A Study of Mark 14:3-9
And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.
And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made?
For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her.
And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me.
For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.
She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.
Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.
Do you love Jesus Christ as your Savior, and as the Lord of your life?
Consider my question carefully.
Do you love the person Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?
I did not ask you, Do you love His Word, His truth, His church, His people?
Yes, all of these things are important, for in His Word He reveals Himself. In the truth He teaches us. In the church He lives. And His people are His dear and only treasure. Yet it is possible to display what passes for an ardent love for His Word, truth, church, and people and yet be a stranger to the heart of it all: personal love for Jesus. To be at best shy, uneasy with the question, and at worst to have to say in all honesty, “I don’t love Him personally. He is only an idea, a name.”
Do you love Him?
In Mark 14 we have a wonderful passage which shows us the claims of love for Jesus Christ. It reveals to us the overwhelming love and profound thankfulness that exists in the hearts of those who are saved in Jesus Christ. We read there of a woman, of Mary, who felt that she owed everything to Jesus. Nothing was too much. There was one thing that stood before her mind and heart: the love and gratitude she owed to Him who had forgiven her sins, opened her eyes, and given her heavenly hope.
Let us look into this passage and pray that the Holy Spirit write it also upon our hearts.
In Mark 14 we read that a supper had been arranged for Jesus in the home of Simon the leper in Bethany. It was near the end of the Lord’s ministry; in fact, it was in the last week of His earthly life. Jesus’ disciples and His personal friends are there: Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead; Martha, who served; and Mary, sister of Martha, and the woman who sat at Jesus’ feet. During the course of that dinner Mary arose unannounced and anointed the head of Jesus with a very costly ointment. It was called spikenard, which was an aromatic perfume or ointment made from a special plant and brought from a very great distance and very costly! It was contained in an alabaster box, or a gypsum box, which was decorated and would be broken to release the contents of the perfume or ointment. It was a very lavish amount. John tells us in chapter 12 that it was a pound, so that it covered Jesus from His head to His feet and filled the entire house with its fragrance.
And it was costly. The value of it was 300 pence, which amounted to the wage of a laboring man for three hundred days, almost an entire year’s salary. In today’s currency, the value was somewhere between twenty and thirty thousand dollars. The disciples said, “Might it not have been sold for more than three hundred pence and have been given to the poor?” Certainly it might. Just a moment’s calculation would have told this woman that three hundred poor people could be fed for a day on the cost of the ointment, that a single person could live for almost a year on its value. Yet she emptied it upon the head of Jesus, and the poor were allowed to remain in want.
The point of the narrative is exactly that she did not calculate. It was the impulse of her heart. She followed it. Her heart was acting. She takes the most precious thing she could find and, out of a simple, uncomplicated love, guided by a renewed heart, she goes at once and breaks it over Jesus.
It was a loving inspiration. She did not sit down to weigh the pros and the cons. She did not take counsel with others. She did not ask, “Well, is there a precedent for this? Is this my duty?” No, there was no quibbling, no questioning. She loved Him. All she saw was Jesus. All the rest of the world was forgotten. There sat her dear Savior and her Lord. And her heart was full of reverence and love for Him.
What place was there then for calculation?
What of the harsh criticisms of the disciples?
There sits in Jesus her hope for time and eternity. In a flash this ointment is taken out, Jesus is anointed, and the room is filled with a wonderful fragrance.
Is there something for us to learn in this?
Jesus thought that there was.
We must learn the claims of love, in our individual lives, for Jesus Christ. There is only one thing that can stand at the heart of the Christian life: love for Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul gives the explanation for his life. There were many who said that Paul was beside himself, mentally unbalanced. Paul says, “If you are looking for the explanation of my life, then this is it: the love of Christ constrains me.” Oh, yes, we must serve Christ in the church, in our home. We must witness and speak. The Scriptures abound with such things. We read, “Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water shall not lose his reward.”
Jesus said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of these little ones, ye have done it unto me.” And James writes that “pure religion and undefiled is to visit the orphans and the widows.”
But do you think that that is all that is necessary?
If you read your Bible with care, you will find that doing all those things is useless unless it comes from the heart. Service in Christ’s name is not a substitute for loving Christ personally. It must always be the expression of love for Christ. That is what we read in 1 Corinthians 13: “Although I would bestow all my gifts to feed the poor and have not love (and love, primarily, for Him), it profits me nothing.”
How much of what we do in the cause of religion fails to have an excellence to it because we do not do it for Christ’s sake. We lose sight of the central fact that He is a living person.
Yes, we serve Him by caring for our children, by visiting the sick, by aiding the poor, by supporting financially the kingdom of God on earth. Yet, all of these things must be done as unto Him. It is Jesus, and love for Him as our Savior and our Lord, which is the heart of it.
And amid all the exercises of our Christianity, all of those exercises being important, do we take time to go into our closet, shut the door, and there, with the world shut out, no longer think of what we have done but of what He has done, and pour out our hearts in abandon unto Him in love and praise?
Does the impulsiveness of that love find its place in our life?
This woman’s heart said, Do it. She obeyed the impulse of a loving heart. How often do we fall into the habit of calculating whether a thing is our duty to do or not. We say, “Should I visit this sick one? Should I send a card? Should I say something to that brother? Isn’t it the elders’ work, not really my duty?” Or we say, “Is there a precedent? What do others do? How much do others give in the collection plate? How much money do they give for this Christian cause? What is the proper, orthodox way? I will do the same.”
Beloved, this woman obeyed the dictates of her heart. She loved Christ and she wanted to express it. So, no, it may not be expected of you to send that card, to visit that lonely one. And, no, it may not be strictly your duty. Yes, the elders are supposed to do that. No, it may not be the amount that is normally given. But does your heart, in love for Christ, give you an impulse: “I should visit that one in sorrow, I should give this for the cause of God’s kingdom?” She obeyed the dictates of her heart. She did it unto Him.
And the Lord commended her for it. The Lord said, “She hath wrought a good work (literally, a beautiful work) upon Me.”
That commendation of Jesus Christ to the woman was given over against the murmuring of the disciples. The disciples’ reaction was not the same as that of Jesus. At first, we can imagine, the disciples sat there with their mouths open. But, soon, they became filled with indignation, we read, within themselves. And they said, “Why was this waste of ointment made?” They were filled with indignation, provoked, put out, irked. John tells us that it was instigated by Judas Iscariot, the treasurer and the thief. We see Judas take out a piece of paper and begin to pencil out the sum and calculate the value – the value of this ointment over against a day’s wages. That was 300 days’ hard work that just went up.
Think of all the poor that could have been helped by that. And the rest of the disciples join in and begin to murmur against her.
Do you hear Peter and Thomas?
Oh, what a waste. Had we known what she was going to do we would have taken that alabaster box away from her!
Look at what we could have done with all that money!
All to go up in a little bit of smell over Jesus.
How many hungry mouths could we not have fed with that money?
What a wasteful thing, extravagant, uncalled for. For shame, Mary!
Do you hear this criticism today?
Let a man or woman do a little more than anyone else, something extraordinary: sell off a fortune and donate it to the cause of Christ; abandon a profitable and comfortable life for the rigors of a mission field; pass up financial advancement to give time to the church of God. And we hear:
Well, isn’t that being fanatical?
What about their family?
What about their children?
We have to eat, we have to watch out for Number 1, don’t we?
We must be thrifty.
We cannot risk too much for the cause of Christ, can we?
But Christ rebukes this in the strongest possible language. “Let her alone. Why trouble ye the woman?” He says, “Peter, get off! Back away, Judas. Don’t gang up on her. Why trouble ye the woman?” The word “trouble” means “blows” or “strikes.” It is the same word we find in Galatians 6:17 where Paul says, “I bear in my body the marks (the blows) of Jesus Christ” – the scars of being beaten. Jesus says, “Why are you beating her up with your words, your condemnations, your criticisms?” Then the Lord rebukes them for their reasoning. He says to them, “For ye have the poor with you always. And whensoever ye will, ye may do them good. But me, ye have not always.”
This is what the Lord is saying: “Disciples, your criticisms of her act are motivated by your love of the poor, you say? You see the value of the ointment. You calculate its cash value and you think, ‘Ah, there is the resource that we have been looking for in order to help the poor. We could have had such a ministry with that money for the poor if it had not been wasted.’ Is that what you are thinking? Well, you listen, My disciples, listen carefully. Charity for the poor does not begin with the resources outside of your own. The poor,” says Jesus, “are always with you. But,” He says, “you can help them whensoever ye will. Ye can do them good. Don’t think you lack the resources to help them. As long as you have more than that poor man, you have the wherewithal to do him good whenever you will. You may do that. He has no dollar, and you have two? You wait until you have a hundred dollars before you are going to help him? He has no place to lay his head, he has no food, and you have a sandwich that can be cut in half?” The Lord is saying, “Away with the mentality that you need more than what you already have before you can begin to minister to the poor.”
“But, you don’t always have Me. You don’t always have the opportunity and the means now to help Me while I am on the earth. You can always help the poor. But I will not always be on the earth. I am going to heaven. Disciples, she has done what she could. She has come aforehand to anoint My body to the burying.”
The interesting thing here is that spikenard, the ointment that the woman used, is also an ointment which is used for embalming, for burial. Dead bodies were anointed with it. Now there are many who say that Jesus means that unwittingly Mary had anointed His body to the burying.
How could she know the full import of what she was doing, they say?
I do not believe that. She did this intentionally, knowing that He was going to die soon. She knew it was now very close. Do not forget that this Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus, was one of the best listeners Jesus ever had. She sat at His feet and heard His word. She was quiet, but she was very perceptive. She did not say much, but she took a whole lot in. And Jesus had been speaking very clearly in the months preceding, after the Mount of Transfiguration. He had said, “The Son of man shall be delivered to the Jews. They shall mock Him and spit upon Him. They shall kill Him. But I will rise again the third day.” At three specific times He had told the disciples that. And Mary senses that the hour has come. That is why He has come to Jerusalem.
You may call it a woman’s intuition if you want. But it was really faith in this woman, a woman who hung on every word that Jesus ever said, and meditated on and perceived the world in the light of His words.
That is the heart of it, you see. The center of this event, as every event, is found at Calvary. Jesus is placing this woman’s act at the beginning of a long list of the deeds of love and gratitude in which Christians throughout the ages have celebrated the cross. Jesus did not go to Jerusalem to bring about a revolution. He did not go there to begin a reformation. He did not go there to seek the betterment of human nature. But He went there to die for our sins. And Mary, in response of love to Christ who redeemed her soul, pours out this gift of love. In response to her Savior, who had come to stand where she could not, and to do what she could never do, Mary pours out this ointment upon her Lord. She forgot calculations, she did not concern herself with cold criticisms. But she pours out an expression of her love and gratitude to Christ.
Jesus says, “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.”
Take those words to heart. This shall be spoken of her and of every true believer: the love of Christ constrains me. Love for Christ claims my heart.
The one thing, the only thing, the necessary thing, the important thing is love for Him!
I love Thee, who has done all for me.
Let this now be the sole thought upon our hearts – the love and the gratitude which we feel constrained to give unto Him who died for us that we might live in Him. This is what the Lord commends in Mary.
Does He commend it in you?
She poured out her love for Him, a love which He first gave to her. And now she was bothered by a question:
How shall my soul give worthy thanks, O God, to Thee?
Are you bothered by that question?
May He then also commend you and me this day, despite our sins and imperfections. May He commend us in this that by His grace we have but one thought upon our souls and hearts: My Savior, I love Thee, and how much I love Thee my actions will show.
By Carl Haak