Continuing with a study of passages from Mark’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, we come to another set of verses from Jesus’s last few days before His Crucifixion.
Judas to Betray Jesus
10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.
These two verses about Judas are a cautionary tale for us about the dangers of sin.
Our parents, Sunday School teachers or nuns warned us that small sins lead to greater sins. And so it is with Judas, the worst person in the Bible. Why? Because he betrayed our Lord for money. Judas spent three years — day and night — with Jesus and yet turned Him in to the Jewish leaders in exchange for a few weeks’ worth of income.
Being placed in charge of the money for Jesus and the Apostles’ ministry led to betrayal. Matthew Henry warned in his commentary (emphases mine):
Covetousness was Judas’s master-lust, his own iniquity, and that betrayed him to the sin of betraying his Master; the devil suited his temptation to that, and so conquered him. It is not said, They promised him preferment (he was not ambitious of that), but, they promised him money. See what need we have to double our guard against the sin that most easily besets us. Perhaps it was Judas’s covetousness that brought him at first to follow Christ, having a promise that he should be cash-keeper, or purser, to the society, and he loved in his heart to be fingering money; and now that there was money to be got on the other side, he was as ready to betray him as ever he had been to follow him. Note, Where the principle of men’s profession of religion is carnal and worldly, and the serving of a secular interest, the very same principle, whenever the wind turns, will be the bitter root of a vile and scandalous apostasy.
This sinful yearning is also present among some of our clergy who will do everything to please the world in order to earn money — and fame: warped preaching, books, lecture circuits and worldwide ministries leading the unaware away from the truth of the Cross and Resurrection. Some of these pastors fall away from the Church altogether only to embrace agnosticism or atheism.
Henry encapsulated why it is so important for us, from our childhood onward, to avoid the near occasion of sin:
See how the way of sin is down-hill — when men are in, they must be on; and what wicked contrivances many have in their sinful pursuits, to compass their designs conveniently; but such conveniences will prove mischiefs in the end.
To show you how materialistic Judas was, let’s look at the story immediately preceding the two verses above.
Before we look at those verses, however, John MacArthur explains that Mark 14:3-11 is a flashback to the preceding Saturday when Jesus raised His good friend Lazarus — Mary and Martha’s brother — from the dead. It is interesting that Matthew also uses this same ordering of events whereas John takes a chronological approach.
The passage of Mark 14:3-9 relates the story of Lazarus’s sister Mary anointing Jesus’s head and feet with nard, or spikenard (as the King James Version calls it) — the purest and most fragrant natural perfume ingredient:
Jesus Anointed at Bethany
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. 4There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7For 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. 9And 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.”
Here is Matthew’s account (Matthew 26:6-13):
Jesus Anointed at Bethany
6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
What follows is John 12:1-8. John’s Gospel tells us that the woman is Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus:
Mary Anoints Jesus at Bethany
1Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
Luke, however, related another anointing story in similar circumstances but involving a sinful woman and at an earlier time in Jesus’s ministry. Luke 7:36-50 describes a different woman. She is not Mary of Martha and Lazarus’s family.
Now to the accounts from Mark, Matthew and John. All describe the disgust, if not anger, of Judas — and, in Mark and Matthew, the disciples.
My left-leaning readers might object, but this is what I wrote about Judas when looking at John 12:
Judas takes offence, saying the costly balm could have been cashed in and the money given to the poor. Judas would have made an excellent Socialist. Always a materialist, note that his job is to mind the money bag, which seems to have instilled in him a love of money, which as we know from Scripture is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10, Proverbs 15:27, Matthew 6:19). It is unlikely that he would have given the money to the poor, but most probably hoarded some for himself. Judas, the great materialist of the New Testament.
However, there is a larger issue — that Judas takes offence at Mary’s anointing of our Redeemer’s feet. Why should he begrudge Jesus such a humble yet beautiful act?
John 12:6 tells us Judas criticised Mary:
not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
Back to Mark 14:10-11, however. John MacArthur says that it was then amidst the joyful commotion after Lazarus’s resurrection — with the increased belief in Bethany that Jesus was indeed the Messiah — that heartless Judas decided to act. MacArthur says that it would have taken him time from that Saturday night to what we consider Maundy Thursday to effect the betrayal.
MacArthur sheds light on other aspects of this initial part of Mark 14:
- The identity of Simon and more about the dinner:
This occurs, we are told, in verse 3 at the home of Simon the leper. He would be a former leper or he wouldn’t be having a dinner party. You do understand that. Lepers were outcasts, right? They were outcasts. They didn’t interact with people at all. They were societal rejects, they were put out of society in every way and people kept as far from them as possible, fearing the contagion of such a disease. Likely then, this is a man who has been healed by Jesus and that was something Jesus did all over the land of Israel during His ministry. It is not a stretch to assume that this man named Simon who had been healed by Jesus, planned this meal knowing that Jesus was coming to Bethany to be with His friends and to be there for the Passover to say thanks. It would have been him, Mrs. Simon, if there was such a woman, and all the little Simons. There would have been the Twelve and it would have been Mary, Martha and Lazarus, so anywhere from 15 up, not including his family of 15 and other friends and his family would swell the number.
It is a typical meal in that it is an evening meal, reclining is the posture. You lounge, in a sense, in a reclining position. That means you’re going to be there a while, that’s how meals were taken in those days. They were really prolonged conversations…prolonged conversations. This is a normal posture for the prolonged conversational meal. This would be the antithesis of drive-through fast food.
- A possible reason why Mark and Matthew do not say the woman was Mary:
Matthew and Mark were written very early in the life of the church. Mark may be very early. Matthew may be the earliest. But they’re written very early in the 50’s and 60’s. John’s gospel isn’t written until the 90’s. And maybe Matthew and Mark were just being sensitive not to mention the names to protect the family. John would have no need of protecting the family. They, very likely, were not an issue, maybe even gone 30, 40 years later. But John does give us the name and that’s very, very helpful.
- The hygienic and aesthetic importance of cleanliness at meals:
It was a common custom at a meal to wash feet. If you were in a reclining position, that would be of great benefit because as you recline your feet necessarily appear in some way. And so, anointing feet, washing feet, we see that, didn’t we, in John 13 where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. So this was a normal thing, even putting perfume on feet was somewhat of a tradition or custom. It was a courtesy.
- More about nard and its scent:
Matthew says, “A very precious perfume.” This marble bottle typically would have a long neck…a long neck and perhaps some kind of small plug from which small drops of this perfume could be poured out, sprinkled. This kind of bottle would contain this perfume and the perfume might last a long time. It is said here that the value of it was three hundred denarii. That’s a year’s wages. Can you imagine spending a year’s salary on a bottle of perfume? First of all, you say, “Who would do that?” People would do that who needed to do that because even though it cost that much, it could be stretched out and used a very long period of time because a small drop would satisfy the social need. But she has an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard. Nard is a plant from India. Pure nard means its undiluted … But the perfume is the undiluted, pure form.
By the way … nard from India is still used for perfume. She does something that never would be done. She doesn’t drop a drop out, she breaks the neck of this vial and it says poured it over His head. And John adds, “Then anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.” She has dumped a year’s value of perfume on His head and on His feet. And John adds, this would be obvious, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” You can understand that. You spray a little on you and you can smell it through the house. This dousing of a year’s worth of perfume all over Jesus would have dominated the environment. This is lavish love. This is profound, sacrificial affection.
Although we cannot say for certain, it seems as if Mary was so moved by Jesus — the time He spent with her and her siblings, His raising of Lazarus from the dead — that her affection for Him culminated in what could well have been a spontaneous act of love. Mary treasured Jesus.
However, the hand of Providence could also have directed her. Whilst Jesus’s friends did not grasp that her anointing of Jesus was a precursor to His burial a few days later, He, and possibly Mary, understood it as such. Jesus made it known to those in Simon’s household.
Now for another brief note from MacArthur about Passover in Jesus’s day:
There actually were two different evenings when the Passover was celebrated. I’ll just leave it at this. The northern people in Galilee celebrated it on Thursday evening while the Judeans, the Sadducees and the people in the south celebrated it on Friday evening. This is perfect, so that Jesus could celebrate the Passover with His friends in Galilee when they celebrated it on Thursday and still die as the Passover lamb on Friday at the time when the southern Judeans were slaughtering their lambs for their Passover. So there are actually two times; on Thursday for those in the north, and on Friday for those in the south. And that’s an important reckoning because there are texts in John’s gospel, in particular, that make it necessary to understand that.
In closing, MacArthur puts Jesus’s words in opposition to our present-day love of the social gospel. This is important to read and digest, because the social gospel is a false one and Jesus’s words are often misused:
Adoring worship of Christ is the ultimate priority. Did you get that? Giving to the poor has a place. Deuteronomy 15:11 says, “Give to the poor.” You always have the poor of the land and make sure you care for the poor and give to the poor. That’s a priority. But the ultimate priority is to worship Christ, isn’t it? The ultimate priority is to worship Christ. Care for the poor is important, worship of the Lord is more important. And Jesus wasn’t going to be there very long.
We should give for needs. We should minister to the poor. But far more, we should worship our Lord sacrificially. You give to the poor doesn’t really have a lasting value. But when you worship the Lord, that has an eternal impact. She had her priorities right. Poor people will always be around, Jesus said, but I will not always be around.
Charity is good. Charity is necessary. Worship is always better. And true worship will lead to charity.
Next time: Mark 14:12-21