Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 10, 2013
1 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, 2 for they said, Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people. 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. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor. And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 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. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 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. 10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 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, ESV
“We’ve only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Jesus will last.”
Mark practically invented the Gospel genre. With Simon Peter’s guidance, he strung together a perfect collection of stories whose chronology is not always in perfect order in order to make a perfect point. Such is the case in Mark 14:1-11, as Jesus begins His walk to the cross.
On the road we meet some old characters who reveal their character in characteristically different ways. “The chief priests and the scribes” show their jealousy and hatred for Jesus by conspiring with the unbelieving traitor, “Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve.” Then, in the midst of this putrid part of the passion story, Mark inserts a flashback from a few days prior, when to show her love for the Lord, “a woman came with an alabaster flask” of perfume came forward and poured it out upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Each person had only one life, and it is now long past, but what they did for Christ now lasts, and lasts, forever.
An Abuse of Power
The trick that turned the tide against the Lord was a typical abuse of power and cravenness for popularity. Though Rome controlled the known world, the real power over the people rested with “the chief priests and the scribes.” They were the religious rulers, and religion trumped all other matters for most first century Jews. These men were supposed to lead people to God. They were supposed to teach the people the word of God. They were supposed to prepare the people for the kingdom of God. But when the King came, they conspired to kill Him, in stealth and secrecy, to protect their own turf.
Jesus had threatened their power base and popularity among the people. Christ’s kingdom message was one of humility and grace. They led with pride and man-made rules and regulations. The Lord had upset their apple cart for three years running, and they were determined to stop Him in His tracks. Only they sought to do it secretly, as not to make themselves look bad in front of the people.
You really cannot live for power and popularity, and live for Christ, at the same time. They are two different paths traveled by two different types of character. “The chief priests and scribes” chose their path. I’m sure they did some good in their lives, but it does not matter now. They each had only one life, and it is now long past, and only what they did for Jesus now lasts, forever.
A Traitor from Within
It would not have been possible to topple Jesus with merely external force. It required an internal conspiracy. Someone on the inside would have to hand Him over. That someone, whose name now lives in infamy, was “Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve.”
What makes a person betray another? What makes a soldier give away secrets to the enemy? What makes a spouse walk out on an otherwise faithful spouse? What makes a confessing Christian walk out of the church never more to return? Very simply, it is self-interest, or as we like to call it when we see it, selfishness. And selfishness does not have to reach Judas-like proportions to be abominable and hurtful to God and God’s people.
Selfishness is the opposite of the life of Christ, and the life of a Christian. And you cannot live a self-centered life of self-interest above all else and be a selfless follower of Jesus Christ at the same time. It is two different paths, two different characters, two different lives. I think Judas may have had good intentions in the beginning, but by the end he was out only for himself. He had his life, and it is now past, and what He did for Jesus now lasts, forever.
A Woman Who Shows Us the Way
Obviously, the priests and the scribes and the traitor do not show us the right way to do the right things for God. Men, move over, and let a woman show us the way. And what a woman she was!
In the midst of the conspiracy narrative, Mark flashes back to “a woman ... with an alabaster flask [of perfume].” She is not the sinful woman of Luke’s Gospel (ref. Luke 7). She is most certainly the same woman of Matthew’s Gospel (ref. Matthew 26). And, she is most likely the same woman in John’s Gospel (ref. John 12), Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. She seems to always be found at Jesus’ feet (ref. Luke 10:38-42; John 11:31-32; and here).
Mary listened to Jesus. This beautiful part of the gospel story, of what Mary’s hands pouring the perfume, would have never happened if Mary has not first used her ears. Jesus had told his followers emphatically, especially during the final days of His ministry, that He would be killed, buried, and resurrected. I don’t think many or any of the men got it. But Mary did, that’s why Jesus pointed out, “She has anointed My body beforehand for burial.” We cannot do anything for the Lord until we first learn to listen to God. Don’t listen to the critics and the skeptics (they are in this text and they are everywhere). Listen to the Lord, His word, His true preachers and teachers, and His Spirit which lives within the heart of every true follower of Christ.
Mary loved Jesus. This perfume probably represented everything that Mary ever had or would have. It was worth a year’s wages. It was for her wedding day and married life. It was all she had to give, and she gave all she had to Jesus. Why would someone do that, instead of using what they have for power and popularity? Why would someone do that, instead of using what they have for themselves? Why would someone risk embarrassment and ridicule to do something for someone that only that someone would understand? Love, wrought from faith, inspired by grace.
Mary has a legacy for what she did for Jesus. Because she listened, and because she loved, she has a lasting legacy in God’s word and Christ’s church. “What she has done will be told in memory of her,” Jesus said. Mary had this one life, and with this life “She [did] what she could” for Jesus. Her life is now past, and, obviously, what she has done for Christ will last, forever.
What are you doing with your life? It’s your life, it’s all that you have, and you’ll only have it once. You can spend it in the pursuit of power, pleasure, money, and material things. You can spend it with people who give you these things or help you get them for yourself. You can spend it, as most people do, in your own pursuit of personal happiness at the expense of all other creatures and creeds. Or, you can do “a beautiful thing.” You can give your life, totally, to Jesus Christ. “‘Tis only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”