The Fragrance of Christ
Text: Mark 14: 1-10
Proposition: The fragrance of Christ comes from the hands of those He has blessed as they pour it out upon Him in the shadow of His cross.
Introduction: Contrasts can be a good thing, we have things like sweet and sour ribs, we have bitter sweet experiences, we like things in black and white. Contrasts are even an essential part of communication, they not only show two sides of an idea they also can amplify the qualities of the better and best. Think for a moment about John F. Kennedy’s memorable quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” The contrast is what makes the communication so powerful. Another example from JFK would be, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.” Contrast is what makes this effective communication and we shouldn’t be surprised to find that contrast is one of the very effective tools used in Scripture. The architect of contrast is God. It was He who made land and water, light and dark and man and woman! In the words of Scripture you will find contrast, in the Proverbs you see the contrasts of the wise and the foolish, of the humble and the proud, of man and the Lord. Contrast also shows up in accounts like the Prodigal Son, where the two sons are contrasted, the man who built his house upon the rock instead of the one who built it upon the sand. Sometimes the contrasts are very obvious and the lesson is sharp and penetrating. In other cases the contrasts are more subtle but their lesson is just as significant. We are going to look at that kind of a contrast this morning, perhaps a contrast that had never caught your eye before but nonetheless is designed within the pages of Scripture by the Chief Architect of contrast to communicate to us what it means to stand in the shadow of the cross and be moved by the fragrance of Christ. Please turn with me to Mark 14:1-10.
I. The Contrast Between Judas and Mary – Unexpected But Stark! It is from the parallel account in John 12:1-8 that we learn this woman is really Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. She along with Judas was a disciple of Jesus. They had both seen the miracles, heard the teaching, listened to the repeated statements of Jesus that He was soon to go to Jerusalem and there He would be taken and be put to death yet on the third day He would rise again (Luke 18:33). They had walked and worked beside Jesus and both of their names would be remembered by people throughout the ages. What both of them did was very unexpected, but this is where the commonalities stop and the contrast begins.
1. Judas loved Money, Mary loved Jesus. We know Judas wanted to be the treasurer so that he could pilfer or steal some of the money for his own use (Jn 12:6). The love of money even became one of the motivations in betraying Jesus, thirty pieces of silver would buy a lot of comfort. The contrast with Mary is that she had learned to handle wealth. She had saved a years wages to purchase the spikenard, a phenomenal sum for that crowd in those days, yet no one knew she had managed this. Her discretion is contrasted with Judas’ avarice, her patience with his greed. Mary loved Jesus and used wealth. Judas, on the other hand, used Jesus and loved wealth. Remember the caution of 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
2. Mary was Bold, Judas was Sly. There is a place for boldness and God is glorified through it. Do you think that Mary knew the disciples would object to her pouring $30,000 dollars worth of perfume onto Jesus? Do you think that Mary had considered the reaction of Jesus to this? Psalm 138:3 says, “On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.” There is a boldness that God gives us as a strength, a boldness that does not seek our recognition but rather that Jesus is recognized for the truth of all of Who He is. In fact the exercise of such boldness carries the definite possibility that people will criticize you sharply, yet still God is glorified through such. This boldness of Mary is a contrast to the sly actions of Judas. To be sly implies a deceptive mind, a low profile relationship with God, a person more motivated by fear than courage.
3. Where Judas was Calculating, Mary was Extravagant. I know the tendency is to measure this one in terms of cash or wealth, but the extravagance of Mary is really in her worship. She could have privately come up to Jesus and given Him the perfume, she could even have discretely come to Jesus and anointed Him. Instead she comes in the presence of all while they are at table and here she not only pours the spikenard upon His head she wipes His feet with her hair! In the presence of all! The explosion of fragrance was only exceeded by the purity of such worship. In sharp contrast to this are the calculated responses of Judas. His criticism of Mary begins from this place and his betrayal of Jesus becomes a matter of convenience. What is it that made Judas so calculating? Was it a need to be sure that things are really going to work out so don’t take chances? How much can you trust Jesus when you see the road ahead leads to Jerusalem and the end of this movement? Somebody needs to do something if the Romans are really going to be overthrown. I suppose that to be calculating means to have a different end in mind than what Jesus has in mind. It means that my ultimate resource is me and God can only get an ‘assist’ if we score. If worship is meant to be a way of life and not just a church service, then Mary’s extravagance contrasts this by saying that Jesus you are the one who scores, you are the puck that scores, you are the goal itself, you’re even the whole game! Jesus you are all, You are my all in all! That’s extravagant.
II. The Purpose of this Contrast Is to Communicate the Will of Jesus. Clearly the purpose of this account is not to glorify Mary, so what did Jesus have in mind when He says, “Assuredly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will be told as a memorial to her.” What is it we are to memorialize or remember through Mary? I think the answer is that the will of God was sensed, acted on, planned for and displayed through her. There’s a lot we could say about how this came to be but let’s just take the pure phrases of Jesus and see what He is pointing out:
1. She has done a good work for Me. This refers not just to the work of saving a years wages and buying the spikenard. It refers not just to the extravagant and public way she honored Jesus in pouring it all out and using her glory as a towel for His feet. It refers to the greater work of declaring the truth about Who Jesus is. He is God Almighty and nothing compares to Him! This is the good work Mary has done.
2. …but Me you do not always have. The distinction between social actions in caring for the poor and the actions of worship in caring for Jesus are what are in view. The former is a responsibility, the latter is an accountability. It was a very unique time in the history of man when Jesus was there with the disciples before the events of the cross and the resurrection. Soon Jesus would accomplish redemption, man’s sin would be atoned and paid for, a new way would be opened up for man to relate to God through faith in the risen Christ. We now live in yet another unique time in the history of man where we walk by faith knowing that Jesus is coming again. We are accountable to know the times, the unique times in which we live and are to relate to God in the way in which He has prescribed for this unique time. This is the will of God communicated through the actions of Mary, adore Jesus and in this unique time, approach and worship Him now.
3. She has done what she could. This almost sounds like a minimal statement, like , “She couldn’t do very much BUT she has done what she could.” Instead I think that it sets the bar to a great height, it is a call to do all that is within your will, your imagination, your self discipline, your resources, your field of influence… to do all that you are able to do that proclaims your love for God. The Shema of Deut. 6 was an anthem of life for the Hebrews and its’ essence is our anthem as well, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” Love God with all the fiber of your being. It’s why Jesus came, His love for us in dying on the cross is meant to draw our response of faith and love to Him.
4. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. The point here is held in the word, “beforehand”. Before the actual event occurred, in response to what she has heard, in response to faith, she moves extravagantly towards Jesus. There is much you now know ‘beforehand’ about heaven and hell, about the second coming of Jesus, about the days of tribulation and the days of the coming kingdom of God. What we do now before we actually see it is what God calls living by faith and it greatly glorifies Him because it says that God is to be trusted, what He says is, who He is calls us to say that he is worthy of all our worship.