Mark 14:1-11

(A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds)

February 21, 2013


Mindy McCready, a popular 37 year old country and western singer, committed suicide this past Sunday afternoon.  According to news reports, she went out on the porch of her cabin in rural Heber Springs, Arkansas, the same porch on which her fiancé took his life about a month ago, shot the dog that had belonged to her fiancé, and then shot herself.   While her ex-husband said that those closest to her should have seen this coming because of her struggle with substance abuse and depression, many people were surprised and shocked at her death.


And while the disciples should have seen the death of Jesus coming, when the event occurred they, too, were surprised and shocked.  In Mark’s Gospel, ever since chapter 8 where Mark records Peter’s great confession at Caesarea Philippi at the base of Mt. Hermon that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus had been teaching the disciples that His destiny was to suffer at the hands of the religious leaders in Jerusalem and to eventually be killed and after three days be raised from the dead.  And from chapter 8 on, Mark’s gospel has been building toward the death and resurrection of Jesus.


In our journey through Mark we have come to chapter 14.  This chapter begins with a plot to kill Jesus and ends with Jesus under arrest and standing before His accusers.  In this session we are going to focus on Mark 14:1-11.


The first eleven verses of Mark 14 contain three major movements:


14: 1-2    - The plot to kill Jesus

14: 3-9    - The anointing at Bethany

14:10-11 - The betrayal by Judas Iscariot


The major difficulty with this passage is the events do not seemed to be arranged in chronological order.  Taken at face value, one would assume that Mark was saying the anointing at Bethany took place sometime in the middle the last week of Jesus life.  That’s what the phrase about the Passover being “…two days off…” in verse 1 would indicate.    However, John’s Gospel says this event took place “six days before the Passover” (John 12:1) which would have been on the Friday before Passion or Holy week.


Does that mean the Bible is contradicting itself?  I don’t think so.  A closer look at the text of Mark and the parallel passage in Matthew (Matthew 26:1-16) indicates that Mark and Matthew inserted this story of the anointing at Bethany in this place as a partial explanation of the betrayal of Judas.  Mark 14:3-9 is a flashback to help explain what Judas did in verses 10-11.  We saw Mark using this same literary technique in chapter 6 when he retold the story of the death of John the Baptist.  Interestingly, Luke’s account of the plot to kill Jesus and the betrayal of Judas is told without the insertion of the story of the anointing. (see Luke 22:1-6)


The Plot to Kill Jesus (14:1-2)


Verse 1

“…the Passover and Unleavened Bread…” - Originally these were two separate feasts commemorating the same event, the last plague that caused Pharaoh to allow the Hebrews to leave Egypt. The requirements for the Passover meal are found in Exod. 12:1–14, 21–28, 43–51. The procedures for the seven day feast of Unleavened Bread are found in Exod. 12:8, 15–20 (cf. Num. 28:16–25, Deut. 16:1–8, and Josephus’ Antiquities 3:10:5).[1]


“…two days away…” – Actually the festival of Unleavened Bread began on the day after the Passover.  So, technically they both could not have been two days away.  However, since these two observances were so closely related, they were often referred to together as “The Passover.”  This statement indicates this verse is referring to events that occurred on Wednesday of Holy Week.  That’s what the phrase “two days off” in verse 1 suggests.  The Passover began at sundown on Thursday.  In Jewish thinking, two days before that would be anytime on Wednesday prior to sundown.


“…chief priests and scribes…” – Matthew tells us this group gathered in “…the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas…” giving this plot the official sanction of the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem.


“…how to seize Him by stealth, and kill Him…” – This is nothing new for two other times in Mark’s gospel we are told of the religious leaders desire to do away with Jesus (Mark 3:6 after a conflict with them about Sabbath observance and Mark 11:18 after He drove the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals out of the Temple.  However, this plot seems more organized and less spontaneous than the other two.


Verse 2

“…Not during the festival, lest there be a riot…” - Jesus was very popular in Galilee. During the Passover Jerusalem grew to three times her normal population with pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean area, many of whom were from Galilee.[2]


The Anointing at Bethany (14:3-9)


Verse 3a – The setting

“…in Bethany…” - A city on the ridge known as the Mt. of Olives, not far from Jerusalem, was a popular place for pilgrims to sleep during the three annual mandatory feasts. Every Jewish family who lived close to Jerusalem was culturally obligated to open their homes to pilgrims.[3]


“…the home of Simon the leper…” – Obviously, this man did not still have the disease of leprosy.  More than likely, he was one of several lepers that Jesus healed during His ministry.  But even at that, not many people would have been in the home of a former leper. 


John’s account of this event implies, while not stating explicitly, that this event took place in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Putting these two accounts together has led some to speculate that perhaps Simon was the father of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.


Verse 3b – The event


“…there came a woman…” – John identifies her as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.  It is interesting the John mentions her name but Mark does not.  That may be because Mark’s Gospel is the earliest of the gospels, and he may felt it would have put Mary in danger by identifying her.  John was written much later, maybe even after Mary’s death, so he felt free to identify her.  It is also interesting that each of the three main times we meet Mary in the Scripture, we find her at the feet of Jesus...

·         The first time we see her in Scripture she is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him teach...

·         The second time we see her she is kneeling at his feet in sorrow over the death of her brother Lazarus...

·         And then, in this event we see her at Jesus feet in genuine, unselfish worship...


“…with an alabaster vial…” – This was a round container with a long, narrow neck and no handles made from white opaque stone from Alabastron, Egypt.  The container, itself, was costly and would have been used to store only perfumes of great value.


“…costly perfume of pure nard…” - An aromatic oil from a rare plant root native to India.[4]


“…broke the vial…” – So the perfume would flow more easily.  This indicates that she intended to use every bit of the perfume on Jesus.


“…poured it over His head…” - John wrote that she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair (cf. John 12:3). Both are possible since Jesus was reclining on a dining couch at the table (cf. Mark 14:18). Anointing a guest’s head was a common custom at festive Jewish meals (cf. Ps. 23:5; Luke 7:46) but Mary’s act had a greater meaning (cf. Mark 14:8-9).[5]


Verses 4-5 – The reaction of Judas

“…some…” – John makes it clear that Judas was the instigator of this remark.


“…300 denarii…” – About a year’s wage for the average working person.


“…given to the poor…” – Giving to the poor during the Passover was an important religious duty.  However, John makes it clear that Judas was not concerned about the poor.  He was concerned about the balance in their treasury because he controlled the money box and would pilfer money from it for his personal use.


Verses 6-9 – The response of Jesus

“…the poor you will always have with you…” – Jesus was not minimizing the importance of caring for those with physical needs.  He as simply saying they would have many opportunities to care for the poor, but their time with Him on earth was rapidly coming to an end.


“…anointed My body beforehand for the burial…” – Perhaps she understood what the other disciples did not understand.  The same type of perfume was used in burial preparations (cf. John 19:40).[6]


The Betrayal of Judas (14:10-11)

Many theories have been offered as to why Judas betrayed Jesus.

·         Some say he was motivated by sheer greed.  He knew the religious authorities were looking a chance to arrest Jesus in a private place, Judas could make that happen, and they would pay him for it.  John’s mention of Judas’ stealing from the money box lends some support to this view.

·         Some say he was pre-ordained by God to be the betrayer and he had no choice in the matter.  If that is so, Judas would have no responsibility for his actions.

·         Some say that the name Iscariot means “from Kerioth” which was a city in Judah.  That would make Judas the only non-Galilean in the group.  Perhaps he never felt like he was accepted by the other disciples and finally just decided to part ways with them.

·         Some say Judas was a zealot and He wanted to get on with the rebellion against Rome and that is betrayal of Jesus to the Jewish leaders was an attempt to get Jesus to stir up the crowds to act decisively against Rome.

I don’t think we will ever know for sure the motives of Judas. 


But when you look at the actions of Judas and Mary side by side, you see two distinct ways of relating to Jesus.  No matter what his motivation may have been, Judas was obviously not fully committed to Jesus.  On the other hand, Mary gave up her most precious possession for Him. 


Something as valuable as that alabaster vial of costly perfume was probably a family heirloom.  More than likely it had been passed down to Mary by her father.  Mary probably had one of two intended purposes in mind for that heirloom:

·         She may have been saving it as a dowry to attract a husband. 

·         She may have been intending for it to be used to anoint her body at her death.

And she took that precious inheritance, and gave it all to Jesus.  Then John tells us she completed her unselfish act by wiping his feet dry with her hair.


What an incredible example of total abandon to Jesus.  She gave up her:

·         Financial security

·         Hopes and dreams and plans for the future 

·         Personal dignity and pride.

And she did it all as an expression of love and adoration to Him.


I don’t know about you, but I cannot help but be convicted by her act of reckless abandon.  How easy I find it to approach God in a selfish, self-centered way, to pretend to be committed to Him but to hold back that which I am not ready to give up.


The following story from the writings of Wayne Dehoney is a reminder of how we often approach God.

Ivan the Great was the czar of all of Russia during the Fifteenth Century. He brought together the warring tribes into one vast empire.  As a fighting man he was courageous. As a general he was brilliant.


However, Ivan was so busy waging his campaigns that he did not have a family. His friends and advisers were quite concerned. They reminded him that there was no heir to the throne, and should anything happen to him the union would shatter into chaos. “You must take a wife who can bear you a son.” The busy soldier statesman said to them that he did not have the time to search for a bride, but if they would find a suitable one, he would marry her.


The counselors and advisers searched the capitals of Europe to find an appropriate wife for the great czar. And find her, they did. They reported to Ivan of the beautiful dark eyed daughter of the King of Greece. She was young, brilliant, and charming. He agreed to marry her sight unseen.


The King of Greece was delighted. It would align Greece in a favorable way with the emerging giant of the north. But there had to be one condition, “He cannot marry my daughter unless he becomes a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.” Ivan’s response, “I will do it!”


So, a priest was dispatched to Moscow to instruct Ivan in Orthodox doctrine. Ivan was a quick student and learned the catechism in record time. Arrangements were concluded, and the czar made his way to Athens accompanied by 500 of his crack troops--his personal palace guard.


He was to be baptized into the Orthodox church by immersion, as was the custom of the Eastern Church. His soldiers, ever loyal, asked to be baptized also. The Patriarch of the Church assigned 500 priests to give the soldiers a one-on-one catechism crash course. The soldiers, all 500 of them, were to be immersed in one mass baptism. Crowds gathered from all over Greece.


What a sight that must have been, 500 priests and 500 soldiers, a thousand people, walking into the blue Mediterranean. The priests were dressed in black robes and tall black hats, the official dress of the Orthodox Church. The soldiers wore their battle uniforms with of all their regalia--ribbons of valor, medals of courage and their weapons of battle.


Suddenly, there was a problem. The Church prohibited professional soldiers from being members; they would have to give up their commitment to bloodshed.


After a hasty round of diplomacy, the problem was solved quite simply. As the words were spoken and the priests began to baptize them, each soldier reached to his side and withdrew his sword. Lifting it high overhead, every soldier was totally immersed-everything baptized except his fighting arm and sword. [Dr. Wayne Dehoney, Walnut Street Baptist Church, The Pulpit]



The un-baptized arm.  That is the way of Judas—the way of claiming commitment that is not really there.  On the other hand, there is the way of Mary—the way of radical self-abandon to God.  One way leads to spiritual death and the other way leads to spiritual life.  May we choose wisely! 

[1] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (173). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

[2] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (173). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

[3] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (174). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

[4] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Mk 14:3). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[5] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Mk 14:3). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (175). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.