A Sacrifice of Love – Mark 14:1-11
Good morning and Happy Father’s Day! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark, where we are going to be looking at Mark 14:1-11, this morning.
I just want to wish my dad a Happy Father’s Day. He has been the biggest influence in my life and in my ministry. My dad is a fellow pastor, and I had the privilege of interning under him at the church that I grew up in.
I’ve talked with many men, over the years, who have said that they couldn’t work together with their dad, but I actually enjoyed the year that I spent in ministry with him, and I can confidently say that I would do it, again. We don’t agree on everything, obviously, but I continue to look to him for advice, and I value him as an earthly father.
For many of you, Father’s Day is a joyous occasion. To those of you who have children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or who have stepped up to the role of a father for children who were not your own, whether a stepdad or foster dad, or who have had men step into the role of a father to you, or who are currently waiting for the birth of your child, or who have a good relationship with your father or with your children, we celebrate with you on this day.
But for some of you, Father’s Day can cause a mix of emotions. To those who are grieving the loss of your father, or who have lost a child, or who have children who are wild and out, or who have a difficult relationship with your father or with your children, or who have had an abusive or absentee father, or who long to be a father of your own, we remember you on this day and mourn with you.
Psalm 68:5 says, “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” 2 Corinthians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”
Whatever Father’s Day looks like for you, my hope is that you will find comfort from the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, today.
I’m just going to begin by reading our passage together, and then we will dive in. Mark 14, beginning in verse 1: “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, 2 for they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.’
“3 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. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 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. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 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.’
“10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.”
We have just concluded a portion in Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus talks about the signs of the end. And in these next two chapters, we are going to look at what is commonly referred to as the Passion of the Christ—that is, the betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.
And in our passage for this morning, Mark is going to contrast the plot of the Jewish leaders and Judas to have Jesus put to death with a beautiful picture of love and devotion for Jesus by an unnamed woman.
And what we are going to see in our text is that devotion to Jesus will be costly and it will be ridiculed, but it will be commended by Jesus.
We begin with the chief priests and the scribes in Jerusalem, days before the celebration of Passover. Passover was a time of remembrance and thanksgiving for God’s miraculous deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. You can read about that in Exodus 12.
But while Jewish people from all over the place were coming to Jerusalem to celebrate, Mark says that “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him.” In the King James Version, it says that they “sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.”
And this should immediately take our minds to Genesis 3:1, where it says that “the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”
And what we discover is that craftiness and deceit are rooted not in Jesus, but in the devil—that ancient serpent. By their craftiness and deceit, the Jewish leaders are revealing that they are under the influence of the devil. But it’s actually more tragic than that.
In Mark 7, Jesus says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
You see, the problem for the Jewish leaders is that their heart is full of all kinds of deceit and wickedness. Their biggest problem is not the external influence of the devil, but the internal influence of sin. Ironically, the very Jesus they desire to have put to death is the very Jesus they need to rescue them from their sin.
And this is very important for us to consider, because we can go through life thinking that we are good with God, because we try to be a good person and do good things, but the reality is that our problem is not external, but internal. The problem with the world is not out there; it’s in here.
We live in a world where everyone is blaming everyone else for the evil that is in the world, but do you know what is to blame for all of this? Sin. It’s the sin in you and me that is to blame for all the evil in the world.
And if we don’t have a new heart, if all kinds of deceit and wickedness still reside within us, then it doesn’t matter how hard we try to be a good person, we will always fail, because nothing we do will be able to get rid of the sin in our heart. What we need is not behavioural modification; what we need is Jesus. We need a new heart. We don’t just need bypass surgery; we need a heart transplant.
In 1 Peter 2:1, the apostle Peter tells us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Well, that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Just do this. Yeah, I’ll get right on that. Only, there is no desire in us to put away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander. Naturally, we love these things. We have no problem committing these acts, because our heart is full of sin. We don’t want to give these up, because we love them too much.
Helena had a doctor’s appointment in the city the other day. And she found out that her hemoglobin was low. She had this when she was pregnant with Liam, but she didn’t have this problem with the other two boys. So, the doctor prescribed her iron. Helena went to the drug store to get the prescription filled out, and she came back with a bottle of iron pills.
Now, the catch is: Helena needs to take her pills for her hemoglobin to come back up. If she doesn’t take her pills, then her hemoglobin will stay low. Helena’s hemoglobin levels are dependent upon whether or not she takes her pills. And thankfully, she has a husband who reminds her to do so.
Our problem is that we suffer from all kinds of deceit and wickedness, because of a heart full of sin. We are told to put off deceit, but we are completely unable to do so. In fact, we have no desire to do so. As Ephesians 2:1 says, “We are dead in our trespasses and sins.”
Our remedy is found in Jesus Christ, who “committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth,” according to 1 Peter 2:22. Jesus is not the prescription we take, so that we can get better; He is the One who raises us from death to life, and who brings us out of darkness and into His glorious light.
Our only hope in putting off deceit and all wickedness is a new heart that comes from trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. This is what these Jewish leaders needed, and this is what we need. We need to devote ourselves to King Jesus. And Mark shows us what this devotion looks like.
The scene shifts to the home of Simon the leper in Bethany, or, should I say, former leper. Jesus has obviously healed this man of leprosy, just like what He did, back in Mark 1, and is now in his home.
And where Mark’s Gospel leaves some of the details ambiguous, the apostle John in chapter 12 of his Gospel account, fills in some of those gaps. For example, in John 12:3, it says that “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.”
If John is recording the same event as Mark, then this woman is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus—the man whom Jesus raised from the dead. But regardless of whether or not this is Mary of Bethany or some other woman, what she does teaches us about love and devotion for Jesus.
1. First, what she did was costly.
While Jesus was reclining at table in Simon’s house, this woman came in with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, and broke the flask, making it no longer usable, and poured the entire contents of it on the head and feet of Jesus.
Mark notes that this was “very costly.” And indeed, it would have been. There is a remark, in verse 5, that “this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii.” A denarius was a normal day’s wage in Palestine. Three hundred denarii would have been the equivalent of a year’s wages.
One commentator writes, “Women were by and large excluded from careers that afforded the possibility of earning such wages or procuring objects of such value. The nard was very probably a family heirloom, in which case it possessed a sentimental value in addition to its monetary value.”
This was not a trivial act. This was an act of love and devotion for Jesus. And what's crazy is that Mark doesn’t name this woman. If John’s Gospel is recording the same event here in Mark, then we know who this woman is, but if not, then this woman isn’t doing what she is doing for her own glory, but for the glory of the Son of God. This makes this woman’s act truly “a beautiful thing.”
But if this is Mary of Bethany, then we know that this act is consistent with everything else we know about her. In Luke 10, we are told of how Jesus went to the house of Mary and Martha, and while Martha cooked in the kitchen, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach.
This was costly in its own right, because women in that culture wouldn’t normally approach a group of men in this setting, except to serve food. And when Martha complains that Mary isn’t helping her, Jesus tells Martha that “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
In fact, in each instance in the Gospels where we see Mary of Bethany, it’s always at the feet of Jesus. She reverently falls at His feet every time she is with Him. So, this isn’t just one isolated incident of love and devotion for Jesus. No, this is Mary’s whole life.
Can the same be said of us? There is a cost to discipleship. Unlike what the prosperity gospel teaches, we don’t follow Jesus to get rich. At least, this woman didn’t think so. Do we love Jesus more than our possessions?
In Luke 14:26, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Do we love Jesus more than our families?
In Mark 8:34, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Do we love Jesus more than our very lives? There is a cost to following Jesus.
2. What this woman did was costly. Secondly, what she did was ridiculed.
Mark 14:4-5 says that there were some who said, “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.”
It’s tragic that anyone would be so indignant towards this woman, considering her costly act of love and devotion. But if we’re honest with ourselves, would we not also respond to her in the same way? As of 2018, the average Canadian salary is just over $55,000 a year. If we’re being honest, how likely would we freak out at this woman, as she poured $55,000—the average yearly wage—on the head and feet of Jesus? Would we say that it was a waste?
How we respond to this woman indicates what we think about Jesus. If Jesus truly is the Son of God, then the amount of money is irrelevant, because Jesus is worth it all. But if Jesus is simply a man, then yes, it is absolutely a waste.
Again, John’s Gospel helps us here. John 12:4-5 says that “Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’”
What's even more tragic than that this woman’s devotion to Jesus is ridiculed is that it comes from one of Jesus’ own disciples, but not just any one of Jesus’ disciples, John points out that it was the disciple who was about to betray Him.
I mean, consider what Judas is saying about Jesus by ridiculing this act. He’s saying that Jesus isn’t worthy of such extravagance. How insane is that? Judas has been around Jesus for around three years, right? Do you think Jesus isn’t worthy of everything? Do you think that Jesus isn’t King over everything?
Judas has seen Jesus calm storms and heal the blind and the demon-possessed and multiply food, and he wants to withhold a flask of ointment from Him, for the sake of the poor. We know that Judas doesn’t actually care about the poor. John 12:6 says that Judas said this, “not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
Judas doesn’t care about Jesus, and he certainly doesn’t care about the poor. In fact, Judas will eventually betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. In reality, he only cares about himself. Here is a man, no different than the Jewish leaders, who is in desperate need of a heart change.
But how many of us are that different from Judas? Are we the one ridiculing, or are we the one being ridiculed for our devotion to Jesus?
Devotion to Jesus will lead to ridicule. It’s why the apostle Paul writes, in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
William Carey has been called “the father of modern missions.” But before becoming a missionary to India, Carey attended a ministers’ meeting in Northampton, England, where he was asked to present a question to the group for general discussion.
Carey wanted to discuss whether the command given to the apostles to “teach all nations” was not obligatory on all succeeding ministers to the end of the world. It was at this point that an older gentleman immediately replied, “Young man, sit down; when God is pleased to convert the heathen world, He will do it without your help or mine."
William Carey would eventually go to India as a missionary, spending 41 years there without a furlough. He brought around 700 people to Christ, but his greatest legacy was inspiring a missionary movement that included individuals, such as, Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, David Livingstone, and thousands of others.
This doesn’t happen if William Carey “sits down,” because he is overcome by ridicule. Devotion to Jesus will lead to ridicule, but if Jesus is who He said He was, then it will be worth it. Jesus is worth the cost.
3. What this woman did was costly, and it was ridiculed. But lastly, what she did was commended.
In verse 6, Jesus says to those who were ridiculing this woman, “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.”
If anyone besides Jesus were to say this, it would sound absolutely ridiculous and self-centered. It sounds like Jesus doesn’t care about the poor at all. But we must recognize what Jesus is saying here. Jesus isn’t saying that the poor don’t matter. In fact, Jesus is saying that we will have plenty of opportunities to care for the poor, because we will always have the poor with us.
We live in a Genesis 3 world, where poverty will always be a reality until Christ returns to renew and restore all things. Jesus isn’t saying that the poor don’t matter, but that those who were sitting there would not always have Jesus. The opportunity to show this kind of love and devotion to Jesus would soon be over.
On three separate occasions, Jesus told His followers about His coming death and resurrection. Here again, Jesus is telling them that His death is imminent. There would come a day when Jesus would no longer be with them. This act was symbolizing that He was about to die. It was preparing for His burial.
This woman understood this. She understood who Jesus was. She understood what Jesus came to do. She understood that Jesus was deserving of all her love and devotion. And Jesus commends her for it.
What Jesus said is true. The good news of Jesus is being preached today, nearly two thousand years later, and this woman’s act of love and devotion is being told with it. She is commended for her act of love and devotion to Jesus.
Will we be commended for our love and devotion to Jesus? Will we hear the words from Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”? This is what makes all the cost and ridicule of following Jesus worth it, hearing from Jesus Himself that we were faithful in following Him.
Here is the good news of Jesus Christ: 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
We distort this gospel when we make it about health, wealth, and prosperity. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about Jesus Christ, who had no place to rest His head, who died poor, who was buried in a tomb that was not His own, but who was raised from the dead in victory over sin and death.
I started by saying that we have this problem of a heart full of sin, but how Jesus is the remedy to receiving a new heart. We receive this gift of new life by grace through faith in Christ alone. We are not rich in grace because of anything we’ve done, but gloriously because of what Christ has done for us.
There are two responses to the good news of Jesus Christ: There are those who want Jesus for what He can do for them, and there are those who want Jesus for Jesus. And it is here where we see the contrast between this woman and Judas.
After this incident with this woman, Judas Iscariot would go to the chief priests and the scribes to betray Jesus to them, much to their delight. And after being promised money, it says that Judas “sought an opportunity to betray him.”
There is a warning for us here. As one commentator writes, “Proximity to Jesus does not guarantee faithfulness.” There is a reason why Mark points out, in verse 10, that Judas Iscariot “was one of the twelve.” Judas was as close to Jesus as you could get, and yet, he would eventually betray Jesus.
There are those who want Jesus for what He can do for them. When Jesus isn’t the Jesus they want, they try to get rid of Him. When all of this talk about sin and judgment isn’t appealing to them, they try to get rid of it. This is the first response to the good news of Jesus Christ.
The second response are those who want Jesus for Jesus. This is the response of this woman. When you understand who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do for you, then you cannot help but express love and devotion to Jesus. When you understand that you have a new heart because of Jesus, then you cannot help but live for Him. This is the second response to the good news of Jesus Christ.
This response is found in the words of the hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. And I’m just going to close with these words:
Verse 1: “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”
Verse 2: “Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God. All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.”
Verse 3: “See, from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?”
Verse 4: “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
There are those who want Jesus for what He can do for them, and there are those who want Jesus for Jesus. Which will we be? But the follow-up question is this: What are we going to do about it?
Will we count the cost of following Jesus, willing to suffer ridicule and even the loss of our lives for the sake of Christ and the gospel? Will we consider the poverty of others? Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you.” James, the brother of Jesus, in James 1:27, writes, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
God the Father sent His only Son to this world to suffer and die at the hands of deceitful and wicked humanity, so that we could be saved from our crimes of rebellion against Him. Happy Father’s Day, God! But if we comprehend this love so amazing, so divine, then it does demand my soul, my life, my all.
May we be a people who want Jesus for Jesus, and who will one day be commended for embracing the cost and the ridicule of following Him. Let’s pray…