By Simon ManchesterSunday 7 Apr 2019Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 16 minutes
We are returning to the Gospel of Mark after a very long time. And we’re going to be looking in the chapters 14 to 16. These chapters are often called the Passion Narrative. And that comes from the old Latin word for suffering, which is passio, the passion narrative.
Before we see a whole lot of people reject Jesus, which we will in these chapters, we’re introduced to a woman who reveres him, who receives him, who honours him, and it’s a very famous event. Almost everybody here will know this particular passage well, the woman pouring the perfume.
What really challenges me, is why Jesus says at the end this incredible sentence that, “Wherever the Gospel goes, what she has done will be told.” And I think to myself at this point, “Are you exaggerating?” I mean, it’s a great moment, but wherever the Gospel is told, is this event really going to be?
I think the answer is that Jesus is right because in three or four of the Gospels it’s recorded, and therefore, it’s impossible to be reading the scriptures, the Word of God, the Gospel, and not get to this event leading into the betrayal and the arrest, and the death.
This event, I think, is presented to us at the doorway of the opposition intensifying. And it’s almost as though this event, which is so beautiful, scandalises everything which is going to follow. So before we see what evil really looks like in the death of Christ, we’re going to see, for a moment, what grace looks like.
And the two things that I want us to notice are really very apparent in the first couple of verses. If you look at verses 1 and 2, we read that the Passover was just a couple of days away; therefore, God is moving towards a goal. And the chief priests and the teachers are looking for a way to arrest Jesus and kill him, and they are moving towards a goal.
So there are these two systems at work in the world. God is working to his calendar of perfection, and these oppositional people were moving towards their own goal of his death.
I don’t think it’s an accident that the Passover is coming. The Passover, as you know, was that time where the Jewish people remembered the big escape from Egypt. But the big escape from Egypt was a small escape compared to the big escape that Jesus would produce in his death. To get out of Egypt is a brief, local event. To get out of your sins is a massive, eternal event.
The whole Passover, which the Jewish people have been remembering for 2000 years, is just a preview of this very great Passover, which Jesus is going to succeed in. So although the enemies of Jesus have been plotting to remove him, nothing is going to stop the plan of God. The greatest evil that you could possibly do in killing Jesus is going to be used by God for the saving of millions.
These two processes are at work. God is at work. Sin is at work. And this passage, in a way, will help you to work out, “Am I under the influence of God so that my life has changed, or am I under the influence of sin so that I’m actually moving in a completely different direction?
You can see this woman, Judas, two different directions under two different powers. So here are my two points. Some of you may still be with me. Yes, here are my two points. What it looks like when God is at work, what it looks like when God is at work, what it looks like when sin is it work. Do you want to know what it looks like when God is at work?
Do you want to know what it looks like when sin is it work?
What it looks like when God is at work
It’s a couple of nights before the crucifixion. We’re told in these verses that it’s in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. And we’re told in John’s Gospel that this woman who comes and puts the perfume is Mary, Mary, the sister of Martha, Mary, the sister of Lazarus.
Possibly, Simon the leper is the father of them all. And it’s a very helpful detail that we’re given because this woman who breaks the perfume over Jesus’ head is a believer. We know from the other gospels, she’s a believer. She’s a saved woman. She’s a grateful woman. She’s a spiritually rich woman. She doesn’t come into the room and say, “Gee, how can I get into Jesus’ good books?
I know what I’ll do, I’ll give him a massive gift of perfume. And he’ll turn around and say, ‘Gee, you’ve been so wonderful. You now are saved.'” Not at all. She’s coming in, having been already immeasurably enriched by Jesus. She’s got mercy. She’s got acceptance.
She’s got eternal life. She’s got a future. She’s got a father in heaven. She’s got a saviour. Soon she’ll have the Holy Spirit within her. And she comes in immeasurably, unbelievably rich, and says, “I’m going to give back a tiny token of how much I’ve been enriched.” So even if we only had Mark’s Gospel, it’s critical to realise that this is a lady who comes as a believer with gratitude.
We often say in this church, and we cannot say it often enough. It needs to be told every 10 minutes of every Sunday that if you want to get right with God, it’s a matter of receiving salvation. Just stop whatever you’re doing and receive what you need, salvation.
Then you will be a forgiven, new, useful person. There’s no point in saying, “I’m going to keep grinding my way forward and climbing some ladder. Now receive salvation.” It’s no good telling a pirate to be good. It’s no good telling a pirate to be busy. It just perpetuates the strength of piracy.
We want to tell a pirate, “Get off the ship,” that’s repent. “Get on the ship of the king,” that’s faith, “and you’ll start to be useful.” And that’s what the gospel is. Get off the ship which is against Christ. Get on the ship which is Christ, and you’ll begin to be safe and useful.
So this woman comes to thank and honour her King. She breaks the perfume jar. That’s the end of the jar, no going back. Just as there is no going back for Jesus, and there’s no going back for disciples, there’s no going back for this woman and the jar of perfume. It’s over. It’s given. And she gladly gives this very expensive perfume.
It’s worth a year’s wages. If you do the maths today, I don’t know what we would call an average salary. But let’s just be very generous and say that it’s somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of perfume. I know some wages are well above and maybe one or two that are below, but let’s just imagine that this is an incredibly expensive bottle of perfume.
But it’s a token of what she has received. I thought we might just look at a few marks of this God at work in this woman.
First of all, it is a woman. This woman gets Jesus right. So many do not understand him. This woman gets him right. And Luke’s Gospel records 22 women responding to Jesus.
Mark’s Gospel records about 12 or 15 responding to Jesus. Some of the women, of course, are hostile like Herodias’ wife, but most of them are faithful and impressive. Jesus took a tremendous interest in the women of this world, and loved, and accepted, and welcomed, and gave responsibilities to, and security, and dignity to women.
If the church ever gives the impression that women are some kind of B-grade or less significant, we’ve made a massive mistake. This is not to say that Jesus obliterates useful roles in family and church. Part of his love for women is to give them a loving husband, to give many of them a loving husband. This is a woman.
Second, Jesus protects her from those who attack her. Verse 6, she’s attacked for her faith, and her response and Jesus defends her. He says expressly, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” This, I’m sure, is a reminder to us that Jesus is the sort of person who does not willingly afflict people of this world.
We know this from the rest of the New Testament and the Old Testament that he doesn’t willingly bring trouble. And here he is beautifully defending her from unnecessary trouble. That’s the sort of person he is. He would defend you from unnecessary trouble.
If you go through trouble, you can be sure that it’s part of his loving plan and purposes.
Thirdly, she’s done her giving of the perfume to Jesus. Verse 6, “She’s done a beautiful thing to me.” Now, let me tell you that when God is at work in your life, this is one of the first things that happens. You suddenly find yourself saying, “It’s about Jesus. I thought it was the building. I thought it was the clergymen. I thought it was the hymns. I thought it was the coffee. I thought it was the social life.
The fog clears when God is at work, and you suddenly see that it is about Jesus. He’s the one that is supreme, and unique, and priceless, and loving, and gracious. And you find yourself drawn to him until you connect with him, you commit to him, you marry him, and you belong to him.
That’s what this woman is doing. She’s interested in Jesus, who he is, what he’s come to do, and how she might respond. This is very important. For those of you who serve the Lord in your home, in your work, in the church, wherever it is, keep saying to yourself, “In the end, I am doing this for Jesus.”
How does Jesus dare to say, “The poor, you will always have with you, and you can help them any time, but you will not always have me?” It sounds a terrible thing to say, doesn’t it? As if Jesus was saying something like this, “Forget the poor. The poor don’t interest me.” That’s impossible.
Jesus was always giving himself to the needy. He’s also not saying, “Listen, there’ll always be poor people. So don’t worry about it. Just get used to it.” He’s not saying that at all. He taught us to love our neighbour continually. What he’s teaching you here is that there is a certain opportunity that you have to connect with him and that’s the first thing you should do if you want to be safe and useful.
He’s putting commandment one before two. He’s saying, “Get to love him before you love your neighbour. Get to him before you try and be useful to the poor. Get the first button of the shirt in before you try the second button of the shirt.” Every single person needs to make a quick RSVP to Jesus if you want to have the beginning of life and the beginning of usefulness.
Don’t spend your time on causes cut off from Christ. Be united to him and then everything else will fall into place. If you go through your life and you miss Christ, having been so wonderful with the poor, so wonderful with the causes of the world, you’ll actually find that you’ve not been serving Christ in this world, and you’ll not know him in the future.
So 14:7 is actually a great kindness. Jesus is saying, “I want you to get quickly to me because then everything will really begin.” And this woman gets who Jesus is. And the people of Jesus’ day did not understand who he was, and the religious leaders would not get who he was, but she does and goes to him.
Now, the fourth thing to notice is that she does what she can. See this in verse 8? This is such a lovely verse, “She did what she could.” There were so many things this woman could never do. But she did what she could do. See this great tenderness of Jesus, this great gentleness as he looks and he sees this woman doing what she does, and he says, “She did what she could.”
Those of you who beat yourself up all the time because you think, “I should be doing much better. I should be doing much more. I should be doing heroic things,” just remember this character of Jesus, who looks on the woman and says, “She did it for me, and she did what she could.”
I say to you in the wake of this passage, do your things for Christ and do what you can, and don’t beat yourself up with the impossible.
Fifth and finally, she obviously gets the cross right. I don’t think she went into the room, into the house, saying something like this, “You know, Jesus is going to die in a few days. And he’s going to rise from the dead very quickly. You know, nobody’s going to be down at the tomb fast enough to anoint him. I better go in and anoint him because nobody’s going to get to anoint him. I’ll do the anointing.”
I didn’t think she thought like that at all. She just went in to express her gratitude for what she’d received, and Jesus said, “What she’s done is more significant than she could possibly realise. She’s gone in to do something that she thought of doing for me.”
Jesus then answers and says, “I tell you that this is the anointing which is the only anointing I’ll get, and she’s done it,” which reminds us, of course, that those little things that we do in the service of the Lord often have exponential usefulness and effectiveness. You think to yourself, and I often think this, “I’ve just done something. Big waste of time. Didn’t help anybody.”
I’m frequently mistaken. And Jesus takes this act of hers, and he turns it into something which is exponentially wonderful, huge significance. She’s the only one who seems to realise that Jesus is on a costly journey. She’s obviously listened to Him because He said, “I’m going to Jerusalem to die. I’m going to Jerusalem to die. I’m going to Jerusalem to die.”
She listened. Peter didn’t listen. Peter said, “Oh, we won’t let that happen.” And James and John said, “We’re not listening to you, but we’d really like excellent seats.” And the crowd at Palm Sunday said, “Hooray, hooray, hooray,” they’re not listening. And the religious leaders, of course, they’re not the slightest bit interested in Jesus’ mission.
But this lady gets the cost. And this breaking of the perfume is a reflection, a mirror of this cost. So when God is at work in your life, dear friends, you get who Jesus is. You suddenly realise he’s unique and Supreme. You put your trust in him. He’s your only hope. You begin to live for Him.
You realise the cross is where all the blessings have been paid for and have come to you, and your life is never the same. Before Christ, it’s just you, you, you.
How can I maximise all my benefits? How can I minimise all my sacrifices?
But when you come to Christ, and he changes you, you’re suddenly thinking to yourself, “I have received the maximum. How can I pass on what I’ve received?”
So that’s the first thing, what it looks like when God is at work, very beautiful.
What it looks like when sin is at work
There are some dark clouds in these verses. Did you notice this? 14:1-2, it’s Passover. Chief priests are looking for a way to kill Jesus. Look at the last verse, Judas goes off looking for a way to betray Jesus.
There are some seekers at the beginning. There’s a seeker at the end. They’re seeking the death of Jesus. Now we know that the world in which we live is very keen to remove Christ: the schools, places of learning, institutions, many churches. The world we live in is keen to remove Christ. We’re not meant to be whining about this.
Our opposition, our persecution is very limited. We’re meant to stay cheerful. We’re meant to endure suffering. But it is a shameful thing, isn’t it? It’s a shocking thing, it’s a humiliating thing, that the people of the city, and we were like this ourselves, would be against the best person the world has ever seen.
There’s something seriously wrong and dark about that. And you might check yourself whether you’ve got that strange desire to get away from Jesus.
I was talking to somebody in the last 24 hours. And they were saying, “You know, it’s so difficult to become a Christian.” I say, “No, it’s so simple.” And then I’d explain how simple it was. And then up came another excuse, and another excuse, and another excuse, and another excuse. And I began to think to myself, “This is a person who actually would like to get away.” So often, the opposition is violence as it is here.
Jesus is going to be crucified. It’s violent around the world in many places, but sometimes it’s quiet and sophisticated, and cultured, and arrogant.
We have a bias to Christ by nature. We’re not even-handed. We’re prejudiced against Christ until he brings us to our senses. And to be in a position of rejecting Christ is not an honourable position. It’s just not an honourable position. Because he’s a watertight and wonderful person to be faced, thought about, grappled with, and God-willing trusted. And of course, his resurrection means, if it’s true, that we’re going to meet him.
When we meet him, he’s going to allocate our eternal future. And since the allocation of our eternal future is based on our present response to him, the present response needs to be a good one. There’s no point in responding negatively to Christ and hoping that he’ll respond positively to you one day.
Respond to him positively today, he will respond to you positively in the future. Now, this ABC journalist, like so many, is telling himself in the book, that he’s entirely fair to be a non-believer, an agnostic. And he’s collected all the information that he can, which will prejudice himself against Christ. But he’s reaching his decision, strangely, very differently from the way he reaches his other decisions.
There’s nothing honourable about this. What we discover is that he, like all of us, is driven by nature, by what we want to do, not by necessarily what’s true. And so it doesn’t surprise to find quite early in the book that he makes the decision to walk out on his wife and his children.
And he says, “I had to do it.” I’m not saying I’m a better person. I’m not saying I’m a better person. I’m simply saying that it is so often that the rejection of Christ has got nothing to do with the facts, it’s got to do with the desire for an autonomous, independent life.
And then, of course, bringing in the convenient information to make that straightforward. Now, when people watch this woman and they criticise her action, they cannot see the problem is them. It’s their resistance to Christ which is the problem.
I want to say to you if there’s anything that keeps you from Christ, it could be something very good, your work, “Oh, you’re so busy.”
Your family is so wonderful. Your hobbies, they’re so time-consuming. If these things keep you from Christ, you need to ask yourself, “Am I just slitting my eternal throat?” Because there’s nothing more foolish than to keep away from the Savior King.
And they pretend that their criticism is justified, don’t they? In verse 5, they said, “Oh, we’re just thinking of the poor. We’re just thinking of the poor. This money could have been given to the poor.” Of course, that’s just a cover. And Judas at the end suddenly comes out and shows his real colours. He goes off to the chief religious leaders, and he said to them, “I’ll be glad to hand Jesus over for you.” They give him some money. They’re so pleased to get this. And Judas, you can almost picture him heading off into the dark, working out how he can find an opportunity to do the deed. This incredible contrast of God at work, bringing a woman to salvation and gratitude, and sin at work, driving a person away from Christ and into great evil.
Let me finish by saying to you, what’s the point of this? You might be saying, “This has all been very interesting, but I haven’t a clue what this has got to do with me.”
I want to say to you that as we walk the streets of the city, we’re going to be seeing two systems at work, two powers at work. God is it work, he’s at work in creation. The seasons are rolling around. He’s at work in the new creation. He’s bringing people to Jesus all over the world. He’s bringing people to Jesus. He’s wonderfully at work. And when he brings people to Jesus, they’re beautifully transformed. They find themselves grateful, they find themselves sacrificial. They find themselves fruitful.
It’s a beautiful thing that God is doing. But there’s also the great system and power of evil oiling the wheels so that people move away from Christ, further and further. And the great sadness of watching this, sometimes it’s aggressive, rejection of Christ, as I say, sometimes it’s subtle.
You may find yourself surrounded by people who think very differently to you about Christ and you must somehow stay steadfast and keep going.
One writer says this, “You may be surrounded by people who say they have the same priorities as you and they say they work for the same goals as you, but their choices reveal otherwise. Watch their choices. Do not let the conflicted priorities,” says the writer, “of others distract you. Press on in your gratitude to Christ. Keep going. Be his man or woman.”
And Jesus would say to you, on the basis of Mark 14:1-11, this morning, “When you’re mine,” and so many of you here this morning are His, praise God. “When you’re mine,” says Jesus, “Live your life for him and do what you can.”
Let’s pray. Our Father, we thank you for this window into the world, your work in the world, the work of sin in the world. We’re so thankful for your mercy. We know that left to ourselves, we would completely walk away from Christ forever. We’re so thankful for bringing the news to our ears and the grace to our hearts.
And we pray, our heavenly Father, that you would help us, like this woman, to respond with gratitude, to seek to serve you, and to seek to do what is possible.
Please take and use us and enable us to be a blessing to others, especially the lost. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.