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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on March 12, 2017 under 2016 |

Preached Sunday, March 12, 2017 from Mark 14:1-9

Theme: A proper response to the One who gave His all for our salvation is to give our all to Him.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

We come this morning, in our study of Mark’s Gospel, to Chapter 14. And with this chapter of his Gospel, Mark brings us very near to the cross. The events it describes occurred on the Wednesday evening before our Lord’s crucifixion; and it would be during the next night—Thursday evening—that He would have His last meal with His disciples; after which, He would then be betrayed and arrested; and would afterward be crucified on Friday.

The first words of this chapter indicate to us that the cross is looming very close. In fact, the passage that I ask you to turn to this morning has, as it’s central focus, the betrayal of our Lord into the hands of His enemies. But the specific story that I ask that we consider is not itself about that betrayal. Rather, it’s a story of the opposite of betrayal—found in the midst of the story about the betrayal. It’s a story about deep devotion to our Lord against the backdrop of His approaching death upon the cross.

You’ll find this passage—with its two stories—in Mark 14:1-11. It begins in this way:

After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people” (Mark 14:1-2).

And there’s the first story. The plotting had begun. But no sooner are we introduced to the plot to put our Lord to death, than we find the scene changing to another story of what was happening to our Lord:

And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply. But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (vv. 3-9).

It’s a beautiful story of devotion to our Lord But we must not miss the connection it has to the larger story of the plot to put our Lord to death. The story of this woman’s act is intentionally sandwiched within the story of our Lord’s betrayal. And it’s then that we find the ‘other slice of bread’ in the sandwich;

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

I suspect that our Lord’s words to His disciples, approving this woman’s action so powerfully, was the last straw for Judas. It caused him, finally, to go out and offer to betray Jesus to the chief priests and scribes.

Now; if the Lord wills, I would like for us to examine the events of that betrayal in our next time together. I believe there are great lessons for us to learn from it about the heavenly Father’s sovereign hand over the events of our Savior’s crucifixion—so that everything happened exactly as God purposed; and all so as to display our Savior as the true ‘Passover Lamb’ who takes away the sin of the world.

But for this morning, I ask that we spend particular time with the story in the middle of it all—the wonderful story of the devotion of this woman; and of our Lord’s high commendation of her action. I believe that she teaches us one of the most important spiritual lessons we can learn about a proper response to our Savior’s sacrifice for us.

* * * * * * * * * *

I wonder if you have ever had the experience of being brought into the sudden awareness of the true value of a thing—something that you may not have noticed or understood or valued before; but that afterward—once your eyes were opened to it—your heart became completely changed about that thing.

If I may suggest it, I believe that—somewhere along the way—that’s happened to this woman. She may not have completely understood beforehand who Jesus was, or grasped the whole value of what it was that He was about to do for her. But at a certain point, by a work of the Holy Spirit, her heart was opened, and she gained a profound understanding. It utterly changed her heart. And as a result, she responded by expressing her gratitude in a way that was outstandingly extravagant—and that even shocked those who saw it, and who did not yet understand what Jesus was going to do.

Mark does not mention this woman’s name. But if you’re a reader of the Bible, you already know her. The Gospel writer John tells us that this woman was none other than Mary—the sister of our Lord’s dear friends Martha and Lazarus; who lived in the little town of Bethany, not far from Jerusalem.

John’s Gospel tells us that—not long before—Jesus had raised Mary’s brother Lazarus from the grave in order to show everyone that He is ‘the resurrection and the life’. It was an event that all who witnessed it were talking about. And not long afterward, a special dinner was put on in Jesus’ honor. John tells us that Lazarus was sitting at the table with the Lord; and that people were coming from everywhere to see Lazarus—and also to see the Lord Jesus who had raised him from the dead. Martha served dinner; and you can be sure it was a big event. And Mary was also present.

By the way; have you ever thought about the differences between these three friends of Jesus? Their unique personalities shine through in the stories that the Bible tells us about them. Martha, as you probably remember, was a woman who was always involved in activities and in getting things done. She was a strong personality—and we might even say that she was, at times, a bit of a bossy-pants. Her sister Mary, on the other hand, was reserved and quiet and some-what passive. I suspect that people sometimes looked down upon Mary just a bit when she was compared with her more ‘outgoing’ sister Martha. Do you remember another occasion when Martha put on a dinner for Jesus? Martha was working her fingers to the bone; and she complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her. And where was Mary? She was sitting at Jesus’ feet—listening to Him teach. Jesus told Martha that she was being worried and bothered by many things, but that only one thing was needed. He said that Mary had found that one thing—and that Jesus would not take that thing away from her.

It’s interesting that we don’t read of a single word being uttered from Lazarus in the whole Bible. I suspect that—with these two sisters of his—he learned to be quiet. He is only mentioned in the Bible as sitting at the table with Jesus—or walking out to Him from the tomb. But as one great preacher from the past pointed out, the three of them represent three very basic responses to our Lord: Martha served Him; Mary listened to Him; and Lazarus enjoyed fellowship with Him. It would be wonderful if all three of these qualities were to be found in us in our own personal relationship with Jesus.

So; this event that we’re reading about in Mark 14 was that very dinner—thrown in honor of Jesus for having raised Lazarus from the dead; with Martha and Mary and a whole lot of friends being present with our Lord.

And I believe that this ‘anointing’ story is being told to us for a very important reason. Mary—this shy, sensitive woman who came to Jesus and performed this act of anointing that shocked everyone; but who then received such great praise from our Lord for it—is set before us as an example of the kind of whole-hearted expression of faith that you and I ought to show to the Lord Jesus.

Once our eyes are properly opened to the true value of His sacrifice on the cross for us—just as hers were—our most appropriate response to Him who gave His all for us is to now give our all to Him in return.

* * * * * * * * * *

So; let’s consider this further. And first, let’s look at first …


Mark begins in verse 1 by telling us the timing in which this event occurred. “After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread …” It was the time of the most important feast on the Jewish calendar.

That feast was instituted by God for His people to help them remember the thing that had happened way back in the days of their bondage in Egypt. Moses wrote about it in Exodus 12. On the night upon which God was going to deliver His people from their bondage, they were to take a lamb, slay it, and paint the blood of the lamb upon the doorposts of their homes. The Bible tells us that when the angel of death saw that blood, he would ‘pass over’ that house; and that the people inside would be safe from God’s judgment upon the Egyptians. (What a vivid picture that is, by the way, of what our Lord Jesus has done for us on the cross! He is the true ‘Passover Lamb’; and it’s by His blood that we have been saved from God’s wrath!)

This commemoration was—according to the Roman reckoning of the calendar—only two days away. And then, after that, would be the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That was a week-long feast that God had commanded the Jewish people to observe. They were to have no leaven in their home for the whole week; and it was to symbolize the haste with which they left Egypt, and began their journey to the promised land.

There would have been lots of people coming into Jerusalem to observe the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And Mark then goes on to tell us; “And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. But they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people’” (v. 2). That really shows their heart attitude; doesn’t it? These religious leaders were plotting murder. They resented how the people were believing on Jesus—and, as John tells us in chapter 11 of his Gospel, they were fearful that the people would become so divided against them that the Romans would take their nation from them and remove them from their position of leadership. But they didn’t want to kill Jesus during the week-long feast; lest the great crowds of people who were there—who believed that He was a prophet—would turn against them.

They plotted to take action after the feast was over. That was their plan, anyway; but it wasn’t God’s plan. It was God’s set purpose that His Passover Lamb—our Savior—be sacrificed on Passover. And that’s when God allowed Judas to come on the scene and alter their plan accordingly.

Again—if the Lord wills—we’ll talk about that altered plan next week; and consider how it shows us how God exercised such sovereignty over even the wicked plans of men that they ended up serving His purpose for our salvation!

But for now; consider how this puts the actions of the woman—Mary—into the context of the death of our Savior; and how the attitude of the religious leaders presents a stark contrast to her humble reception and acceptance of Jesus’ ministry for us on the cross.

* * * * * * * * * * *

So then; let’s take a closer look at …


The scene shifts. Our attention is now taken to the little town of Bethany—just a few miles away from where the chief priests and scribes were plotting against Jesus. We’re told; “And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard” (v. 3a).

We’re not told who this man Simon was. There has been lots of speculation about him. Some have wondered if he might not have been the father of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Others have wondered if he was Martha’s late-husband; and that these events were happening in the home that they had built together. He may have only been a close friend of the family. But there’s one thing we do know for sure about him—he had been a leper. My suspicion is that he was a former leper that Jesus had healed; and that, now no longer being a leper, he had opened his home for this great celebration. And if that’s the case, then it’d be no wonder that he’d want to celebrate too.

As the dinner was going on, and as Martha was busy serving, and as people were reclining on their couches at the dinner table as they did in those days, we’re told that this woman Mary approached. She came up behind our Lord; and it may be that people saw that she had something in her hand. And as she drew near from out of the shadows, and as they had a better look, they would have been stunned. It was an alabaster flask—a work of exquisite art in and of itself; and it served as the container of a very pure, very select, very fine oil of frankincense. It was an extraordinarily expensive item. As we read on, we find that it could have been sold for 300 denarii. (A denarius was a Roman coin that was approximately the value of one man’s working wage for a day. And so, this flask would have been worth an entire year’s wages for an average working man. You could estimate that, in today’s terms, to be somewhere between $50,000 to $60,000.)

Where would Mary have gotten a thing like that? It may be that she had an inheritance of some kind and used it to buy this item. Or it may be that she sold all the possessions she had, and used the proceeds to buy this unspeakably expensive bottle of spikenard. It would have come in a bottle that had a long neck. You didn’t unscrew it from the top. You had to snap the neck open and poured out its contents. Once the bottle was broken open, all of it’s contents had to be poured out; and you couldn’t keep any of it or use it later. It was the kind of thing that someone would do only at the most outstanding and important of events or commemorations.

People would have been shocked as they saw Mary approaching Jesus with this remarkable flask. It may be that the family would have looked at one another and asked where in the world she got such a thing. And then, perhaps there would have been a horrified ‘gasp’ as they saw what happened next. Mark tells us, “Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head” (v. 3b).

The sound of the ‘snap’ would have been very clear; and the room would have been filled with the scent—and also with a sense of shock. But as some have pointed out, she would have only been acting out what it says in Song of Solomon 1:12;

While the king is at his table,
My spikenard sends forth its fragrance (Song of Solomon 1:12).

It was an immeasurably beautiful act of complete love and devotion to Jesus. She had just poured out her all to Him.

* * * * * * * * * *

But it wasn’t viewed as a beautiful act by the others who saw it. Consider next …


In verses 4-5, we’re told, “But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they criticized her sharply.” Just think of that! What she gave as an offering of her very self to the Lord, other people thought of it as a waste. But isn’t that what often happens to half-hearted followers of Jesus when they are confronted with such complete devotion?

And there’s really more to it than just that. When John tells us this story in his Gospel, he lets us know that the chief critic of Mary was Judas himself. John tells us;

But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it (John 12:4-6).

Judas’ complaint was not that of a sincere philanthropist. His complaint was that of a frustrated crook. When people sometimes complain about someone being ‘too devoted’ or ‘too sacrificial’ for the cause of Jesus, I wonder how often it may be that it’s because they wouldn’t now be able to get hold of whatever it was that Jesus was given. I suppose only heaven will know the full answer to that one.

* * * * * * * * * *

And so, they criticized Mary sharply for this ‘anointing’. They scolded her for what they perceived to be ‘wasteful’. It was too extravagant an act for their sense of propriety. But the Lord Jesus did not feel that way about it. Notice finally …


“But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me’” (v. 6). Jesus’ response to their rebuke was to rebuke the rebukers! They called it a waste; but He honored it as a good work. This is twice in the story of the gospel, by the way, that Jesus came to the defense of Mary in her devotion to Him—first when she was sitting at His feet, and now as she poured out this anointing oil. (I’d rather be on Mary’s side of things; wouldn’t you?)

He went on in verse 7; “For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.” If they had really wanted to care for the poor, after all, they could have done so at any time. Nothing was stopping them. But in saying this, Jesus was highlighting the spiritual perceptiveness of Mary. She had come to realize that what Jesus had been saying about Himself was the truth—that He had been telling them all along that He would be going to Jerusalem, and that He would be betrayed into the hands of evil men, and that they would arrest Him and try Him and crucify Him, and that He would rise three days later. Mary performed this act now—knowing that He would not always be with them. She clearly had believed what He said more than the others did!

Jesus went on to praise her. He said, “She has done what she could” (v. 8a). And by the way; when it comes to our devotion for Jesus, for how many of us can that be said? Scarcely could it be said that we have done what we could for Him. It could hardly be said that we did even a tenth of what we could. Maybe it could only be said that we did as little as we could. But she “has done what she could”! In fact, given the great cost of this oil with which she anointed Him, it seems that she literally did everything she could! She gave her all—pouring everything of herself upon Him as if to say, “Lord Jesus; do what You are about to do … and do it for me! Yes, Lord; make the great sacrifice You are about to make … and make it for me.” What complete devotion! Jesus recognized this, and gave her this wonderful commendation.

And look at the reason Jesus gives for why she did what she did. Jesus said, “She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial” (v. 8b). There were others who would come to His tomb later to try to anoint Jesus’ body for burial after He had been crucified. But as it turned out, they were not able to do so. He would rise out of the tomb three days later, just as He said He would do—before those others could get it done. But out of all those who were devoted to Him, and out of all those who had purposed to anoint Him for burial, only Mary alone was able to do so. And it’s because she did it beforehand! What a remarkable faith she had!

And look at Jesus’ final words concerning her. He said—in words that are very solemn—“Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (v. 9). In saying this, Jesus affirmed that His gospel would indeed be written and recorded and reach around the world. Here we are today—in a city that is on the other side of the globe from the events that Mark’s Gospel describes; twenty-one centuries later—still reading and learning from this woman’s story. Jesus’ words are being fulfilled in our hearing today. I don’t believe that there is anyone else in the Bible that has received such an astonishing affirmation of approval from our Lord as this one!

And why did Jesus insist that it would be heard wherever His gospel is preached? I believe its because Mary’s action stands as the great example of the truly proper way to respond to the Savior who has given His all for us. And that is that we pour out our all to Him in gratitude.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; the faith and devotion of this dear woman shames me. No one else understood the sacrifice of Jesus better than she did—and no one else responded to it in a way that Jesus commended more than she did. Perhaps it was because no one sat at His feet more faithfully and listened to Him more attentively than she had.

I am not yet like her. But I want to grow. I hope you’ll join me in that desire. May it be that we—like this dear woman Mary—will grow increasingly to pour the whole of our lives out upon Him who gave His all to save us.

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