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Mark 14:3 The anointing of Christ

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, November 26, 2023

3 Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. While he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume—pure nard. She broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.

Verse 3 takes us back in time a few days. The previous incident happened on the night of Tuesday or during the day on Wednesday of Holy Week. Here, according to John’s account (John 12:1-8) it was a few days before that, Saturday night, the night before Jesus rode the donkey from Bethany, which Mark already described at the beginning of chapter 11.

Why does Mark throw this incident here rather than put it chronologically between chapters 10 and 11? Not everything in storytelling needs to be in perfect chronology. When I tell my sons the story of how I met their mother, I don’t begin with where she was born, but the day we met.  After that, other details follow. In this case, the inclusion of Mary’s beautiful act of devotion is set side-by-side with the conspiracy to kill Jesus.

On the one hand, murderous hatred. They rejected him, and they would go to any length, anything at all, to be rid of him. On the other hand, overwhelming love. She loved her Lord, and she would go to any length, anything at all, to show her devotion.

An incredibly expensive gift! Pure nard that would have taken months to scrimp and save to buy. What was it for? She knew that he would die soon. He kept talking about it. “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again,” he had said (Mark 8:31). Well, if he’s going to be killed, we might not have time to get him ready for burial. Who knows? They might hide him, or put him in an unmarked grave, or worse. Mary (John tells us this was Mary, the sister of Lazarus) didn’t want to wait for a moment that might never come. As it turned out, it was the ideal moment; the perfect time. A quiet moment away from Jerusalem in the home of a friend.

So it was a very expensive gift; an extravagant gift. It was a gift nobody would give to anyone, really. Why did she do this anointing, right there in the dining room of this friend, Simon the leper (a man Jesus had healed, surely)?

Jesus was, and is, the Christ. The Anointed Christ is the absolute center of all Old Testament prophecy. He is the foundation of the Church. He tells us that himself, for when he says, “On this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18), he doesn’t mean Peter, although he said it to Peter. No, he means Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). It is faith in that true statement that is key: That Jesus is the very Christ of God, the Messiah. For “the preaching about Christ is a mystery that was hidden and kept silent for long ages past” (Romans 16:25) but is now revealed in Jesus. All of Scripture is nothing else than a continuous witness of Christ: “The scroll is written about me” (Psalm 40:7). As Augustine said: “No one understands the Old Testament unless he understands Christ there.” Or as one Lutheran preacher said in the 17th century: “The Bible is to be read as if it was written entirely with the blood of Christ.”

The Mormons and the Muslims call Jesus a great teacher and prophet, but they want other prophets and are not content with the salvation Christ offers. The Jews sometimes call Jesus a great Rabbi, or at least a Rabbi, but they are not content with him, either, and would rather keep waiting for the Messiah to come, like an adulterous wife hoping her Prince Charming will come while her husband, ignored and unloved, takes care of her every need at home. Other religions look to their sky spirits, not knowing or believing that the God of Heaven is Christ (Jonah 1:9; Revelation 14:7).

But Jesus is the Gospel incarnate. He is salvation and he is life. He himself is the forgiveness of our sins and the way to heaven. Therefore Jesus is the beginning and ending of all our devotion, meditation, understanding, prayer, and worship. What do we really care at all what happened in the desert thirty-five hundred years ago, if what happened there didn’t point ahead to Christ? What does it matter what Isaiah and Jeremiah or Daniel for that matter said except that what they said pointed our faith ahead to Christ?

There are some today who try to peddle a “correct” pronunciation of Jesus’ name by claiming that in Hebrew or Aramaic it should be “Yeshu,” or “Yeshua.” Christians should beware these peddlers because they are lying and laughing behind their hands. Certain people who reject Christ but are familiar with the Hebrew language forbid one another to speak the name of Jesus aloud. If they do, even by accident, they often punish themselves for this transgression by hitting themselves. They claim to avoid his name because they are forbidden to invoke the names of false gods (Exodus 23:13), although they will be happy to speak the names of any of the pagan gods mentioned in the Bible or that we use for the names of planets, cars, sports teams, or the names of the days of the week. Instead, they will say “Yeshu” or “Yeshua” understanding through a word trick called apocope yemach shua, which means, “May his name be wiped out” (this was noted as long ago as 1544 by Paul Fagius in his commentary on Exodus.

The beautiful name of Jesus and the beautiful work of Jesus, accomplished for us on the terrible cross of Calvary! I can’t help but know that I myself would never have thought of such a gift as the one Mary gave, anointing him in public, in a friend’s house, with a gift that cost more than a car does today. She broke open the bottle and used all the oil all at once, pouring it over his hair, neck, arms, body and feet. The next day the scent was surely still on him as the palm branches waved all around. And perhaps it was still there the day after, when he drove out the money changers from the temple. But the sweet scent of his forgiveness lingers with us always, from our baptism in his holy name to the moment of our reappearance in the resurrection and forevermore. For Jesus is our righteousness. He is our peace. He is our assurance of heaven. This is what it means that he is the Christ, our Messiah, our Savior, our God, and our King.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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