Okay, before we do anything else, I want to have your best smiles, because there is no other place that I know, in the entire universe, where you can get a crowd of people like this on a Wednesday night to hear somebody teaching the book of Leviticus.
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So—I,—this is, this is, come on. Hang on. I'm going to switch it to video. This is, this is a video now. Okay, let's, let’s go, just—[loud cheering]. Yes, that's just after I finished speaking at Calvary Chapel. Yes, they really loved me. Yes, yes. Nah, I made that up. Nah, this is just—that's amazing. Okay, good. Good. Well, you can tell that I'm really jazzed to be here. It's a privilege to come. I've known about this place for a long time, and so to get a chance to actually come and see it live is something for which I am very thankful.
I am a long way from Cleveland. I'm a lot longer away and further away from my home in Glasgow. And when I came to America in 1983, on the third of August 1983, I didn't hardly—I think I knew two pastors in the entire country. Neither of them were anywhere close to me. One was in southern California and one was in Milwaukee. And I can tell you that it was a jolly lonely experience to settle into that context there in suburban Cleveland.
And now, twenty‑nine years later, I can hardly contain the sense of gratitude that I have to God for the way in which he has proved true to his Word. You know where it says that if you ever give up your family, or your friends, or anything for the sake of the gospel, which is, surprising as it will be to you—that's what I did to come to America. Everybody thinks they want to come to America; I didn't. I wanted to stay in Scotland and ah but I had to leave all my family behind.
And here I am tonight in the context of a Christian fellowship such as I can hardly imagine. And just to be able to engage with the men this afternoon, and the ladies, and then to be caught up in the praise this evening, and to have the opportunity to open the Scriptures with you now; I, I , I rejoice in the privilege. I, I esteem your pastor in the gospel, and for, for many more reasons than I will take time now to recount.
I would like to read, not from the book of Leviticus, but from the Gospel of Mark, and from chapter 14. And the songs have been well chosen this evening, I think. If they were not chosen in reference to what we're about to read, then that makes it even more remarkable than if they were. We'll read from verse 1 through to verse 9. Somebody inevitably asks, "What version of the Bible are you reading?" I'm using the English Standard Version as I, as I read this evening.
Mark 14 verse 1, "It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, 'Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.' And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, 'Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denari and given to the poor.' And they scolded her.
“But Jesus said, 'Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has been done, will be told in memory of her.' " Amen.
Well, just a brief prayer. Father, what we know not, teach us. What we have not, give us. What we are not, make us, for your Son's sake, amen.
Well, we've reached that time of year when it's possible to walk around your neighborhood and see what the inside of your neighbors' houses are really like, unless, of course, they've closed the drapes. But if they haven't, the darkness of the outside makes it possible to get a little inkling of what's on the inside. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not a Peeping Tom; I've not been going up people's driveways and you know looking in their front window.
But when the night is dark outside, it only takes a relatively small amount of light to attract us and to draw us in. And here as Mark moves inexorably towards the events of the crucifixion, the darkness of what is taking place on the outside, as it were, serves as a backdrop to all of the light and to all of the beauty that shines out from the home of Simon the leper.
The gospel records for us that the chief priests and the scribes were seeking for a way to kill Jesus. You would notice that at the beginning of the chapter: It was two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and they were looking for a way to kill Him. The parallel gospels tell us that Jesus was no longer able to walk publicly among the Jews, openly among the Jews. The reason being that they had given orders to anyone who found him, to anyone who knew where he was, to let them know so that they might arrest him.
And, then, from the darkness of that surrounding context, and the darkness which is going to return in verse 10 with the unfolding story of Judas and his betrayal, it is against that dark background that what we find here in the home of Simon the leper shines out. And what I'd like to do is take just three phrases from these verses that we've read in order to help us to navigate the passage.
The first phrase is: "And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table"—here is the phrase—"A woman came." A woman came. That's in verse 3. And then, the phrase that you find in verse 5: "They scolded her." And then, in the response of Jesus in verse 8: "She has done what she could."
Or, if you wanted in just three words: The first word would be devoted; the second word would be scolded; and the third word would be commended. First of all: the action of the woman, the reaction of the group, the summation, and the commendation of the Lord Jesus. So then, let's begin by noticing the way in which this is introduced to us, with a simple, straightforward recording phrase: As he was there, at the table "a woman came."
Now, it is surely worth paying attention to the fact that in either side of chapter 13 what we have is the record of the devotion of two women. You will notice, if your Bible is open as mine is, that chapter 12 has ended with the record of the lady who came and put her offering into the box. "A poor widow," verse 42 of chapter 12, "put in two small copper coins, which make a penny." And Jesus uses that as an opportunity to instruct his disciples.
He says to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box." And his disciples, of course, would not immediately get that. How could it possibly be that a lady, who has put virtually nothing into this box, has put in more than all of the rest who have put significant amounts into the box? You see the disciples had a very difficult time understanding the values of the kingdom despite the fact that they had been on the receiving end of the instruction of Jesus, that they had seen the miracles of Jesus; nevertheless, they still did not get it.
They still did not understand what Jesus was really saying when he pointed out that the first would be last, and the last would be first. They didn't fully grasp it when he told them that he came to seek out those who were lost, the least, and the last, and the left out. And all the time he is again, and again, providing them instruction.
Of course, the answer to the question that would be in their minds is that she had put in more measured by sacrifice, not measured by amount, the sacrifice that she made, measured by proportion. Because two cents out of two cents is a factor of one. One thousand out of ten thousand is a factor of a tenth. And so, he confronts his disciples with the devotion of this lady, and then as soon as you turn to the beginning of chapter 13, you find that they're doing what many of us are tempted to do when the sermon is over, when the study is finished: talk about something exactly other than that of what we just learned.
And as they came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful buildings these are." So Jesus has just given them a lesson in sacrificial giving, and they want to talk about the architecture as soon as he has explained to them. Perhaps, it is just that reflex action that many of us know when the Spirit of God brings something home to our hearts, and immediately we're looking for some superficial way to move it, to get it far from us as we possibly can. Because we know that what we've heard is vital for us, and yet, we resist it.
Now, I say to you again that Jesus' disciples were slow to grasp these things. And so, you then have the Olivet Discourse and all of the amazing explanation of chapter 13 as some of the most demanding verses in the entire Gospel of Mark. And then you come out of that Olivet Discourse with all of the prospects of the return of Jesus, and the destruction of the temple, and all of these magnificent things. You come into the darkness of the anticipation of the crucifixion itself, and then, suddenly the door opens into the home of Simon the leper, and "a woman came."
Now, the interesting thing we're told is that she "came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly." So Mark tells us about the container. It was made of alabaster, which was a substance that in itself had some kind of an intrinsic value. He tells us about the content of it that it was made of pure nard. And he tells us about the cost of it, it was very expensive.
Now, we had a little time with some pastors this afternoon, encouraging them in relationship to the exposition of Scripture. My advice to them, if they were expounding this passage, would not be to try and impress their listeners with everything they know about pure nard; because what they know about pure nard is very little at all, except what they have read in all the books that everyone else can read. But in order to try and impress with our knowledge of Himalayan vegetation, and the kind of plants that you can find in northern India, the pastor spends in inordinate amount of time explaining the significance of this.
It would be wrong for me, then, to use in inordinate amount of time explaining why the pastor should not use an inordinate amount of time in not doing this. Because the congregation is looking at you and saying, "You are a pure; you are a pure nerd who knows nothing about pure nard. You don’t Pastor, you don't know the difference between a dandelion and daffodil, so do not waste your time on trying to explain to us about Himalayan vegetation."
What is the point? The point is the cost. The point is the cost. It was "very costly." In some of the translations it's "perfume"; here, it is "ointment." It could be that which would be rubbed in, in terms of a massaging situation. It would be that which is used in preparation for the burial of an individual.
So the point is simply this: that what this lady brought was not the kind of thing that the average lady would be carrying in her purse. It's not the kind of thing that she would have picked up at Nordstrom on the way for an evening at the house of Simon the leper. No, no. It was the very costly nature of the thing that brought about the disapproval of the people who were in the room.
Well, if you think about it, it makes sense, because perfume or ointment that costs a year's wages cannot, under any circumstances, be regarded as ordinary. Can it? No. See, so you're a sensible group. You're thinking it out. That's what you're supposed to do. Is there a husband here who has bought his wife perfume that cost him an entire year's salary? Of course not, and if you are here, I suggest you do not put up your hand, but come for counseling immediately as the time is finished.
But the monetary value of this was the least part of the cost, because this alabaster flask, as it's described, would have been in the home of a lady like this for one of two reasons. Either, perhaps—even a family heirloom—it would be kept by her as a dowry for her marriage so that all of the fragrance that is represented in it may be hers to enjoy and her husband's to explore on the time of their betrothal and wedding. Or it would be kept by a lady like this to be used on the occasion of her own death when somebody prepared her for burial. That's the significance of the cost.
What the lady is actually doing in what she does is pouring away her future on the head, on the body, of the Lord Jesus Christ. She is surrendering security, a year's wages worth, in one small alabaster flask. The kind of thing somebody would say, "Now, whatever you do, don't get rid of that because if it becomes difficult financially, you always know that you will have this to fall back on."
If that is what it was for her, she was about to say, "I will have nothing to fall back on because I am going to make this available to the Lord Jesus." Her personal plans, her aspirations, her ambitions, and not only that, she wasn't simply sacrificing future, but she was sacrificing her present.
Judging by the way in which the people react to her, her social acceptability in the moment was jeopardized by what she did. Because you will notice that she didn't just pour out a wee drop and then put the lid back on the thing, or screw the top back on. No, we're told that she broke the flask, and she poured it over his head in a gesture of complete abandonment. She knew that this would be no longer useful for any other occasion, no wedding, no funeral, not now.
Why? Because she had taken it all and she had given it to Christ. She had, if you like, been singing on the way there, "I'll stand my soul, Lord, for you surrendered, for all I am is yours." That's what she's saying in this gesture; we've been singing about it tonight.
And if the breaking of the flask is viewed as an impulsive gesture, a gesture, if you like, of self‑forgetfulness in the moment, it is clearly a self‑forgetfulness in the moment that may be traced to a premeditated decision in a silent place unseen by anyone else. She had to have decided that she was going to do this. She had to, on her own, make that commitment.
She would not have just gone ordinarily to a place like this carrying this material. So somewhere in the secret place of her life, as she reacted to all she knew of Jesus, whatever all that was—and I think it was a lot more than any of the commentators give her credit for. But when she was alone she said to herself, "You know, this is what I am going to do no matter what people say, no matter how they react to me, even if they call me a fanatic, even if they think I'm nuts. I'm going to go there and I'm going to do this," and she broke it.
I wonder when the Lord Jesus sat under the sensation of that, I wonder did he say to himself—because remember where he is, and remember where he's going. Did he say to himself—did he quote Psalm 23? "You have prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, Father, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." The action of the woman: unique in its thoughtfulness, costly in its bestowal, timely in its provision, devoted.
To our second phrase: "They scolded her.” They scolded her. Now, the trouble with knowing your Bible is that you know your Bible. You say, "That sounds, like, ridiculous." What I mean by that is this: Sometimes I wish I could read my Bible for the first time all over again, because I know the end to these stories.
But it must be terrific to be reading this story for the first time and, and you're reading down, and she came with a thing, and she broke it all over his head. And you and you maybe just look away, and then you're thinking, "I'm going look back and I can't wait to see you know what the reaction was." And so you put your hand over and say, "Now, I wonder what they did?" "And then they bowed humbly in the presence of Jesus, stirred by her devotion." Or, "And then they all jumped up and started dancing about the room and started hugging each other at such a manifold display of devotion."
And then you look down to see what it actually said, and you were like, "What?" "There were some who said to themselves indignantly, 'Why was the ointment wasted like that?' " Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The whole place is filled—Winnie the Pooh is there with the honey, and here comes Eeyore right in the back of it, "Uh, uh, uh, uh."
Incidentally, in passing, if you ever just let yourself go for God, hopefully you're not surrounded by a bunch of Eeyores, because it's going to be tough for you. She was subjected to these angry glances, to the whispers of sharp disapproval. They regarded her action as extravagant, as wasteful, as a misuse of resources. That's all they began to say, "There were some who said to themselves indignantly."
And John tells us that Judas led this charge. They all joined in, but Judas was at front of it. He could not fathom why it was that somebody would, from his perspective, waste something so valuable. And this incident is the tipping point in the expedience of Judas that sends him out, in response to this extravagance, to sell his soul for thirty pieces of silver. Judas didn't sell Jesus for thirty pieces of silver; Judas sold himself for thirty pieces of silver.
He couldn't stand the fact that this woman would do this. And he was not alone because they were grumbling and mumbling to themselves, once again, pointing out that they failed to understand the value of the kingdom of God: Snorting at the lady as an expression of anger and disapproval, grumbling to one another, groaning, growling; miserable creatures, every one of them.
Couldn't they have commended her? Couldn't they just have said, "You know, what she's done is what we ought to be doing? After all, we're the core team, we're the group, we're his chosen twelve, and a lady is here again. We just had that other lady with the tinkling and the brass trumpets at the temple. We tried to divert that one with the talk about the temple, and that got us the whole of chapter 13. Now, we come into chapter 14, and we're at it again, and here comes another lady."
Someday I'm going to do a series on, on the role of the ladies alone in the Gospel of Mark. It is significant. The men are standing around like a bunch of cloth‑eared nincompoops, and the ladies, the ladies are getting it again, and again, and again.
Listen to what J. C. Ryle says about this kind of response, their scolding response; it's quite a long quote, but stay with me: "The spirit of these narrow‑minded fault‑finders," says Ryle, "is unhappily only too common. Their followers and successors are to be found in every part of Christ's visible church.
"There is never wanting a generation of people who decry what they call "extremes" in religion, and are incessantly recommending what they term "moderation" in the service of Christ. If a man devotes his time, money, and affection to the pursuit of worldly things, they do not blame him. If he gives himself up to the service of money, pleasure, or politics, they find no fault. But if the same man devotes himself, and all he has, to Christ, they can scarcely find words to express their sense of his folly. Saying, 'He is beside himself. He is out of his mind. He's an enthusiast. He's a fanatic.' "
Well, that stings a little, doesn't it? The broken flask, the fragrance in the room testified against their calculated pragmatism.
If this lady had shown up a little early so that she could share with the group what she was planning on doing that evening, there probably would be no record of her extravagant devotion, because they would have talked her out of it. Somebody would have stood up and said, "Not going to do it, wouldn't be prudent. Not at this juncture." Right?
There's always somebody there to say, "No, no, no, we can't get sold out for God. No, no, you don’t, you can't be doing that. No, no, no, you're going to make the rest of us look bad. Let's just keep it at a nice, moderate level. We don't need you coming in here with that stuff, smashing up a year's worth of wages and pouring it out like that. That's not good." She was scolded on account of the fact that her gratitude to Jesus caused her to give up this treasured possession, that's why they scolded her.
Now, missionary biography is largely ignored in our day. I don't find young people, I don't find teenagers reading missionary biography. I can run through missionaries of the twentieth century and be met with some of the blankest stares you've ever heard, you've ever seen in your life.
You just mention the people's names, and they look back and you like: "Who's that? What team did he play for? Was she in a band? I don't know. Who's she?" Gladys Aylward. "Never heard of her." Helen Roseveare. "Never heard of her." C. T. Studd. "C. T. what?" No, you see, missionaries, missionaries now, their pretty well done after four weeks, short‑term. "Were short‑termers." Oh, really? How does that work? Why don't you just join National Geographic and take photographs, because that seems to be what you're doing most of the time in any case.
But if you want to burnout for the gospel, if you want to sell out, there's no closed country in the world. You can go there, but you may never come back from there. When you go there you got to be prepared to stay there.
The missionary convention in 1910 in Edinburgh was filled to capacity with people absolutely totally committed to the evangelization of the world. The missionary convention in 2010 was not a shadow of 1910, and the preoccupation of people in 2010 had far more to do with wells, and AIDS, and sub‑Saharan Africa, than it had to do with telling men and women that Jesus Christ is a Savior for sinners. And people today are absolutely amazed when they run up against these kinds of things.
I mentioned C. T. Studd. I'm not going to embarrass you by asking you if you know who he was, but you know now because I'm about to tell you, and then you can, then you can Google him, and then you'll know more than I know before the evening is out. But you'll find out that he was born into high society in England. He went to Cambridge University. He was a, a cricket player for the nation of England. His father had become a Christian, I think, from memory, as a result of the evangelistic endeavors of Dwight L. Moody. He, in turn, became a Christian, and along the way married.
He had his wife say a little poem each morning when she did her devotions. He wanted to make sure that she loved Jesus very much, so that when he was dead then she would know that Jesus was her anchor. And so she had to say this little thing: "Dear Lord Jesus, you are to me dearer than Charlie ever could be." That was his name, Charles. It's kind of sweet, isn't it? It's very important. Our wives need to know that. That Jesus has to come first in our affections.
We won't stand at the bar of God's judgment holding hands. We're not going up there as couples. We're not going there as families. We will stand there alone. We need to make sure that our nearest and dearest are committed to Christ, more committed to Christ than they are to us. So Studd decides he's going to pack it in and go to Africa. He's worth a fortune, so he gives it away, except he keeps back 100,000 pounds for his wife, the one that he's taught to say the little poem.
She finds out—incidentally, a 100,000 pounds in today's money is multi‑, multi‑million dollars, okay. So she finds out he's kept a little pot for her, actually, a big pot for her. She says to him, "Hey, Charlie, what's all that stuff about Jesus and everything and meaning more to me? Why didn't you give my pot away as well?"
He said, "Well, I wanted you to be okay if anything happened to me." She said, "Well, do you think that Jesus can only look after you, he can't look after me? Give my pot away as well." And he said, "Well, who will I give it to?” And she said, "Give it to William Booth," the founder, the founder of the Salvation Army. And that, then, was a foundational piece in Booth's commitment, not only to reaching the poor with the means whereby they might be fed and clothed, but with the means whereby they might come to faith in Jesus Christ. And C. T. Studd walks out and into the night, as it were, and the rest, as they say, is history.
You have the same thing in Eric Liddell. You have the same thing in Eric Liddell. The story of Eric Liddell is not the story of the 1924 Olympics and the fact that he ran for gold. It is the story of the fact that he died as a relatively young man as a school teacher in mainland China from which he never came back. Under the Japanese occupation, died there as a teacher of those boys and girls, burned his life out for God, and people said, "Wow, you know, fair enough, but I just want to live in the comfort zone."
"Some want to live within the sound of church and chapel bell," said William Booth, "I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell." This is how C. T. Studd had it figured out, similar, I think, to this lady; she in prospect, he in retrospect.
He wrote in his journal: "If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice that I could ever make for him could ever be too great." That's the logic of the kingdom. If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then if I were to give my entire life away, to give everything away, it could never be too great a sacrifice. You could never outgive God.
All over Cleveland and, I'm sure, all over Albuquerque as well, there are names on buildings because philanthropy is the name of the game. Gates, Buffett, the billionaires are now the philanthropists of the world. "Look how wonderful we are, giving it all away." It used to be: "Look how wonderful we are earning it all." And it didn't feel so good just earning it, so they thought, "Well, maybe we'll see how it feels giving it away." Put your name on a building and so on. Who can gainsay that is wonderful, were thankful. Every hospital and so on, that's fine.
But listen, that's not the issue. "To convert one sinner from his way is an event," said Smeaton, "of greater importance than the deliverance of a whole kingdom from temporal evil." And the woman came and they scolded her. That brings us to our third and final phrase.
Jesus, the recipient of her devotion, the observer of their reaction, now pronounces her commendation. "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them."
Jesus is actually quoting from the Law, might even be Leviticus, I can't remember. Because in the Law it says, "There will never cease to be poor in the land." Jesus is actually tying this in to what they knew from Old Testament Law. The Law itself said, "There will never cease to be poor in the land." That didn't mean that the poor should be disregarded, but rather that the poor were an ongoing obligation, and an ongoing opportunity for ministry and for grace.
Hence, you have, for example, in the story of Ruth and Boaz—remember? And Ruth goes into the fields of Boaz, and Boaz says to his men, "Make sure that you don't pick everything up on the fringes of the field so that Ruth may be able to glean the stuff that is left over. " Why was that? That was the provision for the poor. That was in order that they might be able to be the beneficiaries of the generosity of the landowner.
Jesus is making that point very clearly, but the disciples are using that as an excuse. John actually says that Judas was the one who said this, and the only reason that he said it was because he was a thief. That's what he says.
He actually calls him out. The disciples, bless their hearts, are just always on the wrong side of the equation. Aren't they? You know, here's an opportunity for them to go, "Jesus, let's all hold hands now and, and just have a great evening. This has been fantastic, and this lady—." No, no they're like, "I can't believe she did that. That's unbelievable." But, well, it's nothing new. "Jesus, we were out this afternoon and we saw a man, he was, he was casting out demons in your name, but we told him to stop."
Jesus says, "Don't tell him to stop." So one of the guys goes, "See, I told you not to tell him to stop. That was a dumb idea, tell him to stop. I told you don't tell him to stop." "You did so—you told him to stop as well. What are you talking about?" "If he's not against us, he's for us."
"Hey, get these children out of here would you, please. Get them back. We're doing evangelistic work here. Get that thing. Pardon? Yeah, like I said, 'Bring them up, bring them up.' No, closer, closer to Jesus. No, no, I'd actually like some there on his knee. That's it, yeah. Told you not to tell them to get back."
"Hey, we've just come back from the Samaritan villages, wasn't good. No, we didn't have a good time. Jesus, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" Who are these people? No wonder Jesus says, "Have I been so long with you and still you do not understand?"
Aren't you really encouraged by this? I mean, let's be honest. Everybody's going, "Yeah, I'm with the lady. I'm with the lady. Oh, yeah, I'm the alabaster jar person." "Good for you, because I'm not—I'm with these guys. I find myself in these fellows, not her. I admire her, but I'm with them."
On the wrong side of the equation 60, 70, 80 percent of the time. How amazingly patient is Christ? How kind and tender to us. How phenomenal it is that he doesn't take the whole shooting match and tell them, "You know what? I'm going to get an entirely new team. I'm dumping you. You guys are done. Forget even waiting for the crucifixion or anything, you're done right now. I'm going with a new group. In fact, I'm going with no group. I'll get another group later on."
So it's just perfect, I mean, it's par for the course. And they scolded her. And Jesus said, "What do you think you're doing? You just don't get it, do you? You flat out don't get it. She has done what she could."
Judas is about to walk out of here, out of the sunshine, as it were, out of the brightness, out of the illumination of Simon the leper's home, into the darkness. John says, "And he went out. And it was night." He's about to go out and to say, "What will you give me? What will you give me?" No true follower of Jesus is supposed to be asking that question. "What do I get out of this, if I, if I give this to you? What if I sell myself out for you?"
He couldn't stand it. "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done something beautiful." The word there for beautiful or good is kalos. Agathos is intrinsically good, kalos is beautifully good. So an injection from the nurse is agathos, but if she's a nice nurse, it might be kalos. So I could be intrinsically good, but not nice. But then I could be nice, and that's the word that Jesus uses here. "She has anointed my body. Her act of humble, costly bestowal is preparing me for burial."
Now, think about this for just a moment. This was an essential part of the burial of any Jewish person; no Jewish person would be laid in a tomb without having been anointed for burial. Jesus knows that the events that are about to unfold are going to afford no opportunity for his body to be anointed. Remember, it says that on the first day of the week the women went to the tomb with the spices to try and fill in the gaps. "She has anointed my body beforehand for burial."
Now, nearly all of the commentators, in fact, I think all of the commentators say that this lady was doing something that she didn't really know she was doing. That she was just, you know, expressing her devotion, and Jesus in his words here identifies the real significance in light of his death. And that may well be true, but it may equally well be true that she knows exactly what she's doing. Why not? Why not?
Well, how would that happen? The same way that one thief on the cross suddenly said, "We are up here getting what our sins deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong?" Where I did that come from? It came from God. God showed him that. So there's no reason to believe that the intimacy of this lady's walk with God would deprive her of a knowledge of what was going on.
Apart from anything else, you have female intuition. And I don't mean that in a, in a facetious way at all; I mean that sincerely. That the female gender, and yes, there is gender, have you heard of gender lately? There is a distinction between male and female. There is a radical difference between a man and a woman; a difference that God wrote into our very lives.
So there is no reason for us to assume that because these tin‑heads don't get it that this lady does get it. And Jesus is simply explaining, on her behalf, exactly what has taken place. "Truly," he says, "I say to you." Interestingly, that's the exact same phrase that he had used at the end of chapter 12, when he asked his boys to come and sit down and look at what has happened with the lady who has just put the two copper coins into the temple trumpet. He used the very same phrase: "Verily, I say to you, this lady has put in more than all the rest." Here we are again: "Verily, I say to you, she has done what she could."
What a wonderful phrase: "She has done what she could." And Jesus says, "What she has done will serve as a perpetual memorial of the true response to the One who became poor in order that we might become rich."
Our time has gone, and I'm going to draw it to a close, but just as I'm thinking about this: the spirit of the Pharisee mistakes grace for waste: "Why would you waste this?"
"You don't understand grace, how could it possibly be wasted?" Do you remember Jesus told the story to confront those who were stuck in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else?
"A certain man had two sons, and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth unto to me.' And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger went and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living. And there was a famine in the land, and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country who sent him into his field to feed pigs. And he fain would have filled his stomach with the husks that the pigs were eating, but nobody gave him anything at all.
"And when he came to himself he said, "I will arise and I will go back to my father, say to him, 'I've sinned against heaven, and in your sight I'm no longer worthy to be called your son. Just make me as one of your hired servants.' " And he arose and he came to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And he started his speech: "I've sinned against heaven and . . . ." And the father said, "Hey, cut that out for now. Bring the shoes, he needs shoes. Bring the robe, he needs a robe. Get the pig, we're having a party. Start the music, we're going to dance. Let's get the thing going."
"Meanwhile, the elder brother was out in the field and he heard the singing and the dancing and he came and he said, 'Why that waste on him? Why would you waste that on him? Why would you be a prodigal God and disperse all that on him? I've been here slaving in your house all this time, and you never even gave me a miserable, little party, let alone a huge, big party. ' "
What's his problem? Jesus is teaching the Pharisees: "You don't understand. You don't understand grace. You don't understand the wonder of what this story is all about." And the disciples were as close to Christ as any twelve guys could ever be. They heard his preaching, they saw his miracles, and right up, and in, and through the crucifixion they still didn't get it.
Do you think they needed the Holy Spirit to come on them? Do you think they needed the power of God to embrace them? Do you think they needed for the Holy Spirit to bring them into an understanding of all these things that he taught? Of course, the exact same need that we have, the exact same promise of God. The self‑contained, the sensible, the scolding onlookers fade into obscurity. It's the rash extravagance of this lady, this humble lady, that is known "wherever the gospel is proclaimed."
Here were are, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mark 14 being fulfilled in our hearing, you know. Jesus says every time the gospel is proclaimed people will be talking about her. Of course they will, because long after human eloquence and human wisdom are forgotten, when the deeds and the titles of emperors and kings and presidents are completely buried in the dust of history, this beautiful, significant, and timely act will be remembered. Because the pathway to lasting honor is to honor Christ.
C. T. Studd, remember, you all know C. T. Studd: "Oh, yeah, we know—yeah, we know C. T. Studd." C. T. Studd heard somebody say this couplet, "Only one life, 'twill soon be past, only what's done for Jesus will last." He heard somebody say that, and he couldn't get it out of his mind. And he wrote a relatively long poem on the strength of that, with the final two lines in every stanza being those two lines; in order to write it into his heart and into his recollection so that he might give all that he had and all that was his.
Loved ones, listen here tonight, there’s only one question that is left for every one of us: What are you planning on doing the rest of your life? What do you plan on doing? What do you want to do with it? What do you want to do with your money? What do you want to do with your gifts? What do you want to do? Do you want to sit around and harrumph and pumph when somebody sells out for Jesus, or do you want to applaud, or bow, or join in?
I'm sixty years old; yesterday I was sixteen. Today I'm sixty. If I run my allotted course out of Scripture, I'm in the final decade of my life. The final decade of my life. I have less in front of me then I have behind me. I'm not putting a challenge on you that I don't face myself: "What are you doing in Albuquerque on a Wednesday night? Why did you go there? Do you go there just because you like people listening to you? " It's a fair question. Why do you do what you do?
And the woman came bringing with her an alabaster flask of pure nard that was very costly. Her action was unique in its thoughtfulness, costly in its bestowal, timely in its provision, challenging in its impact, and lasting in its memory: devoted, scolded, commended.
At the end of the day it doesn't matter what you say about yourself. At the end of the day it doesn't actually matter what others say about us. At the end of the day there's only one thing that matters, and that is what God is going to say about us.
That is why Jim Elliot said although he was studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree at Wheaton College, he was actually studying for his A.U.G. 2 Timothy 2:15: "Study to show yourself approved unto God." He said, "That's what I'm really studying for, I want to be approved unto God." Little did he know that within relatively short‑order, the waters of the Curaray River would mingle with his blood and with the blood of his colleagues. As he finally now lives out what he wrote in his journal: "He's no fool who gives up what he can't keep, to gain what he can't lose."
That is the economics, if you like, of the Kingdom of God. Look at this potential tonight. Look at the vastness of the world that we live in. Don't be despondent about kings and presidents. Where I come from we had an empire once, much bigger than this, it's gone. This one will go too. It's probably on its way right now, but that's not what we're here for.
We're here for the kingdom. We're here for the gospel. We're here because we have in front of us a picture in Revelation 7 of a company that no one can number, from every tribe, nation, people, and language who are gathered before the throne of God. And many of those people are our friends and our neighbors here in Albuquerque. So, let's give ourselves away.
Let's pray. Let's just take a moment and ask God to banish from our recollection anything that is unhelpful or untrue, and then ask the Holy Spirit to burn into our conscience and lives all that is of himself. It's relatively easy for us to sing the magnificent words that we've used in the precursor to our study of the Bible; it's another thing to actually live them out when we're on our own in the factory, driving the truck, working in the bank, loading the laundry, making the lunches. Show us, Lord Jesus Christ, what a privilege it is to know you, to love you, to be devoted to you. Fulfill your purposes in our lives and in this place, we pray for Christ's sake, amen.