Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sorry Is As Sorry Does

The word sorry can have several meanings. Someone can be apologetic and sorry describes an expression of regret for an action that has upset or inconvenienced someone else, such as I am sorry for hurting you. The word sorry can communicate sympathy for a person in a difficult situation such as I feel sorry for that family without a job in this time of economic downturn. The word sorry is also synonymous with describing something in a pitiful condition as in That house is in such a sorry state of repair, it is in danger of being condemned. Then there is the usage of the word sorry to describe something pathetically unsatisfactory because it fails to meet a certain standard of expectation. This meaning is conveyed in the statement He is a sorry excuse for a man. Someone or something can be said to be sorry when it is useless in the purpose for which it is mean to be used. It is in this last context that I make the statement, Dyess was a sorry dog.
Dyess was a good-looking, solid black, 90 pound military working dog at an Air Base in North Texas. John Young was his handler. When John sent Dyess out on attack, it was a fearsome sight to see. Dyess looked good as he bore down on the target, snarling and growling. He looked good. He made all the right noises. But when he got close to the person under attack, all that person had to do was snarl and growl back at the dog and the dog would change his mind and immediately change his direction! An attack-trained military working dog that will not attack is a sorry dog. Dyess was a sorry dog. And John Young was his handler. He could never help Dyess get past his sorry state of being and soon John was transferred to another assignment. Then Dyess met Cleophus Randall. Sergeant Randall was coming in from a tour of duty in South Korea. He was a dog handler and he was assigned to Dyess. A couple of weeks went by and Dyess began to adjust to the idea that he had much more than a new handler. He had a master. Under the influence and control of this new master, Dyess quickly became a new dog. The change was dramatic and evident for all to see. We no longer felt sorry for this sorry dog. He became useful to his master and effective in his service to achieve the purpose for which he was trained.
Jesus was telling stories to people who were not living up to the expectations and standards to achieve the purposes for which they were created. He told parables to them so they might come into an understanding of how they measured up to God’s standards. The outcome was that some of the people who heard these stories realized they were in a sorry, sinful condition. They were sorry that they had made some sinful choices in life. And they were changed. Others who heard the story thought that they had always met the standard of expectation as God’s people when they were in effect a sorry excuse for a representative sampling of God’s chosen people. Let’s listen to the story Jesus tells them about two sons. One of them was sorry. And the other was…well…sorry. Sorry is as sorry does. Hear the word of our Lord:
“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, “I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”
They said, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.” (Matthew 21:28-32)

God’s people become useful in God’s service when they repent from their sorry condition and believe the gospel proclamation.


Some hallowed promises become hollow ones. Holy matrimony is a good example. In any wedding that I am privileged to be a part, I require several sessions of premarital counseling. We talk through many issues and towards the end of the sessions we begin to focus on the vows that people promise to keep. A couple of times I have helped couples work through some of these vows that they want to write themselves. It is my job to keep them in a biblical framework. This is a vow that I have never had to work on with any couple: Do you promise to be hateful, critical, manipulating, unfaithful, and unforgiving as long as you both shall live? Who would want a marriage partnership like that? So why do we promise to love, honor, and cherish and fail to keep that promise? It’s a spiritual genetic defect.
Let’s look first at the second son’s response to his father’s command.
The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’ (v. 29)
The son promises to work in partnership in his father’s vineyard. The vineyard theme is prominent in this portion of Matthew’s Gospel. The Jewish community would have been familiar with the Old Testament prophetic images of grapes and vineyards. Vineyards were very prominent in the land. They were symbolic of the blessing of God. Jesus described Himself as the True Vine and His Father was the Vinedresser. The imagery of vineyards and grapes were understood in Israel as a covenant community family living and working together in the family business. That is the way salvation history began. In Genesis, man was placed in Eden by his Maker to tend the garden. No doubt vineyards were a part of that scenario. Then Adam lost the privilege to work in the Father’s business. And he was expelled to work outside of it. The Triumphal Entry lets us know that the Lord Jesus had come to His people to restore them to a rightful place in the Kingdom of God. He was telling them the vineyard story. And it included information as to how get back inside the family fold. The Father’s command is also the Father’s invitation…Son, go work today in the vineyard.
People hearing the Word of God could not depend upon their profession. Just saying the right words and making hollow promises did not grant them access into the Father’s business. They could not rely upon their earthly family heritage and the privilege of being born into Abraham’s household of faith to access the Father’s vineyard. Nor can we depend upon our church attendance or religious heritage to claim a place in the family business of the family of God, working in our Father’s vineyard. This son was a sorry son. He did not meet the requirements and expectations for service. He did not serve. But he promised he would. A valuable lesson for a disciple like you and me is saying I will doesn’t mean that I do. Saying I will serve God does not mean that I do serve God. Making a “profession of faith” does not mean I have faith or faithfully serve God on mission with Him. Saying so doesn’t make it so. Sorry is as sorry does. The story about this sorry son also tells us that…


…and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. (v. 29)

There may have been many reasons that this sorry son did not go. He may have been sick. He may have been busy. Something else may have come up. We can certainly understand how many times we have “overcommitted” and did not do what we said we would do. He may have just forgotten what he said. Sometimes that can be our problem. But the text only says he did not go.
Delayed obedience is disobedience. He may have had good intentions. But the bottom line that Jesus is driving at is that obedience is required for usefulness. We can talk about serving and we forget what we said because it didn’t really matter that much to us. This sorry son demonstrated dishonor to his Father. The Father’s will did not matter to the son. And the son was not sorrowful for his failure to meet the demands of obedience. Sorry is as sorry does. You can be sorry without being sorrowful…but…


A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. (v. 30)

This sorry son treated his father with open contempt and disrespect. It was in the mind of the son to rebel against the will of his father. This was probably the oldest son. A common theme in the parables of Jesus was that the oldest son was often more cynical in the relationship with his father. As in the prodigal son story, sorry is as sorry does. This son begins this exchange as a sorry son who arrogantly believes he can refuse to surrender to the will of his father. And he ends the exchange with a different mindset. This different kind of thinking leads to a change of moral direction.
He represents the sinfulness of presumption in the heart of religious people.
Often the people of God believe they are entitled to the goodness of God without the respect that is due Him. Humanity in general believes they can treat God as if He does not matter. This son had his mind changed. He began to regret what he had said and what he had done. He regretted how he had shamefully treated his father. This regret brought sorrow to his mind.
Sorrow is a condition of mental suffering where someone has been hurt. The most grievous kind of sorrow is the kind where we begin to take responsibility for our part which causes this pain. This is the message of Jesus to those bound up in religious tradition. This regret and remorse leads to repentance. Repentance is a change in moral direction that results from a change in our actions which begins with a change of mind.
This sorry son moved from one definition of sorry to another. By his active repentance he moved from a place of uselessness to usefulness in the vineyard of his father. Sorry is as sorry does. Repentance is turning from sinful self-will and self-service to learning about, thinking about, and doing the will of God.


Which of these two sorry sons did the will of his father? This was the question asked that day. And the people hearing the Word of God answered rightly. So does this question matter to us today? If so, why so? Because even though we hear the word of God we often fail to understand this teaching and do not realize that repentance is central to the message of the gospel. We must realize we are traveling the wrong direction before we are motivated to change. Some people in their sorry condition come to that clear understanding. They know they cannot come into the Kingdom of God unless they are born again and radically changed in their thinking. And others still fail to recognize themselves in the story. Hear the word of the Lord:
Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”
Repentance is central to the gospel message. You cannot live an eternal life without dying to the earthly one you are living. In Matthew 3 we get one account of the message that John the Baptizer was preaching. The essence of the message is that religious heritage and a Jewish pedigree does not spare someone from judgment. Religious people are to bear fruit of their repentance. There must be evidence of a changed life. This is what Jesus was saying. Tax collectors and prostitutes believed and were changed. Religious pretenders saw that happen and were unmoved by the power of the gospel message. They did not consider themselves in need of a change of moral direction. They did not believe. They were unbelievers. Because they did not repent.
Repentance was the message John preached. He was the last of the typical Old Testament prophets who called the nation to repent. Repentance was the message Jesus preached. Repentance was the message the disciples preached. Repentance was the message preached by Peter and the early church. Repentance was the message Paul preached to the Athenians on Mars Hill. Repentance is the predominant message of the last days in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It is a timely message for end times living. It is a relevant message to the church of our day. Repent. The Kingdom of God is near.
If the church is to be useful to God, we will be repentant. We will hear this instruction from this father in this parable and consider it to be the message of Jesus. We will agree that it is for us in our times. ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ In the church of America today there are people who are on the rolls of church membership who have never been sorrowful over their sin and have never repented. We have people who have prayed a “sinner’s prayer” and have made commitments to God, said they would serve Him, and did not go work in the vineyard. Without repentance, there is no belief. Unrepentant church leaders are practical unbelievers and religious pretenders.
Without repentance there is no forgiveness. Without forgiveness there is no eternal life. Without eternal life we cannot be with God and serve Him forever. Without the work of Christ on the cross on our behalf there is no realization of our need for repentance. When is the last time we have told God we are sorry? When is the last time that we have been sorrowful over our sin? God has hope for our sorry condition.
Now is the time to come. Repent, believe in the gospel. God’s Kingdom is near.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Instrument God Chooses And Uses

Surgery is a highly specialized operation. Or at least it should be. In the not too distant past there was an embarrassing revelation that came from one of the major hospitals in the area. It seems that hydraulic fluid had been mistakenly used in the place of a cleaning solution for surgical instruments. The repercussions of this event are probably shaping the conduct of those who are concerned with such things. Consider the surgeon’s tray. Before it is set up for the surgeon’s use there has been an evaluation and inspection. The instruments will no doubt be checked for flaws and defects. Failing to inspect these instruments can have disastrous results.
In the Book of Acts the birth of the early church was an exciting thing. God was doing something new. The group of people known as the church was empowered by the Holy Spirit. It was the Living Body of Christ. God was revealing His truth through the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The church was being built up with the teaching of the apostles and the prophets. The legalistic bondage of the religious tradition of the day produced many inspectors. One of these inspectors was a man named Saul of Tarsus. He was zealous in the protection of the institution that Judaism had become. And he was watching for people following different teachings of God that he considered to be treacherous and treasonous.
Saul was persecuting the disciples of Jesus Christ. He not only was present and in agreement with the stoning death of Stephen in Acts 7, Chapter 8 describes him as a man on a mission of destruction. He was “ravaging the church,” bent on stopping the advance of this fledgling religious movement by any means necessary. On the road between Jerusalem and Damascus, this inspector according to the Law of Moses met the One who had given the Law to Moses! Saul became the one who underwent an inspection. Let’s read the account beginning in verse 1 to get a better understanding of Saul’s inspection and his description as one of the instruments God chooses and uses.

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”
And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:1-9)

This passage could be the basis for other sermons as well. We could have a lot to say about how wrong a man can be when he thinks he is doing right. We could say how dangerous it is to think that we have real authority when we operate in natural ways and do not even realize that we oppose the cause of Christ. And if we stopped reading there, and did not have the rest of the story, we could wonder what ever happened to Saul. Did he lose his life as well as his sight? This encounter was the basis of Saul’s conversion experience. Throughout the rest of his life, he could not stop talking about it. By God’s grace he was saved from the ways of Saul to live in the ways of God. He was chosen by God’s grace and for God’s use. One major lesson we can learn today is that:


Let’s continue to read our focal passage:

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.”
But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. (Acts 9:10-19)


A proper instrument is the perfect instrument. Vise-grip pliers may be perfectly suitable for primitive dentistry... on a horse! For humans we are blessed to have people who have dedicated their lives to perfecting the tools for the job. A dentist’s choice for dental work would be the proper, and therefore the perfect, instrument.
God chooses His people out their places in life. He selects them from the environment and life situations in which He finds them. In fact, He even uses their surroundings and experiences to shape and mold them for ministry. Moses was chosen to be raised in the court of a Pharaoh of Egypt so he would be familiar with their culture when called to confront it. Saul was not only a Roman citizen but a Hebrew who was highly educated in an elite school of Judaism so that he could argue God’s case with those bound by the Law and those of the Gentile world of Roman occupation. God chooses proper instruments and perfects them from His perspective. God is the specialist in His special operations.


A few years ago I worked with a local survey company. With all the modern instrumentation it’s a lot easier to measure distance but some things you still have to do. You have to cut bushes for the laser light to hit the target. Immediately I knew that I had to do something about my bush axe. It was dull and ill fitting. So for a few days I took it home and sharpened the blade with a file and sanded and shaped the wooden handle. The last thing I did was to mark the bottom of the handle so I could recognize it when I needed to remove it from the back of the truck. It fit my hand and it worked much easier for the purpose it was made. It became my personal bush axe.
A preferred instrument is a personal instrument. The instrument is personal from the perspective of the one who is doing choosing. The Lord says of Saul, “He is My chosen vessel” The men in the company of Saul heard the voice but saw no one.
They all reacted in the same way. They fell to the ground. They all heard the voice. But only Saul saw what God wanted him to see. And it blinded Him. God chose him from out of the midst of other men. It was like a surgical strike. God chose the one He wanted. This is the way God chooses people. Mark 3:13 says that Jesus summoned those He wanted. God makes a personal choice when He chooses people for ministry.


I am not a NASCAR fan. But I have a friend who is. He asked me once if I would go with him to his sister’s boyfriend’s place around Charlotte. This man was a crew chief for one of the NASCAR drivers and his garage was outside the Charlotte area. Now this team was not one of the major players on the circuit, but you never would have known that inside the garage. There were two separate but seemingly identical cars inside but what fascinated me were the walls surrounding the cars. It was wall-to-wall pegboard where the tools were hung. Tools they were using had the outline of the tool drawn on the wall. It seemed a little juvenile to me, like they were not adult enough to put the tools back in place. I commented on this and the crew chief told us that when they got ready to roll the cars out, he would look at the wall. If any tool was missing, if he could see the outline of where one should be hanging, then everything stopped until they found the tool. It had no place being out of place. Everything had a potential use. Shop tools belonged in the shop. When a shop tool was loose somewhere on a racecar, there was potential danger.
A potential instrument is also a peculiar instrument. God chooses His instruments to become part of being a “peculiar people.” They are peculiar in the sense of being appointed for a particular purpose. God told Ananias that Saul was chosen to bear the Name of God before Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel. We are not all called to be a Saul. But we are called at times to be like Ananias. We are called to respond to God who often does not give us the big picture. We too can be like Ananias and attempt to advise God as to the wisdom of what He wants us to do. Sometimes we question the choices God makes and want to tell Him that there are things about the person He is choosing that He may have forgotten or not even be aware of. “But Lord, this man is our enemy!” Have you ever been like Ananias? God knows what He is doing. Saul was waiting on Ananias like the Ninevites were waiting on Jonah. Ananias had to make a choice to choose to be used. He chose that God would work through him and trust that God knew how to work it all out. Ananias chose to let God work through him. He was chosen to be an instrument of God’s power.


Cordless drills and screwdrivers have set us free to work more efficiently. They eliminate the need for dragging around cords which entangle. I can take on a project and move about with ease until…my battery needs recharging. Without a time to periodically recharge a cordless screwdriver it will become useless. My efficient instrument will not be effective. The instrument must have access to power to be effective.
A powerful instrument is a power-filled instrument. “The Lord Jesus has sent me…so you may regain your sight … and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Saul regained his sight which is no small thing to a blind man. But the greater thing is that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit which is life to a dead man. Often we ask God to move upon us, send us a messenger, and take away our suffering. "Lord, give us this Spirit," should be our prayer. I cannot give you the Holy Spirit. I can only testify as to its source. God grants the Holy Spirit. But He does not direct people to go to other people who do not possess it. He still works by telling people where to go to hear His word and receive His Spirit. Are you a Spirit-filled believer? Are you ready for those God will send to you?
Hear the words of our Lord: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The closer you get to the power of God, the more you can receive. You will not receive the power of God giving your life to things which are not God. We seem to want to get the benefit of the power of God but keep Him at a distance. We seem to believe we can keep plugging in extension cords to access Him. You only get to access the power of God by coming close to Him so we understand why this power is given.
The closer you get to this kind of power, the more dangerous it is. When you walk in the power of the Most High God, you will be a target for the god of this world. God told Ananias, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” God was not telling Ananias, "I’m getting even with Saul for how he has treated My people." Saul’s sin was paid for on the cross. God was telling Ananias that when He chooses a person, that person is chosen as an instrument for warfare. And God has chosen the conflict. He is taking this world back. This is what redemption is all about. We will suffer for the name of Christ. That is promised. Not only to Ananias but to every disciple. But in that suffering, there stands our Savior, our King, and our Lord. And He is still choosing His instruments.
In choosing His instruments, God also chooses us as the Bride of Christ. The language used is also used elsewhere in the New Testament for a wife that is chosen for life and chosen to be faithful in that relationship. When God chooses us as an instrument or a vessel, it is that we are chosen to be weapons of warfare and faithful wives to Christ, our Bridegroom. We are not to give ourselves over to idolatry.

Our “so what” today is simply this…

Do you ask God to fill you with His power, to make use of your potential, trust that He knows what He’s doing, and believe that the trials in your life are used to test His tools?


Monday, May 4, 2009

Gospel-Centered Giving

I was shocked by my father’s response when I asked him for a loan. A few years ago, I believe we were led by the Lord to begin a specific ministry for a season. One major focus in this ministry was to conduct conferences in churches for people who were suffering through grief. One of the requirements to do this was that we would be traveling to various church settings; usually on weekends and that I resign my pastoral position. Because we would no longer have financial support from the church and needed a minivan to get us there, I needed money for the van. I went to ask my father.
I was more than a little hesitant because I wasn’t sure he understood the reason I resigned a paying position for a non-paying one. To be honest, I didn’t understand it all either but believed we had a clear direction from the Lord. So I related my need and layed out my proposal. I was asking that the repayment schedule would not begin until after a year had passed. At that time, I would begin to pay back what amounted to a huge sum of money over the next three years. I was shocked by what he said in response.
“Why don’t I just give it to you?” he said. Some would have considered the price of this van at least a year’s wages. And the year’s deferment before I began to pay back the loan wasn’t a standard procedure you could find at your local hometown bank. So after he responded, I remember thinking not many people give like this. Over the years since then I have thought that in a sense, this is how God gives to us. His gospel comes without a payment plan. Recognizing this, it can set us free to give in like manner.
Let’s look at one of the best stories in the Bible and learn from this model of Gospel-Centered Giving.

While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head.
But some were indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they were scolding her.
But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.”
“Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” (Mark 14:3-9)


While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head.

Three fascinating details of the setting of this great story are revealed in our text. First of all, Jesus was in Bethany. The Gospel of John says in Chapter 12 that Bethany was the home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Mark’s audience was alerted to this location and those who had heard the story of Lazarus would have known that Bethany was the place where the gospel comes to life. Here is where Jesus cried out at the tomb of a man four days dead to come out of his place of death and the one who had died came forth. Only God can give life to dead men. A casual reading of John’s Gospel may give one the impression that this story unfolded in the home of Lazarus as he is reclining at the table. But this text in Mark, similar yet different in detail, seems to describe the same event and it gives us the second fascinating fact.
They were at home of Simon the Leper. What a great place for what was taking place. I would suggest to you that Simon the Leper was called “The Leper” because Simon was no longer a leper. In other words, Simon, who used to be a leper, was a “leper no more” or he would not have been the host of these guests and no one would have been reclining at the table. Lepers were isolated and shunned, shut out even by their families, and especially by the worship community. This was likely a leper whom Jesus had healed. Remember the account in the early part of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus encountered a person with leprosy who testified that if Jesus was willing, He could make him clean. And that leper was a leper no more and he could not be quiet about it. Once you had leprosy, and you were cleansed, it was a huge deal. It was no less a miracle that Jesus was willing and able to cleanse a leper than raising the dead. The gospel comes to life when it does for mankind what mankind is helpless to do. The leper could never have helped himself be clean. The gospel is at home in the home of a “leper no more”.
The third revelation about this gospel-centered environment is that they were reclining with Jesus. There can be no encounter with the gospel without encountering Christ. There can be no gospel-centered environment without communion with Christ at the center of that encounter. To be able to commune with Christ is more than a miracle than someone raised from the dead or healed from leprosy. For any man to recline at the table with God, the separation that must be bridged is more than disease or death. The separation is sin which causes disease and death. Yet, here was God our Savior, reclining with sinful mankind. A more careful reading of John 12 tells us that Martha was serving. In a gospel environment we will find people like Martha, who serves frantically and frequently, sometimes to the point of forgetting why she is serving. Remember her demand on another occasion that Jesus command her sister Mary to help her. The Lord’s response to her was that Martha was bothered by so many things. But Mary had chosen the good part. Mary chose to hear the word of the Lord. For without hearing the gospel, we will not serve rightly. We will serve out of a sense of duty, not out of a sense of gratitude. We do not serve to earn our salvation. We serve because we are saved. Sometimes I want to tell those who are content to be like Martha to choose the best part. People who are content to serve and compare their service with others’ lack of service are missing God and will find their service miserable at times. Mary had chosen the good part. Mark does not identify the woman who anointed Jesus but John does. Once again Mary was there and she would do a good thing in the presence of the Lord. And once again her actions would be provocative in a gospel-centered environment.


But some were indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they were scolding her.

Who were these who were provoked to indignation? Who were the “some” who grumbled and murmured? According to the Gospel of Matthew, His disciples were there. No one there was a stranger to Christ. This is the hardest thing to understand for those who have been delivered by the gospel. Why don’t other disciples of Christ see Jesus the way Mary saw Jesus? Much has been made over the gift that was given. Three hundred days wages were cracked open and poured over His head. The general consensus was this was such a waste. Waste not, want not is one old adage that seems to be rooted in humanity. This can be a good guiding principle but not always a gospel-centered one.
At one time in our ministry we operated a food pantry. We collected and distributed food in the community to those in need. We received food from different sources and many local churches would collect donations from their congregations. One church dropped off a few boxes one day. Trying to be careful in what we distributed, we always went through the donations and checked expiration dates. A good portion of this particular collection was outdated. One can of oysters had been out of date for almost six years. Now some may say that as long as the can was unopened, the contents are safe. I would say to them, then you can eat those oysters! I don’t mind telling you that I was indignant. Often we give as if we can only give our leftovers. We use the occasion to serve ourselves and clean out our pantries. I would say give as unto the Lord. Give the best we can. Give because we can.
So why were these disciples indignant? Wasn’t the woman giving God her best? That wasn’t the issue. These who were indignant were worshipping the wrong god. People are created to worship so this comes pretty naturally. But unless we are transformed by the gospel, the worship we practice will be flawed and sinful. We will worship the greatest idol of all…the idol of our own desires. In Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker, he says that conflict arises out of the desires of our hearts. When these desires are not met, then we begin to act out a worship experience. Sande outlines four stages of idol worship. The four stages are I desire, I demand, I judge, and I punish. Unmet desires quickly become a demand. Because these demands are not met, then we pronounce judgment on another person who does not act like we (or our idols) demand. The judgment is carried out in some form or fashion. Idols demand that we punish the offender. The disciples were indignant because Mary had not worshipped their way or the way that they desired. So she was scolded. She was publicly embarrassed or humiliated. This is all the more painful because it came from followers of Christ. No one came to her defense. Except the One who has the most authority. Jesus defends her personally.


But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.”

It could have been given to the poor. Have you ever noticed how most people who are willing to give to the poor are hesitant to get involved personally in the lives of the poor? Have you ever noticed how many people who offer this alternative do not personally give their lives to Christ and His service? Jesus said you can give to the poor any time. Now was the time to give to Him. And Mary had picked the right time. In fact, time was running out on the time to serve Jesus. His cross was coming. He was hours away from His death. He had told them it was coming. He had told them it was necessary. They didn’t get it. Mary got it. The gospel had transformed her and given her understanding of her nature as a sinner and God’s gracious gift. She was eternally grateful. So her gift to God was an extravagant gift. Her gift to God was costly because God’s gift to her was priceless. When you come to the end of your life, will you think about all the things you never got to do or what to do with all the wealth you amassed or all the opportunities you missed to love God and others lavishly? Will you grieve that you have missed opportunities to give to God? Or will you be like Mary? She had done what she could when she could.
This was Mary’s parting gift to her Lord. It was a good one. She had anointed His body for His burial. We read in Chapter 16 of Mark that after the Sabbath, other women came to the tomb and their purpose was to anoint the body of Jesus. Too late! Mary had already done this good deed to God. Jesus recognized the personal nature of what was going on in the moment. Often we do good things in the name of Christ. But when we do good things to Christ and for Christ and in Christ and with Christ it is a personal endeavor. Mary gave personally because she knew the gospel was for her personally. She and Jesus were personally acquainted. Do you know a concept of God or are you personally moved by the work of God through the Word of God in your life? Is your life with Christ a personal endeavor?


“Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

Gospel-centered giving keeps on giving. This day and many days like it, this prophecy comes to pass down through the ages. As we preach the gospel, the good news that God has come in Christ to do for us what we can never do, that He Himself has become sin for us and paid our price of death on the cross, reconciling us to God, putting sin’s penalty of death to death, and that He rose from the dead and overcame sin’s powerful death grip upon us, granting us life everlasting, we remember what this woman has done. Till the Lord returns, all over the world, what this woman has done will be remembered.
We remember what she has done because we remember what Christ has done. She gave because Christ gave. She would not have given so graciously had she not received grace. She would not have given so lovingly had she not received love. She would not have given with such abandon had He not abandoned His life to the cross. But He has not abandoned His people. He lives among us. He lives within us. He lives through us.


Two ominous subplots bracket this event. Verses 1-2 tell us that while He was being honored in the home of Simon the Leper, there was a concerted conspiratorial effort underway to murder Him. This effort was spearheaded by the chief priests and the scribes, the religious elite of the day. In verses 10-11 they found an ally who would betray the trust of Christ and the disciples from among the disciples in Judas Iscariot. This gospel-centered giving event takes place in the context of people trying to destroy the witness and the work of Christ for their own self-centered motivations. We do well to remember that. Do we love Jesus that much? Do we continue to serve Him and lavish our praise upon Him in the midst of the fear and distrust that swirls around the gospel?
We are called to the table of Christ. What does that mean exactly? It is our opportunity to remember that what He has done overshadows anything in our lives. His sacrifice is the gospel. His death overcomes our sorrowful circumstances. His death gives forgiveness. Yet we hold onto our petty grievances with one another and pretend to worship God at the same time. We find fault with someone else’s way of worship because we do not like the way they are worshipping. Yet we do not worship Christ. We are as lepers who are lepers no more and dead men who are dead no more and we do not rejoice in grateful adoration of the One who heals us and gives us life. He is worthy of our praise. Yet we conspire to kill the witness and work of Christ because it bangs against our organized tradition and threatens our institutions. We betray our Lord when we attempt to manage the way God works according to our own personal and idolatrous agendas. Yet He still calls us to recline at His table.
It is not enough to serve God. We can serve Him without a clear understanding of why we serve. And our serving becomes a burdensome and miserable thing. We are called to recline at the table. We are called to the celebration. Jesus is the guest of honor. Mary understood that. This woman gave a gospel-centered gift because Christ was the center of her life. He was the reason she lived.
Is Christ the reason you live? Do you often think of Him and marvel at the life He has given you? Do you live to love Christ? Has His gospel transformed you?
I was right when I thought that most people did not give like my daddy. He was pleased to give to me as his son. But just anyone off the street would not have enjoyed that same privilege. Here is one difference between how my daddy gave and how God gives. God gives lavishly to His children. And whosoever will come and receive Him and His gift of the gospel of grace, to them He gives the right to become children of God.

This is gospel-centered giving. Take advantage of that today. Be a gospel-centered giver. Receive the gift of the gospel, so you have something to give.