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(John 12:1-11) Scent from a Broken Vase

(John 12:1-11) Scent from a Broken Vase

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in John
Ref: John 12:1–11

Jesus said, He was the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through Him. Some people say that is too narrow. But Truth always is.


Scent From a Broken Vase

John 12:1-11

O. Henry, the master of the short story, wrote a moving tale of a young couple named Della and Jim.  They were extremely poor yet very much in love.  Each had one unique possession.  Della's hair was her glory and when she let it down it almost served as a robe.  Jim had a gold watch which had come to him from his father and was his pride.  It was the day before Christmas, and Della had exactly $1.87 to buy Jim a present.  She decided to do something out of love for him - she went and had her hair cut and sold.  With the $20 dollars she bought a platinum chain for his precious watch.  When Jim came home that night and saw Della's big smile but close cropped hair, he stopped as if stupefied.  Slowly he handed her his gift - it was an expensive pair of torteous shell combs with jeweled edges for Della's hair; but Della had sold her hair to buy a chain for the Jim's gold pocket watch - the gold pocket watch that he had sold to buy the combs.


Each had given the other all there was to give.

This morning we begin a study of the most momentous week in human history.  It is the passion week that, will soon culminate in the trial, curcifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And the week opens with an expression of love, so intense that, 2000 years later, we're still talking about it.

It's found in the gospel by John, the 12th chapter. 

12:1 Jesus therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

Matthew informs us that this meal took place in the home of Simon the leper - a man Jesus evidently healed. 

In a moment Mary will break open a perfume jar - but already the air is filled with the aroma of thanksgiving and joy - you can see it on everyone's faces - you can feel almost feel it in the air!

You'll notice another familiar character buzzing about:

Notice verse 2.  So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.

We are re-introduced to Martha - the diligent worker

Martha could say, "I can't do a lot of things, but buddy, I can cook!"  I can just see her, apron on, sleeves rolled up, pushing a stray wisp of hair off her perspiring forehead.  She doesn't keep expensive perfume - but she knows persperation.

The question is, "What can you do?" 

This past Friday Marsha and I shared lunch with three other couples; a luncheon held here at the church prepared for by a couple of very hardworking ladies; a luncheon that gave us an opportunity to talk, to laugh and even get teary eyed with a group of believers who are part of our family. 

I'll never forget one lady sharing that when she was only five years old her mother had died - but she remembered that her mother used to describe to her what heaven was like as they walked along a creek bank and picked wildflowers.  That was a challenge to us all!

We were talking about how each couple met one another, and the man who had been married the longest of all of us laughingly said, "The only thing my wife and I have in common is that we were married on the same day."   That was encouraging to us all.

How was this time made possible - by two women who kept food coming - who made a delicious meal for us to enjoy.

Next we're introduced to another character in this story - it's Lazerus -the faithful witness  Notice verse 2. again: So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.

A few weeks ago we studied him being brought back to life.

I saw on 20/20 recently a woman who supposedly died and went to heaven - she mysteriously won't turn over her medical records to substantiate her claim - but the country is still fascinated enough to take the witness of someone, suspicious as they may be - becuase she died and came back to life.  She said she saw heaven - she could answer questions that you might have about the afterlife.  And she was making a lot of money doing it. 

Imainge Lazarus's market value.  If Lazarus were living today he'd be booked for months in advance on talk shows - publishers would be clamoring for the rights to his book - he could travel the world giving his testimony of a person who was dead - not for four seconds or four minutes but four days.

And what a witness he was!  Look at verse 10.  But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus to death also; becuase on account of him many of the Jews were going away, and were believing in Jesus.

By the way, you discover here the key difference between the woman I saw recently on television who stated things like, "I discovered we all have the divine within us...and other new age rhetoric" and the testimony of Lazarus.  After Lazarus finished speaking, people came to place their faith, not in the existence of the paranormal, the afterlife, the spiritual realm, but in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And they were being saved by the scores.

In fact, there was such a mass movement occurring with Jews leaving Judaism, that the leaders really began to get upset.

From the Jewish leaders' point of view, they could accuse Jesus of blasphemy because he claimed equality with God.  But Lazarus had done nothing of the kind.  He'd just died and Jesus had raised him from the dead.  They wanted Lazarus dead simply because he was a living, undeniable witness to Jesus' power and claim.

Now, abruptly, out of nowhere, Mary appears and does something that is still a topic of conversation, some 2000 years later.

3.  Mary therfore 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.

Here's Mary - the transparent worhsipper

Actually, if you combine the three Gospel accounts, you discover that she poured some ointment on His head and the remainder on his feet!.

Three things happened simultaneously!

            1) this act was a subtle recognition of Christ's burial/death

Did you know that of these faithful women, Mary of Bethany was not one of thewomen who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus.  In a sense, Mary was showing the coming death of the Lord.  But think about this. . .

She was giving him flowers while he was still alive.  She wasn't putting flowers on his grave, she was putting them in His hands!

Question #1 - What are you giving away before it's too late?!

The private use of nard was the perfuming of the deceased.  It was an expression of love for the one who had died.

But Mary isn't waiting to express her about you?!

2) an symbolic honor recognizing Christ's royalty

The public purpose or use of nard was the anointing of a new king.  Mary was anointing Jesus as her kingly Messiah.

When Mary anointed the head of Jesus, she was performing a symbolic ritual that recognized the royalty of her Lord.  She was crowning Him King.

But when she came to the feet of Jesus, Mary took the place of a slave.  To a Jewish woman, her hair was her glory and so when Mary undid her hair - she laid her glory at His feet.

3) a selfless example of unrestricted generosity  Look at verse 3.  Mary therefore took a pound/pint 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.

You've heard about the simplified 1040 Tax Form.  It contained only two lines of content.  The first line was the question, "How much money did you make last year?"  The second line read, "Send it in."  Not even the mast ardent patriot, who is ready to do just about anything for his country, will send in everything he makes.  That would be extravagent patriotism!

What your about to see is a woman named Mary, pour her fortune on a pair of dusty feet!  It was extravagence beyond words!

The ointment, John calls it in verse 3 is "pure" - undiluted!

The ointment was made from a herb that grew in the mountains of India and it was imported in white, alabaster bottles.

This expensived imported liquid was often passed down from family to family as an heirloom - it carried such value that people used it for investment purposes, as gold is often used today. 

According to John 12:5 - this one pound or pint was presently worth 300 denarrie - which was the average one year income of a working man.  In todays economy, it would be worth 25,000 dollares.  This was, indeed, liquid gold.

Now, when you give yourself lavishly, openely, transparently, fervently to the Lord, your going to be misunderstood and criticized. 

Trouble is, even people within the family will criticize and misunderstand. 

At this point, the scene is interrupted by a pious hypocrite named Judas.  His first recorded words in the gospel accounts - 5.  Why was

this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii, and given to the poor people?

There is no evidence that Judas ever gave to the poor!  His objection was actually a smoke skreen to cover his own selfish hypocricy.

But Judas steps up and says, "Waste"  Why wasn't this sold and given to the poor. 

BY THE WAY, if you decide to abandon your life, and talent and money and plans to the glory of God - there will be those who will cry, "Waste. . .Fanatic"  

It's interesting that as John writes, he adds the commentary that everyone eventually found out,  6.  Now he said this, not becuase he was concerned abou the poor, but becuase he was a theif, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.

He was a theif - a kleptes - kleptomaniac - he was upset that this treasure was not given to his control so that he could line his own pockets.

You notice the contrast - Mary gave it all - Judas wanted to keep it all!

And Jesus quickly stepped up to her defense in verse 7.  "Let her alone, in order that she may keep it for the day of My burial.  For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me."

In Mark 14:6.  Jesus said, "Leave her alone, she has done a beautiful


thing to me."

The point is, when we think of what really impresses God, we imediately think of vocational ministry - and if you're not a missionary or a pastor or an evangelist you're second rate.

No!  Mary wasn't any of those professionaly.  That leads me to the next important question.

Question #2 - What is it that God has given me to give away?!

Mary did have a vase filled with precious ointment - Judas, had already calculated that it was worth a year's salary - in our economy, that little vase was worth around 25,000 dollares.

It was her most precious possession!

What has God given you to give away?!  It could be be money -  a talent or a gift.  What about teaching, singing, speaking or leading.  What about hospitality or encouragement or service.

It's much easier for us to think - "Okay Lord, I'll burn out for you in one magnificent blaze of glory. . .strike up the band, here I come."  It's altogether different to say, "Lord, I'll be willing to sizzle through the daily disciplines of Christianity; I'll be willing to risk critisicm by witnessing to the unimpressed, I'll be willing to give money to your church with no strings attached; I'll be willing to teach a group of runny nose, hyper-active kids; I'll be willing to pray regularly for our missionaries and send them notes of encouragement!"

What kind of alabaster vase are you willing to break open?! What has God given you to give away?!

Question #3 - Who needs what you have to give away? 

There might be a business associate who needs your witness, a single mom who needs your encouragement; there might be a kid, you've noticed his father's rarely home - he needs an hour of basketball in your back yard.  The list is endless.

Last weekend I was preaching in a church about Christian service; an elderly lady came up to me afterward and said, "I'm 86 years old - I have several physical maladies that don't allow me to do much, but I want you to know that God has blessed my ministry of writing to 4 federal prisoners.  I'm writing criminals regularly about the Lord Jesus."

What are you giving away. . .have you looked around to see who needs you?!

I read recently about a 5th grade schoolteacher named Miss Thompson.  She was a terrific teacher. . .of course, she was human and there were students she just didn't seem to click with. 




Teddy Stallard was a boy that Miss Thompson really didn't care for - he wasn't interested in school.  He had a blank expression on his face and his eyes had a glassy, unfocused appearance.  When she spoke to Teddy, he alwyas answered in monosyllables.  his clothese were dirty and his hair was unkempt.  He wasn't an attractive boy and he wasn't liked by the other students either.  She should have known better; she had Teddy's records and she knew more about him than she wanted to admit.  The records read:

1st Grade: Teddy shows promise with his work and attitude, but poor home situation.

2nd Grade: Teddy could do better.  Mother is seriously ill.  He receives little help at home.


3rd Grade:       Teddy is a good boy, but too serious.  He is a slow learner.  His mother died this year.

4th Grade:       Teddy is very slow, but well-behaved.  his father shows no interest.

Christmas came and the boys and girls in Miss Thompson's class brought her Christmas presents.  They piled their presents on her desk and crowded around to watch her open them.  Among the presents, there was one from Teddy Stallard.  She was surprised that he had brought her a gift, but he had.  Teddy's gift was wrapped in brown paper and was held together with Scotch tape.  on the paper were written the simple words, "For Miss Thompson from Teddy."  When she opened Teddy's present, out fell a rhinestone bracelet, with half the stones missing, and a bottle of inexpensive perfume.  The other boys and girls began to giggle and smirk over Teddy's gifts, but Miss Thompson at least had the sense to silence them by immediately putting on the bracelet and applying some of the perfume on her wrist.  Holding her wrist up for the children to smell, she said, "Doesn't it smell lovely?"  And the children agreed.  At the end of the day, when school was over and the other children had left, Teddy lingered behind.  He slowly came over to her dest and siad softly, "Miss smell just like my mother...and her bracelet looks real pretty on you too."  When Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her.  The next day when the children came to school, they were welcomed by a new teacher.  Miss Tholkmpson had become a different person. . .now not just a teacher but an agent of God, committed to loving her children.  She helped all the children, but she began to pay attention to the slow ones, and especially Teddy Stallard.  By the end of that school year, Teddy showed dramatic improvement.  he had caught up with most of the students and was even ahead of some.  The next year she didn't see much of Teddy - months blended into years; then one day, she received a note that read:

Dear Miss Thompson:

I wanted you to be the first to know.  I will be graduating from high school second...

Love Teddy Stallard

Four years later, another note came:  Dear Miss Thompson: They just told me I will be graduating first in my class.  I wanted you to be the first to know.  The university has not been easy, but I liked it.  Love, Teddy Stallard

Four years later:

Dear Miss Thompson,  As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D.  How about that/  I wanted you to be the first to know.  I am getting married next month, the 26th to be exact.  I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit is she were alive.  You are the only family I have.  And so Miss Thompson went to the wedding and sat where Teddy's mother would have sat. 

She deserved to sit there; becuase years earlier, she had broken a vase and poured out love on a little kid.


Did you notice the effect of Mary's gifts.  In fact the effect of all four gifts:

            -Simon gave Jesus the gift of hospitality - Jesus was able to   relax and enjoy fellowship with his friends.

            -Martha gave Jesus the gift of a meal - Jesus was able to eat   and be strengthened.  Perhaps His only peaceful meal...

            -Lazarus gave Jesus the gift of true friendship - he was one of           the few who would be willing at this early stage to allow their             name on the Pharisees hit list!

            -Mary gave Jesus the gift of worship.  Jesus was so moved that          he promised that wherever the gospel was told, people would             hear about he deed of sacrificial worship.

By the way, did you notice an immediate benefit of her act?  Look back at verse 3b.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."

Now it may have spread around all by itself, of course, but on the other hand, if Mary was helping to serve as I'm sure she was, since this precious perfume is now mingled in her hair - everywhere she went, anytime she moved, the fragrance of her act of worship permeated everything.

You know something, when you worship the Lord; when you are willing to snap the bottle neck, let the contents of your life pour out before the Lord, you also will be a fragrant blessing to everyone who comes in contact with you.

Now Matthew's account of this story adds one verse - 26.13.  Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what

this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her."

Last Question #4: What are you going to be remembered for?

When Alfred Nobel was reading the newspaper, he saw that, by accident, the editor had believed a rumor that he had died and had actually published his obituary.  The headline read something like, "Father of Dynamite Dies."  He read the accompnaying article that told of his doscoveries with nitro-glycerin, his patents in both England and America for dynamite.  Then the phrase caught his eye - Alfred Nobel will be remembered for creating the potential for mass destruction.  That so challenged im that he immediatley made plans for a trust, through the Bank os Sweden, and he created what would become the Nobel Prize -for chemistry, science, literature and interestingly, the Nobel Peace Prize.  So when you hear the name Alfred Nobel - you don't think of dynamite explosives - you think of the Nobel prize.

What will you be remembered as?!  A generation from now, what will be your lasting legacy?  What will you have contributed?!

It's always interesting when you have young children and you hear some expression of just who they think you are;  the other day we were playing a game and on of them wanted to change the rules when it was my turn to make it a little easier, I asked why and they said "Cause your so old;  my son last year drew a picture for his class of our family - there was a sister, a brother and himself, then Mom and Dad - he drew me as this tall skinny man with a bald head with just a little hair on both sides.  Didn't look anything like me.

This past Mother's day one of my sons made up for it as he expressed in a note to his mother on Mother's day on why he loved her; he ended his noted by writing. . .

 "I love my Mom becuase she cooks every meal of the day, buys my clothes and washes them as well and most of all (get this) I love her becuase she married my Dad?  I promise I didn't help him write this note!

It sure makes up for the easier rules and the funny drawing.

Our other 8 year old son, with the help of his grandmother who was keeping them while Marsha and I were at Liberty University wrote a poem:  This is how he would remember her!

            "Dear Mom, I love you a bunch,

            cause you always make me such a good lunch.

            You taco salad is so good,

            I would eat it all if I could.

            You always look pretty and smell so nice,

            I'm sorry that you are afraid of mice.

            We both have dimples like each other,

            I am so glad you are my mother."

This is a broken vase.



Ladies and gentlemen, when you pour yourself out for God - when you give your life over for the glory of God, wether it's sending letters of encouragement or praying; fixing lunches or writing poems; teaching Sunday school or donating funds, you are breaking vases and filling your world with precious aroma. 

            Like Martha - who was a tireless worker

            Like Lazerus - who was the faithful witness

            Like Mary - who'se gift of worship filled the air with what she could have kept to herself! 

You see, when you break your vase, you can no longer hold anything inside - it will all pour out. . .for what really matters -

for what really lasts.

What are you giving away before its too late? 

What has God given you to give away?

Who needs what you have to give away?

These will answer the question, "What will you be remembered for?"

Know that your gifts will be remembered - Solomon wrote, "The memory of the just is blessed."  Remembered, maybe not to the extent of a Mary - but one day you and I will stand before the Lord and recieve rewards for the way we lived - for our work, our worship, our witness - and we will discover then that God remembered everything.

He remembered everything!

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