Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent, the 40 day period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter (not including the 6 Sundays- Days of Resurrection). A period of time in the Christian calendar that prepares us as we travel along with Jesus towards his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Lent is also the time in the Christian year where we focus on repentance, prayer, self-denial, and fasting.
During Lent we have been walking with Jesus through his last week on this earth. The last week starting with his Triumphal Entry and ending with his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
3 weeks ago we started this journey with Jesus on what we call Palm Sunday or the Triumphal Entry. We talked about the fact that this story is all about Jesus and his Kingship and Lordship.
2 weeks ago we covered the story of Jesus cursing the Fig Tree and cleansing the temple. We talked about how the religious leaders got in the way of people finding God. And we asked the question what tables would Jesus flip in our lives in order for us to get out of the way so people can find God.
Last we talked about giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God what is God. We talked about all about our allegiance being to God and to no other.
Today we look at the story found in Mark 14:1-11, a story that we can say is like a three panel painting. In the middle of the painting, which is the largest section, is the main part of the story centering around Mary of Bethany (verses 3-9). The panels on either side of the center section would be the story of the Pharisee’s and their desire to arrest and kill Jesus (verses 1-2) and the story of Judas and his part in handing Jesus over to the religious leaders (verses 10-11) and getting some financial recuperation from it.
So let’s look at the story found in Mark 14:1-11 and see what it might say to us today seeking to walk with Jesus through his last week while here on earth.
Mark 14:1-11 says, “ Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
Let’s take a look first at the center panel, the main part of the story and see what it might say to us.
We see in this center panel a women from Bethany coming to Jesus in the midst of dinner and anointing him with oil from an alabaster jar. Now we know from John 12:1-8 (John’s account of this story) that the woman who anoints Jesus is Mary of Bethany, who is the sister of Lazarus (who Jesus raised from the dead) and Martha. So Mary anoints Jesus head from oil from this alabaster jar. Now there are a few things that we need to look at historically and culturally to make some sense and draw out meaning behind this act.
First, in the culture of the day, when guests arrived for a meal, as an act of hospitality, it was customary to anoint the guests head with a dab of oil. Now the biggest difference in that custom, and what we see in this story is that Mary didn’t just put a dab of oil on his head, she broke the whole thing open and poured the entire contents on the alabaster jar all over his head. An extravagant act of worship that no doubt made others pretty uncomfortable and even a little ticked off.
Secondly, connecting our story of the Triumphal Entry, when a person became King, part of the coronation process, was for his head to be anointed with oil. Anointing the head was in the Biblical tradition the ceremony for the coronation of a King. So here is Mary anointing Jesus as the true King. As the King of all Kings. This was another of his coronation moments on his way to the cross. In fact the word Messiah itself actually means anointed one.
Thirdly, this act of anointing, as Jesus referenced, was connected to his upcoming death on the cross, and his burial in a tomb. We read in verse 8 these words connecting the anointing of Jesus by Mary and his death and burial, “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” The type of death that he was expecting, the common criminal death of crucifixion, lended itself to the problem of not preparing the body for burial. The idea being that Jesus was going to be killed in such a way that there may not be a chance for proper anointing of the body at the time. In fact, we will visit this idea again on Easter Sunday, when the women who followed Jesus return to his grave, in order to anoint his body with spices and perfume, as was the traditional custom of what they did to bodies, most of the time before laying them to rest in a tomb. Now Jesus is not implying that Mary somehow knew that what she was doing was for his burial. She was acting upon her love, and gratitude and her worship of Jesus, the King of King and Lord of Lords.
Fourthly, this act was costly (in two very different ways). The first costly way is what we see mentioned in the text. In verse 4 we read these words, “Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.” So we know from other texts that the perfume was called Spikenard and was a very expensive fragrance imported from India. So expensive that it was more than a year’s wages. A denarius, as we talked about last week, was roughly a days wages. And so it the perfume probably cost over 300 denarii. This was no doubt very costly, especially to a family who more than likely wasn’t a wealthy family.
But even more costly, was what the breaking of the alabaster jar, and pouring the perfume on Jesus head, meant for Mary and what it meant culturally at the time. In the days Jesus was on earth, when a young woman reached the age of availability for marriage, her family would purchase an alabaster box for her and fill it with precious ointment. The size of the box and the value of the ointment would parallel her family’s wealth. This alabaster box would be part of her dowry. When a young man came to ask for her in marriage, she would respond by taking the alabaster box and breaking it at his feet. The gesture of anointing his feet showed him honor. So what she was doing was pretty much giving her whole life and whole self to Jesus. Without the alabaster jar and perfume, her future didn’t include marriage. He future was totally wrapped up in Jesus. Without a husband to provide for her, how was she going to live? Without a husband, who was she? But she realized that no man would be better then her Jesus. When she broke that alabaster jar and poured her expensive perfume over Jesus in front of a room of men, she was giving up a portion of her dowry, her reputation, and most importantly her heart.
So on the center panel of this painting we see a beautiful act of love, worship, and devotion. An act that was about coronating Jesus, worshipping him, preparing him for his death and burial. And an act that was super costly not only in the amount of money that the perfume and alabaster jar was worth, but also costly in relation to Mary having a future husband. But an act of worship, giving her life, her self, and her future to Jesus.
If the center panel is all about worship, then the other two panels are about those who should be doing what Mary was doing, but instead were rebuking, scheming, planning, and dreaming about how to arrest Jesus, kill Jesus, or make some money off of Jesus’ arrest.
Their reaction to this beautiful act of worship, devotion, and giving of herself to Jesus was about rebuke and chastisement. People said “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” Now in other accounts of this story we see one of the primary voices speaking these words is Judas, who didn’t care for the poor at all. No he was in it for the money. He was the treasurer if you will of the disciples, the moneybag keeper, and he would help himself to some of the money.
Let’s briefly look at both side panels of this painting. First in verse 1-2 we read, “Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” As we have mentioned before, Passover was the time when Jerusalem swelled in population as many pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem. Also passover was the time every year that the Jewish people were looking for that deliverer, that new Moses, to come and kick the Romans out of their land, take over, and become King of Israel. And the conversation and expectation around Jesus in this Passover season was one filled with Messianic hopes and dreams that finally Rome would be ousted, Israel would have it’s own land back, and they would have their own ruler in charge. So the religious leaders and teachers of the law, who weren’t on Jesus side, were scheming how to get him arrested, but secretly. Because if he was arrested publicly, no doubt those who were hoping for Jesus to be the long awaited Davidic Messiah, Warrior King would revolt and riot.
And that is when Judas comes in. Judas, as a disciple, or an inside guy so to speak, would have inside information on where and when they could arrest Jesus when the public wasn’t around. So Judas would help them find a private time to arrest Jesus. But what was Judas’ motive for being a traitor? Obviously we can only speculate as the text never truly says what his issue or issues were, but here are some thoughts about motive. First, the motive of greed. As I mentioned before Judas loved money, and would help himself to some of the money given to fund the mission of Jesus’ and his disciples. We see that he goes to the Chief Priests and they arrive at an agreed upon price, that we know is 30 silver pieces. So one motivation was most likely money and greed.
And Secondly I believe he also was hoping that Jesus would be that warrior King, that Davidic messiah who would come, kick Roman’s tail, and deliver Israel back to prominence and their own rule and own land. And so maybe their was a level of anger, and disappointment that it wasn’t going to be an violent overthrow of the powers that be that he expected. (Maybe he understood maybe better than other disciples of what Jesus was truly headed for).
So for whatever reason..greed, disappointment, anger, frustration, etc.. Judas agrees to become the traitor and hand Jesus over to the chief priests and teacher of the law to be arrested and eventually killed.
So in our time of discussion let’s two at the two radically different responses to Jesus in this story. Let’s look at what our alabaster jars might be that God is calling us to break and pour out for him. Let’s also look at our own lives and the ways that we have been Judas to Jesus ourselves. These are the two things we are going to unpack together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What alabaster jar is Jesus calling you to break and pour out in worship? What is keeping you from breaking it over his head?
3. In what ways have you and I been Judas? Been a traitor to Jesus and his Kingdom?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?