A memorial

Mary’s awareness that Jesus was about to die prompted her to make an extreme sacrifice in order to demonstrate her love for him. According to John’s gospel, Jesus was in the home of Martha eating supper with a group of men. “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3). “Mary’s act of devotion was costly. It was also an unusual act, both because she poured the oil on Jesus’ feet (normally it was poured on the head) and because she used her hair to wipe them (a respectable woman did not unbind her hair in public). Further, it showed her humility, for it was a servant’s work to attend to the feet” (note on John 12:3).

John went on to say that Judas Iscariot, the disciple that would betray Jesus, questioned the use of Mary’s oil for such a purpose. He asked, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Judas’ knowledge of the value of the ointment probably came from his experience in selling such products. John noted that Judas’ question was motivated by greed. He commented, “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:6). The contrast between Mary and Judas’ behavior showed that Mary’s devotion to Jesus was genuine and her act of kindness was not meant to draw attention to herself. On the contrary, Mary wanted to draw attention to the sacrifice Jesus was about to make.

The cost of the oil that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet was practically an entire years wages (note on Mark 14:5). It is likely that it was her only possession with any significant value. The oil was kept in a sealed flask with a long neck that was broken off when the contents were used (note on Mark 14:3). Therefore, the oil was meant for a single use on a special occasion. Mary may have intended to use the oil on her wedding night or for the burial of a loved one. The fact that Mary used the oil to anoint Jesus’s feet indicated he was the most important person in her life and his death the most significant event she could think of for the use of her precious ointment.

Jesus rebuked Judas for his criticism of Mary’s action and stated emphatically:

Let her alone; why trouble you her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her. (Mark 14:6-9)

Ambition

James and John were one of two sets of brothers that were included in Jesus’ twelve member exclusive team of evangelists. Jesus told these men, “in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). James and John were often singled out and given special privileges such as witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:1) and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37). In his list of the twelve apostles, Mark said of these two men, “And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; (and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:). The name Boanerges could also be translated sons of commotion (G993), but in its original form, the word Jesus used stood for violent anger or rage (H7266). It is likely that James and John had a reputation for losing their tempers and may have been raised in a home where violence was used to discipline them.

One of the few incidents of conflict among Jesus’ twelve apostles is recorded in Mark 9:33-34 where it says, “And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.” James and John took this conflict one step farther when they approached Jesus and asked him to give them the seats next to his in his throne room (Mark 10:37). James and John’s ambition appeared to be driven by a desire to be equal with Jesus (Mark 10:38-39). Jesus told them, “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup. and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, in not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23). The Greek word translated prepared, hetoimazo (het-oy-mad´-zo) means to prepare or make ready (G2090). Hetoimazo refers to those things which are ordained by God, such as future positions of authority.

Jesus told his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). The word Jesus used that is translated prepare in this verse is also hetoimazo. The Greek word translated place, topos suggests that Jesus is building his kingdom based on our prayers or requests for occupancy in a particular spot that might be available (G5117). In this sense, you could say that Jesus is currently taking reservations and assigning spots to believers inside his Father’s house. James and John’s request may not have been all that unreasonable, but it was determined that their ambition to be seated next to Jesus was not at his discretion. Jesus revealed that the top spots in his kingdom were reserved for God’s elect and said, “whosoever will be great among you let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

The Greek word translated minister in the phrase “let him be your minister” (Matthew 20:26) is diakonos (dee-ak´-on-os). Diakonos refers to “an attendant that is (generally) a waiter (at a table or in other menial duties)” (G1249). This term is used specifically in reference to a Christian teacher or pastor who is technically supposed to be a deacon or deaconess. Jesus identified himself as a minister and stated the purpose of his service was to “give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In other words, the job Jesus was assigned by his Father was to die for the sins of the world. This was the position God prepared for him and the reason Jesus would be located at the head of the table or in the top spot in God’s eternal kingdom. When Jesus asked James and John, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matthew 20:22), he may have been asking them if they were willing to make the same kind of sacrifice that he was expected to. When they responded, “We are able” (Matthew 20:22) James and John were basically volunteering to become martyrs.

The new temple (part 9)

The sacrificial system established for the new temple described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-48 of his book had many variations from the ones that were established in the Mosaic Law (note on Ezekiel 45:18-46:24). A key difference in the systems was the role of the prince in providing the offerings that were to be sacrificed to God. It says in Ezekiel 45:17, “And it shall be the prince’s part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the Sabbaths in all solemnities of the house of Israel: he shall prepare the sin offering, and the peace offerings, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel.” The Hebrew word translated prepare, kuwn (koon) can also be translated as provide (3559). The idea being that the prince was expected to take from his own resources whatever was necessary for the sacrifices to be made.

Reconciliation for the house of Israel was also known as atonement. The day of atonement was associated with the priest’s entrance into the holy place in the temple where the ark of the covenant was kept. In the ceremony, It says in Leviticus 16:7-10, two goats were to be presented before the LORD “and Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” In this scenario, atonement was made through the release of the scapegoat. In other words, the live goat was ransomed or pardoned from death.

The suggestion in Ezekiel 45:17 that the prince’s offerings would make reconciliation for the house of Israel implies that atonement for sin was not accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross. What may be true about reconciliation is that a person cannot be redeemed by the death of Jesus Christ after the period of God’s grace comes to a conclusion. Once the reign of Christ begins, and the law is reinstated, it appears that atonement will have to be accomplished through the sacrifices of the prince. Perhaps the best way to look at the new sacrificial system is as one in which the sacrifice for sin is meant to encourage a person to change his behavior. The effects of shame and humiliation could be the real reason why God instituted a sacrificial system of punishment, rather than capital punishment, in the first place.

Independence

Israel’s relationship with God was meant to be special, unique in that it involved personal contact between God and his people. The basis for the relationship was a covenant that was similar to a marriage that permanently bound the two together. The problem was that Israel didn’t want to be dependent on God. The people thought they could take care of themselves and didn’t need to be forgiven of their sins. Hosea stated it this way. “They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God” (Hosea 5:4).

Basically, the message Hosea conveyed was that Israel was unconcerned about its own well-being. Like a reckless teenager barreling down the freeway at 100 mph, Hosea stated, “And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face: therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them” (Hosea 5:5). As much as God wanted to be in close contact with his people, the Israelites were determined to exercise their independence, so he had to walk away and leave them to their own devices.

Speaking through the prophet Hosea, the LORD communicated his intention. He declared, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early” (Hosea 5:15). The way God’s system worked was that his people had to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness through sacrifices. The people thought their sacrifices were payment for their sins, but in reality, the sacrifices were symbolic of the substitutionary death required to erase the sin from God’s memory.

Israel had gotten used to God coming to her rescue whenever she cried out for help. Like a child whose mother constantly attends to her needs, the people of Israel thought God would respond as usual even though the people had stopped confessing their sins (Hosea 6:3). Their sacrificial system was no longer a means of clearing their collective conscience, but a way to get God’s attention and to secure the Israelites’ prosperity. The LORD pointed out the contradiction in their objectives when he stated, “For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

As a testimony to their disobedience, God reminded the Israelites that forgiveness was not automatic and the consequences they were going to experience was a result of sin (Hosea 7:2). Using the illustration of a hot oven to depict their uncontrolled behavior, God showed the Israelites that their resources had run out (Hosea 7:7). In spite of this, they thought they could survive without him. “And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the LORD their God, nor seek him for all this” (Hosea 7:10).