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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Jesus defends the disciple showing true loving devotion
Text:Mark 14:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 24
Psalm 6:1-3
Psalm 55:1,2,9,10
Psalm 18:1,14,15
Hymn 46

Scripture reading:  Deuteronomy 15:1-11
Text:  Mark 14:1-11
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

The American writer Flannery O’Connor once wrote a short story about a man and  his grandchild.  Mr. Head and Nelson lived in the rural South and they made their way to the big city of Atlanta.  Once there they promptly got lost and ending up wandering around.  Nelson ends up knocking over an elderly woman.  She starts screaming that he’s broken her ankle and that his daddy’s going to pay for it.  She calls for the police.  Mr. Head comes on to the scene and everyone assumes that he’s Nelson’s father.  The elderly woman screams at him, “You sir!  You’ll pay every penny of my doctor’s bill that your boy has caused.  He’s a juve-nile delinquent!  Where is an officer!  Somebody take this man’s name and address!”  The grandfather responds, “This is not my boy.  I never seen him before.”  And then he walked away.  The rest of the story is about how Nelson quickly forgives his grandfather and how this forgiveness gets processed by Mr. Head.  It’s a fascinating story.  Like a lot of great literature, it features the theme of betrayal and denial. 

Betrayal is a captivating topic for authors not necessarily because it’s so common, but because when it does happen, it’s so shocking.  In Flannery O’Connor’s story, there were a group of women surrounding the elderly woman who’d been knocked down.  They hear Mr. Head’s denial of his grandson, his betrayal.  O’Connor writes, “The women dropped back, staring at him with horror, as if they were so repulsed by a man who would deny his own image and likeness that they could not bear to lay hands on him.”  That sort of betrayal is disturbing. 

We see that kind of betrayal emerging in our text for this morning.  Mark is preparing us for the final suffering and death of Jesus.  How does he finally end up on the cross?  Well, it all starts to come together here.  There are wicked men who’ve hated Jesus ever since the beginning of his ministry.  Back in chapter 3 already, we read that the Pharisees and the Herodians were plotting together how to kill Jesus.  That’s not betrayal – that’s outright hostility.  The betrayal comes from an unexpected direction, from Jesus’ inner circle of disciples.  One of them is a traitor.  And in this passage, that hostility and treachery gets contrasted with the loving devotion of a true disciple of Jesus.  When that devotion comes under attack, it’s Jesus himself who comes to the defense.  And all of this is setting the stage for events soon to follow.  All of this speaks to us of the gospel of our salvation.  This morning I preach to you God’s Word and we’ll see how Jesus defends the disciple showing true loving devotion.  We’ll consider:

1.      The scheming and treachery of false Jews and disciples

2.      The love and devotion of our Saviour and his true disciple

Here in Mark’s gospel we’re in the last couple of days now before Good Friday.  Jesus is in the area of Jerusalem.  We’re close to when and where it’s all going to happen.  Mark relates that the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were just two days away.  Jews would have arrived from all over the place for this occasion.  Many of them admired Jesus and were liable to get worked up if he were to be arrested out in the open.  A public confrontation was out of the question – the Jewish leaders had to find a backhanded way to get at him.  They needed to be smart about this. 

Remember who these people were.  Some of these schemers were priests.  They were descendants of Aaron, from the tribe of Levi.  They had been appointed by God to bring sacrifices which spoke of forgiveness and atonement.  They were supposed to be servants of God.  But now they are servants allied with the evil one.  Satan wants to destroy Jesus and he thinks that he can accomplish that through these priests.

Others of the schemers were teachers of the law.  These scribes were men well-versed in the Bible.  They were entrusted with teaching the Scriptures to the people of God.  These Scriptures spoke of the coming Messiah and the redemption he would bring.  They knew what Scripture taught and yet they rejected the Messiah.  They didn’t merely reject him in some kind of passive sense – they actively schemed to destroy him.  Here too we find the seed of the serpent at work.

These leaders join forces with Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve.  Judas had spent the past three years with Jesus.  He had been with him through thick and thin.  Judas had seen all the miracles, all the healings, all the exorcisms.  He’d heard all of Jesus’ teaching.  Judas was in a privileged position and we can’t help but be somewhat jealous of him.  He had it all with our beloved Jesus.  Yet what does he do?  He goes to the enemies of our Saviour.  He approaches them with the offer they’ve been waiting for.  An offer they can’t refuse.  Jesus is in Jerusalem.  Now is the time to strike.  This is the opportune moment – and it’s only going to cost thirty pieces of silver.  That’s hardly anything for the chance to finally destroy this renegade Rabbi with his outrageous claims and offensive actions.

Now the question we all want to ask is:  why?  What would drive Judas Iscariot to do this?  What had Jesus ever done to him to make him do this?  Motives are always hard to figure out and the Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time psychoanalyzing why people do what they do.  With regard to Judas, we can say this for sure:  Satan had a lot to do with it.  We know that from Luke and John.  They both tell us that Satan entered into Judas.  The evil one was driving this.  He thought that he could destroy Jesus through Judas.

What do the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and Judas Iscariot all have in common?   Well, obviously all of them are uniting to take Jesus out.  But there’s something else that they share.  They’re all Jews.  It’s not the pagan Romans who have it in for Jesus.  It’s God’s people, the people of the covenant.  They’re acting in unbelief and rebellion against God.  Plotting and scheming for the death of the promised Messiah is an unbelievable act of unfaithfulness to God.  This is part of what leads to the covenant curses that come upon the Jews in 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

This has a bearing on us as well.  Think of what Scripture teaches in a passage like Hebrews 6.  There are those who get a taste of “the heavenly gift.”  There are those who have been touched in some sense by the ministry of the Holy Spirit in this world.  There are people who “have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age.”  The author of Hebrews is speaking there in chapter 6 about covenant people who’ve been under the gospel.  Now what if they reject it?  What if they fail to believe what is promised?  Hebrews 6:6 says that they will crucify the Son of God all over again and subject him to public disgrace.  They will share in the sins of the false and unfaithful Jews in our passage.  Those sins are punishable with severe covenant curses.  There is condemnation for those who are unfaithful.  God’s most intense wrath is reserved for covenant breakers. 

As we read about these covenant breakers here in Mark 14, we ought to shudder.  This is a terrible, terrible thing that they did.  Yes, it resulted in our salvation and God worked through that to bring it about.  As can be seen in the rest of the book of Mark, the devil called “check,” but God called “check-mate.”  God sovereignly ordained these events for our eternal welfare.  But yet the human element is still here.  There’s still this great wickedness that these human beings were responsible for.  And it stands as a warning to us lest we should ever break covenant with our God and reject the gospel of Christ.  Put positively, we’re called again to love Jesus.  We’re called again to embrace the Saviour, and to trust him as the one who has paid for all our treachery and all our treason against God.  Because you know the truth.  The truth is that we’re all traitors at some level.  Though we long to be faithful and we want to be committed, the truth is that we all fall short.  We think, say, and do things that are just totally out of place for covenant people redeemed by Christ.  Of ourselves, we are covenant breakers, more like Judas than we dare to admit.  Whether Judas ever repented is an open question, I think, though Scripture leads me to think that he didn’t.  But rather than debate that, what we need to focus on is ourselves:  will I repent?  Will I turn from my sin and treachery against God and find peace with him through Jesus Christ?

As we do that, we’ll be growing in love and devotion for our Saviour.  There’s this contrast that we have in this passage.  Mark 14:1-11 has often been compared to a sandwich.  On the outside of the sandwich we have the scheming and treachery of the Jewish leaders and Judas.  On the inside, we find this woman with her beautiful actions.  This is really the heart of Mark 14:1-11.  God wants us to pay special attention to what happens here with this true disciple. 

It takes place in Bethany, just a short distance from Jerusalem.  Jesus was there having dinner.  It was at the house of Simon the Leper.  We don’t know much about Simon.  He had been a leper at some point, but by now he wasn’t.  If he was still a leper, there’s no way that all these people would be there eating with him.  If he was still a leper, he’d have to be outside the village somewhere living on his own, isolated from everyone else.  Most likely, Jesus had healed him and now he was clean.  He was hosting the dinner party for Jesus and his disciples.

One of those in attendance is this nameless woman.  There’s a whole string of anonymous people in Mark’s gospel.  Just for a couple of examples, there was the man who had been demon-possessed in the land of the Gerasenes.  There was the woman with the flow of blood who touched the tassels on Jesus’ robe.  All these nameless people found healing and life in Jesus.  The woman here too is anonymous in Mark – she has great love for Jesus and shows him great devotion.  Would it be too much to conclude that she too has found life in him?  From elsewhere in the New Testament, we know that this is a good conclusion to make.  Because John tells us her name.  She was Mary.  As in Mary, the sister of Lazarus.  As in Mary, the sister of the man whom Jesus brought back from the dead.  Mary has found life in Jesus.  She has been loved by him.  She has experienced his devotion for her and her family.  She loves because she was first loved by him. 

She shows her love with a remarkable gift and an incredible act.  She has an alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.  The perfume is made out of pure nard.  Nard is an ointment that comes from a plant in India.  It had to be imported all that distance.  And to preserve the perfume qualities, it had to be put in special jars made of alabaster.  Alabaster is white, made out of gypsum, the same sort of stuff you find in drywall.  All of this made the perfume insanely expensive.  We find in verse 5 that this jar of perfume would have been more worth than a year’s wages.  You don’t go randomly anointing people with this stuff.  Maybe a little dab here and a little dab there, but to break the jar and pour it on someone’s head?  That’s crazy.

But that’s exactly what Mary did.  She took this nard and showed her love and devotion to Jesus by anointing him with it.  It was astounding. 

Some of those who were there thought it was a stupid waste.  And it was one thing to think it, it was quite another to come out and say it.  They called it a “waste.”  Then they rationalized their indignation by speaking about the poor.  Mary could have sold this perfume and helped the poor.  What a stupid selfish woman!  How could she go and waste this perfume on Jesus when she could help the poor?  Mark tells us that they rebuked her harshly.  The word he uses there in the original is vivid.  It says that they were snorting at her.  “Pfffh, you silly thing!  What were you thinking?”  What were they thinking?  Did they think that Jesus was going to pat them on the back and tell them that they were right?  “Ah, yes, you good disciples.  I see I’ve taught you well, I’ve taught you to care for the poor.  Mary, you’re out of line! This is a huge waste!”     

If they were thinking that, they were in for a big surprise.  Jesus comes to her defense.  She’s being attacked by these men who think that they’re the true righteous disciples.  They’re defending the cause of the poor and oppressed.  In today’s terms, they’re standing up for the 99%.  But Jesus tells them to back off and leave her alone.  Quit bothering this dear woman!  What she’s done is beautiful – it’s an act of love and devotion for me! 

Oh, Jesus doesn’t think that the poor should be forgotten.  He tells them that the poor are always going to be in the land, just like in what we read from Deuteronomy 15.  You’ll have plenty of opportunities to show charity for the poor and oppressed.  If you want to be generous to them, you’ve got a lifetime ahead of you to do it.  But this moment is a turning point in history.  This is not just an average every day dinner.  We are at the cusp of the pivot of world history.  The Saviour is about to die on the cross.  He is about to crush Satan.  He is about to gain the victory over the devil, and sin, and death.  He will rise again, just like he prophesied.  This is never going to happen again.  The poor will always be there, but this moment is one unlike any other before or since.  And when Jesus rises from the dead, the women come to anoint him, but they don’t get the chance.  He’s already risen.  This is the only anointing that he will receive before his burial.  Mary showed this love and devotion, a love and devotion that no one else did.  As Jesus says, “She did what she could.” 

And because of that love and devotion, everywhere the gospel is preached, Mary will be remembered.  She will always be talked about and in a positive way.  Jesus’ words have certainly come true.  Missionaries and ministers around the world throughout history have spoken of what she did.  Back in 2003, in a tiny native village in north-central British Columbia, the story of Mary here was told.  I first preached on this passage in Fort Babine when I was a missionary.  The First Nations people there heard of her love and devotion.  Now today you too are hearing about her, just like Jesus prophesied.  And you won’t be the last.

Her love and devotion contrast with what we see with the men in our passage.  They scheme and betray.  They reject him and seek to destroy him.  But Mary loves him.  Even the best of the disciples will turn their backs on him, at least until after his resurrection.  But already now, before his death and resurrection, she’s committed and devoted to him.  You could say that she has denied herself and taken up her cross, identifying with Jesus’ death.  To a small degree, she enters into his suffering and takes his reproach upon herself.  She’s attacked, accused, condemned by those around her, just like her Saviour.  She demonstrates what it looks like to be a true disciple of Jesus.  When you show your love and devotion for him, it’s going to raise the hackles of others, even of those who claim to be religious.

Mark draws our attention to Mary here.  Jesus directs our gaze at Mary here.  The text is definitely centered on what she’s doing and what we learn from her.  Yet let’s not neglect what this passage shows us about our Saviour.  Ultimately, it is not about Mary in herself, but Mary in relation to Jesus.  He still stands central.

Loved ones, he stands central here as the one who justifies those who love him.  The world attacks and vilifies believers in Christ.  The world says that Christians are second-class citizens.  We’re to be hated and attacked.  Say a disparaging word about Muhammad or Islam and you face the wrath not only of Imams and jihadists, but also the liberal media and human rights commissions.  Speak in the same way about Christ or about Christians, and typically at best the world is silent.  But just as Christ defended and vindicated Mary, he promises that he will bring justice for himself and those who follow him.   At the last day, there will be a public vindication.

But there’s more on this score.  Think of Jesus here as the one who stands up for the unfairly accused.  Isn’t that what God’s law demands of all of us?  Shouldn’t we be those who pursue justice?  When someone is being attacked verbally or otherwise, we have a responsibility to stand up and call it out.  When someone is being bullied, we’re called to protect the victim.  Call it what it is.  Defend the oppressed.  Put the attacker in his or her place.  Fight off the dogs.  That’s what Jesus does here.  He does it also to fulfill the law of God in our place.  We see here his obedience for us.  What he does here to defend Mary is imputed to us, it’s credited to our account too.  Therefore, when God sees us, he sees us like he does Jesus.  He sees people who care about righteousness and justice.  He sees people who defend those who get bullied and attacked.  He also gives us his Spirit so that we want to be those people too as we live our lives.  He works in us so that what is true in principle, also increasingly becomes true in practice.    

Jesus also stands central in this passage as the one who is preparing to show the ultimate love and devotion by laying down his life for the sheep.  Mary’s anointing is to prepare Jesus for his burial.  His burial can only follow his death.  His death can only follow his suffering.  His suffering is related to his trial and condemnation.  Everything here is focussed on what Jesus is about to do for the salvation of sinners.  For your salvation, brothers and sisters.  We can pay attention to Mary’s act of love and devotion.  Scripture directs us to that.  But more importantly, the Holy Spirit wants us to be looking to Christ’s act of love and devotion.  He’s so devoted to his elect, that he will die for them.  He will pour out the full measure of his love by giving his life as a sin offering.  That’s what he did for you and for me.

First John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”  First John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.”  In 1 John, that is specifically speaking about loving our neighbours.  But certainly we can also apply that to our Saviour.  We love him, because he first loved us.  Mary’s act of devotion here in Mark 14 shows us something of what it looks like to love Jesus.  It means to give up what is most valuable to us and dedicate it to Jesus.  It means to pour out everything for him, to be completely committed to him, even though we know mockery and animosity will follow.  It means to turn our backs on treachery and treason and instead love our Master who gave himself for us.  Mary entered into the suffering of Jesus as a true disciple who loved him.  Go and do likewise.  AMEN.                                           


Heavenly Father,

We thank you for your Word of truth.  We thank you for your Spirit and his work.  We’re glad again for the good news of our Saviour’s love and devotion.  Thank you that he laid down his life for us, we who are so often treacherous and rebellious.  Thank you that his righteousness is ours.  Father, we pray that you would again help us to fix our faith on Jesus.  Help us with your Spirit so that are faithful and devoted disciples of our Saviour.  Please grant us strength so that we too would defend the falsely accused, that we would stand up and be counted when injustice presents itself.  Father, we also pray for the great day of Christ to come.  We look forward to public vindication for the cause of the gospel – we look forward to seeing your name cleared before men, for your glory. 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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