A Sacrifice of Extravagant Love
A Sacrifice of Extravagant Love
A Sacrifice of Extravagant Love
Main Idea: True followers of Jesus will not hesitate to worship Him with great love and great sacrifice.
- Extravagant Acts of Love Will Be Public (14:1-3).
- Extravagant Acts of Love Will Often Be Criticized (14:4-5).
- Extravagant Acts of Love Will Be Remembered (14:6-9).
- Extravagant Acts of Love Will Be Contrasted with Acts of Betrayal (14:10-11).
320Have you in your life as a follower of King Jesus ever made a sacrifice of extravagant love? Can you recall a time when you did something that really cost you? A time when you actually went without something you really wanted because of a sacrifice of extravagant love for Jesus? I believe I did. Once. Yes, to my shame, only once.
Sadly, we are good at giving Jesus our leftovers and hand-me-downs. I served a church once whose student building was filled with old, worn, ratty couches. Sweet folks in our church had bought new couches for their homes and so they donated their old, worn couches to the church and in the process got a tax break and felt good that they had done something noble. But had they really? I must confess one of the couches in the youth center had been given by me. It was no longer worthy of being in my house, but it was good enough for Jesus.
In Mark 14:1-11 we see something altogether different: a sacrifice of extravagant love by a woman Mark allows to remain anonymous. And we also see two lives that could not stand in greater contrast when it comes to devotion to our Lord: an unnamed woman who gave her best and a man named Judas who betrayed the Son of God. Of the woman Jesus said, “Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her” (v. 9). Of the man our Lord said, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (v. 21).
Extravagant Acts of Love Will Be Public
The backdrop of this story is the Jewish feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem. It was a time of thanksgiving for God’s miraculous deliverance of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage (Exod 12). This Jewish “Independence Day” included the slaughter of the Passover lamb, whose blood on the doorpost 1, 400 years earlier had caused the “death angel” to pass over each home where he saw it, sparing the life of the firstborn in that family.
In the shadows of secrecy, the Sanhedrin (“the chief priest and the scribes”) were seeking to arrest Jesus and kill Him. Mark says they hoped to arrest Him in “a treacherous way” but not until after the feast. Jesus was popular with the people so they would wait until the crowds had gone. However, things would proceed on God’s timetable, and Christ the Passover Lamb would be sacrificed for us right on time (1 Cor 5:7).
321The scene shifts to Bethany, to Simon’s home. Jesus apparently had healed him of leprosy (Matt 26:6). John 12:1 tells us the event happened “six days before the Passover,” so Mark’s account is a flashback. The lady here was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the latter of whom Jesus had raised from the dead (John 12:2). Simon may have been their father.
As Jesus was “reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of pure and expensive fragrant oil of nard. She broke the jar and poured it on His head” (Mark 14:3). Nard was a sweet-smelling perfume from a rare plant found only in India. Mary broke the flask, making it no longer usable, and poured its full contents out on Jesus, both His head and His feet; then she wiped His feet with her hair (John 12:3). Each time we see Mary, she is at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:39; John 11:32; 12:3). A woman normally would not approach a man in this public-meal setting except to serve him food. Mary cared not one whit for cultural conventions. Jesus was her Lord and Master. She deeply loved Him and would have done anything for Him. She wanted everyone to know the inestimable value she placed on Jesus. So she went public! No one could deny or doubt where her loyalty lay. Can the same be said for you and me?
Extravagant Acts of Love Will Often Be Criticized
The critics would have no part in praising what this woman had done. Some began to talk among themselves, and they were indignant. Led by Judas (John 12:4ff) and in self-righteous pride, they questioned both her motive and her action. While she worshiped, they expressed their anger and displeasure, snorting at her.
Observe: (1) The disciples not only demeaned the woman; they also demeaned Jesus. To honor Christ in this manner, they said, was a waste. They did not believe He was worthy of such a sacrifice of extravagant love. (2) Some are willing to be poor in their possessions in order to be rich in their devotion to Jesus; others are not. The latter are usually the critics. (3) The world, and sadly many in the church, will never have a problem with moderate, measured devotion to Christ. They will have little or no problem with too many possessions and a pursuit of a comfortable and convenient Christianity. But walk away from a “real career,” and you will be marked as foolish, living a “wasted life.” Walk away from Mom and Dad to serve the Lord in an inner city in America among the poor and hurting, and you will be deemed silly and impractical. Walk away from family and friends to head out to the mission field among an unreached people group (7, 055322 as of May 5, 2012), taking your small children with you, and you will be chided as reckless, radical, even imbalanced and in need of serious counseling (and maybe even drugs!).
Yes, you may be criticized here, but in heaven you have a Master who applauds your love for Him! Paul puts it all in perspective in Galatians 1:10: “For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” George Whitefield, the evangelist of the First Great Awakening, said, “Oh for a thousand lives to be spent in service for Christ!” However, we only get one!
Extravagant Acts of Love Will Be Remembered
Acts 7:54-60 records the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Stephen sees the Lord Jesus “standing at the right hand of God.” Our Savior stands to receive His faithful martyred servant into glory. Here in Mark 14:6-9 we see our Lord in effect standing up for another faithful servant, a woman who has showered Him with a sacrifice of extravagant love only to be ridiculed by those who should have known better.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus commands them (v. 6). Don’t harass her or give her a hard time. She has done something wonderful and singularly important to Jesus.
Some readers misread verse 7, supposing Jesus to be insensitive toward the poor. We should do good for the poor. Jesus believed and taught that. The issue here is between “always” and “not always.” The poor are always there, but Jesus would not be. The opportunity to show Him this kind of personal love and affection would soon be gone. Further, Jesus is God, and the first of the great commands always trumps the second (Mark 12:30-31). Jesus indeed asserts His preeminence above all others (cf. Col 1:18). This might help: Put these words in the mouth of any other human person, and they sound scandalous, self-centered, even narcissistic. Put them in the mouth of the Son of God who “for your sake ... became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9), and they make all the sense in the world. Care for the poor, but worship the Savior!
Jesus makes three striking observations about Mary. (1) “She has done what she could.” She held nothing back! (2) Her act of extravagant love had prophetic and symbolic significance: “She has anointed My body in advance for burial.” Did she fully understand what was about to happen? Probably not. Did she have greater insight into our Lord’s coming passion than the323 12 apostles? Of this I have little doubt. (3) Jesus makes a promise that her sacrifice of extravagant love will never be forgotten as the gospel advances throughout “the whole world.” The fact I am sharing this story now is a validation of what Jesus promised.
Extravagant Acts of Love Will Be Contrasted with Acts of Betrayal
Some people find Jesus useful because of what they think they can get from Him. Others find Jesus beautiful because they get Him. This woman found Jesus beautiful and gave all she had to Him. In contrast, Judas found Jesus useful and sought to get all he could in exchange for Him. Judas was “one of the Twelve” (14:10). He was so close to Jesus, yet he missed Him.
Amazingly, Judas takes the initiative in going “to the chief priest to hand [Jesus] over to them” (v. 10). Luke (22:3) and John (13:2, 27) inform us that Satan moved him to betray the Lord. Still, he made a freewill choice to do so.
Verse 11 is simple and tragic all at once. The leaders of the Sanhedrin were glad to hear this and promised Judas money: 30 pieces of silver (Matt 26:15; cf. Zech 11:12-13), “the value of a slave accidentally gored to death by an ox (Exod 21:32). That Jesus is lightly esteemed is reflected not only in his betrayal but in the low sum agreed on by Judas and the chief priest” (Carson, “Matthew,” 593). Judas then “started looking for a good opportunity to betray Him.” It would come much sooner than he expected but with results he would find deathly disappointing.
What a contrast we see in Mary and Judas:
A woman with no real standing
A man, one of the apostles
Gave what she could to Jesus
Took what he could get for Jesus
Blessed her Lord
Betrayed his Lord
Loved her Lord
Used his Lord
Did a beautiful thing
Did a terrible thing
Served Him as her Savior
Sold Him like He was his slave
Notable forever for her devotion
Notorious forever for his betrayal
324Oh, how I want to be like Mary. But oh, how often Judas so readily appears in the mirror. Only the gospel of my Savior can heal my sin-sick soul.
If Mary, the unnamed woman of Mark 14, were alive today, and we were to interview her and ask her, “What is your favorite Christian hymn?” I strongly suspect she would say, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” It was written in 1707 by Isaac Watts. Charles Wesley reportedly said he would give up all his other hymns to have written this one. We know he wrote at least six thousand! I agree: it is that good! Stanzas 1 and 4 are especially meaningful to me.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most—
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Reflect and Discuss
- What was the costliest offering you have ever made to Jesus?
- What is the value of celebrating feasts and festivals? What are the most important celebrations for Christians?
- What is the value of honoring Jesus in public? How do we avoid doing so with wrong motives?
- Mary did not care about social taboos or personal embarrassment when she worshiped Jesus. How can we follow her example today?
- Mary’s critics said that the value of her gift exceeded the limit of what should be spent on Jesus. How are we today similar to those critics?
- 325How was Mary’s willingness to make a radical, extravagant sacrifice threatening to her critics?
- What is the balance between practical, responsible stewardship and radical, extravagant giving? How do we avoid using the former as an excuse to escape the latter?
- Did Jesus dismiss His followers from taking care of the poor? What is the biblical evidence for your answer?
- In Luke 14:27-28 Jesus says a person should “calculate the cost” of becoming a disciple. Here we learn that true love never calculates the cost. How do these two lessons fit together?
- In what ways do some people today look for what they can get for Jesus? How do people try to profit from going to church?