Apr 15, 2019
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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
As I got to know my wife when we were first dating a hundred years ago. (It’s not really been that long, but after 42 ½ years of marriage, it’s hard to remember life without her.) I digress. When we were dating, I learned her favorite perfume was Chanel No. 5. For a college kid, it was horribly expensive. But you know what present I would get her from time to time? If you didn’t guess it right the first time, you haven’t been hopelessly in love. I saved up enough to buy her Chanel No. 5 every time the bottle was getting low.
One thing I really love about Chanel No. 5, and I think the reason she likes it so well, is that it has such a light scent. It’s fragrance doesn’t overwhelm you when someone walks into the room wearing it. You recognize its presence, but barely until you are close to the person who has used just enough of the elixir to make it known there is something different about their scent. Great stuff.
A lot of other perfumes, colognes, toilet waters I just can’t handle. Someone will walk into a building and it suddenly smells like a 5,000 gallon fuel tanker filled with the stuff just dumped their load in the room. You probably know what I’m talking about. That odor, whether pleasant or not, just overpowers everything until it just destroys your sense of smell and no matter what the smell, you detest it. My eyes begin to water, my throat begins to close, I begin to sneeze uncontrollably. All my doctors tell me I’m not allergic to anything, but what that overwhelming scent gets into a room, my body just goes beserk.
Today’s passage reminds me of those overpowering fragrances since John describes the odor as permeating the whole house. Here is what he says in John 12 verses 1 through 11:
“Six days before the Passover feast, Jesus journeyed to the village of Bethany, to the home of Lazarus who had recently been raised from the dead, where they hosted Him for dinner. Martha was busy serving as the hostess, Lazarus reclined at the table with Him, and Mary took a pound of fine ointment, pure nard (which is both rare and expensive), and anointed Jesus’ feet with it; and then she wiped them with her hair. As the pleasant fragrance of this extravagant ointment filled the entire house, Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples (who was plotting to betray Jesus), began to speak.
Judas Iscariot: How could she pour out this vast amount of fine oil? Why didn’t she sell it? It is worth nearly a year’s wages; the money could have been given to the poor.
This had nothing to do with Judas’s desire to help the poor. The truth is he served as the treasurer, and he helped himself to the money from the common pot at every opportunity.
Jesus: Leave her alone. She has observed this custom in anticipation of the day of My burial. The poor are ever present, but I will be leaving.
Word spread of Jesus’ presence, and a large crowd was gathering to see Jesus and the formerly deceased Lazarus, whom He had brought back from the dead. The chief priests were secretly plotting Lazarus’s murder since, because of him, many Jews were leaving their teachings and believing in Jesus.”
This nard got my curiosity up. I didn’t think I’d ever smelled nard, sometimes called spikenard, so I started looking up some descriptions of the fragrance. I found that it was indeed a very expensive oil in Jesus’ day, and not so inexpensive today because of where the plant grows from which it is derived.
In my search, I found the plant grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. So just getting the plant to Israel in Biblical times would be quite the journey. And those lengthy caravans were costly. We know how to build greenhouses in such a way that we can grow almost anything anywhere, now, because we can simulate the environment of almost anyplace on earth, but they couldn’t then, and even today, to simulate the environs of the Himalayas would be costly.
But what about the smell? In all my searches, I found only one person that said nard smelled a little like lavender. That one author must have a terrible sense of smell because every other author I read said the smell is best described as “nard smells like … feet. A few said “stinky cheese.” But the majority of the vote if you do this in a democratic way, nard smells musty, earthy, leathery, … like feet. Think about the smell of middle school boys’ rooms. Feet! Yuk!
So why use nard? Well, it was thought to have some medicinal uses. It calmed anxiety. I’m told some people actually like the musty, leathery parts of the smell. Feet! One of the comments I read said fish stink, too, but that doesn’t make the river any less beautiful. I guess I understand the comment. We put up with my son’s middle school stinky feet smell because he was our son. We didn’t care much for the stinky feet smell, but we weren’t going to throw him out the door because of it. We just held our nose and gagged a little when ever we tried to decontaminate his room every few hours. (Sorry to use you as an illustration, Matt, you were handy, but I could have used any boy your age.)
So why bring all this up about nard? First, just because of the curiosity. But more important, because of the reaction of two characters in the story. Mary poured out the perfume as an act of worship for Jesus. (Whether people liked the smell or not, it was present and if it had a calming effect all the better.) She acted extravagantly in the presence of the one who deserves our extravagance. She didn’t think about the cost, only the act of giving her most prized possession.
The other character in our story, Judas, saw only waste. He didn’t see the act of worship. He only saw a year’s wages dumped on the leader of their little band’s feet. The stinky feet smell filled the room and instead of calming Judas, the oil had the opposite effect. The waste enraged him and he stormed out of the house. Everyone in the house should have been celebrating. Here sitting in the room with them was a living, breathing, eating, talking brother who just a few days earlier classified as a no kidding corpse. Dead. Gone. Finished.
Then we see this third group of characters that are really hard to explain. Jesus just raised Lazarus from the dead. He stood outside the tomb from which he had the stone pushed back and called out his name. Then here comes this man wrapped in a burial shroud smelling like nard and myrrh and frankincense. Everyone there just stands with their mouths open like fish until Jesus tells them to get the burial shroud off of him and feed him. He hasn’t eaten in four days! He’ll be hungry!
So if this guy, Jesus, can raise the dead and talk about scripture like he was there when it was written, why not listen to him? If Jesus can make two fish and five little rolls feed 5,000 men and their families, why would the religious leaders want to turn people away from him? If Jesus can change the lives of the individuals he touches and give them the internal peace they seek by telling them their sins are forgiven, why would the priests be wanting to break their own commandments and kill him?
It just doesn’t make much sense, does it? But you know what? We are often guilty of doing the same thing today. We act like Jesus is not the God we say he is. We act like he doesn’t matter. We act like the Bible and his teachings are not true. We act like there will be no judgment day or not final reckoning for the lives we live. We act like we are the center of the universe and the most important thing around. We act like those Pharisees and Sadducees. We act like we are ready to kill him because he makes life uncomfortable for us and wants to change our ways.
So here we are just a few days from celebrating Easter, for many, just another day on the calendar. For many, just a day which they can lift up as a way of making more sales for candy and clothes and special gifts for those that just want to pretend they are followers of Christ. It is still the season of Lent. In the early church, a time of preparation for those who chose to signify their entrance into the church by means of baptism on Easter Sunday. A time of study, self-reflection, ensuring they really know Jesus, they know his saving grace, and they know the cost of their commitment to him.
Lent, a time of preparation. We can do the same if we choose. We can prepare for Easter. We can do that self-examination and know we true followers of Jesus. We can know his awesome grace in our lives. We can commit to him knowing the cost may be everything we are and everything we have. Our riches, our families, our very lives. We can follow him if we choose. Most will not because in this world, the cost is high. But how about you. I can tell you it is worth it when you walk the narrow path with him.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.