DISCIPLESHIP ON DISPLAY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 1, 2020
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
— John 12:1-11, ESV
The Gospel of John was written to promote faith in Jesus Christ and for use in making disciples for Him. Nowhere does it ask you to ask Jesus into your heart and become a member of the church. Rather, it calls you to totally repent and fully believe in order to become a true follower, or disciple, of Jesus. Just like the verb “believe,” John handles the noun “disciple” frequently and mostly positive. Of over eighty mentions of disciple or disciples in the Gospel, almost all of them sing in high fidelity, with the exception of a few bad notes (ref. 6:66, 11:4).
All sorts of disciples are on display in this story, which depicts a delightful dinner party in Bethany. The occasion is a celebration of Jesus in view of the recent raising of Lazarus from the dead. It had to be delayed for a few days while the Lord laid low in Ephraim (ref. 11:54) to escape momentarily from the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were laying a trap to arrest and kill Him. Jesus needed to compose Himself before willingly walking right into it.
The text now takes us to the beginning of the last Passover. The family is all together. Friends have gathered around the table. Jesus is the guest of honor, as He should be, and He is surrounded by His disciples: real ones, fake ones, and potential ones.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are three of the most real and robust disciples of Jesus Christ mentioned in the Gospels, even though the sisters only appear twice (ref. Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-12:11), and Lazarus once (ref. John 11:1-12:11). Despite their scant mention, we feel like we know them. They each have their own individual traits, but they share a common love for the Lord, a sincere faith in the Lord, and a willingness to sacrifice for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Like Emmylou Harris was “Born to Run,” Martha was born to cook, and serve. That is what she is doing in both of her biblical appearances, and by the second time she’s learned not to complain about it. Serving is what God made her and called her to do. She is like most Christians are supposed to be, serving Christ by serving others. It is the mark of a true Christian, for if you ain’t serving, you probably ain’t saved.
Mary is the most glamorous of the three, given Jesus’ compliment of her sitting at His feet in the Gospel of Luke. She tops that in the Gospel of John with her extraordinary act of sacrifice and worship. By the way, she should not be confused with the sinful woman of Luke 7:36-50, who invented perfume anointing near the beginning of Christ’s ministry. Mary simply repeats it, perhaps sensing the Lord’s ministry is now near its end. In doing so, she shows the primary purpose of Christianity, to publicly worship Jesus Christ.
Lazarus doesn’t say much. No biblical quotes are attributed to him. As we said about his older sister, not every disciple is on display for speaking or singing. Lazarus simply shows the evidence of a changed life, of one brought back from the dead to walk in newness of life, following Christ, listening to His word, bearing witness to the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Though there were distinctly different, they shared one important thing in common. They all paid what the late, great Dietrich Bonhoeffer titled, “The Cost of Discipleship.” Real discipleship is just that, costly. God’s grace is free, faith is a gift, but following Jesus costs you everything you have.
For Martha, it was her time and her culinary resources, a great sacrifice in her day.
For Mary, it was a year’s salary spent on a special perfume for her yet to be realized wedding day. Perhaps she became the first Nun, married to Christ, so to speak, as she gave her life and her life’s greatest treasure away, broken and spilled out upon the Lord.
For Lazarus, living for Jesus raised the specter of dying for Jesus, as many heroic missionaries and martyrs have done over the past two thousand years.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are poster children of real disciples. Your need to be on the poster, too. But remember, it will cost you.
Honest John always gives us the good, the bad, and the ugly. We boo when the Pharisees appear on the screen. Now it is time to hiss, as Judas Iscariot, one of the first and foremost fake disciples of all time comes to the forefront.
The irony of the Pharisees and Judas is that they were among the most respected men in Israel in Jesus’ day. Judas may have been the most admired of the twelve Apostles. He is suspected to have been a Zealot, renowned for their faith and courage. He had been appointed the treasurer of the Jesus of Nazareth Evangelistic Association, which implies a great deal of trust. And in this scene, he is an outspoken advocate for social justice and helping the poor.
But the Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, cuts him open and exposes his sin, his selfishness, his spurious discipleship. Judas, like most phonies, was hyper-critical and hypocritical. He wasn’t following the Lord for what he could give, his soul, his life, his all. He was getting close to Jesus for what he could get, monetary gain, power and prestige, much like the infamous televangelists of our day.
They say that Benedict Arnold looked like the quintessential U.S. soldier. He had even received high praise from General George Washington before he sold out his fellow Americans. Now his name is synonymous with traitor.
Even more so is Judas Iscariot. The character Pete, when betrayed by his first cousin in the film O Brother Where Art Thou, lashed out and called him “Judas Iscariot Hogwallop.” Traitors, however, can find forgiveness. Thieves can make restitution. But there is no remedy for the false disciple, their guile is too great and their hearts are too hard. They go through their lives pretending to be Christians, fooling their fellow church members, deceiving members of the community, but you cannot lie to the Lord. He knows who His real disciple are, and who they are not, the faithful, and the fake.
At the end of this story, which concludes the first half of John’s Gospel (the second half will be devoted to the final week of Jesus’ life), a “large crowd” gathers. Jesus was not particularly fond of crowds during His ministry, but He keenly looks into this one. I suppose they are a good group of potential disciples, some who will follow, some who will fake it. What would you do, if you were in the crowd.
You would have to make up your mind about Jesus. There He is, eating, talking, laughing, celebrating. Is he a mere man, a mad man, or is He the Messiah, God and Savior?
You would have to make up your mind about Lazarus. Was he really dead? Did Jesus really, miraculously bring him back to life? Can the messages and miracles of Jesus really be trusted?
You would have to make up your mind about the chief priests’ plans. They were going to kill Jesus, the most dastardly deed ever done in this old world. But Jesus came to die, the most wonderful thing ever done for this whole world. Why did He do it, and what does it require of you?
You would have to make up you mind about “believing in Jesus.” It is something to be embraced, totally, heart and soul and mind and strength. Would you trade everything you own to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Would you really follow, or would you fake it?
My son-in-law is a United States Marine and we love him. He is one of the few and the proud being trained to run into the storm, rather than away from it. That’s love for your country, that’s faith in your fellow Marines, that’s saving lives.
Jesus is about to run right to the cross, not away from it. That’s love for the world, that’s the basis of true faith, that’s saving souls.
Souls that are saved show it by being real disciples. Disciples believe, sincerely. Disciples follow, fully. Disciples pay the cost, entirely, for grace and glory that money cannot buy. Be a disciple, and let it be displayed for Jesus and the whole world to see.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org