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Well, once again everybody, good morning. My name is Chris Paavola, I’m the senior pastor here at St. Mark, and it’s wonderful, wonderful, wonderful to be with you guys. We are actually kicking off a brand new series today, so you picked a great day to be here. This is a series called Empty, where we are going to be just letting God bring good news to the empty, but we’re going to be going through the story of the last days of Jesus. There’s just so much there, before his death and his resurrection, and we just want to give full weight to the story in this series and let it impact you, because really it’s the story that changed people’s lives, those who lived it, and then those who heard about it. And when we let the story speak for itself, our hope is that it changes you, as well.

It’s kind of interesting, when you think about story though, because really that’s how God interacts with us. That’s kind of interesting. I mean, if you think about God, like being God, and he’s like, “Hey, I’m going to interact. I’m going to rescue these people.” He could have come down with a list of doctrine, like a bullet point list of things to believe. He could have come down with this long enumerated, periodic table of theology somehow, right? And you could have had all this stuff all laid out. That’s not what happens. It comes down, and it’s a story.

It’s a story that starts with Adam and Eve, then Cain and Abel, and Noah. And then we have a story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and then a story of Moses, and then finally God gives us a list of laws through Moses, but there’s been thousands of years at this point.

And then, following that, we have a story with Samuel, and a story of David, and Samson, and people like that, and the prophets, the people of Israel being carried off into exile and returning, the story of Nehemiah. And then, Jesus comes, it’s again, a story. And he lives with us, and he interacts with us, and the story continues then in the story of the early church and the Apostle Paul planting, it’s all story, over and over.

And there’s good reason for that, actually, if you think about it. One, it’s the story of God redeeming humanity. That’s what he’s writing. It’s a story of redeeming humanity, and it’s a story. But two, you and I are hardwired for story. I don’t know if you think about this, but we struggle to remember state capitals. Anyone? Yeah, right. Going back to school? Exactly. Clare, who didn’t grow up in the United States, it’s just like, “Don’t even ask the state capitol.” Right?

We struggle to remember countries on a map, and we have a hard time with bullet points and lists. And who remembers anything from the periodic table? Honestly, there’s very little that we remember. What does PB mean? Okay, show off. The other 80% of the room had no idea, okay. But, you have no problem recalling the story of how you broke your arm, or the story of your first kiss, or the story of the birth of your child. You don’t struggle to remember those details because you lived it, and it’s just, you’re telling the story. There’s no, you have to memorize it, it’s just you’re telling the story, what happens.

The inverse is true as well, as listeners, we retain stories so much more than factoids and lists and bullet points. Anecdotally, I see this all the time as a pastor. People will come up to me, sometimes they’ll remember some truth that I speak, years later, and they’ll be like, “I remember when you said that thing about that thing and it stuck with me.” Sometimes I get that, but more often than not, they’ll be like, “Hey, we were just talking about that story of the glitter,” or that story of kicking a shark, or that story of when you hitchhiked, or whatever. Those stories are what you guys remember far more because our brains are hardwired for story. So it makes sense that God interacts with us in story.

And so, what I want to do in this series is let you be immersed in the story of the last days of Jesus and the events leading up to it. Because I think sometimes we pick up the book, and it feels like a textbook. It’s hard, it’s thick, and we read through it quickly, and we’re like, “Okay, there it is.” But we forget that this was largely an oral tradition first. Most people were illiterate in the first century Palestine, and most people in the first century didn’t have books. They just didn’t. That was a luxury you just didn’t have. That was reserved, maybe there was a scroll in the town synagogue, but nobody just had books and a bookshelf in their home. It was just not comprehensible.

And so, when they told the story, they didn’t open the book and read it, they just told the story. And I say that with a little bit of hesitation, because when I say that, immediately we start going, “Well, then it’s just oral tradition. It becomes a game of telephone.” One guy tells one guy, tells one guy, tells another gal, who tells another gal, tells another guy, and eventually the game of telephone, you played this when you were kids, right? The original story doesn’t even match the embellished version at the end. But the difference here is these are stories told by those who lived it. And after they told the story so many times, they eventually decided to write it down, and then they made copies of the story and circulated those.

But, the story is the firsthand story, the story from the eyewitnesses, people who lived it, Matthew, Mark, John, even Paul. They’re writing the story of what it was like to live this thing. And so when you and I are reading the biographies of Jesus, it’s like we’re sitting, crisscross, at the feet of a storyteller. And the storyteller is sitting there telling the story, and we just sit on the floor listening to the story, and it’s the story that changed people’s lives, and so that’s what I want to do this morning, is just tell the story of one aspect of what happened in the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

And the story of what happens in Jerusalem actually starts outside of Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples, they’re off east of town, and Jesus is healing and performing miracles and teaching. And then, it says specifically that Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem. It’s this phrase that means he’s resolute, he’s determined, bound and determined, this is what we’re doing. And he tells the disciples, “I must go to Jerusalem, where I will be arrested by the religious leaders, and then crucified and killed, but on the third day, I will rise again from the dead.”

It’s not a mistake. It wasn’t an accident. He was very intentional about what he was doing. And the disciples hear this and they’re thinking, he’s going to set up this earthly kingdom, this time on earth where Israel is the superpower in the world. And they’re thinking, they’re on the cabinets. He’s going to set up a governance structure and each of them is going to have a certain role in the new government, in this new kingdom. And so when they hear that he’s going to be arrested and killed, they’re like, “No, no, no, no, no, no.” And immediately, this man named Peter tells him, “Never, Lord. This shall never happen to you.”

Matthew 16:22

Again, he has in mind what he thinks God should do. And Jesus immediately rebukes him, but when he rebukes him, it’s such an interesting phrase. He looks at Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God, but human concerns.”

It’s not the last time we’ll see Jesus do this, rebuke somebody, but also, speak about the spiritual realm that’s going on around us. So they make their way to Jerusalem, it’s a long road, it’s an arid region. We think of the desert, we tend to think of sand dunes in the Sahara, but that’s not what this desert is like. It’s hard, rocky, unforgiving, jagged terrain under a hot sun. They can’t walk at dark because it’s dangerous, there’s thieves, so they have to walk in daylight. And they walk down this hot and dusty road, and eventually they get two miles east of the city of Jerusalem. It’s a tiny village called Bethany, and they have a problem. They need to spend some time in Jerusalem for the festival that’s about a week away, but to stay in Jerusalem is dangerous because there’s religious leaders who want to arrest Jesus.

And so Jesus sends some runners ahead to the town, the village, really, of Bethany. It’s a village of about 200 people, and they knock on the door of a man named Simon the Leper. I love that, Simon the Leper. They go to his house. Anytime when you read the biographies of Jesus and they name somebody, it’s because you can go verify the story you’ve heard about them. Blind Bartimaeus, Simon of Cyrene, Simon the Leper, it’s so that you can go and verify the story you just heard. Is it true that Jesus healed you?

And there in Bethany is Simon the Leper. I love that little detail. And I think it’s so interesting, they name him the Leper. He’s not really a leper anymore, you guys. He’s been healed. If he wasn’t healed, he couldn’t be in town, he would have to be quarantined off with his leprosy. And so he’s named Simon the Leper because he’s the guy who had leprosy, and Jesus healed him. I think it’s hilarious to imagine Simon the Leper going to a dinner party and being introduced. “Have you met my friend, Simon the Leper?”, “Simon, the what?” And they’re like, “No, no, no, no, no, no. He doesn’t have leprosy. He had leprosy. Simon tell them.” And every time he was introduced, Simon had the opportunity to bear witness of what God has done in his life.

Some of you guys are just in church today to hear this, okay? Your past can become your purpose.

So they go to Simon’s house and they say, “Jesus is en route. He’s coming, and he’d like to stay at your house.” And Simon, having been healed, he’s happy to obligate, happy to oblige and accommodate. And so he hurries up and he prepares his home. And now, these homes are modest homes. They use the resources that are all around them, it’s rocks, and so these homes are built with just stone. It’s a stone cottage, and the roof is logs and sticks to act as like rafters, and then they put palm branches as thatch across the roof. They don’t have to worry about rain. And so they put palm branches as thatch roof over them. But Simon does his best to ready the home.

And Jesus enters, and as he enters it’s evening because they’re about to have dinner. So as they enter this home, it’s lit up with candles, long shadows, dancing all throughout the room. And there is a dinner table full of traditional Jewish cuisine. I can assume it was bread, cucumbers, dates and figs, goat cheese, wine. And so they’re sitting there, and they sit down and they greet one another, and then they start telling stories. “Tell the story about what Jesus did over in Jericho. Tell him what he said over in the Decapolis.” And they start telling the story. “No, no, no, that’s not what happened, remember? Matthew, you said the thing, and then Peter.”, “Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s right.” They just tell the story of what Jesus did, they have this collective memory together. And Simon listens.

And then while they’re sitting there, also is a woman named Mary, of Mary and Martha fame. Mary, who loved Lazarus, and watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. She’s so overwhelmed with gratitude, there’s a jar that she brought to Simon the Leper’s house. She grabs it off of the counter and she opens it. It’s a jar full of extremely expensive perfume. It’s about a year’s wages. How much did you make last year?

She opens this jar, and one writer notes that the smell of perfume filled the room, mixing with the scent of the food, the savory food, and all of a sudden there’s this floral scent that stings the nostrils. She takes this jar of perfume, she probably had to break it open, actually, we don’t quite know, but it’s an alabaster jar, and she pours this perfume on the feet of Jesus. And then she takes off her head scarf, scandalous, a woman uncovering her head, and she begins to wipe Jesus’s feet, drying them and wiping them with her hair. And then she stands up, and impossibly, she takes this jar of perfume and pours it over Jesus’s head, down to the dregs, pouring perfume. And it’s just running down his face, falling off his beard and dripping onto the table below.

Obviously, the disciples are aghast. “What is this woman doing?” This is so socially inappropriate. “What is she doing?” And one man named Judas speaks up, and John noted that, he said, “Why this waste?” And Matthew notes that Judas says, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” It was worth a year’s wages.

JOHN 12:5
But he did not say this because he cared about the poor, he said this because he was the keeper of the treasury for the disciples, and he used to keep money in the treasury for himself. Judas was very greedy.

And then Jesus, for a second time in our story, rebukes one of his disciples, and he says, “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful, beautiful thing to me.”

And as he says this, I can’t help but think they’re looking at Jesus, his hair wet with perfume, his forehead glistening in the candlelight, and they remembered, he’s the Christ. The word Christ means anointed one. And in scripture, we read there’s this very specific recipe for anointing oil, and they would use that oil to anoint the people and mark them, like we saw in the waters of baptism earlier, mark them for a very specific sacred task and a sacred purpose, these objects and these people. And then we see people like kings and priests throughout history being anointed for the role given to them. But we also know this is all a foreshadowing of the anointed one, the chosen one, the Messiah who would come to redeem the world. He is the Christ, the anointed one, and there he is sitting at the dinner table, anointed with this woman’s perfume.

And then he continues, he says, “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. It’s an embalming. Truly, I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” I love that.

MATTHEW 28:12-13
Jesus makes this promise that when the gospel and when this story is told, when the gospel is told, it’ll include her, and her memory will be honored in the hearing, and yet again, in this moment, right now, Jesus’s words are fulfilled in your hearing, even now. I love that.

Dinner continues. They turn in for the night, but Judas is humiliated, stings. Mary puts this jar back, this empty jar, back on the counter, and Judas, under the cover of darkness, makes this two mile walk to Jerusalem, and he finds the high priests and the religious leaders, and he’s so disenchanted with Jesus. He asks them, “What will you give me if I tell you a time and a place where you can arrest Jesus away from the crowds?” And they settle on a price of 30 pieces of silver. Chump change, but it’s enough for him, and the wheels are in motion for Jesus’s death and resurrection.

And that empty jar sat on the counter the next morning when the sun rose and everybody woke up, almost as an object’s lesson for them. And that empty jar, really, everyone responded to it differently. Mary looks at that and is so grateful for what she gave to Jesus, and Judas is thinking about what he could have gotten from Jesus. She didn’t regret it, you guys. She was so filled with worship, and hope, and love, and joy, because she emptied the jar. Meanwhile, there’s Judas, full of himself, self-interest, full of anger, full of greed, full of a thirst for power. You’ve got Mary choosing Jesus over temporary gain, a year’s wages, but she chose Jesus over temporary gain, and you’ve got Judas choosing temporary gain over Jesus, all depicted by the empty jar.

But that’s not the only object lesson in the room. The empty jar also is a picture of Jesus. The apostle Paul would later write, and he uses a very difficult word to translate, but it’s this word kenosis, when he said, “God became man, and he kenosis.” He emptied himself, he poured himself out, and became man, not just a man, he became a slave, the lowest of the low, that he might serve us, and went to death on a cross, and where he emptied himself and poured out his blood for our forgiveness, that at the name of Jesus, God filled him with life and rose him from the dead, and now, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. He was emptied to be filled.

It’s all captured and depicted there in the picture of the empty jar. And I could come up with a couple of quippy lines, phrase that pays, to help you think about this thing as you walk away. But, you ever go to a movie like, The Godfather, or Back to the Future, or Barbie? And you go to the theater, get in the car with the person you’re with, you instantly become movie critics, and what do you talk about? What do you talk about? The story. And what you’re trying to do is figure out, on a very theoretical level, what you’re trying to do is figure out how the story intersects with your story.

So instead of translating it for you and telling you, this is what it means, I’d like you to be critical thinkers this morning, to let the story change you like it changed billions of people. And as you hear the story, do you think of Judas and kind of identify, and you’re like, “Man, I’m being really greedy and selfish right now.” Do you think of Mary and you’re like, “Man, I’m just so overwhelmed with gratitude. I’m pouring myself out for people and emptying myself out for my kids, my grandkids, my work.” Or do you think of Jesus emptying himself out for you and you’re overwhelmed with, “I’m a sinner and he’s forgiven me, not by what I’ve done, but by what he’s done.”

How does the story of the empty jar hit you? How do you respond to the empty jar? And so, I’d like you to take a minute and talk about the movie. I’d like you to turn to your neighbor and just process the story. How do you personally? Are you convicted, compelled, challenged, whatever? Did the hair on your arms raise? Or how did you get, tight-fisted and angry? Whatever. How do you respond to the story of the empty jar? Find somebody around you. Introduce yourself if you came alone, and process the story. Take a couple minutes, go ahead.

It’s a great story, and it has transformative power for your story, whatever your story is. As we were planning this service and we talked through some of the details, it just became really obvious that the offering should be after the message, not because I want you guys to give a year’s salary. If the Lord has put it on your heart, however, feel free to give your entire year’s salary, but I’m not trying to obligate you or coerce you. I just wanted you to give with the right heart today, like a heart that truly says, thank you for what you’ve done. To kneel next to Mary, and pour out what you have, the costly gift that you have for the Lord, and just bless him and thank him for what he’s done for you.

To volunteers, will you please come forward as we collect our offering today?