The argument went like this:
“Large churches with large ministries largely waste their resources. Doesn’t the church realize that Jesus would be happier with them if they used their large, arena-style buildings to house the homeless and less fortunate instead of hosting extravagant concerts? Why not use church buildings to provide temporary shelter to refugees? Wouldn’t this please Jesus more than holding a concert where the people don’t do anything worthwhile except sing songs? All this does is prove how selfish, irrelevant, and blind the church has become to the needs of the world around them. Churches should liquidate their assets and give it all to the poor instead of wasting it on themselves….”
This argument has come in various forms several times in the last couple of months. Interestingly, it always came from people who are not followers of Jesus Christ and do not attend a church anywhere, but nevertheless, feel that it is their place to critique God’s church. Isn’t it fascinating how those who deny the existence of God get so worked up about someone they argue doesn’t even exist in the first place?
First, from the Scriptures…
The argument mentioned above immediately reminds us of a similar one that was made in the gospels. Truly there is nothing new under the sun…
“Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?'” John 12:1-5 (NASB95)
Sound familiar? Jesus had come to the town of Bethany to the place where Lazarus was. While He was there, they made Him supper and served it to Him. At some point during this evening, Mary approached Jesus with a pound of very expensive perfume that came from the oils of the nard plant. She then poured this perfume out on the feet of Jesus. But she didn’t stop there. She began to wipe down those divine feet that had become soiled by the dirt of the world during His travels. The scandalous part of all of this though was that instead of using a towel, she chose to use her own hair. Hair that was supposed to be covered up in the deeply religious Jewish culture of the day. As a result, it says the house was filled with the scent of the perfume that had been extravagantly poured out on Jesus’ feet. It really must have been quite the scene!
Reactions of the Redeemed
Furthermore, when we consider the people in attendance, it expands our understanding of the atmosphere of adoration that was present in that house at Bethany. First of all, John points out that Lazarus was there. The same Lazarus whom Jesus loved. The same Lazarus who had gotten sick. The same Lazarus who had died from his illness. The same Lazarus who had lain dead in a tomb for four days. The same Lazarus who came back to life and walked out of that tomb when Jesus commanded with a shout, “Lazarus, come forth.” This same Lazarus that now shunned all other activity to recline at the table with Jesus. We can wonder what the devotional life of Lazarus was like after the One who is the Resurrection and the Life raised him from the dead!
We also assume from other versions of this story in the synoptic gospels that Simon the Leper was present. In fact, Matthew and Mark point out that they were meeting at Simon’s house. This man had previously been ostracized from his community because of a highly contagious and incurable flesh eating disease. This painful disease caused him to not only be snubbed by society, but also severely diminished his quality of life. This disease forced him to announce his shame whenever he came into contact with someone healthy, as prescribed in the Law. He was not allowed to have physical contact with anyone well. That is, until he met Jesus. Jesus dared to touch his diseased, unclean body. But instead of the contagious sickness transferring to the Son of God, the sickness left Simon’s body and life forever. Jesus causes the unclean to be made clean, even lepers.
The list of guests in attendance goes on. Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, were also there. These two had spent much time in the presence of Jesus and His teachings, not to mention that they were present when their brother was powerfully commanded from the tomb. Martha was the one who expressed the depth of her devotion by serving and attending those she loved, even to a fault. Her devotion to the Lord was no different. This was the Martha who declared at Lazarus’ tomb that she believed in the resurrection because she knew Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God who had come into the world. Her sister Mary had a similar faith and deep affection for Jesus. The Lord had worked profoundly in the lives of these two sisters.
Most likely the twelve disciples were also there in Bethany with the Lord. These disciples who had given up everything to follow Jesus never left Him night or day. They listened to His teachings and witnessed His power. Peter, who had walked on the waves of the sea with Him during a violent storm. John, who had left his career as a fisherman knowing he was the disciple whom Jesus loved. Simon the Zealot, who had set aside his political views to support the true government and its true King. Nathaniel, who saw the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Matthew, who was the one formerly known as Levi, the shameful tax collector and betrayer of Israel.
These weren’t ordinary people assembled in this tiny house in Bethany, they were people who had been with Jesus! They knew what it was like to have their lives radically impacted and changed by the power of the kingdom of God. The attention that was given to the Lord at the table by His followers, the food that was prepared, the perfume that was poured out, was all an expression of love, adoration, appreciation, and worship because they truly recognized Jesus for who He is – the King of kings and Lord of lords; the One worthy of all praise and glory.
Arguments of the Atheist
Just as there are unbelieving skeptics today, so there were unbelieving skeptics in the days of Jesus. Those who misunderstand praise and worship because they misunderstand the kingdom. Those who can’t see the kingdom because they can’t see past themselves. Those who are blinded by their own greed and motivation for self promotion. Those who attempt to hinder God’s kingdom because they see it as a waste of time, energy, and resources. God grant them sight and the ability to believe!
When we look at Judas in this story, we see a person who exemplifies all of these qualities. He was shortsighted. He was greedy. He was blind to the kingdom. He was selfishly ambitious. He appeared noble but was full of deception. Look again at what he said and the motivation behind it.
“‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?’ Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.” John 12:5-6 (NASB95)
The argument of Judas sounds noble. But the reality of it is that he was a very bold thief. So bold he didn’t seem to mind stealing from the money box of God himself!
This is similar to those in our time who would attempt to cry foul at the church for not doing in their opinion enough for the less fortunate. First of all, they don’t attend church so how can they really know what a particular ministry is doing or not doing to help society? Second, I would ask them how much are they doing for the poor of the world? Or is their own greed and selfishness getting in the way of doing their part to help the less fortunate with the resources God has given them? Thirdly, why do you snub your nose at the redeemed who have had their lives bought back by the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ? We have been forgiven much, therefore, we love much. I know the world can’t grasp this, but wisdom says we should always be careful to avoid criticizing that which we don’t understand. Finally, we have the clear voice of Jesus that sends us a beacon in the confusing fog of this argument.
“Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” John 12:7-8 (NASB95)
Discernment of the Divine
Jesus wasn’t fooled for one second by the pretentious argument of Judas; He saw right through it. He knew that wickedness not nobility was in the heart of Judas. He knew that his concern was for himself not for the poor. Therefore, He responded to him by acknowledging the fragrant act of sacrifice that Mary poured out on His feet. And He said let her keep it.
I believe Jesus would say the same thing today to those who criticize the praise that is offered up in our song services – let them keep it. When the truly born again, redeemed, new creations of the kingdom gather together to sing and honor how great God is, remembering His sacrifice for us, it is a most holy act to the most holy God who deserves nothing less than all of our praise and worship for all of eternity – whether that takes place in the largest stadium or the smallest chapel.
“Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 12:15-16 (NASB95)