The Fragrance of Love (Mark 14:1-11)

Mark-14
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The Fragrance of Love
Sunday, July 7th, 2024
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA

Mark 14:1-11

After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.

And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.

10 And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.

Prayer

Thy love O Lord is better than wine, Thy name is as ointment poured forth, Therefore do the virgins love thee. Open now unto us the gates of heaven, that we might behold in your Word, the exceeding riches of Your grace and kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. And Amen.

Introduction

This morning, we are picking back up in the Gospel of Mark. We began our study of Mark’s Gospel way back in April of 2023, so for over a year now we have been steadily plodding through this book, and finally we have come to the last movement of this symphony, and the final act of this gospel.

  • Chapters 14-16 record what is typically called “the Passion Narrative,” which begins with Christ’s body being anointed for burial and ends with the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord.
  • So these last three chapters are what the previous 13 chapters have been preparing us for. For three years Jesus has preached the gospel, he has healed the sick, he has performed miracles, he has cast out demons, he has taught and fed the multitudes, and now, two days before the great Passover feast, Jesus is himself prepared as a sheep for the slaughter.

Overview of the Text

Our text sets up a contrast between two kinds of people.

  • 1. There is the unnamed woman, who from love and devotion, pours out precious ointment upon Jesus’ head, an amount valued at 300 denarii, or about 1 year of wages.
  • 2. And then there is Judas, who from greed and self-interest, betrays Jesus for money. How much? Thirty pieces of silver.
  • And then we might also add a third group of people, which is the guests, the other disciples, those observing and judging the value or prudence of this woman’s actions. In their eyes this is anointing is wasteful, whereas in Jesus’ eyes it is meritorious and praiseworthy.
  • So, there are many lessons for us in this text, so let us walk through it and then make some applications from it.

Verses 1-2

After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.

  • So it is two days before Passover, and in our reckoning this would likely be Wednesday of Passion Week. And Jesus has just finished his scorching condemnation of the Temple from the Mount of Olives, where he foretold the city’s destruction within one generation. That was Mark 13.
  • And now here we have the Jewish authorities (whom Jesus refuted in earlier chapters) plotting how they might take Jesus and kill him, without stirring up the crowds. Far from regarding the solemnity of the sabbath and the Passover festival, the chief priests and scribes treat it as a kind of inconvenience that must be factored into their plot of Jesus’ downfall. “Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.”
  • So notice the irony and divine wisdom in the timing of these events. Passover was the remembrance and reenactment of God delivering Israel from bondage in Egypt. And more specifically, remembering the night in which the angel of death passed over, and killed all the firstborn in the land who did not have the blood of the lamb to cover them.
  • And so in the middle of this great festival and memorial to God’s redeeming mercy, men are plotting God’s death. Mortal creatures are seeking to take by craft the omnipotent and all wise God. This is one of the many jokes that God tells in His Word.
  • So these opening verses of Mark 14 set the stage for a divine comedy. As it says in Psalm 2:4, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh, The Lord shall have them in derision.”
    • While men may plot the destruction of the righteous, and while the enemies of Christ’s body may surround us like vultures, we serve the God of whom it says, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness,” and, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
  • Seeing that this God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the lowly, we have now in verse 3 a stark contrast to the murderous high priests and scribes. For here in this unnamed woman, we have a portrait of true and humble devotion.

Verse 3

And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.

  • The scene shifts from a murderous plot outside, to a feast inside in Bethany.
    • Bethany means house of obedience, and it was the last stop on one’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem, located just a couple miles from the city walls.
    • And it is here that Jesus dines at Simon the leper’s house, who was a former leper that Jesus had healed.
    • And then depending on how one harmonizes this story with the other three gospel accounts, this unnamed woman was likely the same woman that John’s gospel identifies as Mary, the sister of Martha. And if that is the case, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus would all be in attendance together with Jesus’ disciples as John 12 records.
  • So in the midst of this large gathering, of at least 15 men dining together (Jesus, the twelve, Simon, and Lazarus), it says, “there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.” What is the significance of this rather socially awkward interruption of the meal?
    • There are echoes here of the Song of Solomon, which is a love poem between Christ and the Church, between the Bride and the Bridegroom.In the voice of the Bride it says in Song of Solomon 1:12, “While the king sitteth at his table, My spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.”
      • And what do we have here in Bethany? We have King Jesus, sitting at the table, and the woman’s spikenard sending forth its smell.
    • In the voice of the Bridegroom it says in Song of Solomon 4:10, “How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! How much better is thy love than wine! And the smell of thine ointments than all spices!
      • And how does Jesus respond to this aroma of love? He says in verse 6, “she hath wrought a good work on me.”
  • So God has given us this scene to signify not just this individual woman’s devotion to Christ, but the devotion the church should have for Christ. The woman signifies the bride, and Christ is the greater Solomon, the Bridegroom. This is a common theme throughout all the gospels when Jesus interacts with women.
  • What about the significance of her gift?
  • When we consider this lavish gift of the woman, we discover that many biblical virtues are signified here.
    • By the ointment is signified joy and fellowship, healing and wholeness.
      • Proverbs 27:9 says, “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart.”
      • Ecclesiastes 9:8-9 says, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.”
      • Psalm 133 says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head…”
      • So ointment in Scripture signifies the Holy Spirit, who is the very bond of unity and love, and who gladdens our heart as we pour forth in generosity and charity to others.
      • One of the proper names of the Holy Spirit is Gift, for as we recite in the creed, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and this procession is a pouring forth of the infinite love between Father and Son.
      • Recall the scene in Acts 5, where Ananias and Sapphira drop dead for lying to the Holy Spirit. Why was their sin of keeping back some of what they had promised to give to God, called “lying to the Holy Ghost?”
        • Because it is proper to the Holy Ghost to be freely given, and therefore to say you are going to freely give your possessions, but then to secretly keep them back, is to contradict the very Spirit in which the gift is to given.
      • So this woman’s gift of ointment is a fitting sign that the Holy Spirit indwells this woman. She has been moved by God to adore Christ in this way, and to prepare his body for burial.
    • What about the spikenard? By the spikenard, is signified a kind of purity or faithfulness. In Greek it is actually two words, (νάρδου πιστικῆς) which you could translate as nard of faithfulness, or genuine/unadulterated nard.
      • And then Mark tells us explicitly that this spikenard was “very precious.”
  • So this is an expensive and beautiful gift that is fit for a king. It exemplifies the giving to God of all that one considers most precious, and it so extravagant that it actually offends some of the disciples.

Verses 4-5

And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her.

  • Notice that in Mark’s account, it is not Judas alone who is indignant. Some of the other disciples join in the murmuring against her.
  • And what is their reasoning? It was wasteful. It was economically foolish and not the best allocation of capital. It could have been sold and given to the poor.
  • Now we know from elsewhere in the gospels that Judas’ motive was not care for the poor, but rather, the poor were his front/cover for his own thievery and self-interest. As treasurer, he used to help himself to the money bag. And while Judas’ motive was greed and self-interest, there are other disciples who join in the murmuring and indignation because they are moved by Judas argument, that this could have been given to the poor instead. And doesn’t Jesus tell us to care for the poor?
  • Notice how easily these disciples are manipulated by an emotional appeal to the poor. This is American identity politics 101. Wealthy thievesuse the poor as a cover and front for their own self-interest.They oppress the poor in the name of helping the poor, and it is well-meaning disciples who are easily steered by such appeals. Much more could be said about this, but let us see how Jesus responds?

Verses 6-9

And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.

  • Jesus as the faithful bridegroom comes to the defense and vindication of his bride. What they considered wasteful and excessive, Jesus considers fitting and most appropriate to the occasion.
  • Despite Jesus telling his disciples in very clear and explicit terms, multiples times, that he is going to be arrested, crucified and rise the third day, still they don’t get it. But this woman does.
  • This woman knows what is fitting for the occasion, because she is full of the Holy Spirit. And so she does from love for Christ, what she will not ever have the opportunity to do later, namely anoint and perfume the body of Christ in preparation for his burial.
  • This is the logic of Jesus’ vindication and praise of her action.
    • The poor you have with you always, and you can do them good from your own resources anytime you want. And God will reward you richly for doing so!
      • Psalm 41 says, “Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, And he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness; You will sustain him on his sickbed.”
      • So Jesus is not discouraging helping the poor. And indeed as Paul says, we must remember the poor and be merciful unto them. 
      • But this is a special occasion, a once in a lifetime opportunity that will not come again, where you are gathered around the table with God incarnate. And it is just two days before his body will be crucified for the sins of the world. And so what could be more fitting, than to “waste” this most precious ointment, upon the body of God? To prepare his body for burial, and to prophesy by one’s offering that this same body shall perfume the whole world with the knowledge of God. That this same body shall be the aroma of salvation to the ends of the earth. What could be more fitting than this?
  • So Jesus lauds this woman’s devotion. And he declares that wherever this gospel shall be preached, and indeed it shall be preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.
  • How does this land with the disciples? Mark only tells us about the actions of Judas.

Verses 10-11

10 And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.

  • Notice the text began in verses 1-2 with the problem of how to catch Jesus by craft, and now here Judas offers himself as the solution. If they give him money, he will find a way to conveniently betray him.
  • So this is the contrast Mark draws our attention to.
    • The woman sacrifices something precious for love for Christ.
    • Judas sacrifices Christ for something he considers more precious, namely money.
  • Remember Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
    • Judas has chosen Mammon for his god, and the reward Mammon gives is death.
    • The woman has chosen Christ for God, and her reward is life everlasting.

Conclusion

  • Who is your Master? Who do you serve? Who or what receives your devotion and attention and desire? Who do you give your most precious ointment to? Do you even have the oil of the Holy Ghost to give?
  • In Matthew 16:25 Jesus says, “whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
  • This is the decision before us every day, every hour, every time we are tempted to settle for earthly goods over heavenly goods. And what the Bible teaches us is that every earthly good is a gracious gift from God, and yet those earthly goods must always be subordinated to and made servants of the Greatest Good, namely God.
    • This means being ready at all times like the Apostle Paul to count everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:8).
    • It means that God leads in triumph through the trials of this life so that “through us He diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14).
    • It means that while Christ is absent from us in body, He is always present in the hearts of the faithful who love him, and because of this love, the King shall say to the righteous on judgment day, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
  • So when you serve the body of Christ, those who Jesus calls “my brethren,” you are doing it as unto Christ Himself, and you shall by no means, lose your reward.
  • May God make us into a people that is zealous for good works, that is full of charity, that the fragrance of Christ would be known in our region. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.
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