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Breaking the Alabaster Box


Breaking the Alabaster Box
John 12:1-8, Mark 14:3-9
I want you to open your Bibles to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 14, and John, chapter 12. I am going to read two different accounts concerning the same incident. This is the breaking of the alabaster box which you are familiar with. The reason I’m reading from two different accounts is because each gospel writer saw it from an angle that perhaps the other did not. One puts in what the other leaves out. To get a full picture of what really happened, you would need to read the different accounts.
Mark 14:3-9
John 12:1-8
Have you ever considered how our evaluation of things is many times so different from God’s? We have a way of highly esteeming that which sometimes to God is an abomination. We evaluate something totally opposite from how God would evaluate it.
We call something good if it’s big. A good church today is a church that’s big in size, and budget, and staff. Increasingly I am coming to realize that what is good is not so much what man calls good, but what Jesus calls good. And that which is highly esteemed among men is sometimes an abomination to God.
And that which is an abomination to God is sometimes that which is highly esteemed among men.
When this woman broke her alabaster box, she committed a social sin. The women in that day, particularly in that part of the country, were to stay in the background. They were never to be the center of attention.
And, suddenly, she does something which is so unusual and so out of the ordinary and such a social error that the people immediately begin murmuring against her. She has a very expensive bottle of perfume worth about $50 in our money, which would constitute a full year’s pay for the average laboring man in those days. She breaks that and pours it on the feet and head of Jesus.
Immediately the people begin to criticize her. Judas called it a waste. He said she could have sold it and given the money to the poor. Everybody said, what she had done was a terrible thing; that she should be ashamed of herself. And, you know, they were right. When you get down to think about it, what she did was about the most impractical, useless thing a person could ever do.
I think if she had thought a little bit about it, perhaps asked counsel from some people who were wise in those things, she would not have done it. Of what use was it? She wasted that ointment—wasted that perfume. It serve no purpose; it didn’t feed anybody, didn’t clothe anybody, was absolutely useless. They were right to criticize her.
I can hardly wait to hear what the Lord says. I’m sure He must be totally embarrassed, having this done to Him in public. Then He says something, and I can hardly believe my ears. He said, let her alone; she hath wrought a good work on me.
I think so highly of what she’s done, I am never going to forget it, and I’m never going to let you forget it. And wheresoever this gospel is preached throughout the whole world, what this woman has done will be spoken of as a monument to her.
I think that qualifies as a good act of service because of what Jesus said about it. The Lord is constantly surprising us.
I remember the widow who was giving her offering. It is interesting thing that Jesus was standing beside the treasury as the people came by and gave their offerings. I have an urge to follow the ushers down the aisles and watch what everybody puts in some Sunday morning when they start taking up the offering.. I wonder if it would affect the offering. If the pastor were to follow the offering plates next Sunday morning and watch what you put in, it might increase the offering.
The Lord is standing there watching and evidently from what he says, there were some quite large gifts.. Here comes a widow. Now, when the Bible wants to describe a person who is living on the very barest of minimums, that person who is more destitute than anybody else, in that day and age and that part of the world, it would be a widow. She drops in her two mites—which is less than a penny I suppose, according to our standards today.
The amazing thing is that Jesus says she has given more than everybody else put together. Interesting, isn’t it, what the Lord has to say about what we do.
I’ve often thought it might be pretty interesting if the Lord would just show up physically in our services.
We could ask, Lord, what do you think about what is going on here? Sometimes we walk away from a service and say, wasn’t that a great service?. Oh, I’m telling you, that was wonderful. And wasn’t that a tremendous message?
Yet, I sometimes want to say, Lord what do you think of it? But I’m not sure I really want to know what he has to say about it. The point I’m making is this that the criteria by which your life and my life is judged is not what you think of it and not what people say about it, but what does Jesus have to say about it. How would He evaluate it?
It is the desire of my heart to have that kind of commendation. I surely would like to have the Lord to say about me and what I do,” he hath done a good work. And wherever this gospel is preached, I am never going to forget what he has done, and I’ll see to it that others don’t forget it either.”
I want to talk to you today on how you can have that kind of commendation. What do I have to do as a follower of Jesus so that he can say of me what he said about this woman.
What is it that pleases Jesus?
Sometimes we have the idea it’s almost impossible to please Him. How much work do I have to do? To what extent do I have to go?
How large a sacrifice do I have to make in order to have the Lord say, I am pleased with what you have done, and I will never forget it. I want to make just three very simple statements and they come right out of the statements that Jesus made.
I believe in these three statements you have what I think are the necessary requirements for having our Lord’s approval and commendation. You say, “what do I have to do?”
1. Do what you can.
What is it that constitutes good service? What is a good preacher? What’s a good deacon? What’s a good Sunday School teacher? What makes a good church member? Jesus says, do what you can. He was pleased with what this woman did.
He said “she’s done a good work on me and you leave her alone”.
And then notice the phrase in verse 8. He says, she has done what she could. That was all that it took to please the Lord. Other people thought what she did wasn’t much. I certainly wasn’t very impressed with what she did. As a matter of fact, it seemed to me like a total waste of money and time. Yet, Jesus said, I am pleased with her. While you may say it wasn’t much, yet she did what she could. Jesus said, I don’t judge people by how much they do, or what they do; I judge them by the opportunity that is placed within their hands. Do what you can.
Do you remember in chapter 11 that Lazarus was raised? In chapter 12, John is very careful to mention that Lazarus is present in the room, and Martha is serving.
You see, I think what was happening was this: after Lazarus had been raised, they all met for a kind of fellowship service or praise service or celebration.
Don’t you know that Mary and Martha were just bursting with love and gratitude for what Jesus has done? Martha wants to express her gratitude.
Martha somehow has to express the love that is in her heart for what the Lord has done. Of course, it is very easy for Martha because she is one of those people who have all kinds of talent and ability. Every time you see Martha, she is in the kitchen; she’s serving. The picture you have of Martha is this highly efficient woman.
Now, you never find Mary in the kitchen. I think Mary would have been all thumbs in the kitchen. I think Mary was a contemplator, not a cooker. But it was easy for Martha to express her love for what Jesus has done. She’s serving in the kitchen.
I think about Mary being the younger sister. Evidently she was because Luke refers to it as Martha’s house. Mary is obviously the younger sister who lives in the shadow of the older sister. I imagine everywhere she goes that people talk about how wonderful Martha is, and how efficient Martha is...
And I see Mary as she sits there, and her heart is just as filled with love and gratitude as is Martha’s. She sees Lazarus raised from the dead, restored to their family. She sees Jesus, and she is just crying out, I’ve got to do something. But what can I do?
 I’m sure many times she was intimidated by Martha’s efficiency, and how she envies Martha.
I can imagine her thinking to herself, oh, I wish there was something I could do.
Love has to do something. Service for the Lord is nothing more than the overflow of a heart filled with gratitude for what Jesus has done for us. She said, I have to do something. Suddenly, she remembers her alabaster box.
No Bible scholar has come up with a good answer as to how she was able to acquire such an expensive possession—very unusual for a woman of her position to have an alabaster box of costly perfume. But there she has it. She says, there is something I can do. I doubt if she gave it very much thought.
She runs to the hiding place. Maybe it was in a hope chest; maybe she was saving it for the day when she might perhaps marry. Or maybe she was saving it for older age, and in the last years of her life, it would afford her some kind of security. But it is all she had that was meaningful. It was her treasure.
She takes it out, and she comes into that room. The house is filled with people, and she is committing a social faux pas, but it doesn’t occur to her that she is doing so. She is oblivious to anybody else who is there. All she sees is her brother resurrected to life, and Jesus the man who raised him. She comes and falls before his feet and breaks that bottle of costly perfume and begins to anoint the head of Jesus. And Jesus said, I like what she has done, because she has done what she could.
You see, all that God demanded of her was simply what he in the first place had given her. The Lord demands nothing more from you than he himself has given you in the first place. You do what you can.
I know that in our contemporary Christianity we exalt and magnify people who have an abundance of ability and talent. I am convinced that a great majority of Christians sit Sunday after Sunday looking at the stars.
The majority of believers sit out there and say, well, there is nothing I can do. If I could sing like that, or play the piano like that, or speak like that, but there is nothing I can do. The only thing that God expects from you is this: you do what you can. You say, but it’s not much. You let Jesus decide that.
God said to Moses after 40 years in the back side of the desert, completely stripped of all position and power and prestige, Moses, what is that in your hand? He said, Lord, it’s just a rod. It’s not worth anything.
David went out against Goliath. All he had was a slingshot and five smooth stones.
The widow whose husband had left her with a huge indebtedness, and the predators were about to drag away her sons to pay off the debt, came to Elisha the prophet and told him of her plight. He said, what do you have? There is a famine in the land, and we have to come up with something that we can turn into cash and pay off your debts. What do you have at home that we could sell.
She said, thy handmaiden hath nothing in the house save a pot of oil. Just a pot of oil. As an afterthought, she mentions it, almost ashamed to mention it because it is so worthless. He says, I tell you what to do. Tell your boys to go to the neighbors and borrow some vessels.
I like the way the King James version says it: and tell them to borrow not a few. That means borrow a whole bunch. And he said, you bring them. You know what happened. They began to fill those vessels, and they got enough oil to pay off the debt and live on for the rest of the famine. What have you got in your house? Nothing. Oh, there’s a little pot of oil.
Andrew comes to Jesus when the 5,000 are dropping from heat and exhaustion and starvation, and he said, here’s a lad with a little lunch his mother fixed him, but what is that among so many? Have you ever felt that way? You just do what you can. Has is ever occurred to you that all Christian living and Christian service is simply my giving back to God what he has given me. You simply do what you can.
Whatever God places in your hand, that’s all he demands of you. So I can say, Lord, demand what you will as long as your provide what you demand. God will never demand more than he provides, and he will always provide exactly what he demands. You do what you can. It may not seem like much to you.
You say, I can’t do that much. . . . You let Jesus decide that. Everybody in that room thought what she had done was wrong, and wasn’t worth doing, but Jesus overruled them all. You do what you can
Jesus said she had done what she could. The implication is that she had not only done what she could, but she has done all she could. You do what you can, but you make sure you
2. Do All You Can
You see, she broke the box. It is significant that the Bible says she broke it. Well, when she broke it, she had to pour it all out. She didn’t come out with a little measuring spoon and measure out a few drops, do it very rationally and logically. After all, we have to be practical.
In the back of her mind, there could have been the thought that things might get bad, and I’m not always going to be young. I need something for security in the declining years of my life. She gave no thought to that. Love never does. It is extravagant. She broke it and poured it all out. There was not a drop left in the alabaster box.
I want to ask you a question: Are there any drops left in your alabaster box? You say, well, I’ve prayed. Yes, but have you prevailed? Well, I’ve done something. But have you done all you know to do?
You see, I am convinced that God does not judge me on the basis so much of what I have done, but on what I could have done—not so much on what I have accomplished, but what could I have accomplished. Not so much what I have become, but what I could have been if I had given God the opportunity and used the opportunities God gave me in my life.
I must confess to you that I believe the greatest sin of my life is that I have not done all I can. It is so easy to settle for just a little bit. As long as the people are satisfied, that’s enough. No, it’s not enough. Is Jesus satisfied? Is Jesus satisfied.
You know what I’ve discovered? The easiest place in all the world to be lazy is as a pastor (or church worker for that matter).
We don’t punch a clock and nobody really tells us when to come and when to go and there is really no way they can evaluate if you are really working or not.
You can take off half a day, and somebody says, where were you? You say, well, I was out on the field—and it may have been the golf field. You have to discipline yourself.
And there is a tendency to just get by, whether in the ministry, whether on the paid staff or teaching a Sunday School class, we settle for so little. You just be there on Sunday morning. It’s not important whether you’ve really prayed through that lesson, or whether you’ve really studied it, whether you walk into that class with a message from God. As long as the people are satisfied. No, that’s not enough. It is whether or not Jesus is satisfied.
Do What You Can, Do All You Can and
3. Do it While You Can.
Jesus said, let her alone. She hath done what she could. Then he makes a very strange statement: she has come to anoint my body for the burial ahead of time. Isn’t that interesting?
Jesus wasn’t dead, gave no evidence of being ill. That would be like if I were to come up to Ronnie and say, Ronnie, if you’ve got a few minutes after the meeting I want to go out and help you pick out a casket. He said, she has anointed my body beforehand for the burial. Why would he say that? One week later, Jesus was dead.
If you had been lurking outside the sepulcher that first Easter morning, early in the morning through the mist you could have made out the figure of some women coming down the path. You come out and ask them. Where are you women going this early in the morning? They say, we are going to the tomb of Joseph. Our Lord is buried there. What is that you are carrying?
Oh, well, these are spices and perfumes and ointments for burying. When our Lord died, the Roman soldiers guarded him, wouldn’t let anybody near him because there was a rumor that somebody was going to try to steal his body so his body was never anointed for burial. We are going this morning, hoping we can convince the soldiers to roll the stone away so we can do it because it doesn’t seem right for him to be buried without being anointed.
So they go on. Perhaps you drop in behind and follow them. After awhile, you find yourself standing in front of that tomb. No use asking the soldiers to roll the stone away because you can plainly see it has already been rolled away. You follow the women inside, and there is nobody there. Jesus is gone. But we brought spices to anoint him. Too late. You should have done it a week ago.
To me, the interesting thing is if Mary had not anointed his body a week ahead of time, his body would never have been anointed for burying. Jesus knew that. Friends, whatever you do, you do it now. You say, next week. Next week may be too late. And in a sense, isn’t that what we are doing—preparing people for dying. Isn’t that what we are really doing?
I know we are preparing them for living too, but you aren’t really ready to live until you are ready to die. You say, well, I will prepare him for dying. I don’t want to bring up the subject. I’ll wait. It may be too late.
The thing that intrigues me is that Jesus said, she hath anointed my body for the burying. Notice that was Jesus’ interpretation of what she did.  I think Mary was surprised at what Jesus says. I don’t Mary came out there consciously to anoint his body for the burying, do you? She didn’t know he was going to die in a week’s time. Jesus said, you let her alone. She hath anointed my body for the burying.
That teaches me that sometimes when we just do what Jesus tells us to do, we don’t really have any idea what we are really doing. Mary had no idea the great significance of what she was going. To her, it seemed like a ridiculous, stupid, senseless act. Yet, far beyond that simple act of obedience was the true meaning. I’ll tell you, folks, a lot of things God asks us to do, we don’t have any idea what we are really doing Beyond that simple act of obedience lies a meaning and interpretation known only to God.
I think someday when we stand in his presence, and he makes all things known, we are going to be highly surprised at the repercussions of some very little simple things we did.
The reason I had us to read from both accounts is that Mark said she anointed his head; John said she anointed his feet. Which is right?
Well, either she anointed both his head and feet (which is probably what happened), or she anointed his head, and the oil ran down his body and got on his feet. Anyway, she anointed his feet. As she kneels before him, John says she does something. She sees that costly perfume as it dropped from his feet onto the floor.
In her haste she wasn’t thinking clearly. She didn’t bring a towel. Suddenly she reaches over her shoulder and grasps that long black hair that was so customary among those women and pulls it over her shoulder and makes a towel out of her hair. She begins to wipe the perfume from the feet of Jesus with her hair. Something happens.
The Scripture says that when she did that the house was filled with the fragrance. You see, when she wiped his feet with her hair, the fragrance that was on Jesus now was on her. What she had poured out on Jesus suddenly came back on her, and she smelled just like her Lord.
What I want to say to you, friends, is that whatever you pour out on Jesus will always come back on you. You can tell when you are around someone who has poured their life out on Jesus. You know why? They have a certain fragrance about them.
There is a certain perfume to their life. Whatever you pour out on Jesus will come back on you.
Jesus simply says this: you do what you can, do all you can, and do it now.


moses imojara
This is the most inspiration sermon I ever heard on the Alabaster box. I am blessed indeed and by His grace I will pass this to my generation. God bless you sir.
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