““Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.””
As Mark continues to tell us the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ he continues to lead us along the road to the cross. Real Christian discipleship is always cross centred. It is at the foot of the cross that we see our sin in all its awfulness. It is exposed in order to convict us. At the foot of the cross we also see the grace of God in all its glory. It meets us in our sin and redeems us. That is if we receive the grace that God offers us in Christ. At the cross we see ourselves as we really are. Our response is either to be broken by grace receiving what God has won for us, or we are hardened by our sin, choosing to stay on our own way which leads down to eternal death.
Mark presents both choices in the first eleven verses of the fourteenth chapter of his Gospel. As is often his custom Mark uses a parenthesis in order to convey to us this truth in all of its starkness. The Messiah has come to His own people and they are rejecting Him and in the process becoming hardened in their sin. Passover is two days away when our account begins. It begins with a description of the chief priests and teachers of the law who are determined to maintain their own political position at all costs. They arrive at a conclusion, a plan to find some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill Him. They were not interested in the truth or justice of the situation that Jesus confronted them with. Self interest and fleshly ambition was their motivation. They made their plans not recognising that God had already decided every detail of the sacrifice of the Christ. It was God’s sovereign plan that would be worked out. Mark makes sure that we see human self seeking and covetousness displayed here. He makes this even clearer as he closes the parenthesis with the account of Judas Iscariot going off to betray Jesus for a few coins. John 13:18 tells us that this was a fulfillment of God’s Word by quoting Psalm 41:9 “He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” Judas motivated by covetousness betrays Jesus, thinking that his motivations are his own, but they fit into the sovereign plan of God. There is material for hours of fruitful meditation in these facts alone.
There is more here however. We see here the awfulness of our sin. We are confronted by it. We see ourselves in our self interest going off and betraying our Redeemer for the smallest of treasures. Mark does not leave us at that point however. He shows us grace at work. As Jesus reclines at table in the home of Simon the Leper something significant happens. Stop and reflect for a moment here. Simon the leper was perhaps a man well known in the New Testament Church. He would have been ostracised by Hebrew society on account of his leprosy. Perhaps Jesus had healed him. Now Jesus is sitting down to a meal with this man. How things have been changed in the Kingdom of God. A woman comes in and breaks an expensive container of perfume over Jesus’ head, filling the whole room with the fragrance of her extravagant gift. Its value was estimated to be more than a year’s wages. She wasted it on Jesus, or so some thought. What Mark is telling us in contrast with the selfishness of others is that this is the type of extravagant love that is the characteristic of those who have been touched by the grace of the Lord. Here is a woman who loves Jesus with all her heart. This love leads here to anoint Jesus for His burial. The perfume was poured out upon Him in love. In two days His precious blood will be poured out in love in order to bring God’s gracious gift to us.
The Apostle Peter understood this truth. Wherever he went he preached it as part of his Gospel, just as Jesus had predicted. That he understood this is revealed by these words which Peter wrote in his first letter. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the foundation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:18-23)
Which part of Mark’s parenthesis are you living in? Is it selfishness or extravagant love for the Lord? e