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MARK 14:1-11
Series:  The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Forty Two

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 3, 2019

Please stand - if you are able - as we come together before God’s word.  Would you read with me our passage for this morning - Mark 14 - starting at 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, 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.


The Plan


In verses 1 and 2 Mark tells us that:  It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 


Passover was… Passover.  It was and is the celebration of God’s delivering His people from bondage in Egypt and God creating this new nation of Israel.


The Passover was always celebrated on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew religious calendar.  Which was based on phases of the moon.  So today, we know when to celebrate Passover because it’s tied to the phases of the moon.  And we know back then when they celebrated Passover because it was tied to the... phases of the moon.


The Feast of Unleavened bread was and is generally celebrated one day later on the 15th of the first month of the religious calendar.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrates Israel’s escape from Egypt and God’s provision of bread - the feast coming at the beginning of the harvest.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread lasts for 7 days and involves the removing of leaven from the home. 


These were and are hugely significant celebrations for God’s people.  That people circled on their calendars - planned on - prepared for.  The population of Jerusalem swelled to maybe 10 times its normal size.  There are hundreds of thousands of pilgrims coming from all over the world that are revved up religiously - politically - culturally.


In the midst of that crowd Jesus has been very public in His ministry and message.  We’ve been looking at this since January.


Sunday was… Palm Sunday.  When Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  On Monday He cursed the fig tree and cleansed the temple. On Tuesday, He’s in the temple reframing and rebutting questions from the religious leadership.  


Tuesday - late afternoon - Jesus gives His Olivet Discourse - which was the discourse He gave on the… Mount of Olives.  Where Jesus outlined the complete destruction of the temple and the city. 


We know that in the midst of all that the leaders of Israel were not only fearful of Jesus - because of His huge and growing popularity in the midst of this huge and growing crowd of revved up pilgrims.  But also, they were ticked at Jesus because He threatened their carefully balanced little world of power and politics.  Jesus is from outside the beltway and He’s causing drama for the leadership.


Mark tells us that 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.”


They’re looking for a way to take Jesus down and… out.


Which we’ve seen them try.  They’ve tried taking Jesus down by public confrontation and debate.  Trying to defame Him - to slander Him - and to defeat Him in front of the crowd.  Which hasn’t worked.  Despite all the fake news Jesus is still trending.


So now, the plan is to work by stealth - to take Him down quietly - by some form of intrigue - without risking the crowd turning against them.  And then to kill Him - hopefully to take Him out permanently.


And if possible - to do that before the feast.  Two days away.  Because Jesus is only going to get more public and harder to take down and out.  There’s a sense of urgency to their plan.


The only question they have is… how?  How do we put our plan into action?


Verse 3 brings us to Bethany and the house of Simon the leper and The Perfume.


Bethany is about 2 miles east of Jerusalem.  Which was the home of Mary, Martha, and the recently resurrected Lazarus.  It was a place of retreat for Jesus and a kind of “near to Jerusalem” headquarters for His ministry.  It’s where Jesus hung out and regrouped in in the midst of all of the drama over the hill in Jerusalem.


Tuesday night - after Jesus and the disciples travel back the 2 miles to Bethany - down through the Kidron Valley - up the Mount of Olives - after the Olivet Discourse - Tuesday night in Bethany, Simon the leper has a dinner gathering at his house - Jesus - the disciples - presumably others - are there reclining at table.


Which is what they did back then.  Laying down on couches on their left arms - eating with their right hands - and having their feet hanging off the couch - hopefully away from the table and the food.  Which would be gross if they didn’t.  It is always polite to keep your feet off the table. 


Who is Simon the leper?  Bottom line is that we don’t know.


Most likely he’s not a leper because if he is a leper then everyone at the dinner is violating Mosaic Law.


Most probably Simon was someone that Jesus has healed of leprosy.  Somehow the nickname has stuck.  Maybe even he still bears the marks of the disease.  Some kind of disfigurement.  We don’t know.


But - most probably - since Jesus has healed him may be one reason why he’s hosting the dinner and inviting Jesus.


At some point during dinner a woman comes up behind Jesus - breaks an alabaster vial which has pure nard in it.  And she pours out the nard on Jesus’ head in act of pure devotion and worship - anointing Jesus with the nard.


What would that be like?  One minute we’re enjoying a nice meal together.  Kebab.  Humus.  Pilaf.  Baklava.  And then this woman comes in and pours a bottle of the expensive perfume all over Jesus’ head.


Pretty awkward.  Very strange.  How would you respond to that? 


An alabaster vial is a vial made out of... alabaster.  Which back then might have looked something like this (picture).  Which may have been a family heirloom that had been passed from generation to generation.  Perhaps an investment for a rainy day.  It gets mentioned so there was value in the vial being made of alabaster.


The Apostle John records that she poured out a “litra” of nard.  Which would be about 12 ounces.  Which is a lot of perfume to pour over anyone.


Mark makes a point of telling us that it was pure nard - concentrated nard.  Meaning not diluted.  Pure meaning it was more valuable.  Meaning it could have been diluted and a whole lot of perfume could have been made and sold from it.


Pure also meaning that it was probably really really fragrant.  The aroma of this nard just takes over the room.


Nard comes from a plant like this one.  Which is native to the Himalayas and what is today Nepal or China or India.  Not Israel.  So it’s imported nard which also added to its value.


Mark tells us that it was not just expensive or costly pure nard  But, it was… very costly.  The Greek word is “poluteles” - meaning very precious - of great value.


In the pushback that comes later we’re told that it could have been sold for 300 denarii.  1 denarius was about what the average skilled laborer could earn in a day.  Meaning that what this woman poured out on Jesus’ head in those few moments was worth what a man could earn in an entire years labor.


What would that be like today?


#1 on the Google list of 10 most expensive perfumes is this perfume that was created by Donna Karan of New York.  It comes in this one-of-a-kind bottle that has a 2.43-carat yellow Canary diamond in the cap along with a 4.03-carat rose-cut diamond and 3.07-carat oval-cut ruby along with jewels and diamonds form Brazil and Australia and Sri Lanka.  The whole manufacturing process took about 1,500 hours.


Any guesses on the price tag?  A cool $1million.


Bottom line:  This woman pours out the good stuff.  And lots of it.  Out of a vial that may have been a family heirloom.  It’s a precious and costly act of worship in a number of close to the heart ways.


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.

The woman’s actions leaves some of Simon’s dinner guests aghast.  Meaning indignant.  Literally - in the way the Greek words it - they’re grieving over the waste - the loss - of this incredibly valuable perfume.


There were probably thousands of poor people within a few miles of Jerusalem.  On the evening of the Passover it was customary to give gifts to the poor.  Maybe thousands could have been helped with what was now puddling and wasted on the floor.


They’re indignation gives way to rebuke.  They scold her.  The word in Greek is used for the sound a horse makes when it snorts.  [try that]  Their rebuke went beyond glares and stares to an open tirade of humiliation.


John tells us that it was Judas Iscariot - the treasurer - who led the vicious verbal assault.  Judas who led with the pretense of caring for the poor.  Something they could have acted on earlier or later.  But suddenly becomes a concern.


We need to hear the hypocrisy of their hearts in that.  Ultimately they’re only thinking of themselves.


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.”


Jesus rebukes this woman’s critics for two things.


First:  They have no sense of divine priorities. 


Not too many days earlier when Jesus was crossing the Jordan River - on His way to Jericho and Jerusalem - a rich young man had come up to Jesus with a question about what more he needed to do to gain the assurance of eternal life.  Jesus told him to... sell everything and give the proceeds to the... poor.


That’s one example of many.  Jesus often spoke of caring for the poor.  It was a part of His teaching. 


So, Jesus isn’t suggesting that they don’t take care of the poor.  But that the caring for the poor is a constant need.  An ongoing act of stewarding God given resources.


Ecclesiastes 3:1:  “For everything there is a... season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”


What’s happening here is a different season - a very unique time.  A singular moment in time that calls for spontaneous extravagance.


A couple getting married should plan to use their resources wisely - for buying a house - for savings.  But its appropriate for the groom to spend bucks to make the once in a lifetime investment in a ring for his bride.


Jesus won’t always be with them in the flesh and blood of our humanity.  How unique was that time and worth the extravagant “all in” worship of that woman?


This woman’s critics had no sense of the uniqueness of the moment they were a part of.


Second - Jesus rebukes them for their lack of spiritual sensitivity.  They had no clue as to what was going on in that unique divine moment.


Maybe even this woman didn’t fully understand the full significance of what she was doing.  But her actions introduced a divine dimension that went way beyond the immediate circumstances of some guys reclining on couches around a table eating a meal together.


Jesus - in defending the woman’s actions - Jesus defines the deep symbolic value of her actions.


Phillip Keller writes:  “The delicious fragrance ran down over His shining hair and thick beard.  It enfolded His body with its delightful aroma.  Even His tunic and flowing undergarment were drenched with its enduring pungency.  Wherever He moved during the ensuing forty-eight hours the perfume would go with Him:  into the Passover, into the Garden of Gethsemane, into the high priest’s home, into Herod’s hall, into Pilate’s praetorium, into the crude hands of those who cast lots for His clothing at the food of the cross.” (1)


Israel’s long waited for Messiah - reclining at table - is about to be delivered over for death.  The plan is in place waiting for the opportunity.


Jesus’ death will go quickly because it’s only 2 days until the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the need to move through the betrayal and trial and crucifixion will hasten the need for a quick burial.  Jesus’ body will not receive the normal care and proper treatment prior to that burial.  Rising it with water and then anointing it with perfumed oil.


Jesus - sees behind the act of this women’s devotion - the loving hand of God anointing Him for burial.  As she allowed the impulses of her heart to move her - her devotion filled the room with the aroma that symbolically anticipated Jesus’ death and burial and would cling to Him even in the grave.


“She has done what she could.”  Meaning that there are times when God uses us and the resources that He places at our disposal to do things that are way beyond our ability and way beyond our understanding.  But, that doesn’t change our need to respond with faithful obedience - even extravagance - when clearly moved by the Holy Spirit to move - to action.


She did what God had enabled her to do.


Jesus says, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”


Which is what we’re doing this morning as we’re studying this together and remembering what she did.  Which connects us with a much larger divine reality than what we may have been aware of this morning as we were eating breakfast and grabbing coffee and driving over here.  What God may be doing in and through you even now as we show up and do what God enables us to do.


May help us to be aware of His priorities and sensitive to where and when He’s moving spiritually beyond what we take for granted as being just routine life with Jesus.


The Plot

Verse 10: 
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.


What was the catalyst that moved Judas to action?  Why betray Jesus and why now?  We don’t really know. 


But what Judas does reflects the hardness of the hearts of those eating dinner at Simon’s.  What was lacking their own devotion to Jesus.  Their own insensitivity to God and what God was doing.


Maybe it was the waste of the expensive perfume.  Jesus actually commends this women who wastes this valuable resource.


Like the others there, Judas struggled with the difference between waste and worship.  Unlike this woman, Judas wasn’t tracking with the heart of Jesus for sinners.  He wasn’t seeing His own need to respond to Jesus’ love and grace and mercy towards him.


And like most Jews, Judas was longing for a military political king who would kick the Romans back to Rome and restore Israel to her former glory.  And once again, Jesus is talking about dying and His death.  Not conquest and standing up to Rome’s authority.


Why did Judas do what Judas did?  What triggered his betrayal?  We don’t know.


But we do know that Judas - heart level - Judas seems to be like so many people who sense some great need in their life and they come to Jesus to fix that need on their terms not God’s.


Like in America today.  We have this quick fix culture.  Get sick.  Take a pill.  Move on.  If you’ve got an issue, throw money at it.  But we resist taking the time to do the hard work of dealing with anything heart level that has to do with changing how we want to do life.


People can come to Jesus for what they want Him to do for them.  Restore this or heal that or get me out of this or tell me what do about that.  Make it better so I can go on with my life.  Which still has us in the driver seat of where we think God should go with our life. 


So many people give up on God because God hasn’t come through for them in the way they think a loving God should come through for them.  Or, they don’t see God operating in human history the way they think God should be doing things.


How many people have said, “I can’t believe in a God Who would let this happen.  God is suppose to be a God of love.”  Maybe you’ve said that yourself?


God and what God is doing in His creation is way beyond us.  If it weren’t so He wouldn’t be God.  And maybe it’s hard for us to go there.  Because our own egos get in the way.


At some point we need to realize that our perspective on all that is tainted by our depravity and sin.  What we really need to be doing is trusting the God Who loves us and crying out to Him for His grace and mercy and trusting Him with our lives.


Judas falls into this trap of wanting Jesus to be who Judas wanted Jesus to be.  That wanting was tainted by Judas’ sin and his not trusting Jesus to do what Jesus lovingly and graciously and mercifully wanted to do in Judas’ heart and relationship with God.  And that really messed Judas up.


So, while we may not completely understand Judas and why Judas did what Judas did - especially after all that Judas saw and heard Jesus doing and teaching.  Just maybe there is some of what Judas struggled with that we also struggle with that might help us to understand him.


Judas goes to the chief priests in order to betray Jesus to them.  Mark tells us that when the chief priests heard Judas’ proposal, they were “glad.”  A word in Greek that means that they were... “glad.” 


They promised Judas money.  Literally silver.  Payment for the betrayal.  Blood money.


Their plan is to take Jesus down and out.  The plot hatched with Judas - the insider - gives them the opportunity to abduct Jesus quietly - preferably at a time and place where there will be no witnesses.  No mob to be stirred up.


Mark tells us that Judas sought an opportunity to betray Jesus.


“Sought” translates the Greek verb “zeteo” which means that it became the ongoing passionate heart level desire of Judas to search for - to strive for - to work for - the opportune moment to quietly hand Jesus over to those who would abduct Him and abuse Him and turn Him over to the Romans for the horrors of crucifixion and death.


Processing all that…


We need to be careful.  It would be easy to look at Judas as the poster child for sin and depravity.  But our own depravity runs as deep as His


Let’s be honest.  Most of us would rather see ourselves as the woman with the alabaster vial of very costly nard anointing Jesus.  I know I would. 


But in reality most of us are like Judas.  At the heart level we’re struggling with our priorities for our lives and what we expect of God  Most of us have - at best - a minimal sense of God’s priorities and we struggle with a lack of sensitivity to what God is actually doing.


Judas is acting out what was the heart level response of those at the dinner.  Simon - the leper healed by Jesus.  The disciples who had heard Jesus teach about the kingdom of God being at hand and they’d seen all that Jesus had done to demonstrate that truth and to call people to repentance and faith.


Mark only says that “some” said and “they scolded her.”  He doesn’t exclude Simon or the disciples.  Which points to the heartless and graceless attitude of those who had received so much from Jesus and who responded with only scorn for this woman who was responding to Jesus like they should have been responding to Jesus.


The devotion of this women who doesn’t care what anyone there thinks of her.  She’s totally consecrated - totally heart level sold out to Jesus - Who commends her - holds up her devotion as an example for even us.


Which would be pretty discouraging if we ended there.  Seeing ourselves as being more like Judas and not the woman.  That’s harsh.


But, hold on to this.  While Judas doesn’t get Jesus.  Jesus does get Judas.  Jesus knows more about Judas than Judas knows about Judas.


Jesus knows more about Judas than any of us will ever know about Judas.  Jesus knew the background and upbringing of Judas that had shaped his attitudes and perspective on life.  Jesus could see into the depths of Judas’ heart - the motivations and turmoil in his soul.  Jesus knew the depths of Judas’ sinfulness as only God can.


And yet Jesus invited Judas to follow Him as a disciple.  To journey with Jesus through 3 years of ministry in great intimacy and trust.  Jesus pouring into Judas.  Jesus included Judas at this meal at Simon’s.  Jesus - even at the Passover meal - the Last Supper - Jesus invites Judas to eat with the faithful.  Even then Jesus is reaching out to Judas.  Offering Judas the opportunity to turn from sin - to repent - and to receive forgiveness.


The good news is this:  Even when we make ourselves to be enemies of God through our own sin - God extends grace to us to save us from our own depravity.  And even when we continue in sin - and selfishness - and live in our own short sighted priorities and spiritual insensitivity - with impure motives and unfaithfulness - and actions that reveal a lack of devotion - when God has every right to wipe us off of His planet and toss us into Hell forever - God’s love overflows towards us.  His grace comes through to rescue us.  Day after day.  We can never do anything so wicked that will carry us beyond His ability or willingness to forgive.


You may be tempted to be leaning on a cushion with the scolders or doubting whether God actually cares about what you’re going through.  You may be a long way from being “all in” devoted.  We all have times like that.


Please hear this for yourself this morning.  The God of all grace and mercy and forgiveness - Who knows you and your sin even better than you know yourself and your sin - that same God loves you.


And He is always reaching out to you - and to me - to turn to Him and trust Him with our lives.


Last take away.  Consider the example of the woman that Jesus defends - holds up as an example.  Says that she’s done a beautiful thing - literally a good work.  What she did was the right thing to do to Jesus.  If we want to do the right thing then we need to do what she did.


Her worship - her adoration - was unreserved - unrestrained - uninhibited - costly consecration - extravagant.  Perhaps that alabaster vial of pure nard was her most valuable possession.  Probably was.  Regardless of what anyone may think of her or what she’s doing - she pours out her future - her security - her life in total trust and adoration of Jesus.


In thinking about that for us - as you and I head out there to do life - is our response to Jesus more like the guests or more like the woman?  Would Jesus use how were living and responding to Him as an example of what it means to understand how greatly God has lovingly been gracious and merciful to us - even forgiving our sin and giving us a relationship with Him.


May God help us to get past ourselves and to live lives that demonstrate the reality of all of what God has done for us in Jesus.





1. W. Phillip Keller, Rabboni:  Which Is To Say, Master (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1977), pages 222,223 - quoted by Chuck Swindoll, page 242


Series references:

Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).

Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2:  Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.