3/2/2023 2:15:05 PM
His Final Steps Led to a Dinner Celebration
Posted under: Pastor Leyrer Lent
Pastor Joel Leyrer - Midweek Lent 2 - Wednesday, March 1, 2023
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Dear Friends in Christ, The theme for our midweek Lenten devotions this year is entitled, “His Final Steps.” With the exception of our fifth midweek service on March 22 when our worship will take the form a sacred concert by our Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Choir, each week we’ll consider places and events in the life of Christ that have a final ring to them; places or events that fall toward the end of the blessed timeline that concluded with the ultimate final steps our Savior took to the cross.
This evening we will consider how
HIS FINAL STEPS LED TO A DINNER CELEBRATION
Do you enjoy dinner celebrations? Many of us do. It seems Jesus did also. You may recall how very early steps in his public ministry led him to a wedding in Cana. There our Savior performed his first recorded miracle. He rescued a newly married couple from a potentially embarrassing wedding reception situation by turning water into wine.
The Gospels record other times when Jesus fellowshipped with others around a meal or a dinner. Sometimes these dinners marked a significant event; other times they were simply a celebration of friendship. In fact, it would appear this was such a regular practice that after a time our Savior’s enemies leveled this charge against him: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).
Well, he’s about to do it again. Our text centers around a dinner. What we’d like to do this evening is revisit this incident and consider what it tells us about Jesus, and what we can learn from it and apply to our lives today.
It happened in the small town of Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. We’re told this particular gathering took place “six days before the Passover,” most likely meaning the Friday just before Palm Sunday. The Gospel writers Matthew and Mark also record this event and provide us with some additional information.
For example, Matthew and Mark both inform us that this dinner party was held in the home of “Simon the leper” (Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3). This is a noteworthy and interesting little detail. Here’s why. Israel’s laws for leprosy were absolute and strictly enforced. No leper could remain in his own home and live with his family. Rather, as made clear in Leviticus chapter 13, a leper had to live outside of his home, town, or village.
Most lepers congregated together in isolated colonies. By design they were completely ostracized from society. This was not a cruelty measure, but a public health one, because some of the skin diseases that fell under the general term leprosy were infectious. Some cases were curable over time; others were incurable and consigned a person to a lifetime of isolation.
Here is where it gets interesting, because if this dinner party was held in Simon the leper’s home, and he was there, he must have been healed. He must have gone to the priests – who at that time served as the public health inspectors – and they must have pronounced Simon clean.
We can’t say this for sure, but knowing that Jesus healed many with leprosy, coupled with the fact that Simon was so identified with the disease that it seemingly became part of his name, we might speculate that Jesus had miraculously healed Simon. Which then allows for the possibility that Simon hosted this dinner party as a thank you to the Savior who gave him his life back! John writes: “Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor.”
If our speculation was true, Simon would have been somewhat of a celebrity. But not today. Why? Because of the presence of an even bigger celebrity: Lazarus. John reminds us that Bethany was the home of “Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.” He also makes sure we know that Lazarus was one of the guests “reclining at the table with [Jesus].” Wouldn’t it have been nice to be a fly on the wall and hear what Lazarus had to say about his four days in the grave?
Two remarkable guests like this were sure to draw attention. And they did. We’ll get to that at the end of the story. But first came another memorable moment, a moment that foreshadowed Jesus’ final steps.
Recall that Lazarus had two sisters, Mary and Martha. We know from the gospels that Jesus loved to visit this family. From the familiar story recorded in Luke chapter 10, we also know that while Martha played host, Mary loved to sit at Jesus’ feet and take in every word he said. Later on, when Jesus raised Lazarus from his grave with a simple command, Mary undoubtedly watched closely and pondered everything that had happened.
Between her careful listening and watching, it would seem that Mary connected the dots. She instinctively seems to know that Jesus was taking his final steps. His sacrifice on the cross was coming soon. So she took the better part of a year’s wages and purchased “a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume.” The other Gospel writers mention that it came in an alabaster jar, which would also have been very expensive. So, this was quite an expenditure on her part.
Here's what she did with it. First, she opened the alabaster jar by breaking off the top. Then, as the other gospel writers explain, Mary took the precious nard and poured it over Jesus’ head. It ran down his body. But she wasn’t finished yet. John makes it clear that she also anointed Jesus’ feet. There was plenty of nard, and she intended to use it all. Her next move was to let her hair down, something frowned upon for a woman to do in front of men in that culture, and she used her hair to dry Jesus’ feet. “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
This was an act of pure adoration and devotion. But it didn’t sit well with everyone. The disciple Judas objected, “ ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?’” While that sounds very virtuous, John provides his true motivation: “He did not say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” First century white collar crime.
Jesus defends Mary from Judas’ hypocritical judgment and goes on to explain the deeper meaning of this act: “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Mary knew what we must know. Jesus’ ministry was at the end. She was witnessing his final steps. And when she anointed our Savior from head to toe, it was as if she were getting a head start on the work that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would do in haste late on a Friday afternoon one week later when “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs” (John 19:40).
Then and now, it doesn’t take long for news to travel in a small town, especially when celebrities are involved. So we’re told: “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, who he had raised from the dead. Our text then concludes: So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.”
There are a number of simple but profound lessons embedded in this dinner celebration which makes them especially meaningful to consider during this Lenten season. Perhaps the first one is the blessed reminder that Jesus is a healer.
None of us have been healed from physical leprosy like Simon was. But all of us have been healed from the pervasive and spiritual disease of our sin.
None of us have been raised from physical death like Lazarus was. But we have been raised from the eternal death our sins deserve. And on the Last Day we will be just like Lazarus in that our bodies also will be raised from the grave.
Lent reminds us of what it took to make those statements. It involved the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It took the resolve of our Savior to walk the way of the cross and willingly give up his life as the substitute sacrifice for our sins. We have been cleansed and raised to new life by that marvelous antidote we call forgiveness. What wondrous love is this!
A second lesson comes through the setting itself. Dinner celebrations are enjoyable events. Jesus liked them, and we like them. We’re not told what the menu was in Bethany that day, but we can guess it was something good.
But whatever it was, and whatever comes to our mind when we think of a stellar menu or the finest buffet at a fancy venue, the dinner celebration we look forward to will blow it all away.
One of the things God does for us in the Bible is talk in terms we can understand. So it is not surprising that heaven is at times described as a magnificent feast. When Isaiah (25:6) equates heaven to “a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines” and John in the Book of Revelation (19:9) refers to it as “the wedding supper of the Lamb,” God is talking our kind of language, isn’t he?
The point: We have many fine meals and dinner celebrations on this side of heaven, but the best – and eternal one – is yet to come.
The cost of the feast we will enjoy eternally was expensive. Lent reminds us of the price tag. In the words of the catechism, it was bought “not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” What wondrous love is this!
Finally, Mary provides us with a model of devotion to her and our Savior. Her act of love and adoration reminds us that Jesus is worthy of the best we can offer him in our time, talents, and treasures. Lent provides us with an especially appropriate time to think deeply about our response to Christ’s love and sacrifice.
In Psalm 116 the Psalmist asks: “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” The answer is we can’t. But we cannot help but try. Our grateful attempt is in the lives we lead to his glory and honor as we reflect on our Savior’s final selfless steps to the cross. For us.
Glory be to Jesus. Amen.