Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Listening to God
Pastor Steve Schell
John 12:1-8
It’s possible to hear someone speak but not understand what they are saying. In fact, the truth is we seldom listen carefully to one another. Oh sure, we regularly converse about practical matters, but when conversation turns deeper, to issues of the heart, we don’t hear each other. We hear words, but not their true meaning, particularly if we don’t like what’s being said. Our minds naturally reject ideas that require us to change or endure personal hardship. So when someone tries to talk to us about those ideas, we hear something different, we hear what we want to hear.

Undoubtedly we’ve all had the experience of trying to communicate something very important only to discover later that what they heard was not at all what we said, and then when we try to correct them they argue with us, absolutely certain that they heard us correctly. It’s all very confusing. We know what we tried to say, but they seem so sure we said something else. How does this happen? It seems the human mind hears what it agrees with, what it already thinks is true, and blocks out those things it doesn’t agree with.

This happened to Jesus all the time. Over and over again He would tell His disciples certain truths but they couldn’t hear Him, especially when He talked about His death and resurrection (Jn 2:22; 12:16). But there was one person who actually listened when He taught these things, and heard what He said.

Mary listened (Lk 10:38-42)
Mary and Martha are sisters who lived with their brother Lazarus in a village two miles east of Jerusalem, on the road that leads down to Jericho. All three are true followers of Jesus, and their home is a place of welcome whenever He passes by. During the last few months He’s traveled to Jerusalem on several occasions, and it was natural for Him to stop for a meal with these dear friends (Jn 11:5).
• v39 “…Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.”

Peter argued (Mt 16:13-28)
Peter listened to some of the things Jesus said and believed them, but when the Lord spoke about things Peter didn’t want to hear, he argued with Him. Jesus had repeatedly been telling His disciples that He must die, but Peter hadn’t heard that part, and he wasn’t alone. In fact, judging from the way the disciples reacted to the cross and initially doubted the resurrection, Mary of Bethany appears to be the only one who listened, that is, actually heard what He said, about dying for our sins…which is why she anointed His feet with perfume.

Anointing Jesus (Jn 12:1-8)
Jesus arrived in Bethany on Saturday. The next day He would ride into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey while enormous crowds lined the road. But that evening He was having dinner with friends and it was during this meal Mary did something so beautiful we still marvel at it. She took what was undoubtedly a family heirloom, a pound of perfumed oil, and poured it on Jesus’ feet while He was reclining at the table. In effect, she was washing His feet with perfume, rather than water, and wiping them with her hair rather than a towel. It was a shocking event. Much earlier in His ministry a woman had washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair as an act of profound repentance and thanks (Lk 7:36-50), but what Mary is doing is much different. She isn’t repenting, she’s prophesying. She is symbolically preparing Him for burial. She’s saying, “I know you are going to die, I heard you. And I know why you must die, and I believe.” We need only look back through the gospel to see how many times Jesus said He was going to die for our sins (Jn 3:14, 15), but no one really listened…except Mary. Jesus is on His way to the cross, and she knows it.

The Holy Spirit has led her to do what she is doing. It is first of all an expression of thanksgiving and worship. In that culture a person’s feet are considered the most unpleasant part of the body, and the head is the most honored. So to wash His feet with her hair was as humble an act as anyone could perform. This is true worship. She has taken a family treasure and poured it out, saying by this act, “I owe you everything for what you are about to do” (See: 2 Sam 24:18-25).

But another statement was being made in this moment that we must not miss. She was ministering as a prophet. God was speaking through her to His Son. Jesus was about to enter His passion. The days ahead would be horrific, so on the evening before He entered the city, the Father prophetically assured Him that what He was about to do would rise up before Him as a sweet aroma (Ex 28:18, 25; Eph 5:2). The cross was unavoidable, it must happen. He would die cruelly, enduring every form of disrespect. His body would be buried hastily, but the Father was telling Him that He honored what He was about to do. This was a great act of obedience. Though men would treat Him as a criminal, the Father saw his death as the death of a king. Through Mary He was preparing His Son’s body for the tomb. There are few places you can point to in the gospels where a human truly ministered to Jesus, and none at this depth.

Washing feet (Jn 13:1-5; 12-17)
When Jesus gathered with His disciples in the upper room to celebrate Passover, and for Jesus to serve the first communion (bread and cup) (Lk 22:7-20), He began by washing their feet. Apparently, no one had taken on this humble chore, so He rose from the table, wrapped a towel around His waist, and washed each one. Afterward, He explained that He was modeling a principle. He wanted them to care for each other as humbly as He had just done for them. But did you notice, in the course of that evening no one washed His feet. He washed theirs, but apparently His were forgotten. Maybe it’s because His had already been washed with perfumed oil, and wiped with a worshiper’s hair.

Ears that hear
Do we listen to God? Or are we always telling Him what we want Him to do for us. He wants us to bring Him our requests. He loves us and wants to care for us. But do we take time to listen, and when He does speak will we let Him say things we don’t want to hear? Will we allow the Holy Spirit to show us our sin and our need of a Savior? And as believers will we let Him point out our failures, not to condemn us, but to lead us to repentance so we can receive His mercy afresh by faith. Something in all of us doesn’t think our own sin is a big deal, and wishes He would skip over the sin issue and just start blessing us. But God knows His kingdom doesn’t work that way. We tend to wander, so He constantly needs to draw us back to Himself. He deals with our heart first, then He is able to pour out His blessings.

Palm Sunday (Jn 12:12-15)
Which brings us to Palm Sunday. The next day, after Mary had anointed Jesus, He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey-colt. He was intentionally prophesying. He was fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey…and the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations…” (Zech 9:9, 10).

By this act He was telling the crowds He had not come as a warrior to free them from their oppressors. Someday He would, but not yet. There was a more important matter to deal with first: their sin. He was entering the city to die, not conquer the Romans. But they weren’t listening. Are we?

The week ahead
This is a special week. It gives us the opportunity to reflect deeply on what Jesus has done. On Good Friday we’ll have services to remember the price He paid on the cross. We need to let that terrible truth sink deep into our hearts. This year we will meditate on what it means that He was “forsaken” for us.

And then next weekend we’ll celebrate His resurrection. Our Savior died for our sins, but He didn’t stay in the grave. He rose in glory, alive in a new, eternal body, and He promises to resurrect us too. Because He lives, we will live forever with no more sickness, sorrow, or pain, in eternal joy with Him and each other.

At our Easter services we’ll confess that those who meet the risen Savior have their lives dramatically changed. Jesus isn’t a religion, He’s the powerful, living Lord who transforms us into children of God. Each of us will be given the opportunity to reflect on how He’s changed our lives, and to declare it!

We’ve started our mediation with Mary of Bethany and will end it with Paul encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus. It’s a time to reflect. Let’s put aside some of the distractions that take our minds away from Him this week. Let’s read the Word and think about Him. This, above all other weeks, belongs to Him!

1) Has God tried to tell you something you didn’t want to hear? If it’s not too personal would you share it with us?
2) Mary’s worship was very costly. What is the most selfless thing you’ve ever done because you loved Jesus?

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