Dr. J. L. Williams was an evangelist and teacher who traveled around the world in apostolic ministry as God led and enabled him. In addition to preaching and teaching the Bible, he mentored key partners to be more strategic and impactful for the Gospel in their countries and cultures. He was relationally focused rather than program or project focused in ministry relationships and partnerships. J. L. went home to be with the Lord on December 28, 2016.
I have just returned home from a historic time of ministry in Haiti. While I was only there 5 days, every day was packed with strategic meetings. And as is usual for me, when I arrived in Haiti I “hit the ground running!” Since you prayed me safely through this trip, I want you to also rejoice with me in all that God was pleased to do through my time in both Port-au-Prince and Cayes.
First, there was a major Bible distribution scheduled at the governmental level shortly after I arrived. Just as soon as I landed, I was driven from the airport to the offices of the Ministry of Environment. There I met up with Chavannes Jeunes, a beloved friend and partner for over 25 years. Even though he finished third in his election bid for the Haitian presidency last year, he continues to be the head of the UNION Political Party that he founded. They won a number of parliamentary seats as well as 13 mayoral posts throughout Haiti. And he personally continues to play a key role as informal advisor to the President, Prime Minister, Parliamentarians and other government officials.
Every week Chavannes meets with various people in government for prayer and Bible Study. His is also spear-heading a movement to personally put a French or Creole Bible into the hands of EVERY political leader and government worker in the entire country. This is a monumental task to say the very least – as well as an expensive one! But through the partnership with Christians in Haiti and America, he is systematically distributing God’s Word throughout ever level of government. We at NDI are privileged to be one of his partners in this Bible distribution – starting with special leather bound French Bibles for the President, Prime Minister and Government Heads, embossed with their names. So I was privileged to be there to participate in this distribution to all of the employees of the Ministry of Environment.
Before the Bibles were given out, I had the privilege of briefly sharing with the employees of this Department of Government. I began by saying: “According to God’s Word, you have one of the most important jobs in all of Haiti.” I went on to explain to them from Genesis 1:28 about God’s first commandment to Adam and Eve to “rule over” and “have dominion” throughout all of God’s creation.
I also pointed out to these government workers that God’s first sanctuary for man was not a tabernacle, temple, synagogue or church, but in a garden – the “Garden of Eden.” In addition, I shared about how man had lost that pristine Garden Paradise because of sin and rebellion against God. The result has been that man has been a very poor steward of the natural world ever since – and has continued to rape, plunder and pollute every aspect of our environment. I also pointed out that Haiti was one of the saddest examples in the entire world of this environmental and ecological plunder and pollution. As a result of their generations of deforestation and desertification, Haiti has declined from being the “Pearl of the Antilles” with her forested mountains and lush tropical vegetation, to being the worst environmental disaster in the Caribbean – as well as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere! So along with Chavannes, I challenged them to study God’s Word about both their spiritual and physical environment. After sharing, we prayed, sang hymns and distributed a Bible to everyone – who received them enthusiastically and thankfully.
Pastor Chavannes Jeunes
The following morning we went to the National Palace for a service there. Every Thursday Chavannes meets with various government officials – including the President and Prime Minister. On the first Thursday of every month, he leads a special Prayer Service in the National Palace, or “Haiti White House.” He generally invites 150 pastors and Christian leaders from different parts of Haiti to attend, along with different government officials and workers.
This was my second time to have the privilege of speaking at the National Palace. My first opportunity was a couple of years ago as part of the “Haiti At The Cross” events that NDI was sponsoring. So it was a privilege to be there again to share God’s Word. And what an incredible joy it was to hear the National Ball Room filled with the prayers and praises of God’s people! This old historic room with its crystal chandeliers literally resonated with the psalms, hymns and praise choruses of Haitian Christians! There was also a youth choir that sang that reminded me of the early days of the “New Directions” when we first went to Haiti in 1968 – almost 40 years ago!
All around this historic room are the large bronze busts of most of the Presidents of Haiti, beginning with Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe and Alexander Petion. But because of the rapid succession of those who rose and fell after Papa Doc and Baby Doc, they are no busts of the likes of Namphy, Manigat, Avril, and Aristide. Nor is there one yet of current President, Rene Preval.
After brief words of greeting and prayers from various delegates from the Haitian Diaspora in Canada, France, Boston, Miami and Nassau, I was introduced by Pastor Chavannes to speak. As I was flying back from Africa prior to this trip to Haiti, God had impressed upon my spirit that I was to speak on this occasion about “Christ or Barabbas?” Since Easter was the week immediately before my trip to Haiti, it was a very timely comparison. I shared about how every nation, political leader and individual had to ultimately make a choice between “Christ and Barabbas” – just like Pilate and the Jewish religious leaders had to make two thousand years ago. So whether in the First Century or the Twenty-First Century, the choice is exactly the same. It is between two very different philosophies to change the world. While Barabbas was “…a notorious prisoner” who had “..taken part in a rebellion” and led an “…insurrection in the City,” Jesus was leading a revolution of love. We are told in the Gospels that Barabbas had “committed murder in the uprising,” while Jesus had laid down His life on the cross for the world.
I further shared that Christ and Barabbas were two very different leaders who were both religious revolutionaries. One was the “Son of Abba” – which is what the name Barabbas means, and the other the “Son of God. One is a murderer, the other the Messiah…one was an insurrectionist and the other the Incarnation…one a seditionist and the other the Savior. While Barabbas’ revolution was based on anarchy, Jesus’ revolution was based upon authority. Barabbas led through lawlessness and crime while Jesus led through love and compassion. Barabbas’ life was typified by hatred while Christ’s life was characterized by humility. Barabbas inflicted hurt while Jesus brought healing. One revolution was painful while the other peaceful. Barabbas led through terrorism while Jesus led through truth. One man’s revolution ultimately led to hell – while the other led to heaven.
Down through history, the choices have never changed! Whether it is Pilate or President Preval, there are only two alternatives: Christ or antichrist? Barabbas or Jesus? And like most politicians in history, Pilate chose the route of popularity and political expediency rather than that of truth and integrity. In his greatest political hour, Pilate folded to crowd pressure. He released Barabbas and crucified Christ.
So whether it is provincial Palestine, prosperous America or poverty-stricken Haiti, that’s the exact same choice that every nation and every individual has to make: Christ or Barabbas? Which one do we want released into our lives and our society? Whose revolution will we be a part of?
Since my message at the National Palace was filmed, I hope to soon post either the video or audio on this web site. I hope you will be watching for that.
After my message, we did another Bible distribution. This time it was for every single employee of the National Palace – from the Chief of Protocol, to the many political aids, to all of the secretaries, to the police, security guards and secret service, to the cooks and custodians – all the way down to the gardeners! No one was left out – and every one received his or her Bible with great gratitude.
As I was watching these several hundred Bibles being given out in the “Haiti White House” in Port-au-Prince, I thought to myself: “This could never take place now in the American White House in Washington!” So how ironical that in voodoo-dominated Haiti we could distribute Bibles in the National Palace, while in America – founded on the laws and principles of the Judeo-Christian religion – we could now never distribute Bibles like this!
With over two hundred years of Catholic dominance and voodoo influence, this kind of Bible distribution did not take place accidentally – but intentionally. And God has used the bold faith of Chavannes Jeunes to make this possible – which is another reason we are so honored to be in partnership with him. After the fall of Papa Doc, Chavannes gave several Bibles to top government officials – resulting in their conversions to Christ. One is a pastor today. So you can never underestimate the power of the Word of God when it is sown into people’s hearts and minds. God has promised that His Word “…shall never return to him empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10-11). Jesus also said that some of the “good seed” of His Word would bring forth spiritual fruit “…a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty” (Matt. 13:23). Pray that will happen in the lives of hundreds of these government workers who are receiving Bibles.
And let me also challenge you to prayerfully consider a generous contribution to help us buy Bibles for Chavannes. These hard bound French or Creole Bibles cost $6.00 each – and we need several thousand more to do this total distribution to all government workers. So I hope some of you will give online as soon as you finish reading this report! Don’t forget!
Immediately after I finished preaching at the National Palace, I left for the long drive south to Cayes. It is a hard, hot, dusty, and bone-bruising trip! Every time I make it I say to myself: “This is the last time I will ever make this drive!” Fortunately I have a short memory!
I was invited to preach in Cayes at the annual Convention for MEBSH (Mission Evangelique Baptiste du Sud d’Haiti). MEBSH is the largest indigenous church in Haiti with over 480 local churches – predominantly in the south of Haiti. Between 15,000 – 20,000 attend this annual Conference. And while I have preached at it several times before, this was an especially significant Convention since it was their “70th Year of Ministry.” The theme verse was John 1:16: “For of His fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”
The tabernacle was packed for 4 services a day: 5:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 2:00 PM and 6:30 PM. Each service lasted 2 – 3 hours with multiple choirs singing each time – in addition to the incredible praise and worship by the congregation. Also, there were generally as many people sitting outside the over-flowing Tabernacle as there were on the inside. And the heat-index on the inside was off the chart! When I finished preaching I was as drenching wet as if I had just stepped out of a shower – as you will see from the pictures.
Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis
Because of the historic significance of this Conference, Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis came to the closing service on Sunday. In his political entourage were also some other members of Parliament. He was very positive in his remarks about the great spiritual and social impact that MEBSH has had upon the people of Haiti – especially the peasants and the poor. However, he also went out of his way to emphasize the fact that Haiti equally accepts all religions including “…Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah Witnesses and voodoo.” Obviously this was done in very poor taste and was totally inappropriate to the group he was speaking to!
Dr. Osner Fevry
But after the Prime Minister sat down, another friend of mine was asked to bring greetings. He was Dr. Osner Fevry. He is one of the leading lawyers, most popular university professors and respected intellects of Haiti – who holds a double PhD. He is also a very bold and outspoken Christian leader. As a result of his Christian political activity in the past, he was put in prison for 9 months during the former rule of President Preval and this same Prime Minister. So while he was very gracious when he got up to speak, he was lovingly bold in what he said in response to the Prime Minister’s comments about voodoo. Fevry was unflinching in his retort that Jesus was the “…only way to salvation” with all other roads “….leading to death and hell.” He concluded by turning to the Prime Minister and saying that he looked forward to the day when he would totally repent of voodoo and fully accept Jesus Christ! He then walked over and embraced the Prime Minister – and sat back down. At a reception afterwards, the Prime Minister asked Fevry to meet with him this coming Saturday for further discussions – so be praying for that meeting!
Once again I have returned from Haiti very tired in body – but exhilarated in spirit (I often tell people that you get “double miles” on your body for every trip to Haiti!). I was glad to see a heightened UN Military presence on the streets of Port-au-Prince. Also, there were a LOT more policeman on the streets because a new class or recent police graduates. They were very professional and well-dressed, well-armed and well-mannered. So both the crime and kidnappings have dramatically decreased. As a result, many more mission teams, building teams, medical teams, etc., are returning to Haiti. And we at NDI will also be increasing the teams we take there during the immediate months ahead. We hope that some of you will be on one of them. Just shoot us an email or give us a call if you are interested. We can set up a strategic time of ministry for you and a work team from your church that will put you on the “cutting edge” of one of the neediest countries in the entire world!
So thanks again for praying for me while I was in Haiti. I will now be in the States for several weeks of speaking and ministry before leaving for Africa again in mid May. I hope to also spend some quality time with Patt, my children and grandchildren! So whether I am in Haiti, Africa, Asia or America – know how special you are to me and how much I treasure our friendship and “partnership in the Gospel!”
In His Faithful Love,
PS: Don’t forget to prayerfully consider a generous gift for “Bibles For Haiti!” While Chavannes has this wide open door for Bible distribution in every governmental institution in Haiti, we want to keep him fully supplied. So help NDI help Chavannes change Haiti politically through these strategic Bible distributions.
This year’s conference in Kumasi, Ghana, was truly a new direction in women’s ministries for New Directions.
We had our usual morning schedule of teaching, lead by Mimi Mucher, Pat Sebby, Maribell Chittenden and me. (I’m sorry that none of the pictures that we took of those teaching times were very good.) God had given Mimi the vision to center the topics on the qualities that Dorcas exemplified in Acts 9. Some of Dorcas’ qualities were that she was devoted, open-hearted and resourceful. The attendees also listened as we related those qualities through Bible teachings on Ruth and Lydia, to name a few, including studies on the spirit vs. the flesh and Satan’s lies. And all of that was before lunch!
The new direction began after lunch. For the first time ever, we devoted our afternoons to teaching the women a craft. We knew that we had to present each skill so that it could be done with items readily available, for small amounts of money if some things had to be bought, and it could be completed with no or limited mechanical/electrical assistance. I have to admit, during our first planning meeting after we finally got together with everyone (4 of us arrived a day late because of canceled/delayed flights), I didn’t see how we could bring it all together in a cohesive approach. But God, through the power and wisdom of His Holy Spirit, did—He’s so good at that!
Elaine VanWingerden and Barbara Holton taught a group of ladies how to quilt, either with just a needle and thread or with a hand-throttled sewing machine. It was amazing to see how quickly each woman was able to produce a small quilt. Even Alex, the translator, got caught up in the project and worked on a quilt to take home for his wife to finish. Each woman received additional quilting squares, scissors, needle, thread, etc.
Neelam Swarmy, from India, taught her group of women about flower making, flower arranging, table decorations and gift wrapping. She went through the surrounding yards and shrubbery, and collected readily available flowers, ferns, bricks, stones and sticks, transforming them into works of art. Soon the auditorium where we were meeting was filled with various arrangements. The ladies took home some completed crafts and lots of ideas.
Pat and Mimi assisted a horticulturalist, Nana Yaw, with the science of potting plants, soil composition, how to water, pot selection and plant placement. These ladies also took a field trip to visit a farm and garden to observe the growing of vegetables and ornamentals. Each was given cuttings of plants indigenous to their area, a potted plant and a special crate in which to grow seeds called a winstrip. Their potted ornamentals really dressed up the building and grounds.
The final group learned about curtain making and room decorating with Maribell and Kathy McClay. There was a lot of excitement in that group when they were shown how to make curtains without having to sew! They were also taught how to make more detailed curtains and pillows with a hand-throttled sewing machine. When they decorated every window in the conference center, made a table cloth for the podium table and pillows for the podium chairs AND decorated two bedrooms in the women’s dorm—wow, the whole center was transformed!
The conference ended with a graduation ceremony filled with lots of joy, emotion, singing and dancing. WHAT FUN! Certificates and thanks were given—midst much applause—to all the participants, cooks, maintenance men and translators. We gave special recognition to our host couple, Yaw and Mercy Asante, as well as to our “go-fers”: J.L., Coulson Mucher and Doug McClay. Mimi had brought packages of vegetable seeds to give each woman, with the theme of the conference on them, to remind them to go home and be fruitful. Kathy gave each woman a “HIStory” bracelet, which will be very useful in evangelism. Elaine and Barbara donated quilts to the conference center that they had made and brought from home. They looked beautiful hanging on the walls. In turn, Yaw and Mercy clothed all of us NDI people in shirts or dresses made out of material celebrating Ghana’s 50th Independence Day.
What more can I write about such a full and wonderful time, except two things. First and foremost, to God be the glory for the marvelous things that He did! All the praise goes to Him. And secondly, please consider going with us on our second new direction in New Directions’ women’s ministries next year. It will be a blessing!
With a grateful heart,
Dear NDI Prayer Partner,
Patt and I trust that you had a blessed Easter Weekend celebrating the great truths of our historic faith – the life, death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus! While ALL other religious leaders are still in their graves – Jesus is alive! That’s why only Christianity offers a “living hope” to a dying world! Or to quote Peter: “We are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3). And now we are in that oft-overlooked post-resurrection period of time leading up to Pentecost. Concerning this time, Doctor Luke reminds us…
“After His suffering, He showed Himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
It is that same message “…about the kingdom of God” that I will be preaching about in Haiti when you receive this Email Prayer Letter. I fly down on Wednesday, April 11th. On Thursday, I will be speaking to Government Officials and Christian Leaders at the “Haiti White House.” Our long time friend and partner, Chavannes Jeune, has invited me to be with him and speak there. He ministers every Thursday in the Haiti White House to various Government Officials – including President Preval, the Prime Minister, Parliament Members, Palace Police, Military, etc. I had the privilege of speaking there a couple of years ago during Haiti’s Bicentennial Celebration. As you will perhaps remember, Chavannes was a Presidential candidate in the past elections and came in third. I continue to pray that he will be elected as the very first Evangelical Christian President in the next elections in several years.
After speaking at the Haiti White House, we will drive 5 hours south to Cayes. There I will preach at the annual MEBSH (Church of South Haiti) Convention. There will be between 15,000 – 20,000 attending. I have had the joy of preaching this Convention several times in the past – and the services are electric! There you see the good side of Haiti that is not reported in the news.
Unfortunately, Haiti continues to spiral downward through political incompetence, institutionalized corruption, voodoo, grinding poverty, rampant unemployment, hunger, disease, crime and an HIV epidemic. In spite of the presence of the UN, gangs rule many parts of Port-au-Prince – especially the sprawling slums of Cite Solei. And kidnapping of foreigners has continued to be the preferred modus operandi of the day to get quick money through ransoms. And since NDI does not pay ransoms for our staff if kidnapped – pray that God will protect me from these desperate and dangerous thugs! (As many of you know, the Chairman of our NDI Board, Wes Morgan, was kidnapped in Haiti a couple of years ago, along with our Haitian driver, Paul Fortune. And Paul was later captured a second time!).
When I was recently in Timbuktu, Mali, I met some of our American Special Forces. They were there to do special “Anti-Terrorist Training” of the Malian Military since the Moslem Fundamentalists are doing everything possible to turn Timbuktu into an exclusive “no fly zone” for all other religions except Islam. One of these Special Forces men was a strong Christian. We have exchanged emails since that meeting. In his last one, he shared two timely quotes that I wanted to pass on to you for prayerful pondering:
“My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave” (General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson).
“This is the law: There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield, and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain. All else is supplemental” (John Steinbeck).
Finally, I am attaching below an article I read today on Haiti from the Associated Press. It will further enlighten you about the cost of living – and dying, in Haiti today where the average person lives on $1.00 a day.
“Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Life has always been a struggle for Haiti’s poor. These days, death isn’t much easier. The city morgue is under-refrigerated, jammed to capacity with unclaimed corpses and so short of funds that workers don’t have paper masks to ward off the stench.
Deforestation has inflated the price of coffin wood, and hundreds – possibly thousands – of deaths in street violence are pushing up the price of funerals. Robbers plunder graves for coffins to resell, and families try to thwart them by smashing the coffin before it is covered with earth.
Some bereaved families are taking out high-interest ‘funeral loans,’ falling deep into debt to send off relatives with dignity many were deprived of in life. Others have to abandon their dead on a dusty field known as Titanyen, a Creole word meaning ‘less than nothing,’ on the edge of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
A funeral now costs around $540 – more than most Haitians earn in a year. Cremation is only for the wealthy. Haiti’s largest public morgue, built to hold 390 cadavers, often has nearly 500, many strewn on the cement floor for lack of space. The dead include shooting victims, AIDS victims and babies who never saw their first birthday.
It costs a relative $27 just to pick up a body if it was dropped off at the morgue, and $47 if the morgue had to collect it off the street. As a result, few bodies are ever claimed by relatives. They end up in a common grave outside the capital, along with those dumped at the Titanyan field. If the families don’t have money to claim the bodies, they simply never show up, said morgue director, Sergo Castor.”
Certainly the message of the death and resurrection of Christ has never been more relevant for Haiti and the world! Please pray for me as I preach it there in the Haiti White House, and then in Cayes.
In His Resurrection Love & Power,
PS: When I return from Haiti I hope to send you the third installment on our recent 3 weeks of travel and ministry in Africa. This report will be on my time in Ethiopia.
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:1-3).
Here is the story of a woman’s love that went with Christ all the way to the cross. This anointing of Jesus by Mary was one of the very last acts of love that Jesus experienced before He went to the cross. From this night on, the hatred and hostility against Jesus rapidly increased. On the one hand, the anger and intrigue of his enemies intensified. On the other, the doubt and fear of His closest friends and companions grew like the encircling darkness. And in the midst of this growing crescendo of evil and opposition, Mary performed one of the last and greatest acts of love upon the Lord Jesus He would ever receive. She lavished her boundless love upon Him in a way that only a woman could!
But let’s pause and put this evening into a time perspective during this week of Christ’s passion. We know that this event happened on the Tuesday night at the end of Christ’s earthly ministry. From Exodus 12:1-4, we know that Passover occurred between the 14th and 15th in the month of Nisan in the Jewish Calendar. Since the Passover commemorated the deliverance of the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage, it was a very festive occasion. And it took place on Thursday night, or Maundy Thursday, when Jesus also washed His Disciple’s feet.
Matthew confirms this time frame when he records these words of Christ: “As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matt. 26:2). Then after briefly recounting the clandestine meeting of the chief priests and elders to plot Jesus’ death, Matthew immediately recounts this dinner party in Bethany that was being held in Jesus’ honor. So simultaneously in both Jerusalem and Bethany, Jesus was the focal point of attention. In the home of Caiaphas the high priest, the hostile religious leaders were meeting and “…plotting to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him” (Matt. 26:5). And about 7 miles away in Bethany at the “…home of a man known as Simon the Leper,” they were honoring Jesus with a festive dinner party. What a contrast!
But why was this special dinner party being held in Christ’s honor? While we are not specifically told, I think we can safely infer the reason by the wider context of the Gospels. I think there were two reasons. First, because of the gratitude of Simon the Leper for Christ’s earlier healing of him. Even though Jesus healed a number of lepers, we are specifically told that one came and sought Him out for healing (Matt. 8:2-4; Luke 5:12-14; Mark 1:40-45). We don’t know for sure, but there is a good possibility that this is the same man. And Simon was apparently well known and loved by the Disciples – as well as by Lazarus, since he lived in the same small town of Bethany.
But I believe there was another reason for this dinner party in Jesus’ honor. No doubt it was in some way connected to the raising of Lazarus from the dead since it immediately follows this event recorded in John 11. We are specifically told that “…Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him” (11:2). And we are also told that “Martha served” – this time apparently with a different spirit from her earlier frenzied and frenetic serving of Jesus. On that occasion Martha felt slighted because she did most of the cooking and serving while her sister sat at Jesus’ feet soaking in His every word (Lk. 10:38-42). But this time Martha’s serving flowed from a different spirit. It was her overflowing gift of love and gratitude to Jesus for raising her brother from the dead!
This dinner party then would have been an especially festive occasion because of Lazarus’ resurrected presence – along with the approaching Passover Festival and Feast. And there would have been a minimum of 17 – 20 people at the dinner party – counting Jesus and His 12 Disciples, Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Simon – the cleansed leper.
Can’t you just imagine how alive and festive the atmosphere would have been to “…recline at the table” with a resurrected dead man and a cleansed leper?! You would not be able to take your eyes – or hands, off of them! You would want Lazarus to tell you what it felt like to be in a resuscitated and resurrected body that had previously begun to decay after being buried in a tomb for four days! And you would just have to ask Simon how it felt to be in a body covered with spotless skin without a trace of the open sores and disfiguration of leprosy. Both men would have been previously bound in bandages and grave clothes. But now both were arrayed in festive garments “fit for a party!” And Jesus was the person responsible for healing of both men. No wonder the dinner party was “…given in Jesus’ honor!”
It is also very important to understand that this account of Jesus being anointed is not the same as a similar event recorded by Doctor Luke. In that earlier situation, Jesus was at the home of another Simon – “Simon the Pharisee” (Lk. 7:36-50). And this was not the joyous fellowship of close friends – like the dinner party in Bethany much later in Christ’s ministry. This was a critical atmosphere where you could cut the hostility with a knife! During His three years of earthly ministry, Jesus was often invited to homes for meals. But on this occasion at Simon the Pharisee’s home, Jesus was on the menu! He was the meal they were seeking to devour!
This hostility is also confirmed by the fact that Jesus was being “set up for the kill” by the appearance of a “…woman who had lived a sinful life.” She was probably a known prostitute that showed up at Simon’s home. She may have even been hired by Simon to incriminate Jesus in some way by making the big “come on” to Him. The situation had the strong smell of entrapment all over it. But regardless of how or why she was there, something deeply spiritual and emotional took place in the heart of that deviled and desperate woman. And her actions have resonated down through the centuries to this very day. Note this touching and telling account:
“When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.’”
Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said.
‘Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’
Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’ You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give Me any water for My feet, but she wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give Me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing My feet. You did not put oil on My head, but she has poured perfume on My feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.
Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’
Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’” (Luke 7:36-50).
Please notice in passing several important insights we get from this incident into the Jewish culture of the day. It will help us understand the dinner party in Bethany we are studying. Three things normally happened when a person entered someone’s home for a special event like a dinner. First, the feet were washed by a servant – the lowliest servant duty in the house.
Secondly, upon entering the main part of the house, the honored guest was greeted with a kiss – much like we shake hands or a hug. (The Apostle Paul frequently exhorted the early Christians to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” [Rom. 16:16; I Cor. 16:20; II Cor 13:12; I Thess. 5:26]).
Thirdly, while reclining at the table, a drop of perfumed oil was placed on the person’s head as a sign of love and hospitality. This “anointing a person’s head with oil” was an ancient Jewish tradition associated with love and honor (Lev. 8:12; Ps. 23:5; 45:7; 92:10, etc).
One of the reasons we know that this account in Luke 7 was a hostile situation is because none of these three things took place at the home of Simon the Pharisee. He did not extend any of these customary greetings to Jesus. However, the woman of ill repute did all these things to Jesus because of her guilt and shame. Her tears, her kisses, her perfume were lavished upon Jesus in her “desperate love.”
So this is another “anointing of Jesus” recorded by Doctor Luke that took place much earlier in Christ’s ministry. While similar in some ways, we must clearly distinguish this earlier anointing from the one we are specifically studying that occurred in Bethany just a couple of days before His crucifixion. But this earlier anointing gives us helpful insights into the culture of the day that helps us better understand both stories. So the two women doing the anointing are very different women with vastly different motivations. The first woman is motivated by guilt and shame. The other by love and gratitude. But both women were highly praised by Jesus. And both of their acts of love were extolled by Him with some of the most tender words He ever spoke to another human being! Their last acts of love have echoed down the centuries to this very hour!
But let’s now leave the house of “Simon the Pharisee.” Let’s exodus his dinner party that is so critical and hostile to Jesus. Let’s fast forward a couple of years from that hypocritical party and go back to that festive dinner being given in Jesus’ honor at Bethany. Let’s rejoin that loving and joyous celebration leading up to Christ’s last Passover. With our sanctified imaginations, let’s savor the festive foods that Martha has prepared. And let’s carefully examine some of the ingredients in Mary’s last acts of love that she lavished upon Jesus before He went to the Cross. First I want you to see…
At Bethany, both sisters were doing what was natural to them. Martha was a natural “doer” while Mary was a “be-er!” Both are God-given temperaments. So like the earlier dinner party in Bethany that Doctor Luke records, Martha was again serving while Mary was still sitting at Jesus’ feet. But unlike that previous occasion, Martha was not “distracted” or “distressed” – even though she was providing hospitality for even more people this time! You see, God is not going to change your temperament – but He is going to sanctify it. A lot of things that used to “distress” or “distract” you as a young Christian – will be gradually sanctified. So Martha was doing what she did best, serving. But this time without her earlier frenetic intensity. No longer was she driven by some hidden “works righteousness” motive. She was doing her serving in a relaxed, loving and joyful manner.
Unlike our Western custom, people in the Middle East “reclined at the table” when they ate together. And they generally did so with their left arm under them propping them up (It is considered the “unclean hand” since it is used in bathroom duties – so one would never use it to eat with!). They ate with the right arm and hand which was “clean” – partaking from a common bowls of food. Unfortunately, we have all grown up with the famous “Last Supper” picture of a group of men seated at a table in Western-style. But this is not a true picture of how the “Last Supper” took place – nor this dinner party in Bethany. In the Middle East to this very day, diners generally recline on the ground around the food which is placed in the center. I have personally done it many times in my travels in this part of the world. And this arrangement allows for close fellowship and much more intimate communication.
Therefore, while Jesus was reclining at the table, it was easy for Mary to approach Him with an alabaster jar – which was made from precious stone that is very hard. It contained nard, which comes from India and costs about one year’s wages. And Mary lavished it all on Jesus in an expression of extravagant love!
At this point it is impossible not to ask yourself the question: “Am I willing to give a full year’s wage to the Lord Jesus?” Statistics consistently show that the vast majority of Christians don’t even tithe – must less give extravagantly like Mary did! But because of her inexpressible love and gratitude, Mary lavished all of her costly perfume on Him – not just a drop or two which was the custom.
Further, the Gospel of Mark says that Mary “…broke the jar and poured the perfume on His head” (Mk. 14:3). As a result of this lavish expression of love, “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” And John specifically points our that Mary “…poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair” (Jn. 12:3). Since the Bible says that a woman’s hair is her physical crown (I Cor. 11:15), this was an incredible demonstration of humble love by Mary!
As we study the life of this Mary from Bethany, we see the economics of love. Every time we see Mary, she is at the feet of Jesus.
• In Luke 10, she is sitting at His feet, listening and learning.
• In John 11, she is falling at His feet, grieving and laboring.
• In John 12, she is anointing His feet loving – and wiping them with her hair.
You see, love never calculates the cost! Contrary to our human nature, this is the lavishing love of the heart rather than the calculating love of the mind. Mary’s act of extravagant love reminds us of the Biblical principle that there is no true expression of love without sacrifice.
Paul said, “But God demonstrated (committed, acted out) His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). So how much did it cost God to express His agape love to us? The sacrifice of His Son. God’s love has the cross stamped upon it. His agape love is written to us in His own blood! Therefore, true love is always costly.
By contrast, our human love is often calculating and stingy. It asks: “How little can I give and get by?” We ask ourselves: “What is the least amount I can give and still appear loving and committed?” But when we get to heaven, none of us will be bemoaning how much we gave to the cause of Christ. We will only be lamenting how little we gave to Christ – and how much we kept for ourselves!
Paul demonstrated this same sacrificial love when he wrote to the Corinthian church – which was a very carnal self-seeking and self-serving church: “I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well” (II Cor. 12:15). He wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (I Thess. 2:8). Paul also likened himself to a mother – whose heart is perhaps the closest thing on earth to God’s heart of agape love: “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children” (I Thess. 2:7).
Next, in contrast to Mary’s extravagant love, I want you to see…
“Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’ And they rebuked her harshly” (Mark 14:4-5).
Judas Iscariot was the catalyst for this indignation! John tells us further: “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:5-6). Here we have the excuses of false love. For Judas, concern for the poor was just a smokescreen for his own greed. He was not really concerned about the plight of the poor – he was just concerned about his own comfort and economic advancement.
What a contrast between the alabaster jar of Mary and the money bag of Judas! It is usually always the case that the people who protest the loudest and longest – are usually doing the least for others in need! Like Judas, they have a selfish agenda that is driving what they do. Many of the theologians and politicians who come up with programs for the poor are not doing anything themselves – as their personal giving records reveal. The ones who are Christians in the real sense of the word are those who are out on the front lines…down in the dirty trenches doing the work…breaking their alabaster jars… lavishing their love on the poor at great personal cost!
How did Jesus respond to this pious charade by Judas and the other “enemies of love?” He said: “You will always have the poor among you…” (Matt. 26:11; Mk. 14:7; Jn. 12:8). In essence Jesus was saying: “As long as the world exists, there will always be many poor people. You will always have the opportunity to minister to them – as you should. But you will not always have this opportunity to minister to Me – as Mary has.”
Next, I want us to examine further…
“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3).
How did love in Mary evidence itself? First, she broke the alabaster jar. And as a result “…the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” What a wonderful phrase that is! It reveals to us the Principle of Brokenness. You see, it is only brokenness that releases the fragrance. That’s why there is only “blessing in brokenness.” It is only when we are broken that the perfume – the fragrance of the spirit of Christ – can flow out from us.
But brokenness does not come easy for any of us! We do not “die out to self” easily or quickly. We are all like the battery – we “die hard!” Or better yet, we are like the “alabaster vial” in this story. We are hard and very resistant to cracking or breaking! You see, in those days you did not take a very costly perfume like nard and put it in a fragile container. You put it in a hard, stony vial like alabaster so it would not be easily broken if dropped – and the precious and costly contents easily spilled out.
Do you get the point? It would take some heavy blows to break alabaster – just like it usually takes some “hard knocks” to break us! None of us die to the many “self-sins” we are born with – like selfishness, self-will, self-centeredness, self-seeking, self-protection, self-serving. These must be broken before the true blessings of our lives can flow out to others.
But it is important to realize that God is not an angry, sadistic God who enjoys inflicting pain and suffering upon the people He loves. He does not enjoy administering blows of discipline upon His children. But He does know that there is a lovely fragrance locked up inside us that can only flow out when we are broken. As long as we’re unbroken, it’s all bottled up inside. And none of us naturally want to lavish it upon Christ or upon others. We want to protect and hoard it all for ourselves. And when we do give it out – it is only in the most minute drops!
In John 12:23-26, Jesus tells the Parable of Brokenness:
“…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.”
You see, the hard shell of the wheat must break in order to germinate. And to do that it must “fall to the ground and die.” In the Greek, John records that Jesus used an “intensifier” for emphasis to describe the single seed. He used the phrase “autos monos,” which means “…by itself, alone.” So there is a “double-negative” here for emphasis. And it poignantly reminds us that unless we are truly broken, we go through life “…by ourselves, ALONE!” So unbrokenness is a very lonely lifestyle!
Paul wrote about the brokenness of Jesus to the Ephesian saints: “Be imitators of God…and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2). How was Jesus broken? When He died for you and for me!
Paul also spoke of his own brokenness when he wrote:
“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (II Cor. 4:10-12).
Therefore, it is only when we die to self that the life of Christ flows out from us! That’s why Paul wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
So none of us will ever be a channel of life and blessing to others as long as we are tenaciously hanging onto our own life. It is ONLY when you die to self that the life of Christ can flow out to others. That’s why Paul said at the end of his earthly life and ministry: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering…” (II Tim. 4:6).
Paul also spoke of our brokenness when he wrote:
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life…” (II Cor. 2:14-16).
In the Old Testament, when a sacrifice was performed by fire, in obedience to God, it was said, “…and it was a sweet-smelling aroma to God.” What does this mean? Does God just like the aroma of burning flesh on the altar? No! It represented faith, obedience and love.
So our lives – when we live them out as a “living sacrifice” in obedience to God – are the aroma of Christ unto God. “And who,” asks Paul, “is equal to such a task?” (II Cor. 2:14-16). None of us! It is an incalculable calling. But it is the reality of what God has called us to. When we are broken, the “fragrance of Christ” begins to be spread everywhere we go. And to those who are being saved, it’s the “fragrance of life.” But to those who are rejecting and resisting, the fragrance of Christ is odious. That’s why authentic Christians – stink to the world! They don’t want us around. To the people who are rebelling and resisting Christ, we are the “fragrance of death.” But God says our responsibility is not how people respond. We are just to be “broken and spilled out” so that the fragrance of His grace may be known. We are to be broken vessels so that His costly “Agape Perfume” may be sensed and smelled in a world of death and decay.
Now I want you to see…
“‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to Me…She did what she could. She poured perfume on My body beforehand to prepare for My burial’” (Mark 14:6-8).
In these verses we see how love is very precise and exact. You see, love is able to do exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. That’s what makes agape love so unique! Note that Jesus said that Mary had “…done a beautiful thing to Me.” He did not say “…for Me.” There is certainly a place for that also. But Mary was especially gifted in doing things “…to Jesus” – while Martha was gifted at doing things “for Jesus.”
Which is more important? That’s the wrong question. It is a wrong comparison. BOTH are important. The principle here is the matter of time and circumstance. It is a matter of doing the right thing for the right person at the right time with the right motive. Love is able to “seize the moment” with a holy boldness and reckless abandon. True agape sometimes motivates us to “throw fate to the wind” and run the risk of not being responded to or loved in return. But in the natural, we so often want to play it safe…hold back…cling to self…hold our emotional cards close to our chest. We don’t want to run the risk of being ridiculed or rejected. So we suppress our love rather than express our love. We cling to our unbroken alabaster vial – keeping the fragrance tightly bottled up inside us!
But not Mary! She caste her fate to the wind and seized the moment! She did the exact right thing at precisely the right moment. She somehow intuited in her womanly spirit that she would never have this opportunity again. If she missed this moment – it would never return. Regardless of what others might think – she had to express her love to Jesus. Whether or not the time and circumstances were right in the mind of others – it was right for her heart! So she expressed her extravagant love for Jesus at exactly the right time!
What was the response? While Judas and others criticized and belittled her “waste,” Jesus spoke a doxology in her behalf. “She has done a beautiful thing to Me…wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Counselors have observed that often the greatest problem with physical death is the problem of lost opportunity. One of the reasons grief seems unbearable is the absolute finality of death – and no more opportunity to express love. As a result, the survivor experiences grief and depression. Theologians have long pondered and postulated that perhaps one of the things that will make hell “hell” is an eternal dwelling on lost opportunity.
The reality of “lost opportunity” has to come to your mind when you study the story of Dives (Luke 16:19 – 31) who lifted up in consciousness from hell. He saw Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, and he was tormented with how he had lived selfishly and presumptuously – and allowed this poor man to die outside his gates. Then the great eternal reversal took place. I believe one of the things that will make hell an intolerable eternal torment is dwelling on all the “lost opportunities” – to receive Christ…serve Christ…love in Christ’s Name.
What if Mary had waited just one hour? What if she would have procrastinated? What if she would have rationalized that this was just not the right time? She would have missed that moment forever! But she didn’t. She seized the moment and did exactly the right thing to the right Person at the right time for the right reason! That’s agape in action!
Finally, let’s look at…
We have paralleled in this story two tracks: Mary on one, Judas on the other. The example of love as opposed to the envy of lust. Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to Me…She did what she could. She poured perfume on My body beforehand to prepare for My burial” (Mark 14:6-8).
We might call this the “anticipation of love.” You see, Mary had a sensitivity to Jesus that none of His disciples had – perhaps John the Beloved came the closest. But because she had spent so much time at His feet, she had developed a sensitivity of love that made her aware of things nobody else was aware of that night.
The disciples were caught up in things that were going on around them – the growing conflict between the religious establishment and Jesus…the strife among themselves…the coming Passover. They were listening to what was happening outside of them. Mary was listening to the heart of Jesus. They were tuned in to their circumstance. Mary was tuned in to the heart of Jesus. They saw trouble on the outside. Mary saw the trouble in Jesus’ heart. That came only because she had spent hours at His feet. Because of her sensitivity, she anticipated the exact thing that Jesus needed, and she lavished love upon Him.
People often ask how they can know God’s will. Sit at Christ’s feet, spend time in His Word, spend time in His Spirit – and you won’t have any trouble knowing what He wants you to do. Mary was tuned in because she had spent hours at the feet of the Lord Jesus. And I challenge you to do the same – especially during Holy Week.
Mary became the great example of the evening: “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). Isn’t that incredible? What a contrast to Judas: “Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand Him over” (Mark 14:10-11). Judas was looking for an opportunity to betray. Mary was looking for an opportunity to love. Two very different attitudes and actions that were literally an eternity apart.
Judas was motivated by lust: “What am I going to get out of this?” Mary was motivated by love: “What can I put into this?” Mary gave her all while Judas wanted to keep his all – and take everyone else’s as well. Mary’s heart was like the alabaster jar – broken. As a result, the fragrance of brokenness flowed out and filled the room. Judas smelled like Lazarus inside the tomb – he stunk with the odor of deception, decay, and death!
And let me remind you that this perfume from Mary followed Christ through the ext days of His passion. It would have still been on him in the Upper Room as He celebrated Passover. It could still have been smelled when He prayed alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. And it would still have been on His bruised, bloody, broken body on the cross! Extravagant love never dies! It lingers for time and eternity.
Even though this was a dinner party in Jesus’ honor, He quickly transferred the honor to Mary. The very same event that was a defining moment for Mary was a defining moment for Judas. And everywhere the gospel is preached, two things are preached: Mary’s love and Judas’ lust.
What’s going to be the defining moment of your life? We’re all going to have one, and only loving deeds last forever. That’s why Paul closed I Cor. 12 and opened I Cor. 13 “And now I will show you the most excellent way” (I Cor. 12:31).
It’s the way that Mary chose…
the way of the broken alabaster jar…
the way of not holding back but giving everything…
the way of lavishing all that you have and all that you are on the Lord Jesus, without holding back or counting the cost!
What an excellent way Mary chose! The last act of love for the Lord Jesus, and each of us one day will come to that same point. Are you like the hard alabaster jar? Through the years you’ve just gotten tougher and tougher and harder and harder? Oh, on the outside you may be beautiful…cultured…clothed in all the right accoutrements – but you’re hard on the inside. God loves you too much to let you go unbroken. He loves you too much to let the fragrance of Christ stay all bottled up inside you. He will put you through whatever is necessary in order to break you. That’s because He knows the potential inside you. He wants you to “die to self” so that you can “live for Christ.” He wants that incredible fragrance…love…worship…adoration…life – flow out of you and become the “fragrance of Christ” to a lost and dying world! That’s what Easter is really all about!
Prayerfully ponder the words of this wonderful song about brokenness…
One day a plain village woman, driven by love for her Lord
Recklessly poured out a valuable essence, disregarding the scorn.
And once it was broken and spilled out, a fragrance filled all the room.
Like a prisoner released from his shackles, like a spirit set free from the tomb.
Broken and spilled out, just for love of you, Jesus
My most precious treasure lavished on Thee.
Broken and spilled out, and poured at Your feet
In sweet abandon let me be spilled out and used up for Thee.
Lord, You were God’s precious treasure, His loved and His own perfect Son.
Sent here to show me the love of the Father; just for love it was done!
And though You were perfect and holy, You gave up Yourself willingly
You spared no expense for my pardon, You were used up and wasted for me.
Broken and spilled out, just for love of me, Jesus
God’s most precious treasure lavished on me.
Broken and spilled out, and poured at my feet
In sweet abandon, Lord, You were spilled out and used up for me.
(Written by Gloria Gaither and Bill George © 1984.)