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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 27, 2018
In our last study, Jesus was approaching Jerusalem after healing the blind men in Jericho and seeing the repentance of Zaccheus’ and staying at his home. See: (The Impossible Salvation of a Rich Tax Collector) He told a parable about stewardship (Luke 19:11-28) to encourage His followers to be faithful in serving the Lord after He would ascend to heaven and to caution those who might be complacent about the consequences. Those who are faithful will receive a reward while those who are not will lose want they do have. He also warned his enemies about their future destruction if they did not repent. See: (Working While Waiting)
This morning we are going to see the varying responses to Jesus as He nears Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. The response that different people have to Jesus Christ has always been mixed as we have seen throughout our study of the life of Christ. We also see varied responses when we tell others about our Lord. Some respond with raptured interest and others with utter disregard. Some respond favorably while others have disdain that you even dared to mention Jesus to them.
As we examine the various reactions to Jesus in these passages, I want you to consider your own response to Jesus? Which group do you identify with? Do you actively demonstrate your love to Jesus with sacrificial giving of yourself and what belongs to you, or perhaps your attitude is that God owes you rather than the other way around? Are you curious about Jesus and all that He has done? What efforts have you made to discover more about Him? I don’t think that there would be anyone here that would fit the group that actively hates Jesus openly, but perhaps there are those here that do resent Jesus and have had a passive hatred for Him. Which group do you fit in?
Wondering Pilgrims (John 11:55-56).
John makes a summary statement that gives a sense of the anticipation that was building at this time. 55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover, to purify themselves. 56 Therefore they were seeking for Jesus, and were saying to one another, as they stood in the temple, “What do you think; that He will not come to the feast at all?” Many pilgrims would go to Jerusalem in advance so they could complete purification rites before Passover actually began. Jesus was on the minds of the multitudes and they were curious and looking for Him, but not finding Him, they began to wonder among themselves if Jesus would come. The form of the question assumes that He would not come. Why would they think Jesus might choose to miss the Passover celebration? Because of the actions described in the next verse.
Waiting Conspirators (John 11:57)
Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him. They were actively plotting on how they might kill Jesus ever since Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead a few weeks prior (John 11:47-53). They want to put their plan to murder Jesus into action, but they also wanted to give it the appearance of legality by having Him arrested first.
Was Jesus afraid of this? No. He knew what was going to happen (Matthew 20:18-19), but He rested in the sovereign plan of God. We can too. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds it, and He loves us and will do what is right.
Staying in Bethany – John 12:1
Jesus did not go directly from Jerusalem to Jericho. John 12:1 states, “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.” Bethany is 15 stadia (John 11:18), about two miles, from the Temple in Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. It makes sense for Jesus to stay there for several reasons. First, because of the orders of the chief priests and Pharisees to report Jesus’ arrival to them, it was wise to be close to the Jerusalem without being in it. Second, Bethany was on the way from Jericho. Third, as noted, this is the village of Jesus’ good friend Lazarus whom He had raised from the dead only a short time earlier. Lazarus, along with his sisters, Mary and Martha, had hosted Jesus before (Luke 10:38), and it appears that they hosted Him again in the week leading up to Passover since Jesus and the disciples would return to Bethany after being in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:17; Mark 11:11).
The text also notes that this is six days before the Passover. Figuring out the actual day from this is not as easy it you might suppose. The Galileans calculated Passover to be a day earlier than the Judeans. Recognizing that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, a Sunday, then counting three days inclusively means He was crucified on Friday. That was Passover according to Judean reckoning, but Jesus ate Passover according to the Galilean reckoning the evening before, our Thursday, and instituted the ordinance of Communion. This difference plus the method of counting the days produces several possibilities about when Jesus arrived in Bethany ranging from Friday to Sunday with the feast being held either Saturday or Sunday evening and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem occurring the next day (John 12:12). This is one of those issues in which even those who may have strong opinions about the proper calculations should be gracious with those holding other views since it is very confusing.
2 So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining [at the table] with Him. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
John gives a brief description of this supper with emphasis upon Lazarus being there since he figures prominently in the demonstration that Jesus is the Son of God. However, this supper is held at the home of Simon the leper according to Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14:3. Simon had probably been healed by Jesus at an earlier time otherwise he would have been unclean and would not have been hosting such a dinner. Jesus’ disciples are also present (Matthew 26:8), but John makes no mention of them since they are not important to the point of his account of the events. Martha is busy helping with the serving. It would appear that hospitality was one of Martha’s gifts, for she was doing the same thing in Luke 10. Martha is a doer and likes to give of herself in serving others. Neither Matthew nor Mark mention Mary by name, but John does with this near context indicating that this Mary is the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Mary also likes to give, but from what we know of her from Luke 10, she is more contemplative. We find her giving to the Lord in a different way in verse 3.
John connects verses 2 and 3 with a “therefore” indicating the motivation of Mary’s action. She is grateful to the Lord for raising her brother Lazarus from the dead who even at that moment was there reclining at the table with Jesus. It is a heart filled with joy and love that prompts this beautiful act.
Mary takes a Roman pound (about 12 ounces) of a very precious and costly perfume made from pure nard. Nard is an aromatic herb grown in the high pasture-land of the Himalayas, between Tibet and India. Harvesting this plant in such a remote location, processing it and then transporting it to Israel would have made this an extremely precious perfume. The value of it is expressed as well in Matthew in that he points out that it was in an Alabaster jar, which in itself would have been expensive. In verse 5 Judas Iscariot estimates its monetary cost at 300 denarii. A denarius was the common wage for a full day’s labor. This perfume was worth what the average laboring man would have earned in a full year. To give you a little perspective, a worker who makes just $10 per hour earns $24,000 in 300 days of labor.
While this indicates that Lazarus, Martha and Mary were well off financially, it does not diminish in any way the value of this perfume to Mary. Her actions were an expression of her great love and gratitude for the Lord returning her brother back to life.
What Mary does here is remarkable. Matthew and Mark also give an account of her actions with each one stressing slightly different aspects of what she did. Matthew and Mark both point out that the perfume was in an alabaster jar. Mark remarks that she broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head (Mark 14:3). It is John that points out the amount of perfume which was so much that she also anointed Jesus’ feet with it to such an extent that she needed to wipe off the excess, which she did with her hair. No wonder the house was filled with the fragrance of this perfume.
The significance of what Mary did is somewhat lost to us because we live in a different climate and culture. Our culture has high standards of hygiene, and our climate has an abundance of water allowing people to bathe frequently and stay fairly clean. In that culture with limited water supply, bathing the whole body was not as frequent as in our society. Add in the fact that they had to walk everywhere in a fairly warm climate, and it is easy to see that people might not smell very pleasant. Perfumes helped, but they were expensive. Anointing someone with perfume was a gracious and kind act.
It was also the common custom to wash a guest’s feet. They would be dirty from walking the dusty roads in sandals. It was also very refreshing. To also anoint the feet with perfume would be exceptional. But consider as well that Mary wiped the excess perfume with her hair.
In that culture it would have been an impropriety for Mary to have even loosened her hair in the presence of men much less use it to wipe a man’s feet. But Mary allows her heart to speak freely. She is not concerned with what other people think. She is only concerned about giving to Jesus. Mary loves Jesus and she gives to Him her best as a demonstration of that love.
What is your love for Jesus like? Ladies, would you have been willing to take your most expensive perfume and pour it out on Jesus like that? Men, how would you have reacted if it was your sister that did that? That alabaster jar of pure nard would have been very precious to Mary, but she poured it out as an act of love for Jesus. What would you willingly sacrifice in such an act of love to Jesus?
Not everyone present recognized this act of love by Mary. John 12:4-6, 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, ^said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii, and given to poor [people]?” 6 Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Matthew and Mark do not mention Judas by name and instead attribute it generically to some of the disciples. What John states indicates that Judas was the instigator whose question, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” has a certain pragmatic ring to it that was then picked up by the others disciples. Matthew and Mark both state that they became indignant, ajganaktevw / aganaket , to be annoyed with a sense of anger over something that is perceived to be wrong. Mark states they were remarking to each other, “Why has this perfume been wasted?” Matthew simply reports they were saying, “Why this waste?” They then repeat Judas’ argument about how the nard could have been sold for a lot of money which could have been given to the poor. They would have considered that to be something worthwhile, a real ministry, but they thought anointing Jesus with it was a waste.
They were not only clueless as to the meaning and purpose of what Mary did, but they were also judgmental about something they had no right to judge. The nard belonged to Mary and it was completely up to her to do with it whatever she wanted to do. It was hers to use for herself, to give away in portions or in whole as she desired, or to sell and do whatever she wanted with the money.
Peter pointed out this principle to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. They sold a piece of property and gave part of it to the apostles to use as needed. The problem was that Ananias lied to make it seem like he gave the full price of the property so that he might receive praise for what he did. Peter said to him, While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control. Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” This principle is also expressed in 2 Corinthians 9:7 when it comes to giving – “Each one (gives) just as he had purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
The nard belonged to Mary and she could do what she wanted with it as she purposed in her own heart, and they had no right to criticize her for what she did. I doubt they would have been indignant if she had only used a little on herself or shared with her sister that evening. They would probably have appreciated the pleasant smell of these two women in their midst. I doubt they would have been indignant if she has used the nard in any other common way. In fact, they would not have even known she had such an expensive bottle of perfume except that she used it as she did. Instead, they became indignant because she did not use the nard the way they thought best as if they owned it or had a say in its use.
The tragedy of the disciples’ criticism is two fold. First is the fact that they criticized Mary for doing such a kindness to Jesus. Think about that for a moment. They considered her anointing Jesus with the perfume to be a waste? They had proclaimed before that they believed that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). They seem to have forgotten His identity and value. God is to be loved with all your heart, soul and mind (Matt. 22:37). It was not a waste to use all of the nard on Jesus. He was worthy of that and so much more.
The second tragedy is that they were so easily led astray by a greedy individual. John is quick to point out the character of Judas Iscariot introducing him in the story as the one that would betray Jesus and by specifically pointing out the greed in Judas’ heart. Judas was not concerned about the poor. His only thought was what he might be able to pilfer from the money box. Judas was a thief. He was the treasurer for Jesus and the disciples. They trusted him to be honest with the money that was given to them to pay for their living expenses. There is no indication that Judas was ever confronted and rebuked for his embezzlement. Even on the night that Judas left the last supper to betray Jesus to the Pharisees, the other disciples just thought that he had left to give alms to the poor since he was the treasurer (John 13:29). It would appear that John figured out the true character of Judas after he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
Judas was evil and looking for personal monetary gain. The other disciples were not like Judas, but they were easily led astray by his pragmatic argument which fed their false ideas about propriety and what it means to serve God. They, like the Pharisees, viewed giving to the poor as superior to a direct act of worship. Human pragmatism distorted what was really important resulting in them acting just like the Pharisees in being judgmental of Mary.
I hope you realize that Christians today are still falling for the same deceptions for the social gospel, both the charitable version and the current justice version, are built on this same type of pragmatic premise. It gives the impression of being benevolent and kind in promoting a greater good, but it is a false piety with tragic results.
Forced socialism impoverishes people economically and morally as they become dependent on government handouts instead of working to supply for themselves and those in need (Ephesians 4:28). True charity is voluntarily given out of compassion for those who are in need. The one giving decides what they want to give and to whom they want to give. If giving is forced, it is a tax and not charity. Charity is flexible to adjust quickly in both amount and forms of giving. Entitlements coerced by taxation robs the productive to give to the unproductive and quickly empowering government control over the lives of both giver and receiver. It discourages the productive since it robs them of the fruit of their labor and ability to give as they desire, and it gives a disincentive to those receiving from becoming productive to improve their situation. Despite the very expensive government social welfare programs developed in our own country, their legacy is destruction of family structure without reducing poverty. When Biblical principles of economics are ignored, we should not be surprised at the negative outcome.
The current clamor about “social justice” is actually a call for injustice since it judges people according to their heritage. Ezekiel 18:20 is clear this is wrong. “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” Blaming people for what their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents may or may not have done is simply wrong. And if prejudice was wrong in previous generations because someone had an abundance of melanin in their skin, it is just as wrong today to be prejudice because someone lacks it. And this is without even getting into how ridiculous their reasoning becomes when you consider the people whose ancestors were not here when the supposed historic injustices took place or the people whose heritage traces to both sides of a conflict of long ago. For example, I’m just glad my Yankee ancestors did not kill my Southern ancestors until after they had children or I would not have been born.
The greater tragedy in this is the many professing Christians that are falling for reasoning that sounds good on its surface but has its origin in those who are evil. We are not to be like the disciples that fell for Judas’ pragmatic assertion and began to repeat it themselves ignorant of both the origin and actual consequences. We are to consider the whole counsel of God in both being charitable and advocating for true justice which reflects the character of God himself and not the latest political winds blowing across the land.
It must also always be kept in mind that all charitable efforts and all advocation for justice must also be done with proper motives and never as a substitute for true worship. Good works are to be done for God’s glory, not man’s (Matthew 5:16). Meeting needs and making people more comfortable in this life has little value if they are not also being prepared for eternity. Jesus asked, “What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world yet forfeited his soul” (Matthew 16:26)?
Jesus rebukes Judas and with him the other disciples in John 12:7-8 which also reveals the superiority of what Mary did compared to what they were advocating. Jesus therefore said, “Let her alone, in order that she may keep it for the day of My burial. 8 “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.”
John only gives a brief paraphrase of what Jesus said. Matthew 26:10-13 records it more fully saying, 10 “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. 11 “For the poor you have with you always; but you do not always have Me. 12 “For when she poured this perfume upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. 13 “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.” Mary had understood what Jesus had said on previous occasions about His approaching death while the twelve seemed to remain oblivious to it (Matthew 20:17-28).
Her anointing of Jesus was in anticipation of His death and burial. It was an act of selfless and sacrificial worship arising from her great love for Jesus, and it was an act far superior to giving alms to the poor. She gained nothing for herself from it in contrast to the inherent idea among the Jews that giving alms to the poor was also a benefit to person giving the alms. That is why Jesus had to make a stern correction of their practice in Matthew 6:1-4 that it be done for God’s glory and not their own. Perhaps it would be good to examine your own heart in your giving as to its true motivation. Too often we will give to causes that will give us some benefit from it and yet are hesitant to do so when we will not. Parents will give a lot if it will benefit their children. Generally, it is easier to raise money for special projects that have some perceived benefit to us and more difficult to raise money for things that have no personal benefit.
Jesus also added a statement that these pragmatic disciples would understand. The opportunity to do good directly to Jesus would soon be gone, but there would always be opportunity to do good for poor people because they would always be around. Those involved in political science should also take note of this truth. There is no human political or economic system that can eliminate poverty. At best, a political and economic system can only encourage the development of wealth so people can help the poor while diminishing the causes of poverty including unrighteous behavior.
Jesus’ rebuke silenced the disciples from further attacks on Mary and her actions. What Mary did was an act of selfless and sacrificial worship. It would be an act that would be recounted in memory of her wherever the gospel message would go in the future.
Curiosity & Hatred (John 12:9-11)
John now changes the scene to what is happening outside the house. Remember that Bethany is only a short distance away from Jerusalem. News of His arrival would have spread rapidly even on a Sabbath. With the Sabbath restrictions on travel now ending, many would seek to have their curiosity satisfied.
Curiosity (John 12:9)
The great multitude therefore of the Jews learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead.
They came not only to see Jesus, but also Lazarus because of the miracle performed upon him. Those that lived less than a Sabbath day’s journey may have come earlier, but now there is a large crowd of people that have come. These would have been the pilgrims that had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations. The same ones that had been asking among themselves if Jesus would come to Jerusalem (11:55-57).
People are still the same today. They will go out of their way to have their curiosity satisfied. That can be a good thing if used properly, and it is often the attraction at evangelistic events.
Hatred (John 12:10-11)
Some were not curious. They only had hatred for Jesus and now that hatred was spilling over to those associated with Jesus, and especially anyone that would be a cause for people to believe in Jesus.
10 But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus to death also; 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away, and were believing in Jesus.
Lazarus would have to be considered passive in this. The people were not believing in Jesus because Lazarus was some great orator and convincing them of the truth. The very fact that He was alive was evidence enough that there was something different about Jesus. Only the Son of God, the promised Messiah could raise a man from the dead. The hatred of the ungodly chief priests was looking for a way to be vented in vile persecution of anyone that threatened their popularity and power. Lazarus was now also a target.
Those who are in Satan’s kingdom hate those that are in God’s kingdom. Our presence threatens’ their kingdom. Those who are evil hate those who are righteous simply because we exist. Our very lives demonstrate the wickedness of their lives. That is why Jesus warned all His followers that in this world we would have tribulation (John 16:33), that we would be hated for His sake and lied about, slandered and persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12). Yet, since He has overcome the world, we can rejoice even in the midst of the persecution, for so they treated Jesus and the prophets before us.
Lazarus was now the target of their wicked murder plot, but Lazarus had nothing to fear. Remember, for Lazarus, death was something “been there, done that.” Death could not keep him earlier because Jesus had other plans for him. Death would not keep him in the future either. We have the same hope and promises given to Lazarus. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). That is a precious and wonderful promise. It has been our comfort this pass week as we have mourned and remembered our brother Kenny Steier. (See: https://gracebibleny.org/when-tragedy-strikes-kenneth-steier-selected-scriptures) I hope it is a promise that applies to you as well, but if not, then talk with myself or one of our leaders today because it can be.
What is your response to Jesus? Is it a selfless and sacrificial love like Mary? If so, praise God and continue to worship and serve Him. And remember, that love for Jesus is best demonstrated by obedience to Him (John 14:15, 21-24).
I pray no one here would be like greedy Judas who followed Jesus in an effort to gain for Himself, but if so, then it is time to repent. If you are more like the other disciples who were foolishly led astray and criticized Mary, then accept Jesus’ rebuke and follow Mary’s pattern. For us, life is to be about the glory of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you are like one of the curious multitude. If so, I pray you will soon see and also believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior. Again, talk with myself or one of our other church leaders. We would love to introduce you to Jesus.
Jesus has been teaching and performing miracles as He steadily made His way to ___________for Passover
People have always responded in ____________ ways to Jesus. What is your response to Him?
Wondering Pilgrims – John 11:55-56
The pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem wondered if Jesus would come to ____________ or not
Waiting Conspirators – John 11:57
The chief priests and Pharisees were waiting for Jesus’ arrival in order to carry out their plot to _______Him
Jesus stays in _________because it was on the way from Jericho, near Jerusalem, and the village of Lazarus
He arrives in Bethany 6 days before Passover – which could be calculated to be Friday, _________or Sunday
John emphasizes the presence of ____________because he is a testimony to Jesus being the Son of God
The supper was served at the home of ___________the leper – someone Jesus would have healed earlier
___________ is busy helping with the serving – apparently she was given to hospitality
Context identifies Martha’s sister, _________, pouring out a pound (12 oz) of very expensive nard on Jesus
Breaking the alabaster jar, she pours the perfume on ________head and feet wiping the excess with her hair
This was an act of ______________kindness to a guest – a demonstration of grace and love
Judas’ observation had a certain _____________ring that was foolishly picked up by the other disciples
They were clueless as to the meaning and purpose of what Mary did and wrongly ____________her for it
They would not have been indignant if Mary used her nard in any ____________ way
They criticized Mary for doing a kindness – and pronounced its use on Jesus to be “a __________.”
They were led __________by a greedy individual because it matched their wrong understanding of worship
Christians are still led astray by the _______________of the social gospel because it sounds good and kind
Forced socialism _________________people economically and morally being contrary to Ephesians 4:28
Socialism ______________production by stealing the fruit of labor to supply the needs of the lazy
The clamor for “social justice” is a call for ____________ for it is contrary to Ezekiel 18:20
Prejudice is wrong whether it is ____________________ the amount of melanin in your skin
We must fall for Judas’ like assertions – we must follow the principles of _____________charity & justice
We are to do all for the glory of ____, and providing social needs without the gospel has only temporal value
Mary understood what Jesus said about His upcoming __________and anointed Him in anticipation of that
Pragmatically, Jesus would soon be gone, but they would _____________have the poor among them
Human economic systems cannot _____________poverty, only encourage wealth development for its relief
Curiosity (John 12:9)
They came to see Jesus and _____________ whom He raised from the dead
People are naturally curious and that can be used to ______________ them to hear the truth of the gospel
Hatred (John 12:10-11)
They hated Lazrus and wanted to murder him too because he was __________ that Jesus is the Son of God
Those in Satan’s kingdom ___________ the righteous because our existence exposes their evil
We should strive to love and ____________the Lord like Mary
You need to _________ if you are greedy like Judas, led astray like the disciples or hateful like the Pharisees
The curious should pursue the __________ and get their questions answered.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the name “Mary” is said. 2) Discuss with your parents what Mary did to Jesus and what it meant. Do you love Jesus like she did?
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the Biblical context of John 12? What is the historical context? Why is it difficult to determine exactly when Jesus arrived in Bethany? What was done for Him the next day? Who else was present? Why does John specifically mention Lazarus among the many guests? How do the personalities of Martha and Mary differ? How did each seek to demonstrate their love for Jesus? Why is what Mary did in anointing Jesus with the perfume so remarkable? Why did Mary do it? What was Judas’ interest? Why did the other disciples join in the criticism of Mary? Do you identify more with Mary or the disciples? What sort of things do you give to freely? What sort of good things are harder for you to give too? Why? Search the Bible on the topic of helping the poor then answer this question: What responsibility do you have toward the poor? How are you fulfilling (planning to fulfill) that responsibility? In what ways is forced socialism contrary to the Scriptures? In what ways is the current call for “social justice” actually a call for injustice? How does it differ from true justice? What is the balance in the Christian life between good works, proclaiming the truth and worshiping God? How can you use people’s natural curiosity to further the cause of Christ among the people you know? Why did the chief priests hate Jesus so much? Why wouldn’t Lazarus need to fear their threat? Should you fear those who hate you? Why or why not?
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