Preparing for His Death
November 17, 2019
Prayer for Illumination:
Send your Spirit among us, O God, as we meditate on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Prepare our minds to hear your Word. Move our hearts to accept what we hear. Purify our will to obey in joy and faith. This we pray through Christ, our Savior. Amen.
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, 2 for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.”
3 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. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 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. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him. 
The grass withers and the flower fades but the Word of our God stands forever. Amen.
We spend a lot of time preparing for other things. Middle school is preparation for high school. High school is preparation for college. College is preparation for work. If you play a sport, you practice Monday through Thursday in preparation for the game Friday night. I can remember playing soccer growing up and spending a lot of time preparing for our game. We would prepare our set plays, our free kicks and corner kicks. We’d prepare by working out kinks with our offense and defense. We spend a lot of time preparing for other things.
This passage is all about preparation. The Sanhedrin is preparing to kill Jesus. They have reached their boiling point. They have been upset with Jesus for a long time. We were told all the way back in chapter 3 that they were begging to plan getting rid of Jesus. They have finally decided to prepare for his death. But they know they can’t do it publicly. So they begin to prepare for Jesus’ death. We’re told the woman prepares Jesus for his death by anointing him. And Judas Iscariot prepares for Jesus’ death by betraying him to the Sanhedrin. This passage is all about preparing for Jesus’ death.
As we examine this passage under three headings: Jesus and the outsider; Jesus and devotion; and Jesus the High Priest.
Jesus and the Outsider
While the chief priests and scribes are plotting and planning Jesus’ death, Jesus is doing what he loves to do. He is sharing a meal with people. He is in Bethany eating and drinking with outsiders. There is a theme throughout Mark’s Gospel of Jesus spending his time with those society does not approve of. Those who respond to Jesus and his message are outsiders. Pay attention to those who follow him. The Pharisees and the Sadducees are the religious insiders. They are the ones who control the religious life. And yet they are the ones who don’t follow Jesus. They are the ones who have been against him since the beginning of his ministry. They are the ones currently plotting and planning his death.
The ones who are following Jesus are religious and social outsiders. One of Jesus’ first disciples and one of his twelve was Levi, the tax collector. We’re told of his call in Mark 2:13-17. Tax collectors were considered traitors because they worked for the Roman government. They were some of the most hated people. They were social outsiders. And yet, Levi has accepted the call to follow Jesus.
In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus commands that the little children be brought to him. We often miss how radical that is. We love children. We dote on children. In that culture, children were considered nuisances. They were outsiders with no social value. And yet Jesus commands that the little ones be brought to him.
Not long before he entered Jerusalem, the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled against him because he was eating with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 15:1-2). The ones who follow Jesus are outsiders; social and religious outsiders.
So it isn’t uncommon for Jesus to be eating and spending time with outsiders. And here he that is exactly what he is doing. He is eating and drinking with outsiders. His host, Simon, was a former leper. We’re not told he was a former leper but it seems almost certain. He was close to Jesus and it seems unlikely that Jesus would not heal him from his leprosy.
Lepers were by their very nature the definition of an outsider. Leviticus 13 deals with the laws regarding leprosy. In verses 45 and 46, we’re told that lepers were required to wear worn-out garments, that they were required to live outside and away from the community, and that they need to shout “unclean” whenever someone came near. Even if Simon was cleansed, the community would still know that at one point in time he was a leper. They would still regard him as an outsider.
As they’re eating, another outsider joins. This time it’s a woman. In that culture women were outsiders. They didn’t have any social regard. They couldn’t testify in court. They were considered less-than men. At feasts, women weren’t allowed to dine with the men. It was only permissible for them to be in the same room if they were serving the men. They are outsiders.
And yet Jesus accepts them. Early on in his ministry, Jesus was traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee. And instead of taking the normal route which avoided Samaria but was much longer, Jesus went through Samaria. And as they are traveling through Samaria, Jesus gets tired. They have been traveling a long distance quickly. So they stop at Jacob’s Well near a town in Samaria. Jesus rests at the well while the disciples go into the down to get some provisions.
As he is waiting for the disciples a woman comes to the well; and not just any woman a Samaritan woman with a reputation for getting around. And yet he speaks to her which shocks her. He speaks to her and shares the good news with her an outsider.
Later in his ministry, Jesus is again in Bethany. He is in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus teaching the people. There he is calling the people to repent and teaching them the good news. Martha is doing what culture said women should do, she is in the kitchen preparing for the guests. But Mary is doing something very counter-cultural; she is sitting at Jesus’ feet being taught. Women weren’t taught like the men. They weren’t expected or normally even allowed to sit at the seat of a rabbi. And here Jesus doesn’t just accept it, he commends it. There is a theme of Jesus accepting and eating with outsiders.
We should be like Jesus in that. We should be like Jesus in accepting and eating with outsiders. So often the Church is viewed as not for outsiders. The Church is often viewed as for insiders and insiders only.
Earlier this year one of the movies we watched at Movie Night was To Save a Life. If you don’t remember, the movie is about a high school senior who comes to faith after a former friend commits suicide in the school. His friend’s suicide deeply affects him. He begins to ask questions about God and slowly comes to faith.
Not long after coming to faith, he brings his girlfriend to worship. During the service, she notices that a lot of the other kids are staring at her and gawking. She’s known in the school for being a party girl and having slept around. After enduring their stares and gawks for a few minutes, she runs out of the sanctuary feeling unwelcomed because she is an outsider.
So often that is the case. People often view the Church as for insiders and before they can come they need to clean themselves up. They think that Christianity is an insider-religion and to be in they need to be clean when they come.
And often times we make that a reality. So often we see someone who doesn’t fit our image of what it means to be a Christian, an outsider, and we exclude them. Someone comes in wearing holey clothes and we exclude them. Someone walks in who has a bad reputation and we ignore them. We treat them as outsiders because they don’t fit our image of who is acceptable to come to Christ.
And yet Jesus, our Lord, eats with and accepts outsiders. As those who are in him, we should eat with and accept outsiders. The Church is a hospital for sinners not a museum for saints. The Church is the place where sin-sick people are made well. This is the place where the medicine of the gospel is given to those sick with sin. This is the place where outsiders are made insiders.
As those who follow Jesus, we should eat with and accept outsiders. Each of us were at one point outside of the Heavenly community. By nature of our sin and rebellion, we were outsiders to God. And yet Jesus came to us. He made us insiders by bringing us to faith in him. As those who know what it is like to be former outsiders, let us welcome outsiders in. Let us welcome in those whom society considers to be outsiders. Let us welcome in the homeless, the addict. Let us welcome in those who don’t share our culture or our politics. Let us welcome in those who like their iced tea sweetened.
Jesus and Devotion
As Jesus is eating with these outsiders, this woman shows her devotion to him.
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.
This woman, she has come quite deliberately to this meal. She has come because she has a purpose. Her purpose is to show her devotion to Jesus by anointing him. She takes an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard and pours it on him.
This is costly stuff. The disciples say that it could have been sold for three hundred denarii. That’s roughly a year’s wages. This ointment was made from nard, or muskroot. It comes from India and the average person couldn’t afford this. Usually if someone could, this would be a family heirloom or planned to be used upon their death. Ancient Israel didn’t embalm their death. They would apply ointments, spices, and aloes to cover up the smell. It’s possible the woman was planning on using this upon her death.
Instead of using on her death, she pours out the entire contents of the ointment on Jesus. The alabaster jar probably held 16-18 ounces. She didn’t just anoint him. She drenches him in nard ointment. The entire room would smell of nard. She is totally devoted to Jesus. Devoted enough to give him the most expensive and precious item she owns.
The disciples see this act. And they grumble. They say, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” It’s possible they are remembering what Jesus taught earlier in the day. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus speaks of caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the sick. He commends caring for the less fortunate. And it’s possible that the disciples were remembering that teaching. Or maybe they were thinking back to the tradition that during Passover they were to give their second offering to the poor. In any case, they grumble against her and speak harshly to her.
Jesus responds to their attack on the woman by saying to them “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 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.” Jesus accepts her act of devotion. He accepts it just as he accepted the poor woman’s gift of two copper coins.
Jesus accepts our acts of devotion whether they are costly or cheap when they come from a pure heart. “In Jesus’ sight an act has value according to its motive and intent, and that—not its material value—is what makes it serviceable in the kingdom of God.”
Our acts of devotion are acceptable to Jesus when they come from a heart that desires to glorify and honor him. In Genesis 4, God doesn’t accept Cain’s sacrifice. The reason God doesn’t accept it is because it doesn’t come from a heart that desires to glorify and honor him. He didn’t bring it because he loved God and wanted to give what he had. Cain in bringing “an offering of the fruit of the ground” sought to justify himself. The same is true for why God didn’t accept the sacrifices when Israel was really worshipping the Baals and the Ashtorahs.
If we bring gifts to God seeking to justify ourselves and not to glorify and honor God, then those gifts aren’t acceptable. They are noxious smell in the Lord’s nostrils. God doesn’t accept acts of devotion if they don’t truly come from a heart that is devoted to God.
But if we bring what we can to God out of a desire to glorify and honor him, then he accepts. It doesn’t matter how large or small the gift is. It doesn’t matter how fancy or crude. It doesn’t matter how others view the gift. If we give a gift to God out of devotion to glorify and honor him, then God accepts it just as he accepted this woman’s gift. Those acts and gifts show that we are truly devoted to God and are willing to give what we have because we love him. That is why we give tithes and offerings. That is why we volunteer our time and energy to build his church. We do those things because we are devoted to God.
Jesus the High Priest
Jesus accepts this woman’s devotion. He accepts it and says something rather odd. He says “she has anointed my body beforehand for burial”. Why would he say this? Jesus is saying that this woman is anointing him for his priestly work.
In the Old Testament, God commanded that the high priest be anointed. In Exodus 30, God says to Moses, “Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250, and 250 of aromatic cane, and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blending as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil… You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priest” (Ex. 30:22-25, 30). Before the priest could serve God and do his work, he needed to be anointed.
The work of the high priest was to offer sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people. Every day they would make sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people. Then on Passover, they would prepare themselves to offer the sacrifice that was meant to remind everyone that all were in need of something to die in their place to be saved by God. This was their work.
This woman is anointing Jesus for his priestly work. Jesus is the high priest that all other high priest pointed to. He offers a sacrifice greater than all of the other sacrifices combined. His sacrifice is so great that there is no need for any other sacrifice to be made to atone for the sins of those who believe. That’s exactly what the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says. He writes, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). His sacrifice was so perfect that no other sacrifice could add anything to it.
What was the sacrifice that Jesus offered that was so great? The sacrifice that Jesus the high priest made that ends all sacrifices is himself. Jesus offers himself as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. In two days from this meal, Jesus will be beaten and crucified.
The Sanhedrin thinks that they have found an answer to their problem with Jesus. They make a deal with Judas to betray him and hand him over in secret. After that, they set up a kangaroo court to exonerate themselves. Then they hand him over to the Roman government who beat him, mock him, and crucify him.
On the cross, Jesus the high priest offered himself as a sacrifice. He was the sacrifice that all other sacrifices pointed to. Jesus he died in the place of each and every person who believes past, present, and future. His death effectually atones for the sins of all believers.
Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.
This woman anointed Jesus for his priestly work where he dies to atone for the sins of his Church.
This is how Jesus makes outsiders insiders. Jesus’ sacrificial death is what allows for sinners to be brought into the heavenly community. His death makes it so that we can go from outsiders to insiders. His death is what accomplishes our redemption. It is what effectually adopts us into the family of God. That is how we go from outsiders to insiders.
When we understand Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, we will devote our hearts to God; we’ll devote ourselves completely to God. It won’t be an issue for us to give something that is precious to us, like something that we were planning on using later or even something that is dear to us, or even something that others might not consider significant. Understanding the cross and letting that transform our hearts is what causes us to be completely devoted to God.
This passage begins with preparations for Jesus’ death. The Sanhedrin begins plotting and planning how they will kill him. The bulk of this passage is the woman preparing Jesus for his priestly work. This passage ends with Judas preparing for Jesus’ death. This passage is all about preparations for Jesus’ death.
In a few weeks we’ll enter the season of Advent. Advent is the time of year that we remember Jesus’ first coming. We remember that he took on human flesh. We remember that God became man. Advent prepares us for Jesus’ birth. But Jesus was born so that he might die. Take Advent as a time not just to prepare for Jesus’ birth but also for his sacrificial death that redeems all who believe.
 “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us”, Stuart Townend 1995.