October 23, 2018 “Bethany”

Bethany

We can hear the anger of John in his description of Judas.
Writing many years later, John still seethed at the treachery of Judas. Jesus knew this all along. Why did He let it continue? He should have expelled such a man from the team. If Jesus had done that… There was no use speculating. Judas had a role to play in the drama we call “The Passion.”

A Dinner in Bethany
The large, comfortable home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus had been the scene of many a gathering of Jesus and His men, but this party was held in the home of another man rescued by Jesus—a former leper named Simon. Martha was in charge (She loved being in charge!) of the whole event. Hospitality was her gift and she was never happier than when her apron was dusted with flour and her hair was pulled back. She would grumble under her breath and complain about the lack of help, especially from her lazy sister, but everyone saw through her ruse. Even in the unfamiliar kitchen, Martha was having a ball. There was a crowd outside the house. Everybody wanted to see Lazarus, the man who went into a tomb and came back out again, and Jesus, the man whose command brought Lazarus out.

Mary, the Worshiper
She was the dreamer, the silent witness who kept her observations to herself. The level of worship Mary brought to Jesus resulted in a level of understanding that others did not receive. The loss and restoration of her brother had done something in her heart that no one else understood. Unlike so many others, Mary really listened to what Jesus said. Repeatedly, Jesus had warned them that He had come to give life to those who believed but also to give His life for everyone. Mary took these words to heart. When she saw neighbors unwrapping Lazarus from the graveclothes, her joy was tinged with sorrow. In her mind, she saw Jesus similarly contained in the binding garments of death. Who would call Him out?

The Alabaster Jar
Somewhere safe Mary kept a treasure—a full pound of anointing oil—contained in an alabaster jar. This valuable perfume, imported from India, was of extreme value, the equivalent of a year’s wages for a common laborer. While others were enjoying the meal, Mary obsessed over this alabaster jar and the nearness of Jesus. Without speaking, she produced the alabaster jar. Kneeling at the feet of Jesus, she broke the neck of the jar and poured its contents on His feet.

As she stroked His feet with her long hair, the fragrance of the perfume filled Simon’s house. All conversation stopped and every eye was upon her. Some saw her act of worship while others saw an act of waste. While some wept with her in adoration, Judas rebuked her for her reckless action. Caught with his heart revealed, Judas quickly pled the cause of the poor but his protests rang hollow. Jesus rebuked him

“Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.”

Silence now, except for the soft weeping of the sister of Lazarus. She realized events were building to a conclusion. Jesus lifted her swollen face in His hands and looked deep into her spirit. She did not turn away as His eyes searched her soul.

“For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

Lazarus thought of the darkness of the tomb and tried to imagine Jesus a prisoner there.

Scriptures:
John 12:1-8

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”
Matthew 26:6-13
And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.” But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I see Mary’s gift of her alabaster jar as the supreme example of True Worship. You were her total focus. She did not perform this act of worship before men and their disdain of it and of her did not prevent her from following through. She pleased You and earned Your highest commendation. You said, “Leave her alone. She has done what she could. She has done a beautiful thing to me.” You connected her worship with the preaching of the gospel. All of these things I wish for my worship of You. She was in Your will in the moment preparing You for Your tomb. May my love for You be always as pure and powerful. Amen.

Song:
My Jesus, I Love Thee

Words: William R. Featherstone; Music: A. J. Gordon

1. My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine;
for thee all the follies of sin I resign;
my gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

2. I love thee because thou hast first loved me
and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

3. I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death,
and praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath,
and say when the deathdew lies cold on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

4. In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 12, 2017 “Tribute”

Tribute

We honor our friends when they achieve notable milestones.
We give tribute to the great ones we have known when they pass from this world to the regions beyond.  Praise is really our tribute to the Lord, our detailed exposition of His glory and our gratitude for His impact on our lives.

Early in the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry an outstanding tribute was given to Him by Mary of Bethany.  She possessed a container of a valuable ointment called Nard.  The container itself reflected the value its contents; it was a superb jar of alabaster, a white semi-translucent mineral used for fine vases and decorative items.    It was her most prized possession.

Jesus often stayed in their home in Bethany to rest from the rigors of public ministry and private mentorship.  The Bible says that Mary and her sister, Martha, made Jesus welcomed in their home.  Her brother was the famous one who had been raised from death at Jesus’ command.  Mary’s accustomed place was at the feet of Jesus, listening to His every word.

On this night, her sensitive heart was deeply troubled.
She seems to have been the only one who heard Jesus’ frequent predictions of His coming sacrifice.  Overcome with love and grief she broke her alabaster jar and lavished its contents on Jesus.  With this act of worship she earned the rebuke of the disciples and the commendation of the Lord.

A Lesson in Worship
The details of just where and exactly when she paid tribute to her Savior are not clear in the Bible.  The important things are crystal clear and from these details we learn much about worshiping the Lord Jesus.

  • True worship is costly. Tribute literally means a payment of money as a sign of submission or allegiance.
  • True worship is willingly given.  No one forced Mary to make this tribute; her love compelled her.
  • True worship demands our best gifts.  God is worthy of nothing less.
  • True worship blesses the Lord.  Of all His followers, Mary touched the Lord’s heart in a special, meaningful way.  Our worship matters to the Lord Jesus.

Hear the words of commendation Jesus gave her when the disciples rebuked her:

  • “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
  • “She did what she could.”
  • “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.”
  • “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Our worship is our tribute to the Lord Jesus. 
We can do something beautiful to Him as we give Him the best of our talents, skills, words, time, and energies.  We can praise Him at the limits of our abilities.  We can be in tune with the moment-by-moment leadership of the Spirit, sensing as Mary did, the significance of every day.

When we gather with the church to minister to Jesus, each of us breaks our own alabaster jar and lavishes it on Jesus in tribute to Him.  As we do this, the Gospel is empowered by the Holy Spirit to reach our part of the world.  Souls will be born into His Kingdom and that is the greatest tribute of all.

Scriptures:
Luke 10:38-42 NKJV
Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
John 12:1-6
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, “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.
Matthew 26:8-13
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I don’t have to wait for Sunday services to break my alabaster jar! I do it now! I focus my heart on You. I open it and pour its contents on You in the most profound love I can express. If there are hard places in my heart, I invite You, Holy Spirit to break them. I want nothing between us, Lord except love. I break my heart open, even the dark, hidden places that only You and I know about. I want that darkness to flow out of me—a catharsis of worship, of pain, of bitterness, of confusion—whatever abides there that is not Your plan for me. I will wait in Your presence for the ministry of the Spirit to do this breaking, emptying, and filling work in me. Lord, this is the greatest tribute I can bring today. In Your Holy Name, Amen.

Song:
Change My Heart, O God
Words and Music: Eddie Espinova

Change my heart, O God.
Make it ever true.
Change my heart, O God.
May I be like You.

You are the Potter.
I am the clay.
Mold me and make me.
This is what I pray.

Change my heart, O God.
Make it ever true.
Change my heart, O God.
May I be like You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved