Mark begins chapter 14 by telling us when the events he’s about to describe took place. Do you see that in verse 1? He wrote:
Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away….
Now, Mark includes this information for at least two reasons.
Firstly, he tells us this because he wanted to make clear that he’s beginning a new section of his gospel. And this new section of the gospel is the most crucial part of the gospel, because it’s all about the events leading up to and including the Lord’s death and resurrection. And so, in today’s verses we read how the chief priests and teachers of the law decide that the Lord must die; and all they need now is the right opportunity to do it. And then we read how Judas was willing to provide them with the right opportunity. And later in the chapter, we’ll read about the Last Supper; and then we’ll read how the Lord was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane; and how he stood trial before the Sanhedrin. And after that, we’ll read about his trial before Pilate; and how he was taken away to be crucified and buried; but then, how he was raised from the dead. That’s all to come. But it begins here in chapter 14, because chapter 14 marks the beginning of the end of Mark’s gospel.
But then Mark tells us that these events took place at the time of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread to help us to understand the significance of the Lord’s death on the cross. He wants us to understand that the Lord’s death is the fulfilment of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Do you remember what those two feasts were about? They commemorated the time when they were slaves in Egypt; and the Lord sent the plagues on the land in order to persuade the Pharaoh to let his people go. And the tenth plague — and the worst plague — was when the Lord went through the land at night and he struck down every firstborn male in every home; the firstborn of their cattle and the firstborn of their sons. It was an act of judgment, because the Lord was punishing them for their sin. But the Lord had warned the Israelites about it and before that terrible day of judgment, he told them to kill a lamb and to smear its blood on their doorposts.
And during the night, when the Lord went through Egypt to kill the firstborn males, whenever he saw the blood on the doorposts, he ‘passed over’ that home and the people inside were safe. And after the Lord went through the country, killing all the Egyptian firstborn males, the Pharaoh got up and he ordered Moses to gather the Israelites together and to leave Egypt. And so, on the night when the Passover Lamb was killed, the people were not only saved from God’s wrath and judgment, but they were set free from their captivity and they were able to begin the journey to the Promised Land of Canaan. And every year afterwards, the people used to celebrate the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in order to commemorate that night and to give thanks to the Lord for it.
And so here we are in Mark 14, and Mark tells us that the death of the Lord Jesus Christ took place at the time of the Passover and Unleavened Bread. He wants us to understand that the Lord Jesus is the true Passover Lamb who died in the place of sinners, suffering the wrath and curse of God in our place, so that we might be spared and be kept safe forever from God’s wrath. And everyone who trusts in him is set free from our sin and misery, so that we might live with the Lord forever in the Promised Land of Eternal Life.
The Jews looked back with gratitude and faith to the night of the Passover when a lamb was killed and its blood was shed and they were kept safe from God’s wrath. And they looked back with gratitude to that night when God led them out of captivity and they began to make their way towards the Promised Land. But now — now that Christ has died as the true Passover Lamb — Christians are to look back with gratitude and with faith to the night when Christ died for sinners to save us from God’s wrath forever and to give us everlasting life.
And so, will you do that? Maybe you’ve never thought about it before. But will you do that now? Will you think about how the Lord Jesus died in the place of sinners in order to spare us from death and hell? Will you think about how the Lord Jesus died in the place of sinners so that we can have everlasting life in the presence of God? Will you think about the Lord Jesus dying in the place of sinners; and will you give thanks to God for him? And will you trust in him as the only Saviour of the world and the only one who is able to save you from the misery of your sin and from eternal condemnation? Will you trust in him, because he is the only one who is able to give you peace with God and eternal life? Every true Christian believes and rejoices in the knowledge that on the Day of Judgment — when we’ll all stand before God to give an account of ourselves — the Lord will not see our sin and he will not see our guilt. He will not notice all the things we have done wrong. He won’t see it, because they have been covered over by the blood of the Lord Jesus, the true lamb of God whose blood — shed on the cross — covers over our guilt. So will you believe in him as the only Saviour? And will you rejoice in this good news and give thanks to God that Jesus Christ died so that you could be saved from God’s wrath forever and live with him forever? Will you believe in him and rejoice in him?
Think of the Lord’s people in the days of Moses. Think of those firstborn sons, saying to themselves:
I’m alive today, because that lamb died in my place.
Imagine them as they entered the Promised Land, thinking to themselves:
We’re here because on that night, God set us free from our captivity.
Well, if you trust in the Saviour, then you too can say to yourself when you enter the new heavens and the new earth to live with the Lord forever:
I’m here, because the Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God, died in my place; and because of him, I was set free from death and from hell and I have been brought here, into the presence of God, to be with him forever. Hallelujah. What a Saviour!
Isaac Watts, in his hymn ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’, thinks back over what Christ has done for us. And he ends the hymn by saying:
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!
Well, what do we find in the rest of today’s passage? We find the story of this woman, who came to the Lord with an offering; an offering to express her love and gratitude.
The offering she brought was a bottle of expensive perfume. And it was very expensive perfume, wasn’t it? Look down to verse 5 where we’re told that the perfume could have been sold for more than a year’s wages. So, this was very expensive perfume. Perhaps it was a family heirloom, passed down from one generation after another, from mother to daughter, to be used only for a very special occasion. Well, Mark describes how she took this jar of very expensive perfume and she broke the jar and poured all of its contents on the Lord’s head. Some people thought it was a waste. An extravagance. And yet the Lord says she did a beautiful thing. It was a beautiful thing because she somehow understood — better than anyone else at that time — that the Lord was going to die; and she wanted to prepare his body for burial. You’ll know that in those days, they prepared a body for burial by washing it with spices and anointments. Well, normally you prepared the body after the person had died; but she was doing it now. But, of course, it was a beautiful thing for another reason: it was a beautiful thing because by anointing the Lord with this very expensive perfume, she was expressing her love and gratitude to the Lord.
Who was this woman? John, in his gospel, describes the same event; and he tells us that the woman was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus, you’ll remember, had died; and the Lord had revived his dead body so that he came out of the tomb alive. And so, perhaps Mary wanted to show her appreciation to the Lord for saving her brother. Or maybe she wanted to thank him for something else he had done for her. We don’t know what it was that prompted her to do this for the Lord, but we can see how much she loved him by what she did at this meal in Bethany.
So, in today’s passage, we have the woman expressing her love and gratitude to the Lord. But on either side of this story of the woman’s love and gratitude we read about the chief priests and the teachers of the law and we read about Judas Iscariot.
And what are they doing? Look with me at verses 1 and 2 where Mark tells us that the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for a way to arrest the Lord Jesus and to kill him. So, they had made up their mind about him; they had decided what they wanted to do about him; and now all they had to do was find the right moment.
Mark tells us that they wanted to find some ‘sly way’ to arrest him. What Mark means is that they wanted to arrest him secretly; and so he explains in verse 2 that they didn’t want to do it during the feast, because the people might riot. The population of Jerusalem swelled during the Passover period from around 50,000 people to around 250,000 people; and presumably there would be among them some who might have supported the Lord Jesus and who might have tried to stop them if they saw he was arrested.
In any case, the priest and teachers wanted to arrest and to kill the Lord Jesus. And then, at the end of today’s passage, Mark tells us about Judas. He too had made up his mind about the Lord; and we read in verse 10 that he went to the chief priests in order to betray the Lord Jesus to them. And, of course, the chief priests were delighted to hear this; and they agreed to reward him for his help.
And so we read that Judas then watched for an opportunity to hand the Lord Jesus over to them. Well, we know what happened next, don’t we? We know how eventually Judas led the soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane when the Lord was praying there. It was a quiet place; and it was during the night; so not many people were around to see what they were doing. There wouldn’t be crowds of people there to stand up for the Lord and to resist his arrest. And because it was night time and therefore dark, and because they probably weren’t sure what the Lord Jesus looked like, it would have been very easy for the soldiers to mistake the Lord Jesus. So Judas instructed them that the person he kissed would be the one they should arrest. And that’s how it happened: that’s how the chief priests and teachers of the law were able to arrest the Lord and sentence him to death. Mark tells us they wanted to kill Jesus, but they needed some sly and secret way to do it. And Judas provided them with the sly and secret way to do it.
And so, we have here the story of the woman who expressed her love and gratitude to the Lord by anointing him this expensive perfume. And we have here the story of the chief priests and the teachers of the law and Judas who plotted together how to kill the Lord.
Of course, we’re all meant to be like the woman, aren’t we? We’re all meant to love the Lord Jesus; and we’re meant to be devoted to him. We’re meant to love him, because he’s the Son of God who made us and who sustains us and who gave up his life on the cross in order to save us from God’s wrath and curse. We’re meant to love him and be devoted to him, because he was willing to give up his life for us and for our salvation. Such love demands my soul, my life, my all! Because of Christ and all that he has done for us, we ought to live our lives, no longer for ourselves, but for him and for his glory. We ought to dedicate ourselves entirely to doing his will and obeying his commands. Nothing he asks of us should be too much; no sacrifice should be too great; whatever he wants from us we ought to give to him with a glad and cheerful heart, because he has been so good to us and he’s promised us everlasting happiness in the life to come. This woman loved the Lord and she gladly gave up her expensive perfume in order to show him her gratitude. And we too must love him and be devoted to him and show him by the way that we live that we love him more than all other things.
And yet, because we’re sinners, we are often more like the chief priests and the teachers of the law and Judas Iscariot. What do I mean? Well, the chief priests and the teachers of the law wanted to arrest and kill the Lord Jesus because they knew he was God’s Anointed King. By the things he taught and by the miracles he performed, he made that clear. It was clear that the Lord Jesus was God’s Anointed King, the Promised Saviour. But because of their sin and unbelief, they did not want him to rule over them. They did not want to bow down to him and let him rule over their lives. And because we’re sinners, we so often refuse to submit to Christ the King and we will not bow down to him. Instead of yielding our lives to him, and seeking to do his will here on earth, we so often say ‘no’ to him, because we want to live our lives as we please. Don’t you find that? You know what the Lord has commanded and you know what his will is for you. You know what will please him; and you know what will displease him. You know what he has commanded you to do. And yet, so often, don’t you find that you disregard what he has said and you ignore his will because it’s not what you want. We ought to be like this woman, who loved the Lord and gladly poured out this expensive perfume to show her love and devotion; but far too often, because we’re sinners, we’re just like the chief priests and the teachers of the law who did not want the Lord to rule over them.
And far too often we’re like Judas who betrayed the Lord for money. In other words, instead of loving the Lord with all of his heart, he loved money more. In fact, in John’s account of this event, John tells us that Judas was the keeper of the money bag. So, he was the treasurer for the disciples. But he used to help himself to the money. Isn’t that interesting? Judas was one of the disciples; more than that, he was chosen for this special responsibility. He was given a special task among the disciples. If you looked at him, you’d think he was one of the most important disciples, because he was given this special responsibility. And yet, despite his special role, he loved money more than he loved the Lord. And because we’re sinners, we so often love other things more than we love the Lord. We might be members of the church; we might even have a special role in the church; but so often it’s true of us that we put others things before the Lord.
Do you put anything before the Lord? Perhaps, like Judas, you love money more than the Lord; and when you have the opportunity to use your money for good, you instead hold on to it for selfish reasons. But perhaps there’s something else? Some sinful habit which you know is wrong, but you like it too much and you will not give it up. Perhaps there’s a friendship which you know is wrong, because this person does not love the Lord and will only lead you astray. But instead of doing what you know is right, you want to keep hold of this friendship. Or perhaps there’s something else. Perhaps even now you’re thinking about something in your life which you know is not right and it’s come between you and the Lord; and you know that you love that thing — whatever it is — more than you love the Lord.
Do you see? We ought to be like the woman, who loved the Lord and gladly gave up this expensive perfume for him. We ought to be like the woman; but because we’re sinners, who sin against the Lord continually, we’re so often more like the chief priests and teachers of the law who did not want the Lord Jesus to rule over them; or we’re so often more like Judas who loved something else more than he loved the Lord. Because we’re sinners, we do not love the Lord the way we should, with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. And because we’re sinners, we do not yield our lives to the Lord, but instead we say ‘no’ to him.
But it’s because we’re sinners that Jesus Christ came into the world. It’s because we’re sinners that he suffered and died on the cross. It’s because we’re sinners that he suffered the wrath and curse of God in our place. He died in the place of sinners so that all who believe in him may have forgiveness and peace with God and the hope of everlasting life. We deserve to be condemned by God, because we’re sinners who so often refuse to submit to God and to do his will. We deserve to be punished by God, because we’re sinners who so often put other things before God. We deserve to be punished by God, because we’re sinners. But Christ bore the punishment we deserve. And so, if you trust in him, then you can rejoice because he has paid for your sins in full and God forgives you for all that you have done wrong.
And, of course, after Christ died, he was raised and exalted to heaven. And from heaven he gives you his Spirit. And his Spirit is able to help you to become like more like Christ. And what was Christ like? Well, he was obedient to his Father in heaven, wasn’t he? He was obedient even to the point of death on a cross. And so, the Holy Spirit is able to help you to become obedient, so that unlike the chief priests and teachers of the law, you will more and more submit to God in all things.
And what else was Christ like? Well, he loved his Father in heaven more than life itself, because he was willing to give up his life in obedience to his Father’s will. And so, the Holy Spirit is able to help you to love the Lord more than all other things, so that unlike Judas, you will more and more put God first in your life.
Because we’re sinners, we’re so often more like the chief priests and the teachers of the law and Judas. But the good news is that the Lord Jesus came into this world to save sinners. And whoever believes in him, and keeps believing in him, receives forgiveness from God; and we receive his Spirit to help us to submit to God more and more and to love the Lord as we should with all of our heart.