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Treasuring Jesus in the Face of "Judas Joys"

May 4, 2014 Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John

Passage: John 11:55–12:18

Sermon from John 11:55-12:8 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on May 4, 2014

In a few minutes, we’ll take the Lord’s Supper together as a church. It’s not our own Supper; it is the Lord’s Supper—the meal belongs to him; he has spread the feast for his people who love him; he has graciously invited all the people he has cleansed from sin and united to his church to join him in this Supper. And I’m hoping that this message might serve to prepare our hearts to take the Supper together in a manner worthy of Christ, in a manner that considers his worth and his greatness and the treasure he truly is. So to that end, I have just three things I want us to treasure about Jesus from this passage.

1. Jesus Was Resolved to Love Us Even Unto Death

The first is this: I want us to learn to treasure that Jesus was resolved to love us—wicked as we are—even unto death. We see this unfold in the transition from chapter 11 into chapter 12. Notice several things with me.

John tells us it’s the Passover again—“the Passover of the Jews was at hand” (11:55). This is the third and the last Passover John mentions in Jesus’ earthly ministry (2:13, 23; 6:4). And while these Passovers certainly give us some sign-posts, some markers in the chronology of Jesus’ two-and-a-half-year ministry, John has more in mind. He began Jesus’ earthly ministry with John the Baptist identifying Jesus as the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (1:29); and when Jesus dies on the cross at the close of his earthly ministry, John tells us that the soldiers don’t break Jesus’ legs, in order to fulfill the Scripture about the Passover Lamb: “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36; cf. Exod 12:46; Num 9:12). John has more in mind than just chronology by mentioning the Passover; he wants us to remember Jesus as the Passover Lamb when we come to this last Passover.

And more than that, notice that “many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves,” but Jesus’ isn’t found among them. No, the text says, “They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?’” (11:56).

If we’re familiar with our Old Testament, God required an unblemished lamb for the Passover. If you were to escape slavery in Egypt and God’s judgment of death, you had to stand under the blood of the unblemished lamb (Exod 12:5-7). Otherwise, you would die. And as the Passover was practiced in Israel, that unblemished lamb was to stand every year as a picture of a superior Lamb God would provide in the future to deliver us from his ultimate judgment.

John is setting us up: the superior, unblemished Lamb—who not only is human like us but also without sin and in no need of purification—that Lamb is seen in the person of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t involve himself in the purification rituals, because Jesus doesn’t need ceremonial purification. He is clean already—totally pure within and without. He always does what pleases his Father, and no one can charge him with any sin or wrongdoing (8:29, 46). The Passover is near; the unblemished Passover Lamb is Jesus.

And here’s where we encounter Jesus’ resolve to die for us as that Lamb. Take note of the next couple verses: “Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore [underline that; and draw a line back to verse 57] came to Bethany, where Lazarus was.”

Here’s the connection: Jesus knows his last Passover is near; he knows that he’s the Lamb God sent to rescue the world from death; he knows that the chief priests and Pharisees want him arrested—therefore he came to Bethany. That’s right outside of Jerusalem, where the authorities are roaming about looking to arrest him. Matthew is even more explicit than John—he records Jesus actually saying before the Passover, “the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matt 26:2).

Jesus willingly drew near to the hostility to deliver us from death—to deliver us from the death we deserve because of sin. In order to rescue us from death, he planned to enter death on our behalf as God’s Passover Lamb. He resolved to love us even when it meant he would be slaughtered for us. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him [meaning through his death]” (1 John 4:9). And this death is no mere physical death; it’s a death under the full weight of the fury of God’s wrath against our sin.

Consider God’s Love for You in Christ

When you eat of this Supper, meditate on Jesus’ love for you. When you eat of the bread and drink of the cup, taste how passionate he was to save you. I know there’s not much to taste in the stale Chiclets; but spiritually speaking—which is what this Supper is, spiritual—taste how passionate Jesus is to save you. See that even in the face of death beneath God’s wrath, that even with his slaughter on the horizon, he draws near with resolve to honor his Father and deliver his friends. Folks his love is seen in that Jesus chose this path for our eternal good. God’s love is not a love that merely “puts up” with us. When we look at God’s love in Christ, it’s a love that suffers to have you live with him. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Heb 12:2-3).

And it’s not merely that Jesus was resolved to love us when he went to the cross, but also that this past love of Jesus is the way God still shows his love for us today. “God shows his love for us [now, in the present] in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us [in the past]” (Rom 5:8). In other words, if Jesus resolved to love you in the face of death under God’s wrath, then how much is God’s love still for you since he’s defeated sin and death once and for all.

Consider Where Your Love Needs Conformity to Christ

Make this your meditation as you eat and drink. And also make it your prayer that more of his love might be in all of us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Confess to God where your love hasn’t reflected the same self-sacrificing love of Jesus, who was willing to bear our burdens even unto death (cf. Gal 6:2). Confess to God where you have decided not to love others, because to love them would have inconvenienced you (cf. 1 John 3:17). Confess to God how your love may just “put up” with people instead of pursues people for their eternal well-being at all costs to you and your schedule and your money and your Friday-night agendas and your personal preferences (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-7). How prone we are simply to “put up” with one another instead of giving ourselves for each other as Christ gave himself for us (cf. John 15:13).

So fix your eyes again on Jesus as you eat and drink. We learn love from who God is and how we’ve seen God act in Christ; and the more of him we put on, the more of him will become evident in our desires and actions (cf. Eph 5:2). Loving us wasn’t convenient for him, but he chose the inconvenience of suffering and death for your eternal blessing and joy.

2. Jesus Is Worthy of Our Devotion, Even at Great Cost to Ourselves

Number two: I want us to learn to treasure that Jesus is worthy of our devotion, even at great cost to ourselves. We see this through Mary’s response to Jesus. Now, a few weeks ago Dan preached from Luke 7, where we also see a woman anointing Jesus and wiping his feet with her hair. I think that’s a different occasion earlier in Jesus’ ministry with a different woman than the one we’re reading of here. John’s account of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus lines up with the accounts we find in Matt 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9. That’s just a helpful apologetic note, if anybody ever objected that John or any of the other Gospel writers contradict Luke. They’re two different events.

Now verse 2, “So they gave a dinner for [Jesus] there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with [Jesus] at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Mary gets something about Jesus. We see her at Jesus’ feet quite a bit. In Luke’s Gospel, it’s Mary who sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to his teaching, while Martha is distracted with much serving (Luke 10:38-39). When Jesus draws near to the tomb of Lazarus, it’s Mary who falls at Jesus’ feet with great lament (John 11:32). And now, she’s at Jesus’ feet anointing them with a special oil. She gets something about Jesus.

She doesn’t understand everything about Jesus at this point (cf. 7:38-39; 11:32; 12:16). But what she does know about Jesus causes her to express a profound sense of devotion to him. She’s heard him teach; she’s witnessed his works; and not too many days ago, she watched Jesus call her dead brother out of his tomb. She is one who has not just looked at the miracles, but through the miracles to see Jesus’ glory. And now her devotion to Jesus—in light of what she’s seen—expresses itself by anointing Jesus’ feet with an expensive ointment and wiping them with her hair.

She expresses this devotion even at great cost to herself. It’s a great cost because it’s not just a bottle of Clinique she pulled from her medicine cabinet. This is a flask about the size of a twelve-ounce Coke can that contained ointment made from pure nard. Nard would be extracted from a plant grown in India and then sold at an outrageous price (Carson, John, 428). John says it was “expensive ointment” (12:3); Mark says it was “very costly” (Mark 14:3); and if what Judas says about it in verse 5 is accurate, then we’re looking at a flask of oil that costs around 300 denarii. People usually got one denarius for a full day’s worth of work (cf. Matt 20:2). So we’re talking about a jar of ointment worth a year’s worth of wages; and she empties it on Jesus’ feet. Jesus’ dirty feet are infinitely more valuable than the most precious treasures of this world. What was it that John the Baptist said in 1:27? “The strap of whose sandal I’m not worthy to untie.”

And if that wasn’t enough, she risks her own reputation by wiping his feet with her hair. Paul says in 1 Cor 11:15 that a woman’s long hair is her glory; but Mary doesn’t mind using her hair—her glory—as a towel to wipe the feet of the Creator who gave her that hair. What’s more, in chapter 13, Jesus will go on to wash his disciples’ feet, and the point there is to display his unspeakable humility in taking the form of a slave. Slaves washed feet, not people who have enough money to own an expensive jar of ointment. And yet Mary stoops to that place to show Jesus how much he is worth to her. So, whether it costs her the valuable ointment she owned or her reputation before others, Mary’s devotion belongs to Jesus.

The scene reveals that Jesus is truly worthy of all our devotion. Mary’s devotion to Jesus shines brightly, but only because her devotion lifts up the worth and value of Jesus at all costs to herself and regardless of what others might think of her. The point is that Jesus is so valuable, we should be thrilled to give him even our most precious possessions; to serve him in even the lowliest positions in his kingdom, that of a slave; and to sacrifice our inner-pride that so often smothers devotion because it’s too caught up in what others might think of us. Jesus is worth so much that our devotion to him is comprehensively costly.

We don’t moderate our devotion to Jesus based on what we might lose in this life. This is so easy to do in this world, because we’re constantly bombarded by lie after lie after lie that says what we gain in this world is better than Christ—whether it be how we cherish our prized possessions; or how we elevate the opinions of others about us; or how we fear the consequences of this kind of service; or how we keep our guard up and don’t serve or invest in anybody else to keep from being hurt again; or whether we raise or don’t raise our hands or clap in worship services because of what others might think of me. And all the while we’re smothering devotion to Jesus. We shouldn’t smother our devotion to Jesus based on what we might lose in this life; we should unleash our devotion to Jesus based on all we gain in him.

It’s this sort of devotion that Jesus said would be remembered wherever the gospel would be preached—both in Matt 26:13 and Mark 14:9 (cf. John 11:2). It’s even hard for John to forget the whole thing as well: he remembers the fragrance of her devotion literally filling the entire house, bearing witness to Jesus’ worth.

Consider How Your Devotion Displays the Worth of Jesus

When you’re eating at Jesus’ Supper this morning, consider again the worth of Jesus and how your own devotion to him displays the truth about his worth before others. Is it instead the case that nobody would know of your devotion to Jesus, because you haven’t laid down all that much, or because you’re afraid of what others might think of you when you do? You’ve seen that the sacrifices of following Jesus are great, but you’re not willing to give him all that he’s asked of you—which is everything. You know how your devotion to him will cost you at work, or will cost you in this or that friendship or even with this or that family member, but you haven’t been willing to give it up. You see how much money it might take to help these individuals who are in need, but you can’t seem to loosen your grip on the bank account, or those plans you had for the backyard, or that vacation you wanted to take again. You see how foolish you might sound to bring Jesus up in this conversation, but just can’t seem to speak out of fear of what others might say or do to you. You see the friendships and reputation that following Jesus will cost you, but you’re struggling to lay them at his feet to show him off as glorious.

Consider Again the Worth of Jesus

Could it be that God has brought you hear this morning to release you from all that slavery by giving you a fresh look at the worth of Jesus? When you eat of this Supper consider the worth of Jesus. Consider that Mary hadn’t put together all the pieces about Jesus, but what she did know about him she treasured. And then consider that you know more about Jesus than Mary ever knew, even though she saw him on earth; because when he ascended into heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to teach us all things about himself (7:38-39; 14:26). It was better that he go away, that we might benefit from a far better ministry of the Spirit under a new covenant (16:7). And he inspired the apostles to write Gospels and Letters and the final Revelation—writers who form link after link with the Old Testament—leaving us with sixty-six books of clear testimony to Jesus’ worth and value that Mary never had opportunity to read in full like we get to read in full (cf. 2 Pet 1:19-21).

So when you eat and drink this morning, consider the worth of Jesus—that he is the eternal Word (1:1); that he is the Creator of the universe (1:1-2, 10); that he is the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth (1:14); that he is the all-satisfying Bread that’s come down from heaven (6:51); that he is the Living Water your thirsty soul needs (7:38-39); that he is eternal life itself (17:3); that he is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15); that he is the heir of all things, the creator of the world, the radiance of the glory of God, the one upholding the universe by the word of his power, who made purification for sins and sat down at the right hand of majesty on high (Heb 1:2-3); that he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the one before whom all heaven cries, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God…Worthy are you to take the scroll [of the history of the universe] and open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God…Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might” belong to you forever and ever (Rev 4:11; 5:9; 7:12).

When we see Jesus rightly, as Mary saw Jesus—namely, worthy of all our devotion—then there’s nothing in our lives that can compete with his worth. We will be willing to give it all up to see him honored or lay it all down to see him praised. But let us not do this: let us not miss Jesus’ infinite worth in exchange for the fleeting materialism of this life. That’s the error that Judas makes, which leads us to our final point.

3. Jesus Is an Infinitely Better Master than Money

Number three: I want us to learn to treasure that Jesus is an infinitely better Master than money. Look at Judas’s response to Mary and then Jesus’ response to Judas. Verse 4, “But Judas Iscariot, one of [Jesus’] disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

The difference between Mary’s response to Jesus and Judas’s response to Jesus is a matter of what they value most. Mary values Jesus at all costs to herself, but Judas values money at all costs to Jesus. Sure, his pragmatic suggestion sounds rather noble at first—“we could’ve have gotten three-hundred denarii off this nard and given the money to the poor”—but God tells us the motives driving Judas’ suggestion. He wasn’t concerned about the poor at all; he was concerned about himself. He used to help himself to what was in the money bag—which, as a side note, should also be a lesson for us: just because somebody or an organization does noble things to serve others, doesn’t mean they’re devoted to Jesus. It also means that when we serve the public, our service must flow from a heart that is devoted to Jesus. Judas is using his “service of the poor” to cover up his covetous heart. Judas loves money more than he loves Jesus. In fact, that becomes all the more clear in that not too many days from this point, Judas will betray Jesus for thirty-pieces of silver (Matt 26:15).

Money is Judas’ master. Judas follows money. Money determines what he says with his mouth—his love for money even causes him to conceal his evil deeds by voicing good ones, so that everybody else thinks he cares for the poor. Have you ever been tempted like that—give people a better impression about your heart than what’s truly inside; distract people with your knowledge of what’s good rather than transparently sharing what’s beneath the surface? The temptation is one that’s calling into question the value of Jesus; the temptation is one that speaks lies about Jesus’ worth.

In this case, Judas believes the lie that money is more valuable than Jesus; that materialism is better than Jesus. And here’s what’s worse: he saw Jesus do the same things Mary saw Jesus do; and being part of Jesus’ disciples, he saw and heard more than Mary herself saw and heard. But what makes them different is what they treasure, not how much they know. She treasures Jesus; Judas treasures money. The glory of Christ fills Mary’s heart with adoration; the purchasing-power of money fills Judas’ heart with thievery and lies and betrayal.

What we get here is actually a perfect illustration of what Jesus taught earlier in his ministry—that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt 6:21, 24). Judas also illustrates what Paul taught in 1 Tim 6:8-10: “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” This describes Judas perfectly, who forsook the Lord for a baggy full of coins, and who we see here criticizing the woman for her devotion out of his love for cash.

Do Not Be Deceived by “Judas Joys”

The joys that Judas is finding in money blind him to the glory of Jesus. And the same will be true for us if we begin finding our joy in what money can buy us instead of in Jesus. There’s a warning imbedded in this passage for all of us: do not be deceived by “Judas joys” and miss the worth of Jesus. A Judas joy is a deceptive joy that says there’s more worth to be found in X (you fill in the blank) than the worth revealed in Jesus. Judas joys are suicidal, because they promise life—and in some cases will deliver what some might even perceive to be “life”—but they ultimately leave you with more death, because they sever you from the One who is life, namely, Jesus.

So don’t be deceived by “Judas joys,” by finding your happiness in money, or in what money can buy, or in what money can get you out of, or in what image and power money might bring you, or in what security money can give you in this life. Rather, look again to Jesus—heaven’s eternal King, who came to lay his life down for you on the cross. He’s our answer to the love of money; he’s our answer to our value struggles; his mission conquers our materialism. That’s where Jesus points everybody in the room, including Judas.

What does he say? “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial”—in other words, so that everything about what she’s just done might point people to me and to my death and to my burial. Jesus is pointing out that bound up with Mary’s anointing is far more than anybody in the room can imagine; and the focus must remain there, on him and his death, if they are to get the preciousness of Jesus.

He stresses this again in verse 8: “For the poor you [you is plural; meaning that Jesus includes everybody in his words] always have with you, but you do not always have me.” Mark gives us the expanded version: “You always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me” (Mark 14:7). So, by saying this, Jesus isn’t putting down service to the poor; if anything, he’s affirming that we have an ongoing responsibility to the poor. They’ll always be with us; and we should do good to them (cf. Acts 20:35; Gal 2:10).

The contrast he’s making is between the disciples always having the poor to care for, but not always having Jesus. It’s another statement to center everybody in the house on his pending death. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I want you to get the full significance of this moment, because if you miss what’s true about me in this moment—that I’m going to die for you—then you will not value me very greatly even when I rise from the dead, and money will win over your hearts.” He wants everybody to see that Mary just anointed the feet of the One racing to the cross on their behalf.

So here’s how Jesus combats the Judas joys present in the room: he combats thievery and covetousness and greed, by proclaiming once again his death. In the face of Judas joys, he lifts up the cross. In a way, he’s proclaiming what we see elsewhere in the Bible: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich [that is, rich with righteousness, rich with the Spirit of grace]” (2 Cor 8:9; cf. 2 Cor 5:21; 8:7). Jesus had all the wealth of heaven, but he voluntarily made himself poor in order to enrich others with eternal life (John 3:16-17).

Judas uses the poor, in order to make himself rich; Jesus makes himself poor, in order to make others rich. Mary is right in recognizing Jesus’ worth—but how awesome is his love demonstrated toward us in that the One of infinite worth and unsurpassable beauty impoverishes himself even unto death on a cross, even to the lowest place of becoming sin on our behalf, that we might be saved and obtain a right standing with God. He took the lowest of places to seat us with him in the highest of highs (cf. Eph 2:4-8).

Money Can’t Bring You to God; Jesus Can

When we come to the Supper this morning, don’t miss what Judas missed about Jesus. He, the infinitely worthy One, came down from heaven to die for you. He came to give himself for you, so that you would gain an eternity of riches in his fellowship with the Father (17:24-26). Money can never buy your way into heaven; it can never give you eternal life with God. It might win you some friends and give you some power and entertain your passions, but it can never give you God—whom you were created to enjoy, but can’t and won’t because of your sin. Jesus can give you God, even despite your sin if you trust him and obey him. He made himself poor and died to forgive sin and give a right standing before God to everyone who would trust him, to everyone who would repent of valuing things in this world above Jesus and then give their lives over to valuing Jesus in everything.

Maybe there are some Judas joys that you need to repent of this morning. Maybe your love for money or other material possessions has kept you from giving regularly to this church. Maybe your desire to be secure in this world has stifled your generosity to others. Maybe your financial planning excludes your wife in ways that smother her devotion to Jesus instead of fanning her devotion into flame—meaning that you’re willing to buy whatever serves you and your projects around the house and your hobbies, but then leaving her little to spend when she wants to use her gifts to serve Jesus as well. Maybe you get chapped when people express their devotion to Jesus like Mary did in our passage with such extravagance, instead of rejoicing in the worth of Christ and giving thanks for such an act of adoration.

Whatever it is, God has given us a great opportunity to confess these suicidal joys to him this morning, because the Supper lifts up the cross of Jesus for us again and tells us to come, confess our sins, and receive forgiveness in Jesus. Moreover, the Supper reminds us that Jesus is risen from the dead; and he’s not finished with us yet. He ever lives to change us, so that more and more we treasure him and follow him in the face of Judas joys. He loved us even unto death; he’s worthy of all our devotion; and he’s an infinitely greater Master than money could ever be—he gives us eternal life and leads us into the riches of God himself. Follow him.