On Sunday, we were looking at Mary’s anointing of Jesus after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. You can hear the sermon here.
Particularly interesting is John’s assessment of Judas’ comments. The other gospel writers make it clear enough that all the disciples shared the view that this episode was an extravagant waste of money. Only John fingers Judas as instigator of the indignation and only the Evangelist notes (no doubt in hindsight) that the reason Judas protested so much about the waste of money is because he used to have his fingers in the moneybag. Here was a year’s wages (c. £27,000 in modern terms) on which Judas couldn’t get his grubby mitts. Feigning concern for the poor – pretending to have ministry concerns – to dress up his inherent selfishness and sin.
Don Carson notes:
Mark 14:10, 11 makes it clear that it is this episode, including Jesus’ sharp rebuke, that finally prompts Judas to approach the religious authorities with the proposal of betrayal. (Carson, D.A., The Gospel According to John, 1991).
Judas’ concern wasn’t the ministry to the poor, it was the impact to his own pocket that was in view. When Jesus dared to put his finger on Judas’ underlying sin – his money grubbing selfishness – it led Judas to go and betray Jesus.
Sadly, this same dynamic is often at work in the church today.
Our service and ministry efforts are often not born from real concern for those in need as much as a desire to show how loving and giving we happen to be. We serve because it makes us feel good, or people will be so grateful they will be beholden to us, or we thrive on the adulation and round of applause we believe we deserve. At the centre of such service is not serving the needs of others but making sure I am getting what I need.
How often have we foisted rotas and help upon people who have made clear such is either unnecessary or actively unhelpful? We can insist on visits to make ourselves feel good, even if they wouldn’t be so well received by the people we want to visit. The help is much less about what the person actually needs, and what would truly be helpful, and becomes far more about serving ourselves.
The problem here is that when things don’t serve me as I feel they ought, what happens when the gratitude I feel I deserve isn’t forthcoming? What happens when people say they don’t want your help? What happens when you feel you’re doing everything and nobody else is up to scratch? If such things are not forthcoming, we soon give up, blame others and eventually betray the the church by leaving it because it’s not serving me as I think it ought. This sort of attitude to service resembles the attitude of Judas.
It’s very easy to make ministry all about us. Often we can miss the most important needs because serving them doesn’t particularly serve me. If our motivation for service is driven by anything other than a deep and sincere love for Christ, then truly it is ourselves we are serving. When Judas wasn’t getting what he wanted out of service, even when he feigned care for the needs of the poor, it quickly turned to betrayal which led down a murderous path. By making himself the centre – his fundamentally selfish and sinful desire for money – he soon began to despise the one who should have been his focus. He betrayed Jesus to fulfil his selfish longings.
The religious leaders were much further down this sinful road than Judas at this particular point. They had already concocted a plan to get rid of Jesus, only now they have to contend with Lazarus who offered a living, breathing reason to believe Jesus was the Christ.
Bruce Milne points out:
Once we surrender to expediency, we are in the grip of a current that will sweep us on without mercy. First Jesus must die, then Lazarus, later Stephen and then James. (Milne, B., The Message of John, (1993).
The religious leaders were desperate to cling on to their position of power. But it was not only Jesus that represented a problem; Lazarus must now be neutralised. Here is that dangerous path of self-centred pragmatism.
In the church, it begins with something we hold dear coming under attack. The thing may or may not be a good thing. As soon as we start defending that thing apart from the Bible, or we turn that thing into a law that isn’t in the Bible, it inevitably leads us into worse sin. Because if it’s not in the Bible, what we’re really defending is our own view of how things should be. Suddenly we find ourselves defending our view at all costs. Anything that gets in the way of what we’ve decided ought to be the case must be removed.
This path begins with a bit of discontent in the heart. An inner view that things are not as I sense they ought to be. That soon becomes grumbling, the giving voice to our discontent. This is quickly followed by gossip – the sharing of discontent with those who need not know and had not expressed that discontent themselves. Eventually, such pernicious gossip damages the church and leads to our leaving or splitting the church. It is a me-centred selfishness that insists on my desires and my way even at the cost of destroying the church.
The crowd shouting ‘crucify him’ were the same people who earlier welcomed Jesus with the waving of palms. It was the work of his betrayers who whipped up the crowd to call for his death. Doing such damage to the church through malignant gossip and self-centred service is to engage in exactly the same behaviour as those who instigated the crucifixion of Christ. After all, doing damage to the kingdom is to damage the King. To harm the church of Christ is to harm Christ himself.
The scary thing is the crucifixion began with a bit of self-centred, faux-concern for ministry. It started with a desire for money dressed up as concern for the poor. From that tiny seed came murderous betrayal. Likewise, from the seeds of selfish motives and faux-concern for ministry needs may come betrayal of the Lord Jesus. Let us remind ourselves of John Owen’s famous line:
Be killing sin or it will be killing you.