our best should always point to the cross. The best preaching is "we preach Christ crucified." The best living is ‘we are crucified with Christ.” The best man is a “crucified man.” The best style is a “crucified style.” I hope you see the cross in this. I want there to be something of the cross in every sermon I preach.

IV. Mary’s Posterity

Let’s turn to Matthew’s account of this story once again. Look in Matthew 26:13 (read). Jesus said that wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, the thing that this woman did would be spoken of as a memorial to her. The gospel has been preached in many tongues and in many places. Each time a preacher tells of the breaking of the beautiful alabaster box, a new monument is raised to Mary.

In Mark 14:8 Jesus was speaking of this deed wrought by Mary, and he said simply, “She hath done what she could.”

I imagine when Mary died, if God had sent an angel to write her epitaph, he couldn’t have done better than to put over her grave what Christ said, "She hath done what she could.”

I would rather have that said over my grave, if it could honestly be said, than to have all the wealth of the Rockefellers. Christ raised a monument to her that is more lasting than the monuments raised to Caesar or Napoleon. Their monuments crumble away, but hers endures.

We may never be great. We may never be known outside our circle of friends, but we may, like Mary, do what we can. May God help each one of us to do what we can. Life is fleeting away. It is short at best. Let us follow in the footsteps of Mary of Bethany.


In Chuck Colson's book, "Loving God," he tells about Karl Marx. He says Kari Marx is frequently thought of as an arm-waving fiery revolutionary. Those words do not fittingly describe Marx. He was more of a thinker and a philosopher. There was no great workers' revolution during his lifetime. And after his death in 1883 Marxism seemed destined to take its place as just another philosophy spawned by the fertile minds of the nineteenth century. Indeed, Marxism probably would have become just another obscure, dusty philosophy had it not been for Lenin. Lenin voraciously devoured the ideas of Marx and became a Marxist 1889.

Three years later Lenin published a work entitled “What Is To Be Done?” In this book he spelled out the absolute of action. He took the theories Karl Marx and began to apply them to life. That book and the tireless efforts of Lenin inspired a handful of revolutionaries to turn Russia upside down. Passionate single-mindedness and the absolute commitment of Lenin to apply the principles of Karl Marx changed not only his own country, but within a hundred years had basically revolutionized half the world.

I wonder what would happen if we actually began to apply God’s truth for the glory of his kingdom? The result would be a world turned upside down, revolutionized by the power of God working through individual Christians and the church as a whole. We’re only going to be weak and stumbling believers in a crippled church until we truly apply God’s word- and that is until we truly love him-love him extravagantly and begin to act on that love.