righteous extravagance


What would you do if you had one week to live? This is a question posed in the movie, One Week, in which a young man named Ben is faced with the reality from doctors he has end-stage cancer and will soon die. He impulsively buys a motorcycle, leaves his job and fiancée, and takes off on a solo trip across Canada. In a scene with his fiancée he argues, “It’s not about the cancer; it’s about the life I built for myself. Why am I over-insured? Why do I care so much about being responsible all the time? Why do I give a $%&* about the appliances we’re putting into our kitchen?”

Society conditions us to believe life is about a nicer house, a prestigious high paying job, and granite countertops. Yet when you are faced with the reality that you only have one week to live those things you use to covet, fear, worry about, or fixate upon take a backseat to what’s most important.

What would you do if you had one week to live? Would you live extravagantly? When we think about extravagance we think of money and spending lots of it. There is a Facebook page dedicated to asking people what they would do the last week of their life. The answers reveal what we value. Here are some of the responses:

  • I would quit my job, buy a boat and get a tattoo. I would get married as quickly as possible.
  • I would travel by helicopter to Ireland, the Grand Canyon, and end at a beach spa on Bora Bora.
  • I would pig out on all the cheese fondue and chips and guacamole I could stomach.
  • I would max out my credit cards and spend it on frivolous things like renting a convertible Ferrari.
  • I would write letters to all my children or people who touched my life and spend time with them.
  • I would go out and get a second opinion from another doctor.

Today is Palm Sunday. It is the day we celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ last week of earthly life. Within a week He is praised by the crowds, lynched on a cross, and raised from the grave. Like Ben, Jesus knew He had one week to live. What do you see Jesus do differently the last week of His life compared to the 33 years before? Nothing. What you do see is an expectation of His followers to live extravagantly the remaining days of their earthly life. Not extravagant, as in spending frivolously or living recklessly, but extravagant as in living out your faith with excessive elaborateness that people are sure to hear and see the Savior in your speech and actions.

1. If you truly know Jesus, you will respond with extravagant worship [John 12:1-8]

Within 6-days Jerusalem will celebrate the Passover. People are flocking from all over the region. This Passover will be different. Jesus will die. He will become the Passover lamb. Jesus is moves towards danger not away from it. He does not hide. In fact, He goes to the Bethany—the location of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles—the resurrection of Lazarus. He knows His time is near. The chief priests and Pharisees have already sent out a warrant for Jesus’ arrest [11:57].

When Jesus arrives in Bethany He is honored with a sinner party. It is a thank you celebration for Jesus miraculous power raising Lazarus from the dead. Gathered are the disciples. Lazarus is reclining at the table with a big smiling to the one who gave him new life. Martha is in her usual place organizing the meal and making sure it’s well served. And Mary is about to express her heart to Jesus in a lavish way. This is the same Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet soaking in every word He said and to whom He said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”

The time comes when Mary presents Jesus with an extravagant gift. Perhaps the whole family planned this moment. Perhaps they pooled their savings together to buy the gift fit for a king [Songs 1:12]. Perhaps it’s a family heirloom that has been passed on for years. Or perhaps Mary heard about the “sinful woman” at Simons house who poured perfume at Jesus feet and also desired to honor Jesus [Luke 7:36-50]. We are uncertain her reasons, but Mary poured out about 11 ounces (the size of a soda can) and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The fragrance filled the house. It’s an unforgettable moment of extravagant worship from hearts filled with gratitude.

Not all who were at the party thought Mary’s scene of extravagant worship was such a wise idea. Judas Iscariot thought it was a waste of good perfume. And as if he were ‘Mr. Spiritual’ asks why the expensive perfume was not sold and given to the poor. This is quite the blow coming from the tightwad who is robbing from the disciple’s moneybox.

If Judas wasn’t over exaggerating the 11-ounce flask of spikenard was worth about $26,000 (300 days pay at minimum wage). Judas makes us aware that it is easy to be the judge of another persons worship, rather than just worshiping Christ. His values were so deeply different from Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ that in a few days he would do the opposite. Instead of giving $26,000 for Jesus he would sell him for a thousand bucks (30 pieces of silver). Judas’ heart is full of dollar signs, but Martha, Mary and Lazarus’ hearts valued what money could not buy, a relationship with God.

What do you treasure? If you treasure the things of this world you will hang by them, as did Judas. If you treasure Christ above all things you will live. Jesus said to Martha after He raised Lazarus, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” [John 11:25–26] Jesus wants to make sure that in six days at another grave—His own—they do not lose their sense of worship that He is indeed the Resurrection and the Life, but that they would “keep it” even on the day of His burial.

Jesus does not rebuke Mary’s gift, instead He approves of her extravagantly beautiful worship. Jesus loves extravagant worship. The only thing that matters in worship is God’s approval. He created you for His glory and praise. “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.” [Romans 11:36] “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth…All things were created through Him and for Him.” [Colossians 1:16] “Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory.” [Isaiah 43:7]

According Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But Jesus has come to live to die so that you might give Him “praise for His glorious grace” now [Ephesians 1:3-14] and throughout all eternity.[1] He came to be worshiped. He created you as a worshiper. And He has called you to make worshipers. Worshiping God is your mission.

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship is, therefore, the fuel and the goal of missions.” – John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI. 2003. p.17

2. When you worship extravagantly, you are Jesus’ witness to the world [John 12:9-22]

Palm Sunday was an event of great understanding and misunderstanding. The great understanding is that this Jesus really is “the King who comes in the name of the Lord” [Luke 19:38]. He is the Messiah, the Son of David, the long-awaited Ruler of Israel, and the fulfillment of all God’s promises. But the great misunderstanding was that He would enter Jerusalem take His throne and make Israel free from the oppression of Rome.

The understanding of the crowd that day gave joy, but the misunderstanding brought about destruction that led to the murder of Jesus a few days later and the destruction of Jerusalem 40 years later. Jesus saw it all coming as He came into Jerusalem. And as Jesus entered into Jerusalem there were a two interesting cultural nuances to the event:

First, Jesus makes a kingly entrance. Why did Jesus choose a donkey? It demonstrated Jesus’ humbleness; and it showed that Jesus’ entry was part of God’s plan [Zechariah 9:9]. During Jesus’ day, donkeys were part of the peasant life. However, Hebrew kings rode the ‘beasts of burden’ when they traveled throughout their kingdoms in times of peace [1 Kings 1:33–35]. And the king always had a donkey reserved for him that no one else had ever ridden.

Second, the people proclaim Jesus as king. Not only are the people singing Messianic psalms. According to Luke 19:35–36, the people spread their cloaks on the donkey and the road. Cloaks were of great importance. The cloak was so important to the owner that it would never have been loaned out to someone else. Compare it to something important to you like your home, car, or favorite dress or suit. Hence the parable when Jesus says when one asks for you tunic, give him your cloak as well [Matthew 5:40-42].

The disciples did not understand the purposes of the events that day, until after Jesus death and resurrection. Now the Pharisees completely misunderstand what is happening. Their pride blinded them, and they refused to bow to Jesus ‘the blasphemer.’ In disgust they mumble to each other, “Look, the world has gone after Him!” [12:19] In the crowd, Greeks gathered with the join the crowd, which is ironic proof that the world had come to see Jesus.

The idea of world (kosmos) in John is not a negative term [3:16–19]. Neither is it just geographical, but it’s a reference to the population or people of the world. Jesus is called the light of the world [1:9; 8:12] and “the Savior of the World” [4:42]. His coming into the world [1:10] was to take away the sin of the people of the world [1:29]. But because of hard hearts and rejection, the coming of Jesus also meant the judgment of the world [9:39].

Within a few days those same crowds shouting “Hosanna!” would shout, “Crucify Him!” Jesus knew what was about to happen. The Pharisees would get the upper hand. The people would be fickle and follow their leaders. And Jesus would be rejected and crucified. And within a generation the city of Jerusalem would be obliterated,

“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying,  “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 44 and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” [Luke 19:41-44]

This is sobering news for Jerusalem. But it made way for the good news to reach the ends of the earth [John 3:16].

In Luke 19:39 the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” But He answered and said to them,  “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” [Luke 19:40] How can stones cry out that Jesus is Lord? All nature, just by being, testifies about the God who made the world.

Do you remember pet rocks? Companies must have made a millions selling rocks with felt feet and beady little eyes. It’s silly to think that a rock could talk, much less shout the praises of Christ. But if you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains, you realize that the rocks do cry out praises to their creator. All of His creation makes His presence and praise known. Why would mankind, the crown of His creation, choose to be silent? He’s called you to be His witness to the world!

3. As a witness of Jesus, God honors your service with unfathomable extravagance [John 12:23-26]

These verses mark a turning point in Jesus ministry. He sounds the alarm saying, “My hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.”[2] Using an agricultural story of a dying seed that gives life to the following years harvest, so Jesus must die in order for the world to have eternal life. Only by understanding Jesus’ death and resurrection can you make sense out of what seems to be the senseless waste of life. Jesus will sacrifice His life so that all may have life.

Jesus is not just talking about Himself but is giving a template for everyone of His followers. Following Jesus may involve the ultimate cost of discipleship, namely the death of the disciple. There are hard things in these verses for Jesus followers. It is not easy to die to sin and self, hate you life in this world, follow Christ, and serve Him. But there are glorious things for followers who do hard things for His name sake. If you die, you bear much fruit. If you hate your life you will keep it for eternity. If you follow Christ you will be where He is and He will be there too. And if you serve Christ the Father will honor you.

If you had 7 days to live how would you make His name known? How would you spend and be spent for the sake of His fame? The way you live the last week of you life reveals your priorities or what you value. When Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he knew when he would die he responded, “If I thought the world were going to end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.” He gets to the heart of the matter, that when the end comes the Lord should catch you doing the things you were called to do all along.

There is great honor for serving in your church. No matter if you are a deacon, Sunday school teacher, nursery helper, or sanctified toilet scrubber, God is honored with selfless service. There is great honor in sharing your faith out loud to your unbelieving classmates, coworkers, and family members. As Jim Elliott said and lived to his death, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Mark was part of a team of two families serving Muslims. Late in August, the team received death threats. The families were evacuated, but Mark stayed for one last meeting with believers before joining them. The night after the meeting while at home preparing his dinner, Mark was shot. He was discovered the next morning in his home, but he had lost too much blood to survive. At his passing, Mark left a young wife and two infant twin daughters. Mark’s agency feared the possibility of legal action from Mark’s father, who was not a believer and who vocally opposed his son’s service among Muslims. But at Mark’s funeral, Mark’s father was among fifteen people who gave their lives to Christ. His wife plans to minister in the same region where her husband was killed.

I think of the five men who lost their lives in Ecuador to reach the Auca Indians. A wife and a sister returned to the village and the wife raised her daughter among the tribe that killed their husband. Many in the tribe converted because of the similarity between Christ sacrifice and the five men. The risk versus rewards for extravagantly following Christ is literally out of this world. You are guaranteed to be an heir of everything that God has created and eternally be at home with Him. God is lavishly, excessively, exuberantly, graciously, outrageously loving. In a word, He is extravagant. When His extravagance registers in your hearts and minds, extravagant devotion flows towards Him.


[1] Cf. Revelation 4:11; 5:8-14; 7:9-10; 15:4

[2] Cf. 2:4; 4:21, 23; 7:30; 8:20; 16:4; 13:1; 17:1

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