Here is the sermon I preached at City Church, Tallahassee on March 14th, 2019
If you have your bibles, go ahead and turn to Mark, Chapter 14. We'll be starting in Verse one. Mark Chapter 14. If you don't have a bible, we would love to give you one after the service, at the connect desk, in the lobby. We have been going through the Gospel according to Mark. We started in Chapter one, we just completed Chapter 13, and here we are in 14. I just want to set some context, so you know where we are, both in the gospel of Mark, and in the life of Jesus. Mark starts writing when Jesus is about 30 years old. That's what he's describing in Chapter one, and from Chapter one to Chapter 13 is about three years. Okay, and we've been in Mark for about three years. I tell Dean, it's like real time through Jesus's ministry. Three years in the gospel of Mark, so far. Now we're in Chapter 14, and from 14 through the end of 16 is mere days. This is Mark zooming in on the main reason why he wrote his gospel.
He has laid the foundation with the previous 13 chapters, and now he is focusing on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. What we spend time talking about shows what's important to us, right? I mean, if you could stay up for hours talking about Tom Brady, we would know that Tom Brady was important to you. We wouldn't know if that was a good thing, or a bad thing. I'll leave that to others to decide, but it would show us what we care about and are excited about. It's the same way here with Mark. He is focusing in on Jesus going to the cross. In our text today, we're going to see two main things. The first is that familiarity with Jesus, his teaching, even religion, does not make you good with God. It doesn't make God good with you, necessarily. The second thing we will see is that worshiping Jesus is more important than familiarity, religious participation, tradition, or even social good.
Our text is kind of an interesting one. We just read it, but just to recap and put it in a big section breakdown, it starts with this plot from the religious leaders to kill Jesus. It moves to the seemingly unrelated story and account of a woman lavishing worship onto Jesus, and it comes back to the betrayal plot at the end with Judas betraying Jesus. This is not Mark being ADD, or schizophrenic. He's created something that has a fancy theological name, but we'll just call it a sandwich. He's created a Bible sandwich. He takes one things, he breaks it in half, and he puts something else in the middle. He does that to show us the stark contrast between a woman who faithfully gives to Jesus out of the overflow of her heart, and Judas who betrays Jesus out of the overflow of his. Mark does this often. We've seen it at different points in the past, and if you're aware of this tendency of Mark and some of the other Gospel writers, you will see this as you read your bible.
Let's go ahead and dive into verse one, here in Mark Chapter 14.
It was two days before the Passover, and the festival of unleavened bread, and the Chief Priests, and the scribes were looking for a cunning way to arrest and killed him. “Not during the festival,” they said, “so that there won't be a riot among the people.”
So, Passover is on Thursday. The crucifixion is on Friday, and we are sitting here on Wednesday, mere days from Jesus going to the cross. The religious establishment has told us previously that they want to kill Jesus. First, when Jesus healed a man's withered hand on the Sabbath. Then again, when he cleared out the money changers from the temple, and here they have come to this settled conviction, Jesus must die. Only, not yet, because it's Passover.
Now, they don't have a moral objection to killing him during Passover. They have a pragmatic objection, a practical one. They just simply do not want to incite a riot. Jesus was very popular at the time, and in previous Passovers there had been riots.
Everyone was a little nervous in Jerusalem during Passover. The reason for that is, by some estimates, the population of Jerusalem increases by two, three, even four times as much as normal, and there had been riots and insurrections in the past. The religious leaders do not want that. Not just because people get hurt, and it's bad, but because at this time they are under Roman rule. When the Romans would conquer a civilization, often they would leave the existing rulers in place, so long as those rulers could keep the peace, and so if the religious leaders here cannot contain the people in Jerusalem, if they cannot keep the peace, if there is a revolt because they arrest Jesus, Rome would step in. They do not want that. They do not want to set off the powder keg they're sitting on.
Now, I think it's important for us to understand what Passover is. If we don't understand the Old Testament very well, often we struggle to understand the New Testament, and it's not a coincidence that Jesus is going to the cross during Passover.
It's not a coincidence that Mark tells us that it's Passover. So what is Passover? Well, Passover is the Jewish festival when the Jews remember God passing over their homes when he judged Egypt by killing the firstborns of Egypt. All the way back in the Old Testament, the Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt, and Moses goes to Pharaoh, and through Moses God tells Pharaoh, "Let my people go." You know that children's song, "Oh, baby let my people go,"? I'm not going to sing it, and you will thank me for that, but that's what this song refers back to, the fact that God's people, or who would be his people were under Egyptian captivity and Pharaoh would not let them go. So God sends plagues. The tenth plague was that the firstborns in Egypt would die, unless they killed a spotless lamb and put its blood over the doorpost of their home. Then when the Spirit of God came, it would Passover the home and spare them from the judgment of God. That's exactly what happened.
The Hebrews put the blood over the door of their homes, the Spirit passes by, but the Spirit takes the lives of the firstborns in Egypt as a judgment on Egypt and on Pharaoh for imprisoning the Hebrew people. So after this, Pharaoh finally lets God's people go, and God tells the Hebrews to observe Passover as a remembrance of God passing over their homes, and of the grace he extended to them. So they are still celebrating this when we come to the New Testament.
Now, there's something you might notice. In Old Testament Passover, blood from a spotless lamb covers the door, covers a home so that the judgment of God will not be visited on the inhabitants of the home. The Bible also tells us that Jesus is the lamb of God, and he goes to the cross during Passover, he dies, and his blood covers his people's sin so that when God looks at them, he passes over them in judgment. The Passover foreshadowed the cross.
It was one of the ways that God showed Israel that without the shedding of blood there is no passing over of sins, and it pointed to the once for all nature of Jesus's sacrifice.
So the religious leaders here are plotting to kill the newer and better Passover lamb, Jesus. Mark wants us to see that. If we get the Old Testament context for Passover, and we understand what the New Testament teaches about Jesus, we will see that he is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Mark started with this plot; he's telling us about the religious leaders who want to kill Jesus, and he's quickly going to move to another story, right in the middle of our sandwich.
Here's what he says in Verse three,
While Jesus was in Bethany at the House of Simon, the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on Jesus' head, but some were expressing indignation to one another.
“Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for more than 300 denarii and given to the poor,” and they began to scold the woman. Jesus replied, “leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me. You always have the poor with you, and you can always do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly, I tell you whenever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has been done will be told in memory of her.”
So Jesus is eating in the house of Simon, the leper. Now, he probably did not have leprosy at this time, or people would not be sitting down in his house to eat with him. We probably wouldn't do that today, but especially in that context, that would have been a big no-no. Now, it's likely Simon is a leper that Jesus healed. We don't know that, but it seems probable or likely.
This woman comes in unexpectedly with a jar that contained expensive perfume, and she breaks this jar and pours it on Jesus' head. Now, we get some additional details about this event from the gospel of John. What we understand from John is that this was probably about 12 ounces of perfume. This was expensive stuff, and while John tells us that the woman, who he names as Mary, anointed Jesus' feet with the oil, Mark tells us that she anointed his head. When you pour out 12 ounces of perfume, it is going to go everywhere, and the smell is going to go everywhere. What comes to mind when I read this is what sometimes happens when young men discover Ax body spray. The smell just goes everywhere, and so it would have been here, because nard is a sweet smelling perfume. A very rare plant from India creates this perfume.
This perfume was worth about a year's wages, so just imagine, picture that, something you can hold in your hand that's worth your salary for the year, that you could pour out in a second, and never be able to reclaim. Consider how long you would need to save to have an extra year's wages that then you would spend on perfume that then you would lavish on Jesus. This is an over the top display of worship and affection on behalf of Mary here, to Jesus.
It's hard to capture the strength of the indignation that the people show that are in attendance. John tells us that the instigator of this indignation is Judas, because he was a thief and he wanted the money for himself. Mark doesn't tell us that, but he does tell us that they're angry and indignant. Picture sitting next to someone that you care about deeply and someone else gravely insults them. You would be indignant. You would be angry. That's the strength of how Mark is telling us about the reaction here.
They think the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. I will say, it is somewhat understandable that they think this, because it is the eve of Passover, and on the eve of Passover the poor were remembered, and alms were given to the poor. So if she's going to pour out a year's wages, well, why wouldn't she just give it to the poor? But this is no normal Passover, is it? And this was no ordinary person that she lavished this worship on, and when they say that it was a waste for her to do this, they were saying it was a waste for her to worship Jesus in this way.
Jesus replies, leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me. Another way to translate that would be, a beautiful thing. When they demeaned Mary's act of worship, they demeaned Jesus himself. They were saying, he wasn't worthy of being worshiped this much, to that degree, in that extent.
They were demeaning Jesus himself, and once again, I love how Mark does this. He's showing us that the disciples just don't get it. At almost every point in the gospel of Mark, he shows us that the disciples really struggle. They don't understand the type of savior Jesus is going to be. They don't understand the kingdom of God. They don't understand the point sometimes of the miracles and the teachings of Jesus. Here is no exception, but here is a woman who—at the time, women held low social standing—she understands Jesus' true worth. She understands what true worship and devotion looks like. The disciples, the men, they do not. Mark is pulling that contrast out for us to see.
Jesus goes on to say, you will always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anointed my body in advance for burial. There is a principle here that I think is helpful for us as we live the Christian life. Some good things are more good than other good things.
Some bad things, some sins are worse than other sins. Some moral prescriptions, things we are told to do in scripture, are weightier than others. There are some people today, and there were some people back then as we see in our passage, who thought the main purpose of religion was social good, or social change. They thought that the point of worship was not to lavish on Jesus necessarily, but was to spend that money on the poor, but the point of Christianity is not to eradicate hunger. It's not to eradicate poverty. It is not primarily a force for social change in the way that that term is often defined, and the way we often conceive of it. Was it a good and beautiful thing for Mary to spend a year's wages pouring this perfume on Jesus? Yes. Unabashedly, yes. Jesus commends her for it, he praises her for it. At the same time, could that perfume have been sold and the money given to the poor and done great good? Yes, certainly yes, but there was a higher good to be done.
Jesus literally says, “what she had, she did.“ Now, our translations, some of them say, she did what she could, and that's a good translation, I think. Except for the fact that many of us say in a situation, "I did what I could," and we use it as a way of wiping our hands. What Jesus is saying was, for Mary, to have was to do. She gave everything she had, she did all that she had the ability to do in giving and worshiping Jesus. It probably just wasn't a monetary sacrifice that she was giving up. Likely, this perfume was a family heirloom. This probably had emotional and familial history and significance to it, and she does not hesitate in lavishing it on Jesus.
When a church builds a building or gives its staff a raise, there is a type of person today who will say, "Couldn't that money have been given to the poor," and I'm not here to defend the building choices of every church in America, that's not my intent, but it does show a confusion, I think, about the mission of the church.
Because the mission of the church is to make disciples who worship and become like Jesus. One of the things that that entails is making other disciples who will worship and become like Jesus, who will make disciples who worship and become like Jesus. There is a chain there that should not be broken. That is the primary mission of the church. It's not primarily social good as society conceives of it. Because the scriptures show us that the greatest need a person has is a spiritual need, an eternal need, an immaterial need, and only the message of the cross through repentance and faith that is believed, can address that need.
Do people have physical needs? Yes, most assuredly. Should we be concerned about those? Yes, most assuredly, and we should do good to all all the scriptures say, especially to those in the family of God. My point though is, what is our primary emphasis?
For the Christian, for the church, it is something that only the Christian and the church can do. There are untold numbers of non-profits that address physical needs, and that's great, and many of you participate in those, and you should, and that is a good thing. But these do not directly address the spiritual needs of people. If Jesus did not need to die and rise for the success of a ministry to actually be achieved, then that ministry is not reflecting the primary intent of the church.
We as Christians and the church, have a message of reconciliation between sinful people and their holy God. Social good can help aid that, it can help soften hearts in a way, but only that message fundamentally will change a heart.
Now, I've tried to clarify the primary mission of the church, that it is the worship of Jesus fueled by making disciples, but this in no way means we should be unconcerned with the issues of our day and society. As those who have been shown mercy, we should show mercy. As those who have had grace extended to them, we should extend grace. As those who worship and love, and are saved by a God who is just, we should pursue justice. The issue is simply one of primary importance in order and balance.
Coming back to our text, Jesus says that she has anointed his body in advance for burial, and here, Jesus is foreshadowing that he knows that he is going to die in two days.
Typically, at this point in history, a diseased person's body would be anointed with oil, and then they would be buried. But due to the timing and circumstances of the cross, this does not happen for Jesus. Here, he interprets this pre-burial anointing from Mary as his burial anointing.
It's important for us to realize that verses like this totally destroy the idea that Jesus did not know he was going to the cross, that he came to earth and just preached love and somehow as an accident of circumstance, ended up on a cross, executed. That could not be further from the truth. The cross was the predetermined plan of God from before the foundation of the world.
Jesus always intended to come to earth to give his life to ransom a people for his father who would glorify him, that he would love. The cross was not a mistake. It was a divined rescue mission, and does it really make sense to say that a guy that just walked around preaching love got executed as a criminal because of preaching love? No. He claimed to be God, and because he was God, he knew he was going to the cross. He knew what his mission was.
In verse nine, I love this verse. Jesus says, "Truly, I tell you, whenever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her."
Here we are. We are the whole world from a Jerusalem perspective. We are across the ocean, we are thousands of miles away, we are non-Jews, and this story is being told here. Jesus said it would be told. Here we are, and here the story is being told. I love that.
Mark includes this account about Mary and the perfume as yet another way of showing us the incalculable value of Jesus. By showing us Mary's active worship and Jesus' commendation of it, he is showing us that Jesus is supremely worthy of worship. Yes, Mary should be recognized for her act of worship and devotion here, but the spotlight is on Jesus. Mark does not tell us Mary's name, we get that from John. I think there's a reason why Mark does not tell us Mary's name, and it's not to slight Mary. It's to spotlight Jesus. The attention here is just on how worthy and how much of a savior and how glorious Jesus is.
As we move to our final two verses, we're going to see a stark contrast between Mary's act of devotion to the Jesus who is worthy, and Judas's act of betrayal to the man he had walked with for years.
In verse ten, it says,
Judas Iscariot, one of the 12, went to the chief priest to betray Jesus to them, and when they heard this they were glad and promised to give him money, so he started looking for a good opportunity to betray him.
It doesn't say they came to him. He went to them. So obviously, it seemed like he knew that they were looking for a way to kill Jesus, and he is more than happy to give them that way. Matthew tells us, for 30 pieces of silver. So for 30 pieces of silver, Judas will sellout Jesus so he can be murdered, but he balks at Mary lavishing 300 pieces of silver worth of perfume on Jesus. One of these things is not like the other.
I just can't pass over the fact that it's the religious leaders who are plotting to murder Jesus. The ones who should be the most holy, who should be leading their people into holiness, into godliness are plotting to kill the Son of God himself. The contrast could not be more severe, and what this show us is that closeness to religion, and even knowledge of the word of God does not mean that you have a heart for God. If you do not have a heart for God, you are not one of his. If you are not one of his, his blood is not covering the door posts of your life, and God's judgment will not pass over you.
The only way to be found perfect and blameless when God's just judgment comes is to have placed our faith in Jesus alone. To have stopped trusting in our works, to have turned from our sin, and trust in him alone, and then he is our Passover lamb, but simple closeness to religion does not make the cut.
The religious leaders were much more close than we are today in some ways. They were much more religious than we are today. They knew their scriptures often better than we do. Now, the problem here is not organized religion. Some people may want to say that. No, the problem here is organized depravity and evil. I'd like to think what we're doing is rather organized. However, organizations can be great tools for good, and they can be great tools for evil. The issue is not that they were an organization. It was that they had hearts that loved power and money more than Jesus. Also, this passage shows us that Judas, who was close to Jesus was not simply good and godly because of his closeness to Jesus.
Think about it, the gospels, the four in the New Testament do not tell us everything that Jesus said and did, but you know who saw almost everything Jesus saw, said, and did? Judas. He was there for all the teaching that we don't have access to. He was there to see the miracles, and the healings, and the exorcisms that we have not recorded for us. He saw all of that, and yet his heart still loved money and power more than Jesus. In some ways, he was so close, but from another perspective, he could not have been further away.
Southeastern seminary president, Danny Akin has a helpful list of contrasts that Mark shows us here, and I want to share some of them with you. I think this is one of the reasons why Mark puts these accounts side by side, so we will see these contrasts.
In the middle of this passage we see a woman with no social standing compared to a man who was one of the apostles, one of the chosen 12.
That woman, Mary, gave what she could. She gave her all. To have was to give for Mary, and Judas took all he could get for Jesus. Mary blessed her Lord and Judas betrayed his Lord. Mary loved her Lord and Judas used his Lord. Mary did a beautiful thing that Jesus said would be remembered, and Judas did a terrible thing that we also remember. Mary served Jesus as her savior and Judas sold him like he was his slave, and because of this, Mary is forever remembered for her devotion, and Judas is forever remembered for his betrayal.
There's a reason why many people are not called Judas today, because both of these names and their stories live on.
Some takeaways, how should we think of this passage? What does this mean for us? Where does it connect to how we live and how we think, and how we feel? I have three points I'd like to quickly share with you.
Make the Main Thing the Main Thing
The first is that we need to keep the main thing the main thing. Or perhaps more accurately, make the main thing the main thing. The purpose of the Christian life is to worship Jesus, and the purpose of the church is to glorify Jesus by making disciples who will glorify Jesus.
There is a strain today of people and even denominations who think the purpose of the church is social good. We cannot go that direction. We must keep the main thing the main thing, but we need two correctives if we're going to talk about this.
The first is that we should be involved in loving our neighbor. Especially our fellow Christians. The first commandment Jesus gives is to love the Lord, our God with our whole heart and soul, mind and strength. Everything we have,—to have is to give—should be given to Jesus. But the second commandment is like it, it's to love our neighbors as ourselves. We must remember both of those things. The order is important, but the totality of both of them is also important. The second corrective is that many of us need to make the main thing the main thing. The vast majority of people do not seem confused about the mission of the church. Many people are just not on it. As our former discipleship pastor Craig Stewart said, "God has a mission for our church and sadly, many Christians are just not on it."
We may not be confused, we're not going to one side too far, we're just not on it at all. If the primary thing the Christian is called to is the worship of Jesus, how are we doing? How are we doing at making Jesus the main thing? How are we doing at living and loving Jesus every day? That's the first point. Make the main thing the main thing.
The second point would be, check ourselves, examine ourselves. Judas walked with Jesus. The religious leaders had religious power, and knowledge, and authority, and both of them had hearts that loved money and power more than God. In some ways, like we've said, they were closer than we are, but in some ways they were very far away. It is wise for us to pause, and as Peter says, “to make every effort to be sure of our calling and election.” Examine ourselves to make sure we are in the faith. Ask some questions of your heart, interrogate your heart. Ask, do my actions and the desires of my heart align with what God's word says they should not?
This should not be taken to imply that we are expected to be perfect. While that is the standard, this side of heaven we will struggle with sin. A follow up question can be, do I desire for the desires of my heart to be increased for Jesus? Do I desire to put to death the deeds of the flesh? Do I desire to get rid of my sin, to mortify my sin? We need to ask our hearts these questions, to examine ourselves.
Maybe you evaluate yourself and you realize that you are trusting in your good works to commend you well to God, to make you good with God. Examining yourself, the outcome of that may look like turning from your good works and trusting in Jesus alone for salvation, repenting of the good things you think you have done that will make you look good to God and realizing that church attendance, familiarity with religion, even the good things society might say are good do not make us good with God. They will not make it such that when God comes to the door posts of our home, he will pass over them. Only the blood of Jesus can do that for us.
Maybe you realize that you have other attitudes of your heart that need to be repented of and turned from, that you think, “well that story about Mary, that's nice. I don't know if I would do that with a year's earning.” If that's your struggle, I'm in a similar boat. We need to repent and turn from those feelings. We need to turn from a materialism, and thinking, well that's just too extreme of worship. No, that is what we are called to, and so much more, and by the grace of God, that is hopefully where we will end up, but interrogate your heart.
Examine yourself, and plead the grace of Jesus on your behalf when we fail, and trust him to be your Passover lamb. So, make the main thing the main thing. Examine yourself, and third and finally, go all in.
Go All In
Christianity is not dipping our toes in the shallow end of the pool, it is going head first into the deep end. We should hold nothing back. We surrender our sin, our self, our ambitions, our desires, and put those second to pursuing God, glorifying him and worshiping him.
That is what we are called to do, to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Whole, not half. Not only on the even days of the week. Worship is not just something we do partly during the Sunday morning service when the singing happens. Hearing the word preached like we are now is an act of worship. We are submitting ourselves to the authority of Jesus and his word. How we approach our relationships, how we think of our family, what we do with our money, all of these are aspects and opportunities for worship. You might be asking, well what does that look like? I can't answer that question exactly for you, but I have three kind of, suggestions, doorways of thought that maybe we can look through and see if there's something there that will help us. The first is coming from this passage, what does it look like to worship God with our finances? Judas sold Jesus for money. Mary sacrificed so much more to worship Jesus. How do we think of our money? First, do we think of it as our money, or as something we've been entrusted with?
Is it a tool that we can use to worship Jesus? Are we holding onto it and saying, well I wouldn't go that extreme. If we are, we have a heart issue. Ask your heart these questions about your finances.
Second, perhaps we need to forsake what people think about us so we can worship Jesus. What Mary did here was culturally inappropriate, and not just because she could have given this money to the poor. She was a woman who injected herself in the dinner and put the attention on her in some ways, but she didn't care. Jesus commends her for it. She forsook what the others would think to worship Jesus. What would it look like if we did that in our relationships, and in our conversations?
It used to be that evangelism was standing on corners, and knocking on doors, and in some ways that was successful. The world has changed, and that seems less successful in a certain way. So we've moved to thinking of evangelism (sharing the gospel, with the intent that people will come to believe it) being something we do in relationships, so we'll build relationships for years.
I think this can be good, but many times, three, five, eight years go by and we've never shared the gospel. If that's the case, I don't think we're actually doing evangelism, I think we might just be hanging out. Ask yourself, why am I not sharing the good news with this person? Why am I not telling them that their only hope is the Passover lamb of Jesus? Is it because I'm not willing to forsake what they think of me, that might be too over the top, kind of like pouring 12 ounces of very expensive perfume on Jesus? We should be willing to forsake what people think of us to worship Jesus.
Third and finally, and perhaps this is actually where we should start. We should pray that God would help us love him more. I think that's where all of this starts. Wherever you are at today, your heart, my heart can love Jesus more. That should be what we desire. That is a prayer that God loves to answer.
He wants a people who have a heart for him, not proximity to religion only, not knowledge of the word of God, people who have a heart for him, who want to worship him with their finances, with their lives, with their relationships, with their conversations. We should pray that God will give us a heart that beats more strongly for him.
So, let's let the picture of Jesus that Mark gives us here, and how worthy of worship he is, expand the realm of possibilities of what we can even imagine. I think for many of us, Mary's act also seems over the top. We need to reorient our worship compass, for lack of a better term, that it would point to this as a doorway to what correct worship looks like. That to have would be to give for us, because Mark shows us a Jesus here who is worthy of worship with everything we have, and everything we are. He knew he was going to the cross. He intentionally came to be our Passover lamb, and we should praise and worship him for that. He should own our hearts.