Sermons

August 11, 2019

The Supreme Worth of Jesus Christ

Jason Meyer (North Campus) | (Downtown Campus) | (South Campus) | | Mark 14:1-11

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.—Mark 14:1–11

Introduction

We have reached the last section of Mark’s Gospel. Chapters 14 and 15 will focus on the last few days of Jesus’ earthly life. The theme of chapter 14 is the all-out abandonment of Jesus. He will be rejected, betrayed, and abandoned until the point that he is all alone. In fact, this passage today is a “rejection sandwich.”

Rejection Sandwich

  1. The Plot Against Jesus (vv. 1–2)
  2. The Worship of Jesus (vv. 3–9)
  3. The Plot Against Jesus (vv. 10–11)

Once again, we are forced to ask how the center of the sandwich is the key to interpreting this entire passage. So we will take the pieces of bread together first, and then we will take the middle part of the sandwich and ask how it informs the interpretation of the whole passage.

1) The Plot Against Jesus (vv. 1–2)

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.”

Mark narrates for us that this story took place two days before the Passover. The Passover was the beginning of the weeklong Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15–20, Deuteronomy 16:1–8). This was a remembrance and commemoration of the Israleites’ hurried departure from Egypt when they could not wait for the dough to rise and had to eat unleavened bread. The camera zooms in on the religious leaders. They are spending their time seeking how to arrest him and kill Jesus—by stealth and in secrecy (v. 1). Why the need for secrecy and stealth? They cannot do it openly during the feast—because they fear an uproar from the people (v. 2). The official decision against Jesus is placed in stark contrast with the popular opinion of the people. We hear again and again that what the religious leaders truly value is what people think of them —they are constantly motivated by fear of the people.

3) The Plot Against Jesus (vv. 10–11) 

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 religious leaders have now found the answer to their search. One of Jesus’ own disciples sought them out to betray Jesus to them (v. 10). This was the initiative of Judas. There is great rejoicing (v. 11). The religious leaders finally have something that they value: a way to kill Jesus while shielding themselves from the outrage of the people. Judas, in return, has something that he values: money (v. 11). Now Judas begins looking for the opportune moment to betray Jesus. But in the middle of the sandwich something happens that also focuses on what people value.

2) The Worship of Jesus (vv. 3–9) 

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.” 

Mark does something he does not normally do—he tells us where Jesus is and the house where he was. Mark tells us first that the house was in Bethany, a village two miles outside Jerusalem. Mark even tells us whose house it is: the house of Simon the leper. The note that he was a leper is another note about being an outsider in society. But the note about Simon the leper also emphasizes the transformative power of Jesus. Simon used to be known for his leprosy. But now he is merely a former leper. Jesus has healed him—active leprosy would have precluded him from any social occasion.

Most scholars believe that Mark’s narrative tells the story of John 12:1–8 in a somewhat different form. “If so, Mark’s unnamed woman is Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, and Simon could be the father of the three.” (James Edwards, Mark, p. 413). The fact that Mary is unnamed is probably continuing the outsider theme—rather than focusing on her as someone on the inside circle of Jesus.

Why this constant note of insider vs. outsider? It sets up a surprise: No one would expect to see a display of discipleship here. One may expect to find it among the religious elite (i.e., the scribes) or among the inner circle of the twelve (i.e., like Judas), but no one would expect to find it here outside Jerusalem with this unnamed woman. 

This note is enhanced further by the fact that the woman broke all social conventions and etiquette in coming directly to Jesus. Male fellowship among the Jews was not supposed to be broken by the “intrusion” of women unless they were bringing and serving food. But this is not the first time or the last time in Mark’s Gospel that we see that Jesus did not share the same values and ideas as the culture around him!

She didn’t bring Jesus food, but worship! She came with something that the narrator says is very costly: “an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly” (v. 3). I had to look up what “nard” is because I sure don’t have anything like that laying around the house. Nard is “an expensive aromatic oil extracted from the root of an Indian herb of the same name” (Edwards, Mark, p. 413).

I remember one of my friends in high school used expensive cologne. It was pretty common for girls in my class to use perfume, but none of the guys did. In fact, my only exposure to cologne was my Grandpa using Old Spice after shaving. I asked my friend what kind of cologne he used and he told me it was called “Obsession.” I made a mental note to myself that next time I went shopping I would look for some. When I finally found some (in a glass case), I saw the sticker price and I was shocked: $60! I don’t have that much in my checking account right now—let alone for cologne. I thought to myself, this would need to be an obsession for me to spend that much on cologne—they should call it dispossession (emptying my checking account!).

If you thought $60 was expensive, wait until you hear about the nard. The focus on the value of the nard is very pronounced in the narrative. In fact, the people present (presumably the disciples) immediately estimated the equivalent value to be a year’s worth of wages: “… could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii.” (v. 5). A denarii was a day’s wage for a day laborer. In modern equivalence, it would be like $25,000, not $60. Where did this woman get this valuable substance? I think one commentator is exactly right in answering this question.

“Women were by and large excluded from careers that afforded the possibility of earning such wages or procuring objects of such value. The nard was very probably a family heirloom, in which case it possessed a sentimental value in addition to its monetary value. Mark reports that she did not pour out the unguent but smashed the jar itself, which means the vessel could never be used again, thus symbolizing the totality of the gift” (Edwards, Mark, pp. 413-14).

What also stands out here is how the disciples feel about this extravagant gift poured out upon Jesus. They are incensed and indignant. Listen to verse 4 again.

There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that?”

They are indignant and regard this act as a “waste.” Consider the stance they are taking: Why “waste” this extravagant gift on Jesus? Is he not worth it? Are they saying others would be more deserving of it? Then verse 5:

For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.

They do not hide their assessment. They are indignant. They regard the act as a waste of the nard and a waste of its value. They rebuked her harshly (“they scolded her”). In fact, the Greek word behind this phrase scolded is unusually strong (embrimaesthai). It means to flare one’s nostrils in anger (Edwards, Mark, p. 415).

John 12 gives a little more detail. Judas is the one that speaks these words of indignation.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.—John 12:4–6

I think Mark does something similar in this story with the connection between the anointing of Jesus and the betrayal of Judas. Verse 10 says, “then” or “and then.” 

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 

In other words, Judas’ love for money is a motivating factor. He would have loved to get his hands on some of that money, but it was “wasted” on Jesus, so he ended up selling Jesus for some silver coins. 

But Jesus rebukes his disciples. They are blind to the true motives and value of this moment and all that it symbolizes (vv. 6–9).

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 defends her and vindicates her in the sight of the others, much like he did for the woman with the flow of blood in Mark 5 and the poor widow in Mark 12.

They are indignant because they think she has done a wasteful thing. Jesus says that she has done a “beautiful thing.” They can’t see the true beauty of the act because they can’t see the true value of Jesus!

Look again at his explanation (vv.7–9).

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.”

They focused on what could be done for the poor. Jesus does not disregard the poor or denigrate them or say that they are unimportant. The Bible is full of commands to be generous to the poor. Jesus emphasizes that the poor will always be present in this world, and there will always be opportunity to do good to them.

But unlike the people looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus, they should be looking for an opportunity not to do something for the poor, but something for Jesus.

He says: “But you will not always have me” (v. 7). Don’t you see the treasure you have in me—here with you right now? Jesus emphasizes the preeminence of himself. Don’t they recognize his inestimable worth yet? And do they not yet understand what is about to happen to him? He has been constantly telling them that he would be betrayed and murdered. Jesus says that this nard has been used to anoint his body for burial. Is there anything worth more than Jesus? Is there any greater act than his sacrifice of himself? 

The extravagance of the gift testifies to the supreme worth of Jesus Christ. Only he is worthy of such an act. The disciples are blind to the worth of Christ’s coming sacrifice. They have not understood what he has said about why he must die and be buried and rise again. Once again, just as the woman broke and poured out her most valuable treasure, they are failing to see that God did exactly the same thing for us in the death of Jesus. God sent his only Son into the world. Why? His body would be broken and his blood poured out as a sacrifice for us. Don’t they yet understand the true treasure and worth and surpassing value of it all? That is the main point of this whole passage. People reject Jesus and abandon him because they do not recognize his supreme worth. This unnamed woman does—her extravagant gift testifies to the extravagant worth of his person and his coming sacrifice.

Main Point: One cannot rightly respond to Jesus without rightly recognizing his supreme worth.

And here this Scripture is fulfilled in our midst. Jesus said that what they regarded with anger as a waste will actually be celebrated for all of history in all the nations—even here in Minnesota. Whenever the gospel is preached (the message of true value), what she has done will be commemorated and celebrated throughout the world for all of history like we are doing right now. Jesus is worthy—he must have first place—the name above every name among every nation in every language. 

Application

There are a few applications for this passage.

  1. What Matters in Giving is the Heart of Worship

We can start with one of the most immediate points first—that is, the connection Mark makes between the poor unnamed widow in chapter 12 and the unnamed woman in Mark 14. The similarity between Jesus’ response to the poor widow and to this unnamed woman is striking, even though the circumstances and value of the gift they gave is so different.

Mark 12:43–44 ...

And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

Mark 14:7–9 ...

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.”

Both unnamed woman gave what they had. The poor widow gave what she had (two copper coins). The unnamed woman gave what she could (a year’s worth of wages). The similarities and the differences are striking. Both gave what they had to give (similarity), but the amount was vastly different. But even though the value was different (a penny vs. about $25,000), Jesus’ commendation and celebration is so similar. He celebrates both. Here is the lesson. The material value (financial cost) does not matter to Jesus as much as the heart value (giving that comes from treasuring God). God loves a cheerful giver.

It comes back to our earlier sermons on giving and the widow’s mite. Financial giving has to flow from a heart that sees the true worth of Jesus Christ. No financial giving is too extravagant for Jesus and no financial gift is too meager to matter to Jesus when done with a heart that worships him.

What a contrast with Judas. Judas stops following Jesus—not just deserting him, but sacrificing him (selling his relationship with Jesus) for the god of money (30 silver coins—about four months wages). The woman worships Jesus as God and pours out her most precious earthly treasure upon the greatest heavenly treasure.

Are you giving? Is your giving a sacrifice of praise—does the fragrance of prayer fill your heart and fill the room when the offering plates go by? Giving shows that money is not a god but becomes part of our worship of God. There is a reason it is part of the worship service.

  1. Believers: Warning for Watchfulness

The insider/outsider contrast also functions as a warning. The fact that Judas was “one of the Twelve” (Mark 14:10, 20) demonstrates that proximity to Jesus is no guarantee of anything. In fact, those closest to Jesus (the Twelve) are called to greater watchfulness (Mark 13:33–36). Judas has seen more of Jesus’ mighty acts and perfect life, and he uses all that familiarity as a way to betray Jesus. (This paragraph was influenced by James Edwards’ commentary Mark, p. 412.) 

That is a sober warning for us. If greater knowledge of Jesus does not lead to greater worship of Jesus, it will lead to a greater condemnation. If you are a child that has been raised in church, don’t assume that familiarity with Jesus equals salvation. You are not a Christian just because your parents are. If you are an adult that is familiar with the church, do not make the mistake of assuming familiarity means salvation. Christians are those that worship Jesus as their supreme treasure.

Do you supremely value the Supremely Valuable? Christian, is your familiarity and nearness to the things of Jesus causing you to be less vigilant and feel less urgency to watch and pray that your soul would continue to treasure him above all else?

  1. Non-Believers: Is the Cross a Waste or a Treasure?

Non-Christian: The choice before you is stunning and staggering in its eternal significance. You can regard the most extravagant price ever paid in history as either a wasteful thing or a beautiful thing. Did Jesus pour out his blood for nothing? Or do you see the price paid for your salvation and receive it as something beautiful so that you will worship Jesus for it for all eternity and never tire of singing: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain …” 

  1. Worship as Goal and Fuel for Missions

Christians, do you rightly value the spread of the gospel to all nations? Missions exists because worship doesn’t. We want our worship of Jesus to extend to all the peoples. We will not sing “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” by ourselves. Part of the praise is that the Lamb who was slain is worthy “for by your blood you purchased people for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). 

Sermon Discussion Questions

Outline

  1. The Plot Against Jesus (Mark 14:1–2)
  2. The Worship of Jesus (Mark 14:3–9)
  3. The Plot Against Jesus (Mark 14:10–11)

Main Point: One cannot rightly respond to Jesus without rightly recognizing his supreme worth.

Discussion Questions

  • How does the “sandwich” structure of the passage help us interpret the point of the passage?
  • How does Mark set up the stories as a contrast between insiders and outsiders? Why does he do that?
  • Why are the disciples indignant about what the woman did? How does Jesus correct them?
  • How was this passage actually fulfilled in church today?
  • In Mark 12 and Mark 14, we learn about two women who give. What similarities and differences do you see between the poor unnamed widow in Mark 12 and the unnamed woman in Mark 14? How does Jesus respond in similar ways to these women? What does his response say about what Jesus values in giving?

Application Questions

  • Are you giving? Does your giving come from a heart of worship? How can you grow in this regard?
  • Are you keeping watch over your heart when it comes to how you treasure and value Jesus? What earthly idols must be cast down this week so that Christ has first place?
  • What part does missions have in your heart? How is the spread of the gospel connected to your worship of Jesus?

Prayer Focus
Pray for a grace to rightly respond to Jesus by rightly recognizing his supreme worth.

Downtown Campus

720 13th Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 55415
Sundays: 7:30am, 9am & 11am

North Campus

5151 Program Ave, Mounds View, Minnesota, 55112
Sundays: 9am & 11am

South Campus

20700 Kenrick Ave, Lakeville, Minnesota, 55044
Sundays: 10:30am