Wednesday: It's a Beautiful Thing (Mark 14:1-11)
Topic: One Lord: No One Like You Passage: Mark 14:1–14:11
The Week that Changed Everything
Wednesday: A Beautiful Thing
(One Lord: No One Like You)
March 18th, 2018
I. “It’s A Beautiful Thing”
Have you ever heard the slogan, “It’s a beautiful thing”? As I was preparing this message, that phrase came into my mind. But I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it before.
“It’s a beautiful thing”. As I tried to make the connection, I was thinking about the idea of beauty. What would you describe as beautiful? A sunset? A diamond? A new born baby? Maybe that word brings to your mind an elegant movie star or a classic work of art.
Beautiful things inspire us, don’t they? I would guess the things you’re now thinking about in terms of ‘beautiful’, are things that have inspired you in some way.
At some point, it finally came to me. The slogan “It’s a beautiful thing” is not used by a jeweler or to promote some scenic state park. It belongs to Blimpie’s. You know, the sub place. “It’s a beautiful thing” is referring to a sandwich. “Wow”, right?
I think this morning God would have us reclaim this word, ‘beautiful’ and raise the bar according to how he wants to define the word. We find Jesus doing this for us in our passage this morning, Mark 14:1-11.
II. The Passage: “What She Has Done” (14:1-9)
Welcome back to 'the week that changed everything'. This month, we have been walking with Jesus in those final days. Let's rejoin Him as he moves toward Friday and Sunday; as He moves toward his death and resurrection. Listen as I begin with Mark 14:1-9:
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.”
So Mark reminds us right away that this Wednesday of 'the week that changed everything'. We know that from verse 1. It was two days before the Passover, which would begin on Thursday at sundown. So sunset Wednesday to sunset Thursday would be the day before Passover. But the story we read here took place on Wednesday during the day.
If you remember from our previous studies, Jesus and his disciples have been staying, not in Jerusalem, but in Bethany, a town to the southeast of Jerusalem, just over the Mount of Olives. It was common during the feast days for pilgrims to stay on the outskirts of the city since the city swelled to five times its normal population during holy days like Passover.
That fact was also influencing the plans of the religious leadership in Jerusalem. We see from verses 1 and 2 that many of these leaders were plotting Jesus’ death. They had confronted him in the Temple courts, but he was not scared off. He continued to enjoy popularity with the people. So it was this favor with the crowds that kept them from arresting Jesus while he was ministering in the city. They would need to find a way to arrest him in a more private setting.
1. One Act of Affection
But what Mark wants to focus on in this section is not the devising of many leaders; it is the devotion of one woman.
If this account describes the same events recorded in John 12:1-8, then we can identify this woman as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. What we read here is that Mary has come and she has anointed Jesus’ head with an ointment, a fragrant oil made from nard, a flowering plant that came from as far away as India. Given the exotic origins of this extract, a perfume like this was very expensive. And it’s the value of this perfume that causes a small uproar in the house about the woman’s decision.
But why did she anoint his head with this oil? Well anointing the head of a guest was a very common gesture of honor at the Jewish feasts. You might remember David’s words from Psalm 23: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (v. 5)
But her gesture of honor may have meant more. For Mary, this anointing may have been a statement confirming that Jesus was the indeed Messiah, a Hebrew word that means, “anointed one”.
But Jesus gives her actions yet another meaning. Probably without knowing it, her anointing has served as an anointing for His burial. Remember, Jesus would be hastily interred in a tomb after his death and the laws of the Sabbath would keep his body from being properly anointed. It is this desire to anoint his body that compels some of the women to go to the tomb early in the morning on the third day.
But as I just mentioned, we are presented with a contrast here; two very different perspectives about the value of this woman’s actions. On one hand, you have some of the disciples who see her gesture as nothing more than a huge waste of resources; of a commodity that could have been converted to cash and used for the poor.
You see, the beginning of Passover was traditionally a time when worshipers would give donations to those in need. According to verse 5, this perfume alone was worth what the average worker would make in a year. And so we read here that some of these disciples actually scolded her for her actions. “Is she out of her mind? What was she thinking?”
But on the other hand, there is the perspective of Jesus. Jesus rebukes these disciples for their attitude. They were right to be concerned about the poor. But they would have many other opportunities to care for those in need. In contrast, Jesus himself would soon be gone.
“Leave her alone” he orders them in verse 6. Instead of viewing her gesture as a waste, Jesus believes it to be a priceless deed. “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” There it is. Did you hear that? Jesus has pointed us to beauty, beauty on display in this woman’s extravagant act of devotion.
So how do we explain these different perspectives? What were the disciples missing? What did Mary understand that they did not? These are the questions I want to us to consider this morning as we think about two kinds of devotion.
2. Two Kinds of Devotion
It might be fair to say that everyone in that house was a devoted follower. But to what they were devoted is a question we have to consider.
At this point, many of the disciples seem to be devoted to a cause. There is evidence for this throughout Mark’s Gospel. They’ve asked for places of honor in Christ’s kingdom and they’ve rebuked his predictions of suffering because those didn't square with their political aspirations. Here their devotion has to do with how this cause could be furthered through a broader ministry to the poor. Now, that's not a bad thing. But they’re missing something crucial.
In contrast to the kind of devotion we see expressed by some of the disciples, Mary is devoted to a King. Yes, she is committed to the cause, but it is her King's cause, and he comes before the cause. In considering this flask of oil, Mary did not first see a resource to assist the poor. She saw instead a resource to assist in worship. She was in the presence of the Messiah, the King of Israel. Her agenda was driven by adoration. Her extravagance here is not a sign of her carelessness, but of her total devotion to Jesus.
Are you a devoted follower? If so, to what are you first devoted?
Oftentimes, it’s easy to be devoted to a cause. We can set our goals, we can track our success, we can outline the principles of the cause for others. In some sense, being devoted to just a cause allows ME to maintain control.
But being devoted to a king, being devoted to a person, rather than a principle, that's different. It's not predictable. It demands more of us. It demands that we ‘let go’ of the reins.
Let me give you an example. There is a difference between me being first devoted to my wife and me being first devoted to the cause of good husband-ship. There is no doubt that these two should be related to one another, but the order matters, doesn't it?
Listen, my wife will benefit from my attempts to be a good husband. But if this cause is my first order of business, then my devotion is really about me. Ultimately, her personhood doesn’t really matter because the focus is primarily on what I’m doing. If that's the case, then my delight in my devotion simply comes from the fact that I have been successful in my duty.
But when I am first devoted to my wife as a person, then my devotion is inspired by her. My delight in my devotion comes from the reality of who she is and the interaction, the relationship we share. And because of this devotion, there is subsequently a devotion to the cause of good husband-ship.
One kind of devotion simply requires a commission, the other communication. One kind of devotion desires information, the other intimacy. One kind of devotion simply calls us to know the objectives. The other calls us to know the object of our devotion.
Do you see how that kind of difference can be a factor in how we follow Jesus?
3. Three Verses Deep
So how can you know? If you are a devoted follower, how can you know what kind of devotion best describes your devotion? Are you first devoted to a cause, or to a King? Well to answer that question, we need to look back to this passage. Look again at verse 3:
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.
The evidence of this kind of devotion is best seen when we do something beautiful to Jesus. Hmm. When is the last time you thought about doing something beautiful to Jesus? Now, that’s not typically language we use, is it? Sounds kind of odd, doesn't it? But that is the language Jesus uses here. That’s how He describes Mary’s deed of devotion. Verse 6: “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
Hers is an expression of both mind and heart. It's the overflow of affection. So... what Jesus labels “beautiful” is this: an extravagant sacrifice inspired by affectionate faith. (x2)
Just like the widow with the two coins at the end of chapter 12, Jesus is once again commending this kind of faith. Verse 9: “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.” And guess what? We are fulfilling those words this morning.
Notice there is no removable lid or cap or cork for this flask. It has to be broken open to be poured out. Once Mary breaks it, it must all be used. But that is precisely what she wants, isn't it? She wants to bring not only an extravagant offering, but she wants it to be an expression of her love for Jesus.
If YOU were in this house and you possessed an expensive flask of perfume just like this one, is this what you would do? Some of us would be uncomfortable doing this. I know I would. But if our desire is to truly follow Jesus Christ, we need have this same kind of heart.
Is your life characterized by extravagant sacrifice inspired by affectionate faith?
Remember how Peter described the faith of his readers, those who believed on Jesus, those who trusted in him after he returned to the Father:
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,  obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
What is something beautiful you can do to Jesus, according to what Jesus describes as beautiful? You can give exactly what He gave. You can offer up something “very costly”. You can pour out your life for Him.
But that kind of sacrifice will not simply mean that you spend yourself in doing. It will mean that. But it will mean, at the core, spending yourself in knowing and loving him. God is calling us to love Christ, to delight in Christ, to be captivated by Christ, to be wooed by Him, to worship him, to be overjoyed because of who He is.
Genuine faith in Jesus Christ involves our hearts, it involves our affections. Listen to the plea of the 18th century American preacher, Jonathan Edwards:
Let what has been said be improved to induce you to love the Lord Jesus Christ, and choose him for your friend and portion. As there is such an admirable meeting of diverse excellencies in Christ, so there is every thing in him to render him worthy of your love and choice, and to win and engage it. Whatsoever there is or can be desirable in a friend, is in Christ, and that to the highest degree that can be desired.
Are you devoted to this King, to the King of kings? Have you seen in Jesus, not just an answer to your problems or a cause worthy of your commitment, but have you seen in Jesus a beauty and worthiness that surpasses everything else in this universe?
III. An Ugly Alternative (14:10, 11)
While this passage gives us a beautiful picture of faith, it also describes an ugly alternative.
Look at verses 10 and 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.
Notice that verses 10 and 11 are the resolution of verses 1 and 2. The actions of Jesus bring resolution to the dilemma of the religious leaders. So right in the middle of these bookends, in the middle of this story of betrayal we are given a picture of faithfulness.
Judas exemplifies the fact that though one came seem to be a devoted follower, the focus of that devotion can be misplaced. Judas had had enough. His hopes for the cause of Christ were shattered time and time again. He was tired of this talk about suffering and faith. He was tired of Jesus’ backward ideas about what was truly valuable. If he wasn’t going to profit with Jesus, he would find some other path to the reward and gain he sought.
When we are first devoted to a cause, and not a king, when our commitment is to the cause above all else, we will eventually move away from the king. Why? Because the cause will no longer be His cause...it will be ours.
Brothers and sisters, friends, we need to know that Tuesday, that Tuesday of 'the week that changed everything', it involved more than a withered fig tree. The rest of Mark 11, and all of chapter 12 tell us about the efforts of the Jewish leaders to challenge Jesus, to trip him up, to discredit him, to humiliate him. You see, they had always been in that place Judas eventually found himself: committed to their own agenda, and closed off to God's.
This morning, please be honest with yourself. Please accept that every single one of us, including you, including me, can find ourselves in that same place. But if and when you do, think about this extravagant sacrifice inspired by affectionate faith? Better still, think about the extravagant sacrifice of Jesus for you.
You may remember that we talked about this heart last week. Tuesday of the week that changed everything pointed us toward a needy, but faith-filled heart, both softened and empowered by grace. And on Wednesday, Jesus has shown us even more about that heart. But where does that heart come from?
A sacrifice like Wednesday's is only possible through a sacrifice like Friday's. Mary's heart was a picture of the heart Jesus wants to give us, the heart He purchased for us with his own blood. Brothers and sisters, friends, God calls us to simply believe and ask.
Is there anything more beautiful than the cross of Jesus, where “sorrow and love flow mingled down” for us? Come to the cross this morning. Return to the cross this morning. Don't let anything hinder you, for God has said nothing should keep us away. The door is open wide.
Two kinds of devotions. By God's grace, through faith in Jesus, may our lives this day and this week be lived for the King, and not simply his cause.
More in The Week that Changed Everything
April 1, 2018Easter Sunday: A Whole New World (Mark 16:1-8)
March 25, 2018Thursday: Passover Remixed (Mark 14:12-26)
March 11, 2018Monday/Tuesday: Fruitlessness or Faith-Filled? (Mark 11:12-25)