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Have You Remembered

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Every husband knows those five fatal words “Love, have you remembered to…” We all know that when one’s spouse says “Love” your antennnae should be twitching and we all know that “have you remembered” isn’t an invitation to contemplate the past. No, those fatal five words are a call to action. Action, not mere contemplation. Humerous as that example might be, the idea of “remembrance” that’s build into it is actually very similar to the Bible’s idea of memory and remembrance. Remembering is neither nostalgia nor contemplation, but rather to bring to mind and taking action on what you’ve remembered. And in today’s section of scripture we’re going to see that remembering and memory plays an important part.

Mark 14:1-26

Mark 14:1-26 has six distinct sections: first, the chief priests plot to kill Jesus (1-2); second, Jesus is anointed by the woman at Bethany (3-9); third, Judas joins the plot to kill Jesus (10-11); then fourth, Jesus prepares for the Passover meal (12-16); and fifth Jesus predicts his betrayal (17-21); sixth and finally, Jesus gives the Passover a new symbolic meaning (22-26). If you were following the reading with the NIV translation open before you, you’d have seen that the editors of that translation have helpfuly clumped those six sections into two main ones – they’ve clumped together the plot to kill Jesus with “Jesus anointed in Bethany” in verses 1-11 and then they’ve also clumped together the preparation of the passover and all that happens at the passover meal together in verses 12-26. Splitting the text up helps us see the detailed movement of the action, but clumping the text together helps us see the bigger pattern of what’s going on here where we have two evenings, two meals, two sets of actions and words which reveal what’s going on at this turning point in Mark’s account of Jesus’ life and death.

Inflection Points

Turning points, or to use the term that some of us have learned from loking at too many COVID-19 graphs over the last year or so, inflction points can be hard to identify. Even with something so extensively witnessed and massively measured as the pandemic those data analytics geeks (we know who you are) try hard to find those key inflection points where something has changed. Historians, studying something like the second world war also look for the key inflection points that turned th tide against Hitler or Japan. Was it Stalingrad? Or earlier at Moscow? Or was it the U-boat campaign? As we come to Mark 14 we’re coming to a key inflection point, a key turning point in the story. The graph of tension and action in Mark has been rising steadily and now makes a decisive upward tick, time and place is described in more detail, action and reaction.

Taking Stock of Mark

But it is worthwhile taking stock and reminding one another where the story has come from and unfolded so far: A jewish man from Galilee named Jesus was declared by God to be his beloved Son. After being tempted in the wilderness he embarked on a speaking tour around Galilee declaring that God was going to intervene drastically in history and bring in his manifest rule over his people and indeed the whole world. Along with his powerful speaking, he healed the sick, cast out demons, and even forgave sin. While his words and deeds attracted the adulation of the crowds it also sparked opposition from both the political leadership and the religious gatekeepers – an opposition that went so far as to plot Jesus’ death. Meanwhile Jesus himself was gathering a handpicked band of followers who witnessed what he was doing and who were able to extend and continue his work. Despite their privileged inner circle status and their ring-side view of the action this band of followers still took  a while to even have a true inkling as to who Jesus really was. After a number of powerful deeds directed at disaster, demons, and death itself, and in particular two creative miracles where he fed 5000 and 4000 people at a time, his disciples begin to see that Jesus is not just a prophet, or someone declaring that God will intervene and instigate his evident rule over the world. No, his disciples begin to see that Jesus himself is indeed God’s promised ruler who will reign on God’s behalf. This was the great hope of God’s people at the time – God would rule through his anointed King. And Jesus was that king.

 

It’s at that point that the history takes a dramatic turn – not only do Jesus’ enemies want to destroy him, but Jesus himself begins to repeatedly teach the necessity of his own betrayal, suffering and death at the hands of the leaders of Israel. These predictions, really statements of purpose, mystify his closest followers but they stick with him as he heads towards what they think of as disaster but he sees as his destiny. “The Son of Man,” which is an indirect way of referring to himself that conjours up powerful images from the book of Daniel, “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for many” (Mark 10:45 – melding ideas of the Son of Man in Daniel 7 and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53). Betrayal, suffering, death – all the marks of defeat of a pretender to the throne – but actually followed by resurrection – the conquest of death itself. From death to life, and not just for himself, but “for many.”

 

Jesus then almost immediately enters Jerusalem. He condemns the temple and its leadership of his day. He’s drawn into debate by Priests and Sadducces and Pharisees in turn, emerging the undisputed victor in the crowd’s eyes. Finally he gives his friends insight as to what is coming for Israel, for the temple and the city of Jerusalem, and ultimately for the world. Judgement, but as always in scripture, salvation in and through judgement for those who faithfully follow God and his anointed king through thick and thin. And that is where we are at today.

 

We have come to a turning point in the Gospel story, a critical series of events where plots and predictions start to turn into actions and events.

“In Memory of Her” – Mark 14:1-11

I want to suggest that the best way to view the text before us today is in two halves. It’s a text about two evenings, two meals, two symbols, two memories that help us understand the death of Jesus.

 

In the first scene we meet the woman who anointed Jesus. Jesus is reclining at a formal dinner. An unnamed woman enters the scene. She anoints his head provoking people’s strong reactions. Jesus defends her and interprets her action for us and makes a surprising claim about her. It might seem a bit backward but let’s begin looking at this first scene by noticing Jesus’ surprising claim about the woman.

Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. (Vs. 9)

Here we are today, in 2021, in Australia and we’re thinking about a nameless woman and her deeds. Jesus was right – her actions were immortalised. Whether you go to Cape Town or Rio, New York or London, even Delhi and Beijing, there are people there who know the account of the woman who anointed Jesus. She has been, and is being remembered. However, our memories – and I stress that it is our memories might be a bit muddled.

In Mark’s account of the Gospel and in Matthew’s (Matt 26:6-13) it is 100% clear that the same woman, the same setting, the same event is being described. But John in chapter 12 tells us a fuller version of what happened – and names the woman and tells us who exactly was angry about the waste of money and his real motivations for objecting (John 12:1-8). Despite some of the details not being described in the same way it’s likely that John is telling us a fuller version of Mark’s and Matthew’s account. Luke also tells another episode with a woman that is very similar in some ways but not in others (Luke 7:36-50). As often happens we’ve heard all four accounts at some time and probably melded them all together into one story. So was there one woman – the same one in all four gospels? Or maybe there were three separate times Jesus was anointed by women – one in Luke, another one in John and this one as described by Mark and Matthew? Best I think to see Mark, Matthew and John’s woman as being the same, and Luke’s as a seperate though somewhat similar event that happened earlier in Jesus’ ministry.

 

Of course Jesus’ surprising claim about this woman was fulfilled in part by Mark who chose to record what happened for for us here in chapter 14. And instead of looking at three or four gospels and trying to piece together the historical detail of what happened from the different perspectives of different witnesses – something useful we could do, but I’m not going to do this morning. Instead of doing a bit of historical reconstruction, lets focus instead on how Mark has chosen to tell the story.

The setting is not unfamiliar. Jesus is having a meal. An unnamed woman enters the scene and anoints him with perfumed oil on his head. The perfume is in an expensive and beautiful container, its top-dollar prefume too, maybe the Chanel No. 5 of its day. The expense however was considerable, this perfume wasn’t an impulse buy at the airport duty-free – we’re told it was worth 300 Denarii – and elsewhwere in the gospels we’re told that a single Denarius was a resonable day’s wage for a labourer – that’s why the NIV translates it as “more than a year’s wages.” (Approx A$ 40,000 in 2021). It was a shockingly extravagant action, a scandalously extravagant action. What did it mean? What was she thinking? What did Jesus think?

 

We know what some of those who were there thought – it was a waste, and instead of wasting so much money with a temporary gesture shouldn’t the money have been better spent on the poor? (Vvs 4-5). Mark doesn’t really explore their motivations for saying this because his focus rests on the woman and Jesus’ understanding of what she has done. In some ways this scene is a very typical scene in Mark. Jesus is doing something: teaching, eating, walking etc. and someone comes to him, more often than not nameless. Every time they come to him and ask for his help: heal me, exorcise a deamon from my child, raise the dead. Except this time – its a typical scene except that she does something for Jesus rather than asking that Jesus do something for her. Jesus doesn’t dwell on the money spent but rather the “beauty” of the action done “to me” (vs 6). Jesus highlights the quality of her devotion to him.

 

One of my teachers at Bible college pointed out that most of the time in Mark’s Gospel Mark seems to be directing us to model ourselves not so much directly on Jesus – who after all is the unique Messiah, the only Son of God, whose unique death does a work we could never do. And Mark in Mark’s Gospel directs us more to the walk-on characters who come to Jesus in need and dependence rather than to the disciples who are witnesses to what Jesus said and did but often quite confused and conflicted followers. And here in Mark 14 and with the approach of the woman to Jesus we have maybe the ultimate walk-on character, but the ultimate walk-on charater with a twist. She exemplifies not so much need and dependance of Jesus but extravagant, scandalous devotion to Jesus. This is why she’s to be remembered when the gospel is preached. Her response to Jesus is the exemplary response to Jesus. Its the response we’re meant to remember.

 

In fact this nameless but immortalised woman is the last of three such nameless but famous women in Mark’s telling of the life of Jesus. An equally nameless woman, in desperation, touched the hem of Jesus’ garment but her action was interpreted as faith by Jesus and she was healed (Mark 5:25-34). Another nameless Syro-Phonecian woman had with quick observational wit been rewarded by Jesus for her request for deliverance from the demonic for her daughter (Mark 7:25-30). This third nameless but famous woman in our text today demonstrated almost scandalous devotion to Jesus. A devotion to be remembered and proclaimed in the gospel. A dovotion we need to remember.

 

But what about the exact form of her devotion, what about the anointing itself? It could have been interpreted in many ways: as an act of love or as an act of anointing a king. Certainly there is the possibility that some saw what she did as a sexually risque action that cast Jesus in a bad light. Certainly there is the possibility that some saw the acceptance of such an extravagant anointing on the head as some kind of claim to messianic status. Either of them could be turned into charges against Jesus and Mark’s framed this event within the context of the chief priests plots to entrap Jesus. Mark’s framed this event with one of those present, Judas, agreeing to betray Jesus. But how does Jesus interpret the anointing? He interprets it as preparation for his death.

 

Ever since chapters 8, 9 and 10 of Mark, Jesus has been insisting on the necessity of his suffering and death (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-35; NB 10:45). He’s prepared for the inevitability of his death. And at this critical moment he indicates that that death is imminent. Mark paints a picture for us where the forces opposed to Jesus are gathering and forming their plans on one side (vvs. 1-2 and 10-11), and over on the other side Jesus knows what’s coming (vvs. 3-9). Jesus is not the ignorant pawn of powers above and beyond him. He knows, he accepts what will happen to him. The woman’s devotion is devotion to a Jesus who will die. Jesus promised, Mark recorded, and we remember the extravagant devotion to a Jesus who will die.

 

And it is the uniqueness of Jesus and the uniqneness of his death that helps us understand Jesus shocking words in verse 7:

The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.

 

There are all kinds of ways to misunderstand what Jesus is saying here, all kinds of ways of mis-applying what he’s saying. I don’t think it should be taken as some prophecy and thus making attempts at poverty reduction pointless. It’s not a piece of grim inevitability. The NIV 2011 is helpful in pointing out the cross reference to the the Old Testament law in Deuteronomy 15:11 that Jesus may have had in mind which encourages generosity at all times to those in need. Maybe here in the lower North Shore, and certainly if you live in Gordon where we do, the poor can easily be out of sight and out of mind. Not so in the Philippines where it confronts you on every side. Jesus words are both obviously applicable and shocking there. His point though is certainly there is always time and opportunity to care even here in Sydney now, but right now at the moment as he approaches his death this scandalous devotion to him is entirely appropriate. There is one Jesus, who will die once, but beautiful devotion to him is something to be remembered.

As I’ve mentioned in passing a couple of times this account of remarkable devotion is framed, is bounded on either side by the accounts of those who are anything but devoted. In verses 1 and 2 we see the hardened opposition of the top religious leadership of Israel in Jesus’ day. In verses 10 and 11 we see the betrayal of Judas. This woman’s devotion is the foil, the sparkling contrast, to the varied ways in which people reject Jesus – whether it be ongoing opposition, or a new defection from discipleship. It’s her devotion in contrast to their opposition and betrayal that’s to be remembered and acted upon.

The Last Passover (Mark 14:12-26)

As I said earlier Mark 14:1-26 a text about two evenings, two meals, two symbols, two memories that help us understand the death of Jesus. We’ve heard and been reminded about the first evening, its now the turn of the second evening in Mark 14:12-26 and its meal, symbols and memory.

 

This last evening is introduced for us in vs. 12

12 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?”

 

Again Mark records what is for him an unusual amount of detail about date and time. He connects what will happen that evening with the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread. This combined festival was one of the two most important festivals in Israel, going back long before Jesus’ day to the Exodus. There God through Moses had rescued Israel from the final plague against the Egyptians and then from the Egyptians themselves through the sacrifice of the lambs and a hurried meal in preparation for departure. From then on until today Israel, the Jews, have commemmorated that sacrifce, meal and rescue and Jesus as good Jewish leader hosts a passover meal for his family of closest followers. Now there are some debates among the scholars about the exact timing of this meal and whether or not it was a normal passover meal but its clear that it is meant to be understood as some kind of passover meal. Jesus and Mark intend for the the disciples and us to draw a number of connections between the ancient passover rescue of Israel and what Jesus did.

 

It is the disciples who seem to take the initative here and ask about what’s been prepared for Passover. But like many Aussie blokes who buy their Christmas presents on December 24th they are asking about the preparations for this major festive meal very very late. However, Jesus himself is already prepared. Whether it is by some prophetic knowledge or his own prearranged plan, he’s already got a set up a place to celebrate the meal. In various ways Jesus’ revealing to the two disciples in verses 13 to 16 of what’s been done and what they need to do is very similar to the accout of untying the colt just before the triumphal entry back in Mark 11. In both cases Jesus is very much in control of what is going to happen. Jesus decides what his actions are going to communicate.

 

Mark has let us his readers into the secret that Jesus knows – that there is a plot to kill Jesus, that Judas is part of the plot. At this point the disciples are unaware. They may know that there’s conflict brewing with the temple authorities, and they have heard Jesus’ prdictions of his suffering, death and resurrection, but they don’t know. And it’s tempting to see Jesus as a pawn in  a piece where things get out of his control. However, at the anointing he’s already displayed his knowledge that his own death is immenent. And with this passover meal it becomes very clear that he is going to his death according to his plan and purpose and that he wants his disiples to understand what that plan and purpose is.

 

When evening comes, the meal is prepared, and once again Jesus and his fellows are reclining at a formal meal. And the bombshell this time is not the visit of a woman and her remarkable devotion but rather Jesus’ revelation that there was going to be a remarkable defection. One of his own closest, chosen band of followers was going to go over to the other side, and was going to hand Jesus over to the authorities ranged against him. We know it’s Judas, but Judas is never named in verses 18-21. Mark’s account of this prediction of betrayal is stripped down and spare – again a number of extra details are given to us by Matthew, Luke and John in their accounts. But the sharpness of focus in this stripped down account is clear,

The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born. (14:21)

 

Yes, Jesus, the Son of Man must and will fulfil his scriptural destiny. The Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament had set out God’s plan for the suffering servant and Jesus embraces that plan. There is a divine necessity about what is going to happen. However, whatever explanation one has for Judas’ role Jesus does not leave him off the hook. Jesus word’s about “that man” don’t fudge the issue that that man is responsible and culpable for what he’s about to do. The other gospels in various ways do fill out the picture for us, but without contradiction Mark zeroes-in on Jesus word not merely about Judas, but I would say Jesus word to Judas. The “woe” of verse 21 is not deterministic, like all “woes” it warns and leaves open the potential of another path.

 

At this point it might be tempting to haul out Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” and begin to psychoanalyse the various characters around the table but I’m going to plough on in good Marcan style: the cat is now out of the bag. Jesus is about to die and die in part because of an aweful defection by one of his own. Jesus is about to to die but Jesus has set the presuppostion, he’s provided the key perspective on why he is going to die, it is “according to the scriptures” or “as it is written.”

 

Here are all the disciples at a festive meal, a meal celebrating the rescue the deliverance of Israel. One of the two highpoints, and normally a joyful highpoint of the Jewish year. They’re celebrating like family together with Jesus as the host when the double bombshell is delivered – Jesus is going to die, and die betrayed by one of them. And almost without skipping a beat Mark takes us straight into Jesus’s remarkable re-purposing of the passover. We often call this scene the “Last Supper” and rightly we connect it to what scripture calls the “Lord’s supper” but for Jesus it was his last Passover.

 

The Passover was already full of symbolism and remembrance from Old Testament times onwards. If you’ve ever had the priviledge of attending or observing a Jewish passover meal you’d know that in its current form it’s full of symbolic foods and actions and storytelling designed to remind God’s Old Testament people of all that God had done for them. Now by the way, some of the details of the Passover as celebrated today were not part of the passover Jesus celebrated. Whatever the detail of how Jews in Jesus time celebrated the meal its clear that Jesus re-purposes the passover. Because in some ways we’re too used to the Lord’s Supper celebrated often in church we may have forgotten how drastic a shift Jesus made in that last meal. Yes the Exodus was remembered, but now the new focus was on him – on his body and his blood. Jesus was boldly saying that what was going to happen to him was at least as significant, no even more significant than what had happened over a 1000 years earlier in Egypt and the Red Sea. It was a startling new symbol, a new beginning, a new story of deliverance.

 

His death was going to be as it was written (v21) but especially in the words associated with the cup in verse 24 Jesus was about to give his most solemn and most profound interpretation of his shed blood:

‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them.

 

Previously Jesus has spoken of the necessity of his suffering and death (8:31), and he’d interpreted his death as an act of service (10:45), a service that was “for many” – here again he picks up on that phrase which has echoes of Isaiah 53 in it and he joins that echo with other echoes from the moment when Israel is formally set apart and committed to the LORD in Exodus. Just like the Old Testament people of God were formally set apart for God through the shedding of blood back then, so now it will be the blood of Jesus that forms his people into his New Testament or New Covenant people. No longer the blood of a lamb but the violent death of Jesus, the Son of Man, will make “the many” God’s people.

 

Unlike 1 Corinthians 11 and maybe even Luke’s account – Mark isn’t focussed on explaining the significance of an ongoing celebration of Jesus’s death important as that might be – but rather he’s focussed on the significance of that particular last Passover for Jesus and his followers. Within the space of a packed chapter and a half Jesus will be dead and buried. But what was the meaning of that death? What sense was to be made of it by his follwers? It’s here at this reconfigured, redesigned, re-purposed last Passover that Jesus made it clear to them even if it might have been too much for them to take in right then. Jesus, Jesus himself was the sacrifice. Jesus, Jesus himself was the passover. Jesus by broken body and shed blood would bring them to God, deal with their sin and set them right with God.

 

The action at that Passover was just as symbolic as any passover, but it was a new symbolism. The reality was not the bread and the cup iself but what the bread and the cup was meant to remind them of. The reality was the cross of the day to come.