Now we're looking at chapter 14 of Mark's gospel, and we're beginning to read at verse 1: "After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him", that is, Jesus, "by trickery and put Him to death. But they said, 'Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people'. And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, 'Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor'. And they criticized her sharply. But Jesus said, 'Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her'. Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him".
Let us all pray. As all of our heads are bowed, I would ask you to come to the Lord now in prayer - and, whatever your need is, that you might ask Him to meet your need. If you're here tonight and are not a believer in the Lord Jesus - I mean by that that you're not born-again, you're not converted - that you would even open your heart to the Lord. What have you got to lose? Open your heart to the Lord, and say: 'Lord, if You have anything to say to me, speak to me now' - and I believe He will answer that prayer, I really do. But there are many believers, and they haven't heard the voice of God for a long time, maybe they haven't been able to hear it - well, why not bring yourself, before we even preach tonight, why not bring yourself initially to that point of saying: 'Lord, I just want now to be ready to hear from You'.
Father, we thank You for the wonder of the Lord Jesus. He truly is Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. We are lost in wonder, love and praise when we gaze upon Him. Lord, we know that it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to come and to testify, to take of the things of Christ and show them to us. Lord, I pray now that the Holy Spirit of God, who has been given to His church, that, Lord, He will come and He will minister Christ to every heart. Lord, we would see Jesus, we thank You for your word - but beyond the sacred page, we seek Thee Lord. Our spirits pant for Thee, the Living Word. We don't want to go away, Lord, knowing a little bit more about You; we want to go away knowing You more, personally and intimately. I bring before You tonight the needs of this congregation. You know them, Lord, I don't - but we pray that the Spirit who is the Lord, who searches the hearts, will uncover the secret things and minister to every soul gathered here tonight. Lord, there are needy people, there are unbelieving people, there are hard-hearted people perhaps, there are discouraged people. Lord, we bring these needs to You, and we pray that in the name of the Lord Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that You will meet every need in this place. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
If this is your first occasion with this, I started last week here in Ards Evangelical, last Sunday morning, a series which I have really entitled 'The Final Countdown to Calvary'. What we're looking at is the final week in the life and ministry of Jesus. We have covered some ground already, last Sunday morning we looked at the Sunday of that week, which was Palm Sunday, the Triumphal Entry of the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem - as the King of the Jews He presents Himself to them in fulfilment of prophecy. Then we saw that on Monday, the next day in Jesus' week, He cursed a fig tree - which was significant because it spoke of the nation of Israel who were God's chosen vessel to bear fruit and to witness to the world. He cursed this tree, signifying - because it had no fruit and it was taking up room but wasn't serving any purpose - just like the nation at that particular time. Then He went into the Temple that same day, Monday, and He cleansed the Temple of those who were buying and selling, and using what should have been a house of prayer unto God as a den, a hiding place, for thieves and robbers. Then on Tuesday, we saw last Sunday night, that on the Tuesday of the final week of Jesus He was questioned by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council, in the precincts of the Temple. This morning we saw that it's probably about Wednesday in the week, we can't be too dogmatic about it, but He gives what we know as the 'Olivet Discourse', and we read that in chapter 13 and studied it in some detail.
Now, verses 1 and 2 are speaking of the 'Feast of Unleavened Bread', the Passover, and the chief priests and the scribes seeking how they might take Jesus by trickery and put Him to death - this is probably still Wednesday of the week. By the time we get down to verses 10 and 11, where Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, goes to the chief priests to betray Jesus, it is most likely the early hours of Thursday morning. So, we're following the Lord Jesus along this week. Now, there's a bit of a discussion about verses 3 to 9, this anointing of the head and feet of Jesus by Mary of Bethany - there's a bit of discussion about when this actually took place. Although it is placed here by Mark and other gospel writers, Matthew, at this juncture; we know from John, in John chapter 12 and verse 1, in his account of this incident, he says this took place six days before Passover. So we're going out of chronological sequence a little in Mark's gospel - so this is more than likely Saturday night, the night before Sunday, the Palm Sunday, the Triumphal Entry. So we're going back in time a little.
Now, you might ask: 'Well, why do Matthew and Mark place it here?' - well, probably for thematic reasons. It says here, of course, in verse 8 that Jesus confesses that Mary has anointed Him beforehand, anointed His body specifically, for His burial. It certainly fits in with this gospel of the cross of Mark's. But I think there's more to it than that: what Mark, and I believe the Holy Spirit behind Mark, wants to do is contrast Mary's devotion with Judas' betrayal - that's why it's here. He wants to contrast what I have called 'A Miserable Betrayer', Judas, with 'An Extravagant Worshipper', Mary of Bethany.
So, let's look at both these characters in order. Now we see that Judas solves the problem of the chief priests and scribes in verses 1 and 2. They want to kill the Lord Jesus, but they don't want to do it during this religious feast and festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread - verse 2 gives the reason: 'Lest there be an uproar of the people'. You see, the Lord Jesus was popular among the common people, and there were so many Jewish people - as we saw last week - coming into the holy city during Passover time that it was a tinderbox for trouble. They didn't want in any way to court some kind of unrest. But we see that Judas solves their problem, because in verses 10 and 11 he agrees to secretly hand Jesus over to the authorities. He goes to the chief priests, 'And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him'.
Now let's look at Judas. I want you to understand something: to betray someone is not the same as being their enemy. Now, think about that for a moment: to betray someone is not the same as being their enemy. You see, the essence of betrayal, even to death, is that you have to show affection towards the one that you are betraying. Betrayal comes from the hand of a friend. If you like, a betrayer is one who embraces you with one arm, and stabs you in the back with the other. Here we have Judas, the greatest betrayer of all time, who was the friend to the greatest Man of all time. Now please note this, because it's vital, and may well be even essential to your eternal well-being that you realise that the betrayer of Christ professed to be one of His greatest friends. He was one of the twelve disciples that followed Jesus for three and a half years of His ministry. Incidentally, the greatest betrayers of Christ today are still those who profess to be His friends. You see, you can be affectionate towards Jesus, but ultimately be betraying Him. I wonder is that anyone here tonight?
Let me be more specific: perhaps you would call yourself a 'Christian'. Perhaps you go to a Christian place of worship, your religious creed is one that belongs to Christendom. You pray, perhaps, to Jesus. Perhaps you have been baptised as an infant in the name of Jesus. Perhaps you have done things in His name - but that does not make you a Christian. Even if you are affectionate towards Him - and I would vouch to say that, though the whole world is not Christian, most people have some kind of a reverence for the character and person of Jesus, most people do - but just because you have an affection towards Him does not mean that you belong to Him, and you could even, ultimately, be betraying Him even though you feel predisposed toward Him. Now, that's frightening - because it was someone exactly like this who betrayed the Lord Jesus to death for the price of a slave.
I want you to consider tonight, before we look at Mary, looking at this miserable betrayer: first, to see the privileges that this man had. One of the great privileges he enjoyed was that he heard Christ's words. Please think about this for a moment: Judas was there on the Mount when Jesus gave His famous Sermon, we read it in Matthew 5, 6 and 7, and the Beatitudes - 'Blessed are the poor in spirit', 'Blessed are the meek', 'Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled'. He heard Jesus say the first time: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto yourself', the 'golden rule' as they call it. Judas heard the first time: 'Turn the other cheek. Love them that hate you and despitefully use you'. Judas was there when the Lord Jesus Christ taught the parable of the Good Samaritan - the whole world knows about it, but he was there when He first taught it. He was there when He told the greatest story in the English language, it has been called by Charles Dickens - we know better than him that it's the greatest story, because we have experienced it in our lives - the story of the Prodigal Son. Judas was there when it was first told. Judas was there when Jesus said to His questioning disciples: 'Pray therefore in this manner: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name...' - and you know the rest. Judas was there the first time that was ever recited.
He sat on the edge of the crowd when Jesus taught the multitudes, and he also was in the private teaching school in the waysides at the twilight hours when the disciples were being instructed in the deeper things and mysteries of God's kingdom. He was there, and yet he never truly believed. That's staggering. He knew Christ intimately, but he did not know Christ by faith. He knew Christ personally, but he did not know Christ savingly - and that can happen. I'm telling you, it's happening this very day, the Lord's Day, right across Ulster, right across the United Kingdom. I know church attendances are depleting, but nevertheless there are people who have been in Christian places of worship today, and they know Christ in a sense, they have an affection towards Christ, but though they know Him in some personal way - who He is, what He did - and they appreciate it, they do not know Him savingly, they do not know Him by faith. They have never repented of their sins, had a conversion experience, and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation - have you?
Now this is vital: not only did he hear the words of Christ, he saw the miracles of Christ. This is remarkable. He was there when Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. He was there when He fed the 4000 as well. He was on the boat when the storm arose, when Jesus stood and said: 'Be muzzled', and the storm was stayed - he was there and he saw it. I could go on and on and on. He saw great miracles: people who were blind given their eyesight; people who were lame given ability to move, and to walk, and to leap; people who had withered, atrophied arms, he saw them grow and take on muscle and be restored before his very eyes. He saw Jesus walk on water and raise dead people - this is a man that saw Christ's miracles, yet he never experienced the greatest miracle of all in his heart, he was never born-again! Now, I believe there are people and they have seen miracles, even experienced miracles in their own life - and maybe you're one of them. Sometimes, when our backs are against the wall, even the atheists among us pray and ask God's help, and sometimes God comes through. Now I know there's a question mark, and you think: 'Was that God or was that chance, or what was it?' - but you have been there, and maybe have seen something that is indisputable happen in your life in answer to coming in prayer to God. You have maybe experienced a miracle, or know someone who has, and it's irrefutable - and yet you yourself have never allowed God to birth the miracle of salvation in your own heart.
He saw Christ's miracles as well as hearing Christ's teaching - something else: he saw Christ save other people. Judas was there when Jesus took a detour to Samaria to meet one woman at a well at 12 noon, the hottest point of the day, and they were all bamboozled about why Jesus was going this route that no-one ever went, and why He spoke to this woman (which wasn't the done thing in the middle of the day, and especially a Samaritan woman, for the Jews had no dealings with Samaritans). He saw the barriers that Jesus went over in order to reach one woman, who was an immoral woman, who was married five times and was living with a guy - and Judas saw this woman converted at a well, having been given living water by Jesus so that she would never thirst again. Judas saw her go into her hometown in Samaria, and Judas heard about how the whole town had been converted to Jesus, he saw them all converted and yet he was never saved. It's remarkable.
He saw the wee man Zacchaeus come down from his tree, and Jesus said: 'Salvation must come to your house today'. He went to the house along with the rest of them, and he heard the repentance, confessing from the mouth of Zacchaeus when he said: 'I will repay fourfold all that I have stolen, and half my goods I will give to the poor'. He saw it, yet he never repented. He was there on the hills of Gadara, among the tombs, where there was a demoniac possessed with a legion of devils - which could be anything over a thousand devils. He saw this madman running around naked, wailing and cutting himself, he was possessed - and then he fell at the feet of Jesus, and Jesus delivered him and sent the demons into swine, and the swine went headlong into the water. Here was this madman that no one could tame, sitting at the feet of Jesus clothed and in his right mind - and yet Judas remained unchanged.
I wonder have you seen people's lives changed by Jesus, but He hasn't changed you yet because you won't let Him? He was a very privileged man, wasn't he? Hearing the teaching of Christ, seeing the miracles of Christ, seeing Christ save other people - but something else, and this is the most terrifying of all to me: he did the work of Christ. Yes, he did! In Luke's Gospel chapter 10 we read that he was sent out by Jesus to spread the word of the Gospel of the kingdom. The Lord divided 70 of His disciples into twos, and they went out preaching the kingdom - and when they returned, do you know what they said? You can read it yourself, they said: 'Even the demons are subject to us in Your name'. Now, do you know what that means? Judas was casting out devils in Jesus' name. Judas was doing mighty works, we might call them miracles, in the name of Jesus - yet Judas rejected God's work in his own heart. He was engaged in a work in Christ's name, and a work of Christ had never been done in his heart!
How many ministers have been in pulpits of our land this day believing they are doing the work of Christ, and a work of grace has never been done in their hearts? How many Sunday School teachers have gathered a little brood of children around them, teaching them the Bible, doing the work of God, they think? We could go on and on, couldn't we? You can be a member in this church and not be saved. You can be, you know! I want you to look into your heart and ask yourself: are you truly born-again? I'm not asking you do you tick the little box of assent to 'He was born of the virgin, He was the Son of God, He died under Pontius Pilate and was buried and rose again the third day, and is ascended to heaven, and is coming' - I'm not asking do you intellectually assent to those things. I'm asking you: have you had the supernatural miracle of the new birth in your heart?
John Wesley went in 1735 as a missionary to Georgia, a colony in the United States, and after two years of work as a missionary among them, he said: 'I went out to convert the Indians, but, O God, who shall convert me?'. He went out to convert the Indians, and he wasn't saved himself - and he knew it! Do you know it? Do you know, there is an evangelical problem, a serious problem, and that is false profession. People who have been told they are saved, they may believe they are saved, and they are not saved. There is general agreement right across denominational divides and theological dispositions that this is a serious problem. Let me give you examples: Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ says 'Many who call themselves Christians are not really biblical Christians at all. Although they may be religious people who attend church regularly, they have never experienced the new birth and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ'. Dr Rod Bell, the president of the Fundamentalist Baptist Fellowship of America, believes that 50% of people that go to church are lost. The evangelist, Luis Palau, said that of 80% of Americans who claim to be Christians, few live any differently from pagans or atheists, as though God has no claim on their lives. Dr James Dobson of Focus on the Family admitted: 'The majority of Americans are dabbling in religious expression that has no substance'. A.W. Tozer said: 'Probably less than 1 out of 10 evangelicals knows anything experientially about the new birth'.
Are you born-again? I'm not asking you did you utter some prayer, like 'abracadabra', that meant nothing to you and probably meant nothing to God. I'm asking you: have you got the assurance in your heart, given by the Spirit of God, that you are a son or a daughter of God? Are you born-again, and do you know that you're born-again?
Now, I know that Judas was ordained to this role, and I'm not going to get into this big debate tonight. God was sovereign in the way, and this was prophesied, but one thing I am sure of: I believe in no form of God's sovereignty that nullifies man's responsibility. Let me repeat that: I believe in no view of God's sovereignty that nullifies man's responsibility. What I mean by that is: Judas was guilty, and Judas was complicit in the betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was responsible. He made choices in his life - and I don't believe for one moment that he woke up one day and he decided: 'I'm going to betray Jesus Christ'. I believe that it happened in a process of decline, an inward decline in his life. Added to that, he was acquiring a taste for a secret sin - do you know what that was? Covetousness. We know this from the scriptures. He was given the job right at the beginning of being the treasurer of the twelve, he was in charge of the kitty. We read from the start that he had his hand in the bag, from the beginning he was a thief - and that's why he objects (now it doesn't say specifically Judas, it says some among them objected) to this very expensive ointment being broken and poured out upon Jesus. They're saying: 'This could have been sold and the money given to the poor' - but we know from the other Gospel writers that Judas was the ringleader of this objection. He wasn't worried about the poor, he was worried about the money - he had his hand in the bag, and that was money he could have had.
But what I want you to see tonight is that it was his secret sin that caused him to eventually betray the Lord. Many people are not saved because they cannot, are not willing to, let go of their secret sin. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying: you cannot overcome sin without the power of God. Repentance is not cleaning yourself up and then coming to Jesus, no! Repentance is a change of mind about your sin, which means you understand the damage it is doing to you and you're willing to be changed by the power of God. But one thing is certain: you cannot put one hand out to God, and hold tightly your sin with the other hand! Maybe some of you have been trying to do that: eventually your secret sin will cause you to betray the Lord. Believers, that applies to you as well: if you're dabbling in secret sin, it eventually will completely cut you off from God. I'm not saying you'll be lost forever, all I'm saying is: you will be at a point of almost no return if you don't cease and repent. What is your secret sin? J.C. Ryle, the Bishop of Liverpool, said many years ago: 'Open sin has killed its thousands, but secret sin its tens of thousands'.
Hence we read in verse 11: 'When they heard it', that he was willing to betray Jesus for money, 'they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him'. How are you conveniently betraying Him? It's convenient for you because of your sin. But let me ask you a question: what is the memory that we have of Judas? Well, his name has become synonymous with betrayal, the miserable betrayer.
Now, in contrast to Judas, the Holy Spirit comes and reveals a woman whose name we have come to know as synonymous with devotion and worship. Now she is unnamed here, but in John chapter 12 we read that it was Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead. It's very, very instructive to know that three times in the gospel records we find Mary of Bethany at the feet of Jesus. That is beautiful. First of all when Martha, her sister, is cumbered about with much serving in the kitchen, Mary is at the school of Christ, at the Saviour's feet learning from Him. Then we find that when her brother dies, Lazarus, and Jesus delays in coming that He might raise him from the dead to glorify God, she falls at His feet and pleads for the life of her brother - there she is at His feet again. Here we see her again at Jesus' feet, this time anointing His feet with this very expensive ointment.
Now, this account should not be confused with Luke chapter 7, and it often is. In Luke chapter 7 we read of a sinner woman who anointed the feet of Jesus in Simon the Pharisee's house - but this is not Simon the Pharisee's house, this is Simon the leper's house. Here Mary is, John 12 testifies, Mary anoints both the head and the feet of Jesus. We see the reason why in verse 8, Jesus says: 'She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial'. Now this is sweet. When you read the gospel record and come to the end, after Jesus has been crucified and buried, we find that other women came to the tomb - and we read that the reason why they came was to anoint the body of Jesus after His burial. But here was a woman so devoted to Christ, whose spirit was so surrendered and in touch with the Spirit of God, that she knew - when the disciples did not understand, and you remember I showed you last week that time and time again in Mark's gospel He tried to show them that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinners, and be crucified, and be buried - do you remember? They just did not see it, they couldn't get it. Yet here was a woman - and can I say to you women, often the women got it before the men did! That's the same today, I believe - it is! She saw that He was going to die. She didn't wait until after He was buried to anoint Him, she did it before.
Now, you say: 'Well, why did she do it before?'. So that He would be encouraged by her love, and He was. This was precious to Jesus. What worship! Now, David, the Old Testament King of Israel, was one of the greatest worshippers in the Bible. In fact, he is called 'a man after God's own heart'. I know he committed adultery and he murdered, and he did many other things, but nevertheless God looks at a contrite heart and a broken spirit - and David had that. He knew what it was to worship the Lord, and he knew what it was to give sacrificially in worship to the Lord. There is an occasion, I'll not go into all the details, you find it in 2 Samuel 24, where he is going to purchase a field. That field is going to be a place where sacrificial offerings would be made, and eventually the Temple would be built there as well. The man who owned the field was going to give it to him for nothing, because he's the King and he wants it for God. David spoke these words for time immemorial, that illustrate sacrificial offering - he said: 'I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which cost me nothing'. This is something precious in the sight of God, when He receives from our hearts costly, devoted, sacrificial worship.
Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying: I'm not saying you can buy your way to heaven. Salvation is by grace, through faith - it's a free gift, you just accept it by simple faith for the taking. But what I am saying is: when we understand and know and love God, there is nothing that delights His heart more than when we give Him what Hebrews talks about as 'The sacrifice of praise'. Do you know that believers are required to give sacrifices and offerings in this present dispensation? Not lambs or goats, but the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving from our hearts - that's what Hebrews 13 and 15 says: 'Therefore by Him', by Christ, 'let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name'.
Now Mary certainly did not offer to the Lord that which cost her nothing. She offered a very expensive offering. Look at the verse, verse 4, verse 3 first of all: 'A woman', this is Mary of Bethany again, 'came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard', or 'pure nard', the margin might say, 'Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head'. Now this spikenard was imported from India, and that was no mean feat in these days in which Jesus lived. We know from this context that a whole jar that she poured over Jesus' feet was worth one year's salary for a common labourer, because 300 denarii - that's the price that Judas and his objectors say could have been accrued through the selling of this ointment - that's a year's salary for the average man. What's your year's salary?
She was not inhibited in showing her love to the Lord openly. She did not just do it lovingly, but she did it lavishly. It was costly, it was extravagant - and do you know what John records in John 12, in his account? He says that the fragrance filled the whole house - that's what happens when you worship Christ like this! That's what happens when you give costly, sacrificial devotion to the Son of God - it fills the whole house! But not only was there a positive reaction, there was also a negative one - and can I say to you tonight: there always will be a negative reaction from some people when there is open, extravagant, loving and lavish devotion to Jesus in worship. The act of her devotion brought joy from the heart of Jesus, but equally drew malice from the heart of Judas and the others, whoever they were, who were objecting to this expensive sacrifice.
We see in verse 4, Judas and some viewed this as waste: 'Why was this fragrant oil wasted?'. They didn't see it as worship, they saw it as a waste! In verse 5: ''It might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor'. And they criticized her sharply', and my margin says 'they scolded her sharply'. Imagine, in the presence of Christ, these guys rose up and scolded her! Can I say something to you: the flesh and carnal people, even carnal believers, cannot appreciate what is done only for the love of Jesus. Let me turn the tables on you: do you think it would be a waste to spend one year's salary on Jesus? Or, put it another way, do you think it would be a waste to spend one year on Jesus? I wonder is God calling some of you to spend a year for Jesus somewhere? To take a year out from your studies or from your career? Maybe there is a little voice niggling at the back of your consciousness, saying: 'But, it's a bit of a waste you know. I could get to where I need to be all the quicker if I didn't take that year, if I didn't give it to God' - but can I say something to you? Jesus wants more than a year, He wants your life. If you think it's a waste to give Him a year, a year's worth of money, or a year's worth of time, what's the chance then of you giving your life to Him?
Great demonstrations of worship are often misunderstood. Now don't misunderstand me here, I'm not talking about self-centred ostentatious pretension that we often see sometimes in churches, where people just get on in a way that just portrays, 'Look at me!' - that's not what we're talking about. You might say: 'Well then, how do you tell the difference between someone who is really openly, lovingly, and lavishly worshipping the Lord, and someone who's just doing it for self-centred reasons? How can you tell the difference?'. Well, the answer is: you can't! The difference is down here in the heart, and the only One who can tell the difference is God. So it's not for you to judge, it's for God to see and accept that which is true. But one thing I am sure of is that even when you are exercising exuberant, extravagant worship, openly, lovingly, and lavishly towards Jesus, even in a way that to others might seem embarrassing, if it is in spirit and in truth you lose self-consciousness somewhere. What I mean by that is: you couldn't care less what anybody thinks!
David, the great worshipper, is an example of this. He was misunderstood for it in 2 Samuel chapter 6, David danced, we read, before the Ark half naked - and his wife, Michal, looked out of her window and she saw him parading himself before the Ark. It says he was leaping and whirling before the Ark, and as Michal looked down upon this scene she despised him, the Bible says, from her heart - and later, when she got the opportunity, she mocked him sarcastically for his behaviour. Yet what he did, he said he did it unto God. Now, can I ask you: are you inhibited in your praise towards the Lord? Sometimes it's to do with our backgrounds and the way we believe we ought to behave ourselves - and, believe me, I'm not in favour of chaotic behaviour in the presence of God. There is a need, at times, for silence and sanctity, and a hush of holiness in our gatherings - but often we are inhibited in our praise, and all it is is fear of others. Fear of people like Judas and these naysayers, their scorn, their sarcastic remarks, that they are looking at us and what are they going to think of us? What does it matter! Maybe what you need to do here this evening, some of you who feel this in your heart, you have a devotion and a love towards the Lord just wanting to bubble up, but you suppress it because of what others will think of you - or maybe even a self-consciousness in yourself, do you know what you need to do? You need to break the alabaster box! In other words you need to break whatever is confining your praise and your worship, you need to shatter it and let it out!
The Lord quickly comes to the defence of His extravagant worshipper, He loves them. In verse 6 Jesus said to these people: 'Let her alone', I love that. Is that a word for someone here tonight? 'Leave her alone', 'Leave him alone', 'Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me'. Now if you mark your Bible, that would be a good two words to ring, 'for Me'. 'It was for Me, Judas. It was for Me, disciples' - here's something we continually need to ask ourselves: is what we're doing for Christ, truly for Him, is it for Him? What are you engaged in in the work of God, in church or whatever, I don't know - but is it for Him? Now listen, no matter what anyone thinks of us, no matter what anyone says of us, the only thing that matters is: is it for Him? Are we pleasing Him? Wait till I tell you: if I'm doing it for Him, and I'm pleasing Him, I don't care who I'm displeasing, I don't care! Sometimes it may annoy me a little bit when people are annoyed with me, and I don't like going out of my way to offend people of course, and I like to have friends and not enemies - but at the end of the day, if it is for Him, what else does anything matter?
You see, the most important thing for God is worship. God desires worshippers. In verse 7 Jesus makes this plain, He said about this issue of selling it and giving the money to the poor: 'You have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always'. The most important thing is worship, all else is secondary. It's not that we're not meant to give to the poor, it's not that we're not meant to preach the Gospel, it's not that we're not meant to do the things that we do that Christians do - but we're meant to realise the order of priority, the most important thing is devotion and worship to Jesus! That's the most important thing! Now have you ever discovered that? I know Christians who are running around like the proverbial bluebottle, for want of a better statement, and they're not in touch with God! They're doing things for God, and they're doing things from a heart of affection and devotion towards Him, and they're sincere - but they're not worshippers, they're not intimates, they're not people who have been in the Holiest Place of All and know what it is to gaze on the face of Christ in the spirit. If you're that person, you have missed the first and elementary lesson that Jesus taught these disciples.
Turn back with me to Mark 3 please, and this is important, verse 14 of chapter 3 - now watch this please, verse 13: 'He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted'. So He's calling the twelve Apostles, 'And they came to Him'. Now watch this verse, mark it if you can: 'Then He appointed twelve', why did He appoint them? 'That they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach'. The first thing that He called them to be was 'with Him' - do you understand? - and then to go out and preach. The order is: we need to spend time with Christ, worshipping Christ, and then move out to others. The tragedy is: if we're not dependent on Him, and we're not intimate with Him, we will be no use in going out to others!
Judas wasn't interested in the poor, as we said, he wanted what was given to Jesus, the price of the ointment. Now, here we come down to the crux of the matter: sometimes our problem is we want what should be given to Jesus. We want the time, we want that half hour in the morning or in the evening, rather than giving it to God, or whatever time. We want the money, we want the selfish things, the delights, the passions, the pleasures, the sins, or the besetting things that maybe are not sins but they drag us down and keep us from God. Unless we surrender self, and allow it to be crucified, we're never going to have victory. Judas wanted what was given to Jesus, and it was betrayed in a bitter, begrudging spirit. You know, bitter, begrudging people cannot worship Christ. Stingy people, people who are stingy with money, their heart is not right with God - do you believe that? Now I know I'm causing some of you husbands a real headache now - but seriously speaking: miserliness is a sign of a bitter and stunted spirit - it is, and I can prove that to you from the word of God - but extravagance is a sign of a free spirit liberated by the grace of God.
Now let me ask you on verse 8, Jesus said: 'She has done what she could' - could that be said of you? Now, please, I'm not saying have you done what you could in the Sunday School, I'm not asking you have you done what you could in setting out the chairs, doing the door-to-door work - I'm not asking you that. I'm asking in the realm of worship, that's the context we are in now: have you done what you could? Even when you come into the church, this morning around the Table, this evening as you sing the songs - have you done what you could as you sing them, or are you just singing them? As we pray, as we offer up thanks and praise to God, are we doing what we could or are we just passing the time? As we give of our substance to God, are we doing what we could, are we giving sacrificially until it hurts a little bit, or are we just ticking the boxes?
It was fitting that Jesus should be anointed in this place, Bethany, it was His retreat, it was where He resorted to rest among His friends - because Jesus felt at home in Bethany, and because He felt at home in Bethany He abode there. You see, when He feels at home in your heart, when there is fragrant, sacrificial, extravagant, costly worship, He will abide with you.
There's something else that I want to leave you with here, and the Lord taught me this this week and it has been a blessing to me. It says in verse 9: 'Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her'. Now, do you know what that means? When you bless the heart of Jesus, you will bless the whole world. I sincerely believe this! If you can get intimate with Jesus in the secret place, in prayer and devotion and extravagant worship, you can change the world! I believe that! Whether as an intercessor, or in whatever capacity God has called you - because this fragrance didn't just fill the whole house, what Jesus is now telling us is that it filled the whole world, it filled the whole of history from this moment right to this very day!
Do you want blessings from God? Well, who doesn't? Well, the greatest blessings you can get from God are when you give the greatest blessings to God! Mary in this room in Bethany started a wave of blessing that has been memorialised, Jesus said that wherever the Gospel would be preached, her name and this story would be recounted - and we know that from Matthew, and from Mark, and from John. It's memorialised in the Gospels. This is really what I'm getting at: churches today are banging their heads together, brainstorming as to how we can most impact the world for Christ on the mission field and in our locality. How can we reach our neighbours and friends and our work colleagues? They decide: 'Well, we need more of this, and we need more of that, and we need this type of programme, and this type of regime' - listen to what I'm saying, God revealed this to me, I believe, from this verse this week: a devotional intimacy with Jesus will give you a universally powerful and impacting Gospel witness.
Let me repeat that: a devotional intimacy with Jesus will give you a universally powerful and impacting Gospel witness, because that's what it did for Mary of Bethany! That's what He'll do for you, dear, in your prayer closet, if you give your heart sacrificially to Him. He'll change the world through you, or some part of the world! What legacy are you going to leave? Judas' legacy, the miserable betrayer; or one like Mary of Bethany, the extravagant worshipper? Will it be said of you - I hope it's said of me at my funeral, if the Lord doesn't come before, I hope it's said: 'He did what he could in worship'.
Let us pray. Now in the quietness - and, by the way, one way that you can discern the presence of God in a gathering is quietness. I know I've been encouraging exuberant praise, and there is a place for that, but often what happens when the presence of God falls upon a gathering, and the power of God is evident in the preaching of the word, is that there is an unusual stillness. I believe that that stillness is here, it's a sign of His presence. It's important, I believe - and you know I don't rush at any point - but it's important now not to rush when God is here. Just be still for a moment in His presence. He has been saying something to some of you, hasn't He? May I remind you that at the beginning you prayed for God to speak to you, I hope you didn't do it in a matter-of-fact way - and now He has said something to you, and you're going to try and plug your ears. You asked Him to speak to you and He has.
Unbeliever, He has spoken to you. You're going to be in danger of committing the mistake Judas did, and you will go to your own place as he did - he was lost forever in despair and regret and torment for what he had done - and you will be also, my friend, if you do not repent and believe in Christ. Will you be saved tonight? Young person, older person, will you, tonight, say - maybe someone who is under some illusion that they are a Christian, it doesn't matter if you hold a position in this church, who cares if your eternal soul is in jeopardy! - will you say tonight: 'I will be saved, and I will make sure I am saved'. If you're not sure, make sure!
But all of us believers have a debt to God - not our salvation, we could never repay that - but we have a debt of thanks, of gratitude and praise that He is worthy of for what He has done in our lives. How are we paying Him? Is there an alabaster box that needs to be smashed tonight? We all worship God in our own way, according to our own temperament and personality, we can't do it the same way as everybody else - but we need to be free. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty - are you free in your worship of God? You need to be, He wants you to be - not just in corporate gatherings like this, but intimately in the closet. Let me say to you: you have no idea the impact that your worship in the secret place will have openly to the world if you do what Mary did.
Now, I'm going to close in prayer, and I'm not going to say 'Don't talk', but just be aware that some people might be dealing with God, and aware that some people might be enjoying the sense of God. Don't take that away from them. If you want to talk, certainly talk, but just keep in mind, please, that some people might be really dealing with God.
Father, we thank You that there is a sense of the fragrance tonight of what that worship meant to Jesus just as He was going to Calvary - that there should be one heart that really understood, one heart that really wanted to say 'I love You Lord, for what You're about to do'. Lord, we often say of our loved ones down here, why don't we tell them we love them more while we have them with us - but this is on a different scale altogether. We pray that while we are in our bodies, and while we're living to praise You, that we will do it with all our might Lord - in our homes as well as in church. Let us not parade ourselves in public, but be dead at home. O God, if we do not praise You, the stones will cry out - so help us to learn even from the stones, but let us not be stones Lord, help us and teach us to be worshippers in spirit and in truth. We know that if we are true worshippers, we will present our bodies living sacrifices, wholly acceptable unto God, which is our expected worship. We will not be conformed to this world, but we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we may be able to do what is that good, perfect, and acceptable will of God. Give grace, Lord, tonight, for the needy, for the unsaved, for the backslider, for the struggling Christian, for the person who is in the balance tonight. Let the transaction be enacted tonight, for the glory of Jesus we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered in Ards Evangelical Church, Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifty-second recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "A Miserable Betrayer and An Extravagant Worshipper" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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