The sports world is replete with examples of total dedication. Players dedicate themselves 24/7 to off-season training. Fans dress up in jerseys, hats, beards, and face paint of their favorite teams. Business owners cease working in order to watch their favorite team play in the World Cup Soccer Tournament.
Why is it that we expect and applaud total dedication when it comes to our sports teams, but we frown on that same level of fanaticism when it comes to worshipping God? Why do we counsel someone to think twice before cashing in a stock dividend to help fund a church building program? Why do we consider someone foolish when they use their vacation time to teach in VBS or go on a short-term ministry trip to another country? Where did we get the idea there is a verse that states, “Follow Jesus, but don’t go overboard about it”?
I find it interesting that Jesus applauded two women who went “all in” in their worship of him. In Mark 12:41-44, Jesus praises the widow who gave her last two cents as she worshipped in the temple. In Mark 14:3-9, Jesus applauded the woman who anointed him with the contents of an expensive jar of rare perfume. The people who observed these events thought their sacrifices were foolish. They felt they should have paced themselves or at least used their resources in more productive ways. Jesus’ own disciples were critical of what they considered to be frivolous expenditures. Yet Jesus lauded these two women and memorialized their gifts and dedication.
If we go all in to celebrate our favorite team, how much more should we go all in to celebrate and worship our Savior?
Let’s be honest. There are always reasons not to worship. There are reasons not to serve. There are reasons not to give. Perhaps you are too busy. Maybe you feel you have nothing to offer. Chances are you cannot afford it. Perhaps you think you’re not mature enough. Maybe the economy has you scared. Chances are headlines of world crises keep you hidden safely inside the four walls of your home.
As Mark 14:1-11 demonstrates, worship can occur in the unlikeliest of settings. The account of the woman who anointed Jesus (3-9) is sandwiched between opposition (1-2) and betrayal (10-11). The religious leaders were tightening their noose around Jesus. It wasn’t safe to be identified as a passionate follower. Yet Mary took a stand and declared her love for her Lord.
In the midst of mounting opposition, an ordinary dinner party became a time of worship (3). Mary (John 12:3) took an alabaster flask of expensive perfume, broke the neck and poured the liquid on Jesus’ head and feet. The spiced perfume was extremely costly, having been imported from India. The flask was possibly a family heirloom, perhaps part of a bridal dowry passed down from mother to daughter.
The dinner guests were indignant at Mary’s sacrifice (4-5). They were embarrassed by the extravagance of the gift. Judas Iscariot was incensed and commented on the wastefulness of the offering and voiced it could have been better spent on ministry to the poor (John 12:4-6).
Not much has changed in 2,000 years. If you give up vacation time to serve at a summer camp, people will tell you that you’re foolish. If you go on a summer ministry trip to Spain, people will say it’s a wasteful boondoggle. If you want to rebuild houses in rural Arkansas, people will criticize you for not addressing needs in your own city. Like Judas, the critics often don’t care about ministry. They just don’t want you to care about ministry. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus, not on the opinions of others.
Rather than be deterred by the critics, we need to keep in mind that Jesus values and celebrates sacrificial giving and extravagant worship (6-9). Jesus commended Mary for her gift (6) because she had her priorities in the right order (7). Her anointing was timely and insightful as it prepared Jesus for his soon death and burial (8). Her gift would not be forgotten but would be celebrated every time the gospel was preached (9).
Don’t let circumstances deter you from worship. Don’t let criticism deter you from worship. Like Mary, pour your heart into worship.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 6, 2014. It is the final part of a six-week series on The Heart of Worship. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.