The heart of worship is a worshipping heart

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We’re in John chapter 12 and this is a moment where Jesus has a choice to make. He’s done a bunch of miracles. He has fed the multitudes. He has brought the dead back to life again and now there’s a fatwa, a religious death order from the High Priest. If anybody sees him turn him in, we’re going to kill him because this guy is causing too much trouble and Jesus has had a moment that he has a choice to make.


In fact, I was just reading this bible book about this choice that Jesus had to make way back in John 6. Jesus starts to deliver to the crowds a bunch of food and they decide “We like this guy, we want this guy to become our commanding general and lead a revolt that will kick the Romans out of our land to be a free nation again.” They try to force him to take the lead and Jesus steps away and says, “I’m not going to be that kind of leader for you.”


Then, Jesus preaches a very unpopular message and John tells us that when people hear Jesus’s message about discipleship. Even some of his own followers say, “if that’s what it takes to follow, Jesus, I’m not following him anymore.” And even some of his closest followers left.


Jesus is now at this moment where he has a choice to make, “I can go into hiding and I can save my own neck or I can step into the limelight and save many who are hopelessly helplessly in their sins and let’s just be honest.”


If Jesus chooses the selfish route you and I have no hope for heaven. Jesus chose, “I’m going to put myself in danger. I’m going to put my life on the line, ultimately, we’ll see pretty soon, I will give my life up for those who have no hope of heaven.” And Jesus starts to demonstrate his heart.


Today’s sermon is all about worship. I can give it to you in one simple statement here, the heart of worship always boils down to your heart.

The heart of worship is a worshipping heart

It basically boils down to a worshiping heart, you and Jesus in heaven alone, know what your heart is like when you’re worshiping him, nobody else around you. Even your closest friend or your spouse does not know what is going on in your heart right now. Today, I will open the bible up from John chapter 12 and you’re going to see a beautiful, perhaps one of the most beautiful expressions of worship found anywhere in the bible and it comes from a woman who just lays her heart bare before Jesus, a woman by the name of Mary.

Worship requires total sacrifice to the Father

She describes how a heart of worship is a total sacrifice. You can’t really hold anything back. Worship requires a total sacrifice to the Father.


Jesus has just done a big miracle and restored Mary’s brother Lazarus to her. And Mary and Martha decided to throw a party in Jesus’s honor and invited Jesus to this dinner banquet. John 12, starting in verse one, six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus.


In case you missed chapter 11, Lazarus is the man that Jesus raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor, Martha served and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a 12 ounce jar of expensive perfume made from the essence of nard and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it and wiped his feet with her hair and then the house was filled with fragrance.


In John chapter 12 Jesus is back in the town of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He’s just done this great miracle and called Lazarus out of the grave. This man who is dead for four days is now alive. He is so alive that he’s hungry and he’s eating a meal with Jesus. Martha, the sister is worshiping Jesus by serving great ways to worship. Mary, on the other hand, does something mind-blowing and by the way, there is nothing compelling her to do this. There is no obligation to do what she does for Jesus.

 John 12: 1-3

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

She takes this expensive jar of spices and pours them all and dumps them out on Jesus’ feet. In Jesus’ day, by the way, all good spices were like Bitcoin. Literally, they were so rare, so valuable, they were small and that means that they were able to be transferred easily when you were on a journey or on a trip. So if you wanted to take your life savings with you, you convert them into some very precious spices and you carry those spices along with you. Everywhere you went people bought and sold spices so you could buy spices when you left and sell them when you arrived.


Have you ever heard the phrase not worth his salt? Have you guys heard that phrase before? That phrase is describing how much spices played a role in Jesus’ day.


The Romans used to pay for day labor with spice. They would pay for somebody’s labor with salt and a measure of salt was how much work you did. So when we use the phrase not worth your salt, it’s basically saying you don’t deserve the pay that you’re getting, but salt was the payment method. A lot of people discuss where did this very expensive spice come from? This is essentially a year’s worth of wages that Mary just dumps on Jesus’ feet and then she takes it a step further. She does something shocking, a little bit scandalous and it left such a huge impact on John who was probably in the room that day.


Mary dumps what’s equivalently her life savings on Jesus’ feet. There’s a big argument about where this expensive spice came from, where did this money come from? Some people think it actually may have been her dowry, what she would use to secure a husband, meaning she just gave her entire future away when she dumped it at the feet of Jesus. And then she took it a step further by falling at his feet and wiping his feet with her hair.  

What you’re reading in the bible right now is absolute total surrender. She is holding nothing back from Jesus and when God’s people worship him, he expects us to worship him and hold nothing back.


 If you read the old testament, you’re going to read more than once where God says, don’t even bother coming to me with your sacrifices and don’t even bother showing up in the temple and don’t come to me in prayer when your hearts are far from me, because I don’t want that kind of sacrifice. You can just stay at home if your heart is far from me.


In the new testament, Jesus makes it even more graphic, he says in revelation. If you have a lukewarm heart, meaning your heart is on something else. When your actions are at the church, coming to worship Jesus, he says, I want to vomit you out of my mouth.



If that’s the kind of worship that you give me. And what the bible is describing from beginning to end is God is expecting His people to worship him with a totally surrendered heart. And here’s the problem. If you’re anything like me, it’s almost impossible to be totally focused on anything at one time. You probably need God’s help to worship him the way he expects us to worship him.

Your heart must be joined with Jesus

Aligned with Jesus, must be in connection with Jesus, if you’re going to be able to worship him, right? See John chapter 12. It’s a picture of Mary’s heart, but we don’t just get a chance to see Mary’s heart.


We actually get a chance to see Judas’ heart and Jesus’ Heart. In John chapter 12, listen to Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, and how he reacts to this event when Mary dumps her life savings on Jesus’s feet, but Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said that perfume was worth a year’s worth of wages. It should have been sold for the money and given to the poor and then John tells us something about Judas’ heart, it’s not that he cared about the poor, Judas was a thief and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some of Jesus’ money for himself.


Mary shows up doing something beautiful, something pure and something that comes from an absolute total surrender and all Judas can think about is his own pockets. In fact, Judas starts to criticize this very pure, very beautiful thing that Mary does and I wish this wasn’t the case. But there are still people like Judas in the church today who criticize your actions without thinking about your heart, don’t get me wrong. Your actions are important. But the heart behind the actions is infinitely more important than the actions themselves.


Unfortunately, even in our church, occasionally, somebody will creep in. They are critical and like to condemn you because of your actions. Do you know what I like to call people like that who find themselves 2 Cities Church? I like to refer to them as former members of 2 Cities Church. It’s time for you to go find another church if you’re going to be a jerk like Judas because you can’t see the heart behind the actions. Nor can I, so don’t get all wrapped around the axle about the actions when you and I don’t know the heart behind the actions.


Judas is following Jesus for what he can get out of him, meaning Judas is the kind of person who when he’s in trouble, runs to Jesus. But when there’s no trouble, he totally forgets about him. Judas is the kind of person who prays. He’s got a laundry list of things that he’s asking for Jesus from Jesus. But there is nothing that he is trying to do for Jesus, Judas is not about making disciples. Judas is not about following the way, Judas is all about, “What can I get out of this thing?”

John 12: 4-6 

But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.

Judas is a heart out of alignment with Jesus, a heart that is not joined together with Jesus. We’re going to get into much greater detail. I get really frustrated. I get really, really, really frustrated when church people take the word worship, which is a verb and they turned it into a noun and instead of becoming what we do with our hearts, it becomes a synonym for singing a couple of songs in a church on a Sunday morning. That’s turning a verb into a noun.


There are a couple of reasons why I get really, really frustrated with this one. It’s because it confuses the word and now the word really doesn’t mean anymore what it was originally intended to mean. And people who use that word are now using it in a way that it was never intended to mean worship is an act and therefore it’s a verb, it’s not a synonym for singing songs in a church.


The second reason it frustrates me is that it confuses and challenges our theology. Here’s what turns a verb into a noun. Turning the verb worship into a mound inevitably puts you at the center of worship and your language starts to become worshiped. Worship is always and only about God, the father, the son, and the holy spirit. So when we confuse the word and turn the verb into a noun, we also start to put ourselves at the center of worship instead of putting the King of kings. It’s not just that it confuses the meaning and it complicates the theology. It actually cheapens the act and now it’s no longer this beautiful pure thing that God really intended for his people when he required worship of us.  Worship of our great God deserves our full and total attention.


Can I tell you how much I struggle with this? I get up pretty early in the morning and I try to spend time with Jesus. It’s my daily act of worship and I try to get up before anything else happens at the start of my day. Some days, my days start really early. So I’m talking about at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, I spend about 30 minutes. I’ve been doing this for decades, I’ll read some scripture, typically I’ll read a little bit of theology and I’ll also read some church history, and then I spend some time praying. And you would think at this unholy hour in the morning, at 3:30 or 4:00 o’clock in the morning where there’s absolutely nothing going on in the dark.


Just me and Jesus that I’d really be able to focus my thoughts and my attention on Jesus. You’d be able to think that, but in reality, what typically ends up happening is I’m reading a couple of verses from scripture And I’ll even remember what I read three seconds later I’m praying and I don’t even know what’s coming out of my heart because my heart is all over the map. And I kind of feel like from time to time, God is like, hey Jeff, why don’t you just get back to me whenever you’re actually focused on me? Because right now, it seems like you’ve got your mind and your heart on a whole lot of other things. So just get back in touch with me whenever you’re really focused and I have 100% of your heart. Even at 3:30 in the morning, after decades of doing this, I still feel a heart that is being tugged toward what’s happening around me instead of focusing on my Father. Judas should have been a man, totally focused on Jesus, but he wasn’t, he was focused on himself and he tried to use the town of Bethany as an opportunity to put a little bit of money in his pocket.


Dawn and I had this amazing opportunity. Just last week, we just got back two days ago from Israel, we spent just a couple of days there and when we were in Israel. I learned something about the town of Bethany that I would like you to hear which makes the act, the comment that Judas makes at this moment in the town of Bethany, maybe it makes a little bit more sense to you.


Judas sees an opportunity. He’s surrounded by poor people and this woman has just poured out a life’s savings on Jesus’  feet and Judas thought I could have taken some of this money for myself. And Judas’ heart is twisted and because Judas’ heart is twisted, his actions are also going to be twisted. I wish I could tell you that when I get up in the morning 30 minutes and I’m spending that time of worship with Jesus, my heart is always focused and it’s always on him, but it’s not. And I think I’m telling you this because if you find yourself wrestling with thoughts that are wandering or if you’re wrestling with prayers that sound like they’re all over the map, join the club, I’m right there with you, but I do have a challenge for you this week And here’s my challenge.


Would you spend 30 minutes? It may not feel perfect. It may feel like you’re all over the map. It may feel like your heart is really struggling and being pulled in multiple directions. But would you just make a commitment that you will spend 30 minutes worshiping Jesus every day this week? Would you make that commitment? You see you don’t have to do it early in the morning as I do, You can do it at lunchtime, you can do it later in the day. By reading the bible, you can spend a few moments reading the bible and journaling. Maybe you spend a few minutes praying and listening to music. Maybe you’re going to spend a few moments reading some devotionals, or maybe you spend just a few moments a day serving people. Maybe for you, it’s all of the above. Doesn’t really matter. What I’m asking is would you get into the regular spiritual habit of daily worshiping, Jesus with no distractions and no other things competing for your mind or competing for your heart.


Because if you’re not careful, your heart may end up more like Judas than Mary because it’s being pulled towards thinking about yourself more than thinking about Jesus and what you see here so far in John chapter 12 is two incredibly stark contrast between this heart that’s totally surrendered to Jesus (Mary) and a heart that’s only focused on themselves (Judas).

Your actions must align with the Holy Spirit

John gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ heart when john reminds us that your actions really do have to line up with your heart and the Holy Spirit. And it’s the Holy Spirit that actually makes the heart line up with God’s heart.


So your actions need to line up with the Holy Spirit Mary does something at this moment. That is shocking and scandalous when she not only pours her life savings out on Jesus’ feet, but she wipes him with her, wipes his feet with her hair, Judas gets angry about it, but listen to Jesus’s reply to this event, Jesus replied, leave her alone, she did this in preparation for my burial.


You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me now, I just want to ask you how many of you in this room, believe that Mary knew that Jesus was about to die and go to the tomb when she poured these spices out on his feet. How many of you think Mary knew exactly what was coming up when she did this? No chances are she had no idea what was coming up in Jesus’ future when this happened, but she was being prompted to lay everything literally on Jesus’ feet and pour it out there.


And I really believe it’s the Holy Spirit that’s prompting Mary to go do something shocking and scandalous, so shocking that John wants you to hear about it 2000 years later and I really believe the Holy Spirit is prompting Mary and putting Mary in this position so that Mary can do something in preparation for Jesus death.


This is Jesus saying, I’ve decided I’m going to honor my Father, and honoring my Father is going to cost me everything. It’s actually going to cost me my life.


So, Jesus is declaring what’s about to happen to him next. Mary could have never possibly known this, but Mary is a woman who is sensitive to the Holy Spirit, which means she’s eliminating at least enough distractions in her life that she can hear from the Holy Spirit, not only is she hearing from the Holy Spirit but she’s got the courage to do what the Holy Spirit is prompting her to do.

 John 12: 7-8

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

And I kind of want to ask myself right now, if I felt the Lord saying, “Jeff I need you to give away your entire life savings, I need you to do it tonight and I need you to just dump it out on somebody else’s feet.” Would I be willing to do what Mary just did?


See, I think what the bible is describing for us right now is a woman that is so surrendered to the Holy Spirit, so sensitive to the Holy Spirit that of course, she’s going to follow what the Holy Spirit prompts her to do next, no matter how expensive, no matter how much this is going to cost her.


Mary does something for Jesus that she didn’t even understand when she was doing it. Jesus had to explain it to Judas and maybe to a few of the other disciples, as well, as they were sitting there with their minds absolutely blown about what just happened. Mary has totally surrendered to Jesus and she’s got a heart that is ready to worship when Jesus enters her house and is ready to lay everything before him and surrender it all to him. And sometimes it’s when we strip everything else in life away and the only thing that is left is us and Jesus, our heart and his spirit.