Love in Action (3) — The Extravagance of Love

This morning, we continue in our series on “Love in Action”. Two weeks ago, we saw just how important love is – I referred to it as “true north” because love should serve as a guide for everything we do and everything we say. But love is not just something we can talk about. It’s something we have to actually put into practice. As the apostle John wrote, “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (I John 3:18, NLT). And I hope that over the past couple of weeks, you’ve had a chance to actually search out ways to show love to those around you.

Our key thought the first week was, “In order to love people, we need to be with them.” And then, our key thought last week was that God’s love has shown an immense patience toward us, and our love for others needs to demonstrate an immense patience as well.

This morning, I want to talk a little bit about the extravagance of love. Over the years, I have performed a number of weddings, and there’s something that I have said in almost every one of them.

“From this day forward, you belong entirely to each other. You will be one in mind, one in heart, one in affection. And whatever sacrifice you will be required to make to preserve this common life, always make it generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy.”

And I think that’s so true. True love has a certain extravagance about it. It is willing to do whatever is necessary, and in fact, love goes well beyond what is necessary. Love will do some crazy, crazy things in order to show another person just how much they are loved.

Bob Goff tells a story about when he and his wife lived in a house by the water. They would often sit outside and watch couples walk by and they would wave back and forth. One day, there was this young man who came walking down the path all alone. He waved to Bob and his wife, and they waved back. But then he just stood there continuing to wave, so finally Bob went over to talk with him. The young man said, “Hi, I’m Ryan and I’m in love” and he had that glazed-over look than smitten guys get.

He said, “I have this girlfriend and I’d like to propose to her and I was wondering if I could use your back yard.” Who in the world would approach a total stranger and ask that? And the answer is, only someone who is in love. Because love will do whatever it takes.

Now, Bob is the kind of person who is up for any sort of adventure, so he said, “Sure” and Ryan left. A few days later, Ryan was back. He still had that I’m-in-love grin. He said, “Bob, would it be OK if we had dinner on your back porch before I pop the question?” The request was so ridiculous that Bob almost laughed out loud. But he said, “Of course. What can I make for you?”

A few days later Ryan came back, “Would it be possible to have some friends serve us while we’re having dinner on your porch?” Bob said, “Sure. How many?” Ryan said, “Twenty.” When love does something, it does it big! Bob said, “Twenty it is!”

A few days later, Ryan came back and said, “Would it be okay if after dinner and my friends leave, you could put some speakers on the porch and maybe we could dance a bit?” Bob said, “Sure.”

A few days later, Ryan was back one last time and he asked Bob, “Do you have a have a boat?” Yes. “Well, can I borrow it?”

I will quote from Bob Goff at this point. “Ryan was out of control. He had no idea what an outrageous thing he was asking…He was completely unaware of and unimpeded by what was proper, what was acceptable, and what was conventional. Nothing was going to get in the way of what he decided he was going to do.”

Well, it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m not going to tell you the end of the story. I’ll let Bob share that with you this evening at our house at 6:00, but I wanted you to see just how audacious and extravagant love is.

And all of us who have been in love have all been there at some point. We could go around the room and share all sorts of ways that we have expressed our love in extravagant ways. And the thing about love is that it really doesn’t see it as extravagant. There is just this overwhelming sense of joy when we have the opportunity to express our love. And there is nothing – there is nothing — that brings us more joy than being able to bring joy to someone we love.

The same thing is true of God. In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul compares the relationship between a husband and wife to Christ and the church. He says in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Christ is willing to do whatever is needed for this bride that he loves so much.

And I think that illustration of Ryan and his extravagant love is such a wonderful picture of God as he expresses his love for us. Being able to show love to us gives God tremendous joy, and in fact, the more extravagantly he expresses his love, the more joy it brings him.

In Isaiah 63:7, Isaiah said, “I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” There is such an abundance of God’s love.

In Ephesians 2:4,7, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Paul describes God’s love toward us as “immeasurable”.

In Ephesians 3:17-19, listen to how Paul tries to describe God’s love — “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

And in I John 3:1 (VOICE), John says, “Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us—He calls us children of God!

God has shown such an extravagant love toward us. He loves doing things for us, and it gives him such great joy. So, how do we develop a love like that? Because it’s one thing to love someone and say, “If you need me to do something for you, let me know and I’ll see if I can try and figure out if maybe there’s some way I can do it.”

It’s another thing altogether to have a love that says, “I get excited just trying to find new ways to express my love for you.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a love that finds great joy in doing things for others, and in fact, the more we do, the more joy it brings us? Perhaps the place we need to start is by developing that sort of extravagant love for God first.

There’s a story in Mark 14 about a woman who, when she was in the presence of Jesus, was so over¬whelmed by the wonder of who he was and by the thought of all that he had done for her, that she did something totally outrageous to express her love, something that was so extravagant that a lot of people around her thought she was crazy to do it.

The week before his crucifixion, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem and stopped over for a few days in the village of Bethany. While he was there, he was invited to the home of Simon the leper for a dinner in his honor.

Now, we don’t know exactly who Simon the leper was. He obviously was a healed leper, or he wouldn’t have been able to host a dinner party. Most likely, he was one of the many people that Jesus had touched and healed of that awful disease.

Some people believe that he was a friend of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, who also lived in Bethany. Others believe that he may have even been their father. At any rate, John tells us in his gospel that those three people were present along with Jesus and his apostles, and that Martha was helping to serve the food.

We pick up in Mark 14:3: “And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.” (Mark 14:3).

When John tells this story in his gospel, he goes into a little more detail. John tells us that the woman poured the perfume not only on Jesus’ head, but also on his feet. And then (even though respectable women didn’t take down their hair in public), this woman used her own hair to wipe off Jesus’ feet.

John also gives us one more significant detail that Mark doesn’t. John tells us that the woman who did this was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.

This is the same Mary who sat at the feet of Jesus in Luke 11 when her sister Martha got upset that she wasn’t in the kitchen helping her.

This is the same Mary whose brother Lazarus died in John 11, and when she saw Jesus coming, she ran out and fell at his feet worshiping Him.

And now, here she is anointing the head and the feet of Jesus. It’s significant to me that we read about Mary three times in the gospels, and each time, she is at the feet of Jesus. And that tells me something about her heart.

So Mary came to Jesus and she brought out some expensive perfume. Oils and perfumes were used widely in the ancient world. Guests entering a house would customarily be given water and a towel to wash their faces, hands, and feet. Often there would be oil to wipe on their dry, parched skin as well.

And many families would save up and buy an expensive flask of really good aromatic oil or perfume and save it for funerals. There was no embalming among the Israelites. Burial would normally take place within hours after a death, and the body would be washed, perfumed, and laid to rest.

So, Mark tells us that Mary came into the room with “an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard”. Here in the United States, we’re not very familiar with spikenard, or as it’s sometimes called, simply nard. It’s an expensive perfume which is made from a plant grown mostly in the Himalayas. This particular perfume was kept in an expensive alabaster flask which Mary broke to pour the perfume on Jesus.

It’s hard to miss the symbolism here. Here’s an expensive perfume which was probably being saved to pour over a dead body and, in just a few days, Jesus was going to die. Now, I don’t think Mary realized that. The apostles didn’t even understand. And had Mary thought that Jesus truly was about to die, she probably would have saved the perfume for his burial instead.

No, what Mary did, she did simply out of an overwhelming love for Jesus. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why Mary felt the way she did. Jesus had given her brother back to her from the dead. He had restored her friend — or her father — Simon back to health. He had always treated her with dignity and respect. He had shared with her the gospel message and opened to her the kingdom of God. So, Mary wanted to give Jesus something to let him know just how much she loved him.

But then Mark tells us, “There were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they criticized her sharply.” (Mark 14:4-5)

Every group of people has what I call a “cold water committee.” These are the people who will always find fault with something. They will always find some way to throw cold water on anything they don’t like or don’t understand. They always complain about what is being done or how it’s being done.

In John’s account, John tells us that the person most vocal with his complaint was Judas Iscariot. When he saw the flask of perfume, he saw dollar marks. It was worth more than 300 denarii. One denarius was the amount of a normal working man’s wages for one day. So that means this perfume was worth approximately one year’s salary for the average working man, at least 20,000 dollars in today’s money.

I suspect that Judas was right in his estimate of the value of that perfume. And we’re really not too surprised at his attitude because John goes on to tell us that he was a thief, stealing from the moneybag. But if you’re like me, you’re a little bit surprised to read in Mark’s account that the other apostles who were present also joined with Judas in their objection. In fact, everyone in the room seems to have thought that it is wasteful.

And it’s hard to argue with that. Imagine taking something of yours that’s worth a year’s salary and using it up in a matter of minutes.

Several years ago, there was a fellow in London who wanted to propose to his girlfriend in a really big way. And so he bought her a $12,000 engagement ring. And then he put it inside a helium balloon so that when he popped the question, she could pop the balloon and get her ring. It was a wonderfully creative idea….with only one problem. When he walked outside with his ring in the balloon, a gust of wind pulled the balloon out of his hand and floated away. He chased after it but he never found it, and his girlfriend….well, she was rather mad at him. If fact, she refused to speak to him until he got her another ring.

We can all sympathize to some degree. If we spend a lot of money on something, we want it to be around for a while. I can’t imagine buying Sueanne a meal for her birthday that costs $20,000 and in an hour, it’s eaten and gone. I can’t imagine buying her some perfume that costs $20,000, but it’s only good for one application. To me, that would be extremely wasteful

And so I can relate to all these folks who are apparently unable to appreciate this gift of love that Mary had given. They said the perfume was being wasted. They said, “This perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.” And it could have.

After all, Jesus was a friend to the poor. And this was Passover week, a week in which special efforts were made to help the needy. Everyone did it. The disciples found it hard to imagine how anyone who ought to be giving alms to the poor could just throw it away like this! Just think how much good this money could have done if it had been used to feed hungry families, to help the widows and the orphans! But instead, it was wasted in a matter of minutes through the extravagance of this woman.

And yet, it never seemed to occur to these objectors that the same criti¬cism they were leveling at Mary could also have been said about Simon the leper who had spent a great deal of money preparing the great, generous, enjoyable meal they were about to eat. But that was different!

Let me ask you a question – do you think Mary was being wasteful? I want to suggest to you that love always seems wasteful to those who don’t love. Judas witnessed an action of love and he called it extravagant waste. So much depends upon your point of view.

And the sad thing is, Judas never really saw the gift that Mary gave to Jesus that night. The fact that he tried to put a price tag on it proves it. Judas knew a lot about perfume, but there was a whole lot more in that action that night that Judas knew nothing about, because this was a demonstration of love. Mary took the most precious thing that she possessed and spent it all on Jesus. And true love always contains a certain extravagance about it.

There is a certain recklessness in love which refuses to count the cost. And you parents know what I mean. You love your children and if there’s anything they need — anything at all — you’ll make whatever sacrifice is necessary to get it for them. Love is not love if it neatly calculates the cost.

As I read about what Mary did, I can’t help but go back to that quote from Bob Goff’s book where he was so amazed at what Ryan was willing to do in the name of love. He said, “He was completely unaware of and unimpeded by what was proper, what was acceptable, and what was conventional.”

And that describes Mary. And it describes us when we are truly loving someone. Love says, whatever it costs, whatever it takes, I’m willing to do it. If you understand the nature of love, you understand what Mary did.

And what was the response of Jesus to all of this? In Mark 14:6-7, he said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but me you do not always have.” Then Jesus gives what is perhaps the most beautiful description of what real Christian love is. He tells us what he wants of each of us. He said Mary “has done what she could”.

She did what she could. Mary wanted to show some expression of her devotion for Jesus. Perhaps, for Mary, it was hard to come up with the right words. Hers was a silent nature, very much unlike her sister Martha. She probably felt that she would never be able to tell Jesus face to face about the depth of her feelings. So she took her most valued and expensive possession, the perfume that she had probably been saving for her own burial later on, and broke it and poured it over Jesus.

If Mary had done what the disciples wanted her to do, she would have poured out just a little bit of the perfume, anointed Jesus and saved the rest. She certainly wouldn’t have broken the jar. “Why break the jar, Mary?” The jar itself was alabaster, which is very expensive. “Why not pour out a little bit of the oil and anoint Jesus and save the rest for some other occasion?”

And if Mary had done that, then Jesus would have been anointed. The rest of the oil could have been used for another need or perhaps sold and the money given to the poor as Judas suggested. Or maybe Mary had some other perfume – nice perfume, but less expensive — tucked away back in her room somewhere. But, if so, she didn’t bring it out. She went for the best. She wanted to show her love in an extravagant way, because that’s what true love does.

And Jesus told Mary that she would never be forgotten for what she did. He said, “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the whole world, what this woman did will also be spoken of as a memorial to her.” (Mark 14:9).

What an incredible demonstration of love! Mary must have known how much it cost her. But she didn’t care. Her love for Jesus was so great that she wasn’t concerned about the cost. In fact, she was probably happy about it — she was getting a chance to demonstrate her devotion to Jesus. If she was sad at all, it wasn’t because of how much she was giving up, but because she had so little to give.

If we have a similar love for Jesus, a love for God, we can’t help but respond with the idea that nothing we give is too much. Nothing we do could ever compare to what God has already done for us. Our love for him should lead us to want to give all that we have in return.

There is such a beauty in the extravagance of Mary’s love. It was far more than what was necessary. But Mary was not the kind of person who thought, what is the least I can do for Jesus? How much do I have to spend? What is my responsibility here?

When you think about it, the disciples didn’t object to the anointing itself. And they didn’t object to the perfume. What they objected to was the extravagance. This was just too much — way too much. This was ridiculous, wasteful, even sinful. But Jesus said, “No. What she has done is a beautiful thing.”

As I look at my own life, I see so many times that I have been more like Judas and the apostles, and not nearly enough like Mary. I find myself wanting to keep count. If I do this for Christ, then it’s going to cost me this amount of money. Do you know what I could do with that kind of money? If I do this for Christ, it’s going to cost me this much time. Do you know what I could accomplish if I didn’t have to give up that time?

And so, I find myself giving a little bit here, a little bit there, so very careful lest I give too much. But Mary lets me know that I need to be less calculating and more generous. Less analytic and more compassionate. Less self-centered and more Christ-centered. Less concerned about what somebody else might think or say, and more anxious to honor the one who first loved me. I need to learn the extravagance of love.

I need to learn from Mary. And I also need to learn from God. Because God gave us such an extravagant gift in the form of Jesus Christ. It was an outrageous gift, worth far more than what we deserve. But that’s the way grace is. Grace is extravagant. And so, Jesus gave everything he had — gave his very life — even those people who reject him.

I can just imagine some angels having a conversation with Jesus and saying something like, “Why did waste your efforts? You’re going to die for people who don’t even care about you? Some of the people you’re dying for are going to be the ones nailing you to the cross. What a waste!”

But Jesus knew the extravagance of love. He was willing to give whatever it takes — to give all that he had — because of the love that he had for you and me.

I think it’s only when we learn to appreciate the extravagance of God’s love for us that we can be motivated to have that same kind of love for him. And I think it is only after we develop that kind of extravagant love for God that we can learn to demonstrate that same kind of love for others. A love that doesn’t say, “What’s the least I can do for you?”, but a love that says, “I want to go over and beyond all reasonable expressions of love to let you know just how much I love you!” And when we are able to express that kind of extravagant love, we find great joy in bringing joy to others.


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