How Much is Jesus Worth?
A sermon on Mark 14:1-25 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 7/30/00
Letís begin this morning with a multiple choice question:
If you could become any one of these four people, which would you choose?
Which do you choose?
Some of us might have a hard time choosing between a, b, and c; but is there anyone here this morning who would pick d?
Let me change the question: You now have the same four choices, except: if you choose a, b, or c, you do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If youíre the aids orphan, you do.
Which do you choose now?
Is the choice hard?
Do you see what Iím asking? How much is Jesus worth? Is knowing him worth more than all of Bill Gatesí fortune? Is knowing Him worth more than all the fame or power of a movie star or a president?
Today we consider the first 25 verses of Mark 14. The central theme of this section is: How much do we value Jesus? This passage is like a play: there are four main characters or groups of characters, all revolving around Jesus, all trying to determine what Jesus is worth. The characters are:
The passage divides itself into five scenes. We'll begin this morning by reading the entire passage, stopping only briefly after each scene to clarify or elaborate on a few points; after reading, we will compare and contrast some of these characters, drawing out lessons for ourselves. So while we read, think about the different characters. What is their purpose? What is their goal? How do they value Jesus? And ask yourself, How much do I value Jesus?
Recall the context of Mark 14: this is the last week of Jesus' life; from the very beginning of his ministry there has been conflict with the chief priests, but now it is all coming to a head. Jesus has cleared the moneychangers from the temple -- implicitly saying that those who are responsible for the temple -- the chief priests -- are not doing their job. And in Mark 13, He prophecies that temple will be destroyed completely, with not one stone left on another. As you would anticipate, these statements and actions don't tend to pacify the anger of the chief priests.
Scene 1: The Chief Priests and Associates
1 ∂ Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread was two days off; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth, and kill Him; 2 for they were saying, "Not during the festival, lest there be a riot of the people." (Mark 14:1,2 NASB)
At this time, Passover was the Jewish festival most widely attended. We donít know how many Jews who lived in surrounding areas and other countries flooded into Jerusalem, but at least a few hundred thousand, and possibly more than a million. Among these would be many who had heard Jesus speak, and many who had welcomed Him so joyously on Palm Sunday, just a few days previously. So the chief priests want to avoid arresting Him during the festival Ė not to preserve the sanctity of the feast but to minimize opposition to their move. They want to move on the sly, stealthily, and deal with Jesus privately, at night, where those who oppose them might not notice.
Scene 2: Jesus, the Disciples, and a Woman
3 And while He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. 4 But some were indignantly remarking to one another, "Why has this perfume been wasted? 5 "For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they were scolding her (or as the NIV reads, they "rebuked her harshly.") 6 But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. 7 "For the poor you always have with you, and whenever you wish, you can do them good; but you do not always have Me. 8 "She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9 "And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her." (Mark 14:3-9 NASB)
Picture the scene: Jesus and his disciples, possibly with other guests are eating at the home of Simon the Leper -- presumably a former leper whom Jesus had healed. This house is in Bethany, a couple of miles outside Jerusalem, where Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, live. As is the custom in this time and place, they are not sitting down to eat but reclining, lying with their feet away from the table, resting on their left arms, using their right hands to eat. The table is short, perhaps a foot high.
During the meal a woman enters the room carrying an incredibly expensive jar of perfume. She not only opens the jar, but breaks it, filling the room with its aroma. Then, rather than putting a small amount on Jesus, she pours the entire jar on him.
John tells us the identify of the woman: Mary, the sister of Lazarus. He also tells us that she does not stop at his head, but pours the perfume on his feet, and wipes those feet with her hair.
The plant that produces nard at this time was grown only in the Himalayas, and so the perfume is very expensive. If the stated value of three hundred denarii is accurate, this would be about $15,000 in the US today: 300 times one day's wage for unskilled labor. Nard was literally a gift for a king.
John tells us that Judas begins the rebuke of Mary for this "waste," and then the other disciples chime in. But Jesus accepts this offering, and silences her critics.
Scene 3: Judas and the Chief Priests
10 And Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests, in order to betray Him to them. 11 And they were glad when they heard this, and promised to give him money. And he began seeking how to betray Him at an opportune time.
Chief priests are delighted: their problem is solved. Judas will help them find Jesus in a private place, so they can arrest Him where there are no crowds to start a riot.
Matthew tells us the amount of money they offered him: 30 pieces of silver, probably worth three to four denarii each. So the total value was about 100 denarii, or about $5000 for us. The chief priests pay Judas about one-third of the value of the nard Mary poured out on Jesus. According to the Old Testament, this is the value that the owner of an ox would have to pay the owner of a slave gored by the ox. So Judas sells Jesus for the price of a slave.
Scene 4: Jesus and the Disciples, Preparing for the Last Supper
12 ∂ And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples *said to Him, "Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?" 13 And He *sent two of His disciples, and *said to them, "Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ĎThe Teacher says, "Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"Ď 15 "And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; and prepare for us there." 16 And the disciples went out, and came to the city, and found it just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover. (Mark 14:12-16 NASB)
With all the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for Passover, finding a place to eat the Passover meal is a real problem. The meal should be eaten within the confines of the city proper, but room reservations are hard to find. Furthermore, the Jesus and the disciples need to move with some secrecy, since an arrest in a private home would be convenient for the chief priests.
Now, although they have been in town almost a week, the disciples have made no arrangements for a room. They have been so caught up in the events of the last week they havenít even thought about the Passover meal. It is not a surprise that they would need a place within Jerusalem to eat the Passover. And Jesus had prophesied about His death, so they should have known this would be an especially important time. But they didnít think.
Jesus, however, had graciously prepared details ahead of time. Presumably during His last visit to Jerusalem, Jesus made arrangements for a room to be available for this special meal. He then works miraculously, arranging that upon their arrival in the city they will see a man carrying a jar of water (an unusual event in these times). Like Samuel speaking to Saul, telling him who he will meet on the way home, Jesus gives further evidence to His disciples of His authority and foreknowledge at this critical time.
Scene 5: Jesus and His Disciples: The Last Supper
17 And when it was evening He *came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Meóone who is eating with Me." 19 They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, "Surely not I?" 20 And He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who dips with Me in the bowl. 21 "For the Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." 22 And while they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it; and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body." 23 And when He had taken a cup, and given thanks, He gave it to them; and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 "Truly I say to you, I shall never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." (Mark 14:17-25 NASB)
Jesus and the disciples wait until they can move under the cover of darkness to the upper room. Here, while they are eating, Jesus breaks the news that one of the twelve disciples will betray Him. Twice before -- in Mark 9:31 and 10:33 -- Jesus has said that He will be betrayed (note that the NASB translates the word "delivered up" in those verses, but it is the same Greek word translated "betray" in 14:18). But the disciples had not understood much of what Jesus said in those verses, and clearly did not think that one of the twelve would be the betraying agent. They cannot believe this -- clearly the eleven have no suspicions of Judas -- and each one asks Jesus if he is the betrayer.
In this culture, to be betrayed by one "who is eating with me," who "dips with me in the bowl" was considered particularly treacherous. To eat with someone implied friendship, trust, and an obligation to help and protect them. So by speaking of their eating together, and saying that the betrayer is "one of the twelve," Jesus is emphasizing the enormity of the evil of what is happening.
Yet Jesus knows this has all been prophesied 1000 years previously, when David wrote Psalm 41:
Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me (Psalm 41:9 NASB)
The Characters: Jesus
Now let's turn our attention to the characters. We will look first at Jesus, and then draw some comparisons and contrasts between the others.
Mark clearly presents Jesus as in control of the situation. Jesus is not surprised by anything that happens. The chief priests are trying to move secretly, on the sly, but Jesus knows their plans and arranges matters so that His arrest does not take place until He has finished His other work. Judas thinks he is fooling the other -- and he succeeds in fooling his fellow disciples. But Jesus knows of the betrayal, and lets Judas know that He knows. Jesus is well-prepared for this momentous last meal, making arrangements ahead of time. Jesus controls events at the house of Simon the Leper, interpreting what Mary has done so that the others might understand.
But most importantly, Jesus presents Himself as precious through the institution of the Lord's Supper. There are two aspects his preciousness to unpack here. First:
(1) The Lord's Supper signifies that Jesus pays the penalty for our sins
When offering the cup, Jesus says "this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many." In Mark, this is the clearest statement yet of Jesus' role in atoning for our sins. In 10:45 Jesus says he came to "give his life a ransom for many;" here He elaborates on that theme. Jesus here identifies himself with the Passover lamb, whose blood, we are told in the Old Testament, would have been poured out on the altar "to make atonement for your souls." Paul also emphasizes this parallel between Jesus and the Passover lamb, stating "Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7).
What does this mean? As the author of the book of Hebrews writes, "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." God is a just God; He is the moral authority in the universe. He makes sure that every wrong is paid for, exactly as it deserves. And each of us sins in many ways. Most fundamentally, each of us fails to praise God as we should; instead, we dishonor Him by our actions, our inaction, our thoughts, and our words. But Jesus, the perfect, unblemished lamb, offers His life to pay the penalty for all our sins, enabling us to enter God's presence spotless and pure. This is what we act out and celebrate when we partake of the Lord's Supper. This is how precious Jesus is.
But there's even more!
(2) The Lord's Supper signifies that Jesus lives within you
Given that Jesus pays the penalty for all our sins, we should respond by living out lives that honor and glorify him. But how can we do that, since we are so prone to selfishness, self-centeredness, and other forms of evil?
Jesus says the cup is His "blood of the covenant." In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us that Jesus said the cup is the "blood of the new covenant." A covenant is an agreement, a promise -- in this case between God and His people, telling them how they can become right with Him, and how they can fulfill their purpose by glorifying God. The idea of a new covenant goes back to Jeremiah 31:33:
"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Or, as Paul puts it in Colossians: "Christ in You, the Hope of glory." God says His law will not be something external, rules that His people will have to live up to. No. His law will be on their heart, within them, and they will have true intimacy with Himself.
So Jesus gives us this wonderful picture: We are to eat His flesh, and drink His blood; we are to have His life within us, always. Remember, God had commanded the Israelites not to drink any blood of any kind, and to drain all the blood from an animal prior to cooking its meat. God's explanation of this command is found in Leviticus 17:11:
ĎFor the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.í
God tells the Israelites to eat no blood, for the life is in the blood, and that serves to make atonement for their souls. So when Jesus tells us to drink His blood, He tells us to have His life within us. Christ in us, the hope of glory. So by the power of the living Christ within us, we not only can stand before God with our sins paid for; we also are transformed eventually into His likeness, as He lives out His life in us.
So we are to drink up Jesus' life, consume Him, for, as Jesus says in John 6:55, "My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink." This is the lesson for us: Feed on Him, devour Him, get all our sustenance from Him, value Him above all else, desire Him more than anything, glorify Him with our money, our time, all that we are. Jesus is the most precious of all.
Reactions to Jesus by the Other Characters
How do the other characters react to this most precious One? The woman, Mary, is central here. All others are in contrast to her.
Mary vs the Chief Priests
The chief priests pay money to destroy Jesus; Mary gives much more money to anoint Jesus for burial.
Mary vs the Disciples
The disciples have had much more instruction from Jesus than Mary ever had. Jesus had prophesied about His death in their presence at least three times; indeed, when they returned toward Jerusalem, they are concerned because the authorities have tried to stone Jesus. Thomas even says, "Let us also go, that we might die with Him." Nevertheless, they act completely unprepared for His death. They do not act as if they expect anything to happen; they don't even make any preparations for their last Passover meal together.
On the other hand, Mary surely does not understand all that is happening, but knows that she will not have Jesus with her much longer. Despite not having heard Jesus' prophecies about His death, she knows that He will die, and knows that Jesus is more precious than anything else imaginable. So she gives up what is most valuable to her -- this jar of nard, perhaps a family heirloom -- to prepare His body for burial. She demeans herself even to the point of rubbing His feet with her hair, knowing that the most important thing of all is devotion to Jesus.
Mary vs Judas
Judas is one of these disciples, one of the intimate circle that has been loved by Jesus, taught by Him. Judas has traveled with Jesus for three years, and has heard those prophecies about His death. Judas has even been empowered by Jesus to perform miracles when He sent the disciples out two by two. But now, Judas sells the most precious person in the world for the price of a slave. For $5000, Judas gave up the source of all true life.
Mary has had much less contact with Jesus, but values Him above all else. She gives up three times what Judas received for betraying Him, in order to honor Him and acknowledge Him as precious.
But there's another contrast between Judas and Mary. Look again at verse 21, where Jesus says:
"For the Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born."
This verse proclaims both God's sovereignty and man's accountability. God is sovereign; He foretold Judas' betrayal 1000 years previously. And He arranged events so that all would take place according to His good, perfect, and wise plan. God is in control.
Yet Judas chooses to betray Jesus, and is responsible for that choice; Jesus says, "Woe to that man!" For what he does, Judas name for all time with be the name of a traitor.
What is the contrast with Mary? She too was part of God's plan, acting out the preciousness of Jesus for all the world to see. She too made a choice. Her name too will live for all time, "that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her."
So why are these scenes together? Why does Mark put the story of Mary's anointing of Jesus right next to the story of the Last Supper?
Mary lives out the picture of the Lord's Supper. Mary is feeding on Jesus, showing that she values Him above all else -- and this is what Jesus pictures for us in the Lord's Supper.
John Piper puts it this way:
When you truly partake of the cup and the table of the Lord, you are being nourished and satisfied by the Lord, and loving the Lord, and delighting in the Lord, and trusting the Lord and fellowshipping with the Lord. That's what it means to share in the blood and body of Christ -- to sit with Jesus at the banquet of the benefits of his death.
Are you sold out to God? Or are you just sold out? Mary was sold out to God. Judas was sold out. Just as Esau sold his inheritance for lentil stew, Judas sold His soul for $5000.
That seems incredible to us ó but whatís your price? Do you have a price?
While many of our brothers and sisters around the world and in the history of the church have to ask that question, for us the prospect of physical punishment or death for proclaiming the preciousness of Jesus seems abstract, unreal. So ask yourself this question: Is your price a steady job and a nice income and a nice house and a nice car and college for the kids?
Good things, all: But are you devoting yourself to these goals more than you are devoting yourself to following Jesus? Is the pursuit of these things, is your plan to achieve all these things, standing in the way of your making a radical, life-changing commitment to God? Standing in the way of your expressing you wholehearted devotion to Jesus, like Mary?
Instead, are you more like Simon's dinner guests: calculating, "Oh, thatís too much to give to Jesus! Weíll give him our worship on Sunday, and a tenth of our income (maybe); that should be enough. But, Hey! What I do with the rest of my money and the rest of my time, thatís up to me."
Are you sold out to Jesus and the gospel? Or are you only playing at church?
You donít owe Jesus only a tenth of your income. You donít owe him only your worship on Sunday. You owe him everything! You owe Him your entire life!
But this is not some onerous debt you have to repay, which hurts each time you make a payment! For when you yield to him, when you give up these pseudo-successes and pseudo-pleasures the world offers, when instead you feed on Him, and drink Him up Ė you find the real love, joy, and peace the world so much longs for. You get to know the most precious, the most beautiful, the most loving person in the world. And as you get to know Him, and as you see Him and learn more and more of Him, as you drink Him up, you become like Him.
So do that! Drink him up! Feed on him!
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord Ė and enter in to the joy of His presence.
So, yes, I would rather be a poor aids orphan in a developing country Ė and know Jesus - than the richest man in the world, and not know Him. I know that thatís the right choice. I donít always act consistently with that knowledge, but I know itís right.
What about you? Is Jesus more precious to you than anything in this world?
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 7/30/00. John Piper's quote is taken fromhis sermon of 10/4/92.
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