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  • Adam Schell

Willing to Give


Lent: More Like Jesus

There was a bright orange burst of color as a flame began consuming more fuel for the fire. Soon the corner of a single piece of paper had been devoured, leaving nothing but black ash behind. As the ash slowly began falling to the floor, every person in the room watched as the fire continued to consume what was left of that 6-inch piece of paper. And they couldn't help but cringe as the words, numbers, and symbols on the paper slowly disappeared. First, the number one burned away, then a zero, followed by another. Next the wrinkled face of an elder statesman was nothing more than ash laying on the floor. Finally, 3 small words written on the bottom corner were destroyed as well, those words simply read “one hundred dollars.”


But why in the world would anyone burn a one-hundred-dollar bill? Was this some billionaire who decided to flaunt his wealth by using a hundred-dollar bill to light his cigar, like you see in cheesy movies? Was this some anarchist who decided to make a statement by burning a symbol of our government's wealth? Was it some lunatic in clown make-up burning the mob's money to show he was now in control of Gotham City's criminal underbelly? No. Nope. And no way.


It was actually a minister who burned that hundred-dollar bill. He was speaking at a stewardship conference on the topic of generosity. And as he launched into his speech, it quickly started to sound like something just about every minister has heard a hundred times before, so the crowd quickly started tuning him out. 


But that changed when the speaker pulled that crisp hundred bucks out of his pocket and held it in the air. And when he grabbed his lighter in the other hand, he had everyone's full attention. They were all on the edge of their seats to see what would happen next when that minister uttered his prayer, “Lord, I offer this gift to you, and you alone.” When he lit the corner of that bill on fire, there was a collective gasp throughout the room.


As the flame slowly consumed the last of that currency, the atmosphere of the room had completely changed. People were fidgeting in their seats. They started whispering amongst themselves. One minister whispered that he thought it was illegal to burn money. Another half-jokingly said, “If he's burning money then maybe he has some more to give away.” Slowly nervous laughter began filling the room.


Finally, the minister who burned the hundred-dollar bill spoke, asking “Don't you understand? I am offering this to God, and that means it is going to cease to be useful to the rest of us.” And then he asked all of the other ministers in that room, “What are you really willing to give up for Jesus?”

What are you really willing to give up for Jesus?

Now, we’re going to come back to that question a little later on. But right now, I want you to imagine that you were at that conference when this pastor burned that hundred-dollar bill. And I want you to think about what thoughts would’ve run through your mind as you watched that bill burn.


Maybe you would’ve thought about how close your fuel tank was to empty and wished that you had a little extra money to put in your gas tank. Maybe you would’ve thought about the juggling act you always seem to be doing with your checking account just to stay one day ahead of your bills and wished you had an extra hundred dollars in your account. Maybe you would’ve thought about the items we’ve been collecting for the Cabbage Patch House throughout the season of Lent and wished that someone had spent that money to buy more boxes of cereal, or rolls of toilet paper, or tubes of toothpaste to help out families in need. Or maybe you just would’ve been shocked to see someone waste something as valuable as a hundred dollars.


Now, I want you to hold on to whatever thoughts would’ve run through your mind if you watched someone burn a one-hundred-dollar bill as I read you another story. This story is found in the book of John, so if you’ve got a Bible close by or a Bible app on your phone go ahead and open it to John 12. 


And in John 12, we’re going to hear about someone else who appears to waste something of great value. And the thoughts you just had in your mind when you thought about someone burning a hundred-dollar bill are probably the same kind of thoughts that the people in the story we’re looking at today had when they watched someone waste something even more valuable. So listen to this story from John 12:1-8, where John writes:


1 Six days before the Passover Feast, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus lived. (Lazarus is the man Jesus raised from the dead.) 2 There they had a dinner for Jesus. Martha served the food, and Lazarus was one of the people eating with Jesus. 3 Mary brought in a pint of very expensive perfume made from pure nard. She poured the perfume on Jesus’ feet, and then she wiped his feet with her hair. And the sweet smell from the perfume filled the whole house.


4 Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ followers who would later turn against him, was there. Judas said, 5 “This perfume was worth an entire year’s wages. Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” 6 But Judas did not really care about the poor; he said this because he was a thief. He was the one who kept the money box, and he often stole from it.


7 Jesus answered, “Leave her alone. It was right for her to save this perfume for today, the day for me to be prepared for burial. 8 You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”


John 12:1-8 (New Century Version)


So I started this sermon by telling you the story of a minister burning a hundred-dollar bill. And now I've just finished telling you the story of a woman named Mary pouring what John calls “very expensive” perfume on Jesus' feet. But just how expensive was this “very expensive” perfume?


Like, if Mary was alive today and decided to visit the online retail juggernaut that is Amazon, how much would she have paid for this “very expensive” perfume? Well, on Amazon she could’ve found a bottle of Ck Be by Calvin Klein that sells for around 35 bucks, which would have been an expensive bottle of perfume for some of us. Or she could’ve spent nearly $100 to buy a bottle of Hugo Boss’ Boss Selection…and let's face it, a hundred bucks for a bottle of perfume or cologne is getting kind of steep. Or if she really wanted to splurge, she could’ve dropped almost $400 on a bottle of Marc Jacobs Men’s EDT spray. Now, $400 is a car payment, not the kind of cash most of us would ever spend on perfume. But the truth is even that $400 bottle of perfume doesn't begin to compare to how expensive the perfume was that Mary poured on Jesus' feet.


The New Revised Standard Version of this story tells us that the bottle of perfume Mary poured out for Jesus was worth 300 denarii – which is close to what a typical person would have earned in a year in Jesus' time. Again let me put that in perspective for you, according to U.S. Census data, the median individual income in the United States is about $40,000. So if Mary were to spend the same amount of money on a bottle of perfume today that she spent on the perfume she poured on Jesus' feet, that’s how much she would’ve spent. She would have spent $40,000. 


$40,000. That’s enough money to buy a Big Mac extra-value meal at McDonald’s every day for the next 11 years. That’s enough money to buy you 400 Apple Air Pods, 80 Play Station 5s, or 50 of the latest iPhones. It’s enough money for most of us to be able to pay our mortgages for the next couple of years. And in a matter of moments, Mary has completely poured it all out. There was $40,000 worth of perfume covering Jesus' feet.


Now remember how you felt when I told you that story about a minister burning a hundred-dollar bill. If you freaked out over a hundred bucks getting burned, is there any wonder why Judas chimes in about this extravagant waste? Think about it, within a matter of moments, everyone in that room has seen $40,000 come and go. And when Mary gets up from anointing Jesus' feet the only reminder that the expensive perfume ever existed was the fragrance of the pure nard lingering in the air.


So why on earth did Mary pour $40,000 worth of perfume on Jesus’ feet? What could’ve possibly compelled her to do something so extravagant? Well, if we want to be able to answer that question, it might help to remember this isn’t the only time Mary and Jesus meet. In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus visits Mary and Martha’s home. 


And I don’t know if you remember this story or not, although we did talk about it a few weeks ago, but in this story, Mary's sister is slaving away in the kitchen preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples – and I'm pretty sure cooking for 13 guys is a lot of work. And all the while Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet listening to Jesus as he teaches his disciples. And when Martha comes out and complains that Mary should be helping in the kitchen, Jesus tells Martha that Mary is doing the right thing. 


But the truth is, Mary had no business sitting at Jesus' feet, she should’ve been in the kitchen helping her sister. Because women weren’t allowed to sit at the feet of a rabbi and be taught in those days...that was only a place for men. But in that moment, when Jesus allowed her to stay, Mary found a profound acceptance that we all long for. In that moment Jesus accepted her for who she was, telling all of his followers that she was as worthy as they were to sit at his feet.


And then there is of course the story that happens right before Mary washes Jesus' feet in the Gospel of John. And that’s a story about her brother Lazarus, who had just died. As Mary and Martha were mourning the loss of their brother, Jesus arrives and somehow, someway, Jesus raises her brother from the grave.


So why was Mary willing to use a $40,000 bottle of perfume to wash Jesus’ feet? She did it because Mary realized how much Jesus had done for her, so she was willing to do anything for him.


We’re all in the same boat as Mary. Jesus has done so much for us…but what are we willing to do for him? Jesus has done so much for us…but what are we willing to do for him?


Dr. Tony Campolo – who is a well-known preacher and speaker – tells a story that gives us a pretty good answer to that question. In this story, Dr. Campolo has just arrived home in Pennsylvania after taking a red-eye from California. His flight arrived at 8:30 AM and, as he got off the plane, he was met by his assistant who told him that he had another speaking engagement at 10:00 AM that they had somehow overlooked. 


As they rode over to the speaking engagement, his assistant informed Dr. Campolo that this event was a World Day of Prayer service and he had been asked to deliver a missionary-themed message. They arrived on time, but before Dr. Campolo was invited on stage, the woman leading the event shared a prayer concern from a doctor in Caracas, Venezuela which the group was well acquainted with. She had reached out because she needed to raise $5,000 to build a medical dispensary onto her clinic to continue to serve her patients.


The woman leading the event then turned to Dr. Campolo and invited him to lead them in a word of prayer before he started into his message. She asked him to pray that God would provide the $5,000 this doctor needed.


But before he could stop himself, Dr. Campolo responded to this request by saying, "No." No, he would not lead them in prayer and ask God to provide the $5,000 this doctor needed. Instead, what he was going to do was to reach into his pocket, pull out all of the cash he had, and lay it on the altar. 


And then he was going to go around the room and ask everyone there to do the same thing. And he told them upfront, he wasn't asking them to write a check. He just wanted them to give the cash they had on hand. And then he would pray and ask God to cover the difference. 


So Dr. Campolo reached into his pocket and he pulled out all of the money that he had. And remember he just got back from a trip, so he didn't have very much...so he pulled out $2.25 cents. But he laid it onto the altar. 


And then he turned to the woman leading the group and he asked her to do the same. She smiled politely and said, "Thank you, I think we all get your point." 


But Dr. Campolo said, "No, you don't. My money is on the table now it's your turn." 


So the woman reluctantly reached into her wallet and pulled out $110 and placed it on the table. Then Dr. Campolo pointed to the next person in the room and said, "Now what's your turn?" And that person slowly made their way up and laid her money on the altar. And he went one by one around the room.


And once everyone had come forward and given the cash that they had on hand, they counted the money that was there. And do you want to know how much money they collected that morning? If I told you they collected $5,000 that would be the perfect ending to this story. But they didn’t collect $5,000. They collected $8,000.


So the folks that were at that event had more than enough money to help that doctor in Venezuela…but they weren’t willing to reach into their pockets and give up anything to make it happen.


And this brings me back to the question that ministered asked after he burned that hundred-dollar bill. He asked “What are you willing to give up for Jesus?”


This is an important question that all of us who follow Jesus have to ask ourselves, especially this time of year. We’re currently in a season called Lent. And Lent is a time when we commit to be more like Jesus.

Lent is a time when we commit to be more like Jesus.

And Jesus was willing to give up everything for us…including his own life. But what are we willing to give up for him?


Now, don’t worry, the point of this message isn’t to guilt you into giving more money to support the work and ministry of our church. The point of this message is to make you think. Because God wants all of us to be more like Jesus, and Jesus was willing to give up everything for us. So if you want to become more like Jesus, you need to think about what you’re willing to give up for him.


Are you willing to give up your time, your money, your comfort, your preferences, your prejudices, and our special treatment? If you want to be more like Jesus, what are you willing to give up for Jesus? 

If you want to be more like Jesus, what are you willing to give up for Jesus?

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