God’s Extravagances


God’s Extravagances

March 27th, 1988 @ 8:15 AM

John 12:1-8

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

3-27-88    8:15 a.m.



As was announced every day at high noon, Monday through Friday, pre-Easter week, for the seventy-second year, we shall be conducting services honoring our Lord.  The theme for the pastor’s messages this year is "The Second Coming of Christ:"  tomorrow at high noon, The Glory of the Pre-Millennial Faith; on Tuesday, Why I Am a Pre-Millennialist; on Wednesday, The Signs of His Coming; on Thursday, The Time on God’s Clock; and on Friday, The King of Forever.  We shall look for you.  It shall bless your heart to come.

Having completed our series of messages in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, we turn now to chapter 12, chapter 12.  And the title of the message is God’s Extravagances


Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus, who had been dead, whom He raised from the dead.

There they made Him a supper; and Martha served.

Then took Mary – her sister – 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. 

Then saith one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, the one who should betray Him,

Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence – a year’s salary, three hundred denarius – and given to the poor?

This he said, not because he cared anything about the poor; but because he was a thief, and he stole what was put in the bag.

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 12:1-8]


God’s extravagances, first we begin in the story: Mary anointing our Lord with spikenard, costly – the Bible says – costs a year’s salary, three hundred denarii.  Then Judas’ caustic remark: "What a waste."  What could have been done with that three hundred denarii;  feed the poor, redress the wronged.  And third: our Lord’s reply, "Wherever this gospel is preached, this will be presented as a memorial to her" [Matthew 26:13].  And I’m fulfilling one of those prophecies today.  It’s a remarkable thing, God’s love for the extravagant; no utilitarian purpose in it at all, just that God loves it. 

Think for a moment, God’s love for color.  Do you know of any good purpose for a gorgeous, glorious sunset?  Do you know any utilitarian reason for a beautiful rainbow?  Do you know of anything good particularly that comes because the sky is azure blue and not solid gray?  Do you know any particular good that comes because a meadow is emerald?  Do you know any utilitarian purpose because in the fall time and especially in a place like New England, the whole world is a riot of autumnal color?  Do you know any good because the desert is painted?  Like you, I have watched it in the evening.  Just that God loved it and has looked at it for thousands of years.

God’s love for the extravagant: moonlight, starlight, and sound, the wind blowing through the pine trees.  Or the sound of water rippling over the stones and rocks, or put to your ear a conch shell and listen to the sound of the breathing, living ocean, or walk out in front of the house, as I have done so many times, and there in the top of one of those oak trees in our yard will be a mockingbird just singing his heart out.

One morning I went outside and there on the top of our chimney was one of those glorious creatures.  He did one of the most unusual things I ever saw.  He would flutter up or jump up or fly up just about three feet, just here to there, then back again, just singing every tune that every bird in the earth can raise to God.  Do you know any good in that?  Just that God loves to hear it, sounds wonderful in His ears; no utilitarian purpose at all; God’s love for the extravagant.  We’re made in His image [Genesis 1:27].  He made us like Him.  And we’re like that. 

I don’t deny there is a pro- side of life.  When you’re hungry, you have to be fed, or thirsty you have to drink; or weary, you have to sleep.  There’s a pro- side of life, a necessity side of living.  But the Lord Himself said, "Man shall not live by bread alone."  There’s something else that God has put in our souls that is not satisfied, just by bread, just by the toil of utilitarian necessity.  There’s something on the inside of us that only poetry, and music, and art, and beauty can ever satisfy.  I read of a man, long time ago, who said, "If I had ten cents, with five cents I’d buy a loaf of bread to feed my body, and with five cents I’d buy a rose to feed my soul." 

The extravagances of God and the extravagances of life that feed and bless our souls: poetry; just what utilitarian purpose?  The things beautifully said by the poet, like William Wordsworth:


Violet by a mossy stone.

Half hidden from the eye,

Fair is the star.

When only one

Is shining in the sky.


Or James Russell Lowell, our poet:


What is so [rare] as a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days;

When Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,

And over heart, her warm ear lays.

[from "What Is So Rare As a Day in June"]


Or Bobby Burns:


Pleasures are like poppies spread,

You seize the flower,

The bloom is shed.

Or like the snow falls on the river,

A moment white, then gone forever.

Or like the borealis race

That flit ere you can point their place.

Or like the rainbow’s lovely form,

Vanishing amid the storm.

[from "Tam o’ Shanter" by Robert Burns]


Poetry or music, just what utilitarian purpose is music? 

Last night I went early to bed, but before I did I just happened to turn on the radio, turn the television, and there was Leonard Bernstein leading the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in Bach’s Third Symphony.    I just sat there.  Something in the soul, because God made us that way.

Or art: just what utilitarian purpose is beautiful art?  In the city of New York, a Jewish man had a beautiful painting of Ecce Homo: "Behold the Man."  Oh, the artist sees it in his soul, then he paints it.   And he saw in his soul this artist [Ciseri], he saw our Lord before Pontius Pilate. 

Every time I went to New York, I’d talk to that Jew, trying to get that picture.  I said, "It means nothing to you; you’re a Jew.  But it’d mean everything to me."   I finally persuaded him, and it’s there in my study, right there.  I look at it ten thousand times.  Where does that come from?  The image of God. 

Like architecture:  I read the strangest sentence.  The architect says, "It is immoral to draw a crooked column."  We’re that way in our personal lives, the extravagances of life. 

I heard a father talking to his son one time.  And the boy wanted to know how much he should pay for an engagement ring.  And the dad, to my surprise, said to the son, "Son, you mortgage half of your future life and get a beautiful one."  Just what good is an engagement ring?  What utilitarian purpose?  But the dad said to that boy, "You get the most beautiful ring you can buy."  Isn’t that amazing? 

Or go inside the house.  I was for four months on a mission tour around the world, and two of them were in Japan.  I never was in one of the Japanese homes but that over in the corner was a little raised section about eighteen inches high, and on it always, a vase of flowers and a beautiful incense burner. 

I was going through Arizona, and there in that barren and desolate land, once in a while, I’d come across some evidence of civilization, some cowpoke had a shanty somewhere.  And right in the middle of the desert, a cottage with beautiful floozy curtains.  There was a woman inside.  Just what good is a floozy curtain?   I can understand a blind, but what a floozy, little, lacy curtain? 

Going through Africa, it was a beatinest thing once in a while, I just stand and stare at it.  There would be one of those African, black African women, working on the hair of another friend, another African woman.  Isn’t that strange, have a ring in her nose and a shank bone through her hairdo? 

You know, I got to thinking about that?  You know that’s not so strange?  If I had enough nerve, I’d call up one of you woman.  You’ve got rings in your ears and things hanging down dangling down from your ears.  You may not have a shank bone in your hair, but I tell you, some of these hairdos is really something to look at.  The extravagances of life.

And now may I bring it to us in God’s house.  Like Mary, just what utilitarian purpose was that year’s salary spent in the breaking of that box of spikenard but just the extravagance of loving God?  And what a magnificent thing it is, thus to love God extravagantly; in the house that we built for it, what a beautiful thing?  Oh dear!

We’re told in the seventh chapter of 1 Kings that in front of the temple were two tall columns.  They were between thirty-five and fifty feet tall.   These Masons would know all about Boaz and Jachin, strength and beauty [verse 21].   All they were there for was just God loved to look at them.  They didn’t hold up anything.  They were nowise connected with the building itself; they were in front of the temple, those two beautiful columns, with lilies and pomegranates and leaves; just God liked to look at it.

And I felt that way when we built our chapel building – we called it the Criswell Building – across the street.  I went to the architect, and I said, "I want you to make it the prettiest building that you can think for, with Gothic windows and with stone recesses."  Then I went to Mrs. Veal and I said, "Mrs. Veal, I want you to give me the money to buy a steeple and put on top of it."

Just what good is a steeple?  Just an extravagance that honors God. 

And then when we built our Embree Hall on that side, there was no street.  Street’s been built there since then.  There’s no outside to Embree Hall at all, but there are six gorgeous stained-glass windows.  The man’s been dead; died just a few months after he built them, from St. Louis.  We called him and he had three beautiful windows from the New Testament on one side and three beautiful windows from the Old Testament on the other side.   Just the extravagances of loving God. 

You know what?  I have here an article out of the daily news.  It’s an interview with a man who heads the Commerce Department Bureau of Domestic Commerce.  And here’s what he says, "Religious structures once tended to be more ornate than those constructed now.  Religious architectures have tended toward plainness.  This reflects the secularization of our society," he said, "in which some of the most beautiful buildings put up are not churches – not anymore – but they’re offices, and shopping centers and corporate headquarters.  The church is not as important in the lives of people as it once was." 

And he says the sign of that is we don’t make our churches beautiful anymore.  They’re not gorgeous anymore.  They’re not extravagant anymore.  Because they don’t mean as much to us as they once did.  The extravagance of God, just loving God.  The ointment broken over the head of Jesus.  I think of that in Titus 2:10, "Adorn the doctrine of God our Savior."  Adorn it, make it beautiful.  Not just utilitarian, adorn the doctrine. 

There was a mother, in answering a church plea, prepared for a gift to the church, her son’s outgrown pants, pair of pants.  The little boy had outgrown his pants, so the mother decided to give those pants to the church.  And when she picked them up, why, she went through the pockets.  And she found in one of the pockets some beautiful marbles.  And she took the marbles out and put them on the table and then started to send the pants to the church.  And then she decided to put the marbles back in the pocket with a note.  

So she sent the pants of her little boy to the church with the marbles and a little note inside.  And to her amazement she got back a note, and the mother said – who’d received them – "Thank you for the pants.  My boy, so poor, needed them."  Then she added, "But especially, thank you for the marbles.  It made my little boy so glad."    Thank you for the marbles.   God’s extravagances, just doing something for the love of God. 

May I close?  An example from the Old Testament and one from the New.  Every year Elkanah made his yearly journey up to the temple, to the house of the Lord.  And there he brought his tithe, his increase of the flock and of the herd and of the field. According to the Law, once a year, Elkanah went up and brought what belonged to God, to the Lord.  But his wife, Hannah, every year, made a little coat, and she brought to the child, Samuel, dressed in his linen priestly ephod, she brought him a little coat.  All year and year after year, the Bible says, she made for the little boy the little coat, just out of the love of her heart [1 Samuel 2:19].

And may I take an answer from the New Testament?  In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord said, "If a man demand that you walk with him a mile, walk with him two; walk with him twain" [Matthew 5:41].  And the background of that is this: by Roman law, the Roman soldier could compel any man to take his gear and carry it for a mile.  And I can just see that.  Our Lord said, "If the Roman soldier comes and he demands that you walk with him awhile and carry his gear for a mile," I can just see one of those subjects in the Roman Empire picking up the gear of that Roman soldier, and walking behind him, muttering curses and damnation on the Roman Empire; his soldiers, his army, damn them all.  I can just see him walk behind that soldier, carrying his effects for a mile.

Our Lord said don’t do that.  You, a disciple of the Lord, when he says, "You, out there in the field," or "You, working here in the shop, you come and carry my gear for a mile,"  He says, "As a disciple of Mine, pick it up and carry it gladly.  And when you get to the mile, by law you’re free.  But when you get to that first mile, you say to the Roman soldier, ‘Sir, I’ve enjoyed being close to you.  Could I carry it a second mile?  And could I walk with you the second mile?’  And then this time, walk by his side.  And as you do, talk to him about Jesus."

Great God, no wonder they subverted the Roman Empire!  No wonder they conquered the whole world.  How could you but be moved by the spirit of a man like that?  That’s God.  These are the extravagances of the Lord, just magnifying Him out of the love and overflow of our souls. 

We’re going to sing us a song now.  And while we sing it, a family you coming into the fellowship of our wonderful church, a couple you dedicating your lives in a wonderful way to our Lord, a one somebody you accepting Jesus as Savior.  While we sing this song, on the first note of the first stanza, welcome.  In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me and mine.  And here I stand."

May angels attend you in the way as you come.  While all of us stand and sing our hymn of appeal, "This is God’s day for me, and I’m on the way."