(408) 779-0697 | info@westhills.org

John 12:1-11 Study Guide: Costly Worship

Community Group Study Guide — Costly Worship
John 12:1-11

Study Information:
Our text of scripture gives us contrasting pictures among people who were called Jesus’ followers. Mary demonstrated costly worship and Judas used religious practices and spiritually sounding language as a pretense for greed. We will learn about what devotion and worship looks like in this passage, as well as see how money can become a rival god in our hearts. 

Costly Worship:
John 12:1-3
We get a window into the inner life of Jesus with his friends. This took place after the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and this family celebrated by having Jesus over for dinner. This could be the same dinner mentioned in Luke 10 where Martha and Mary were contrasted. During that dinner Mary was in the posture of a worshipper and Martha was consumed with worry about the details (see also John 12:2). In John 12, Lazarus was reclining with Jesus at the table, which may sound unsafe or weird to eat but laying back was normal because their tables were low to the ground and they’d lay or recline instead of sit in a chair. 

The last time we saw Mary she was also at the feet, but instead of anointing his feet with ointment she was drenching them in tears crying out for his help with their dead brother Lazarus. As a way to show her love and worship, during the dinner she took a pound of expensive ointment and anointed Jesus feet and wiped them with her hair. This action would have been considered scandalous and could also have been viewed as wasteful. It would have been uncommon and culturally inappropriate for a woman to be at the feet of a man who was not her husband and to let down her hair (Luke 7). Likewise, this ointment was worth about 300 denarii, which was roughly 300 days worth of wages; so almost a year’s worth of income (John 12:5). This would have been a really costly act of worship and easily it could be seen as wasteful. However, Jesus commends her act of worship as an expression of devotion in light of Jesus coming burial. Mary may not have known what this act of worship really meant, but this teaches us that love is costly.  She may not have known Jesus would also die and go to the grave, but she knew that he was worthy of this sacrifice.

We see two things as a result of this costly worship. 
First, As mentioned before, Jesus told his disciples that whenever the gospel was proclaimed that this act of worship would be told with it. We know that this really happened because John referenced this event previously in John 11:2; Mary’s reputation for costly worship preceded her. Second, the house was filled with the smell of worship (John 12:3). Her worship had an impact on those present and the fragrance hung in the air. You could imagine times when someone sprays perfume in a room with the windows closed, now multiply that smell by 1000 and you get a sense of what was taking place.  But this worship hung in the air for all to see and experience. 

Worship is costly. Worship is not always convenient or comfortable; it will require devotion and sacrifice. But, even though worship may seem extravagant or wasteful, no act of worship is wasted when it is given to God. 

Pretense for Greed:
John 12:4-8
Out of the group of Jesus’ followers one person spoke up who took offense at what happened. Judas was already mentioned as the “betrayer” in the gospel of John and now we get some depth to what’s going on in his heart and who he was. We see that Judas used his spiritual actions or religious devotion as a pretense for greed. If you were in that room when this all took place you may have perceived Judas’ question as sincere, but looking back John desires for us to understand that he cared nothing for the poor but only for himself. Imagine being in that room, Judas’ question was a legitimate question. “Would it be a greater act of sacrifice to have sold this and given money to the poor? Should followers of Jesus care about the poor more than about cost poured into worship?” Shouldn’t we sell our buildings, get rid of the seats, stop investing money into the worship service and give it all away to missions and poverty relief? 

Every Christian and every church needs to interact with how God has called them to generosity towards the poor. The scripture assumes and commands that followers of Jesus be generous towards one another and towards outsiders who are economically impoverished. But, Judas was not asking a sincere question, he was using spiritually sounding words as a pretense for greed. 

Judas will later betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. John shows us that Judas had a love for money and no one can love God and love money. Jesus is clear, you can only serve one master. Judas was motivated by more than money, likely he was disenchanted with Jesus since Jesus did not fit his expectation of who the Messiah ought to be, but he also was filled with greed, so when the opportunity came to betray Jesus he took it. 

Jesus’ response towards Mary’s generosity and sacrifice invites us to consider the context and the cost. Look at John 12:7-8. In the light of Jesus impending death and the brevity of his remaining time on earth, worship and devotion was a much higher priority. Also, no matter how much we may try, poverty will be part of our world. This is not an invitation to give up on helping people who are impoverished, but when faced with the opportunity to worship or to sell the ointment and give to the poor really it wasn’t even a close call. The poor will be around and we can and should care for and love the poor, but Jesus time was short. Mary did the better thing in this scenario. 

Be careful, because sometimes people will use spiritual language to cover up for their sinful intentions. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read John 12:1-11

How could Mary’s act of worship been seen as wasteful? What was the perfume valued at and why do you think she’d have something that expensive?

What clues does our text give us about Judas’ devotion to Jesus? Would the outside observer know this at the time? (How would someone in Jerusalem at the time think of Judas?

Have you found yourself criticizing the way someone has expressed worship for God? What was that like and why do you think you went there in your mind or heart? 

What are some ways we can cultivate or grow in our worship of Christ? For example, Mary’s act of worship is likely tied to genuine gratitude for what Jesus did for them and her awareness of that.