Jesus Adored

Sept. 27, 2019 Bob Bakke

Session Transcript

Bob Bakke: I’ve been noticing a lot of people are taking pictures, a lot of selfies, a lot of group pictures. I love photography. Since the Brownie camera back about a hundred years ago, there’s been a lot of photography going on in the country. I mean, multitudes of pictures are being taken nowadays with our cameras. Snapshots can define a moment in life, can’t they? A place, a time that we cherish.

One of my favorite snapshots is of my parents. I think we have a picture of my parents that might pop up. It was taken in 1942 at their engagement party in my great-grandparents’ backyard in New York City, in Brooklyn, New York. My parents—I don’t know, I think they look great, don’t you? And I think this handsome young Army officer, pilot in the Army Air Corp, and his beautiful bride-to-be, my mother, having met in youth group in a church in Brooklyn and later married.

I have an older friend who has a picture on his iPhone of his beautiful thirty-something bride. It’s a beautiful picture, a wonderful picture. It’s on the home page of his iPhone so that whenever he opens it or turns on his iPhone, he sees that picture.

Well, my friend lost his wife to cancer a few years ago, and he still has that thirty-year-old picture of her. Her age was thirty years old. But whenever he looks at it, he does so with joy knowing that this is what she is going to look like when he sees her again in heaven. That picture is what I imagine my parents will look like when I meet them again in heaven.

Well, the Bible has snapshots, too. There are scenes. They’re frozen in time for us at least in our mind's eye. It helps us define our faith, these pictures do. Some of the snapshots are there in our mind's eye because we've seen great works of art, perhaps a fresco, perhaps a stained glass window of some kind—Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah. There’s a picture of the cross, perhaps Jesus staring down at his mother alongside of John. Then Peter and John at the empty tomb, or Moses before the Red Sea.

I'm sure many of you have snapshots as you think of the Scriptures and the Bible stories because often we think in terms of pictures. It helps us when we upload them onto our spiritual hard drive. It helps us define our faith.

Well, tonight I would like to take you to one of my favorite snapshots in all of the Bible. It’s found in John chapter 12, when Jesus was adored by Mary of Bethany. I think it's a wonderful way to begin this entire conference, and I trust you’ll find it so.

Now, when it comes to worship, what does worship do? What does it do?

Well, the Lausanne Covenant says that worship:

  • Quickens the conscience by way of the holiness of God.
  • It feeds the mind with the truth of God. 
  • It purges the imagination by the beauty of God. (Don't you like that?) 
  • It opens the heart to the love of God. 
  • And then it devotes the will to the purposes of God.

And we're going to see all of these in this snapshot tonight—a conscience quickened because of the holiness of Christ, the truth of God. The mind filled with the truth of God feeding on it. The imagination purged by the beauty of Christ and on and on.

Now, for me the snapshot in Bethany we find all of these things. It's what adoration and devotion should look like now and forever. The apostle John thought so highly of this moment in his gospel that he in fact frames his entire gospel around this event, this moment. Let me explain.

When you go to the book of John, you will find that chapter 12, at least the first few verses of chapter 12, is a transition between two books. That's what the scholars call it.

Raymond Brown, for example, says that the gospel of John opens with a prologue. That is when John himself lays down the outrageous claims about Jesus saying that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and so on. He was made flesh and dwelt for a while among us. All things were made by Him. We are the children of God because of faith in Him. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only full of grace and truth.

And then he begins with what is called the Book of Signs. That is, after the prologue, after saying all these outrageous things, John is going to prove these things to us. The evidence, publicly witnessed evidence, that proves the claims of the prologue. So by word and by work, Jesus validates all the assertions about Him, the preaching, the signs, the wonders, and on and on. And the book of signs then ends with the resurrection of Lazarus. His public ministry essentially comes to an end.

This transitions then into the Book of Glory. The whole tempo of the gospel of John slows down to a crawl, shifting from Jesus here, there, and everywhere across Israel, down to just a few places into intimate moments, private moments. The first three chapters before crowds, the last few moments and the last few chapters, well, in a single week before His dearest friends where John then pulls together the character stories of his gospel. And then all of it is wrapped up in the twenty-first chapter with an epilogue, the final words.

Well, the segway, between the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory is this breathtaking act of worship by a woman. With the resurrection of Lazarus, John concludes the accounting of his evidences and now turns to the hour of Jesus's glory, the hour when His Father will glorify the Son through the cross and ultimately the resurrection. So the segway between these two books is this amazing act of adoration by this woman. So the whole gospel of John then pivots, the entire gospel pivots on this moment of worship.

What's more, not only is the structure of John's gospel built around Mary's worship, but the literary setting of Mary's worship is stunning as well (we're going to get to the account in just a moment so be patient) because as the curtain rises on this drama at the end of John chapter 11, and we’re about to see the act of worship with Mary, and the stage is filled with a frenzy of activity.

The Feast of Passover is upon them. It was a frenzy. The high holy days of the Jews is upon them. The high holy days required that the Jews attend—every Jewish male within the boundaries of Israel needed to be in Jerusalem or around Jerusalem for the Passover. In fact, the Passover had to be taken within the city walls, and every Jew that was beyond the boundaries at Israel had to at least once in his life make his way to the Passover in Jerusalem. Some of the accounts tell us that Jerusalem swelled to as many as three million people.

Now add to this holiday crowd, this buzz that’s taking place on the stage, Lazarus had been raised from the dead. He’s on the stage as well. The village of Lazarus is just two miles from the eastern gate of Jerusalem. So you can imagine that the news of his resurrection from the dead spread like wildfire through these hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. How long do you think it would take to get through all those crowds, spreading across the hills of Jerusalem, all filled with Messianic code, these people, who have been singing the promises of the Messiah as they have ascended the Mountain of the Lord for this holiday?

But there is tension in the air. As the curtain rises, the place is filled with news. They're talking about Lazarus raised from the dead. They’re talking about the Messianic expectations. But they’re also talking about the threats against Jesus, wondering whether Jesus is going to come to Jerusalem for the Passover because the authorities were waiting for Him to arrest Him on site. So there’s storm clouds on the horizon.

Now look at the cast of characters on the stage that John adds. The stage is buzzing with all the activity and all the wonder and all the questions, and Jesus is about to appear at center stage. Stage right, over here, your left—let's just call it that—a group of angry men is seen. They’re dressed really well. So they're very wealthy men, and they’re yelling. They're angry. They’re calling out in loud voices, and they’re gesturing passionately. We hear them shouting.

These are powerful men. These are men at the top of Israel's food chain because John chapter 11 tells us that the chief priests and the Pharisees have called an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin, that is the ruling governors of Israel, the seventy elders plus one, the high priest, who ruled over the affairs of the Jews. These highly educated men, these politically powerful people, they’re angry, and they’re demanding answers.

And both the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, the scribes, they’re there, and they're jointly. They’re cemented. They’re united in their conviction with regard to Christ. Now, these two people hated each other normally. They didn't like each other, but when it came to Jesus, they hated Him the same.

Raised voices. Urgent voices. Demanding solutions. And now, soon. Because of this, the high priest, calming them down, assured them that Jesus, because of a prophecy, He must die. They gave orders that Jesus would be arrested on site. These are the highest, most educated, most powerful people in all of Israel, these men, this group of men.

Well, stage left, over here, still in the shadows, a spotlight is yet to rise on him, we see another educated man, the shadow of one, Judas Iscariot. This money keeper of the Jews—excuse me—this money keeper of the band of disciples that is. Judas will be the instrument through which the wrath of hell will inundate Christ.

But then at center stage, with all of this swirling about it, as John has set the stage, in contrast to the great and learned men, the great and influential men, their powerful voices, their knowledge of things economic and political and theological, their powerful voices and their resumes, all these are juxtaposed to a little woman.

I say little, perhaps not in size, but in social standing One who owns nothing, who is powerless, who we are quite certain was illiterate, and she’s a woman. A woman, of all things. She is the quintessential nobody among the Jews. She’s a person of no social standing. She’s of little worth to men.

You know those guys over here that are yelling and demanding solutions, the Sanhedrin. They would pray two prayers in the morning. They would pray the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, God is one.” And they would pray a second prayer, “Lord, thank You that You did not make me a woman.”

This woman had few choices in life. She could be divorced easily, or if she was married, when she got married, all the man, all the husband had to do . . . You burn my breakfast three days in a row, I call you into my home, I have two witnesses, I repeat three times, “I divorce you. I divorce you. I divorce you.” And you are out.

A women’s gender was not trusted in the courts of law, a woman who could not survive on her own apart from the hospitality of her family or her friends. She could not survive on her own economically, could not inherit property, she was lost. She could serve in somebody's household. She could be a wet nurse to somebody's baby. She might be loved and cherished in somebody's home. She could maybe beg on the streets or sell her body. Those were her career options. And she is the one upon whom the entirety of the gospel of John pivots. And in this moment the least, at least in the eyes of Jewish men, becomes the greatest.

John chapter 12, let me read it in the NIV.

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. And 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; and 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, “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; and as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“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” (vv. 1–7).

So as the powerful Sanhedrin becomes the supreme expression of humankind's refusal to believe in Jesus, the anointing of Jesus by a powerless Mary becomes the most magnificent expression of adoring faith. Both prophesy about Jesus's death.

By Mary's humble adoration, Mary does a thing of more significance than she could possibly have imagined. She has no clue what she is doing except adoring her Lord. Only Jesus has the eyes to see the magnitude of her actions.

Verse 7Jesus says, “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”

“It was intended,” He said. This is a statement full of mystery and wonder all by itself. These words aren't literally in the Greek text, but the force of the grammar of the Greek demands we understand the words of Jesus this way.

Jesus is saying that God's design all along, before the foundations of the earth were laid. God planned that this family treasure, now in Mary's possession, would be kept for this day and this moment. And Mary, again, who is oblivious to the higher meaning of her actions, participates in God's sovereign design and administers the death anointing of the Christ.

Mary—listen to me—Mary, by obeying the impulse of her heart, unwittingly becomes the divine agent who prepares the Lamb of God to redeem the earth.

What's John's point? The point is this: that Jesus, having been rightly adored, is now rightly prepared for the hour of His glory. And our Redeemer, who culminated His public ministry by calling Lazarus from the grave, is now ready for the cross and the grave Himself—because a single woman, of absolutely no consequence to her surrounding culture, was compelled to worship Him at His feet.

Listen to me again, please. There is no telling what divine scheme we may be initiating, what you may be initiating, what mysteries may be unfolding, what enemies we may be defeating when we simply give ourselves for the worship and adoration of Jesus.

Take that picture. Save it. Now study it more closely because there are considerations that bring us even deeper.

First has to do with the nature of Mary's gift because the scene at Bethany is worship at great cost.

The gift that Mary brings to Jesus is a gift of nard. Nard is a perfume, a very pungent one, extracted from the roots—get this—of the nard plant. (How many of you would have guessed that?) And the nard plant grows in India. So, refining nard was an arduous thing, very hard. Once it was refined, it was then shipped, at least in this case, a long way. It crossed at least one continent, maybe two continents.

But it was not just nard. It was approximately a pound of pure nard. Literally, in the Greek, worth 300 denarii. (Maybe your translation says that “literally.”) Since the going rate for a man's labor back then was, well, about a denarii a day, 300 denarii equaled a year's wages. So nard was appallingly expensive. It was so valuable that it was always adulterated with something else. Always mixed in. Maybe a couple of drops in a cup of olive oil just to brighten the scent of the room.

So in order to store it, then, because of the nature of how it dissipates very quickly, nard had to be sealed hermetically, otherwise it would just dissipate and disappear. This means that to get to the nard you needed to break open the container. So there’s no bottle cap here; there’s no screw top.

There’s no cork to stick in the top. So you can't give Him $100’s worth or $50’s worth, or $200’s worth, or $1,000. No. You give it all. Once it's open, once it’s broken, it's all gone.

This meant that Mary couldn't save any portion of it. Once it was broken, it was to be used. No turning back—no turning back.

Now, what was this oil? What did it represent? How did Mary come into possession of it? Well, we can only guess, but there are only two really good options, and one is the best option. It either represented her nest egg. That is a tangible asset that somebody in her family gave to her, a relative, a father perhaps, a thing of value that she could depend on when things got tough, or when she got into her old age and she had no income of her own.

Or, and this is the opinion of most: It was Mary's dowry. You see, as a young woman back in the first century, you didn't fall in love at a college football game. You didn’t go down to a malt shop and meet your date. You didn’t use some kind of online service or whatever. Or it wasn’t Mary meeting the love of her life on Facebook, introducing herself maybe on a double date. None of that happens. No, you bought your way into a marriage. It was a business transaction between two families. If you had a lot of money, you could get a good family. If you had so-so money, you got a so-so family. If you had no money—good luck.

Now, Mary could not have expected much of a marriage, if a marriage at all, without a substantial dowry. And with no dowry, well, could she find anyone at all?

So Mary gives to Christ a treasure. Listen, please. By doing so, she risked her entire future on ten minutes at the feet of Jesus. She had no other means of income.

How long would it take you to save last year's wages that you made last year? How long would it take you? It's pretty easy, twelve months, right? Let's say a medium household in the U.S. today, Federal Reserve reports it's about $62,000 a year. The average income per person is about $48,000 a year.

How long would it take you to save or to make those or to save those? How long would it take you to save—not just make it, but to save it? Some of you will never save $62,000, that is apart from your retirement or whatever. Would you surrender the equivalent of last year's income at the feet of Jesus for just a single impulsive momentary act of worship because you adored Him and because there was no other name but His?

What’s your nest egg? How much do you have in savings? Your stocks? Your life insurance policies? The equity in your home? The stuff that you are relying on for the years ahead when there is no other income? $50,000? $250,000? $750,000? $2 million? $4 million? Call your accountant.

“George, liquidate everything. Liquidate everything today.”

“Why?”

“Liquidate it all. I have an opportunity in a few moments to pour its equivalent at the feet of Jesus.”

“Are you nuts?”

“Liquidate it all.”

“But you have no other means of income.”

“Liquidate it. It's Jesus!”

Tell me, would you adoringly pour its equivalent at Jesus' feet? Within five minutes bowed before Him, hair draped across His feet, it's gone. What a waste. Jesus' bookkeeper thought it was a waste. It was no waste. Its future didn't go up in meaningless vapor like the writer of Ecclesiastes might suggest. It went up in a fragrance, the smell of praise that filled the whole house and fills eternity to this very hour.

It reminds me of Revelation chapter 5. There’s a story of the twenty-four elders and the living beast. You remember those guys up there, the weird people around the throne plus the twenty-four elders? And the twenty-four elders have gold and bowls of incense filled with sweet fragrance, filling the throne room and thrilling the nostrils of God.

These bowls of incense, we are told, are the prayers of the saints. Each time God is worshipped this way, the elders lay their treasured crowns at His feet, offering to Christ everything. And they fall on their faces, and the four living creatures fall and bow with them, and they all cry, “Amen.”

Mary's pure nard is pure praise poured at the feet of Jesus, wiped with her hair, mixed with her tears, gone. But 2,000 years later we're telling her story. And I tell you, it is not just the aroma of the nard or the wonder of her sacrifice. She unleashed a mystery that has saved us all.

Lastly, just quickly, look at the nature of Mary's presentation. The letting down of her hair was, in fact, an act of unusual self-abandonment. Being in the company of the other men, these women, they served men. They went in and laid plates on the tables, but they did not dwell with men. They did not sit around like our Bible studies and small groups with men and women. There was no mixed company here. You serve, and you left.

So by all normal measurements, the letting down of a woman's hair, on top of that, was itself scandalous. For a woman to let down her hair in public would be to mimic the women of the street. Only the unclean would uncover their head in the company of other men.

She was kneeling at His feet. Even Jewish slaves owned by Roman authorities were not obligated under Roman law to touch the feet of their masters. This was the lowest thing imaginable and an affront to every Jew. Mary did it. She didn't care who was watching. And isn't it neat that Jesus did it, too?

So Mary abandons her earthly wealth and abandons the expected decorum for a young woman, risking both ruin and public embarrassment to worship and adore Jesus. Self-humiliation, total abandonment of decorum, offensive to those watching, silent she speaks not a word. She surrenders everything to the feet of Christ.

Mary adores Christ, and upon Mary's praise, the Lamb of God is prepared to redeem the world. She was a nobody who changed history with her worship of Christ.

Who are you? Is this place filled with nobodys? That is, with regard to our culture.

“Oh, that's just so-and-so. She lives down the street. She works over there, but her husband works over here, but, you know, nothing special.”

There is no telling what mystery will unfold when you bow at the feet of Christ, nobody or not. Do you adore Jesus?

Do you remember Israel's Shemah, “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with [what?] all your strength.”

And there is Mary at the feet of Messiah.

I wonder if we could begin this whole weekend together doing the same thing. I wonder if all of us, if you are physically able, could join me on my knees before Christ. As you do, would you hold out your hands, empty and open.

What has God entrusted to you? What treasure? What gifts? What talents? What skills? What assets? What income? What fame? What influence? What has God given to you? Whether it be great or small, lay it at the feet of Jesus. Adore Him.

Are you a nobody this morning or tonight or tomorrow morning or tomorrow afternoon? Ah . . . nobodies can change the course of history. Nobodies have. The least have become the greatest. Who are you?Give yourself to Christ.

What keeps you from adoring Christ? Is it those who would watch you and look at you and laugh at you and scorn you? “What are you doing? This is embarrassing. You believe what? You believe who, Him? This is a waste.”

This is Jesus from whom everything has come, to whom everything will return. It isn't a waste. Do not care what anyone says. You are at the feet of Christ, adoring Him and Him alone.

What children do you have? What grandchildren? What relatives? What loved ones? They're His gifts to you. Give them back. Put them at His feet. And with your praise, adore His feet.

Oh, see the sweet smell of praise is lifted from this room.

O Lord, we adore You. Hear our prayers.