A Thing Of Beauty

A Thing Of Beauty

This week we give a warm welcome to the Llay Church of the Nazarene who are joining with us and taking part in our service.

The message is given by our Pastor Karl Stanfield, and can be listened to as audio using the LISTEN button above. An audio MP3 is also available via the SAVE button.

The Bible readings are taken from Isaiah 52:1-7 and Mark 14:1-10.

The service starts with a 15 minute countdown, where we share some news and announcements. Please use the scroll bar to skip straight through to the service/message if desired.

If you would like to support our ministry, all donations are thankfully received.

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Sermon Transcript:

The phrase that Isaiah used is, to us, a foreign cultural expression; here it is, ‘how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news…’. If we let our imagination run riot for a while, we could begin to understand what it might mean. For an individual today, it may be the results of a recent scan with the words, ‘you are now in remission…’

It is probably the longing of the entire world to hear that some hard-working and skilled scientists have a vaccine for COVID-19! On occasions, the news reminds us of tragedies around the world. Some have affected large numbers of people. Sometimes they are brought about by sheer evil and can be summed up in one word like ‘Srebrenica’ (the 25th anniversary remembered recently, where 8000 fell in ethnic cleansing); and that one word ‘ISIS’ – which sends a chill down our spine!

There are also been natural disasters like droughts or famines, referred to down the ages as “of biblical proportions”. I used to wonder why when a really bad thing happens it is linked to the Bible! The present pandemic has made me think of that phrase – ‘…of biblical proportions.

I thought about the seven years of famine in the days of Joseph, the three years of drought during the ministry of Elijah; and let’s not forget about the ten plagues of Egypt. All these brought whole nations under terrible onslaught for long periods. I was wondering if COVID-19 should be viewed in this way. I was pondering over the phrase, “biblical proportions” and how it is usually linked to national disasters.

We have had pandemic-like tragedies before; like the bubonic plague in Europe from the 14th century which wiped out half of Europe! We also had the plague in 17th Century England (the Black Death as it was called); and the Spanish flu (a century ago) which killed some fifty million people globally. It seems that these times of global tragedies are not yet at an end.

What surprises me the most is that COVID-19 happened in our generation in the 21st century, in our very modern, technological world. It has stopped us in our tracks; it has well and truly got our attention – we are all ears! Perhaps like me, you can also recall some of those scenes on a television broadcast from the famine in Biafra in the late 1960s which I remember watching as a teenager and wondering then, how can this be in our day and age?

As a child of 11, I remember the TV pictures of the Aberfan disaster, where torrential rain caused a slag heap, in the heart of the South Wales coalfield, to engulf the local primary school in the village of Aberfan with the death of 144! In writing this, the last thing I wanted to do was recall another disaster or spoil your day – as if we did not have enough bad news! The plus side of this, however, is that it also allows me to highlight another kind of biblical proportion, one that is generous, gracious, and full of mercy and abundant in goodness.

In short – it is without equal! I wanted to remind you of how God in his grace and mercy came to the rescue of whole nations. He returned his people from exile to their homeland in Judea. He kept his promise to bless the whole world through one man. God has sent healing upon us that reaches into our hearts and souls.

The kind of proportions we have with Jesus Christ is a cup which is described as ‘overflowing’; and that ‘with goodness and mercy all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the House of the Lord forever’. There was a film many years ago with the title, ‘The Good, the Bad and the ugly’. If we were to make an honest film of the story I have in mind, it would have to be ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful!

1. What a Waste!

There was one thing that drove this woman to do what she did, and it wasn’t utilitarianism either; what she did that day solely, and unashamedly, said to Jesus – ‘This is all for you!’ If she wanted to use it for ‘the greater good’, then she should have done what others had suggested. She should have sold it and given the money to help the poor.

There are radio programmes which, following a God spot, asks for donations to help some worthy cause every week! Such a general concept was not even remotely in her mind. She deemed this item of great personal value worthy for one thing alone! It would last only a few moments; some saw it as a mad extravagance. It was such a moment that we talk about it still! It was without calculation! It was all or nothing. It was a Holy moment, but as usual – some complained bitterly!

It was a God-ordained encounter, inspired, touching, love-filled and so focused, she wasn’t even aware of the angry eyes watching or poisoned tongues wagging. All she saw was her LORD. Her sacrifice caused her no hurt or regret… had she more, she would have given it. Here is the punch though; just as she gave up her most precious possession for one solitary Person, so Jesus gave up Himself – for ALL of us. There was no waste in her extravagant gift and certainly no waste in His either! Such acts of worship are never a waste! Secondly, an unforgettable quote from the Master,

2. It was a Beautiful Thing!

This is the quote verbatim; ‘Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me”’ (Mark 14:6). What she did for Jesus, was taken by Jesus Himself and couched this way; “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”’ (Mark 14:9)

And get this – the beauty of what this woman did stood in juxtaposed contrast to what happened next in verse 10, ‘Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.’ Have you ever ‘seen it’ in that light before? When we see what Judas did, we must use the words on him, ‘What a Waste’! He had walked with Jesus, seen his miracles, heard his words.

There is a double whammy here: Firstly, his waste laid side by side with her gift draws attention to her. And secondly, her sacrifice for Jesus makes his sacrifice for the world even more astounding! Her sacrifice draws our attention to Christ’s incomparable sacrifice! The hymn-writer puts it like this: ‘In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me.’

This act by a woman, in a society where men were predominant, was crucial given the very moment she did this – it the evening before Good Friday. Her acute spiritual timing is perfect, and her ability to highlight ‘first things first’ beckons us to stop and think hard. While not ignoring the plight of the poor, she was able to see how everything else was subordinate to the glorious and imminent death of Jesus! The real need of the hour was not the poor but the solitary Worship, Adoration and Anointing of the Lord Jesus. She was proclaiming the priceless treasure of the Good News to be discovered in the cross of Jesus – she had come to anoint him before his burial.

In terms of foreign cultural meanings, as I mentioned before, it was Jesus’ sacrifice that converted a demeaning symbol of death into a glorious symbol of life; more than that – a curse was transformed into something of incredible beauty – the Cross. Today, we speak and sing of the Cross as a thing of glory, beauty, and wonder. It didn’t use to be – but Jesus made it so! That’s what this woman saw – that is why she gave all! We will mark this beauty now by breaking bread together.