Sunday School Lesson 12 - Mark 14:3-11, 32-36 - PREPARES
BACKGROUND: Last week we covered part of Mark's account of the Olivet Discourse (Mk. 13:1-37) in which Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple and warned his disciples to be alert for signs of a Great Tribulation that would be followed by His Second Coming. The main points of application to us were: (1) As Jesus' present-day disciples, we need to pay close attention to His words of warning. (2) As Jesus' present-day disciples we should be especially watchful for the signs that point to His return (v. 29). (3) When Jesus warns us three times to "Watch out, stay alert" (vv. 33, 35, and 37), he is referring to our spiritual alertness. And (4) The possibility of Jesus returning soon should intensify our burden for the lost.
This week, in Mk. 14:3-11, 32-36, we continue our study of Mark's gospel as he reports three separate episodes during the last week of Jesus' life. The first story (vv. 3-9) takes place while Jesus is a guest at the house of Simon the leper in Bethany, where, as a symbol of His coming death, a woman anoints His head with pure nard, an incredibly expensive perfume/ointment. The second event (vv. 10-11) tells of Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Jesus to the chief priests. In the final episode (vv. 32-36) we find Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prepares Himself to face arrest, humiliation, agonizing pain, and ultimately, death on a cross.
Read Mark 14:3 - A WOMAN ANNOINTS JESUS HEAD WITH PERFUME
3 While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper, He was reclining at the table, and a woman came with an alabaster vial of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the vial and poured the perfume over His head.
3a: "While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper" - Scholarly efforts to clarify the identity of "Simon the Leper" raises more questions than answers, so I will leave it there. In John's account, this event takes place at the house of Lazarus (Jn. 12:1-8). Bethany (see map) is about a mile east of the Jerusalem wall on the Jericho Road.
3b: "He was reclining at the table" - The dining practice in those days was to lay on pillows or a palette with your feet to the side or behind you and your upper body positioned up over the table.
3c: "and a woman came with an alabaster vial of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the vial and poured the perfume over His head" - In John's account, the woman is identified as Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Pure nard is a rare Indian root extract, and a full vial would have been worth about 300 denarii (= 300 days wages). Although anointing a guest's head with a few drops of oil was customary at feasts, the woman's action in this instance-pouring out the entire vial-was a genuine act of worship that expressed her deeply felt love and devotion toward Jesus.
Read Mark 14:4-5 - SOME WERE INDIGNANT
4 But there were some indignantly remarking to one another, "Why has this perfume been wasted? 5 For this perfume could have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they were scolding her.
v. 4 "But there were some indignantly remarking to one another, 'Why has this perfume been wasted?'" - Jn. 12:4-5 identifies Judas Iscariot as the spokesman. The word he used for "wasted" (Gk. apōleia) literally translates to perdition-i.e., eternal damnation, an unusually severe remark.
v. 5a: "For this perfume could have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." This is Judas speaking again. John's version adds that Judas wasn't concerned about the poor but upset because (as treasurer) he'd missed an opportunity to pocket the money himself.
v. 5b: "And they were scolding her" - The word "some" in v. 4 and "they" here indicates that Judas wasn't the only disciple who disapproved of the using all of the valuable nard in an anointing and indicates that they sternly+ rebuked the woman for doing it. But notice that the women made no effort to defend herself but quietly allowed Jesus-who knew her heart-to do it for her.
Read Mark 14:6-9 - SHE HAS DONE A GOOD DEED FOR ME
6 But Jesus said, "Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a good deed for Me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9 Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the entire world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her."
v. 6a: "But Jesus said, "Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her?" - You've heard the old expression that you tend to believe what you want to believe and turn a deaf ear to the rest? The disciples have followed Jesus for three years and now, only two days before He will be crucified, they still think He's the Jewish Messiah who will drive out the Romans. They still entertain visions of grandeur about the new roles Jesus will give them in this new kingdom. The irony is that this women seems to be the only one there who really understands Jesus' destiny-that He is going to die.
v. 6b: "She has done a good deed for Me." - This was a very high compliment. The Greek word used for "good" here (kalos) means more than just acceptable but expresses something wonderful and breathtaking! She didn't just give Jesus something or other; she gave Him all she had to give.
v. 7: "For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me." - Jesus didn't intend this as a uncaring remark; for we know that concern for the poor is always very close to His heart. But He adds the subtle hint that the poor would still be with them for a long time to come, while He-in bodily form-would not.
v. 8: "She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial" - It was a normal Jewish practice to anoint the body of a deceased person with aromatic oils in preparation for burial. So Jesus, in anticipation of suffering a criminal's death, where there would typically be no anointing, pictures the woman's actions as symbolic of His pre-burial anointing.
v. 9: "Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the entire world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her" - The inclusion here in Mark (+ Mt. 26:1-14 and Jn. 12:2-11) fulfills Jesus' prediction that this woman's story would be known wherever the gospel is preached in this world. In fact, her story has since been told worldwide down through the ages in hundreds of different languages. This woman's anointing of Jesus' head serves as an act of historical tribute that forever establishes it as a memorial for Jesus' crucifixion as the Passover Lamb.
Read Mark 14:10-11 - IN ORDER TO BETRAY HIM
10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. 11 They were delighted when they heard this, and promised to give him money. And he began seeking how to betray Him at an opportune time.
v. 10: Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them" - Judas is a common Jewish name that is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word Judah. This episode comes after Judas observed Jesus approve the waste of the valuable perfume the woman used to anoint His head. Judas' critical comments in vv. 4-5 together with John's revelation that he's a thief (Jn. 12:6), expose a major character flaw-greed-which gave Satan his opening. At this point, Judas probably didn't grasp that he's about to become the infamous "son of destruction" (Jn. 17:12). Although God allowed this event to happen, He didn't create Judas for this express purpose; rather, it was a direct consequence of Judas' sin nature and the choices he made. It also seems likely that Judas might have heard that the chief priests were looking for an informer and seized it on impulse as an opportunity to enrich himself.
v. 11: "They were delighted when they heard this, and promised to give him money. And he began seeking how to betray Him at an opportune time" - Judas' betrayal was a windfall for the chief priests. With one of Jesus' disciples now in their power, they were able avoid the danger of starting a riot in the crowds that surrounded Jesus and instead use the tactic of a public trial and execution as the simplest means of silencing Him-completely. Paradoxically, all of these players-Judas, the chief priests, and Satan-are all unknowingly helping Jesus to fulfill His destiny in redemptive history.
Read Mark 14:32-34 - MY SOUL IS DEEPLY GRIEVED
32 They *came to a place named Gethsemane; and He *said to His disciples, "Sit here until I have prayed." 33 And He *took with Him Peter, James, and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. 34 And He *said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch."
v. 32a: "They *came to a place named Gethsemane" - This garden was located (see map) just east of the Temple Mount, across the Brook Kidron on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. Surrounded by ancient olive trees, the name meant "olive press, signifying the place where the olive were crushed; and ironically, the Son of God would be crushed there, too.
v. 32b: "and He *said to His disciples, 'Sit here until I have prayed'" - Jesus often retreated alone to pray in private. Here, He stationed most of His disciples in one place while He walker deeper into the Garden.
v. 33a: "And He *took with Him Peter, James, and John" - These three-His inner-circle-had been with Jesus at His Transfiguration (Mk. 9:1-13) and had seen and heard things about His person and identity that none of the others had witnessed.
v. 33b: "and began to be very distressed and troubled" - Jesus had good reason to be severely distressed at that time, knowing the agony awaiting Him on the cross. This shows us that the human side of Jesus wasn't immune to feelings.
v. 34: "And He *said to them, 'My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.'" - The word used for "deeply grieved" (Gk. perilypos), conveys a sense of extreme emotional despair. Far more than the physical suffering He would endure, Jesus was profoundly disturbed by the spiritual horror He would face on the cross, where He would be separated from God in order to stand in the place of guilty sinners and take on the spiritual punishment they all deserve. Then, reaching out to His closest friends for spiritual and moral companionship, Jesus asked Peter, James, and John, to stay near Him and "keep watch," i.e., stay awake.
Read Mark 14:35-36 -NOT WHAT I WILL, BUT WHAT YOU WILL
35 And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began praying that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. 36 And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will."
v. 35a: "And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began praying" - Here, in a posture of total humility, we see Jesus laying His life before His Father in complete honesty and surrender. This pictures how any of us should seek God's face in terms of complete submission.
v. 35b: "that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by" - This statement is unique to Mark. A clear answer to this question can't be fully known on a human level, i.e., that there was no way the death of Jesus could be avoided unless God elected to call off the entire plan for human salvation.
v. 36a: "And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You" - Jesus' use of the Aramaic word "Abba" for father was an expression of intimacy, like saying "my own father." Of course, there is a sense in which "all things are possible" with God (Mt. 19:26); yet, this is true only to a point, because there are things that are morally impossible for God, since it's impossible for God to sin, to lie, to break a promise, or do anything inconsistent with His nature. And in this precise case, it was not morally possible for God alone to atone for sin and redeem lost humanity apart from providing the perfect sacrifice that Jesus was preparing Himself for at Gethsemane. Very deep, this.
v. 36b: "remove this cup from Me" - The "cup" Jesus referred to didn't represent His death; Jesus was unafraid of death. The cup represented judgment, for it was filled with the wrath of God for the sin of mankind. It meant that Jesus, in a manner of speaking, was preparing to become the enemy of God, who would be forced to "drink" the cup of His Father's righteous wrath so that we -mankind-would not have to drink from this cup, i.e., suffer eternal damnation. This, not torture and death, was Jesus' greatest trial.
v. 36c: "yet not what I will, but what You will" - For you and me, on a personal level, this might be the single, most important proclamation of the NT. Here, we see Jesus reach a point of decision at Gethsemane. It wasn't that He had not decided or consented before this time, but now, He had achieved a firm point of decision. Here's the significance we need to see: While Jesus drank (past-tense) the cup on the cross at Calvary, He decided (present-tense) once and for all to drink it at Gethsemane. The main truth here is that the struggle of the cross was won at prayer in Gethsemane.
OBSERVATION: Jesus' struggle at Gethsemane-the place of crushing-has an important position in fulfilling God's plan of redemption. If Jesus had failed here, He would have failed at the cross. His success in the Garden made the victory at the cross possible.
1. The anointing of Jesus by the woman at Simon the Leper's house paints a powerful picture of worship in which the woman loved Jesus so much that she gave Him everything she had. She didn't just give Jesus something or other; she gave him all that she had. And when she emptied the whole vial, it was a representation of the deep love and devotion she felt for Him. Another reality here is that the woman who anointed Him seems to be the only one present who understands Jesus true destiny-that he is going to die.
2. Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Jesus was motivated by his sin nature. Although God allowed this event to happen, He didn't create Judas for the express purpose of betraying Jesus. Because Judas was already a thief motivated by greed, his actions in betraying Jesus in this case should be seen as a direct consequence of his sin nature and the choices he made.
3. Effective prayer is not a natural human instinct. Real, gut-wrenching, persistent prayer-like that of Jesus in the Garden-is one of the most difficult disciplines of the Christian walk. Rather than depending on God, we are easily tempted to face the struggles and trials of life within our own capabilities and resources. Remember this: No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 1 Cor. 10:13.
4. The truth and the application of Gethsemane reside in the power of effective prayer, with Christ Himself as our model. Like Jesus, each of us should have a private place-our own Gethsemane-completely free of outside distractions (e.g., TVs, SmartPhones, iPads, computers, food, other people, etc.), where we can pray to God with complete focus, humility, and surrender.
PRAYER: Lord God, Father in heaven, we come before You this morning with thanks and praise, thanking You for the constant mercy and grace You show us. We thank You for this good church where we are free to gather together in worship and fellowship. We thank and praise You for sustaining us through this pandemic, so that we are now able to resume our normal activities as a body of believers. Lord, I imagine every one of needs to improve our both the quality and quantity of our prayer lives. I pray that the example if Jesus in the Garden in today's lesson will convict and burden every one of us of the critical importance of maintaining an intentional and effectual prayer life. All of us need to be spending more time alone with You, Dear God. Day by day, we need to realize that we are completely dependent on You for every aspect of our lives down to the smallest details-for our health (physical and spiritual), our families, our prosperity, and our church and the mission You've given us. We know that without Your guidance and intervention, we will accomplish nothing of eternal significance. I ask all of these things in the name of Jesus, the perfecter and finisher of our faith, AMEN.