Stewardship 3 – Extravagant  Stewards
By Paul Robison

Did you hear about the English judge who awarded a divorce to a 56 year old woman because her husband was a cheapskate?  He married her in 1947, but they never had a honeymoon.  He never gave her a birthday present.  After living at a place for several years, he painted the living room, and then billed her for his services.  Likewise, he charged the family a weekly fee to cover the electricity used when watching TV, and he charged his married daughter for shower usage whenever she came to visit.  In good old English style the judge said that the man "had very peculiar ideas about family finances". (Larson).

"Family finances"-that has been the topic of our last few sermons.  Only we're talking about our church family and our stewardship of the riches with which God has entrusted us.  We've seen a good example of stewardship in Abraham's servant, and examined several bad examples of stewardship in our last lesson.  In contrast to the English miser just mentioned, today we want to look at three extravagant stewards.  Their gifts were extravagant not only because of their cost but also because of the depth of love and devotion with which they were given.  These extravagant stewards shared their gifts with Jesus right towards the end of His life.   We read about these stewards in our reading this morning (John 12:1-8 and 19:38-42).  Their names were Mary of Bethany, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea.  After looking at these extravagant stewards and what made their gifts so valuable, we'll ask some questions about our giving as a brotherhood, about our "family finances".

The first extravagant steward was Mary of Bethany.  We read John's account of the story, but it's interesting that in Matthew's account, more of the disciples are mentioned as being critical of her actions, and they asked this question indignantly:  "Why this waste?" (Mt, 26:8).  Mark's account lets us know the extravagance of Mary's gift by saying that the spikenard was worth 300 denarii.  Now, a denarius was a day's wage, so here is a gift that had the worth of  a 10 months' salary!  Judas and the disciples were cold and calculating as they saw only the gift's economic worth.  Oh, gentlemen, what clods we can be at times!  Fortunately, the story does not end here because Jesus saw the gift's real depth.  Here are three ways that Mary's gift was extravagant beyond just its economic value.  Her gift showed unselfishness.  Jesus was good friends with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  Jesus had brought great joy to this home when He brought Lazarus back to life!  How could Mary ever thank Him enough?  She took all that she'd saved up to buy this gift and to anoint the Lord without expecting anything in return.  But it was more than just unselfishness, it also showed something of a recklessness.  "In a moment, Mary lavished upon Jesus the best that she had to give!" (Layton).  Isn't that the beauty of real love?  We all know that deep love sometimes has an element of craziness about it: it goes beyond the norm, it goes beyond the expected, it borders on the frivolous, and the critics would call it downright ridiculous!  Why else do grandparents drive hundreds of miles to attend a graduation?  Why does a person fly across the country to be at a sick friend's bedside?  Why do people spend so much times on their cell phones, especially with their closest friends?  Mary wanted to do all that she could to let Jesus know that she loved Him.  And did you catch Jesus' words that Mary had done this act to prepare Him for His burial?   Mary's gift showed much thoughtfulness.  Mary had those profound discussions with Jesus.  She knew He had said that He must die in Jerusalem.  She knew that the religious leaders were brewing trouble.  She knew that His hour was near.  She might not be able to prevent His death, but maybe she could at least show that she was sensitive to what was about to happen.  As Jesus faced His foes, maybe a sweet smell could remind Him that He had a few friends who were pulling for and praying for Him.  Jesus said that wherever the Gospel would be preached, Mary's extravagant stewardship would be told about as well!

                     O Mary, when you anointed our Lord's feet
                     And you used your hair to dry them well
                     The perfumed fragrance of that costly oil
                     Gave to all within its scent such a wondrous smell!
                     Did you want us to know when you shared your love
                     That we, too, can freely let all our devotion show?
                     When we give of our best to our blessed Lord,
                     That aroma will give an expanding fragrant glow.

                                                Larry Linville (with some modification)

Is our giving like Mary's?  Do our gifts to God show our unselfishness, our recklessness, and our thoughtfulness?  You know, our gifts can be more than just the collection.  "Love ever gives--forgives--outlines--and ever stands with open hands.  And while it lives, it gives.  For this is love's prerogative--to give--and give--and give" (Oxenham).

The next extravagant steward was Nicodemus.  We remember how Nicodemus was that Pharisee and that ruler of the Jews who came to Jesus by night to learn from Him in John 3, and how he also defended Jesus on one occasion over in John 7. 

Nicodemus was an extravagant steward too.  We see this in a least three ways.  Did you notice the amount of spices that were given in our reading this morning?  John said that Mary gave a pound of her spice, but Nicodemus gave almost 100 pounds of spices!  Granted, Nicodemus' spices may have cost somewhat less than Mary's did, but still we can see that it was an extravagant gift which showed costliness, from strictly an economic point of view (you see what a clod I am to notice so quickly only the economic worth of this gift)!  But Nicodemus' extravagant stewardship also goes beyond just its costliness.  His gift showed timeliness.  Nicodemus was probably grief-stricken at the death of Jesus because of its injustice.  "It was not right for such a Good Man to die at the hands of other jealous religious leaders."  Nicodemus may have thought.  But even though it was unfair, it had happened, and someone was now needed to give Jesus a proper burial.  Nicodemus comes out of the shadows and offers his great gift, exactly what was needed, to help at this dark moment in Jesus' history.  Nicodemus' gift also shows thankfulness in my opinion.  Nicodemus knew that Jesus was no ordinary prophet and had expressed such to Him.  He listened to His teaching, he heard about His miracles, he saw how He accepted sinful people, and he watched Him overturn the exchange tables and skillfully debated the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem head-on just a few days before.  Perhaps Nicodemus had wanted to see Jesus or to visit with Him again, but now it was too late.  Now all that he could do was offer one last gift to show his gratitude to this younger Prophet who had brought so much hope to Israel!

                     Nicodemus anoints Him with customary balm
                    The battered corpse of One now perfectly calm!
                    Sweet victory, and majesty on that bloodied face
                    He was the Lamb of God for the whole human race!
                    As the linens ere bond and he was laid to rest,
                    He thought of the joys that He'd brought and how He'd been so blessed!

                                                                       Neil Azevedo (with much reworking
)

Is our giving like Nicodemus'?  Do our gifts to God show a costliness, a timeliness, and a thankfulness?  At this final moment in Jesus' life, Nicodemus really gave himself, too, didn't he ? his time and his service?  Someone has noted that money can't buy friendship, or a clear conscience, or happiness, or life, or beauty, or peace, or character.  We cannot take our treasurers with us, but we can be sending them ahead if we're laying up treasures in heaven.

 The last extravagant steward was Joseph of Arimathea.  What an interesting person he seems to be!  John tells us that he was a secret disciple.  Matthew tells us that he was rich and had made a new tomb.  Mark tells us that he was a part of the Sanhedrin (or Jewish Supreme Court), that he was waiting for God's kingdom, and that he mustered up his courage to go before Pilate.  Luke informs us that he was a just and good man who had not consented to Jesus' execution.  So God provides another man, a wealthy man who had influence, to come into Jesus'' life and help Him to have a proper burial.  Like so many wealthy people, it seems that Joseph had easy access to those who govern. He goes directly  to Pilate and asks if he can have Jesus' body.  Pilate was amazed that Jesus had died so quickly since death by crucifixion often took days.  After verifying the death, Pilate gave Joseph permission.  Joseph had recently had a tomb dug out.  Most of the dead were simply covered with a cloth and placed in a hole in the ground with no coffin.  Only the rich could afford a rock-hewn tomb.  Such a tomb usually had several chambers so family members could be buried together.  Such a tomb probably had a pretty high price tag since it involved construction of the chambers as well as digging a trough and making a large circular stone covering for the entrance.  There was an oral Jewish tradition that a family could not share its tomb with anyone else from another family.  So Joseph's gift was extravagant because when he buried Jesus there, he was giving up this tomb and would have to pay to have another one made.  Isn't it interesting how God used a just, good, and rich man to provide Jesus with a place for proper burial?  It also shows too that Jesus did not limit His ministry to only those who were poor.  Joseph's gift was also extravagant in several other ways.  First of all, it showed Joseph's willingness to serve Jesus as He could.  Now that Jesus was dead, there was not much more that could be done to serve Him.  A new tomb was now the best thing that he could offer; he offered it to give Jesus an honorable farewell.  Lastly, his gift showed usefulness.  Little did Joseph know that when he gave away his tomb to Jesus, it would become the most talked about and visited tomb in all history!  It gave Jesus the perfect platform from which to reveal His power over death.  The Roman soldiers had tried to make it as secure as possible, but every gospel writer tells us that the very large circular stone covering the entrance had been rolled away!  That gift showed more usefulness than Joseph ever imagined it would!

                                 Joseph was the first to hold him in his arms.
                                 After the gruesome battle with all of Satan's harms.
                                 He saw for certain that He finally sleeps
                                 While within his own heart, he quietly weeps.
                                 "Now He can rest peacefully in my garden tomb
                                  And then at the Last Day His blossom will bloom!
"
                                                         Neil Azevedo (with much reworking)

Is our giving like Joseph's?  Do our gifts to God show willingness, helpfulness, and usefulness?  Whenever we give like Joseph, surprising things can happen.  Moses gave up Egypt's pleasures, but he gained God's presence!  Nehemiah gave up Persia's comfort, but he gained Israel's respect!  A boy gave us a lunch, but he gained a miraculous meal and so did over 5000 others!  A widow gave up her mites, but she gained the strength of God's might.  What we keep we lose, but what we give to God will be ours forever!

Mary, Nicodemus and Joseph were extravagant stewards in many ways.  They all gave what they could.  They all gave from pure hearts.  They all wanted to honor Jesus.  We've seen how their gifts showed unselfishness, recklessness, thoughtfulness, timeliness, thankfulness, helpfulness, and usefulness.  They all gave more than just money!  They had no idea how far-reaching their gifts would be!

Now let's ask, "What do our gifts show?"  There's  a story about a man who was ill, and the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with him.  The man turned to God and prayed, "Lord, if you'll give me my life, I'll sell my house and give all the money to the poor."  The man soon began to get better, and his health was restored.  He knew that he should keep his promise, but he couldn't stand the thought of losing so much money.  But one day he hit upon an idea.  He advertised that he would sell his house for one silver coin.  Whoever bought the house, however, also had to buy his cat as well, and that price tag was 100 gold coins. Before long he found a buyer.  He said goodbye to his cat, shut the door behind him, and set off with the gold coins in his purse.  He rounded the corner, dropped the silver coin into a beggar's cup, and went on his way feeling quite relieved that all had gone so well" (Bennett).  Is that how our gifts and stewardship should work?  Isn't that keeping the letter of the law but denying its spirit and really reneging on the original intentions of a promise)?  Isn't that putting our will above God's will? An elder wrote a book on stewardship.  I've taken some of his ideas and turned them into ten questions for us to consider.  Are our gifts based on convenience or conviction?  Do we give over or do we give up?  Have we let 10% of our income become the floor or the ceiling for our giving?  Have we replaced spiritual values with material costs?    Have we replaced spiritual values with material costs?  Have we replaced the golden Rule with the rule of Gold?  Are we more concerned about mortar or mortals?  Are we more worried about property than poverty?  Have we exchanged a university's tuition for a Christian education?  Do we see the church as a savings institution or a saving kingdom?  Are we penny pinchers or eternity economists?  He concluded one chapter with these words:  "ongregations] need to be challenged to spend beyond their power, and the Lord's people need to be exhorted to do better than their best!  ... All of us have our alabaster boxes.  We can bring them to  Christ...  [Let's] lay at [His] feet our talents, our energy, [our time], and our wealth" (Layton)!

Once there was a speed skater in the Olympics who was one of the top contenders for the gold medal.  Just a few hours before his first race, he received news that his sister, a leukemia victim, had died.  In this first race, he fell at the first turn.  In his next race, he also fell again.  All America could feel his pain.  Many people wrote letters of consolation, but none was probably more touching that the one written by Mark Arrowrood, a disabled 31 year old, from Doylestown, PA. :   Dear Dan, I watched you on TV.  I'm sorry that you fell 2 times.  I am in the special Olympics.  I won a gold medal at PA. State Summer Olympics right after my Dad died 7 years ago... Before we start the games, we have a saying that goes like this: 'Let me win, but if I can't win, let me be brave in the attempt."  I want to share one of my medals with you because I don't like to see you not get one.  Try again in 4 more years."  Inside the envelope, Dan found a gold medal that Mark Arrowood had won in a track and field event (Larson).

Mark gave what he could.  Wasn't his sensitivity of far greater value than the gift itself?  Can any price tag be placed on that kind of goodness?  That's the kind of extravagant stewardships that we need to exhibit as well.  Like Mark's gift, it springs forth out of admiration for our Hero, for the One who gave His all to ransom us and to purchase His church.  Will our judge one day divorce Himself from us and say that we had some peculiar ideas about family finances too?  Let's be extravagant stewards so that, scenario will never happen!  Now is the time to change!  Now is the time to renew our admiration!  Now is the time to bring our alabaster boxes and lay them at our Lord's feet.