Have you ever expressed your love to someone in such a way that it was over the top, spare no expense, and appeared foolish in how extravagant your love was toward them? Has anyone ever done that for you?
Most of us here today live on a budget, consider ourselves frugal, and we try to spend our money wisely and use what resources we have efficiently. But there are times that call for extravagant giving, extravagant generosity, extravagant service, and extravagant acts of love and kindness. There are times to go over the top when it comes to expressing your love to someone, especially Jesus.
Today, we are going to see someone who displayed extravagant love for Jesus. While we look at this, I want you to consider how you could display extravagant love for Him as well. We have a lot to look at so let’s dive right into this.
Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head. 4 Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. 5 “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly. 6 But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? 7 You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” (Mark 14:3-9, NLT)
What we see here is an act of extravagant love. What is extravagant love? What does it mean for followers of Jesus like you and me? We need to understand three things about extravagant love.
Extravagant love is sacrificial
Number one, extravagant love is sacrificial. Extravagant love gives the very best. Extravagant love wants to demonstrate its commitment, passion, and gratefulness in such a way that it reveals how great is its love. Extravagant love is not about giving leftovers, but giving the very best. It’s sacrificial. This is what Mary was doing when she broke the alabaster jar of perfume and anointed Jesus with it.
We see this beginning in verse 3 where Mark tells us Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy.
Jesus is a few days away from being crucified. A few miles outside of Jerusalem was a little town called Bethany. In that town, Jesus was staying at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. According to John there were other people there. Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead was there along with Mary and Martha who was serving (John 12:1-8). In addition, you had the disciples there as well and probably a few of Simon’s friends and family.
Simon used to be a leper, we can safely assume that Jesus healed Simon of his leprosy. That is life changing. During Jesus’ day to be diagnosed with leprosy was a slow death sentence. It makes body parts like fingers, noses, ears, and lips fall off the body. They were like the walking dead. They looked like zombies. Lepers were outcasts from society. They lived outside of the cities in the wilderness or in leper colonies. Everywhere they went they were to yell, “Unclean,” so people could stay away from them. However, Jesus was famous for healing lepers. When Jesus healed a leper, their skin would become like new, fingers would grow back, noses would return, ears would reappear and He would do this with just a word.
Somewhere along the way, Jesus came across the path of Simon and healed him. Now here is Simon the ex-leper with his family and friends with a new body and a new life. Sitting in his house is the One who made all this possible, Jesus! Can you imagine how grateful and thankful Simon was to Jesus? Do you understand why Simon would want to throw a banquet for Jesus and have Him in his house to honor Him? Simon’s heart was filled with love and gratitude for Jesus and for what Jesus had done in his life.
According to the gospel of John Lazarus was also there (John 12:2-8). This is the man who was dead and buried in a tomb and was already decaying and was already stinking. Jesus approached Lazarus’ tomb and brought him back to life. Can you imagine listening to Lazarus tell his story about being resurrected from the dead by Jesus. I can only imagine the gratefulness and love and awe Lazarus must have had for Jesus. It would have been overwhelming.
John also tells us that Mary and Martha were there (John 12:2-8). They were the sisters of Lazarus and they loved Lazarus greatly. They would have simply had a deep love and gratitude for Jesus for bringing their brother back to life.
If this would have been your home and Jesus was sitting in your living room and He had previously healed you of cancer, brought back someone you loved from the dead, and had been blessed by Jesus in many other ways your home would be filled with awe, love, gratefulness, and gratitude for Jesus. When you understand the atmosphere of this home then what happens next makes sense.
Everyone is reclining around the table eating. This is a leisurely meal. It’s laid back and they are enjoying each other’s company. When suddenly a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head. It was unusual for a woman to step into such a scene and become the center of attention. According to John this woman was Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha (John 11:2; 12:3).
Mary comes in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume. This perfume was made from the essence of nard. The cost of this perfume in this alabaster jar was the equivalent of one year’s salary for a normal person at that time. In today’s prices, this bottle of perfume would be somewhere around $30,000.
Mary comes into the room with this jar of perfume, then she broke open the jar and poured the perfume over [Jesus’] head. John tells us she also poured it over Jesus’ feet as well (John 12:3).[i] Pouring some oil or perfume over the head was a common treatment of a special guest (Psalm 23:5; Luke 7:46), but anoint the feel was unusual and was an act of special honor.
This sounds like a strange thing to do in our culture. If you try pouring perfume on someone today in public, it will not go well. While that would be a strange act in our day, it was normal during Jesus’ day. It was a normal part of hospitality. Let me explain. This was a hot climate. People sweated. Nobody took showers in the morning or had baths every day. Deodorant had not been invented. A common courtesy to your stinky, smelly, unshowered guests was to give them a little perfume to mask their body odor. Think about how bad men smelled in this day when they were sweating, had no deodorant, didn’t have clean clothes and had leather sandals and sweaty feet. People stunk. Pack a house full of people for dinner and you better get the perfume out if people are going to tolerate the body odor in the room.
Think about Mary who loved Jesus and was grateful for Him. She is in the house listening to Jesus talk and answer questions. She is thinking about what Jesus did for Simon and healing his leprosy. She’s looking at Lazarus, her brother and thinking about that moment Jesus brought him back from the dead and restored their family. She is thinking about what He has done for her and what He means to her. The thought of putting a few drops of perfume over Jesus’ head or on his feet were not enough. She was overwhelmed with gratitude and love, and she couldn’t help herself. She didn’t pop the cork off the bottle, she broke the neck of the bottle and poured the entire content of the perfume on to Jesus. After all that Jesus had done, only a lavish, over-the-top gift that cost her dearly seemed more appropriate!
Mark tells us the perfume was made from the essence of nard. Nard came from India. It is very potent and powerful. This was not watered-down perfume. Typically, only a drop was necessary because the fragrance is so powerful. Mark says Mary poured this over Jesus head (which includes his beard) and John tells us that she also poured it on His feet. This perfume flowed into Jesus’ hair, down into His beard, and on to His clothes. Mary was trying to go as extravagant as she could in her gift to Jesus, because only wild extravagance began to show her appreciation and love for Jesus. John tells us that the fragrance filled the room (John 12:40). That is a massive understatement.
We are told that Mary broke open the jar. Breaking this jar of perfume and pouring it onto Jesus was an act of worship by Mary. Sometimes, like that jar, we cannot truly worship Jesus and honor Him like we should until we are broken and what’s on the inside of us is given to Jesus. To be broken is to be so crushed by the sin and darkness in your life that you realize there is no place to turn but to God. Psalm 34 says, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (ESV). Jesus loves broken people who come to Him.
Breaking this jar as an act of worship also teaches us about extravagant worship. She did not care about the expense, she didn’t care about what others thought, the only thing on her mind was to love Jesus, worship Jesus, honor Jesus and to her the best way to express that was to give Him something extravagant.
What was the reaction to those watching this display of sacrificial extravagant love toward Jesus? To begin with, Mark says in verse 4, Some of those at the table were indignant. The word indignant (aganakteo) means to feel anger or intense annoyance at what is perceived as unfair or unjust or unnecessary.[ii] Some of those sitting around the table got mad at Mary for what they perceived as a wasteful way to express her love for Jesus. That’s why they were angrily asking, “Why waste such expensive perfume?” They saw this act of worship as a waste. They looked upon this display of love for Jesus as a squandering of money and a misuse of her wealth.
In verse 5 someone says, It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor! According to John it was Judas who led in the scolding. John says that Judas “didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it” (John 12:6, CSB). However, there were others in the room who agreed with Judas about Mary’s extravagant display of love Jesus being wasteful.
The anger in the room over what had just happened began to spread and Mark says the people scolded her harshly. The word scolded (embrimaomai) means they were very angry and sternly warned her over and over. One person says, “Mary, what are you doing?” Another person says, “I can’t believe you wasted all that?” And another said, “You could have sold it and given it to the poor!” And another says, “What’s wrong with you? Think before you do something like that!” The word Mark used for scolded also means to snort in anger. It’s like the angry bull that snorts and pounds the ground right before it charges. Did Simon, Lazarus, Martha, or the other disciples join in on the scolding. We are not told exactly who joined in on this, but some of them did.
At this point I want to make a few important observations.
- Some believers do not think Jesus is worthy of such a sacrifice of extravagant love. What they don’t realize is, by demeaning the woman for her act of extravagant worship, they also demeaned Jesus. For them, to honor Jesus in this way was a waste. You hear this when people say, “What a waste for them to give that much money to the church?” or “What a waste for them to support that missionary with that amount of finances” or “I can’t believe they wasted their future and career and retirement to become a missionary or pastor.” Without knowing it, they were saying, “Jesus is important, but not that important!” Extravagant love does not think like that. Extravagant love does not think about how much it can save, but what is the best I can give.
- Another thought. Some people are willing to be poor in their possessions to be rich in their worship of Jesus. Others are not and it’s that group that are usually the critics. When you display excessive love for Jesus you will get criticized. You will be misunderstood. Some of the closest people and believers in your life will scold you, rebuke you, and correct you for what you are doing for Jesus, especially when its extravagant.
- When I think about this event I can’t help but to also think about some believers who have become comfortable with moderate and ordinary worship, rather than extravagant worship (I’m not talking about worship at church). Their commitment and dedication to following Jesus and loving Him is safe, convenient, comfortable, easy, and cheap. Jesus wants us to be extravagant in our worship. He wants you to take your alabaster jar, break it open, and pour on Him your time, energy, finances, thoughts, feelings, your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Extravagant love! Extravagant worship! Extravagant commitment! But to be extravagant will take sacrifice.
- One more important observation. Listen carefully. Jesus is not expecting extravagant acts of love and worship every day. Mary only had one alabaster jar and she used it to honor Jesus. Jesus had eaten dinner with Martha and Mary several times. As was the custom, I’m sure they offered some type of perfume at each gathering. But this time, Mary decided to do something extravagant for Jesus. I don’t want you to see this and think you are to give or do some extravagant thing for Jesus every day. That’s not the point here. At some point in your life, you will have an opportunity to display your love in an extravagant way. Others will think you are wasteful, but Jesus will receive it as an honor.
What was Jesus’ reaction to those who scolded this extravagant worshipper? This takes us to number two.
If you were to display an extravagant love for Jesus what would it be, what would it look like?
[i] Note that each of the three time we see Mary in the Gospels, she is at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39; John 11:32, 12:3).
[ii] According to John 12:4 the disciple who led the indignant conversation was Judas. Mary’s act of worship brought joy to Jesus and anger to Judas.