God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life: A Lavish Offering (Mark 14:3-9)

God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life:
A Lavish Offering
Mark 14:3-9

Every day, at exactly the same time, Margaret would go to the bathroom cabinet, open it, and take out a huge bottle of castor oil. Then she would head to the kitchen to get a tablespoon. At the sound of the drawer opening and the silverware rattling, Patches, her Yorkshire terrier, would run and hide—sometimes under the bed, at other times in the bathtub or behind Margaret’s recliner.

Someone had convinced Margaret that Patches would have strong teeth, a beautiful coat, and a long life if she gave him a spoonful of castor oil every day. So, as an act of love every twenty-four hours, she cornered Patches, pinned him down, pried open his mouth, and poured a tablespoon of castor oil down his little doggie throat. Neither Patches nor Margaret enjoyed their daily wrestling match.

Then one day, in the middle of their battle, with one sideways kick, Patches sent the dreaded bottle of castor oil flying across the kitchen floor. It was a momentary victory for the canine, as Margaret let him go so she could run to the pantry and grab a towel to clean up the mess.

When Margaret got back, she was utterly shocked. There was Patches licking up the spilled castor oil with a look of satisfaction only a dog can make. Margaret began to laugh uncontrollably. In one moment, it all made sense. Patches liked castor oil. He just hated being pinned down and having it poured down his throat.

Welcome to the world of evangelism!

As we conclude our walk with Jesus through the gospel of Mark, looking at “God’s Guide to a Well-Lived life,” we conclude with a look at the importance of a life of service to the goal of evangelism. We’ll do that with Mark’s presentation of the anointing of the feet of Jesus in Mark 14:3-9.

Mark places the account of this event in-between the chief priests and scribes wanting to kill Jesus (14:1-2) and Judas betraying Jesus (14:10-11). The woman anointing the feet of Jesus in the middle of these hostile intentions reminds us that we need to stay focused on what is good, right, and important in this world, despite the environment in which we live.

Let’s feed on the word of God…

Princess Alice, daughter of Queen Victoria, had a little boy who became very sick with black diphtheria. Doctors quarantined the boy and told the mother to stay away.

She tried, until one day she overheard him whisper to the nurse, “Why doesn’t my mother kiss me anymore?” Princess Alice ran to her son and smothered him with kisses. Within a few days, both died.

When I read that, I thought of our healthcare workers who put their lives on the line to serve those with Covid or who, perhaps, have served others with contagious diseases, but they do so because of their love for a fellow human being. Most of our acts of service, however, do not call us to put our lives on the line. It simply calls us to put others before ourselves.

John tells us that this event happened 6 days before Passover (12:1-8). John also tells us that this woman is Mary, the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. They are in Bethany at the home of Simon, a leper whom we presumed Jesus had healed. Lazarus and Mary and Martha are all there as well as some of His apostles, if not all of them.

Then Mary finds it in her heart to take an alabaster vial of very costly nard; she breaks the vial, and pours the nard over the head of Jesus. We might think this sounds strange. When we lived in Romania and Jewell was very little, the doctor told us to give her Vitamin D and calcium. One of them came in a glass vial with a small neck on it and they gave us a little saw to cut the neck. You could also break the neck with your thumb, which I did several times and cut my thumb.

John tells us that this nard was about 12 ounces, a Roman pound. It was an oil that was extracted from a plan out of East India. So, it was very expensive. In fact, when the apostles grumble that the nard could have been sold, they estimate its value at 300 denarii. Since one denarius was worth one day’s salary, we’re looking at nearly a full year’s salary that could have been obtained by selling this perfume.

The most expensive perfume I found on Google is Roja Parfums available from Saks Fifth Avenue at a cost of $3,500 for 3.4 ounces. For about 12 ounces, that would be a bottle of perfume worth $14,000. But, if the median household salary in the US is $67,500, that would be a 12 ounce bottle for over $55,000! What I’m trying to illustrate is that this was very, very expensive perfume. Very expensive.

The most expensive thing we can offer to Jesus Christ is ourselves. That’s what Paul meant in Romans 12:1-2 when he said that we need to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. When we become Christians, we offer our hands in service to God; we offer our mouths in service to glorify God and teach His gospel to others; we offer our feet to God to go where He needs us to go.

John tells us that the whole house was full of the fragrance of the perfume (12:3). Paul teaches us that we give off a “smell” of Jesus Christ when we follow Him (2 Cor. 2:15-16). How do we smell in that regard? If we love Jesus and we are living His gospel in our lives, we are going to give off a “Christian scent” everywhere we go. We don’t act one way at church and another way at work; or one way at home and another way at school. We give off the fragrance of Christ wherever we are.

Now, just like Mary, we express our love through service. Now, we also notice that our acts of service given to God are not always going to be appreciated, even by those who claim to also love Jesus Christ! Some of the apostles of Christ who were there - and Judas Iscariot is specifically named by John (12:4) were indignant that Mary would serve Jesus like that! Notice it is not Lazarus or Martha - Mary’s siblings - but Jesus’ apostles who are indignant! This word means to snort or roar and it is used for horses. Maybe that gives you an audible idea of what sounds they were making, as they scolded Mary. At the end of verse 5, these supposedly “godly” men are scolding Mary for this waste!

It is interesting that the word translated “waste” in 14:4 is translated son of “perdition” in John 17:12, in reference to - Judas Iscariot. So, Judas was criticizing Mary for wasting money when he, himself, was wasting his life!

The apostles think the perfume would be better used in giving to the poor. Certainly God command the Israelites to give to the poor. Today, many people think it is better to give to the poor than to give to the church. While the church does help the poor - through our food pantry for example - the help the poor need more than anything else is the gospel message in their hearts and the church is obligated to provide that as well as food in the stomach.

No, everyone is not going to appreciate your acts of service. Even some Christians might not appreciate your acts of service. But regardless, the next point we observe is that…

In Colossians 3:22-24, Paul encourages Christians that even in our secular lives, we are serving the Lord and we will receive a reward from Jesus Christ. Our service will be recognized. Also in Matthew 10:40-42, Jesus promises that if we give a cup of water to a little one who believes in Jesus, will be rewarded by Jesus.

Let’s see what Jesus says here. First, He scolds His apostles for bothering Mary. Second, Jesus states that she has done a “good deed.” The apostles did not understand it. They did not see the gift from Mary’s perspective, nor did they see it from Christ’s perspective.

Third, Jesus states that, in their interest to help the poor, the poor would always need help. There will never be a time when any society will not have poor people. Ever since President Lyndon Johnson declared his “war on poverty” in the 1964, the United States has spent an estimated $15 trillion on state-sponsored welfare. But the rate of poverty has not gone down. According to the U. S. Census data in 2020, the poverty rate in the United States is 11.4%. That averages out to be $263 billion per year on poverty programs. And we haven’t touched the proverbial iceberg. That averages out to be about $7,000 per person per year in poverty.

Jesus’ point to the apostles is that they will always have the poor to serve; but they will not always have Him. Not only was He going to be killed and buried, but eventually He would raise from the dead and ascend into heaven. Their opportunity to serve Him was then. Our opportunity to serve God, to show Him that we love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we are willing to love our neighbor as ourself, is here and now - in this lifetime.

Fourth, Jesus told His apostles that Mary has “done what she could.” We don’t know where Mary got such expensive perfume. Maybe it was a gift to the family from a wealthy politician. Maybe it was a gift from their parents or a previous generation. But she had it and she gave it to Jesus. Fifth, Jesus states that Mary has anointed His body for burial. Is that what Mary actually had in mind? If so, then Mary understood the death of Christ perhaps better than His apostles. It might be that Mary had something else in mind; maybe she was just being nice to her dear friend, for raising her brother from the dead. If that is the case, then Jesus simply reinterpreted her actions and put them into the light of His coming crucifixion.

The apostles, as we all know, did not help get Jesus’ body ready for burial. The women stepped forward and did so. Two men outside of the twelve apostles - Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus - helped with His burial. But the apostles did not help. They were hiding in fear!

To enjoy the “well-lived life,” we need to recognize that Jesus will reward our service. Don’t get burned out doing good. In due season, we will reap a reward if we do not lose heart (Gal. 6:9).

Any time Jesus says the word “truly,” He really wanted to emphasize what He was saying. In all four Gospel accounts, Jesus says “truly” 108 times! A lot of those are repeats from one Gospel to another. But the point is, Jesus really wants to emphasize this next statement. It’s got to be the reason why this event is recorded for our instruction…

“Wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world…” As we all know, the word “gospel” refers in its most narrow definition to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It can also refer more broadly to everything about Jesus and all the teachings from Jesus. But, it can also refer, ultimately to the whole Bible. Everything in the Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 have connection to the gospel message. When that message is preached all over the world, Jesus says…

“what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” Just like I’m doing today. Evangelism and service go hand in hand. We talk about the gospel - that’s evangelism; and we serve others - that’s evangelism. Service to non-Christians is “pre-evangelism.” We’re softening hearts and earning peoples’ trust. Because, as they say, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

When we show people they are important, through our acts of service, then they will be more likely to listen when we try to teach them what God’s truth is. We really can’t have one with out the other.

Julian Lennon wrote of his dad: “He was a hypocrite. Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world, but he could not show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son.” Julian Lennon was abandoned at age five by his father, Beatle John Lennon.
Julian continued: “How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces—no communication, adultery, divorce? You can’t do it, not if you’re being true and honest with yourself.”

The same point is true about the gospel. We can talk about loving others and serving others, but if we don’t put that love into action in both service and teaching the gospel, we’re not being true and honest with ourselves.

Take home message: Let us put our lives where our mouth is. If we sing “All to Jesus I Surrender,” let’s surrender our all to Jesus, giving our lives as a living sacrifice that we might serve others and bring the gospel into their lives.


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