About a year ago, I was playing the board game Candyland with my son. If you haven’t played the game in a while, it’s very simple. There’s a pile of cards that each player takes a turn flipping over. Most of the cards have a square on them. These squares come in a couple different colors and you move the number of colored spaces that correspond with how many squares you got. Once in a while you’ll get some sort dessert card, and you get to move to the space with that dessert pictured on it.
Well, my son is very good at games in general. Not only is he pretty lucky, but he is also pretty strategic. And because of these two qualities, he wins a lot. Which leads him to being very arrogant and boastful when it comes to games. So, while we’re playing this particular game, I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring him down a couple of notches. So I did what any good dad would do, I stacked the deck in my favor.
And it was working out pretty good at first. I was moving up the board very quickly, and he was getting pretty upset. “Good,” I thought, “it was about time he lost at this game, and learned a valuable life lesson.” But then, out of nowhere, the cards began to change in his favor. See one of the problems with the game, is that if you get a dessert card that’s behind you, you have to move backwards. Well, that’s what began to happen. Instead of moving forward, I was moving backwards. In the end, he won, to my great dismay. The arrogance and boastfulness was louder, because it was a come from behind win. And I heard this little thought in the back of my head that said, “don’t mess with children, they have angels watching out for them.”
And that’s where we come to the book of Mark today, a place where plans and attitudes were changed. So if you have your Bibles, we’ll be in Mark chapter 14, starting with the first verse.
As we get into the Gospel of Mark today, we need to only pick up from last week to catch up to where we’re at. The disciples had made a remark to Jesus about the grandness of the Temple. Jesus gave them the strange reply of, “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down (Mark 13:2b).”
It was such a strange response that the disciples later asked him when it would happen. Jesus goes into a lengthy explanation of the signs of the end. But, as we talked about last week, Jesus’ focus wasn’t on the signs, but rather that the disciples would be on their guard for them. It was from this, that we talked about how God desires us to be on our guard for his work. What is God doing around us is more important than on the grand things we build. Seeing the hand of God at work, is more important than creating grand structures that can be torn down. Work in building God’s kingdom, is more important that carving out a little section for ourselves.
It’s with this understanding that we come to our passage today in the Gospel of Mark. So let’s dive into Mark chapter 14, starting in verse 1.
1 Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”
3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
This is a great passage, because it’s one of those passages that are in all of the Gospels, and I think that’s because Jesus says of the woman, that, “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
So we can use the other Gospels to help us flush out this event.
From this passage I want us to notice a couple of things: First, the religious leaders’ attitude and plans for Jesus. It says they were scheming to arrest and kill Jesus. The confrontations that we have seen between these leaders and Jesus, in the last couple of weeks, could make any person hate another. I mean, I never it like it when I’m proved wrong, and I doubt that these religious leaders are any better than that. But it’s not just that Jesus showed the lacking in their knowledge, nor was it when Jesus took them to task in front of the people, that they were out to get him.
When John writes in his Gospel about the motivation of the religious leaders to kill Jesus, he tells us this in chapter 10, “31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ 33 ‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’”
It wasn’t just that Jesus was able to understand the Scriptures better, or that the people liked him more. The religious leaders also believed that Jesus was committing blasphemy, because they understood that Jesus was equating himself to being God come down. This is exactly what the first section of Mark’s Gospel was getting at, and the religious leaders got the message. They got that Jesus was claiming to be God, and on top of that they didn’t like him. So their motivation for killing Jesus, a man they didn’t like, was now justified in their eyes. So now they’re looking for a way to get him.
So they’re attitude and plans are to get Jesus, but not until after the festival. And we know that this is because there’s just too many people to deal with. So the first thing we need to notice is that the religious leaders’ plans were to arrest and kill Jesus, but only after the festival was over.
The second thing I want us to notice is the attitude and plans of the disciples. When the lady brings the perfume and pours it on Jesus’ feet, it says that some present were indigent. In John’s Gospel, he specifically points out Judas as speaking up in an indignant tone (12:4-5), but Matthew in his Gospel, points out that several of the disciples had this same attitude (26:8-9).
In any case, there is a consensus from several people, that the act of anointing Jesus with such expensive perfumes was not a justifiable act. Why? Because the money could be used for the poor. Which, is a good reason. I struggle with this very idea.
When giving to a type of charity, how much is too much. We recently had the first drawing of the Mega Millions this past Friday. Several people on social media said things like, “Don’t bother playing, I bought the winning ticket.” or “Bought my winning ticket, now I just have to wait.”
To these I would comment, reminding them not to forget to tithe, and if they need a church I might know of one.
But when also giving to charity, how much is too little. We know the struggles of people, and I know the pain of giving and knowing it’s not enough, but it’s all I can afford.
And so this struggle of knowing how much to give, or how to use our resources is a real one.
And when we’re talking about this amount of money being poured out on Jesus’ feet, we’re not talking about a small amount. Some have put the price tag at about 300 penny’s. Which doesn’t seem like a lot, but a penny at the time, would translate into a full days wages.
In the passage, we’re told that this perfume could be sold for over a years wages. So let’s make it easy on ourselves to figure out what this wold be for us today. Let’s say were dealing with a penny a day for 300 days worth of wages.
As of October 2018 the average daily wage of an America is about $177. (https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/wages) Multiply that by 300 days and you get, $53,100. Now is it crazy to compare it this way? The 300 pennies in biblical times, to the $53,1000 of the modern era? I mean, back then it was hard to get perfume, that’s why it was so expensive, but we go down to the local dollar store and get some perfume. The reality is, we have perfumes that are just as expensive. There’s a perfume called Clive Christian No. 1 Majesty Perfume; if you were to buy a 4oz bottle of this perfume it would cost you almost $51,000 (https://financesonline.com/7-most-expensive-perfumes-in-the-world-chanel-no-5-is-not-the-top-one/).
So, I think we can say, that the possibility of having a jar of perfume that costs almost a years wages is possible. Now if I took that 4oz. bottle of perfume that cost $51,000 and I anointed one person with it, would that be a waste?
How many families could we feed with the cost of 4oz’s of that perfume? Do you see why the disciples were indignant? That’s a lot of money, being poured out on Jesus’ feet.
The attitude of the disciples was that there was a better use of the woman’s money than to waste it on a momentary pouring out onto Jesus’ feet. And I think, that if we’re honest with ourselves, we would agree with them.
So here are the two attitudes and plans that we see in the passage. The plans of the religious leaders’, was that they were going to kill Jesus, but only after the festival. The attitude of the disciples, is that there was a better use for the perfume than to anoint Jesus.
But in both circumstances the attitude and plans were wrong. And I don’t just mean that they were wrong because it’s wrong for the religious leaders to kill Jesus, or that it’s wrong that the disciples were indignant at the situation.
I mean that it was wrong, because neither the religious leaders, nor the disciples, recognized the work of God that was happening.
See the religious leaders’ plan was to kill Jesus after the festival, because of the crowd of people. Did that happen? No, they killed Jesus in the middle of the festival, because God had a purpose for it. The Passover festival was an annual festival to remember what happen to the Jewish people when they were in Egypt, and the Angle of Death passed over all those that sacrificed a lamp and painted their door frames with the blood. God wanted Jesus to be forever connected with the Passover Lamb, that was sacrificed for the Jews. God changed the plans of the religious leaders for his own purposes.
The disciples’ attitude was that greater things could be done with the perfume. Was that attitude supported by Jesus? No, because he saw it as an anointing for the death that he was going towards. A death that he had been talking to his disciples about for almost a year, but they still were not recognizing. Even though they heard countless sermons, had many conversations, and had it spelled out for them over and over again, they still did not recognize that Jesus’ death was right around the corner.
And when this woman came up to anoint Jesus for his death, the disciples’ attitude towards the action was that of harshness, rather than a sobering reminder that they were about to see their teacher killed.
In both cases, the attitudes and plans of these two groups were directed in their own ways, but God was working a greater plan out right in front of them, and neither group recognized it.
This is the next natural step from last week. Last week we talked about being on guard for the work of God, and this week we start to see the work of God played out, and no one was prepared for it. No one was on guard. The religious leaders were not prepared for it, and neither were the disciples; both of whom should have been.
No one, except the woman who poured perfume on the feet of Jesus. Jesus’ words about the woman speaks volumes about what she was doing, “She did what she could (v.8a).”
This is what it means to be on guard for the work of God: to do what we can. It is easy to make our own plans. But God will foul those up in a heartbeat. It’s easy to become indignant towards others when we don’t think they are doing what they should for God, but God seems to like to rebuke us when we get that attitude.
No, we must be on our guard, and doing what we can for the work of God. If that means plans change, so be it, let my plans change for the work of God. If that means that my year’s wages are poured out in a moment, so be it, let God anoint himself with my earnings.
God is at work, and it is more subtle than we can imagine. We tend to seek these grand displays of what he’s doing; these moments of complete clarity for us to accept what he is doing. But what we really need is an attitude to have our plans changed, and a willingness to have what we earn poured out for his sake.
God is at work, he wants us to be on our guard, ready and willing to change what we’re doing as he so leads. Our plans need to be willingly put into his hands for change, and our resources must be willingly poured out for his purposes.
But are we willing to do it? Or will we have to have our plans forcibly changed as God had to do with the religious leaders? Will we have to be rebuked by God when we’re indignant about how he uses our resources?
Or are we going to be ready for God to move and use us, just by us doing all we could?
My challenge for you this week is to take a look in two areas of our lives. The first area, are our plans. What plans are we making right now? Let’s ask ourself, are we willing to let God change them? Let’s go before God, bringing our plans, asking him to strength us so that we can let him have them.
The second area are our resources. What resources are we being indignant with? Let’s ask ourself, are we willing to let God be anointed with them? Let’s go before God, bringing our resources, asking him to strength us so that we can let him have them.
These are the types of things God calls us to when we participate in his work. We must be ready for him to move, using whatever he has given us for that action. Let us be the people on guard for his work, ready for our plans to change, and willing for our resources to be used. So that we are not left behind, but rather may anoint God with all we can for his glory.
Now may you anoint God, as he leads, with what he has given you. Being on your guard for His work. Amen.