This morning, we’re starting our brand new series on Easter. Over the next six weeks or so, we’ll follow along with Mark as he takes us on a journey through the week of Jesus’ life centered around his death. Easter is kind of like Christmas, I guess, in that many people here this morning will know the story very well. And yet, like the story of Christmas, we need to hear the old old story again and again and again. If you’ve been into my house, you’ll know that I’ve got a little bit of a thing about books. I have had for just about my whole life. When I moved into my first home, I remember putting my books up with great joy on my new bookshelf. But it was only a couple of nights later that I was woken up in the middle of the night by an almighty crash. At first I though somebody was breaking into the house. It was only a little bit later that I realised that the noise was some of my heavier books falling off the end of the bookshelf. So I put up some bookends. Some carved pieces of wood to keep everything in place. Easter and Christmas are like the bookends for our faith. Without the truth that Jesus came, died and rose again, our faith crashes to the ground.
So let’s see what Mark has to tell us this morning. He begins his countdown to the resurrection 2 days, says verse 1, before Passover. Two days until that great and wonderful festival celebrating all that God had done for his people Israel. Two days until it was time to eat the Passover meal together. Two days away from re-living – symbolically – God’s setting his people free from the tyranny of slavery in Egypt. Less than a week away from the cross.
Passover back then meant so much. If you were a Jew and you could make it to Jerusalem to celebrate, that’s what you did. Most Jews would have done their best to come at least once in their lifetime. If you lived within a few days walk, you’d try and come as many years as you could. During Passover, the city of Jerusalem would be stocked to the gills with people. People remembering God’s setting them free. Which to me sounds like a perfect recipe to spark a mob against Roman rule. Because the Israelites weren’t free – the Romans were in charge. There’s actually historical evidence that there were riots agains Roman rule every now and again.
Which is perhaps one of the reasons the chief priests and teachers of the law weren’t too keen on grabbing Jesus in public. They didn’t want to risk sparking off the crowd. But notice, verse 1, that they weren’t discussing whether to kill Jesus or not. The decision to get rid of Jesus – so they thought – had been made a long time ago. But I suspect that things had come to a head for them just a few days ago – back in chapter 11, when Jesus had made his way into the city. When the crowds had gone wild for him. Calling out “Hosanna!”. Saying that Jesus was the promised Saviour. The Messiah.
And so the chief priests and the teachers of the law got together to try and figure out some sly way to grab and kill Jesus. And ironically, they decide, verse 2, not to kill Jesus during the feast. And yet that’s exactly when he is killed. He’s killed during Passover. The lamb of God. God’s one and only son being struck down to set you and I free. Just like many years ago the angel of the Lord had struck down the firstborn children of Egypt to set Israel free.
You know, one of the things which really astounds me about our Lord is that he knew exactly when and how he was going to be killed. I mean, that’s kind of obvious, I guess. He’s God, he knows everything. But here, chapter 14, Jesus knew what the next few days would involve. He knew that that very night one of his disciples would betray him. He knew what the chief priests were plotting. What would you or I have done if we’d known? What would you do if you knew that in just a few days time you would be betrayed, falsely accused, tortured and executed? I might run away. I don’t know.
But look at Jesus. Verse 3. Knowing full well that he was going to the cross, Jesus went to a party. Jesus went to a party. A dinner party at the house of Simon the Leper. Probably a Passover-eve get-together. Mark, doesn’t tell us anything about who Simon is. All we know is that at some stage he’d been a leper. Perhaps he was one of the lepers healed by Jesus. We just don’t know. But regardless, Simon put on a meal for Jesus. With Jesus as the honoured guest.
And into this scene steps a woman. Again, Mark doesn’t tell us who she is. I don’t think it matters who she is. What matters is what she does. What she does for Jesus. She’s got this jar of perfume with her. A beautiful Alabaster jar. Sealed closed, with the perfume gently swooshing around inside with each step she takes. The perfume itself, Mark tells us is Nard. For those of you who are gardeners, the perfume Nard is made from two plants: Spike and Nadala. And what’s really impressive about Nard – what makes it really so expensive – is the fact that it had to be imported from Nepal, or India at a pinch. We’re talking – according to Mark – something worth more than year’s wages.
This jar would have been worth everything the woman had. And yet look at what she does. She takes her jar and opens it. The perfume was sealed in there – the only way to open it was to break it open. And she pours it over Jesus head. Back in those days, if you really wanted to honour somebody, you’d sprinkle a few drops of nard on their head. But this woman, takes the jar and just upends it. Glug, glug, glug, glug. At the end, it’s not just on Jesus’ head. It covers him.
Have you ever wondered what was going on in that woman’s mind as she poured out this perfume over Jesus? Was she smiling as she did it? Was shy crying? I don’t know. Mark doesn’t tell us. But I have an idea that maybe she was crying. Because I think she had an inkling of understanding about what was about to happen with Jesus. I mean, if you go back and read the chapters before this, Jesus has been pretty clear about the fact that he was on his way to his death. Maybe this woman understood that.
What Mark does describe for us is the reaction the woman got from the people sitting around the table. Not everyone, but some of those there – verse 4 – began to complain to each other about what a waste it was. What a stupid thing the woman had done – throwing away a fortune worth of perfume. Money which could have been used for something useful – like supporting those who were poor, who actually needed it. Surely that would be better than pouring good, expensive perfume, down the drain? And, verse 5, they turned to the woman and rebuked her harshly. Which is putting it politely. Another way to put it is that they “snorted” at the woman. The word Mark uses is usually used to describe the snorting sound a horse makes. They were really having a go at her.
Can you imagine that woman there. She’s poured out all of her perfume over her Lord. And she looks up to meet angry faces, to hear people abusing her. Telling her how stupid she’d been. And I can almost picture her slowly – cautiously – look towards Jesus. Was he going to be upset as well, was his face going to be angry.
But instead of jumping down her throat, Jesus jumps to her defense. Verse 6: Leave her alone! Stop bothering her. What this woman did was beatiful. Was good. Was right. And as Jesus looks at his angry disciples he puts what this woman did into perspective. Tells them why what she did is so far away from being wrong.
Says Jesus, this woman has got the right idea. She poured perfume over me to prepare me for my burial. You say the money should have gone to the poor? I’ve got less than week till I’m killed. The poor you can help whenever you want. But you will not always have me.
Here in Simon’s house, this woman took the one chance she had to annoint Jesus before his burial. Because she loved him. Loved him so, so much. Loved him with an extravagant love. More than a years wages poured out in a few seconds. And people said what a waste. Next week, in verse 24 – at the last supper – Jesus speaks about how his blood was poured out for us. The woman’s perfume was pricey – but how much more costly the life of our Lord and king. Why waste such valuable perfume, asked the disciples? Why waste such valuable blood? Why “waste” Jesus on a cross?
Because of love. The woman’s love for Jesus, and Jesus’ love for us. Because of a love that is extravagant in the extreme. A love that is willing to spend it’s all. A love that says I want to save you. A love that says, I’ll do whatever it takes to set you free. A love that while we were still sinners died for us. I love how Stuart Townend puts it in that wonderful song “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure. That he should give his only son, to make a wretch his treasure.”
Says Jesus. It’s no waste. It’s a recognition of what’s about to happen. Verse 8: She did what she could. Or to put it another way, “What she had, she did”. I suspect this jar of perfume must have broken the bank for this woman. And she poured it out like it was going out of fashion. Which begs a question of you and I… how much is “too much” love for Jesus. How much until our faith is just… over the top? Ridiculous? Stupid? When was the last time we were extravagant with God. You, I? I don’t doubt that we love Jesus. I know we do. And I know that the disciples loved Jesus. But let’s try and put ourselves in that dining room in Bethany. How would we react? Would we ever act the woman did?
Today – do we act the way the woman did? She was looking towards Jesus cross. We are looking back. What does that act of pure love by Jesus spark in us. A calm, measured appreciation. Well, yes. I hope so. But why not also a more excessive emotion. Which for the sake of Jesus makes me give up everything I have in the world.
Just as an aside, take a look at verse 9. This morning, we are remembering what this anonymous woman did for Jesus. But what I love about this verse is the note of good news that it throws into the whole story. Let’s be honest, this is a rather “heavy” passage we’re looking at today. Plotting against Jesus, Jesus being prepared for burial, Judas’ betrayal. It’s all focussed on the approaching cross. And yet here in verse 9, Jesus pointed his disciples – points us – beyond that cross. Beyond the grave. Because the gospel, said Jesus, would be preached. The good news was going to stretch out throughout the world.
Which brings us back to verse 10. Judas Iscariot running off to sell Jesus out to the chief priests and teachers of the law. I mean, what a comparison. On the one hand a woman who’s love is so extravagantly poured out for Jesus. On the other, a man whose love for money led him to betray Jesus. Mark doesn’t tell us much about Judas’ motives. I do reckon that this incident with the Nard was the final straw for him, though. What a waste of money. Money , money, money. The woman’s love costing her more than a year’s wages. Judas gaining just a fraction of that.
Such different reactions to Jesus; to Easter. What is my reaction? Your reaction?