Updated: Mar 17
The love of money is spiritual death. So, what does it look like when the love of money has been put to death in a heart? What does the antithesis of the love of money look like in a life? Thankfully, we get an incredible glimpse of this very thing in John 12. There we read this account:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 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. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1–8)
Here’s Pastor John, in a 2011 sermon, to explain.
Jesus is inexpressibly wonderful, and Mary is inexpressibly affectionate. They match. That’s beautiful. It’s the point of the story. Look, Judas; look, Bethlehem; look, world; look: she’s putting it on his feet — his dirty, smelly, human feet. Why? Because the least of Jesus is worthy of the best of us.
Worthy of Our Best
Look, Judas; look, Bethlehem; look, world: she’s wiping it off with her hair. Why? Why not a nice, clean, soft towel? That’s what Jesus used a few hours later (John 13:4–5). Do you remember how Peter responded in Luke 5 to the miraculous catch of fish at the word of Jesus? “We’ve been fishing all night; it won’t work. . . . Okay, you say throw it down? We’ll throw it down.” They pull up so much fish, two boats start to sink. What does Peter do? He falls flat on his face and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:1–11). Jesus hadn’t said a word about his sin. He just treated him super good, over-the-top good. In that presence of grace, that’s the way it works for me: I feel most unworthy.
“Heartfelt, personal, intense, warm, affectionate, authentic worship never stays private.” Tweet Share on Facebook
I think Mary was just overwhelmed with what was there before her, and how unworthy she was: “Jesus, cleanness and sweetness of aroma befits you. Your purity and holiness and power and grace, sweetness and cleanness befit you. But as for me, odors and dirt befit me. My hair is the cleanest, most beautiful thing that I have, and if I could serve to magnify your purity and your sweetness, it would honor me to turn my hair into a rag for your feet.” This is a wonderful thing. This is a beautiful thing, when the affections of a woman match the worth of Jesus.
Look, Judas; look, Bethlehem; look, world; look at the room: “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3). Heartfelt, personal, intense, warm, affectionate, authentic worship never stays private. It will be out. Others will know it. They’ll see it off your face, if it was private in this room during corporate worship. Meeting Jesus the way she met Jesus, with this outflow of over-the-top affection, never is a merely private thing. The fragrance of Christ can be smelled: lavish, heartfelt, sacrificial, grateful display of affection for Jesus. And everybody was blessed in the whole banquet.
“Leave her alone. I won’t be around very long, and I’m the issue here; my worth is the issue here. She sees it; you don’t. She feels it; you don’t. Leave her alone; you don’t understand at all what’s going on here, Judas. Leave her alone, Judas, because the poor you always have with you. Judas, let me start by giving you the benefit of the doubt. Do you love the poor? Guess what? For the rest of your life, serve the poor. They’re always going to be there. In fact, Judas, you better love the poor. I love the poor. So, you may now feel free, with no obstacle from Mary at all, to love the poor the rest of your days. Go ahead. Judas, I know you. You don’t love the poor, and you don’t love me. You love money, and in five days, you’ll sell me for thirty pieces of silver.”
Listen, Judas; listen, Bethlehem; listen, world, to the apostle Paul. Where did he learn this? Where did Paul learn this?
We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith [oh, Judas!] and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:7–10)
“The least of Jesus is worthy of the best of us.” Tweet Share on Facebook
The love of money is suicidal. Jesus said it. Paul said it. Judas proved it. Do you love money? Do you want to be rich? That’s what the Bible says: if you want to be rich, you’re on a suicidal track. Money is deadly. I mean money, not just the love of it. It’s deadly. We have to handle it; we have to make it; we have to use it — but like fire in our hands.
“Judas, Bethlehem, if you can’t see me and my worth, you’re going to die and never see me again.”
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.