The Perfume of His Presence
I have spoken briefly on several occasions in the past about my passion to understand, or grasp something of a revelation on the Biblical concept of the “Fragrance” of Jesus Christ.
I know about it, and have experienced for myself – the aroma
of his presence at certain times in my life which in itself has produced a searching, a hunger for truth, for revelation
and insight in this regard.
My Sermon today entitled, The Perfume of His Presence
is about a revelation which came to me recently while I was reading and meditating on the story of Mary, who broke open a precious jar of costly perfume and poured it over the Saviours feet. John tells us the story in chapter 12 and
his details add to Luke’s record which we read earlier
in the service. Lets read his testimony from …
John 12:1 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?
Both Gospel writers Matthew and Mark record a similar story.
Their memory of the event pictures the ointment, or perfumed oil being poured on the Lords HEAD, – while Jesus commending Mary for her actions, speaks of the fact that she was anointing his BODY. (compare Matthew 26 & Mark 14)
Luke chapter 7, points out that the Pharisee (Simon the tanner) who had invited them, considered Mary a “sinner” and wondered why Jesus was allowing her to touch him? Judas Iscariot, seemed bothered at the waste of such an expensive and costly perfume. Clearly, the incident stirred up all kinds of feelings as we shall see, but my true focus today needs to rest on a point made only by John, that the fragrance, the smell, the odour, the perfume from that
broken jar, filled the whole house.
It is likely that this sealed alabaster box or jar of perfume was one of those things which one either buys or is gifted as a “keep-sake”? Something to treasure, something of an insurance policy or a retirement “nest egg” we might call it today. It is likely also, as historical records from the period show – that the jar itself was only accessible by breaking off the neck, thus revealing the perfumed oil or ointment, a creamy like substance probably of frankincense, and extremely costly or luxurious. It was the kind of thing that one had to show for a lifetime of work or service. I have two “frankincense” candles at home which give off a beautiful perfume, even though they have never been lit. When the sun shines in at the window on them, you can easily catch their aroma, their fragrance in the air.
So we need to understand that this ointment was not only precious in monetary value, but precious in sentiment and memory to the person who was fortunate enough to own such
a thing. It was going to be a sacrifice – a great personal cost
to part with, to break open, to empty out that jar on someone else, it would be a remarkable token of affection and love. Yet without the jar breaking, the fragrance would remain shut up, and the intrinsic value of its contents – hidden!
Here then is the very heart of the matter. In order for us to understand something of The Perfume of His Presence,
the presence of Jesus and the fragrance of Jesus in our lives,
we need to look at and learn from this story. For hidden away within this jar there lies a secret, and that secret is what I am asking God to help me share with you, as he revealed it to me, just a few weeks ago.
Jesus himself gave us the “key” to unlock this treasure in the words which Luke records in his record of the events. Jesus confirms that “her sins were many” Luke 7:47 and that “because she had been forgiven much, she had loved much”.
We are not given any of the detail of her life, nor of the many sins forgiven her, but what we do see is a grateful soul,
a grateful sinner, saved by grace. Yet we see much more.
We see that her love was prompted, fuelled, motivated by the measure of her forgiveness. She was understanding and appreciating the great value of forgiveness, something that money or wealth could not buy. She was acknowledging by her costly sacrifice that forgiveness too has a high cost.
Yet the central focus of her actions were undoubtedly LOVE.
How could she return love for love? How could she repay the good and the grace that had been shown to her? What could she give to prove her gratitude? I recon that this costly jar of
perfumed oil was the only real possession the woman had of
any value? In those days women did not have their own properties, or their own investments, or their own businesses, or their own boutiques, … so lifting the most precious of her possessions and giving it up for Jesus, she was in fact
saying – “I love you this much – Master”.
Can I pause for a moment to ask you how much you love the Saviour, the Master? Are there things in your life, things
in your house, things in your treasures, things on your computer screens that you cannot give up for him? You see, I cannot see what is seemingly more precious to you than He is right now, but the amazing thing is, that JESUS CAN! And He can see your crocodile tears at those times when you truly do want to give it all up for him, but the cost is too high, the loss would be too much, the sacrifice too great and the changes too difficult to bear. Is there something or someone more precious to you than your Saviour? If so, you can never walk in The Perfume of His Presence.
The choice is yours.
So Mary brings her costly sacrifice to the Saviour, … in my minds eye, I can see her carry that jar into the room full of people, and wait for her moment when he can make that final gesture of love and devotion to him. But there is one more thing she needs to do before any of it will signify, … she needs to BREAK the jar! Have you ever decided to go through with God, and taken cold feet in the end? Have you wanted to walk forward in the line and come to the alter of sacrifice and then turned back? Have you ever promised God that gift for his Church and then thought better of it in the end?
Have you ever promised God that you would change if he lifted you from that Hospital bed, and then gone back on your word? You see once Mary would break the jar, there could be no going back. The Breaking would result in a spilling out, and the spilling out would result in a being used up!
Broken, Spilled Out, Used up. That’s what God is asking of us today – and therein lies a cost, a real cost.
But turn your eyes upon Jesus again, and see him on Calvary’s Cross 2000 years ago, broken, spilled out, and used up for you. Gods own precious treasure, lavished on you, broken and spilled out and wasted on you. This is what
I believe Mary could see prophetically that day, this was LOVE, real love, true love, sacrificial love, selfless love, a sacred love, “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18) A love that Mary wanted to return, to give back to her Saviour. Have you given him
love for love?
My dear friends, until we are broken with this kind of love, this kind of union with Jesus, there can be none of the fragrance of Heaven in our lives. This is the KEY, this is the way and the only way that we can carry The Perfume of His Presence when our lives are full to overflowing with this Sacrificial, Selfless, non Selective and Sacred Love. A Love that reaches out to ALL irrespective of personality or propensity. The problem with many in the Church today is that we are failing to love ALL. We have become “selective” in our love and I have discovered that many of us have a very real problem in moving on or moving away from a persons past. Isn’t it amazing that people remember WHAT YOU WERE easier
than focusing on WHAT YOU ARE. This was Simons problem here in our text, he could only see Mary as the “Sinner” he could not see beyond her PAST into her PRESENT. But the Fragrance of the LOVE OF JESUS
is only possible when we, like him, look beyond the faults
and see the needs.
Let me tell you a remarkable story about a changed life, I have told it before but it bears repetition. Many of you will be familiar with the Book and Film entitled “Inn of the Sixth Happiness” the true story of the missionary life of a little English woman called Gladys Aylward. (staring Ingrid Bergman) I’m told that she visited Belfast in the 1950’s,
but this is a story she tells.
When she first went to China, as a Missionary, she soon discovered that the largest places without any Christian influence were the Prisons, so she attempted to get in
(without a crime) to see if she could help bring the Gospel,
the good news of Jesus into dark and despairing lives.
Well, she did and God used her powerfully in that role.
“There was a young man in Prison, who was a Murderer and who had not been executed simply because he was too young. Jon-wa-cam was very unhappy and he was always getting into fights. One day the guards found him sitting on another prisoners chest in a fight. They hauled him out of the cell, they beat him and they chained him up. Now he was more miserable than ever. Gladys knew nothing about this until she went into the prison for her weekly Bible Study group. Hearing the story, she felt for the boy, and went to the Governor to ask if he might be allowed out of his cell for an
hour to sit in with her group. Reluctantly, he got out and came with her, still all chained up. Round the corner clink a clank clink a clank, came Jon-wa-cam into the Bible Study Room, where the rest of the assembled prisoners were singing the chorus, “He breaks every Fetter”. Gladys feeling a little embarrassed, said oh we cannot sing that now, lets sing “Whanna Jesu” (I need Jesus).
Tearfully Jon-wa-cam looked up at her and said “I need Jesus… will you pray for me” – and sitting in that filthy prison corridor Gladys led him in prayer to receive Jesus as his Saviour. “Now” she said “we are going to pray that Jon-wa-cams chains will come off, but that they will come off in such a way, that not only you will know or me, but the whole of the prison and the whole of the city – and God will be glorified” She prayed that prayer, and after the meeting, she went home.
Two nights later, Jon-wa-cam still chained up and having terrible difficulty to sleep with all these chains on him, was lying in bed – and as he said “I suddenly saw, in the corner of the cell, a bright light … it was so bright it just shook me, I had never seen anything like it before. I looked and I looked and discovered that it was the form of someone. So I lifted my head and eyes higher and then I saw the face, and I said “Oh Lord Jesus is it you” and a voice replied “Yes its me” and I just wanted to look and look and look – He was so wonderful. Then He said “Jon-wa-Cam get up and follow me”
So he swung round on the edge of the bed and with his feet hanging over, he struggled to stand up – and as he was struggling, the form moved from the corner and came out through the middle of that filthy cell, … and he said:
“as his clothes brushed past my legs there was the most wonderful fragrance, it was wonderful, and I was just overwhelmed with that wonderful scent. While I was taking this in, he passed by me, and then the other men, (6 in a cell) began to slowly wake up. Wa-cam said to them “Oh men get up quickly, the Lord Jesus Christ is in this cell” And the men got up to watch that bright light disappear through the wall.
The Guard outside the cell, heard the noise of the men getting up, and banging about because it was dark, and he threw open the door and the first person he grabbed was of course Jon-wa-cam; and he hauled him out and he dragged him down the corridor. When they got out into the middle of the corridor, Jon-wa-cam said “Oh Look”, and there in his hands were the chains. He was free of them, simply holding them pulling them along behind him. And the Guard shook and said “How did they come off?” “The Lord Jesus Christ took them off” “Oh well you had better go back and don’t say anything ’till the morning and then I will report that I unlocked them by mistake”. And so he pushed him back chains and all. But the next morning they faced a terrific problem in that the KEY to unlock those chains – hung on
the wall of the Governors Office.
So the word, went from this warder, to the guard, from that guard to the head guard and from the head guard to the Governor and presently Jon-wa-cam found himself standing in the Governors office holding a bundle of chains in his hand. And the Governor asked “How did they come off?”
“Jesus Christ took them off”
Gladys says, “I saw them lying on the table still locked up”
and when I got there the Governor said “You know this is extraordinary” – “No its not, its just Jesus” replied Gladys;
“we prayed you know that He would do this .. you didn’t unlock them, did you? she asked. “No, there’s the key on the wall behind my back …” said the Governor; “… but you know I would like to do something – because the men tell me that there is a wonderful fragrance in that cell, and I am very anxious to smell it; but you see it would be very difficult for me to go up there just to smell that smell wouldn’t it?” So Gladys said; “well I think you could have a sort of routine inspection and I could come along with you, for I would like to smell it too”
So they went, – and there in that filthy prison cell was the beautiful fragrance of Heaven, the fragrance of Jesus Christ”.
When I first heard this story, I became intrigued by the thought of The Perfume of His Presence, and have been searching for years to uncover its secrets. Now for the first time in my life – I believe I have discovered that secret, and it is all bound up in the LOVE of Jesus, in the way in which his love, his way of loving is never selective, but all embracing. Here we have seen that he loved the Murderer just as much as he loved the Missionary; and until we too break down all of those prejudices against certain people or certain types of people, or certain groups of people, prejudices that lock up the love of Jesus in our hearts; – until we break that off, the flow of that love, the fragrance of that love and the fullness of that love will never be evident in our lives. This is the Brokenness that leads to Blessing, and may God help us to embrace it, and to walk in it.
Until we are Broken and spilled out and used up for him, living and loving as He gave us the example, we cannot carry either the smell or the smile of a loving and forgiving Saviour.
May God enable us all to walk every day in
The Perfume of His Presence…
for Faith is for Now, Hope is for Tomorrow, but Love is for Always.
God Bless You. … Amen.