March 25, 2007
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
1Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
Brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning. Our title and our topic this morning is “God Understands.” Oh friends, I’d like to share with you something so important about this God that you’re reaching for, this wonderful One. It is this great truth: the God you love, and the God who loves you, understands you and what you’re going through.
I wonder if you’ve ever had the experience of having a confidante, a trusted friend, a person with whom you could talk things over and spill your heart. Your confidante would take all those pieces and listen and care and let you know that you’re loved. You bring all those fragments of feelings and thoughts that bubble around inside you to a trusted friend and he or she helps you put them together. If you’ve ever had a friend like that, you are fortunate indeed.
But I tell you this: whether you do or you do not right now, you do. There is One who understands, who cares, and whose presence is always available to you, day or night. The door is always open. It is the Lord, Jesus Christ, the very spirit of the living God. Jesus understands.
Let’s take a look at what happened in this morning’s Gospel. It shows us plain and clear that Jesus understands. Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem. That means He’s heading toward the cross. It’s just six days till the Passover. He stops at the house of some friends, Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Oh, they were dear friends to Him. The Bible tells us that He was “at table” with them. Martha was doing the cooking, as was her usual style. That’s the way that she loved the Lord and her friends. Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead, is right there at the table with them. Mary is off in her room, preparing to do something very special.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. That was a very, very special act of caring and understanding and love. You see, Mary and Martha and Lazarus were probably the children of Simon the Leper. And as children of a leper, these three were ostracized. But Jesus loved them. If Lazarus died, it would have meant that Mary and Martha would be homeless, because the house belonged to Lazarus. Jesus raised him from the dead and preserved their family unit and kept the roof over the heads of Mary and Martha that way.
Oh, they were great friends! Jesus loved them so well, and they loved Him. So there they were, sitting at table, and Jesus’s disciples were there, too. In from her room comes Mary, with a very special gift. And I’ll bet, as soon as they saw what she had in her hand, they gasped. It was perfume. It was the most expensive kind of perfume you could imagine. It’s called nard. They wondered what she was going to do with this stuff. She went over to where Jesus was, and without a word, she knelt down on the ground and she opened the perfume. They all probably watched in silence, because they knew that what was in that bottle was worth a year’s wages for a working person.
She took the perfume and poured it gently onto the feet of Jesus. She poured it all out, and they looked in amazement. She then reached around and took the comb out of her hair. Her long, beautiful hair flowed to the ground. And she gently and humbly wiped His feet with her hair. The Bible says that the fragrance of the perfume filled the house. Isn’t that beautiful? The fragrance of a beautiful act, a lovely gift, seems to fill the place where it happens, doesn’t it? Mary knelt at the feet of the Lord, applying this beautiful perfume to His feet.
It was her gesture of love. It was her gesture of gratitude, because Jesus, you see, put her back together again. She had been a very broken person. Her life was fragmented and hopeless. It was Jesus who said, “You are worth something! You are important. You are loved by God.” And she heard that to the core of her being. She owed this man so much, and she expressed it this way. It was her gift of love.
Now, into this situation comes the voice of the discourager. Judas stands by and observes all this. And his comment is, “What a waste! What is she doing? That perfume could have been sold. It could have been sold for a working man’s yearly wage, and the money could have been given to the poor.” It was the voice of discouragement. I’m not going to argue about his reasoning on that. I’m just going to tell you what the Bible says. To the voice of discouragement, Jesus raises His hand and says to Judas, “Leave her alone.” In a parallel account in another Gospel, He adds the words, “She has done a beautiful thing for me, and wherever the Gospel is preached, her goodness and her gift and her love will be remembered.”
Jesus understands. He understands Mary. And He understands you and me. He understands our hearts, and He understands our hurts, and He understands our hopes.
He understands our heart. Every good and loving thing you do for the Lord, Jesus appreciates, just as He appreciated the pouring of that beautiful, lavish oil on His feet. When you pray everyday, even if the prayer isn’t what you think of as perfect, even if you trail off sometimes, it’s okay – He hears your heart. When you worship every week, by being here – Jesus loves that. When you read your Bible, and when you grow in Christ, Jesus understands your heart and blesses you. When we give to our church, Jesus blesses us and loves us. When we help one another in the Lord’s name, Jesus loves us and understands our hearts. No thing that you do, no beautiful thing, is ever wasted, my friends, and it’s never lost on Jesus. He understands. He loves you.
He also understands your hurts. How quick He was to defend Mary against the voice of discouragement! Let me ask you a question – do you have voices of discouragement in your life? Do you have voices from without that are putting you down, even in the midst of your best efforts? I wonder if you’ve ever had that experience.
More to the point, do you have those voices inside of you? Do you have a self-put down voice, that even when you’re doing your very best, says, “Oh, it will never be perfect, it’s not quite right”? Those are often much more difficult to deal with. Let me tell you this, friends. Jesus understands. And to those voices, He says one thing – “Leave my child alone!” “Voice of discouragement, let her be; let him be. She’s doing a beautiful thing for me. He’s doing a beautiful thing for me.” Won’t you hear that, this week, when you hear the voice of discouragement? You serve a Lord that understands that you go through this, that you hear voices of discouragement from time to time. To those voices, Jesus puts up His hand and says, “Leave my loved ones alone. Let them go on with the beautiful thing that they’re trying to do.” He understands your hurts. That’s the Lord you love.
He understands your hopes. When Mary and Martha were crushed by the death of Lazarus, when everything looked absolutely hopeless, there was Jesus, who said, “No, it’s a bend in the road, not the end of the road.” And Jesus raised him up, and they were together again. Jesus understands your hopes and mine. That’s the Lord you serve.
And this is my prayer for you, as you go into the week: I know that you go through many difficult things in your lives, but remember two words – God understands. God understands what you are going through.
In this season of Lent, we think a lot about the cross. Christians love the cross. The “old rugged cross” is what they cling to. Remember, please, that the cross has two very special meanings, even as the cross has two arms representing the extended arms of Jesus. One arm represents our forgiveness by God. Jesus is the one who takes our sins away and, by His gift on the cross, redeems our sins and makes us perfect with God, makes us just right with Him. He is our savior.
But won’t you remember the other arm of the cross? The other arm of the cross says, “God understands.” He let His Son come to earth and suffer everything the earth had to give to let us know that we’re not alone and that He understands our pain. On Good Friday, He suffered broken-heartedness to let us know that He is with us in our broken-heartedness. It’s a great reason to love the cross. We are redeemed and saved, and we are understood.
Friends, go into the week knowing that you go not alone, but you go hand-in-hand with the Lord. His spirit and His love surround you. Whatever you go through, God understands and is with you, every step of the way, because God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2007 Anthony J. Godlefski