An audio recording of this sermon is available.
How do you decide what something is worth? When was the last time you decided, “no, that is too expensive”? (Probably every single time you happen to be with kids in the toy aisle at Tesco – I don’t think anyone really needs a stretchy Batman that costs £15!) Our culture is an absolute mess of contradictions when it comes to assigning value to things. Nurses and medical auxiliaries are paid a fraction of what footballers are paid. The same people who turn up at protests following the death of people at the hands of the police in America also add their name to petitions to allow later and easier abortions paid for by the state. We don’t seem to have any consistency about value, cost and worth.
And then occasionally, something will happen that brings great clarity – I reckon that every parent or grandparent here would happily clear out their bank accounts and re-mortgage their houses if their child fell grievously ill and the only treatment available cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. Why? Because of love.
In Mark 14 there is a massive contrast when it comes to how much people think Jesus is worth. And sadly, the hostile Jewish leaders, the disciples in general, and Judas Iscariot in particular, all end up on the wrong side of this contrast. Only the woman with her perfume gets it right.
We value highly what we love most. We value highly what we love most and so this passage has a huge challenge for those of us who would already call ourselves Christians. But praise God, because He values highly what He loves most too, and so this passage also contains an incredible encouragement because it shows us the size and depth and scale of the undeserved love that is freely given to God’s people in Jesus Christ. I pray that as we understand and grasp more clearly God’s infinite love for us, that our hearts will respond in kind to Him, that we would value Jesus Christ more highly, that his name would be more precious to us than anything else in the universe.
In verse 1-11 then, the challenge and the question that we must go away with and one that we will explore more in Home Groups this week is this; “What is Jesus worth to you?”
His life was cheap in the eyes of the Chief priests and the Teachers of the Law. V1 “Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.” These men were the Jewish leaders, who made sure that everyone knew how religious and pious they were. And yet they were scheming to find a way to murder him. The Jewish leaders had a good life even under Roman occupation, and at present there were only 2 things that could mess their life up.
Jesus continuing to teach, continuing to gather crowds of followers would permanently threaten their authority and position. But also, any serious trouble amongst the people of the city would leave them in a precarious position with the Roman rulers – their lives didn’t need this type of disturbance.
They couldn’t afford to have Jesus around anymore, speaking with authority, amazing the people with his teaching and his miraculous demonstrations of power. And yet they also couldn’t afford to arrest Jesus publically because this was festival time so the crowds were huge and the Roman authorities were on edge – Jerusalem was like a bonfire full of dry wood and soaked in petrol. 1 spark was all that was needed and any public arrest of Jesus with all the messianic hope that was building around him would be sure to produce plenty of sparks.
And so they scheme - Jesus’ life was cheap to these religious men because he threatened them, he threatened their comfort and their self-rule. They had no love for Jesus, they loved only themselves. Remember our definition of unbelief from earlier in this sermon series; “Doubt has trouble believing, unbelief obstinately refuses to believe.” Jesus will always be cheap to those who refuse to believe, I pray he is not cheap to you.
What a contrast between v1&2 and v3. What was Jesus worth to this woman with the perfume? He was worth her most valuable offering. Have you got anything in your house that would be a disaster if it was broken? Growing up in a house with 5 kids there wasn’t much damage to do that hadn’t been done already (the fabric disc that had been Mum’s Sunday hat). But there was 1 crystal bowl (I think it had been a wedding present) that Mum protected dearly. If anything had happened to that bowl there would have been a lot of upset in the Birnie house.
This woman takes her jar of perfume worth a year’s wages, probably a family heirloom passed down to her, deliberately snaps the top off and pours it on Jesus’ head. Such expense, expense that offended those around her, and yet expense that this woman judged was justified. She could have chosen to spend this on anyone, she was absolutely free to do what she wanted with this perfume because it was hers, and she choose to spend it on Jesus. Expense that Jesus judges as beautiful; “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you,[b] and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Just like the widow from chapter 12 who gave her all, we don’t have this woman’s name, but we do remember her forever – because of this act of such costly love and honour for Jesus.
She did what she could. And whether she knew it or not, in God’s plan she was pointing forwards, she was getting Jesus ready for death, and she was also pointing to the reason for his death. She poured out something of great value because the one she poured it for out for was of greater value. To the Jewish leaders, Jesus’ life was cheap, to this woman, Jesus’ life was worth the greatest she could give. Get rid of Jesus, or treat him as your King, which camp would you be in? Which side of this great contrast are you?
That is an uncomfortable question for us to try to answer isn’t it? We definitely would resist being put in the first group of people – we don’t want rid of Jesus, he isn’t cheap to us (although maybe there are people here today who are in that place – some of our family members don’t want Jesus anywhere near them). Most of us here would say we do love Jesus. But does the pattern of our lives really match up to the woman and her perfume? Can we be counted alongside her in holding Jesus up as worth giving our whole lives to in service and worship?
Or are we more like the disciples at this point? What was Jesus worth to the disciples? The answer is still not enough. Not as much as he should have been! They were angry at this waste of money. V5 “It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.” But they are wrong to speak this way, not because the poor aren’t important, but because Jesus is of ultimate importance. If the disciples had loved Jesus as they should then they would have been commending this woman.
Think back to the introduction – a sick child and parents and grand-parents clearing out their bank accounts and remortgaging their houses. How many of you nodded along to that? It is natural – money pales into insignificance when genuine love exists. The disciples have hearts that still need changing, hearts whose love for Jesus is weak, hearts that do not prize him as the ultimate treasure that he is. (In the years to come those hearts are going to change, they will burn brightly with love for Jesus, so brightly that the disciples will willingly give up their lives as they stand firm on Jesus and proclaim him to the world around).
But in this passage right now they are hearts that we recognise all too easily. Because we too don’t love him yet as we should, our allegiance to him is shaky, so often we still want Jesus to orbit around us rather than the other way around. What are we to do when we recognise the luke-warmness of our hearts? Repent. And as a church family we must commit to (like the woman) doing what we can for Jesus. Get on our knees and pray (“Pray Big). Do what we can with our energy, with our time, with our money because Jesus is worth it. God will honour simple obedience and by His Spirit warm our hearts to love him properly.
It looks crazy to a watching world to regularly give money to gospel work when we could save it towards a new conservatory. It looks crazy to gather in an awkward Home Group rather than chilling out on your sofa. It seems crazy to put up with the harsh rebukes of the world for speaking the gospel when we could be quiet and enjoy the world’s acceptance. But do what we can and the Spirit will set our hearts on fire with love for Jesus.
Does that all sound just too costly to you? That’s what it sounded like to Judas. What was Jesus worth to Judas? He was too expensive. We aren’t told exactly why Judas decided to betray Jesus. But the cost of following Jesus has been front and centre for the last few chapters of Mark’s gospel. Jesus has been clear he is on his way to the grave and clear that those who follow him will walk the same path. Mark 13 was full of the suffering and severe opposition that the disciples and subsequent Christians will have to endure. And now in this chapter Jesus commends this woman who spends her all on Jesus as he is on his way to death. V10 “Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.”
‘One of the Twelve’, one of Jesus’ closest companions is the betrayer. It means that this question must be asked of everyone here, including the one speaking at the front. Which side of the great contrast are you on? What is Jesus worth to you? Is he cheap, is he not valuable enough, is he too expensive, OR is he of ultimate value in your life? What a challenge.
But then what a wonderful encouragement in verses 12-26 as the question gets turned around and I get to ask “Do you realise what you are worth to Jesus?” Last week in our Sunday afternoon zoom, I read this passage out from chapter 5 in Alistair Begg’s book “Pray Big.”
“Believer, God is very excited about seeing you. You will not sneak into heaven through the back door, quietly, and have God tolerate you for eternity. You will be welcomed in through the front door, with a party, and have God enjoy you as you enjoy him for eternity. God will enjoy being surrounded by human-shaped trophies of his grace. And you will enjoy his welcome and his embrace.” How can those things possibly be true? How can the God of love, red hot, burning love, how can that God possibly want to spend any time with tepid-hearted believers like us? More than that, how can the God of holiness and righteousness possibly draw near to messed up sinners like us? Can we really be worth anything to God?
The answer to all of that shines brightly out of the darkness that is drawing around Jesus in this chapter, out of the filth as Judas dips his bread into the bowl with Jesus having already agreed to betray him. As they eat the Passover meal together they are looking backwards at God’s great rescue of His people from Egypt and his provision by the blood of a lamb that allowed God’s judgement to pass over his chosen people and only land on his enemies. But suddenly, they are not looking backwards any more, instead they are looking directly at Jesus, v 22 “Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take it, this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them. ‘Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’”
Ultimate rescue from enemies, complete provision for needs, total escape from judgement; as the disciples look at Jesus they are staring at the ‘Lamb of God’ come to take away the sins of the world. His body broken on the cross, his blood poured out are the only and sufficient hope for any of humanity who would put their faith in him.
The woman poured out her perfume because although it was of great value, the one she poured it out for was of greater value. Incredibly, as he looks at sin-broken creatures who will betray him and disown him, Jesus is willing to pour out his blood, at a priceless cost, because he counts them somehow worth it. How can this be? That is what we remember and celebrate when we eat bread and drink wine together – Jesus body given for us, Jesus blood washing away our sins. We are worthless rebels and yet what riches have been broken and poured upon us - Grace upon grace upon grace. There is no other way of explaining this than love. Incredible love. Burning love. Sacrificial love. Divine love. Do you realise what you are worth to Jesus?
As we go out this door today, and as we face the challenges that the next few months are going to bring, will the costliness of Jesus’ love for you change your heart? Will it cause you to pour your treasures out for God and his people? Let me pray now as we go that the Holy Spirit would cause the members of Christ Church Riverside to pour out their precious time to encourage one another this week, to pour out their precious energy in prayer and care, to pour out their precious bank accounts in lives of generosity to God and His people. What is Jesus worth to you? Do you know what you are worth to Jesus?
Pray: That the love of God would change us so that we love him. So that we love His people. So that we spend ourselves for His glory and His people’s good. Help us to ground this urgently in the realities of our daily lives from this day forward, to the glory of Jesus Christ, Amen.
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