“One Life to Live”
In our last chapter of Mark, we dealt with some of Jesus’ teaching regarding the times and we were exhorted to keep awake because we don’t know when Jesus, the Son of Man, will return. We were reminded that there would be natural disasters and famines and false christs and prophets throughout the ages. And that in the end there would be terrible tribulation. But in all of these circumstances, we are to see sovereignty and not chaos. Jesus has clued us in beforehand so that we will not be surprised when these things occur, but that we remain steadfast in our faith. At the same time, such things should remind us that the end will come and Jesus will return. And we want to be ready and not ashamed when he does so. We want to be awake and not asleep.
In our chapter this morning, chapter 14 of Mark, we resume some of the narrative as events move forward in this last week of Jesus life and ministry before he goes to the cross. We have seen throughout the Gospel (especially early on) that Jesus had to keep some things secret regarding his identity so that he would not be forced upon a throne as ruler or face an untimely death on the cross without preparing his disciples for their continued ministry after his death.
We are now in the final week. And when the inevitable is coming, there is an intentionality to continue to prepare the disciples and drove home some things before his departure from them.
If you have not yet done so, please turn in your Bibles to Mark 14. We will be covering the first 21 verses today. Let’s read as we get underway.
What we have here is another case where Mark likes to sandwich a story within a story. You remember he has done this in the past with lessons of fig trees and the destruction of the temple and elsewhere. So, Mark has purposefully included a story of this woman at Simon’s house within a story of betrayal. What I believe that we will see here is a contrast between a life surrendered to Jesus and one who betrays and opposes him.
We’ll begin by looking at Betrayal. And this betrayal Mark splits up and addresses in three different sections of our text. We can consider them to be sub-points of Betrayal. We will see the Problem of Passover in the first two verses, Partnership in Betrayal in verses 10-11, and Prediction of Betrayal in verses 17-21.
We’ve have seen in weeks prior that multitudes have come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Passover was a big deal for the Israelites – and rightly so. It was the first Passover that celebrated their protection from the last plague when they were slaves in Egypt. It was only by the blood of a spotless lamb sprinkled on a doorpost that caused the angel to bypass the killing of their children. They celebrated Passover to remind them of God’s goodness and deliverance from the hand of the oppressive Egyptians and the establishment of themselves as a people for his name’s sake.
As we mentioned before this notion of deliverance kept the anticipation of a coming Messiah fresh on their minds. Their mistake was that they had anticipated a deliverer that would physically deliver them and establish a physical kingdom. And they missed the spiritual connotations associated with Passover – that another spotless Lamb would come to provide spiritual salvation and a spiritual kingdom. They physical kingdom would not be established until the Messiah’s return.
So we find ourselves in Jerusalem at this time – Mark says two days before the Passover. It has been estimated that there would be hundreds of thousands of people that have journeyed to the city to celebrate. The Feast of Unleavened Bread occurred at the same time but lasted for seven days around the Passover. You can find this in Exodus 12 if you want some more insight into the practice. In Deuteronomy 16 also Moses records that in the time of recognizing Passover the people would also eat unleavened bread for those seven days.
Enter the priests and the scribes once again – the hypocritical religious leaders. They have been the unexpected villains throughout Mark’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus. I say “unexpected” because they were the religious leaders. And they should have been the ones who befriend Jesus and partner with him on God’s mission. But it is discovered that they are really on their own mission of burdening the people with extrabiblical expectations, elevating themselves above the commoners, seeking the praise of men, and showing no mercy to the outcast. By their words and actions, they have set themselves in opposition of the One they should have worshipped.
Mark writes that the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. Oh, and that’s nothing new. They’ve been thinking this already. Remember Mark 11:18? After overturning tables in the temple area and calling out the religious leaders, Mark writes, 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.
And as was customary for Jesus, he clues the disciples in (and us) so that they are not surprised. Mark 8:31 “31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Mark 10:33–34 “33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” So we’re at least prepared for this.
It is great irony though, isn’t it? All along the chief priests and scribes plot against Jesus without realizing that they are merely playing into God’s hands and his plan.
However, they come upon a roadblock. The problem lies primarily with the occasion. Because Jerusalem was crowded, they risked a possible riot in the city. And so they cannot arrest him publicly to carry out their plan. It was too risky. This was the Problem of Passover.
Now look down to verses 10 and 11. We’ll come back to verses 3 to 9 momentarily. In verse 10 and 11, suddenly their plans have some hope. Judas Iscariot (likely means the “betrayer”) seeks out the chief priests to betray Jesus. And when they heard it, they were glad. They were glad because now they had an excuse, an insider, a reason to acquire him. And… he… was… one of the twelve. Doesn’t this play out as a soap opera or prime time drama? At this point, he is like the double agent. The other eleven don’t know what is going on. He’s one of them. Judas has been right there with the rest of them for three years – watching Jesus heal the physically handicapped, reaching out to women and Gentiles, handing out fish and loaves to multitudes, even being numbered as one of his followers when accused by the opposition.
Judas was on this grand mission with the rest who left behind everything to follow this man from Nazareth who made these outrageous claims and lived this eccentric life, claiming to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. He was one of them!! And Judas went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.
Judas played the part, looked the part. But he was not “genuinely” one of them. I think the same can be true of some in the church. Not just here, but any church. I know I’ve been saying this a fair bit lately. But we exist as a community here, as we gather from week to week, we have a responsibility to one another to ensure that we (together) are truly his. It’s not too difficult to look the part, even play the part. But there is always the danger of falling away and showing that we never really belonged to Jesus!
In the case of Judas, time would reveal where his allegiances lie – namely with himself. Luke would include Satan. He records that Satan entered Judas. This would confirm that he did not belong to Jesus. But even to those closely associated with him, he went undetected. How is this possible? We know that it was part of God’s plan that Jesus would be delivered over. And perhaps he caused to disciples to not see that Judas did not belong.
But what were the reasons or purpose that Judas would seek out the chief priests? Humanly speaking. We can really only speculate regarding his reason for doing so. Was it for money? Not sure. They gave him some. He had already sought them out and they promised to give him money – after he sought them out. And when they heard it, they were glad! And he set out. Judas left them in order to reassemble with his “friends.” The scene ends. And then there is the commercial break.
The scene shifts. Next point: The Plan Proceeds. Not sure if Judas is in the scene or not. The narrator fills us in on the context: “on the first day of Unleavened Bread when they sacrificed the Passover Lamb.” So now we’re up to speed. Passover has arrived. And the disciples come to Jesus with a very valid question, “Where are we celebrating the Passover? Where are we eating from the Passover Lamb?”
Verse 3 has told us that they were camped out in Bethany – a common place outside the city where Jesus and the disciples stay. This is the town of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha – close friends of Jesus. Jesus responds by sending two of the disciples into the city. One of the requirements for Passover was that you had to partake of the meal and celebration within the city of Jerusalem itself. And so they had to have a connection within the city walls.
Now verse 13 indicates that Jesus already had it all planned. He tells the two disciples (Luke informs us that it is Peter and John) to go into the city and you will be met by a an carrying a jar of water.” To continue the movie or drama metaphor, you can picture the scene on the screen in the anticipation of the directives being carried out. “You will see a man. You will follow him. Then you will tell him this. And he will show you this.”
At first glance, you might think, “Alright. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of people in the city right now. And it just so happens that we are going to find this guy.” Well, yes. A man carrying a jug of water around would be extremely rare. It was usually the women or (if you were wealthy enough) a slave who would do this sort of work. But it was a man. And this man would take them to a house. And then when they got there, they were to say to the master of the house that the Teacher is asking about his guest room where they may eat the Passover with the disciples. And the master of the house would comply and lead them to a large upper room that is furnished and ready for the meal.
Does this sound vaguely familiar to you? Mark 11:1–6 “1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go.”
And in verse 16 here, “the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.” Jesus isn’t winging it here. He’s not making it up as he goes along. This is well thought out. It’s all part of the plan. Perhaps he has been rehearsing the week’s events as he approaches the cross. He is not taken by surprise. Jesus is committed to the task as he prepares all these things that must be carried out according to plan. And we recognize that the great lengths taken by Jesus and the disciples here must lead to an important occasion. This will be the Last Supper with his disciples.
Next scene: Back to Betrayal. Third sub-point. We have seen the Passover Problem and the Partnership in the Betrayal. Now we have the Prediction. When the curtain goes up, it is evening and Jesus is with the twelve (this would include our villain). They have found their way to the man’s house and to the upper room where they are gathered at the table and eating the Passover meal.
Something we sort of understand and yet don’t fully understand is the sharing of a meal in the biblical world. These were often times the more intimate settings among the closest of relationships. The Passover would primarily be celebrated by families. Here it is Jesus and his disciples that make up their “family.” And it becomes more intimate when you “recline at the table.” This would be less formal and more familiar and close. Here they are, the group of them that have spent the past three years together as ministry team. Jesus has told them that he will soon go to the cross. It is debatable how much of this has sunk in to this point. But at the very least, they get the impression that this sort of camaraderie, this close friendship, may not continue as it has.
And then Jesus utters these words that shock them all. In verse 18, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They gasp, and murmur, and whisper. And they become somber and sorrowful and perhaps each of them say, “Is it I?” Well, at least this is how it is translated for us. In the greek this is an interrogative question. In other words, it is a question that expects a negative answer. “Certainly, it is not I who would do such a thing!”
And then Jesus makes the declaration even more preposterous. He says, “It is one of you, the twelve, who is dipping bread into the dish with me.” Can you imagine? Anybody that has his hand in the dish is yanking that thing out now! They probably shared a dish that contained a sauce of dried fruits, spices, and wine or vinegar. They would dip the bread into this communal dish. Few actions were more despicable than betraying a friend at or shortly after a meal. One commentator adds, “That someone “dipping in the bowl” with a person would betray that person would have horrified ancient readers, who saw hospitality and the sharing of table fellowship as an intimate bond.” And this is what makes Psalm 41.9 so poignant. The psalmist prophecies the event, “Psalm 41:9 “9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”
Now this has always baffled me. And I can’t say I have a definitive answer for this. If you were there, would you not be looking for this to happen so that you could identify the betrayer?? I would have probably also stopped eating right then and there. I would rather go hungry than show myself to be one who would betray Jesus. Perhaps it would only serve to fulfill prophecy and the disciples were supernaturally kept from seeing it carried out. We can’t say with certainty what was noticed, but that Judas Iscariot fulfilled this.
And Jesus issues these harsh words against such a one. “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!” It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” I like how the first part is worded. That the Son of Man “goes” indicates that He goes as the predetermined plan of God. Luke says, “as it has been determined.”
Interestingly this verse is where divine design and human accountability come together. “Jesus goes as it is written” and “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!” No conflict. It just is this way.
It has been written. Mark 8:31 “31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. Mark 9:12 “12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” Luke 18:31 “31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.”
I could probably provide at least a dozen more Scriptures that confirm that these things were written and must be fulfilled. Let me show you just two more. After Jesus rises from the dead and appears to his disciples, he debriefs them a bit. Luke records Jesus words, Luke 24:44–47 “44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” And Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1–3, “1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”
With regard to Judas, chief priests and scribes, J. C. Ryle offers these illuminating thoughts: “They thought they were going to put an end forever to Christ's spiritual kingdom; and in reality they were helping to establish it. They thought to have made Him vile and contemptible by the crucifixion; and in reality they made Him glorious. They thought to have put Him to death privily and without observation; and instead, they were compelled to crucify Him publicly, and before the whole nation of the Jews. They thought to have silenced His disciples, and stopped their teaching--and instead, they supplied them with a text and a subject for evermore. So easy is it for God to cause the wrath of man to praise Him.”
Let’s look back up at verses 3-9. This will introduce the third point: Empty the Tank. Here we will see the contrast between the betrayer and the one who properly regards Jesus. Jesus and his disciples are in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper. And of course we are all curious as to how and why they would be in the presence and house of a leper. Several interpretations have been offered. It is possible that Simon had previously been healed by Jesus. Or perhaps it was the house that was identified by him and he may not have been present.
In any event, they were “reclining at table” and so you now know that this was an informal and intimate meal. A woman comes holding this flask of expensive ointment. It was likely an oil from a root that was imported from India or south Arabia. In fact, it was valued at roughly a year’s salary. It is possible that her family had acquired it and kept it as a status symbol. The woman takes this flask with its expensive contents, breaks it open and pours it on Jesus’ head. Everybody gasps in shock and disbelief. Some get angry and they scold her saying that that was a waste of something so precious. A much better use would have been to sell it and give it to the poor. Were they wrong?
It is true that the poor were especially remembered during the time of Passover. Giving to the poor is certainly a good thing. Jesus has said so himself. Matthew 6:2–4, “2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” So giving isn’t wrong. Is fasting wrong? Do you remember back in Mark 2 when the Pharisees confronted Jesus about the disciples not fasting. Jesus didn’t say that fasting was wrong. He said it wasn’t the time to do it because the bridegroom was present among them. It was not a time for fasting. There was a higher priority. And that was rejoicing in the fellowship with Jesus. The disciples would have plenty of opportunity to minister to the poor but their time to minister to Jesus was nearing its end. In verse 8, he says you will not always have me. So Jesus isn’t downplaying giving to the poor. He is elevating what follows.
What does Jesus say here? To those who were scolding the woman, Jesus says to leave her alone because she has done a beautiful thing. What has she done? On the surface, all she has done is taken some very expensive oil and wasted it.
It’s difficult to understand how much this woman understood of Jesus. Jesus will suggest in verse 8, that she has anointed his body for burial. If you’re familiar with the Old Testament, you know that it was common practice to use oil for anointing kings and priests for service. There is at least messianic significance here of Jesus being anointed as king. In fact, this is what “Messiah” or “Christ” means – “anointed One.”
A commentator adds these remarks, “Every king in Judah was anointed before his coronation, and this was to be his anointing, not by a prophet but by a woman. But it was more, for it was a symbolic preparation of his body for burial. This woman knew that her king must die; she had understood the gospel.”
In verse 8, Jesus says that “she has done what she could.” Actually, the Greek has it more like, “she did what she had.” Whatever she had to offer, she did something with it. To me, this implies possession and action. Upon recognizing the supreme value of Jesus Christ, she gave everything. This type of flask was such that, once it was opened, it would need to be completely used. She had counted the cost and deemed him worthy of the price. She emptied the tank. She gave it all for Jesus.
How about you? We see in our passage this contrast between someone who plays the part for Jesus. But in the end shows himself not to be a genuine follower. In verses 3-9, we are introduced to an unnamed woman who gives everything for Jesus. In fact, Jesus adds these words in verse 9. She is to be so commended for her actions that “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” And we are confirmation of this promise, aren’t we?
I think her actions demonstrate embracing Jesus Christ fully. She may not have been the one who looked the part. But in the end, she understands that Jesus is worth giving everything for. Have you given everything?
Recently, we watched a video series on discipleship. I recall one lesson in particular. We were challenged with the prospect of seeing Jesus on that day. And the question that challenged me was “Will I have anything left when I see him?” Or can I say that I left everything on the field for him? You’re familiar with that expression? For me, the apostle Paul exemplifies someone who “did what he had.” He is a great model as someone who left it all on the field for Jesus. He wrote concluding letters to Timothy while in prison waiting for death. I want to be able to say that I’ve emptied the tank for Him. And I hope that you all see the supreme value of Jesus. He is worth everything we have. And yet when we give what little we have, we gain everything. Consider whether your life reflects Judas or this unnamed woman who was commended for her actions.