Unrestrained Worship

Unrestrained Worship: Mark 14:3-9
Pastor John Nicholas
Sunday April 18, 2021


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.

This is quite a narrative in the history of Jesus’ ministry.  At first pass it may not seem to be much but, as we should, we need to examine what is happening here, and why Mark, Matthew, and John chose to record these events.

One thing we should notice, and this will be key in our understanding of this story, is its place in Mark’s witness.  But before we get there, or perhaps I should say part of the journey to get there, we have to address the elephant in the room.  The parallel account in John 12:1-8.  The problem is this, Mark and Matthew speak of this event as if it occurred right after the account of the Pharisees and scribes plot to kill Jesus which left the Passover two days away.  Whereas John records the account and specifically says that the Passover was six days away.  It doesn’t take much search to find all sorts of wild ideas and theories that address this issue.  And there is no lack of theories, and I stress theories, that do great violence to God’s Word in this regard.  I will say this, and I think this is one of the issues, scholars want to be published, and to be published you tend to need unique/different ideas.  And I think a lot of the muddled information that is out there is because of this.  And because, in their minds, many people don’t truly believe that this is God’s word.

Matthew 26:6-13 (NASB)

The Precious Ointment

6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the Leper,

7 a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very expensive perfume, and she poured it on His head as He was reclining at the table.

8 But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste?

9 For this perfume could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you bothering the woman? For she has done a good deed for Me.

11 For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.

12 For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.

13 Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”

John 12:1-8 (NASB)

Mary Anoints Jesus

1 Therefore, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

2 So they made Him a dinner there, and Martha was serving; and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.

3 Mary then took a pound of very expensive perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, the one who intended to betray Him, *said,

5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the proceeds given to poor people?”

6 Now he said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he kept the money box, he used to steal from what was put into it.

7 Therefore Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.

8 For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

First and foremost this is not the same account as the one mentioned in Luke 7, which involved a woman of ill repute.  

I’m going to propose to you something novel, and consistent, about this account and would challenge you to consider it in light of the biblical witness.  The novelty is this, treat the accounts just like listening to two or three people tell the same story.  And some of those people will give more detail than others.  And some of those people will interact with different things that they believe are important to know.  In other words this is not novel at all.  It’s the way people handle their witness.

I want you to pay close attention to the following fact:  Last week, we spoke of the plot to kill Jesus by the Pharisees and the scribes.  Next week, John will preach on the Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.  And right smack in the middle of these two things in Mark talking about Jesus’ friends.  Notice that Mark does not locate this event in a particular period of time.  What he does say is that “while he was in Bethany” these events occurred.  Neither does Matthew.  He says, “when he was in Bethany” these events occurred.   Notice how we assume that time when we read Mark and Matthew.  Notice how John is the only one that says a specific time when this occurred.

Herein lies one of the issues with modern understanding of ancient texts.  We tend to apply our way of thinking to them.  We tend to want to force their writing into our understanding.  And it does not work like that.  Think how many times you have been misunderstood and don’t know how they got to their understanding.  Same goes here.  Hebrew writing is not linear in nature all the time.  Many times the writing is in such a fashion to draw the reader to a certain point that is not necessarily at the end.  It is chiastic in nature.  So we see it here.  John is 100% correct that the event occurred before the triumphal entry.  And Mark and Matthew are 100% correct that they have placed the story about the friends of Jesus between the enemies of Jesus. There is a contrast here and the point rests upon the actions of Mary and friends.  Not because Mark or Matthew wanted to fit it into a timeline.  They were noting the contrast and actions juxtaposed between these two other groups.

It would be like telling a friend about a recent trip going across the country.  We went to the grand canyon and you know what, it’s a giant hole in the ground.  Oh, and when we were in Wisconsin we had fries with gravy.  Then we went to Flagstaff to meet some friends, and they liked fries and gravy too.  In linear storytelling this makes no sense but it is the way we talk and understand things and in this case the point was fries and gravy so far removed from Wisconsin.

John is telling legal Jewish testimony.  Mark is pointing to Jesus as God.

And now, we can get to this text.  We know the players.  The disciples are there along with the siblings – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  And we can assume that Simon the Leper is there two.  That would probably make two direct physical recipients of a miracle, Simon and Lazarus.  Simon would have to have been healed since they are in his house and it would be unclean otherwise.  And Jesus probably did the healing since there were no other known healings of lepers.  Plus, you have the disciples as witness to many other miracles, including these two.  All of them are sitting in Simon’s house.

There are a total of 16 people in the home in Bethany.  Before the triumphal entry on lamb selection day.  Before the overturning of the table at Annas’ bazaar.  Before the end time teaching.  Dinner is being served.  As is typical of the Mideastern way of eating they would all be reclining at a low table.  Martha is in the process of serving the meal (and probably waiting for Mary’s help).  John tells us that Lazarus is one of those reclining with Him.  More than likely right next to Him.  Jesus did raise him from the dead so this would make sense, that he would desire to be there.  And Jesus more than likely invited him to this spot.   This is a scene of friendship and joy.  Jesus is back in town for the biggest of the Jewish celebrations – the Passover.  It is most certainly a scene of celebration, a party.

One can imagine Martha looking around for Mary.  Where could she be?  Doesn’t she see what is happening?  Again, I am the only one doing the work.  Shades of Luke 10:38-42 where Mary wasn’t helping her sister because she was sitting at Jesus’ feet.

Luke 10:38-42 (NASB)

Martha and Mary

38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.

39 And she had a sister called Mary, who was also seated at the Lord’s feet, and was listening to His word.

40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do the serving by myself? Then tell her to help me.”

41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;

42 but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Where is Mary?

Mary gets it.  More so than many who are constantly around Jesus.  She perceives more of Jesus.  She perceives who He truly is.  Even if she can’t quite put the words to it.  Her previous actions speak to what she knows about Him.  And now.  The more…

She comes to Jesus, with an alabaster jar of pure nard.  Quite expensive.  In fact, it is worth about a year’s wages.  This pure nard, a perfume from India.  From the root of the spikenard plant.  In the family of the honeysuckle.  The derived liquid is amber in color and very aromatic.  It would dry quickly too.  As a result it was quite desirable and valuable.  A jar that probably has a long neck, white or yellow in color.  And Mary breaks the neck and pours it over Christ’s head.  John tells us that it was a pound in weight.  It was an extravagant amount.  Anointing his head and John tells us that she anointed his feet and wiped them with her hair.  The aroma of the perfume filling the room.  No bystander would have been able to miss what happened.  A lavish amount has been poured over Jesus.  Mary’s action was decisive and with purpose.  It was not accidental.  She somehow knew, to some degree, what lay ahead.  Maybe not the full distance to the cross but her action demonstrated what she perceived.  And it also demonstrated her understanding of who Jesus was and is.  More so than those reclining at the table.  Perhaps even more than her brother Lazarus.

Her actions are those of one who knows Jesus and as a result she is doing the only thing that she can for Him.  The anointing of the God Man who will go into the depths of the grave for all those who believe.  The anointing of the God man who will be facing the wrath of the Father.  Facing the wrath of the Father who will be treating Him as one that is cutoff, one that is the curse.


4 But there were some indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted?

Martha, looking for Mary, and now she sees what has happened.  The shock of those there.  The disciples probably jumped to their feet.  Looking at the scene.  And based on their reaction here they certainly missed what was truly happening.

They became indignant.  They were complaining to one another.  They saw her action and only saw the waste.  They saw her action and did not understand.  All they see is perfume poured over their rabbi and a whole bunch on the floor.  And the smell is probably overwhelming.

One can’t help but think about the scent of the perfume.  Perhaps like the incense that was taken into the holy of holies.  The smoke of the incense represents the prayer of the people.  And here, Mary’s anointing.  The scent of the perfume rising.  The sacrifice is there too – Jesus.  A holy aroma good and pleasing to the Lord and all the others sitting there are missing the significance of what is happening.

They are missing the significance of what is happening.  They are focused on the right now.  Not the latter.  Not the latter that they have been told about.  Had they considered the words of Jesus, about how he must suffer and die they may not have missed this.

Mary who has done the only thing she could do for Jesus.  The only act that she could give to her beloved savior.  This was an act of unrestrained worship.

The one who will see Him in a week and a day’s time.  The first one gifted with seeing the risen Lord.


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.

Because the disciples are focused on the here and now, and specifically, as John tells us, Judas, it becomes an issue of money.  The cold hard cash speaks to their thinking.  They look at the broken flask and see the remnants of the amber liquid and the scent in the air and all they see is a waste.  One pound of pure nard.  More than three hundred denarii.  A year’s wages.  Poured on Jesus’ head and now gone.  The traces of the odor will disappear soon enough and it will be gone.

The leverage on the value that it would have brought to the poor.  Now it seems that this idea was brought forward by Judas, John 12:5-6, and although the other disciples were in agreement, Judas was really only after the cold hard cash.  He had no care for the poor.  His concern was the money.

John 12:5-6 (NASB)

5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the proceeds given to poor people?”

6 Now he said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he kept the money box, he used to steal from what was put into it.

They don’t see Mary’s act as one of love and devotion to the only one who deserves it.  Their only reaction is to scold her.  To point out how wasteful she was.  In fact, the sense of the word is vehemence.  The Greek tells us that it means to flare one’s nostrils in anger.  In other words, they are very angry about what they consider as a great waste of a resource.

And were not it for Jesus’ response Mary would have been trodden under these wheels of anger.


6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a good deed for Me.

Jesus turns their judgment of the incident upon them.  Perhaps because they are hearing but not perceiving he needs to be blunt.  He tells them to leave her alone.  To stop with their arrogant speech.  To quit berating her. He doesn’t address the idea of waste, but instead tells them this is a good work or deed that Mary has done for Him.  Jesus knows that Mary has acted from her heart.  That she has given the most valuable thing that she could give to Him.  That she was demonstrating sacrificial love in front of the dull crowd.  The ones that could not see that Jesus was the lamb of God being led to the slaughter.


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 is not anti-poor but He is surely focused on the moment.  He tells them, speaking from Deuteronomy 15:11, that this idea that you could have sold it and given it to the poor is foolish in this instance.  Jesus has told them what is going on and what will happen to Him.

Deuteronomy 15:11 (NASB)

11 For the poor will not cease to exist in the land; therefore I am commanding you, saying, ‘You shall fully open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’

Mary understands and trusts the words of Christ.  When Jesus says that He must be killed she gets it, where they do not.  Because to some level of understanding she knows that this is the last week.  That this is His final Passover.  That there will be no more in this state for Him.

As a result she has acted appropriately.  She understands that the time is short.  And Jesus points this out to them.  That He will not be with them much longer.


8 She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.

That she has anointed Him when she could.  While he was alive.  As she would not be able to do it later.  This is an important act as she has anticipated the end result of this week.  That the Lamb that would be slain from the beginning of the world is there, reclining at the table.  Her only action was to anoint Jesus for this act, for the burial, with the most valuable thing she had.  Not wasteful, but entirely appropriate for who He was and what He would accomplish.

The violence of action that would come against Jesus would prevent the anointing.  He was destined for the sinner’s death.  For the death of the cursed.  This was her one and only chance to demonstrate her devotion to Him before He was crucified.  Her action is one that perhaps makes anything we do pale in comparison.

There is no doubt what will happen after these words of Christ.  The anointing is a foregone conclusion to the burial.  And this is the only anointing that will occur.


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 result is that this singular act will be remembered at every place and time that the gospel preached.  Her act of singular devotion is the good part that she has chosen, Luke 10:38-42.  Mary has found herself in the proper place again.  The truth of Jesus’ statement is in view here today.  We are discussing her.  We are considering her actions.  We look at awe, at least we should, at what she has done.

Luke 10:38-42 (NASB)

Martha and Mary

38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.

39 And she had a sister called Mary, who was also seated at the Lord’s feet, and was listening to His word.

40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do the serving by myself? Then tell her to help me.”

41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;

42 but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

She has done a good thing.  The only thing she could do.  The thing that teaches us is so far removed from this event.

We can imagine the scene

We can imagine the perfume overwhelming the room

We can picture the indignation of the disciples and probably see ourselves there

And we can picture the love in Christ’s eyes for Mary and her actions

She demonstrates devotion to worship of the only Savior

She demonstrates devotion to worship of her only hope

She demonstrated her devotion in this act of unrestrained worship

Worship that was shocking to those others present

Perhaps we hear and consider this act with wonder

Perhaps we feel how distant we are from this act of love and devotion

Where do we land?

Perhaps we land/agree with those who saw this as a waste

And in worldly terms this is a waste

Do we come to church every Sunday looking to be fed?

Or do you come to worship the only true God

Are you fearful of men and the next thing they may or may not do?

Or are you fearful of God?

If you are truly fearful of God you will not fear any man

Mary was with the living God, truly with the living God when all the others were having dinner with Jesus

Mary knew/sensed/perceived who He truly was and a reacted in kind

She was fully joyful in knowing Him and being known by Him

She worshipped Him

She knew Him as other

As holy

We to, should approach worship knowing this

We are on the other side of the equation from Mary at this stage in the narrative

We are beyond the betrayal

We are beyond the kangaroo court

We are beyond the scourging

We are beyond the brutality of the cross

We are beyond the empty tomb

Christ sits at the right hand of the father

Colossians 3:1-4 (NASB)

Put On the New Self

1 Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

2 Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth.

3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

This is from Owen Strachan

We can be tempted to despair and resignation

But we need to remember key truths:

We are owed nothing

Everything that we have is a gift

God has given us so much in this life

And He has given us (those who believe in Jesus) eternity with Him in Christ

My God is a gracious God

So we will praise Him

Think back to the anchor from last week

That is why we praise Him

The anointed Christ

The who died for our sins

The one whom no grave could hold

The one who secured our eternity having secured an eternity of God’s wrath

You see Jesus is our only hope

Jesus is the answer to the disease that is killing us and will kill us all if the Lord tarries


Pray, Observe, Apply.

×Note: To download, click the button. If it doesn't work, right click, then click "Save Link As." Download only works if media is stored within this site. Download Video

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top