Mark 14 is a turning point in the gospel as now we are going to follow Jesus to the cross. The teaching ministry of Jesus is complete. Mark’s gospel has emphasized that being a disciple of Jesus means following Jesus all the way to the cross. In our last few lessons in this gospel we are going to consider Jesus and his journey to the cross and what it means for our lives today.
Preparing For Burial (14:1-9)
The paragraph begins by telling us that it is two days before the Passover. This means it is two days until Jesus offers his life for the world. Two days until God’s plan is fulfilled. The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest secretly and kill him. They do not want to arrest Jesus during the Passover because there will be a riot from the people. The Passover was one of the times of the year when the Jews had to present themselves as the temple. The Jewish leaders cannot arrest Jesus publicly during this time because of Jesus’ popularity as well as the massive number of people who were now in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. In short, Mark is showing us that the handwriting is on the wall. The leaders are looking to deceptively arrest Jesus and kill him. They are not going to repent or listen to Jesus’ warning about their judgment.
Now Jesus is in Bethany, which is a town nearby Jerusalem where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. At this time he is eating at the table in the house of Simon the leper. Since people are in the home we can safely assume that Jesus has healed Simon of his leprosy and now is eating with Jesus in his home. It is a beautiful picture of the healing Jesus gives to those who were outcasts and without hope. While they are still at the table, a woman comes in with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, breaks the jar, and pours it over his head. As she does this, there are some sitting at the table who criticize her, saying to each other, “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” Notice the text says that they begin to scold her. Their self-righteous, indignant hearts arise within them. It was customary to give gifts to the poor on the evening of the Passover, which may be why this criticism is brought up. What will Jesus say to this criticism? Was this a waste of money?
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.” (Mark 14:6–9 ESV)
Rather than rebuking this woman, he praises her. She has done a beautiful thing. The point is that she is understanding the situation where the others do not. She understands that they are not going to always have him. Jesus has come to Jerusalem and going to Jerusalem was to go to his death. But Jesus had taught his disciples that he was going to give his life. Jesus says that what she did would be told in memory of her wherever the gospel is preached. Why is she praised? Why is what she did to be remembered and retold in the future?
I believe the key is in verse 8. “She has done what she could.” She has done a beautiful thing, displaying her love and devotion to Jesus. She has not held anything back but has given Jesus probably the most expensive thing she had. The people declare that this perfume could have been sold for 300 denarii. One denarius equalled one day’s wage. Therefore, this perfume was the equivalent of a year’s salary. She expended one year’s salary in a matter of seconds on Jesus’ head. Why did she do this? Jesus indicates that she had great spiritual awareness. He says that she poured this on him to prepare him for his burial. Those at the table failed to comprehend the nature and significance of Jesus’ mission. They considered this a wasteful extravagance while Jesus affirms the honor as appropriate for his mission. She understands what they did not understand. She seized an opportunity with Jesus. She did what she could do. She gave much. Her act of devotion reflects the picture of all disciples who receive the gospel.
Preparing To Betray (14:10-11)
After seeing this great display of love and devotion, notice what Judas does. Judas, one of the twelve apostles, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They promise him money and Judas begins to look for a good opportunity to betray him. Just as the woman will be remember for her great devotion, Judas is going to be remembered for being a betrayer. To call someone a “Judas” is to call them a betrayer. His name lives in infamy as he will look to betray Jesus for money. The contrast is presented and the narrative will pick up on this further in a moment.
Preparing For Passover (14:12-21)
Now it is the first day of Unleavened Bread (14:12) which means it is the time of the Passover Lamb to be sacrificed. The woman has prepared Jesus for his death and burial. Judas has prepared for Jesus to be betrayed. The stage is set for Jesus as the Passover Lamb to be sacrificed. The disciples ask about making preparations for the Passover meal. Notice how Jesus describes the preparations in verses 13-15. Once again we see that Jesus is fully in control of the events that are about to happen. Everything is found to be in line with the divine plan and foreknowledge of God. We saw this back in chapter 11 where the events of his arrival to Jerusalem and where the animal he will ride on will be was explicitly described. Jesus shows this knowledge and full control even more in verse 18.
“Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” Think about Jesus and his disciples reclining at the table and eating together and Jesus simply saying to them that one of them will betray him. Then each of the disciples one by one begin ask rhetorically, “Surely it is not me.” Please see this scene as they go around the table, each saying that there is no way that it them. As they all deny that they are betraying Jesus, Jesus confirms the truth all the more. “It is one of the Twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me” (14:20). It is one of you. The betrayal is not coming from an enemy, but from his closest friend. This is the meaning of the expression in verse 18, “one who is eating with me” and in verse 20, “one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.” Eating with a person indicated the closest of relationships. We see this expressed in Psalm 41:9.
Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9 ESV)
Notice that eating bread together is a picture of someone being your closest friend. We sometimes do not think about the pain of this truth. Jesus has spent years with these twelve men every day. They have been his closest friends and have heard his teachings and seen his miracles. Yet one of them, a close companion, will be the one to turn his back on Jesus for money. Severe judgment is coming on the one who betrays him (14:21) and Jesus will go to his betrayal and death just as it was written about him.
The contrast is so sharp that this gospel wants us to see. One woman was willing to spend it all for Jesus. She was willing to expend her funds and give what she could for Jesus. She anoints Jesus, preparing him for his death and burial. She does not choose some cheap oil that she had laying around in the house. She grabs a perfume that is worth one year’s wages. Imagine having a perfume worth $50,000-70,000 and anointing Jesus’ head with it. She does not use it on herself. She does not use the money for her own personal desires and luxuries. She gives it to Jesus.
Then there is Judas who wants money for Jesus. He is willing to give up Jesus for 30 shekels of silver. This is estimated to be about the amount of one month’s salary. He gives Jesus up for a couple thousand dollars. The woman gives Jesus all she has. The apostle trades Jesus for what he can get.
Now the question is left to us. Would you give all that you have and do what you can for Jesus as the woman did? Or will you take what you can get instead of having Jesus, as Judas did? When the gospel is preached, what she did is proclaimed because this is what it means to follow Jesus. This is what it means to go to the cross with Jesus. This is what it means to love Jesus. We give what we have and do what we can. Do we treasure Jesus so much that we would give something so extravagant for Jesus? She is the very example of the parables Jesus told.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44–46 ESV)
What is our price to betray Jesus? What is the price to turn our backs on him and turn him over to the world? It is so easy to be amazed by Judas and his willingness to betray Jesus for a price. Yet how easy it is for us to make a similar decision when we put wealth, entertainment, and the things of the world ahead of our Lord and Savior! We put work ahead of Jesus because we do want money more than him. We put comfort and entertainment ahead of Jesus because we want our rest and pleasure now more than we want him. What is more important to us than Jesus? Is it thousands of dollars, like Judas? Is it something else?
How did the woman give this extravagant gift to Jesus? Was she concerned about the cost? No, she was concerned about Jesus. Her life was so significantly impacted by him that the cost was nothing to her. There was nothing she would hold back because Jesus is worth everything. Jesus is so much greater than anything else in life. Do we see Jesus in that light? Have we experienced him so that we would give all for him? Here is the challenge of Mark: if we will not give it all for Jesus and do what is in our realm of ability to the Lord, then we are not a follower of Jesus. We look like a follower, like Judas looked. But ultimately we will trade Jesus when, in our minds, a better offer comes along. What is Jesus worth to you? It is a question that every person must ask and answer for themselves.