APRIL 24, 2016
MAIN TEXT: MARK 14:1-11
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.”
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.
Our text has us in the middle of the last week of Christ’s life here on earth. Chapter 14 focuses on the passion (intense feelings of agony felt in Jesus’ soul and body) – also referred to as suffering. Mark has taken us through scenes of triumph and rejoicing and now shifts to very ominous foreshadowing of Christ’s suffering for the sins of His people.
We see that the backdrop of Jesus’ suffering was the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. The Passover was the Jewish commemoration of the liberation of Israel from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. God had sent a death angel that took the lives of the firstborn, but dabbing their doorways with the blood of a slaughtered lamb spared the Israelites. God had also commanded them to celebrate this feast by eating unleavened bread to remember the historic circumstances of the original Passover. God had commanded the people to be ready to move at a moments notice for the Exodus from Egypt. They had no time to allow the yeast to rise in their bread dough, so they made it without leavening.
The Passover week would cause the population of the city of Jerusalem to go from 60,000 to 300,000 as pilgrims slept in tents and boarded around the countryside. It was a scene of chaos – and the atmosphere may have been much like a state fair.
Our scripture contains Mark’s sandwich technique. In the middle of a narrative, he will sandwich in something that directly relates to the broader narrative. This sandwich style of writing is common with Mark and is used to make a contrast. This highlighted the contrast between the hatred of unbelievers and the love of believers for Jesus. He is also subtly contrasting the cost and monetary value of the perfume verses the money Judas would receive for betraying Jesus.
Verse 1 paints an ominous plot as the wonderful Passover approached. The ruling bodies of the Jews were joining together to hatch a plot to capture Jesus so that they could kill Him. As much as they wanted to get rid of Jesus, they feared an uprising of the many who liked Jesus. They limited their plans and attempted to manage public opinion. Although they decide not to take Him during the Feast, they will change their minds and expedite Jesus’ arrest when Judas offers a deceptive plan.
Have you ever made a sacrifice of extravagant love for Jesus? Do you recall a time when you did something that really cost you? A time when you went without something that you really wanted because of a sacrifice of extravagant love for Jesus? I believe I have a few times. Sadly, we are good at giving Jesus our leftovers and hand-me-downs.
We see something totally different in verses 3-9 when a woman does something very extravagant. John identifies her as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. The incident happens at the house of Simon the leper (most likely Simon was healed by Jesus). Jesus was reclined at the table – normally a woman would never approach a man in this public-meal setting except to serve him food.
Mary came with an alabaster (perfume jar) of pure and expensive fragrant oil of nard (a sweet-smelling perfume from a rare plant found only in India). This was most likely a family heirloom – and cost almost a year worth of wages. Mary broke the flask, pouring the entire contents over Jesus’ head – and His feet (John 12:3).
Each time we see Mary, we see her at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:39; John 11:32; John 12:3). She didn’t care about social norms. Jesus was her Lord and Master and she cared deeply for Him. She wanted everyone to know the incalculable value that she placed on Jesus. Her very public display left no one doubting where her loyalty lay. Can the same be said for you and me?
This inexcusable extravagance made some indignant and furious (verse 4). They scolded her with nostrils flared (verse 5). Concern for the poor was the stated reason for the outrage – Jesus took this concern at face value and addressed it (verse 7). Notice that eradicating poverty isn’t the call for Christ followers – but ministry and doing good for them in the midst of their poverty is what we are instructed to do. In our fallen world, poverty will never be eliminated, though we are called to do what we can to alleviate it. Even in the midst of an ongoing problem of poverty, extravagant gestures of worship and devotion are permitted. Jesus uses this beautiful moment of Mary’s love and worship and points to his death and burial (verse 8). We will see that Jesus’ body was not thrown into the garbage dump of Gehenna as the corpses of executed criminals usually were – instead Jesus was laid to rest in a rich man’s tomb. Also, with the haste with which He was buried, His body was not anointed with spices in typical Jewish fashion. Mary came with her priceless possession and gave all of it to anoint Him before He died. This is one of the most sacrificial, extravagant, heart-rending gifts of all time. Jesus ended the dinner discussion (verse 9). Jesus wasn’t going to let the world forget what the dinner guests had just witnessed – Mary’s act of love, devotion, and sacrifice. She did a great thing that we should applaud and emulate.
An extravagant act of love is contrasted with a hideous act of betrayal (verses 10-11). Mary had found Jesus beautiful and gave all she had to Him. Judas found Jesus useful and sought to get all he could in exchange for Him. Judas takes initiative in going to the chief priest to betray Him. The response of the religious leaders was tragic – they were glad to hear this and promised Judas a low sum of money: 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15). Judas “sought an opportunity to betray Him”. What a contrast that we see in Mary and Judas! I want so much to be like Mary – but how often Judas so readily emerges from my soul. Only the gospel of Jesus can heal my sin-sick soul.
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!
APPLY TO LIFE
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing as you open God’s Word together.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
DISCUSS THE MESSAGE
Read: Mark 14: 1-11
Mary did not care about social taboos or personal embarrassment when she
Mary’s critics said that the value of her gift exceeded the limit of what should be spent
What is the balance between practical, responsible stewardship and radical, extravagant giving? How do we avoid using the former as an excuse to escape the latter?
Did Jesus dismiss His followers from taking care of the poor? What is the biblical evidence for your answer?
In what ways do some people today look for what they can get for Jesus? How do people try to profit from going to church?