Giving Is a Gift
Heavenly Father, I am surely unworthy of the many gracious gifts and abilities with which You have blessed me. Nevertheless, I pray this day that You would enable me to use my time, talents, and treasures in this church and in the world to the praise and honor of Your name. Inspire me through the work that You accomplished through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. 2 There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
4 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.
7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”
GIVING IS A GIFT
I. Granted by God
II. Corrupted by Sin
III. Offered by Faith
Dear Friends in Christ, Fellow Redeemed!
If you only had one week left to live, what would be on your list of things to do before you died? A movie came out a number of years ago, in which two men found out they had terminal cancer. These two men made a list of things that they wanted to do before they died and spent the rest of the movie doing the things on that list.
Lots of people like to make a “bucket list” of things that they would like to do before they “kick the bucket.” Of course, no one living actually knows for sure when they are going to die. But Jesus did. The events of our text take place the Friday before Palm Sunday, that is one week before the events of Good Friday.
Jesus had one week to live and what do we see Him doing? He is not focused on physical, worldly accomplishments. He's not trying to live life to the fullest through carnal pleasures and lusts of the flesh. Rather, we see Jesus doing what I believe most of us here would be doing. He is spending precious time with loved ones, especially those who are members of the same faith.
Jesus had the most important week of His life coming up, really the most important week of anyone's life ever. This dinner was intended to be for Jesus, but as He so often did, Jesus used this opportunity to teach His disciples that the ability to give is in fact a gift from God. And through the recording of the apostle John, Jesus teaches us as well.
I. Granted by God
Perhaps you have heard many of the popular opinions in society today regarding God and finances. Something like, “All the church wants is your money!” or “Religion is just one big ponzi scheme!” Unfortunately, this is how many people see Christianity, as a moneymaking tool.
Sadly, there have been times in history when churches have abused the teaching of church stewardship. Think of the indulgences sold at the time of Martin Luther. Think of tithing, that is giving 10% of your earnings, that some churches even today demand. Still other churches have yearly membership fees and will stop performing functions like marriages or baptisms if you quit paying.
This is not how God wants us, His believers, to see Christian giving. Giving to God is not to be seen as an obligation, but rather as an opportunity to show our thankfulness to Him. Let's look at a few Bible passages that describe Christian Stewardship.
In the Old Testament, when the people appeared for the different feasts, the Lord said, “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you” (Deuteronomy 16:17).
When the people were preparing to build the temple of the Lord at the time of David and Solomon we read, “They gave for the service of the house of God 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze and 100,000 talents of iron. And whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the Lord. Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord” (1 Chronicles 29:7-10 ESV).
Jesus Himself said, “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4 ESV).
When addressing the Corinthians about the need in Jerusalem, Paul stated, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
These passages outline several Scriptural truths for us. 1. It is only because God has blessed us first that we are able to give in return. 2. God pleasing offerings come from a willing, cheerful heart. 3. Offerings are not given with an expectation of a reward. 4. God will reward the gift of the Christian, although not necessarily with temporary earthly rewards, but with eternal rewards in heaven.
The ability to give is a gift granted to each one of us by God. Look at the example of the people who were present at Bethany with Jesus. From the parallel account in Matthew we learn that this whole group met at the house of Simon the leper. If you remember your Sunday School lessons you will see a problem with what I just said. Lepers were not allowed to be anywhere near healthy people, much less host a party for more than a dozen people.
This is the only place in Scripture that this man is mentioned. But we can properly reason that this Simon had been a leper before and had been cured by Jesus. He was likely well known in the New Testament church as one who had experienced the Christ first hand. Simon would have had no chance to serve Jesus and His disciples by letting them use his house and offering his food, drink, and resources, if Jesus had not cured him first. Simon's giving was a gift granted by God.
Speaking of diseases, one of the other men there, Lazarus, had just recently gotten over something much worse than even leprosy. In John 11, the chapter before this one, Lazarus was dead. He was four days in the tomb when Jesus called him out of it and raised him from death. What a witness this must have been to those early believers!
Lazarus lived every day as living proof that Jesus Christ had power of life and death, that He is the resurrection and the life. The three verses following our text read, “Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus” (12:9-11). Of course, had Jesus not raised Lazarus from the dead, than he would not be able to give his witness to the others. Lazarus' witness was a gift granted by God.
From the familiar account of when Mary and Martha hosted Jesus, we know that Martha was a gifted hostess. Earlier she took this talent so far in believing that it was her duty to serve Jesus rather than to first allow Him to serve her. In this account we again see Martha hosting Jesus and the disciples, but this time there is no word of rebuke from Jesus.
That is because she is now using her talents to serve the Lord, but making the words of Jesus her main priority, not her work. This greater understanding was given to Martha by Jesus in that earlier account, otherwise she would not be able to properly use her gifts for the Lord. Martha's service was a gift granted by God.
When you look at your own life through the lenses of Scripture it is clear that everything we have, everything we are is a gift to us from God. We learn from James that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
Every gift that we have been given from God is an opportunity for us to serve God in giving back to Him. Whether by serving as a host to the Gospel through offerings as Simon the leper did. Whether it is by serving as a witness to others to the Savior of the world as Lazarus did. Whether it is through using talents such as serving and organization as Martha did. All of these things can be used as to give back to God in response to His sending His Son as a sacrifice for us.
II. Corrupted by Sin
And yet, how quickly and how easily these wonderful opportunities to serve the Lord are twisted and corrupted by sinful desires. Here we have an example of that in the person of Judas Iscariot. Judas, whose greed would escalate to the point that he eventually betrayed the Son of God for a handful of silver, was at this point in his life, keeping himself to lesser crimes.
Judas was the treasurer in Jesus' small group of disciples and even though they did not have very much money very often, he still managed to skim some off of the top for himself.
The interesting thing is that Judas, just like Simon, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, was given the opportunity to serve God. God had given him the talents and abilities to serve as treasurer. He was given the unique chance to spend three years with the Messiah. However, he wasted his gifts from God because of his greed.
In Africa, hunters have a very unique and clever way of trapping monkeys. They fill a jar with fruit and nuts and bury it in the ground so that just the opening is above ground. When the monkey comes along, the jar is wide enough so that the monkey can get its open hand in, but narrow enough that it can't get its hand full of fruit and nuts out.
The greedy monkey screams and hollers in frustration, never even thinking to let go of the snack that is so precious to it. Even as the hunter walks all the way up to the trap, the monkey yanks and pulls on its arm, but never drops the prize.
Isn't this the same situation that Judas found himself in? Even as Jesus and the disciples marched closer and closer to Jerusalem, Judas clung tighter and tighter to his precious money, to his sin of greed. The deceit and the lies grew as well. From the lie that he cared for the poor to the deception that he attempted to carry out in betraying the Son of Man with a kiss.
So what about you? Are you trusting in Jesus your Savior to provide for you and giving all that you have like the widow who gave two mites? Or are you like Judas and the stubborn monkey? Clinging to your sin, despite the clear danger pointed out to you in Scripture.
Now, to be clear, God does not desire us to give all we have and live in a cardboard box under a bridge. As we said earlier, God desires a cheerful giver who gives with a willing heart according to what He has blessed you with.
This means that all our offerings to God, be it our time, our treasure, or our talent need to be constantly evaluated. Are you making your weekly contribution to the Lord a priority or are you flipping through your wallet to see if you have any cash during the offering every Sunday? Are you trusting that God will provide for you and your family or are you trusting in some other source for provision? Are you being lazy in your contribution to the church's needs, assuming someone else will pick up the slack, or are you looking for opportunities to serve the Lord with the talents and abilities that He has given to you? Are you serving as a witness to the truth as all Christians are called to be, or are you hiding your light under a bushel?
When we truly examine ourselves we realize that we do fall short. We realize that we do not give to God as He has given to us. We realize that we are sinners, caught up in sin and doubt, just like Judas.
The difference is that Judas at least by the end of his life was not working in faith. Even though he did work for Jesus to an extent (he must have done a decent job, the disciples didn't catch him until after Jesus died), Judas did not work from faith, so even what he did offer was not true giving.
III. Offered by Faith
However, in the case of Mary we do have an offering from the heart of one who had faith in Christ. Mary was still certainly a sinner, but what she offered she offered freely, from a cheerful heart of thanksgiving for the work of Christ, albeit a heart of sadness as well due to the upcoming suffering of her Lord and Master.
The brighter a light is the darker the shadows it seems to cast. So here, the bright light of Mary's example shines so bright that it contrasts diametrically with the dark, vile intentions of Judas. And what an example for us!
Spikenard was a rare oil extracted from a plant that grows in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. The rarity of the oil and the transportation costs required to get it all the way to Jerusalem, made this a very expensive commodity indeed. Of course, it is Judas who is able to immediately put a price-tag on the jar of ointment.
300 denarii! A denarii was one day's wages for a common worker. So if we figure 365 days a year minus 52 Sabbaths every year, we end up with about an entire year's wages if you only took two weeks of vacation. We don't know how Mary got the money to pay for such an extravagant gift, but she recognized the same thing we spoke of earlier, that everything that we do have is a gift from God.
Regardless of whether you are a common laborer or not, can you imagine spending your entire adjusted gross income from last year on a gift like this? Perhaps the more generous among us would give that much to a building for the church or perhaps to worthwhile causes like clothing and feeding the hungry and needy. But can you imagine pouring out all that money in the form of oil? Something that smells nice for a few minutes but is gone in such a short amount of time?
Was Judas right in what he asked? Many of the other disciples grumbled among themselves as well. Judas just wanted to steal the money, but was he right that it should be given to the poor? Let Jesus answer that question. “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”
This offering was a reflection of the faith in the heart of Mary. Mary, who had chosen for herself the better portion by sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to His Word (Luke 10:42). Mary, who brought tears to the eyes of Christ when she confessed, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).
Perhaps Mary understood the purpose of Jesus better than any of His other disciples. She seems to have known that Jesus had come to die, because she had saved this oil for the day of His burial. A day which was just one short week away.
And look at how she reflects Jesus Himself. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus showed this by washing the feet of His disciples on Maundy Thursday, just like six days earlier His feet had been washed by Mary. And she didn't even use a cloth, but broke the social rules of the time by letting her hair down and using it to wash Jesus' likely very dirty feet.
There should be no question that Mary knew that she was a sinner in need of a Savior. She knew that Jesus was that Savior for her. She knew that Jesus was about to make a great sacrifice. She knew that there was no way that she could adequately thank Him for that sacrifice.
That was the motivating factor for Mary's offering to Jesus. That is the motivating factor for us as well. We do not give offerings to make up for our sinfulness. Jesus' sacrifice took away all of our sin. We give offerings to thank Jesus for all that He did.
We thank Jesus for coming down from heaven and humbly taking the form of a baby. We thank Jesus for living a life of perfection that we could not and crediting that perfection to us. We thank Jesus for taking the lonely road to the cross, the mocking, the scourging, the beating, the betrayal, all of it. Jesus did it all for you.
The heart of faith sees and believes all of this and cannot help but overflow with thanksgiving. And so Mary, in thanksgiving for what Jesus would do, delivered her offering to Christ in the form of Spikenard. And so we, in thanksgiving for what Jesus has done, deliver our offerings to Christ through our talents and our time and our treasures.
Martin Luther once said, “I have tried to keep things in my hands and lost them all, but what I have given into God's hands I still possess.”
May God grant to each of us a heart of thanksgiving that sees our opportunity to give to the Lord as an actual gift from the Lord. Though this opportunity is often twisted and corrupted by sin, may God grow the faith of each of us to see what Christ did for us and to respond with grateful, loving hearts.
In Jesus' name, Amen.