Monday, October 13, 2008

The Value of Devotion: Mark 14:1-11

Download Audio Here

If you have a pulse, and are even slightly informed about current events, then you are most likely concerned about the economy. If you drive a vehicle, you are concerned about it, as you pull into the gas station and see prices hovering near the $4 mark. The declining value of the American dollar around the world is creating concern over our financial future. Fear, uncertainty, and even despair abounds as people are looking for ways to stretch their dollars even further. We want to every dollar we spend to provide the best possible return, and find ourselves reexamining what really matters most.

Our passage today has something to do with value, namely the value of devotion to Jesus. It is one of several passages in Mark that has been described as a “sandwich.” In these “sandwich” passages, two stories are woven together for the purpose of making a singular point. The two episodes interpret each other. So, if you imagine this passage of Scripture is a hamburger, then verses 1-2, and verses 10-11 are the bun, and verses 3-9 are the meat. Verses 1-2, 10-11 are about how Judas conspired with the Sanhedrin to bring about the arrest of Jesus. Verses 3-9 are about an unnamed woman who pours a vial of costly perfume over Jesus’ head. Well, on the surface it may seem like they have nothing to do with each other. But in fact they do. They are both about the value of devotion to Jesus. The actions the unnamed woman in the passage stand in stark contrast to those of Judas Iscariot in this regard. The cost of her devotion to Jesus is far superior to the cost of Judas’ betrayal. We see in these two the contrast of genuine devotion and superficial devotion. One knows spares no expense to express the all-surpassing worth of the Lord Jesus, and the other pursues personal gain.

Let’s explore those ideas more thoroughly as we examine the text.

I. Genuine Devotion Spares No Expense for the Sake of Christ (vv3-9)

In the middle portion of this passage, we find Jesus at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany. The identity of this person has caused some debate, for if he was a leper, he would certainly not be hosting a large gathering in his home. Therefore, it has been suggested that perhaps Jesus had healed him, or even that he had died prior to this event. After all, it only says that it was his home, not that he was there. If this is the same event recorded in John 12, then it is also the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Perhaps Simon the Leper was their father. And if it is the same event recorded there, then the woman in this story is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. But her name is not given here. It is not who she is which is important here, but who Jesus is, and how this woman or anyone else who is genuinely committed to Him expresses their devotion to Him.

Notice the great detail that Mark includes about her act of devotion. Being known for his brevity, we would expect no more of him than to say, “There came a woman who poured some perfume over His head.” But he tells us much more than this. First of all, he tells us that she brought an alabaster vial. Alabaster refers to a finely-textured, white, translucent stone, and takes its name from Alabastron, a city in Egypt where it was found. It was used to make beautiful and costly vessels, often used for storing expensive perfumes and ointments. Their fragrances were thought to be better preserved in alabaster than other containers. And this is what the alabaster vial of this woman contained. It was full of very costly perfume of pure nard. John tells us in his Gospel that it contained a pound of this fragrant perfume. Nard was extracted from a plant that grew in the Himalayas. It was rare and very costly. And this woman’s perfume was no by-product – it was pure nard. The on-the-spot estimate of the value of this vial of perfume was over 300 denarii. A denarius was an average day’s wage for a common laborer in that day, so we are talking about close to a year’s salary. And she does not merely anoint His head with a droplet from the bottle; she snaps the delicate neck of the bottle, rendering it utterly useless from that time forward, and expends the entire pound of ointment on Him.

Some of the disciples who observed this considered the extravagant display of this woman’s devotion to be a waste. They said, “This perfume might have been sold … and the money given to the poor.” Back in Mark 6, we learned that 200 denarii would have been enough to buy food for over 5,000 people. That means 300 denarii may feed in excess of 7500 people. But while they were indignant and scolding her, Jesus’ evaluation of her deeds was markedly different. He did not think that the perfume had been wasted, but rather says, “She had done a good deed to Me.” It isn’t that Jesus is opposed to helping the poor. In fact, His words in v7 indicate that His disciples will have plenty of opportunities to do good to the poor as often as they wish. But this woman does not always have the opportunity to lavish her devotion upon Jesus. In a few days, He will be put to death. He has told His disciples this repeatedly, but they have never responded in any way to indicate that they believe it to be true. Not only does this woman believe it, but she understands the significance of it. She understands that, like her bottle, His body will be crushed, and His precious life-blood will be poured out in love for mankind. And her act symbolizes that understanding, as she pours out the costly nard in love for Him.

Jesus says, “She has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.” When Jesus died, all of His disciples had abandoned Him. His body was claimed for burial by Joseph of Arimathea who laid Him in his own tomb hurriedly before the Sabbath began. There was no time for the typical anointing with spices and oils. And when certain women came to the tomb after the Sabbath ended, they found the tomb to be empty. This woman’s anointing was the only preparation He ever received for His burial. This was no waste; it was an expression of His all-surpassing worth in an extravagant display of devotion.

It is kind of ironic that the world doesn’t really mind fanatics, unless they are fanatic about their devotion to Jesus. I am a sports fan, and when I attend sporting events, it is not unusual to find someone who has painted their face in team colors, or worse, they have removed their shirt to emblazon a message of team spirit on their chests and backs. They carry signs and scream their heads off in fanaticism for their team. No one seems to mind. I saw a minivan in a parking lot the other day, and all over its windows were painted slogans in support of a political candidate. Every day I drive past a house that has a dozen campaign signs in the front yard. No problem. It’s perfectly acceptable in our culture to be identified as a radical follower of a sports team or a political party or cause. But how about being that radically devoted to the God who took upon flesh to live and die for you and who is risen from the dead? That’s just looney. Time for the padded room. Let a Christian quote a Scripture verse over dinner, or ask a coworker about the condition of his or her soul, or have a Bible on their desk, and suddenly everyone panics. This person is an intolerable fanatic. Let it be known that a Christian tithes or contributes to missionary causes, or spends hours each week in church activities, and people want to talk about wasting time and money and all the better things that could be done with that time or money. Even Jesus’ disciples did not, at this point, understand such ardent devotion. We shouldn’t be surprised when people who have no concern for Christ don’t understand our devotion to Him.

Do we find ourselves placing limits on our devotion to Christ? Please understand me, this isn’t about money. The woman didn’t sell the ointment and give the money to Jesus for His ministry expenses. She busted the jar wide-open and poured it all out on Him. It was about the fact that, as Jesus said, “She did what she could.” Whatever means she had to express her devotion to Jesus, she knew that He deserved it, for He is worth far more to her than the contents of that jar. What about you? What can you do to show the worth of Jesus in your life? What do you have that might be used to express your devotion to Him? Is it a talent that He has blessed you with? Is it time you could spend in service and worship? Is it some item of treasured importance that might be a fitting symbol of His surpassing greatness? When we understand the infinite value of who He is and what He has done, and genuinely devote ourselves to Him, there is no expense of time, talent, or treasure to be spared for Him.

Notice what Jesus says about this woman in v9: “Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” Wherever the death of Christ for man’s sin and His resurrection are proclaimed, and the call for faith and repentance goes out beckoning men and women to turn from sin in complete devotion to Him, this great act of the unnamed woman in this passage will be remembered. Her devotion to Christ knew no limits, and neither will the devotion of any who truly fathom who He is and what He has done for them. Genuine devotion spares no expense for the sake of Christ.

But the story is not only about her devotion. There is another, more tragic, component to what is said here. In contrast to the genuine devotion that spares no expense for the sake of Christ, we see in the actions of Judas Iscariot here that …

II. Superficial Devotion Seeks Personal Profit from Jesus (vv1-2; vv10-11)

There are two individuals in this passage whose deeds will never be forgotten. Jesus tells us this of the unnamed woman. It goes without saying concerning Judas Iscariot. But his deeds are remembered for a far different reason, and I would venture to say his deed is even more memorable and has been spoken of more often than hers. One of the most tragic statements in this passage is the phrase, “who was one of the twelve.” Judas had been with Jesus from the beginning. Jesus had chosen him and called him to follow. He had seen all the miracles and heard all the teachings. He had intimate access to the incarnate God, but never moved beyond proximity to saving faith. Never do we read of him calling Jesus “Lord” in the Gospels. And in time, Judas turned his back on Jesus in betrayal.

Now, why did he do this? Luke 22:3 says that Satan entered him. John 13:2 says that the devil put it into his heart to betray Jesus. Then in John 13:27, we read that Satan entered into him. But Satan only influences people to do what they are willing to do in the first place. So Satan is an agent, but like you and I when we sin, it ultimately boils down to our own desire. As stated in James 1:14-15, “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” I like to illustrate it like this. If eating meat were a sin, and thank God it isn’t, Satan would be powerless to tempt me with images of liver. I have no desire for liver. But, bacon, now that’s a different story. Because I desire bacon, Satan could appeal to that desire to tempt me to eat it. So there had to be some desire within Judas that Satan capitalized on in order to entice him into this sin.

Some have suggested that Judas had followed Jesus out of a nationalistic zeal to see the Messiah overthrow Roman oppression and liberate Israel politically and militarily. And when Jesus began talking about going to Jerusalem to die rather than to kill, Judas lost interest. The Messiahship of Jesus would no longer profit him personally, or so he thought, not understanding his need for deliverance from sin. Others have suggested that it was this incident with the unnamed woman that caused Judas to loose interest in following Jesus. This is based on what we read about this incident in John 12. There we are told that Judas raised the protest about selling the perfume and giving it to the poor. John says, “Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.” If this woman had sold the perfume and donated the 300-plus denarii to the ministry efforts of Jesus, then Judas could skim a little of it off the top, knowing it would never be missed. So, when it was seemingly wasted by pouring it over Jesus’ head, Judas realized that his financial interests were not shared by Jesus, and he went elsewhere to see how he could profit financially from his access to Jesus. We do not know for certain which of these, if either of them, were at the root of his betrayal, but we can be certain that Satan appealed to some internal desire within Judas to lead him to commit this heinous act of betrayal.

Whatever the explanation, Judas’ actions demonstrate that his devotion to Jesus was only superficial. And when following Jesus ceased to profit him as much as betraying him would, Judas began to conspire with the enemies of Christ for His destruction. Knowing the desire of the Sanhedrin to destroy Jesus, Judas went to them to strike a deal. Mark tells us that they promised to give him money. But this was not an unsolicited offer. In Matthew’s account, he tells us that Judas went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And in a specific fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy, they arranged the terms of payment at thirty pieces of silver. Thirty pieces of silver would equal approximately 120 denarii, roughly one-third of the value of the perfume that the woman had poured out on Jesus. In the eyes of Judas, devotion to Jesus wasn’t worth 300 denarii, but the betrayal of Him was worth 120. In other words, Judas sold Jesus at a discount, and personally profited by the act of betrayal.

Superficial devotion will follow Jesus as long as there is the prospect of personal profit. As long as being a disciple of Jesus will make a person popular, prosperous, or powerful, they are all in. But when following Jesus means suffering, sacrificing, and struggling, the person begins to look for a way out. They are off to whatever they can find that will offer them personal gain. And when it occurs, it gladdens the self-avowed enemies of Jesus. The gift of the woman’s perfume, Jesus said, was a good thing. The offer of Judas’s betrayal, we are told made the chief priests glad. They thought they would have to delay their plans to destroy Him until the city was emptied of its multitude of Passover participants, but because of Judas’s unrestricted access to Jesus, they knew they could take care of the Jesus problem expediently without causing a riot among the people of the city. What more could they ask for?

Judas’s act of betrayal stands out as one of the most tragic events of history. We wonder how someone who was so close to Jesus could literally sell Him at such a discount rate for his own personal gain. Yet, daily we face the costly dilemma of clinging to Christ or exchanging Him for our own gain. When speaking a word about Jesus may cost us a relationship, when our Christian convictions threaten our employment status or our financial portfolio, when our devotion to Christ demands a sacrifice of time, talent or treasure, what will our decision say about the value of our devotion to Him? Will we demonstrate through our choices and actions that Jesus is worthy of whatever costly sacrifice is necessary? Or will we demonstrate through our choices and actions that our devotion to Him can be purchased at clearance-sale prices, as we exchange Him for our own gain in other areas of life? Like Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of soup, will we turn our backs on Jesus when the going gets tough or when our personal security is threatened by our allegiance to Him? Or, like the woman with the valuable perfume, will it be said of us, “He did what he could,” “She did what she could,” to demonstrate to the world around us that Jesus Christ is worthy of genuine devotion, and our allegiance to Him is worth more than any of the riches that this world affords?

When Don and Caroline Richardson went to live as missionaries among the Sawi people of Irian Jaya, they encountered an unusual challenge. When they told the Sawi the story of Jesus, the Sawi acclaimed Judas as the hero of the story. Dumbfounded by this, Richardson investigated the people’s values and found that treachery was one of the most highly regarded characteristics of these people. Judas was, in their eyes, a model traitor, and worthy of their esteem and emulation. What is unusual about that encounter is that the Sawi people weren’t ashamed to admit their admiration of Judas. But every day, without saying it, some person who is merely superficially devoted to Jesus cashes out and turns his or her back on Him for personal gain. But also every day, there are those who are genuinely devoted to Jesus, who make the difficult and costly decision to do whatever they can to demonstrate the all-surpassing worth of Christ. And every day, you and I are put into life’s crucible where our choices and actions will show others the value of our devotion to Jesus.

Jesus says that wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her. We proclaim the gospel today, declaring that God has come to dwell among humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, and He lived a perfect life that satisfied the righteous standard of God, and died in the place of sinners like me and you so that in Him, our sins might be paid for by a righteous substitute. And He is risen from the dead, offering us forgiveness and eternal life if we will turn to Him in repentance and faith. And we proclaim that He is worthy of our most genuine devotion, as seen in the actions of this woman. It is no waste to do what we can do for Jesus. He is worthy of our entire lives, for He became that vessel that was broken and spilled out for us, that we might be anointed with the grace and mercy of God.

No comments: