“A Beautiful Thing”    Mark 14:1-11     April 20, 2008

 

SI:  What have you done lately for Jesus because you love him? 

This is a story of someone who did something for Jesus, just because she loved him.   Jesus called what she did a beautiful thing.

 

INTRO:  We got back last night from a week in South Florida.

   It was a great trip and we saw lots of beautiful things.

If you like beautiful cars, you see lots of them down there.

   We saw two Lamborghinis, two Ferraris, a Masarati, several Rolls Royces

   and too many Mercedes to count.

 

One day we drove all around the Coral Gables neighborhood of Miami

   which is filled with beautiful, Spanish-style mansions surrounded by fabulous

   tropical landscaping.

 

And we went to the beach—and that was beautiful.

   Went on a airboat ride in the Everglades where we saw alligators and birds—

   and that was beautiful too. 

 

God is beautiful, he loves beauty.  And he has made us in his image—

   so we appreciate beauty too.  It gives us a particular pleasure.

 

There is only one place in all the Gospels where Jesus called something beautiful.

   This is it.  Jesus called what this woman did a beautiful thing.

Not just a good thing—a beautiful thing.

   Lots of people did good things that Jesus praised,

   but this is the only thing anyone did that he called beautiful.

 

It’s hard to explain why something is beautiful, isn’t it?

   What makes one sunset beautiful and another ordinary?

Some people don’t even think you should try to analyze beauty.

   There’s that famous line of poetry:  “We murder to dissect.”

   The idea is that if you overanalyze it, you end up killing it.

 

I think there is a danger in doing that to this story.

   You could easily turn this into a shallow moral lesson like—

   give Jesus your best or something like that—and miss the beauty.

 

But Jesus himself calls attention to this story in a special way.

He says that wherever the Gospel is preached—this story will be told.

   He deliberately holds it before us as something to be studied and imitated.

 

He wants us to read this story and ask ourselves:

   What beautiful things can I do for God?

 

Not just good things. 

   Not just things that are my duty as a Christian.

   But what beautiful things can I do that will give Christ pleasure?

 

This story shows us that these beautiful things have several qualities.

   1.  They are costly yet self-forgetful.

   2.  They are different for everyone.

   3.  They are motivated by grace.

 

Let’s use these three points to study this story and apply it to our lives.

 

 


MP#1  Beautiful things are costly yet self-forgetful.

They cost you a lot but you don’t really feel the cost because it’s not about you.

 

When a Christian does a beautiful thing for Christ it involves a huge sacrifice,

   but if you pointed that out to the person, they would say—What sacrifice?

 

The most striking detail of this story is how expensive this perfume was.

   Mark says it was worth a year’s wages.

John actually gives a monetary value—300 denarii

   a denarius was a day’s wage for a common laborer.

Economies are different but most commentators say in today’s terms

   this bottle of perfume was worth $20,000 to $30,000.

 

It was called nard.  Nard, or spikenard was an aromatic herb

   that grows high in the Himalayan pastureland of India and Tibet.

So it was gathered in these remote regions and

   had to be shipped by camel caravan great distances. 

Mark is careful to point out that this was pure nard.

   Not a less expensive mixture.

 

Why would someone have a bottle of such expensive perfume?

   It was probably a financial asset.

In those days wealth was not kept in stocks and bonds

   but in precious metals and gemstones and rare things like this perfume.

 

That’s why it was in a specially sealed alabaster bottle

   that had to be broken in order to be opened. 

This was not a perfume for daily wear.  

   It was an asset, an investment. 

 

It was the custom in that culture to anoint an honored guest with oil

   when he arrived at for a banquet.  So the anointing itself was not unusual.

But this woman went absolutely overboard.

   She broke the bottle and poured it all out on Jesus. 

   It was such an extravagant gesture and it was very costly.

 

If you are going to do beautiful things for Jesus, they have to be costly.

   They will be costly.  You won’t want it any other way. 

We read earlier the story of David purchasing land for the Temple.

He could have had that property for the asking and paid nothing for it.

   Remember the owner of the property wanted to give it to him.

 

But do you remember what he said:

   “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

He insisted on paying for what he could have had for free.

   His love for the Lord was a compulsion that demanded to be expressed

   in a way that conveyed the depth of his feelings. 

He wanted to do something costly—just like this woman.

 

And this brings us to the other quality that made her act beautiful. 

   It was self-forgetful.  And by that I mean she did no cost benefit analysis.

She didn’t think about what this is going to get her.

   I’ve done this for Jesus, now what will he do for me?

 

She didn’t even seem to think about how practical or useful this act was.

   And she obviously didn’t think about or care about what people would say.

It was simply an extravagant act of love and in that sense it was not about her.

 

I’m sure that if you had said to her—What a great sacrifice you’ve made.

   She would have said:  What sacrifice?  I wanted to do this.

 

I’ve told you before of I man I once knew who had spent years building a collection

   of Model A Fords.  He loved old cars and collecting.

But then he was approached about the need for a Christian radio ministry

   and he gave away his whole collection to be sold for that work.

I asked him if he missed his car collection.

   He said something like:  I loved collecting those cars—

   but what an opportunity to be on the ground floor of this evangelistic work.

 

For him it wasn’t just the money, it was his way of expressing his love for Christ.

   by giving something that was very costly that could not be replaced.

 

But how do you overcome all of the internal obstacles

   and open yourself to do something costly and self-forgetful for Christ?

We’ll get to that in a moment—but before we do,

   we need to see something else important in this story.

Brings us to our second point: 

 


MP#2  Beautiful things are different for everyone.

You could read this story and say: 

   I don’t have  $30,000 bottle of perfume to give Jesus.

   I don’t have an antique car collection to give Jesus.

But it’s different for every Christian

   And the costliness of beautiful things are not always measured in dollars.

 

The beautiful thing that you have the opportunity to do may be costly

   to your time.  We are such busy people, aren’t we?

   Our schedules are so demanding.

God may providentially give you an opportunity for a beautiful thing

   that is going to require a costly sacrifice of your time.

   It might be time spent with a person or on some kingdom work.

And people might even say:  Why are wasting your time with that?

   Your time is much too valuable for that. 

   But it’s a beautiful thing.

 

Or it may be costly to you in terms of your dreams and plans.

   Sometimes the beautiful thing may simply be bearing up under a trial,

   for no other reason than to glorify Christ. 

And it may be that this trial is the ruin of your dreams and plans—

   maybe it’s the struggles of a marriage, or poor health,

   or being trapped in a job that is just wearing you down.

 

Other people may not understand your faithfulness.

   May say that you aren’t putting yourself first, not looking after your interests.

Your faithfulness year after year, obeying Christ in this trial is a beautiful thing. 

 

Or it may be costly in terms of what other people expect of you—

   even other Christians whose wisdom you value.

William Burns was a 19th century Scottish pastor whose preaching was so

   powerful that it started a revival in Scotland in the 1830s.

He was so well-known and admired that he could have served in any

   of the great pulpits in Scotland and spent his years being a great influence

   for Christ in his own country. 

 

But to the great disappointment and outright consternation of many Christians

   in Scotland he went to China as a missionary.

 

Fellow ministers urged him to stay. 

   You can be a much more effective force for missions here in Scotland.

   Think of the many young people you could influence to go to mission field.

Think how much money you could raise for missions in the pulpit of one

   of the big steeple churches in Scotland.

 

But out of his love for Christ he went to China

   and there he spent many difficult, frustrating years.

When he died, all his possessions were put in a box and shipped back to Scotland.

   When the box was opened it was found to contain two shirts, a pair of pants,

   his Bible, one other book and a Chinese flag.  Not much to show for a life.

And you wonder if his good pastor friends shook their head and said:

   He would have been much more effective here.

 

That was how the disciples responded to this woman’s act.

   They said it was a foolish waste of money.

If she had really wanted to do something good that perfume,

   should have sold it and given the money to the poor.

 

I don’t know about you, but when I read this story, and try to see myself in it,

   it’s scary how much I identify with these disciples.

I know for a fact that if I had been there,

   I would not have approved what this woman did.

   I would have thought it was impractical and embarrassing.

 

So that tells me that we ought to be very careful not to judge

   other Christian’s acts of devotion. 

If fellow Christians do things for Christ that we think are impractical

   or maybe even a little fanatical,

   we need to be very careful not to call something foolish that Jesus finds beautiful. 

 

And on the other hand, this means that we need to be open

   to the opportunities that God gives us to do beautiful things for him.

Someone wise once wrote this about this passage:

   “Do not imitate other people.  Do not envy other people. 

   Be yourselves and let your love take its natural expression.”

What beautiful thing is the Lord leading you to do?

 

Brings us to third point.


MP#3  Beautiful things are motivated by grace.

When you meditate on this story, and think about it’s application in your life,

   sooner or later the question comes:  How?

   How can I do beautiful things for Christ?

 

Even if the opportunity is before me—there are so many obstacles.

Beautiful things aren’t based on cost analysis.

   But I am constantly figuring what good for me, whether it will be worth it.

Beautiful things are self-forgetful and free.

   But I have so many inhibitions and I like my inhibitions.

   I like being concerned with what is practical. 

   I like being afraid of how much something will cost.

 

And I’m sure all of you could list the things that makes this hard for you too.

   So where does the power come from? 

   Where do we get the motivation to overcome our fears and inhibitions?

 

The short answer is—God’s grace.

   Only by considering all that Jesus has done for us by his grace

   will you forge yourself and do beautiful things for Christ.

 

Who was this woman?  How’s your Bible knowledge?

   John tells us in his Gospel.  This was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.

   Who was Simon the Leper?  Obviously a man who was once a leper, healed.

Some Bible commentators look at all the evidence and speculate that

   Simon the Leper was the father of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

   We don’t know that for a fact, but at the very least, he was a close friend.

Mary would have known of his healing from leprosy by Christ.

 

When you put all that together, realize that Mary came to this feast—

   and she looked, and there at the table was Simon, man once a leper,

   not healthy and whole.

And even more amazing, there was her dear brother Lazarus—

   who Jesus had recently raised from the dead.

   There he was, sitting at the table, enjoying the feast.

Mary was overwhelmed with the goodness of God.

 

And on top of that, there is that interesting comment in Mark’s passage

   where Jesus says:  “She has poured perfume on my body to prepare for burial.”

Did that mean that Mary had actually been listening to Jesus more closely

   than any of the other disciples and understood that he was going to die?

I think it did.  She didn’t understand everything—but more than the 12.

   At this point they still thought he was going to raise an army

   and throw off the Romans.

Mary understood at some level—he’s come to die for us.

 

It was Christ’s personal goodness to her—and her knowledge

   of his coming death that motivated her to do this beautiful thing.

That’s the way it always is.  To the extent you know Christ’s goodness

   and grace to you and his death for you on the cross—

   to that extent, you will be motivated and enabled to do beautiful things.

 

Suzi Hasel Mundi was a little German girl during WWII.

   She wrote a book about her family’s experiences during the war years

   called A Thousand May Fall.

It’s a tremendous story about living by faith in difficult times.

 

Her father was drafted into German army, fighting on Russian front.

Her mother and brothers and sister were in their home in Frankfurt.

   As the war dragged on it became more and more difficult for them to find food.

   Many nights they went to bed hungry. 

 

Suzi tells of a time her mother had gotten a loaf of bread—

   and as they were walking back home they came across a column of several

   thousand Russian POWs being marched to a German prison camp. 

These men were emaciated and broken by disease and wounds and exhaustion.

   Her mother was so stirred with compassion that she pulled out the loaf,

   broke it, and gave half to one of the Russian POWs.

 

What would motivate a mother to perform such a costly act?

   Taking food meant for her children’s mouths—

   and giving it to a broken enemy soldier. 

Only the powerful knowledge that she too was once an enemy of God,

   and yet his Son’s body was broken so that she could eat and have life.

 

You might say:  I would never do that.

   You might even say:  She should not have done that.

   Her first responsibility was to her own children.

That was irresponsible and fanatical.

   And yet her own daughter, years later says:  What a beautiful act.

   What a beautiful act by our Christian mother, never to be forgotten.

 

Is the grace of Jesus Christ powerful in your life?

   Is it the motive for you to do beautiful things for God?

It has to be.  So come to the Table, eat and drink of his goodness—

   and commit yourself to do beautiful things for him, even this week.