Extravagant Devotion To Jesus

Jesus modelled perfect intimacy with his Father – he even implied that intimacy was the basis of his ministry and his ability to see what the Father was doing:

John 5:19-20 “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”

He not only modelled it, he made it possible for us to enter into it ourselves. Intimacy opens a door to knowing and experiencing God at new and rewarding levels. There is a wonder and joy in growing towards intimacy — we can never get enough of Jesus. It’s a never-ending, increasingly rewarding journey.

Our First Priority: To Love God With All Our Heart

The Holy Spirit is in the process of restoring the first commandment to first place in the Church worldwide. Therefore, to co-operate with the Holy Spirit and to do only what we literally see and hear the Father doing, we must consciously cultivate the ability to be responsive to God with wholehearted love.

It’s very poignant that the Great Commandment comes well before the Great Commission!

Matthew 22:34-40 “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Loving God with all our heart is the first commandment because it is the first priority to God. It is the first commandment, not the “first option.” It is the great commandment because it has great impact on God’s heart and our heart. Wholehearted love for God is the greatest lifestyle.

The Extravagant Devotion of Mary of Bethany

Luke 10:38-42 “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary was a young single woman who came and sat at Jesus’ feet: The Holy Spirit emphasised that Mary was there to listen to him (v. 39). Each time she is mentioned the Spirit highlights her as being at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39; John 11:32; 12:3). It is only as we listen regularly to the Lord Jesus that we will we stay fresh in our relationship with God. It is not enough to study the Bible—we must talk to God as we study. Reading the Bible is meant to lead us to an ongoing conversation with God by giving us food to mull over in our prayer life.
Jesus’ response to Martha’s reprimand is, “Really, only one thing is needed.” As we sit at the feet of Jesus, we position ourselves to receive from him – that’s really all we need. By saying that Mary had chosen what was better, Jesus settled the issue of how important this kind of lifestyle is by calling it “good”.

In his opinion, Mary had chosen a particular kind of lifestyle (v. 42); we must also choose it -  no-one can choose it for us. Cultivating a heart of extravagant devotion to Jesus takes time and effort and it would not be taken away from her (v. 42). Grace for a lifestyle of extravagant devotion can be sustained throughout our lives if we continue to choose it.

The second incident in which Mary and Martha appear occurs in John 11 with the raising of their brother, Lazarus, from the dead. When Mary hears that Jesus has come and is calling for her, she immediately leaves the assembly of mourners in her home and rushes to meet Jesus. So great is her love for him and her desire to please and obey Him that she leaves those who had come to comfort her to place herself in the arms of the greatest Comforter mankind has ever known. Jesus sees her great sorrow and weeps along with her, even though he knows her sadness is going to be short-lived and that her brother will be restored to her momentarily. In the same way, when we sorrow and grieve, our greatest comfort is found in Jesus, whose compassion is boundless. When we place our hand in the nail-scarred hand, we find comfort, peace and security, and we learn the truth of Psalm 30:5 “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Wasting Your Life!

The third occasion we come across Mary of Bethany is just a few days before Jesus died:

Mark 14:3-9 “While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. 6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

We’re told the perfume Mary used was worth a year’s wages. It was probably the embalming perfume that people in those days saved up to buy so that they could be properly treated after they died. Jesus had already told his disciples that he was soon to be crucified (Matthew 26:2); but Mary seems to have been the only one who really understood what Jesus was saying and so she took the jar of perfume and poured it on him. Such a powerful and expensive perfume  would probably have meant that the fragrance was still on both of them at the cross. Mary…wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance… (John 12:3)

The apostles objected to Mary’s action by appealing to the Scriptural mandate of serving the poor as their reason to criticize her extravagance. The fact is that all who love Jesus like Mary are likely to receive criticism from others who do not deeply love Jesus.

Their point was, “Why this waste?” Again, anything over and above the minimum commitment is seen by some as an “unnecessary waste.” To “waste on Jesus” money, exceptional musical talent, or a brilliant mind with good career opportunities is regarded by some as an unnecessary waste of one’s life and talents. Jesus’ response is to leave her alone; Jesus will vindicate any who choose a lifestyle of extravagant devotion to him. In fact he described this act as, “A beautiful thing . . .” A year earlier (in Luke 10), Jesus had commended Mary for choosing what was the better thing in sitting at his feet to hear his word; she had presumably developed her personal history with God in this way.

In responding like this, Jesus laid down an important principle: Unusual acts of devotion come from cultivating a spirit of devotion as a lifestyle. Her lifestyle of choosing the better thing by hearing the Word equipped her to choose good in other things.

So . . . What are you wasting your life on? People seeking to live with extravagant devotion to Jesus will never be content with the minimum – rather, they ask, “What is the most that God will empower me to give him?”
I started going to church when I was 8 years old – I went to church because I joined the choir – I joined the choir because I got paid to sing!!! I didn’t get to know Jesus until 10 years later. However, one thing always stuck in my mind throughout all those years – at Christmas time very year we sang the carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter”; one verse always touched my heart in a way I didn’t understand until I came to know Jesus for myself:

What can I give him poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man I would do my part.
Yet what I can I give him – give my heart.

How do you waste your life? Make it your life vision to pour yourself out on Jesus like Mary did. Jim Eliot, a missionary in South America in the last Century wrote in his journal a short while before he was martyred – “No fool is he who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose!”

David summed it up like this:

One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)