God’s Extravagances


God’s Extravagances

June 6th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM

Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.
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Dr. W.A. Criswell

John 12:1-8

6-6-71    10:50 a.m.



On the radio and on television, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled God’s Extravagances.  The message is taken from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John:


Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly… and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment – a little indication of John’s vivid memory, he could smell the fragrance of that costly and gracious gift – Then said one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot… who should betray Him,

Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?

[John 12:3-5]


Three hundred pence, a day’s salary for an ordinary working man, three hundred of those days, wasting it upon the Master, wasting it.  "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?"

As one of the members of our church came to me when we were building the activities building, what you call the Criswell Building across the street.  And there had been given to me a gracious gift, and I was using it for something beautiful over there that I will explain to you later in the building.  And he said to me, "Why this waste?  Why is this not given to the poor?"

I said, "Did you know somebody in the Bible said that exact thing and asked that exact question."

He said, "Who?"

I said, "Judas Iscariot.  That is what it says right here."


Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?

Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of My burying hath she kept this.

For the poor always ye have with you; but Me ye have not always.

[John 12:5, 7-8]


And that’s my sermon.  Always there is that equation between doing something beautiful and feeding the poor.  I listen to a president of a college, and he gave that same trite, hackneyed, used thought that is worn out with years and years and years of expression.  His address was, if I could sum it in a sentence, what we ought to do is to take the wealth of America and give it to the submarginal, and underprivileged, and poor nations of the earth.  After the address was over and the convention was done, I boarded the airline, and in the providence of God, he sat down by my side.  He turned to me after we had gained altitude, and he said, "What did you think about my address?"  He might as well opened a lion’s den.

I asked him, "Would you like for me to tell you the truth, what I think about your address, or would you like for me to be suave and gracious and tell you how fine it was?"

He said, "No, I want you to tell me the truth.  What did you think about my address?"

I said, "Well, I have two comments to make.  First, I have just completed a trip around the world, most of it in those subtropical, submarginal areas of the earth such as India, such as Pakistan, such as Africa, such as Indonesia.  And my first comment is this, if you were to take the entire wealth of America and give it to the poor of those nations, they would be just as poor as they ever were, and if for a moment they were not, they would be that poor tomorrow.  That’s my first comment.  And my second comment is this:  in my humble persuasion, there is more to a man than just feeding his mouth."

Well, look around you.  Look around you.  Behold in awe, and wonder, and glory God’s extravagances.  They’re manifest everywhere; they’re poured out lavishly everywhere.  Could you stand up and tell me just for what utilitarian purpose is a sunset?  Yet God lavishes those gorgeous, glorious, glowing, autumnal, beautiful colorations every evening.  A sunset, beautiful, marvelous, glorious with raging color; covering the sky, the horizon, the earth; God’s sunsets, just lavishly giving them upon us for no purpose at all?  Just because there’s something in God that does it.

Or just what purpose would you say is a rainbow, the color, the arc, the beauty, the glory?  God’s extravagances, just because there’s something in Him that makes Him do it.  The earth could have been drearily gray and get along just as well I’m sure, but the lavish color God has poured out upon it, the emerald carpet of a meadow, the deep, deep color of a forest, the soaring mountains in grandeur, breathing celestial air with their summits white like the snow.  Color, the plumage of a bird, a peacock, a bird of paradise, any kind of a bird, everywhere, the deep blue, blue of the sea, the azure blue of the sky.  Why didn’t He make it all gray?  It’s just something in God, His extravagances. 

Where’d they come from?  We copy them, imitate them.  We used to have imitation flowers that we used to wear up here.  I had more people tell me they objected to those imitation flowers stuck on us more than anything we had around the church.  So I said we’re just going to quit.  The only one who wears a flower now is the pastor.  Aren’t they beautiful?  They’re just lovely.  Every Sunday it’s that way.  Something God has done, just extras, God didn’t have to do it that way, just something in Him that made Him do it. 

Same way with light, the soft moonlight, the starlight, the daylight, just something in God that does it.  And sound, the whispering of a gentle breeze through a pine tree.  Or just listening to a mockingbird sing.  Just what good is that?  Just what utilitarian service does that propose?  Just singing, just something in God that puts its song in its soul, and then the little thing sings, like a mockingbird.

Ah, let me read it to you:


I bought ten thousand sunsets

And a friendly old oak tree

And a hundred thousand violets

When my farm was deeded to me.


Ten thousand dewy mornings

With a mockingbird to sing

And a mossy glade with a willow shade

And the music of a spring.


The owner thought he sold me land;

How poor a trader, he!

But it all was fair for it all was there

For all the world to see –


A meadow starred with daises

And a wild rose rambling free

And a squirrel’s den and a nested wren –

And it all belongs to me.


I paid the man his money,

And he did not understand

He had put a price on Paradise

When he thought he sold me land.

[“Attitude,” by Charles C. McWhorter]


There are people though that don’t see that at all; they’re clods.  God’s extravagances, the extra.  I do not deny that there is an animality in us that has to be ministered to, taken care of, I don’t deny that.  When you’re hungry you seek bread to eat.  When you’re thirsty you seek water to drink.  Some of you, tea and coffee, some of you worse – the pastor, milk.  I don’t deny that.  When a man is weary he seeks to sleep, and when we’re cold there is clothing and shelter.  I don’t deny that.  What I am saying is of God; there is something more to a man than his animal nature. 

There are philosophies of life, political, such as communism that looks upon a man as nothing but a tool of utilitarian, instrumental purpose.  He’s a workman and that’s all, and he’s to be driven to the task, and they see to it that he’s driven.  I don’t deny that there are animalities in us that must be ministered to, like sleep, and eat, and drink.  And I don’t deny that there are philosophies in life that look upon man, delineate him, define him as nothing other than just some utilitarian purpose.  I don’t deny that. 

I am just saying to you that God didn’t make us that way alone.  He also put in us an image of Himself [Genesis 1:27].  And there is in every man something of that extravagance in his soul, made that way.  There are some things about you that cannot be expressed except in music, or in poetry, or in art, or in architecture.  As the florist says, there are some things you cannot say except with flowers.  There’s something in us besides the utilitarian, the poets say, the ordinary usefulness, there’s something in us that just soars, it just rises and is expressed only in poetry or music or art.  Poetry, Wordsworth wrote:


Little flower by a mossy bank

Half hidden from the eye!

– Fair as the star, when only one

Is shining in the sky.

[from "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways," William Wordsworth, 1799]


It speaks of a heart – poetry, music – how do you say things except sometimes in a song?  There’s just something in you, and it expresses itself that way.  For no usefulness at all, just that it’s in your heart, it’s in your soul.  In the world in which I live, there’s just no way that I could say it except sometimes,


Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!

He taught me how to watch and pray, and live rejoicing every day;

Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!


["O Happy Day," Phillip Doddridge, 1854]


Just no way to say it but in a song.  Or the preciousness of our Savior, the refuge in Him:


Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let my hide myself in Thee!

Let the water and the blood,

From Thy flowing wounds which flowed,

Be for sin a double cure,

Save from wrath and make me pure.


["Rock of Ages," Augustus M. Toplady, 1776]


Or the hope of a by and by where mother and father are, where so many the saints have gone:


There’s a land that is fairer than day,

And by faith I can see it afar,

For the Father waits over the way

To prepare us a dwelling place there.

In the sweet by and by.


["In the Sweet By and By," Sanford F. Bennett, 1868]


Music, or art.  Why, you could take a photograph of a thing, and it will be exactly and precisely and identical, that thing.  But an artist, not painting just to paint, but what he feels about it, that’s the expression of his soul.  A sculptor, why, here’s a great big rock of solid granite or solid marble, what a magnificent piece it would make in a foundation or a wall, but there’s something in a man, take that same piece of heavy marble and chisel it, and it’s a Pieta, you feel it; or a Moses, you just feel it.  That’s in the soul.  Well, why was not the marble used for the foundation of a wall?  Because there’s something of the image of God in us, some of the extravagances of the Lord.  And those things are particularly poignant when they are intimately pressed into our souls.  A boy falls in love.  Just exactly what good reason is there for buying that beautiful engagement ring?  Just what purpose does it serve?  Any boy in the world that falls in love with a girl ought to buy the most expensive engagement ring he can, go in debt for it if he pays it the rest of his life.  He ought to do it.  He ought to do it.  He just ought to.

There’s just something about it in his soul.  There’s not a girl in the world that wouldn’t like to know a boy like this.  I began my ministry in the days of the Depression.  Ooh, I remember them so deeply!  In New York City was a ragged newspaper boy.  He came into a joint, a greasy spoon.  He asked how much was a glass of milk.  He already knew it was a nickel.  He asked how much was the sweet roll up there.  He was hungry and it was so delicious.  How much is the sweet roll?  It’s a dime.  That was fifteen cents.  So he asked how much is the doughnut.  It’s a nickel.  "Well," he said, "give me the glass of milk and give me the doughnut."  That was a dime.

So the newspaper boy, that ragged urchin, drank the milk, ate the doughnut, and when he left and the waitress picked up the little plate on which the doughnut was placed.  Underneath was a nickel tip for her.  He could have had the sweet roll.  He chose the doughnut just to leave a nickel tip for her.  One of the little extras, one of the little extravagances.  If you girls can find a boy like that, he may look like a mud fence but marry him.  Ah!  For what purpose, just something in his soul.

If you’ve been here a long time, in 1950 I made a three month preaching tour in Japan, starting at the north going clear down to the south.  And in those three months I lived in the homes of the Japanese people.  They had not recovered from the war.  They’re affluent now.  They were not then.  The defeat of their armies and navies crushed Japan.  It was just prostrate.  And it was almost so when we were there in that preaching mission in 1950 – stayed in the homes of the Japanese people.  There was no home, not one in Japan, and I presume they all are that way, in the living room is a little platform about that high in the corner, a little platform about that high and on the platform always something pretty – a few flowers, a vase, just sometimes a scroll, but always in the home that little platform and something on it pretty.

The last of my preaching assignments, I held a meeting, a three day meeting at Ijuin.  That’s in the southernmost part of Kyushu Island in Kagoshima prefecture.  Now, they said it was a rural church.  It was in a town of eighteen thousand people, but the cities are so large in Japan that it was a rural church to them.  I stayed in the home.  I slept in the living room.  All the Japanese sleep in one room, and they lay pallets down and sleep like cordwood on the floor, pick them up, and then in the daytime they use the room for other things.  So I slept in the living room by myself, and there in the corner was that little platform and something pretty on top.

In the high school they were very careful to talk to me about Satsuma, Satsuma Yaki they called it, Satsuma.  And they were showing me the difference between old Satsuma and new Satsuma.  Old Satsuma has little fine, tiny, hairlines in the glaze just all over it, and new Satsuma, they were showing me, had great big cracks or hairlines, and the old Satsuma was so fine.  Well, having listened to them there in the high school, as I lay there and looked at that little thing on the platform there in Nagino’s home, I noticed that it was a piece of old, old, old Satsuma.  It was a, it was an incense burner.  So I talked to the pastor, poor as he could be, barely able to live, I talked to the pastor about that little incense burner.

"Ah," he said, "during the days of the war they quartered the Japanese soldiers on us.  They just picked out any home they wanted and put the soldiers there.  And they chose our home among many others, and we had soldiers here in the home.  Usually they sent the people out, the army just took it over, but we begged them that we could stay in the little room at the back, and the whole family, we lived back there.  Well, when the Americans came they were so beastly described until the people fled and especially the Japanese soldiers. "

"Well," he said, "these Japanese soldiers when they lived in the room in the houses, they just picked up anything they wanted to and just took it with them.  Well, this particular Japanese soldier who was quartered in our house with others, he said he had picked that up in some Japanese home.  You will have to look under a magnifying glass to see the little tiny fine hairlines cracks in that glaze.  He picked it up in one of those Japanese homes and had carried it around with him."  Then Nagino the pastor said to me, "That Japanese soldier, when he left, when he fled away, when he left he said, ‘Pastor, you’ve been so good and kind.  I just want to give you what I have in appreciation and this is it.’"  Nagino reluctantly took it.  So it was placed there in the middle of the platform in the living room where I slept.

Well, when I left he brought it down to the train and put it in my hands.  I said, "Oh, pastor, I don’t want it.  I have other things, and you have just this."

"No," he said, "this is yours.  You looked at it and admired it.  We have nothing to give you for your three day revival with us.  This is yours from us."  So I took it.  Just exactly what for?  Just exactly what use?  Got little faces, if it’s Japanese it always has three legs, three legs, and got little faces on the legs.  Just exactly what for?  Just because there’s something inside that makes our souls impoverished without it.  Just something of the image of God, and we’re all that way.

Could you conceive of anything more unhappily arranged around a guy’s neck in the hot summer time than a tie, a cravat, and yet I wouldn’t dare come down here to church without that hanging around my neck.  I just wouldn’t, just wouldn’t.  And you notice how I’m dressed?  I have a wide lapel.  As I look at you poor deacons down there, just exactly what is that for? 

A woman’s hairdo, dear me!  Just exactly what is that for?  Yet there’s not anything or anything else put together that will lift a woman’s spirit like sending her to the beauty parlor.  There’s nothing like it, nothing like it.  It’s just the way we’re made – these extravagances. 

"Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, this also, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her" [Matthew 26:13].  And I’m fulfilling once again that prophecy of the Lord Jesus.  "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred days labors’ worth of money and given to the poor?"  Because there is something of God and there is something in the heart of man that just sort of can’t express itself except in extras, something more and besides. 

That is true of God’s house.  There was a steward in the Methodist church who gave me to start with sixty thousand dollars back yonder in about 1948 when we started on that work, when sixty thousand dollars was sixty thousand dollars.  Today it’d be about a hundred twenty or a hundred fifty thousand dollars.  He gave me sixty thousand dollars to start off with, and he said, "I want you to take this.  And I want you to go over there, and I have been married into the Sallee family, and I want you to go over there and do something pretty." 

I went over there and among other things I worked with a stained-glass man who died right after he finished this.  He is in heaven, a godly man.  I worked with him and made six stained-glass windows for Embree Hall.  Did you know there are solid brick walls behind all six of those windows.  They’re not outside windows at all.  They’re all inside.  Why did I do that?  Just loving, for no purpose at all except just something inside of my soul. 

And you know, when I go over there to Embree Hall I look at those windows.  I helped design every little old thing in them, and they tell such a sweet wonderful story.  The three on this side, the Old Testament, the three on this side, the New Testament and the last one a church with a steeple.  I said, "You put a star on it, a church with a steeple and a hand knocking at the door."  Visitation and prayer fill the church.  Just something inside of me, the stained-glass window, don’t need it at all.  It’s a brick wall, but it’s pretty for God.  It’s an extra for Jesus.

This piano here, there’s a sweet wonderful woman in the church named Stella English.  She died.  She left ten thousand dollars in her will for me to spend anyway I wanted to spend it, just left it to me, ten thousand dollars to do what I want to do with it.  I sent up to New York City, and I said, "I want a ten thousand dollar Steinway grand piano." 

And when Mr. Steinway found out about it, he said, "I’ll let you have it for seven thousand five hundred dollars, and I’ll bring it down here myself."  And if you all remember, Mr. Steinway himself came down and presented that piano to us in memory of sweet Stella English.  And I used the twenty-five hundred other dollars to help you all up here in the choir, not that you need help, but I was just being nice, being nice to you.  I love that instrument.

I could have got a fifteen dollar ding dong, tin pan and put over there.  I could have done it.  But I told Mr. Steinway, "Have you got the finest grand piano in the world up there in New York City, bring it down, I’ve got ten thousand dollars in my pocket to pay you."  And that’s where that came from.  And every time I hear it played, I just love it all over again.  Why?  Just something on the inside. 

Not only the church, the house of God, but the doctrine of the faith.  Do you remember that passage in the second chapter of Titus telling all of these servants, you know, how to be obedient and to be full of good works and all, then he ends it with, "adorning the doctrine of Jesus our Lord" [Titus 2:10].  Adorning the doctrine, how do you adorn the doctrine?  Well, I can tell you exactly what Paul’s thought in that is; doctrine, truth, can be correctitude, it can be all removed and impersonal orthodoxy, doctrine can.  But oh dear, who is attracted by cold, impersonal orthodoxy, even though it’s just straight truth.  Adorn the doctrine of the Lord, making it attractive, coveted, beautiful, adorning, embellishing the doctrine, the truth of the Lord – that extra, over and beyond, the extravagance of it.

They were taking up clothes for the poor in the mission.  And this mother who belonged to the church had a boy.  So she got the boy’s clothes, went through them and picked out an old pair of pants to give to the mission.  She searched through the pockets, you know, and very typical, you don’t know what in the earth you’re going to find in a boy’s pocket.  She felt something down there in the pocket, pulled it out, and it was full of marbles.  Boy had a, she started to put the marbles and then thought, and she put the marbles back in the pocket.  And she got a letter from a poor mother in the mission, and it said, "I want to thank you for the pants, but most of all, I want to thank you for the marbles."  Just exactly what good, marbles for a boy?  Why, man it’s God’s goodness!  Something in us, the extras of life.

And that leads me to the final appeal, doing something extra for Jesus.  Extra, not just cold duty and responsibility, this, "I gotta do, I gotta, I gotta."  Ah, no, but something over and beyond and besides, an extravagance for Jesus.  Like Hannah, "Here is my little boy, he is lent to the Lord all the days of his life" [1 Samuel 1:26-28].  Or like David, couldn’t build the temple, he’s a man of blood, but I’ll gather the materials, the finest in the earth [1 Chronicles 28:3,11-21].  Or like the apostle Paul: "Lord, I give You my life, what would You have me to do?" [Acts 9:6].  The Lord replied, "I will show you how great things you must suffer for My name’s sake" [Acts 9:16].  "Therefore," said the apostle, " I take pleasure in reproaches, and necessities, persecutions, frustrations, and disappointments, and sorrows: for when I am weak, then am I strong" [2 Corinthians 12:10]; doing something over and beyond and beside for Jesus.

"Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" [John 12:5].

"Let her alone" [John 12:7].

"Wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, this also shall be said as a memorial for her" [Matthew 26:13], extravagant with God.

O Lord, just to speak of it lifts my soul.  I feel happy.  It isn’t just all cut and dried truth, but its glory, too.  Now, the appeal, I do not deny that if we don’t believe in Jesus we’re lost.  "There is salvation in none other name" [Acts 4:12].  I don’t deny that.  But there’s something else beside.  It is not only salvation from hell and deliverance from damnation, but it is also glory, glory, glory.  It’s happiness.  It’s victory.  It’s blessedness for you in your heart, for you in your home, for you with your children, for you and every dream of your life.  It’s the glory road, come and walk it with us and Jesus, will you?  Will you?  A family you, a couple you, a somebody you, in the balcony round, there’s a stairway on either side at the front and at the back.  There’s time and to spare, come.  The press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I am, pastor.  We have decided for God.  We’re going the Jesus way and here we are."  Make the decision now in your heart, and when we stand up in a minute, stand up coming, down that aisle and to the front, "Here I am."  Oh, bless you as you come, angels attend your way as you come.  On the first note of that first stanza, into that aisle and down to the front, "Here I am, pastor.  I’m coming today."  Bless you, as we stand and sing.