The Best Time to Follow Jesus
[shared with the people of Friendship Church, March 28, 2004]
Some of you have heard me speak before of the TV interview that happened in Chicago when a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall had gone to that town. A reporter asked one man why he was there. “Because,” the man replied, running his fingers across a particular name, “when I was in Vietnam, that man saved my life.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, you and I can readily understand that man’s emotions. We know Someone Who sacrificed His own life to save ours. Jesus Christ, God-on-the-earth and perfect, sinless human being, died on a cross. Jesus accepted our punishment so that all who believe in Him can live with God forever.
But let me ask you some questions, ones that I ask myself from time to time. I'm not always proud of my answers.
How much does Jesus’ death for you mean to you?
How grateful are you for what Jesus has done for you?
How does your gratitude to Jesus show in your everyday life?
Our Bible lesson records an almost bizarre incident that occurred just six days before the Passover Feast that would see Jesus’ arrest and execution. At the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, his friends in Bethany, Jesus is having dinner. In the midst of it all, Mary walks over to Jesus and pours a costly ointment, imported from India, on Jesus’ feet. She dabs the liquid with her hair.
If this scene is strange to us, it would have been downright offensive to the people of first-century Judea where Jesus lived.
For one thing, washing or anointing feet was slave’s work.
For another, a woman was never to let her hair down in public as Mary does here.
And of course, there is the cost of the ointment, the equivalent of about one year’s wages. Judas, Jesus’ treasurer who will soon betray Jesus, says the money that’s being "wasted" at that moment could be given to the poor. But Jesus upbraids Judas. You see, Mary is grateful for what Jesus has done for her family: in the preceding chapter of John's Gospel you can read about Jesus bringing her brother, Lazarus, back to life.
I believe that this incident has valuable things to teach you and me and I’d like to talk about them this morning. The lessons can be summed up in this way: In response to Jesus’ love, we’re to do whatever good we can, whenever we can, for whomever we can. And for God’s sake, we should never worry about either what it costs us or about our ability. Let’s consider that.
In response to Jesus’ love, we’re to do whatever good we can. Donald Berwick is a pediatrician and speaker. Once, he was speaking to a convention in Boston. During his presentation, he shared that he and some friends had started a medical clinic to help the poor in his community. During a Q-and-A session afterwards, one man challenged Berwick. “Don’t you realize how many poor people there are in New England? What good do you think that you’re accomplishing with your clinic?” Berwick said that he understood what the man was getting at and then said, “You want me to boil the ocean. I can’t. I can boil a pot for tea. So, I’ll boil my pot for tea and, if enough of us boil a pot of water, the ocean will boil.”
Mary and her family were people of modest means. We know this because servants weren’t preparing the meal that Jesus was enjoying. Mary’s sister Martha was the one in the kitchen. Yet they had this expensive ointment, something for which they’d probably scrimped and saved for eons. Putting it on Jesus’ feet was an extravagant, unnecessary, and altogether loving thing to do. Mary did what she could do. That’s our call too.
In response to Jesus’ love, we’re to do good whenever we can. Bishop Thomas Clary tells the story of a conversation that happened after the meeting of a board on which he served. They were telling stories about their most embarrassing moments. One man, Frank, talked about his dad, a fisherman who loved the sea and was devoted to his entire extended family. As the Bishop tells it:
“[Frank said,] 'When the weather was bad he would drive me to school. He had this old truck that he used in his fishing business...[It made lots of noise, announcing its presence wherever it went.]...As [Dad] would drive toward the school, I would shrink down into the seat hoping to disappear...[so I wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of my schoolmates]...He would drive right up in front [of the school], and it seemed like everybody would be standing around and watching. Then he would lean over and give me a big kiss on the cheek and tell me to be a good boy. It was so embarrassing...Here I was twelve years old, and my dad would lean over and kiss me goodbye!
“'I remember the day I decided I was too old for a goodbye kiss. When we got to school and came to a stop, he had his usual big smile. He started to lean toward me, but I put my hand up and said, "No, Dad."
"[Frank explained that he was too old to be kissed by his father. His dad’s eyes teared up.] 'He turned and looked out the windshield. "You’re right...You are a big boy, a man. I won’t kiss you any more."'
"Frank got a funny look on his face and the tears began to well up in his eyes as he spoke. ‘It wasn’t long after that when my dad went to sea and never came back. It was a day when most of the fleet stayed in, but not Dad. He had a big family to feed. They found his boat adrift with its nets half in and half out...'
"Frank spoke again, ‘Guys, you don’t know what I’d give to have my Dad give me just one more kiss on the cheek, to feel his rough old face, to smell the ocean in him, to feel his arm around my neck. I wish I had been a man then. If I had been a man, I would never have told my Dad I was too old for a goodbye kiss.'"
In response to Jesus’ love, like Mary, we’re to do good whenever we can. That includes giving and receiving genuine love.
Third: In response to Jesus’ love, we’re to do good for whomever we can. Max Lucado tells the story of a friend’s visit to Disney World. This friend had been at Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom. There was a huge crowd and a beautiful girl was playing the part of Cinderella. In a corner opposite from where this young woman stood in the castle was a boy of about seven, holding onto the hand of his older brother. The younger boy was small for his age, his face terribly deformed. He watched as “Cinderella” showered attention on all the other children around her. But then something wonderful happened! Cinderella saw this little boy just standing there watching wistfully. She politely but resolutely walked through the crowd of adoring children right up to the little boy. She knelt down next to him with a smile on her face and then leaned forward and kissed him. The joy that overtook that little guy bespoke his gratitude. When we do good even for the unlovely, the joy of heaven enters our world!
In response to Jesus’ love, we’re to do whatever good we can, whenever we can, for whomever we can. And for God’s sake, we shouldn’t worry about the cost. Mary didn’t worry about the cost when she poured that expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet! ! A few years ago, a man in New York City was kidnapped. In a telephone call, the kidnappers demanded a $100,000.00 ransom from the man’s wife. She thought about that and negotiated them down to $30,000.00! The man was ultimately freed. But I wonder how he felt after he got home and learned that his wife seemingly decided that he was worth $30,000.00, but not $100,000.00!
Jesus went to a cross knowing that in order to save us, it would cost Him His earthly life. He tells us that those who lose their lives—those who give up their own priorities and preferences and let Him be our highest priorities—will in the end, save their lives. When we truly value Jesus and what He has done for us, no cost is too great. Whatever it costs us in time, effort, money is worth it in order to tell Jesus thank You!
And we shouldn’t worry about our ability either. A man happened to walk by a building that was on fire before firefighters arrived. A woman on the second floor called out to him and asked, “Will you save me?” The man said that he would and proceeded to walk away. “Where are you going?” the woman asked hysterically. “I’m going to get life-saving training. I’ll be back as soon as I graduate.”
That’s what lots of people do when it comes to Jesus’ call in their lives. They don’t participate in or teach Sunday School, help with the church youth, do a Kindness Outreach, ask a friend to worship, clean up the building, lead or get involved with a small group, or read a lesson on Sunday morning because they don’t feel qualified. Mary, in our Bible lesson today, apparently wasn’t much of a cook. But grateful for Jesus’ love, she soothed his aching feet at the dinner. There’s no reason for us to worry about what we can’t do. That’s because God can do everything through the hearts, hands, and lives of people who put themselves at His disposal. Paul writes in the New Testament, "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me!" I've said it before and I'll say it again, "The most important ability that Jesus is seeking in us is availability."
As people grateful for what Jesus has done for us, our call is clear. We’re to do whatever good we can, whenever we can, for whomever we can. And for God’s sake, we should never worry about either what it costs us or about our ability. God has so much He wants to do in our lives and through our lives. Now is the time to let Him live in us. This is the place. Amen!
[The true story of the Chicagolander at the replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall has been told by Bill Hybels in messages and in at least one of his books.
[The true story of Donald Berwick was recently shared by Pastor Michael Foss in the latest issue of The Toolkit: Equipping Disciple Making Ministries.
[The true story of Frank from Bishop Clary was recently recounted by Steve Goodier in his fantastic emailed inspiration, LifeSupport. To subscribe, contact Steve at LifeSupportfirstname.lastname@example.org .
[The true story of 'Cinderella' at Disney World comes from a book by Max Lucado. I found it however, in a wonderful book of sermons by the late Philip Longfellow Anderson. The book is The Gospel in Disney: Christian Values in the Early Animated Classics (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2004).
[The true story of the kidnapped man is from e-sermons.com.]