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The Sacrifice in Bethany

Sermon 24 March 2024 in Aarh and Cph (LGJ)
Translation by MSWord.

Palmesøndag, 24.3.2024 i Aarh. og Kbh. (LGJ)
Salmenumre: 71, 178, 150 // 151, 432, 179

Gospel: John 12:1-16 (ESV):
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 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. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" 6 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. 7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me." 9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. 12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!" 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

It was six days before Easter.
John the Evangelist, who was an eyewitness, relates one of the many events that shape our faith and life as Christians. We are today invited to witness a sacrifice in Bethany six days before Easter, when our Lord prepared Himself and His disciples for His sacrifice at the cross.

We call this story given to us in the Gospels "salvation history." The faith in your heart and mine comes into being and lives when we hear it. If we don't hear it, we'll never have faith. And if we stop hearing it, faith disappears.

Today and in the days to come, we come close to the heart of our faith: that the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, was tormented under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, descended to hell, but rose on the third day. The Word gives us faith.

And in the sacraments, history moves into our lives. It happens to us. In baptism we are buried with Christ and resurrected with Him. In the sacrament, He gives us His body and blood, which were sacrificed for us on Calvary. He's here!

A feast
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus feast for Jesus. They had previously come to know him as their faithful friend. We first hear about them when Jesus went in with them, when Martha was standing up and Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet listening (Luke 10:38). Matthew, another eyewitness, relates that when Jesus was in Jerusalem, in the evening He went out to them in Bethany and spent the night (Matthew 21:17).

Shortly before this Passover feast, Jesus had called his friend Lazarus back from the dead. And Jesus taught Martha and Mary how to save us: "I am the resurrection and the life; Whoever believes in me will live, even if he dies." (John 11:25). By faith in him.

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus have, in a way, overtaken all the other disciples inside. The disciples had not grasped much of what was to happen this Easter. But Maria. Martha and Lazarus knew it. They professed Jesus. At the feast in their home, Lazarus sat as a living witness of Jesus' resurrection power. Martha served with the good food and caretaker. Mary anointed Jesus with precious nardus oil and saved the rest for his burial. She testified thus that Jesus was the anointed Christ or Messiah who would die, be buried, and rise from the dead. Savior from Death and Judgment. Together they said, "You are our Christ." 300 denarii they sacrificed on him. Nardus oil was very precious. The whole house filled with the smell.

Guest dissatisfaction
But the guests were dissatisfied. Can you spend so much money on worship? Wasn't there better purpose? It is wasteful. That is too much. It's too stupid.

Here we learn what Jesus can mean to a human being. Love arises, a love that squanders and cannot give enough. A love that gives so that others find it embarrassing. After all, they didn't have that much money in this home either. It would be equivalent to a family giving the entire annual income, perhaps DKK 300,000 to the LORD. Why though? "But it meant so much to them that He was their Christ. Yes, he meant even more to them.

See what God has invested in our world as Creator and Savior. He created us in His image as free creatures with whom He could fellowship and show love. But the people chose him out. And then He Himself became human to save us from death.

The apostle Judas represents rebellion in our text. He did not want to save because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief; He was the one in charge of the cash box, and he set aside something of what was put in it. - That's the basic sin: namely, that we put something aside and keep something to ourselves, some of it that is not even ours. For what is the purpose of human life? What is the meaning of being human? Judas is on to one of the right things: giving to the poor. But he used it as a pretext to get more for himself, just as we, with our service to others, are also stumbling close to taking glory and taking center stage ourselves.

We are challenged with the question: "What good is it to sell everything and give it to the poor if we do not have love?" (1 Corinthians 13). After all, sticking aside for oneself does not sound good. In practice, however, it is the same as giving a little of one's abundance in the thought that it really belongs to ourselves, and that we go a long way when we give a little, and stretch even further if we give a part. Therefore­­, it seems provocative and unreasonable that Maria gives 300 denarii – an annual salary.

The challenge for us in the text is to see ourselves in light of what Judas did with the disciples' coffers. Where do you stick something aside? Where are you holding back? How do you honor God with your life?

Jesus accepts the gift and defends Mary
He defends Mary. And he himself is on his way to death ... to die for the people (John 11:51). He could not lay waste the creature. He could not punish it for its rebellion. Hear what he says through the prophet Isaiah: I do not accuse forever and am not angered forever; for then their spirit would fail before my eyes, the spirit of life I myself have created. I was angered by their sinful avarice, I beat them and hid in anger; In apostasy, they followed the path they wanted. But I saw their journey, and I will heal them and give them rest, I give them comfort in return. (Isaiah 57:16-18)

He saw our avarice and became angry. And he intervened because he couldn't be angered forever. His intervention was that he himself became human. See how Jesus Himself invests. More than DKK 300,000 Divine love gives its heart to its creation. All his life. All that he is. He gives himself over. He took on the form of a servant and became like men; and when he had come forth as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient until death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2).

Mary's love, in this light, becomes only a glare of Jesus' love. And so it is with the works we do in faith in Jesus: they are a reflection, a reflection, a response to the love we have met in Him. Jesus defends this love and protects His servants. And if anyone thinks Mary is wasteful, they could accuse Jesus of being even more wasteful until they discovered that life begins and grows and is carried by that love that is wasteful and gives life in grace. Jesus is profligate and does not hold back when He senses our pettiness.

Jesus is our Savior
The gospel eventually proclaims that Jesus is our Savior. Do not fear Zion's daughterBehold, your king comes riding on a donkey's foal. He did not come to put them down, but to become their gracious king. And the Roman governor, in his interrogation of Jesus on Good Friday morning, said, "So are you king?" Jesus replied, "You say I am king. That is why I was born, and why I came into the world, that I might bear witness to the truth." (John 18:37)

We sang this together in No. 150: Here is He who will redeem every sinful slave, here He is who will pour comfort into every frightened soul. Here he is who will carry a wreath of thorns for you. Here he is who shall be your drot – your king – forever.

Yes, He is coming to us these days so that our avarice may be revealed, that what we have set aside may be brought to light. He speaks to us so that light may be shed on the lies and impurity in our lives. And the light is grace and truth from His love. The Word proclaims us salvation and peace, forgiveness and glory.

It's great just to sit with Lazarus and have been given the life of Jesus. It's good to be allowed to warm up, as Martha did. And it's great to use an annual salary in his honor, as Mary did. Amen.

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