Pastor Hu Junjie, Chairman of the Henan Christian Council, recently preached at the Haidian Christian Church in Beijing. What follows is a translation of the sermon. The title of the sermon, "Proclaim the Gospel; Talk about Mary" is posted on the website of Haidian Church. You can read the original or download the audio here.
Scripture reading: Mark 14: 3-7:3
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her.6 But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me.7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.
I am very glad to be at Haidian Church to share with you today. I come from Henan Province, which has millions of believers. Though we have over 7,000 approved or registered meeting places, we only have around 160 pastors. Average those pastors out; one pastor is responsible for pastoring about twenty thousand believers. In coming here today I can see your love for our Lord. I saw our brothers and sisters standing in the cold wind for more than thirty minutes to get into the sanctuary. It is Christs love that inspires us to serve him with burning enthusiasm.
The title of my sermon today is Proclaim the Gospel, Talk about Mary. At first glance, the topic might not seem appropriate. As we know, to proclaim the Gospel is to preach about Jesus Christ. Though Mary loved the Lord and poured expensive ointment on his head, by no way should she be compared to the Gospel, right? However, Jesus Christ said to his disciples, Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.(Mark 14:9) Since Jesus said those words, we cannot avoid talking about Mary in remembrance of her now that we are here proclaiming the Gospel.
Jesus is the core of Gospel, so how can Mary also be included? What great deed did Mary do that associates her with the Gospel? It indeed is the will of Jesus. If we proclaim the Gospel without mentioning Mary, the Gospel is one-sided; if we share the Gospel without talking about Mary, Jesus heart is not satisfied. Only when we proclaim the gospel and add Mary into the picture are we sharing a balanced and effective Gospel. So, what exactly does it mean to proclaim the Gospel, talk about Mary?
First all of, to proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim that Jesus gave up everything for us and to talk about Mary is to say that Mary offered everything up for the Lord. This is what it means to proclaim the Gospel and talk about Mary. Jesus spoke many parables of the kingdom of heaven. One of the parables was this, The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44). We are this treasure.
Through this parable, Jesus Christ wants us to see that he would sell all that he has for usthe treasure of the world. He laid down everything to demonstrate his love us. Though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited and he did not grasp it, but emptied himself and gave up all the glory and power he had, and became like a human being, even the form of a lower class. He lived for more than thirty years on this earth, endured all kinds of troubles, and in the end even lost his human dignity by being hanged on the cross, spilling his blood and giving up his life. He indeed sold everything! This is the Gospel.
Sometimes we wonder if we deserve to be loved by the Lord like this? We are all created by God, created by Gods very word, and without Jesus not one thing came into being. God spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. If so, why didnt God just destroy Adam and Eve and create another couple? Why did he send his only Son to pay such a price, to come to the world, to suffer and to give up all? This is the great love of our God.
There are many evil and lawless people in the world today. They secretly kidnap other peoples children, sometimes even in broad daylight. Their evil deeds have destroyed many happy families. Maybe some people will offer rational advice to the heartbroken parents of the child, saying, It is just one child, what is lost is lost, just have another one. However, the mystery of life and the mystery of this bond cannot be explained just by logic. In the same way, it is impossible to understand Gods love through rational analysis. We are Gods children and we all fall. But God was willing to send his only Son to pay the ultimate cost for us.
We are all familiar with the story of Mary anointing the Lord with the ointment. We see that Mary appreciated the love of the Lord and she was willing to offer everything to him. Her willingness to offer everything is manifested in the alabaster jar of expensive ointment. Jesus praised her for her offering. One characteristic of this offering is that it was all she could do. We dont like it, but Jesus appreciated what she did, saying, She has done what she could (Mark 14:8). We who can receive such a comment from Jesus are really blessed. Sisters (women) may know a lot about cosmetics. You know that even a bottle of high-grade French perfume is not made of alabaster, right? But the jar Mary broke was an alabaster jar, which is very valuable. With the ointment inside, it could be sold for more than three hundred denarii.
Some things are only briefly mentioned in the Bible, but this scene was recorded in a very detailed way. It is an alabaster jar, very expensive, ointment, and of pure nard. It is said that Mary might have been very poor. Since Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived together, some suggest that their parents might have passed away early. Its not hard to imagine what their family situation was. Mary used all her savings on the body of the Lord, which was doing what she could. Her offering had another characteristic, namely being wasted. All the apostles judged her offering as something in done in vain and as being wasted. John recorded that Judah was not happy. Other apostles also got angry, saying, Why this waste? Why break the jar and pour out all the ointment and let it flow to the ground? Just drop a few drops of this costly ointment, the full house will be filled with the fragrance. Why was the perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?! You can see the level of Mary's offering and love in this! If one of us brothers and sisters sitting here loves the Lord very much, I believe generally everyone will appreciate, praise and even be moved by this love. But if someone goes higher than the ordinary level, maybe some of us would not be able to stand it and would say, oh, this offering is too much and you are too nave! But believers with stronger faith might understand and know that the offering is valuable and worthwhile. If the general believers cannot understand, then believers of even higher level like pastors or pastoral staff should understand and know that the love for the Lord has no top line.
But here we see that Mary loves the Lord so much that even the apostles who are possibly of the highest spiritual level are generally unhappy about it. Here we see two kinds of love, one is represented by Judah; serve and love the Lord using brains and calculation, thinking that if I offer to God this much, and God will give me twice as much. The Lord doesnt like this kind of love. Mary, on the other hand, loves the Lord with all her heart; she understands the deep love of the Lord so she loves the Lord deeply with her heart. She knows that the Lord is worthy of all that she can give. So brothers and sisters, today those of us who know the Lord better and understand the Gospel better should love the Lord without setting a limit, should love the Lord without calculating and measuring with our brains. Paul regarded knowing Christ Jesus as of surpassing value and he suffered the loss of all thingsin order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8), and he thought it worthwhile.
In addition, there are a lot of people have had such love, like Mary, and were willing to offer all for the Lord. We all know about Dr. John Sung and have heard of how he forsook his golden key and devoted his life to preaching the Gospel. Some said, You are wasting your youth and wisdom, you should focus your energy on chemical research rather than the Gospel. Newton, the great physicist and astronomer, in the end stopped his study of the law of gravity, objects theorem and inertia theorem and started to study the book of Revelation and the new heaven and earth. Many people criticized him and said that he was lured by some superstitious beliefs to abandon science. They said that he was wasting his youth, talent, wisdom and experience. But we see that those who have real knowledge of God and understand Gods love will not fear this waste. Over two thousand years, there have been countless children of God who have wasted their youth, time and talent on the Lord. But for them it was not in vain! Thank God! I think this is what it means to proclaim the Gospel and talk about Mary. To proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim that Jesus loves us and has given up everything for us; to talk about Mary is to talk about her love for the Lord and willingness to offer all. We should learn from Mary.
There is another layer of meaning in proclaim the Gospel and talk about Mary: to proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim that Jesus died for us; to talk about Mary is to talk about how Mary prepared the Lord for his burial. The full Gospel has a lot of content. What is the most touching message of the Gospel? Jesus came to earth, became flesh, preached the Gospel and performed many miracles; those are the contents of the Gospel. Jesus was raised from the dead; this is also the content of the Gospel. But the part that touches us most every time is the death of Jesus. Jesus loved us and died in our place; I think we would all agree this is the most touching message of the Gospel.
When men were in the Garden of Eden, God provided everything, and our ancestors enjoyed bliss. Surely God loves us. But the depth of his love might not even be fully comprehended by our ancestors. God is able to create everything, so a Garden of Eden is not a big deal for him of course. Like a billionaire with billions of Yuan worth of property, it is just like a drop of water in a bucket for him to buy his child a house and a thirty thousand Yuan for a car. But it is love? Though it is not a big deal in the hands of the father, it is still love, isnt it? Which parent doesnt love his/her child? From kindergarten to preschool, from primary school to middle school, parents constantly worry about their children. This is love. But the children are usually ungrateful and think that their parents are being too strict. In their rebellious period they fight with the parents and even hate them. Dont they? But without those periods, you dont see the depth of parents love. In the same way, after man sinned and fell, God searches out for you to redeem you and it cost him his life. So the Bible says, But God proves his love for us. (Romans 5:8)
God put this love in the heart of every parent. And through the love of parents, God helps us to understand the love of our Father in heaven. Too many touching stories have happenedEven in families where the normal relationship between parents and children is not very close, once something big happens to the children, the children need a new kidney or liver for example, both parents fight to give their liver and kidney to their children. They would rather die themselves in order to save their children.
Two years ago I read in the newspaper a report that in Zhengzhou (capital city of Henan) a grandmother was with her two-year-old grandson and he accidently fell into the septic tank. Hearing the grandmothers cry, the father of the child jumped into the septic tank. The tank was quite deep and the liquid went up to his neck. It was impossible to find the child using his feet, so the father plunged in and held his breath in the dirty liquid for about three minutes. A man usually can only hold his breath in water for one minute. But this is the power of a fathers love! Using both his hands and feet, he finally found the child and dragged him out. What a story! The depth of the fathers love was manifested at that critical moment.
Man sinned and brought out all the problems. But if there is one good thing to it, it is that through mans sin, Gods love was manifested to us. In order to redeem us, God had to sacrifice his son. Jesus died a painful death for us. Usually death happens with one chop or one bullet. But the death of Jesus was different. After the whole nights torment, they nailed him on the cross. The three nails would not kill him, but they kept him hanging on the wood to let his blood flow, his body dry out, his heart melt to water, his bones give way and die with the every last drop of life drained from him. Out of love, Jesus was willing to suffer like this and die for us. This is the Gospel. So Jesus says that when we preach the Gospel, we should say that he was willing to die for us in order to demonstrate his love to us.
Jesus also says that we should talk about Mary. Talking about Mary is to say she prepared for the Lords burial. Why was this burial special? Jesus had high comments about what Mary did calling it a good service (Matthew 26:10) and told the disciples that, For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.(Matthew 26:11) so the time with the Lord is very special. The Lord continued and said, By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial.(Matthew 26:12). Because of what she didpreparing him for burial, wherever the good news is proclaimed, what she did will be told. So she brought the Lord much joy and was praised for preparing the Lord for the burial.
For everybody, burial happens after death. Only for Jesus, the burial before his death most satisfied his heart. The burial after his death was not as meaningful to him. Why? Think about the background. It was just a few days away from Passover, no more than a week. Passover was the time Jesus was arrested. And now the time of his suffering was drawing near and Jesus prophecies of his death were to be fulfilled very soon. In front of him, the high priests were discussing how to take him quietly and put him to death. Jesus knew everything clearly. Not only did he know that he would soon suffer and die a painful death, he knew and could even taste the anguish and severe pain in his flesh so he was very troubled. Jesus is divine and he came for this death, but he was also human. In his divinity he knew what it would feel like to be mocked and flogged, and then be nailed on the cross after a whole nights torture. He knew how painful that would be, but he couldnt drink anesthetics and vinegar with gall bladder and numb himself like other prisoners did. He had to be clear-minded for the punishment of sinthe pain of which was distinct and clear. So Jesus was very afraid. We know that in Gethsemane Jesus was very weak, he was grieved and agitated even to death. His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground and he cried out to the Father to remove the cup. Thinking about this, we might understand that before all these things happened, Jesus was very grieved and his heart was weighed down with heavy burdens. He was extremely lonely. Our Jesus had been strong all his life, but this time he was weak; all his life he knew all and understood other people, but this time he needed someone most to understood him. All his life he comforted others, but this time he needed some comfort. The suffering was too heavy, but the meaning of his death was too great; he had to walk to the cross and accomplish redemption, but the burden was too big and heavy and he was almost crushed.
So did the disciples understand what was going on with Jesus? Did they ever try to comfort him? We dont see any. At this time, the careless disciples criticized the wastefulness of Mary. They didnt know how Jesus felt; they didnt notice his emotions. Someone gave them a place and food to eat, and they were too busy eating and enjoying the food to care about Jesus. This added more grief to Jesus. Just like he said in Gethsemane garden, could you not stay awake with me one hour?(Matthew 26:40) No one kept watch with Jesus. Jesus was left alone to take carry unbearable burden. Only Mary cared about Jesus. She didn't ask the Lord to give more details of his death and crucifixion. She observed the expression of Jesus, noticed his mood, and understood what was in his mind. She knew Jesus would soon be put to death for all and she knew the meaning of his death was great but the cost was also great. She knew Jesus was lonely and troubled. She had nothing better to do, and nothing better to say. With the deep understanding of the death on the cross, Mary did one thing. She used everything she had and bought an alabaster jar of costly ointment of pure nard and silently pour everything on the body of the Lord. Jesuss heart was comforted and satisfied at this time. So he said that wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, what Mary did should be told.
Today, we talk about Mary to follow her example of preparing Jesus for burial. Mary knew the heart of the Lord and she took the opportunity to express her love for the Lord before his death. To learn from Mary is to love the Lord before we die. If we wait until we rise from the dead to love the Lord that will be too late. When we come to life again, we will put on our new body and know everything; we will see the true glory of Jesus with our own eyes. At that time, we will all agree that we would be happy to forsake the entire world. But it will be late. The Lord only gives us a few decades to prepare ourselves. The relationship we have with the Lord in those short years can determine where we will be in eternity. So brothers and sisters, we need to grasp the time we have just like Mary did, spend time with the Lord, sit at his feet, listen to him, read his words and talk to him. Let us seek to understand the heart of Jesus, which is very precious and that is why Jesus asked us to tell the story of Mary wherever the good news is proclaimed.
The Gospel is proclaimed in one place, Mary should be talked about in that place; anywhere the Gospel is being shared, what Mary did needs to be shared also. To proclaim the Gospel is to preach that Jesus died for us, to talk about Mary is to say that Mary prepared for Jesuss burial. To proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim that Jesus laid down everything for us, to talk about Mary is to say we should offer everything to the Lord; to proclaim the Gospel is to say that Jesus anointed our heads, to talk about Mary is to say that we should learn from Mary and anoint our Lord; to proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim that Jesus invites us to his banquet, to talk about Mary is to say that we invited Jesus to our banquet and are satisfied in him; to proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim that Jesus died for us, to talk about Mary is to say that we now should live for the Lord. So today we are here to share the Gospel and we cannot share the Gospel without talking about Mary. Where the Gospel is heard, there the story of Mary should be heard; where the Gospel is received, there people who love the Lord like Mary should rise uppeople who are willing to waste everything on the Lord should rise up. My prayer is that what Mary did would inspire us, brothers and sisters, to rise up and turn our love for the Lord, our thanks to the Lord, our time, our talents and our wisdom into an alabaster jar of pure nard and pour it on the head of the Lord, pour it into the heart of the Lord. May the Lord be satisfied and glorified by us. Amen.
Original article: 胡俊杰：传福音讲马利亚
Image credit: by Frank Yu, via Flickr
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