+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 12:3
Theme: Covering The Smell Of Betrayal
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
It’s now the Saturday before Holy Week. Before the next Sabbath Jesus’ body will be locked in a tomb. There’s no time for respite in the coming days. Christ will be pressed to the limits of human capacity. Every hour spent in the company of companions is precious. Still, every moment is filled with intensity and purpose. The betrayal of Judas is unfolding. The denial of Peter is pending. The fleeing of the eleven lies ahead. Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away from Me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”1
Presently though, Jesus is with His friends from Bethany. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus have received Him into their homes. Their hearts are still grappling with astonishment and joy. Only a short time earlier Jesus had stood at the tomb of Lazarus and wept. Then He spoke the command and Lazarus came forth. It caused a great stir when Lazarus was raised from the dead. Many of the Jews who were present began to believe. It was becoming clearer, even before His resurrection, that Jesus was the Messiah. The rulers couldn’t confront Him in broad daylight for fear of the crowds. The Pharisees were thrown into panic. “What are we to do? This man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”2
Mary begins to anoint Jesus’ feet with valuable ointment. The aroma filled the house. It was a smell associated with luxury. It was a smell associated with death because it was used in burial. It was probably used on Lazarus to commence his four day sojourn in the grave. The women probably took it with them on Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus. They never had the chance. The odor of dying accompanied the Lord, but never the odor of death because His body never saw decay. Death took Him but decomposition could not consume Him. But now, Mary anoints Him in preparation. She was commended for her devotion. How surreal it must have been for Lazarus to be there in Jesus presence! Did they yet understand that their Lord would soon be fixed to a cross?
Judas had other ideas. He cloaked them with words of charitableness. But he had wicked intentions. He was the keeper of the purse. He was planning to steal the money. His window for repentance was closing though Jesus gave him every opportunity. But repentance isn’t driven by opportunity. It’s driven by the Holy Spirit’s persistence in breaking through human pride. The devil is opportunistic and lawless. The Holy Spirit is orderly and scrupulous. Yet, the heart of Judas just became more callous and hardened. He insisted on having his own way.
That quality of Judas lives in each of us. In biblical language it has been called the “old Adam”. It is that inherent selfishness that precipitates greed, jealousy, self-pity, deceitfulness, unchasteness, disobedience, and finally, idolatry and unbelief. It’s not a condition we can choose to opt out of, make plans to avoid, or successfully deny. Our entanglement with specific sins is a result of our will to sin. That’s why repentance is always the order of the day.
Today Jesus is preparing for His death. We tend to avoid preparing for the things we are fearful of. Avoidance only makes the situation worse. When denial is no longer possible people may become overwhelmed and incapacitated. That’s why facing mortality can become a crisis point for some people. This is often dressed up with fine-sounding rationale and good intentions. Do we need the rooster to crow before we remember the danger of straying from God’s will? We never like to believe we are capable of evil worthy of condemnation. We never like to think we could willfully harm others. We never like to think our desires could spiral out of our control. Yet, our sinful nature conflicts constantly with our will to honour God. The struggle is never concluded in this life.
Only through the Holy Spirit can we prevail. Christ has won the victory. The forgiveness of sins is as solid as granite and as certain as the sunrise. Christ is our Rock. He is the Son of Righteousness. His promise of absolution is not bound by time and distance. When the pastor speaks His words of truth as His representative they are as definite as if Christ were standing before us. Remember what we learned from the catechism, “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command…this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”3
With this certainty, our hopes can never be crushed. Christ will not fail us. We can say with the apostle Paul today, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”4 We are clothed with that righteousness in baptism. We are fed with it in Holy Communion.
Lent reminds us that Jesus welcomes sinners. The Father always receives back prodigal sons with open arms. He doesn’t need to investigate integrity. He knows what the humble heart looks like because He sees us from the inside. “The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”5 He kills the fattened calf. He opens the gate to the sheep pen. He takes us onto the ark of salvation. He crushes Satan under our feet. He clears the way back to the tree of life.
The same Christ who was crucified is coming again. His second advent will not be like the first. With irresistible force He will gather all before Him. There will be no negotiations; no second chances. Those who have sided with ungodliness will be eternally condemned. Believers will be received into everlasting peace and joy. His decrees will be final. The faithful will become heirs with Christ to the riches of his glorious kingdom.
Dear friends, the death of Jesus was fragrant incense to God. The smell of perfume filled the house of Lazarus today. It signaled preparation for His burial. It also covered the smell of wickedness in the heart of Judas. And so the Scripture says, “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”6 Thanks be to the Father, in the power of the Spirit that Jesus Christ, who is Perfect Love, has covered all of our transgressions. In Him, we are a pleasing aroma to God. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fifth Sunday in Lent
13 March, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 26:31
2 John 11:47-48
3 Luther’s Small Catechism
4 Philippians 3:8-9
5 Psalm 34:18
61 Peter 4:8