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Worship Message - Great Love and Great Betrayal

Great Love and
Great Betrayal
Lent 2015 Message #4

The last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry - the week that ended with His death and resurrection - began very positively. As He entered the city of Jerusalem, great crowds of people lined the road. They shouted the request that He save them. They proclaimed Him as the Savior. A Savior who had and would have a wonderful kingdom. They laid articles on clothing on the road, which was a sign of their desire to be part of His kingdom. They laid palm branches on the road, which were symbols of liberty, victory, and joy, which the people were confident Jesus had come to offer.
What a grand entrance it was that Jesus made into Jerusalem. Just about everyone was excited. Almost everyone except Jesus Himself, who was not overwhelmed by the accolades afforded Him, that shown in two ways.

First, right after entering the city, Jesus went to the Temple and threw out people who were doing business there. People who were keeping the Temple from being a place of prayer and worship.

Then, the next day, Jesus, looking for food from a fig tree but finding none, condemned the tree, using that to teach that not only was the tree condemned. So, too, was the Jewish nation condemned. The part of the nation who claimed to be God’s people, but who had no spiritual fruit, including the fruit of accepting Jesus as the Savior He had come to earth to be.

Jesus being rejected could have angered Him. His reaction could have been walking away from Jerusalem, refusing to have anything else to do with those people. But that was not His reaction. Instead, He spent some more time teaching. He had taught for all the three years of His ministry. During the first part of the last week before His death, He continued to teach, His hope being that people would even then respond and become spiritual, God-fearing, God-loving people. People who would accept His offer of salvation.

After His condemnation of the fig tree, for the rest of that day and the next couple days, Jesus taught in Jerusalem. Among His lessons were one that again challenged people to accept His invitation to glory, described as a time and place of joy, one that challenged people to give God what He deserves, and one that teaches what are the two greatest of God’s commandments, which are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Jesus entered Jerusalem. He cleansed the Temple. He performed a miracle with a fig tree. He taught. It was a very busy time during the first part of the last week. Jesus then took a break. He did that when He left Jerusalem and went to the Mount of Olives across the valley from the city. He went to the village of Bethany, to the home of a man identified in chapter 14 of Mark as Simon the leper.

That brings up the first set of questions I have about today’s passages. Just so you will know, there are two passages in today’s message. This one about the visit Jesus made to Simon the leper, which is Mark 14:3-9, and another one - verses 10 and 11 - that centers on Judas Iscariot.

The first set of questions? Who was Simon the leper, and why is he identified as a leper? He could not have had leprosy at that time or he would not have been inside the village. Lepers were not allowed anywhere except outside villages, towns, and cities. And yes, Jesus had, earlier in His ministry, been with lepers. At least one time He had touched a leper to heal the man. But it will become clear His disciples were with Jesus during the visit. They would not have risked being that close to someone still diseased.
So was it that Simon had had leprosy at some time in the past? Could it be he had been healed by Jesus? Is the healing what caused Simon and Jesus to be close enough friends for Simon to invite Jesus to his house?

I ask those questions, but I do not have the answers. All I know is that after spending time teaching in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the village of Bethany on the Mount of Olives. There he was at the home of Simon the leper, whoever he was. That gave Jesus a chance to rest for a bit and to have a meal.

It was during the meal that something happened. As Jesus and the others sat at the table (it was not so much sitting as it was reclining, the custom being to rest on the left arm and use the right hand to eat, the feet were behind those at the table), a woman went up behind Jesus. She had with her an alabaster flask that contained pure nard.

Alabaster is a type of gypsum, which is a white mineral. Alabaster was often smoothed and formed into containers for perfume. Nard is a perfume that originates from a plant that is grown in India. Both, as it is reported, were very costly.

The woman went up to Jesus with a flask of pure nard. She broke the flask and poured the perfume over Jesus’ head.

Remember the set of questions about who Simon the leper was? Here is another set of questions, beginning with, who was the woman?

The Gospel of John reports a similar thing happening, though earlier in Jesus’ ministry. In that case, that woman is identified as Mary, a close friend of Jesus. But the Gospel of Luke describes this woman as a sinner. Close friend Mary is not described that way anywhere, so maybe it was some other woman.
And was the anointing all she did? According to Luke, the woman, before she poured nard over Jesus’ head, wept. Her tears fell on Jesus’ feet, which she dried with her hair. She also kissed His feet. She did that before pouring perfume on His head. All of which was unusual. It would have been strange culturally for a woman to even be there. It was unusual for a woman to have her hair down in public. Only immoral women were seen that way.

As I did with Simon the leper, I ask those questions about the woman. But like it is with Simon, I do not have the answers about the woman. All I know is that as Jesus and the others were at the table, a woman went up behind Him. She had an alabaster flask of pure nard. In probably a time of great emotion, she poured the nard over Jesus’ head. She did that by breaking the flask, allowing the perfume to go over Him.

By the way, when a guest entered a home back then, three things were supposed to be done for him. It was customary for the host to place a hand on the guest’s shoulder and give him the kiss of peace. Cool water was to be poured over the guest’s feet to cleanse them from dust or mud. The water was also to offer comfort. And a pinch of sweet-smelling incense was burned or a drop of oil made from rose petals was to be placed on the guest’s head.

I do not know if Simon the leper did any or all of those things for Jesus. But the woman - whoever she was - did the third of those three things.

But did you catch it? She did not give Jesus just a drop. She poured the entire flaskful of perfume over His head. She even sacrificed the flask.

What an extravagant thing the woman did. However, there were some also at the table, including Jesus’ disciples, who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted? The ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor.” Those who responded that way reproached the woman.

The worth of the flask and its contents of 300 denarii? A Denarius was a Roman coin worth about a day’s wage for a common working man at that time. That means the worth of the flask and nard was almost a year’s pay.

Some who saw what happened called that a shameful waste. They claimed if what the woman had had been sold, the money could have gone to the poor. According to another passage, that amount of money could have fed a crowd of thousands of people.

“It was a waste,” they said. And let me add this. One of the most upset was the disciple Judas Iscariot. Why? As it is reported in John, Judas was in the habit of embezzling from the money box used by Jesus’ group. So his upset may not have been based on the needs of the poor, but that his own pockets would not be as full.
Those who saw what happened were upset by what the woman had done.

Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them. But you will not always have Me.”

Part of what Jesus said is a quote of Deuteronomy 15:11, and it was a Jewish teaching of that time that God allows the poor to be with us always so that opportunities for doing good may never fail.

“Let her alone,” Jesus said. And here is an indication He knew what was soon to come - His arrest, the trials, His crucifixion. Jesus added, “She has anointed My body beforehand for burying.”

In a moment, some more about Judas Iscariot. But first, are there some things we can learn from what happened at the house of Simon the leper? Some things we can apply to our lives?

How about this? Think about the extravagance of the love shown by the woman. She took the most precious things she had. She broke her flask and poured all its contents on Jesus. She gave all she had to Jesus.

Is there something of great value I have? I am asking myself this question. Perhaps you will want to ask yourself, but I ask myself. Is there something of great value I have that I can give to Jesus? Time maybe. Some talent perhaps. Maybe more Bible reading or praying. Am I willing to give all to Jesus? The woman was. Am I?

And how about this? Think about how the woman acted on the impulse of love, honoring Jesus when she could. It may not have been convenient for her to do what she did. As mentioned, she should not have been there in the first place. If she was a sinner, she certainly would not have been welcome. But she had an opportunity to honor Jesus and she took advantage of it. Which was a good thing. In just another day or so, all the turmoil of arrest, trials, death, and burial was going to happen. If she had not honored Jesus that day, her chance to do so would have been over.

Will I take advantage of opportunities when they come up, whether they are convenient or not? Some things I came across in my study were sending a letter of thanks, or telling someone of my love or gratitude, or maybe giving a special gift. The woman was willing to take advantage of the opportunity she had. Am I? I need to.    

If I do, maybe there will be a reward. Jesus ended His conversation at the meal by saying, “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Maybe what I do will be remembered. And actually, there is no maybe. Even if it is not remembered here, it definitely will be by God, which is most important.

At a meal at the house of Simon the leper, a woman, in a great act of love, honored Jesus by pouring nard over His head. One of those who criticized what the woman did was Judas Iscariot, who is at the center of today’s second passage. A passage that tells of a great betrayal that started when Judas left the house on a special mission. He went to the chief priests of the Jews and offered to betray Jesus to them, doing so for a price. They offered Judas 30 pieces of silver. From that time, he sought an opportunity to betray Jesus.

The Jewish authorities had been seeking a way to arrest Jesus. They had known it would be dangerous to arrest Him because at that time He was still popular with the common people. That would soon change, but at that time He was still popular. The Jewish authorities sensed that if they arrested Jesus publicly, riots might be provoked.

Judas offered to help them. He offered to help them find a time when Jesus could be arrested privately. Which brings to my mind yet another set of questions. Who was Simon the leper was one set of questions. Who was the woman who anointed Jesus was another set of questions. Now this set of questions, which is actually just one. Why did Judas, a follower of Jesus for three years, now decide to betray Him?

As it is with the other questions, I do ask. However, I do not have the answer to why Judas decided to betray Jesus.

But maybe it was greed. Thirty pieces of silver was not an exorbitant amount, but it was something. It was certainly more than Judas was earning as a disciple. And yes, as reported earlier, it is recorded Judas embezzled from the money box of Jesus’ group, but the deal Judas made with the chief priests was safer.

Or maybe Judas did what he did to try to force Jesus to take action to prove His leadership. Jews looked for a powerful leader. One who would overthrow the Roman authorities. But Jesus was taking a different route, including His talk about being killed at the hands of the Jews and Romans. Maybe what Judas did was an attempt to force Jesus to lead a rebellion, which He could have done by calling legions of angels. If that was Judas’ plan, then he had no intention that Jesus would actually die.
Or maybe it was, as is recorded by Luke and John, that Satan entered Judas. Actually, even if it was greed or Judas’ wanting his own way, it was still a result of Satan entering him. That does not excuse him, but what a warning that we not allow Satan to enter us. Let’s let God guard us.

Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples of Jesus, went to the chief priests. There, he agreed to betray Jesus. He accepted money for his help. A short time later, Judas fulfilled his offer.

That happened on Thursday night of the week before Jesus’ death. It happened when he led a crowd with swords and clubs. The crowd were representatives of the chief priests and scribes and elders of the Jews. Some of those leaders were in the crowd as well. Judas led that crowd at night into the Garden of Gethsemane. He led them to Jesus. He kissed Jesus, which was the sign of who Jesus was.

Jesus was arrested. He faced a number of trials. Eventually He was condemned and sentenced to death by crucifixion.

Interestingly, before Jesus was led away to the cross, Judas had a change of heart. Suddenly he lost his greed. Suddenly he realized his plan was not Jesus’ plan. Suddenly he was ready to ask Satan to leave him.

It was too late, but Judas had a change of heart. When he saw Jesus was condemned, he was sorry. So sorry he repented. A repentance that led him to return to those who had given him the money. He took the 30 pieces of silver back and said, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.”

The leaders refused to take the money. Judas threw it down as he left. In a very tragic end to what he had done, he hanged himself.

*       *       *       *       *

Great love, displayed in the anointing. Great betrayal, displayed in the plot against Jesus.

As we go through this week and the rest of this Lenten season, let’s remember both the love and the betrayal. Let’s learn and apply what we know.

From the act of love, let’s learn to be extravagant in our expressions of love - certainly for Jesus, but also for others as we love them in His name. Let’s show our love as we have opportunities, never waiting until it might be too late.
From the act of betrayal, let’s determine, with the help of God, to not be greedy and to not demand our way rather than the way of Jesus, and let’s always work, with the help of God, to never let Satan enter us.

today’s closing song is I Love You, Lord. We will sing it twice. Once with the original words. Again with a couple changes I have made. Both together will remind us our love to the Lord is to be shown both in our words and in our actions. It is a simple song, so perhaps as we sing, we can think about how we, like the woman at the meal, can show extravagant love.
I love, You, Lord, and I lift my voice
To worship You; O my soul, rejoice!
Take joy, my King, in what You hear:
May it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.

I love, You, Lord, and I lift my hands
T worship You; O my soul, rejoice!
Take joy, my king, in what You see:
May it be a sweet, sweet sight in Your eyes.

Lord, great love or great betrayal. That is the choice each of us is called to make. Help us to always make the correct choice. The choice of loving You extravagantly, seen in our worship of You and in how we treat others.

May that be our choice, including during this season of Lent - this time of remembering Your sacrifice. Thank You for Your willingness to die for us. Thank You for Your subsequent resurrection. What love was shown in each of those acts. Thank You. Amen.


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