God says: I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
How do you know?
How do you know when God is at work?
How can you tell?
Mary knew. She had been watching Jesus for the weeks and months and years of their friendship. She had watched him closely.
Her sister Martha was the practical one. She got on with things. She always knew what to do next.
But Mary was fascinated. She wanted to see him, hear him. At first she stood behind the open door, listening in. And then she would creep in pretending to be working and listening at the edge. And then she didn’t care any more and just stayed to listen, sitting with the men at his feet.
Then Lazarus died, her brother, and Jesus was away at the time. By the time he got there, the funeral was over and the flowers were wilting. Both Martha and Mary, separately, told him straight: If you had been here, he wouldn’t have died. You are a healer. We know that. You would have healed him. But you can’t heal death. Death is beyond healing. Death is the end.
Then at the tomb he called for the stone to be rolled away. The smell! A dead body in a hot climate, three days gone. It is not pleasant. And he called the dead man to come out. And he did! Fully alive. Fully restored. Fully functioning.
The Jewish authorities didn’t like it at all. They mumbled away into their beards about the political ramifications. If the Roman Caesar is a god, then a peasant raising people from the dead as if he were God, that doesn’t go down too well.
I am about to do a new thing – do you not perceive it?
So they arranged a celebration dinner, a thank you to Jesus, a party, everyone invited. Martha was the practical one – she organised it, shopping, menu, invitations. Mary thought about the decorations. The dinner was great, but how do you say thankyou for a life restored? How do you give thanks for something so momentous? Mary found the most valuable thing she owned. That would do it.
They ate well. Martha was satisfied. It had been a good evening. The guests were convivial. The whole village turned out to watch from the sidelines. Mary wasn’t much use of course, but that was par for the course.
Then in comes Mary and kneels beside Jesus and tenderly, so tenderly, she takes his feet and pours out the perfume from the precious flask. It ran all over and she had forgotten to bring a towel. Her long hair was coming loose from her veil and she took it and wiped his feet.
The scent of the perfume filled the room. The odour of the grave gives way to the sweet smell of a woman.
I am about to do a new thing.
There was an argument. Judas complained about the cost. That was nothing new. You could have fed a dozen families for a week if the perfume had been sold.
And Jesus said no, lay off. She was anointing him for burial.
Him! The one who had raised Lazarus from the dead! What’s he doing talking about his own burial? He doesn’t have to die. Lazarus didn’t have to die. But he did. And he rose from the dead, which was very comforting for his family, but one day he would have to die again, for good.
And you couldn’t fail to see as well how much Mary loved him. It was a flagrant act of love! She poured out the perfume and she poured out her love and she poured out herself. Mary was doing a new thing. No doubt about it.
But it was there all the time, the new thing that God was doing. He was telling us and we didn’t see it at the time. We couldn’t get our minds round it. We only put it together later. After he had died. The power politics won out. Nobody liked this sign of real power, power over death. So they crucified him. Which is what he said. He was going to die and be buried. He had said it and we didn’t want to listen.
And we thought that was it! But God was doing a new thing. And he rose again. Three days in the tomb, like Lazarus, and then the grave was empty. And he was back! Death conquered, once and for all. Lazarus was the sign, if only we had seen it.
God’s new thing. Death is not the end. God is greater than death. Sin is not the end. God is greater than sin.
God is doing a new thing. Even now, God is acting. But you have to be ready to see it. And it takes training, training to see what God is doing.
Let me tell you how to start seeing God. Do it every day, at the end of each day, before you settle down to sleep, think about the day. Look back and see what God has done in your day. What has been good? Give thanks for it. Where has God been present in your day? Praise him. What has been not so good? What would you have done differently if you could do it again? Give it to God. Do this, and you will become open to the way God is acting. Do this and you will start to perceive.