Holy Week Sermon: Wednesday’s Devotion & Treachery

Bottle of Nard Perfume I finally got a chance to finish the Bonhoeffer book that I’ve been reading; it’s been a really gripping book. You know, normally, biographies (especially when you know the ending of the story, and it’s not necessarily a good ending), can be a little challenging to finish. This particular book, the more I read it, the more excited I got.

(Which is a little odd, because I was hoping the ending would turn out different than I knew it would…)

Sure enough, Pastor Bonhoeffer was fully devoted to God in being put to death by the Nazis. I really wanted him NOT to… I did not know, for example, that he had been engaged; so while he’s in prison, he’s writing these amazing letters back and forth with his fiancee. So I’m really hoping, “Come on, they’ve got to get together!”

They don’t.

But their devotion drew them towards one another even in this difficult time. And it just struck me, once again, how our devotion moves us to do things that normally, we wouldn’t do. And I think that’s what we’re going to see in our text today. If you’ll turn in your Bibles to Mark chapter 14, we’re going to be looking at Wednesday of Holy Week; and in this Wednesday, we’re going to see devotion show up in a number of different ways, and I’d like to point out that devotion doesn’t guarantee godliness.

There are people who are in the text today who are definitely devoted to what they have in mind, but it’s not godly stuff. So, let’s take a look at this; we’re looking at Mark 14 – the first two verses let us know that it’s Wednesday.

“Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some [notice this:] sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot.” (Mark 14:1-2, NIV)

You see, these leaders are looking for a way to entrap Jesus. A trap that doesn’t put them in danger of the crowd… that “sly way” shows us a little bit about the devotion of these leaders. Are they devoted to an ideal? Absolutely! But they want to make sure that they don’t personally bear the cost of that ideal. Some leaders are devoted to protecting their power, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re being godly. They want to make sure to shut Jesus up. He has overturned their tables; He has challenged their position of authority – they don’t like this one little bit, but they don’t want the crowd to take it out on them if they remove Him… so they decide that they’ve got to look for some sly way to do it.

Now contrast that devotion to power with what we see in verses 3 through 5; let’s read those.

“While he [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’ And they rebuked her harshly.” (Mark 14:3-5, NIV)

You know, some people are devoted to protecting their power; some are devoted to conserving cash flow! That seems to be what was on the mind of some of these people here; now, let’s do a little detective work – who is saying this? Who do we know is there at dinner? We know that Jesus is there; we know that Simon the Leper is there; and we know that the woman is there. And the text doesn’t give us any indication that any one of those three would have said these things. Who else is there? Who follows Jesus around all the time: the disciples. The disciples are there, and verse 4 says, “… some of those present were saying indignantly to one another…” So this is not just one person who is being the speaker; somebody is saying this, but somebody is also listening to it. Conserving that cash flow might be of concern to more than just one disciple. We know that the people who are talking have to be disciples; they can’t be the chief priests and Pharisees. Why? Well, where are they having dinner? They’re having dinner in Simon the Leper’s house; would the chief priests and scribes go into a leper’s house? No way! They’d be ceremonially unclean. That’s not something that we chief priests would do; besides, who knows what’s going to be in the stew? They’re not going to take any chances!

So it’s not going to be the chief priests or the scribes… it has to be the disciples. Now, we have a couple of other gospels that give us some more information. If you were keep your thumb here, and look back at Matthew 26:8, it specifically says that the disciples were the ones who were saying this. And if you were to look forward to John 12, we get the name that Judas Iscariot is the one who says this, who brings up this topic.

So why? Why is it that Judas is so concerned? Is he just that much a fan of nard?

I have to tell you, I was little curious about this “nard” stuff; I looked it up. Nard is made from a very rare plant, and you crush the plant and the essential oils that come out of it are collected. Usually, that oil is used to either flavor medicine (a little tiny bit goes a long way), or it would be used as an element in other perfumes. But this is just the very essential stuff – so a jar of pure nard is very labor intensive, and it would be very, very strong smelling stuff. So when this woman breaks the jar of nard and pours it all over, not only is this a year’s wages, but this could conceivably be a year’s worth of work, to gather all of the oils together to make this stuff.

So, there’s certainly something to be said: “why would she do this? Do you realize how much money we could have sold that for? How many medicines we could have distributed? How many other perfumes could have been made?” Is that really what Judas and the disciples are getting at? It seems to be more about the bottom line. If we were to look at John 12, it specifically says Judas says this because of his greed. So… he’s devoted; the leaders are devoted to protecting their power; Judas – some of the disciples – are devoted to conserving the cash flow… are either of these things godly goals?

No. They’re not.

Look at Jesus’ response, at verses 6 through 9: “’Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand [for what reason?] to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’” (Mark 14:6-9, NIV)

Jesus’ rebuke here is to let these people know that she has done a beautiful thing – to prepare him for burial. This is not something that the disciples are ready to hear. Remember just outside of Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus finally asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Blessed are you, Peter, for you didn’t figure this out on your own; God the Father gave you that information.” And He began to explain to the disciples what the real role of Messiah was to be: to be the Suffering Servant, to be the Sacrifice for Sin. And what was the disciples response? What did Peter do? “No! No, Lord, it can’t be! That’s not a good plan, Lord. We have to figure out something else…”

And Jesus took him aside and rebuked him, and said, “Get behind me, Satan.” Not “get behind me, Peter”, but Satan; Adversary. One who is standing against what God has planned for Me.

He is trying to communicate to the disciples, once again, that being prepared for burial, well that’s kind of a (if you’ll pardon the pun) dead giveaway. Right? He’s going to die, and He wants to make sure that the disciples get that, and they are stubborn. They’re obstinate. “No… it has to be something else. Just think of how many people we could have helped if we’d sold that. This could have paid for the ministry for another year…”

Devotion to the poor is admirable (Jesus even says so), but devotion to God is more so.

The disciples didn’t want to hear what Jesus was devoted to; Jesus is devoted to following the Father. There’s no power here; there’s no concern about cash flow; He is following the Father. The Isaiah passage that we read said that He set His face like flint, as He looked to Jerusalem. That cannot be an easy task that He knows He’s walking into… but this is what the Father has called Him to do. He is willing to pay the ultimate price here.

And then almost a postscript to the story; look at 10 and 11:

“Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Mark 14:10-11, NIV)

You have two devotions that merge together in these two verses. The leaders are looking for a way to make sure that Jesus is taken out, so that they don’t get in trouble for it so their power is preserved. Judas apparently wants to make sure that the cash flow is coming in; his greed overcomes him. He goes to the people who want power, and they say, “Hey, we’ll PAY you” and he’s overjoyed. Both of their devotions get met and satisfied. Is it godly?

No. It’s not.

The question I have is: “Are you willing to follow the Father into self-sacrifice the way that Jesus was?” Now granted, none of us will ever be the sacrifice for sin. But parents, grandparents… you know what it’s like to sacrifice for your kids. When you do that, and every time you do that, you are acting like Christ. Kids: every time your parents do something that really benefits you over them… watch them do it, because they are functioning as a parable of Jesus for you.

Now students, let’s be honest (and I’m preaching to my own kid here just as much as anybody else) – it’s hard, sometimes, to watch your parents and think, “Oh, Jesus is like that.” Because you don’t come across thinking, students, as “Gosh, Jesus must be really… annoying!”

But let’s look at that for a second. Was Jesus annoying? To the people in power He certainly was. Was Jesus frustrating? To Judas He certainly was. Parents, I don’t know if this makes you uncomfortable or not (grandparents, this would count for you as well)… You are metaphors for Christ in the lives of your kids.

What are you devoted to?

When God says, “this is what I want you, specifically, to do…” The message for all of us is that we are to follow the Father in sacrifice, but what is it that you, specifically, are to lay on the altar as your act of living worship?

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