"Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany where
Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner
for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining
with him at the 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.
But Judas Iscariot, one of his 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. Jesus said, “Leave her
alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor
you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
This is a beautiful story where Mary takes that very expensive
ointment, pure nard as John described it here, and anoints Jesus body
for burial. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said it was a beautiful thing
that she did, Matthew 26.
We also know from Matthew’s gospel account that the criticism that
came upon Mary was a collective effort. It wasn’t just one or two but it
looks like the disciples (plural). It doesn’t tell us which disciple
but in all likelihood all of them got involved in this barrage of
criticism. But John tags Judas as the instigator. He was what you could
call the firestarter. He provided the sparks for the fire of criticism.
James reminds us in James 3 where he picks up that analogy of sparks
when it comes to the use of the tongue and some of the dangers that we
must be aware of. A few words, a few sparks can create a raging forest
What is Judas’ problem? What is really the big problem here? Some
might say, “He was a thief.” That’s right, he was a thief, he had the
moneybag. Some people have a drinking problem; some people have a porn
problem; some people have food problems, but Judas had a money problem.
Remember what Jesus said about money on the Sermon on the Mount, “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 mammon.” Jesus employs the language of worship
here. You cannot serve, you cannot devote yourself to money.
That’s what Judas is doing. He had a money problem, but he had a
worship problem. That is really the issue here. I think it is safe to
argue that the biggest problem in the world today is worship problems,
idolatry, the first commandment. You can go back to John 4 and remember
the woman at the well and her problem with relationships. She had four
husbands and the one she was living with was not her husband. She had a
worship problem. She was trying to find her satisfaction and joy and
delight in marriages or relationships with men. In Exodus 32 the nation
of Israel falls prey to idolatry, worshipping the golden calf. Israel
has a recurrent worship problem throughout the Old Testament again and
again and again. The big problem is idolatry. Think of Paul when he
visits Athens, Greece, Acts 17. The city was full of idols. The
intellectual, philosophical capital of the world at that time was
Athens, Greece. What was the big problem, it was a worship problem.
When you open up Romans 1 and Paul begins to preach the gospel and
why men need the gospel, what is the first problem he deals with? He
says they worship the creature rather than the creator. It’s a worship
I think it is safe to say the biggest problem today (and you will
never hear this through the mass media, or any blogs) is not melting
icecaps; it’s not racism; it’s not pornography; it’s not abortion; the
biggest problem today is idolatry. We should never, ever think we are
not vulnerable to the sin of idolatry. You could say the greatest
battle, the greatest war that takes place, takes place on the turf of
our hearts, and it’s a battle over who will we love most.
It’s a god war. We can pretty well worship anything, can’t we? We can
worship any created thing, it doesn’t have to be bad things. It can be
legitimate pleasures and blessings. Dr. John Piper says, “The most
deadly appetites are not the poison of evil, but the simple pleasures of
earth; where we replace an appetite for God himself. It is the
replacement strategy of Romans 1. That is what is happening in Romans 1.
They are replacing God the creator with god the creature. Idolatry,” he
says, “is then scarcely recognizable and almost incurable.” That is
kind of shocking, isn’t it? “Scarcely recognizable and almost
All of us have pulls and vulnerabilities easily seduced by the world
we live in. You could call it the God war, the worship war. Go back to
Mary. Mary got it right. She is found at the feet of Jesus and that is
where she would love to be.
I hope that is true of us, Brethren, that we would love to be at the
feet of Jesus. That we love to be at his feet on Sunday morning, Sunday
night and at Wednesday night prayer meetings. This gives us an
opportunity to come to the true and living God and ask him to stir up
our hunger for God.