When I was in university, I had a good friend named Bill. Bill was a star athlete, who earned a university scholarship for his abilities. Bill was also a Christian. One day, he became persuaded that his Christianity was suffering in pursuit of his athletic dreams. He made the difficult decision to quit the team and transfer to a different university, where he would be closer to his local church and could serve more effectively. When he told his coach of his decision, the coach simply shook his head in disbelief and walked away. He clearly felt that Bill was wasting his talent in favour of that which, in his estimation, was of far less value.
When unbelievers evaluate the devoted Christian life, their conclusion is often that Christians have wasted their life. On the other hand, when believers evaluate those who live and die without Christ, their conclusion is that those unbelievers are wasting, will waste, and have wasted their lives. In a sense, therefore, the question therefore is not, will you waste your life? but, how will you waste your life? The text before us in this study provides the answer we should embrace.
Chapter 14 commences Mark’s particular focus on the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. In fact, the first two verses summarise the trajectory of the book.
As far back as 1:22, we were given a more-than-subtle hint of tension that would dominate Jesus’ ministry. In 2:6, the tension increased and, from that point, continually ramped up (2:16, 24; 3:1–6; 3:22–30; 7:1–13; 8:14–15; 8:31; 9:31; 10:33; 11:1ff; 12:1–12, 13–34, 38–40). Chapter 14 begins the record of how this all came to a climax at the cross. A full one third of Marks words deal with the crucifixion of Jesus, with one sixth of that material covering his last 24 hours.
Many throughout history have concluded, and more will no doubt yet conclude, that a good man—perhaps a bit of a mad man—wasted his life, having been deluded by his own imagination. But those who have experienced his redemption know better. What unbelievers deem a foolish waste, Christians esteem as God’s wise way. Let’s begin to unpack this wisdom.
The Timing of Jesus’ Death
Our text divides quite naturally into three broad sections. The first of those, in vv. 1–2, highlights the timing of Jesus’ death: “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’” (vv. 1–2).
The timing of the death of Jesus Christ was as significant as it was sovereign. That is, because it was under the sovereign rule of God, its timing, and all of its elements, were deeply significant.
The Symbolic Context
Mark tells us that “it was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.” France helpfully notes that chapters 1–12 have
described the developing confrontation between Jerusalem authorities, up to the point where it has resulted in a decisive break…. Chapter 13 has given the reader the opportunity to think about the implications of this breakdown. The coming destruction of the temple symbolizes the end of the old order, and the loss of Jerusalem’s significance as the focus of God’s presence and activity on earth. In its place is to be set up the authority of Jesus, the vindicated and enthroned Son of Man, who will gather the true people of God from all corners of the earth into a new community of grace. all this is now inevitable. It is guaranteed by the indestructible word of Jesus. Within the generation it will all have taken place.
So now the time for talking is over, and it is time for the events to unfold which Jesus has insistently predicted since Caesarea Philippi, and which will set in train the scenario so vividly sketched out in chapter 13. The confrontation between the rival authorities is now to reach its tremendous climax in the final scenes of Mark’s drama, as the paradox of the rejected and executed King of the Jews is played out in deadly earnest. And it is symbolically appropriate that it should be played out at Passover, the festival which marked the original establishment of Israel as the covenant people of God rescued from slavery in Egypt. There will be a new Passover, and a new covenant, for the new people of God.
What amazing, wise providence. There is nothing wasteful about that!
The Murderous Intent
We are told of the devious plot to “arrest him by stealth and kill him.” The chief priests and the scribes who, from the opening chapter, had been both prominent and hostile, were now prepared to act. Jesus was now on their turf, so they thought, and they would dispense with this troublesome Galilean.
Mark informs us that they were clever enough to not attempt it “during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” Jesus was popular among the people and, of course, this was a major reason why they wanted to kill him.
The combination of wrongheaded Messianic fever, coupled with Jesus’ exposure of the spiritual indolence and incompetence of the Jewish leaders, combined to make him a threat to their position, prestige, and power. Jesus must be killed. And since the population of Jerusalem swelled in size at Passover, these conniving, corrupt leaders wanted to delay his death. But, O how God rules and overrules the affairs of men! For it was precisely at this time that Jesus must die.
Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were, of course, festivals grounded in the Exodus from Egypt. Exodus 12 records the divine institution of these feasts.
In preparation for Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, each household—or, depending on size, a couple of households—must slay a lamb, apply its blood to the door frame and lintel of the house, and then consume—appropriate—the lamb. This, of course, pictured what would take place in a matter of hours when Jesus instituted the new covenant, signified by applying the blood and appropriating the body of the Lamb of God, who had come to take away the sin of the world.
From the day following Passover, for seven days, God instructed his people to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was all to remember God’s great redemption of his people from bondage in Egypt. This feast could be celebrated in homes, but going to the city of God—Jerusalem—to observe it was always first prize. This made for an extremely populated and busy Jerusalem, not ideal for killing a national phenomenon. But God had other plans.
The Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8) would need to be slaughtered in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33). So whatever plans the chief priests and scribes had, God was providentially orchestrating things according to his plan (Acts 2:23–25). Ben Witherington III helpfully observes, “The death of Jesus is in the air wherever we go in this narrative, but there is deep irony here. What the plotters intended for evil, God intended for good, so that in effect, ironically the plotters cooperate in helping Jesus accomplish his mission of giving his life as a ransom for many.”
We can learn from this, among other truths, that God’s timing is at the heart of all timing. Everything that happened in the world, from the first moment of creation, was about the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. From the first verse of Genesis, all that transpired in the world was about God’s appointed Lamb coming to die to save sinners. The Old Testament is filled with shadows and types of Jesus Christ.
For chronology’s sake, realise that it was Wednesday night and, according to John, Jesus would be killed at precisely the time when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered. Talk about timing!
Let us learn from this that the world revolved around the cross of Jesus Christ and, therefore, so should our lives. Let us learn from these opening verses that the gospel is central to Christianity. If you take away this final third of Mark, you have nothing but a normal and very incomplete biography.
Timing is everything. And God is the one who ultimately controls the clock. Some time ago, I read the story of Mitsuo Fuchida. Fuchida led the first wave of Japanese attacks against America at Pearl Harbour. He was in Hiroshima the day before the atomic bomb was dropped, but was called to Tokyo on other business. After the war, he was called to testify against some Japanese military officials at a war crimes trial.
Determined to bring the same evidence against the American military, he met a group of returning Japanese prisoners of war, but was surprised to hear that they had not been tortured or abused. He heard the story of one particular American woman, whose parents, missionaries to Japan, had been killed by Japanese soldiers. She had served the prisoners of war with great love and respect. This mystified Fuchida, who would have expected her to take revenge for the death of her parents.
Later, Fuchida read the story of an American prisoner of war, who related the torture he had experienced at the hand of Japanese officials. The American told of his awakening to God in this time. These stories of forgiveness intrigued Fushida sufficiently to get a copy of the Bible and read it himself. God saved him as he read the word.
Later, Fuchida travelled to America where he ministered as an evangelist, sometimes alongside Billy Graham, to the very people whom he had once so hated. In his amazing timing, God spared his life in Hiroshima and later saved his soul.
The Triumph of Jesus’ Death
Verses 3–9 highlight the triumph of Jesus’ death:
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.”
Of these verses, William Lane writes, “The pure devotion of the woman throws into bold relief the hostility and treachery of the priests and their accomplices.”
The remainder of Mark’s “biography” is dominated by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Of course, the reason for this is that this biography is what we call a Gospel. The gospel is the good news of what God has done for believing sinners through the death, burial, and resurrection of his Son. It was for this reason that Mark wrote to the early Christians in the Roman Empire, specifically to the Christian church in Rome.
As they were facing difficult days, they would inestimably benefit from God’s testimony concerning his son, as recorded by Mark. They would be reminded that Jesus faced far worse trials than they and how he overcame these in order to secure their forgiveness. Further, and importantly, they would see how the evil plans of man were overcome by God. They would be able to see triumph where others only saw tragedy. As noted earlier, they would be able to see, in the crucifixion, the glorious working out of the truth that all things work together for good for those who are the called according to God’s purpose (Romans 8:28). The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate confirmation of this promise.
We can persevere in our trials precisely because of the triumph of Jesus in his death. Though these final chapters contain much that saddens the heart of those who love Jesus and who love God’s justice, we are nevertheless to see the victory that conquered vice, the honour that overcame humiliation, the love that overshadowed hatred. Yes, in Jesus’ cross we see triumph over tragedy. And in the interlude of vv. 3–9, this triumph is beautifully depicted. As we will see, the anointing at Bethany depicted all the elements of the gospel. That is why it is recorded (Mark 14:9). Essentially, it highlights that the call to discipleship will open us to the charge of wasting our life. “Both at the beginning and the end of the life of Jesus, costly treasures were lavished on him; no doubt some thought both gifts alike were wasted” (Cole). But what a way to waste it!
Observe Jesus’ demeanour in this text: “And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper … he was reclining at the table” (v. 3a). Perhaps there is more going on here than at first meets the eye. Let’s spend a moment grasping the scene.
Jesus would soon—very soon—be killed. He knew this. Having set his face for Jerusalem, he had arrived. He had spent the past two or three days in the temple, stirring up the Sanhedrin. Amid all the teaching and tensions, he must have been exhausted.
He came back to Bethany, as he had done the past few days, and “was reclining at the table.” He seems to have been relaxed, yet no doubt burdened over what he knew would soon transpire. He was at the house of an individual known as “Simon the leper.” Was he perhaps father of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus? Was he the owner of the house where they live? We don’t know. But his designation informs us that, at least at one time, he had suffered under the skin condition of leprosy. Perhaps Jesus had healed him and this was known to the church at large (including those to whom Mark was writing). But what strikes me is that Jesus would associate with someone whom many would designate as unclean—and that at the time of a major religious feast.
This highlights the compassion of Jesus and shows that he came not to heal the healthy but to care for the sick. He came not for the righteous but rather to redeem the unrighteous. He came to make the unclean clean. Till the very end, he identified with outcasts. He didn’t fear the religious elite; he feared his Father.
We can learn from this that associating with the outcasts is in line with Jesus’ ministry. A willingness to be excluded by even the religious is all a part of faithfully following Christ. If you are too squeaky clean to be with sinners, you are actually filthy with the contagion of self-righteousness. Repent. If you are fearful of the religious elite, you will be tempted to avoid those who need your sensitivity and support. Repent.
A Sister’s Devotion
Having highlighted Jesus’ demeanour, Mark draws attention to this sister’s devotion: “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” (v. 3).
The woman here was most likely Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (see John 12:1–8). Regardless, we can rightly refer to her as “sister” because she was surely a sister in Christ. Earlier, Mark recorded Jesus’ definition of his true family, “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (3:35). From Jesus’ response, she was his sister in the family of God.
Alabaster was soft, white marble. It could be easily carved into a vessel to hold perfume. Often, alabaster containers had long necks by which one would empty the contents. This particular perfume—pure nard—was from India and had a strong and delicious odour. It was “very costly,” Mark tells us. Three hundred denarii was approximately a year’s wages for an ordinary labourer. This was valuable stuff. It is widely held that it would be seen as a family heirloom, which one would be able to sell if there was a great financial need. But our sister realised she was in the presence of one who could be trusted far more than mere financial security. She demonstrated her devoted faith by giving it all.
She did what she could with what she had. Breaking the neck of the flask rendered it useless for future use. There was no going back now. She poured the nard on his head as an act of affection. As with the widow in chapter 12, she “put in everything she had” 12:44). Those who experience lavish love will love lavishly.
If this was Mary, the sister of Martha, we know that she knew what it was to sit at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:39). Mary loved the Lord. She knew of his saving power in her own life. She owned him as Messiah. She knew the security she had in the one who is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25–27). This sense of security empowered her to give this costly offering. Ferguson helpfully writes, “In gratitude for the past, she poured her ‘future’ and her ‘security’ on Jesus.” The one who raises his people from the dead provides far more security than a liquidable heirloom.
We learn from our sister that gratitude for God’s saving grace drives true devotion. Gratitude for God’s saving and sustaining grace produces the disposition for sacrificial giving. When we realise that God gave his all, we are moved to give our all. As Alan Cole observes, “Jesus looks for uncalculatingly devotion to himself. The Lord, as Paul says, loves a cheerful giver, not a carefully calculating one (2 Corinthians 9:7).”
The churches in Macedonia gave far beyond their ability, out of their poverty, to help the church of God. Their motivation as a local church was the same as our sister in Christ in this account: the “grace of God” (see 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Paul urged the church in Corinth to follow their extravagant example because, like them, they too were recipients of God’s grace (vv. 6–7).
Brothers and sisters, the devotion our sister, declared by her deed, serves as an example of the devotion we should have for our Lord Jesus: lavish love in response for his even more lavish love for us. We should so love and live for the Lord that we will be accused of being wasteful. Our love should be visible and, for many, this will be disturbing.
The Disciples’ Disgust
The disciples were horrified at what they saw: “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” (vv. 4–5).
These indignant disciples displayed grossly misplaced value (v. 4). The word “indignantly” means to be sore displeased. It connotes deep disappointment, even disgust. With this tone of contempt, “some … said, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that?’” James Edwards comments, “The world has never had a problem with religion in moderation. It has no problem with too much wealth, or power or sex, only too much religion.”
The “some” doubtless were among the disciples and we know from other passages that Judas was the spokesman. How insensitive, both to this dear sister and even more so to the Lord. In effect, they were assessing, “Jesus is not worth this extravagant devotion.” He who within hours would shed his precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish (1 Peter 1:19), was being told that he was not worth this gift. I read this and think of Jesus’ earlier words to his disciples: “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?” (9:19). They did not yet see his person. This is all too frequently our problem as well.
Too often, we fail to see the glory of Jesus and our devotion wanes. We don’t give him our time, our attention, our treasures, or our talents. Too often, we fail to appreciate what we have been saved from and our devotion dives. Too often, we fail to appreciate the greatness of the gospel and therefore the joy that produces sacrifice gives way to calculated ritual. After all, we don’t want to be fanatical.
Verse 5 is a prime example of virtue signalling: “For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” The critics, with great angst, expressed their displeasure. They became defenders of the poor. “If one wants to give lavishly, then giving to the poor would be a better expression of love than to waste it on one who apparently had all he needed.” Really? The envy oozes from the sores of their self-absorbed hearts. And as “they scolded her,” we see indeed that out of the abundance of the heart their mouths spoke. The word picture is that of “snorting in anger.” They growled at her. They criticised her sharply. Just like so many ugly, clueless and self-righteously insensitive social media posts.
At Passover, it was customary to give gifts to the poor as an expression of worship. This, of course, is a good thing. The Scriptures often exhort God’s people to care for the needs of the oppressed and otherwise disadvantaged and vulnerable. One such Scripture, which Jesus would in a moment refer to, makes this clear: “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
But it is difficult to think this was their greatest concern. Rather, in the light of Judas’s behaviour (vv. 10–11), it seems that the motive behind their criticism was mercenary, not mercy. It was more about money than mercy.
It is all too easy to mask unsavoury motives with religious-sounding phrases. This is particularly relevant now when the pros and cons of the social justice movement are bombarding social media platforms. Both sides make this mistake. Social justice spokesmen too often abuse Scripture and the teachings of Jesus to make a case for the church’s involvement while decentralising Jesus and his gospel from the picture. Opponents of this fall off the other side of the horse as they virtue signal their commitment to the gospel while at the same time ignoring the practical implications of Jesus’ gospel: namely, loving our neighbour—practically.
We need to pay close attention to what Jesus was teaching us here. If we paid heed to what he said, perhaps both sides would be enabled to stay firmly in the saddle of biblical orthodoxy and biblical orthopraxy.
Mary made a bold move in anointing Jesus. Though I don’t think she was an obsequious wall flower, nevertheless, for her to do this in a group of men required a large measure of risk. She took it. They should have been sensitive to her.
Let’s learn here about Christian decency. If you disagree with one’s religious expression, be kind about it. If you are persuaded someone is mistaken, seek to kindly engage them. Let us be done with harsh confrontations when a milder one would do just as well, if not better (Proverbs 15:1; 12:18).
Jesus immediately jumped to our sister’s defence:
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.”
Don’t you love this scene? Jesus came to the aid of one who made herself vulnerable by her devotion. Rather than joining the disciples in condemnation, he spoke words of commendation. Jesus the Good Shepherd rescued one of his lambs—from fellow lambs, with fangs. He certainly rescued her from Judas, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
“Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her?” He instructed the indignant to quit exhausting her with their criticisms. The word translated “trouble” means to cut or to reduce one’s strength. They were wearing her out rather than building her up. Further, Jesus declared that, contrary to their assessment that she had done a bad thing, “she has done a beautiful thing to me.” She had done something of value, something that was virtuous. (It was loving, Spirit-initiated, spontaneous, and sacrificial.)
We have seen throughout Mark how Jesus sought to reorient the values of the disciples. So here. Truly the first were last and the last was promoted to being first. Yes, giving to the poor is a good and virtuous and valuable thing. However, this sister in the Lord had a perspective and spiritual insight that was miles ahead of these men.
Did she realise that Jesus was soon to be taken away from them? If words mean anything, it seems she did. While the disciples were often busy arguing who among them would be the greatest once Jesus left them, Mary seemed to have understood that Jesus was going to leave them—and that by means death.
In John 11, after raising Lazarus (Mary and Martha’s brother) from the dead, the religious leaders intensified their plot to put Jesus to death (John 11:45–54). Perhaps Mary became aware of this and so took advantage of this opportunity to show devotion to him. Regardless, there is a wonderful image here that Jesus brings out.
While upholding the biblical principle of caring for the poor, Jesus confirmed that, in this case, caring for him took precedence. In fact, he was the poorest among them. Since their opportunity to care for him was limited, first things must come first (see Psalm 41).
Lane comments on “her recognition that the needs of this poor sufferer, whom they do not always have, takes precedence.” Paul speaks of Jesus who was rich and yet became poor for our sakes (2 Corinthians 8:9). It is as though this sister grasped this truth.
Perhaps she also realised that, in fulfilment of Jesus’ oft repeated prophecy (8:31; 9:31; 10:33), he was going to die as a criminal. Criminals did not receive a proper burial. She must anoint him now because he would not get a proper anointing later. She would do “what she could” to honour her Saviour. The world might mock and reject and dishonour him, but she would take her stand to give him the honour he deserved. Just like my friend Bill. Just like John and Betty Stam. Just like Charles Spurgeon. Just like deacon Stephen. Just like multitudes throughout history, including many in our own country in these days. Including you?
Note an important observation by Donald English: “What has been called God’s ‘bias to the poor’ is plain in the gospels. We need to note, therefore, that it is not the supreme concern of Jesus. More important is being in harmony with God’s will and God’s timing (which will include caring for the poor but never allowing it to become the dominant factor).”
In other words, Christians are to good to all men, and especially to the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). Yet, above all, doing “good” before God, seeking him first, is our priority. The two are not mutually exclusive, but we dare not reverse the order. This is what many in evangelicalism worry about in our days. I am persuaded that if we give our all to Jesus, we will be giving a lot more to the poor. As Kent Hughes observes,
It is impossible to be true disciples without serving others. Jesus is not diminishing our obligation to care for the poor. In saying, “whenever you want, you can do good to them”, he is implying ongoing responsibility to help the poor. Our Lord’s commendation of Mary for putting him above all else, properly understood, condemned an either/or approach to spirituality. Christians are to worship God and minister to others. The ideal is a lavish, contemplative devotional life in which we love Christ so much that we pour ourselves out for others. One without the other falls short of the dynamic that Christ wants for us.
The Mocked Memorialised
“The fragrance was soon dissipated in the scentless air, but the deed smells sweet and blossoms forever” (Alexander Maclaren). Or, as Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel I proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Jesus’ commendation of our sister is one that continues throughout history. Strangely, Mark never told us her name! He was concerned about the celebration of Jesus, not the one who ministered to him. What a lesson for us, on a few fronts.
First, in recording this account, we also have the related account of the failure of the disciples. Ouch! For all of history and beyond there is a record of their insensitivity and spiritual shallowness. Peter, by the way, supplied this information, which reveals a deep humility. The gospel that Jesus mentioned here would profoundly change and equip Peter and the others. Let us learn from this to not be too hard on disciples who do dumb things. They, like you, can change. O that God would make us tender to the fallen!
Second, this commendation and commemoration instructs us what devoted discipleship looks like. There is no cheap grace here. Rather, willing, joyful, grateful, and costly surrender of all to Jesus is the norm. That is why, when proclaiming good news of salvation, the disciples were to remind would-be followers that to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is to commit oneself to selfless and even sacrificial abandon. To become a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is to have your value system reoriented, realigned, and restored to God’s original plan. As Sinclair Ferguson puts it, “Her deed is a perpetual memorial of the response to the one who became poor that we might become rich. In the Christian life there should be neither holding back nor turning back.”
Finally, these words of Jesus would have offered great hope to the disciples, including our sister disciple. By these words, Jesus was promising a better day. He was promising that a day would come when they would preach the gospel. Yes, though the next 48 hours would be dominated with much bad news, it will not be the full news. The good news that Jesus rose from the dead would follow.
We have seen on earlier occasions that Jesus never spoke of this death without also speaking of his resurrection. His death as a stand-alone truth would only be bad news, but his resurrection assures the good news that his sacrificial and substitutionary death was accepted by the Father.
Let us learn to read the full gospel! Pay attention to all that Jesus taught. As we face dark and difficult times, we lament. That is right and often righteous. But we need to look beyond the immediate to the ultimate.
Let me leave this point with one final exhortation. Live for the applause of heaven, not for the applause of the world. Be willing to be scorned in your devotion to our Saviour. Are you willing to be despised by the world if it means being defended by Jesus? That is a great way to live. Like my friend Bill.
The Treachery of Jesus’ Death
As our study comes towards a close, we move from something beautiful to something unfathomably ugly: “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.”
In the former passage, a devoted disciple sought opportunity to bless Jesus, whereas here a deceitful disciple sought an opportunity to betray him. Proximity to Jesus does not guarantee faithfulness. In the former scene, a devoted believer spent her money to honour the Lord but here a devious unbeliever accepted money out of hatred for the Lord. We move from a scene of eternal vindication to one of eternal damnation.
It is clear from the temporal “then” of v. 10 that this woman’s gospel fidelity was the straw that broke the corrupt camel’s back. By this point, the reader of Mark’s Gospel will not be surprised since, as far back as 3:19, we learn that Judas would betray Jesus.
We don’t know the motive for this betrayal, but we are on safe exegetical ground to conclude that Judas was disappointed with what Messiah was offering. It would be better, he felt to take the money and run than to follow Jesus and be persecuted (13:9–13). So, for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15), Judas sold that which was invaluable. And it cost him his soul.
The word “betray” is used ten times from here through chapter 15. It means to hand over. From this point, Judas would look for a convenient time to do so. As we have seen, Judas would be the human hand of the divine arm.
We will look into this betrayal more closely as we proceed in the weeks ahead. But for our purposes this morning, let us learn that there will always be different responses to the call of Jesus to come and follow him. Some will hear, heed and sacrificially persevere while others, who initially hear, will fall away when the cost becomes too dear. As someone has said, “Judas knew the price of everything but the value of nothing.”
Observe the “sweaty” words of the New Testament describing the Christian life. Biblical discipleship is difficult. There are costs as we prioritise Jesus and the kingdom of God. But the reward is well worth it.
Our faithful Christian sister was accused of waste, but the one in this passage who was guilty of waste was Judas. Let me ask you as we conclude, how will you waste your life? That is, by whose definition?
Christian, keep counting the cost and realise the promised dividend is worth it. Though the world calls grace a waste, keep pouring all you have and are wasting yourself on Jesus.
Non-Christian, don’t waste your life. “Judas couldn’t tell the difference between grace and waste” (Hughes). Can you? Don’t throw away your opportunity to be forgiven by God and reconciled to him through the Jesus Christ. If you continue to live without him, you will die without him. You will die like Judas: so close and yet eternally so far away. Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ today.
So, how will you waste your life? Waste it like Mary. Waste it by worshipping Jesus.