spikenard-nardostachys02Mark 14

1. After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death.

This issue of the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread is confusing to us who do not live under the religious system that God had instituted among the Jews.  Basically the feast of the Passover was a single feast day.  On the original Passover the lamb was to be sacrificed that day “at even,” which was the start of the day on the Jewish calendar, and the blood was to be placed on the doorposts the same day.  Some argue that in later times, when a lamb had to be slaughtered for each family, they sacrificed all the lambs the day before the Passover meal was to be eaten, so it was already slaughtered when the feast day started at even.  Some have tried to argue from this that the Lord had to be sacrificed on the day before Passover, not on Passover day.  These are trying to make out that the so-called “Lord’s Supper” is not the Passover meal.  But the fact is that the original Passover lamb was slaughtered on the day of Passover, and though Christ was not slaughtered at even, He was still slaughtered Passover day, which was according to the original Passover.  Moreover, I do not see evidence in the law that a provision was ever made for sacrificing the lamb a day early.  In Deuteronomy 6:6 we read, “At the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide, there you shall sacrifice the Passover at twilight, at the going down of the sun, at the time you came out of Egypt.”  As far as I can tell, the Passover was to be sacrificed at sundown on the same day the Passover was to be eaten.  II Chronicles 35:1 indicates that they slaughtered the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month, which was the same day it was to be eaten, so at that time, at least, there was no tradition about slaughtering the lamb a day early.

To further clarify, we need to understand that the day after Passover began the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  This feast ran for seven days, and began and ended with a special Sabbath day, called a high Sabbath.  So the day after Passover was always a Sabbath day, although Passover day was not unless it happened to fall on the weekly Sabbath.  Now we know that Christ was crucified the day before a Sabbath day.  Therefore, if He was NOT crucified on Passover day but on the preparation day for the Passover, then the day after He was crucified had to have been a weekly Sabbath, as it would not have been a Sabbath day otherwise.  But if the Passover was on the weekly Sabbath then the day after Passover, or Sunday, would have had to have been the high Sabbath of the first day of the Unleavened Bread!  That means that Christ could not have risen until Monday, as the women could not have come to His tomb until that day.  If, however, He was crucified on the actual Passover day, then the day after His crucifixion would have been a high Sabbath, even if it was not a weekly Sabbath.  Therefore, Christ could have been crucified on a Wednesday, been in the grave all of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, therefore spending “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth,” as He prophesied (Matthew 12:40,) and still have risen on the first day of the week, as we read in Scripture.  The days then would have been:

Tuesday 6 PM to Wednesday 6 PM—Christ eats the Passover, is arrested, and is crucified on Passover day
Wednesday 6 PM to Thursday 6 PM—a high Sabbath day, the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread
Thursday 6 PM to Friday 6 PM—Christ remains in the tomb, the women buy spices
Friday 6 PM to Saturday 6 PM—the weekly Sabbath day
Saturday 6 PM to Sunday 6 PM—Christ rises from the dead sometime before the women come at dawn

This scheme fulfills the prophesies of Christ that He would be in the grave three days and three nights, and has Him fulfill the original Passover by dying on the same day as the Passover according to the Jewish calendar.  This scheme does not work if Christ did not die on Passover day, however, and the modern scheme of Him dying on Friday does not work either unless He died on Passover day.  It was either Friday on the Passover or Wednesday on the Passover, but there is no possible scenario whereby He could have died on the day before Passover and been raised on the day after the Sabbath and still have been raised on Saturday evening/Sunday.  No, what Christ ate with His disciples was the Passover, and He ate it on Passover day.

Here we are still two days before the feast.  The chief priests and scribes are plotting to take Him by trickery and put Him to death, since their scheme to trap Him in His words had failed, and even resulted in their own humiliation, as they could not answer His words to them.  From this they knew that they could not take Him in any honest way!

2. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people.”

At the time of the feasts, the city of Jerusalem went from a city with a population in the tens of thousands to a population of over two million.  At these times there were many, many more people present in Jerusalem than would have been there at any other time.  Thus, the chief priests and scribes realize that this is a very bad time to go against the will of the people, since there are so many more people around to object to it.

Again notice that they are afraid of the people and therefore try to plot some way to take Him without their knowledge.  Why would this be so if “the Jews rejected Christ” at this time, as so many claim?

3. And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard.  Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.

The Lord had again returned to the place where He was staying at Bethany.  This was probably the last meal the Lord partook of in Bethany before His journey to Jerusalem to keep the Passover.  At this meal, He is in the house of Simon the leper.  It is strange that He is called this, as we cannot imagine that he was still a leper at this point, for surely the Lord must have healed him of his leprosy.  If this is so, though, why is he still called “Simon the leper” here?  Could the Lord’s healing power have failed?

Our difficulty here stems from a failure to correctly identify the figure of speech used here.  The man is called “Simon the leper” by the figure of speech called “Ampliatio” or “Adjournment.”  In this figure, an old name is retained even after the reason for it has passed away.  Thus, though Simon was no longer a leper, he is called this by the figure “Adjournment.”  He had been a leper, so this title is still given to him.

This is not the same event as is recorded in John 12:1-8, for that event took place in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, and took place six days before the Passover, not two, as we have here.  Moreover, this is not the same event as that which took place in the home of Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50.  That event took place much earlier in Christ’s ministry, and, though the host’s name was also Simon there, this was a common name at that time, and there certainly is a difference between a Pharisee and a leper!

Why would three women have done this same, unusual thing on three different occasions?  Does this not seem unlikely, and doesn’t it seem more likely that we have here a “contradiction in Scripture?”  No, indeed, for this event only seems unusual to us.  The making of precious ointment was one of the few things a woman could do to earn an income in those days.  Many women would have access to such oil.  Moreover, we know that emulation is the sincerest form of flattery, as the saying goes.  Once one woman had done this to honor the Lord, it seems logical and obvious that other women would do it as well.  To insist on a contradiction here does not even make sense.  These events are just too clearly three totally separate occurrences.

4. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted?

Note that in the first occurrence with Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7, there was no indignation on the part of the disciples indicated.  All that happened on that first occasion was that Simon the Pharisees thought to himself that the Lord must not be a prophet or He would know the kind of woman who was doing this to Him.  In the second occurrence in John, there is also opposition, yet that time it was not all the disciples, but only Judas.  Why, when the Lord spoke up for the woman in John 12, did the rest of the disciples join with Judas in condemning this woman four days later?  I believe the answer is that the disciples listened to Judas rather than the Lord.  How sad that they were led astray by the greedy justification of a thief and a traitor rather than listening to the true words of their Lord!

5. “For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.”  And they criticized her sharply.

Here we get an idea of the reasoning the disciples used to condemn the woman.  They see this as a waste of money, and they criticize the woman for not selling this spikenard and giving the proceeds to the poor.  One denarius was approximately one day’s salary, so three hundred denarii would have been almost a year’s salary!  Thus, this money would have been able to be used to help a great many poor indeed.  Yet notice that this is the same argument Judas used back in John 12:5.  These disciples were getting their reasoning from a wicked and deceitful man rather than from the Lord, and it seems they hardly realized it.  This was the seed of jealousy Judas had planted in their hearts.  This was very costly and precious ointment, and so this woman was probably fairly well off.  By thinking her uncaring towards the poor, this became a class envy matter, and the disciples are led away with their assumptions about this woman’s actions.  Thus they are less than kind in their sharp criticism of this woman.  Yet how sad that they counted an honor done for the Lord as worth so little!

6. But Jesus said, “Let her alone.  Why do you trouble her?  She has done a good work for Me.

Though the disciples counted a work done to honor the Lord as of little worth, the Lord Himself understood the heart behind what this woman had done, and scolded His disciples for discounting the worth of what she had done for Him.  Let us never be like one of them!  For even today, there are those who are ready to criticize good works that are honestly done to honor the Lord.  Someday, all who thus speak against such things will likewise receive their rebuke.

7. “For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.

The poor will always be around in this life until God brings in His world.  Yet Christ was only on earth a short time, and the opportunity to honor Him would soon be over.  Thus, the action this woman had done to honor Christ was appropriate, and the Lord truly appreciated it.  It was of more value than it would have been even to sell this spikenard and give the money to the poor.  This is not an excuse not to care for the poor, for that is important.  The woman’s work was done for the Lord, and therefore was honored by Him.  Although the poor are important, Christ is even more important.

8. “She has done what she could.  She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.

It was traditional at that time to honor the rich by anointing their bodies with precious oils and ointments after their deaths.  Thus, the Lord equates what this woman had just done with a preparation beforehand for His burial.  Notice that this is different again than in John 12, for there Mary apparently had some perfume leftover after she poured it on His feet.  Thus, she was to use it at the time of His burial.

9. “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

If “gospel” really means the salvation message, as many make it out to mean, then this statement would mean that this woman’s actions are an essential part of the gospel, and one who believes without hearing of this event has not truly heard the gospel!  Yet this is obviously nonsense, although those who teach that this is what the gospel is have no good explanation to say why this isn’t true.  Yet if we want to discover the truth of this passage, we need to correctly identify what a gospel is.

The word “gospel,” or euangelion in Greek, is often defined as meaning “good news.”  Yet this is not a satisfactory definition.  The fact is that it is not necessarily “news,” but a message.  And the reason it is “good” is not because it is something that the hearer wants to hear or that benefits him.  Rather, it is “good” because it is right.  This, a gospel is a “right message.”  A gospel also is given in response to a need, it offers hope, and it contains an element of promise.

When it comes to salvation, it is critical to believe the right message, and there is a right message that is associated with our faith and salvation.  Yet there are many other “right messages” in this world and in the Word of God than simply the one that has to do with salvation.  Any “right message” in the Bible could rightly be called a “gospel.”  Thus, the fulfillment of this prophecy of the Lord’s does not mean that whenever we preach the gospel we have to tell this woman’s story.  Rather, it is fulfilled in this very book, for wherever Mark goes out with the right message God wrote in it, the story of this woman goes out as well.  The Lord’s words are fulfilled in that this woman’s act of service is recorded in this book for our learning, as well as for a memorial to her.

10. Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them.

The Lord’s attitude and the rebukes He aimed at His disciples and Judas may have had something to do with Judas Iscariot’s final decision to become a betrayer.  Apparently this word of the Lord’s of preparing His body for burial was the last straw needed to convince Judas that the Lord was no longer a trustworthy source of money and power, and therefore it was time for him to get out while he could.

11. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money.  So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.

The chief priests are glad to find a traitor.  This gives their future actions an illusion of legitimacy, as they could now claim that even one of His Own disciples had realized what a criminal He was and had come to them to turn Him over.  It also gave them a means of identifying the times when the Lord would be relatively alone and more vulnerable to attack.

Notice that Judas seeks to betray Christ for money, which seems to have become the motivating factor in his life.  First, he became a thief (John 12:6,) and now a traitor, and all for money.  What a terrible god wealth is!  His attempts to acquire it led Judas into some terrible crimes indeed, and not against his enemies, but rather against his own Lord and his fellow disciples.

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?”

Apparently the title of “the first day of Unleavened Bread” is not used in a technical sense here.  This, the day called Passover, would actually be the day of preparation for Unleavened Bread, which began the following day.  It is for this reason, it seems, that it is here called the “first” day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, although the feast did not begin officially until the day after Passover.  This non-technical way of speaking of the start of the feast is similar to the way we include almost the entire month of December in with Christmas, even though the holiday is only one day.  The Passover lamb was killed on this day.  If we look at the law, it will be obvious that this cannot be the actual first day of the feast, for that day would have been a Sabbath, and therefore the disciples could have done no preparation.  Moreover, the Passover would have already been over the day before, and they would have missed it anyway.

13. And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him.

The Lord demonstrates here His divine foreknowledge, showing that He knows what is going to happen before it occurs.  He commands His disciples to go into the city and look for a man carrying a pitcher of water.  It might seem to us that this was not a very noticeable thing to look for, yet this is just because we do not understand the culture.  It would be extremely unusual for a man, rather than a woman, to carry a water pitcher, as men usually carried water bottles instead.  This would have been an even more unusual sight in the middle of the day.  Most water gathering was done in the cool of the morning or evening, since in hot desert climes the sun would evaporate the water too quickly on the trip back from the well, and a large amount of water would have been lost.  Thus, the Lord’s telling them of this not only showed the power of Christ to predict the future, but also made it impossible for the disciples to mistake the man they were to follow, for there would assuredly not have been two men in the whole city who would have been carrying water pitchers at that time.

14. “Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’

The Lord reveals that the man carrying the water pitcher will go into a house.  The disciples are to ask the master of the house for a room where “the Teacher” may eat the Passover with His disciples.  Apparently, this pitcher-carrying man is to lead them to someone who knows the Lord, and who is willing to offer Him service in this way.  God knows where He can find what He seeks, and who is willing to yield what they have for His use!

Notice that again the disciples are to make plain that the meal they want to eat in the man’s guest room is the Passover.  This is the second time the passage confirms what meal this is that He is to eat at this time.  Those who deny that this was the Passover are simply guilty of refusing to believe Scripture!

15. “Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.”

In another display of His complete foreknowledge, the Lord reveals that this man will have a large upper room, furnished and prepared, for them to make ready the Passover meal.  How strange, that this man would have a room like this supplied with couches and everything that was needed for a gathering, and yet not be planning on using it on an important day like the Passover!  Perhaps this man already knew the Lord was going to be keeping the Passover at his house, and was planning this room for Him.  Perhaps he had planned it for another party, and something had just come up that they would not be able to use it.  Perhaps he had planned it for himself and his family, and yet decided to give up his own right to use it when the Master asked Him for the use of it.  At any rate, this room was all ready, and the Lord and His disciples were able to use it now to supply their need for a place to keep the feast.

16. So His disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover.

There is no reason to even tell the story of what the disciples found, for when they came to the city, everything was as the Lord had said it would be.  Surely this is another proof that He was far more than just a man, and had far more than just a man’s knowledge!

That this was the Passover meal has been made clear by repetition in verses 12, 13, and 16.  This is the third time it is called the Passover, and there is no reason to deny it.  There are those who try to say that they prepared it but did not actually eat it.  Even if it is correct that the Passover lamb was traditionally killed on the day before Passover, still this means then that that evening would have been the time for the Passover, and none other.  However, as I explained earlier, in the first Passover in Egypt the lamb was slain at evening, not during the day, so that Christ died on the day (according to the Hebrew clock) when the first Passover in Egypt was killed, not when the yearly Passover lambs were killed, which may have been a day earlier.

17. In the evening He came with the twelve.

Remember from verse 13 that only two of His disciples had gone out to prepare the Passover in this upper room for themselves and the rest.  Since the room was already furnished and prepared, they probably did not have much to do, and so only two were necessary to make all the arrangements.  Now the rest of the crowd arrives, and they are ready to eat the Passover meal.