What is the one thing you cannot live without?
I think there are two stark realities shown in the passage of the woman who anointed Jesus' head—a deadly devaluing and a saving adoration. See if you don't agree:
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor." And they scolded her. But Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."—Mark 14:3-9
The logic of those scolding is understandable, clear. What the woman has done is wasteful.
And what Jesus says in reply is provocative. He is not denying the importance of caring for the poor. Indeed, how could he, since he has taught so much on caring for the poor and needy already! But he is suggesting that there is something more important.
There is something more important than helping the poor. What could that be?
It is Jesus himself.
To devalue Jesus as the indignant have done is eternally deadly. To devalue the nard as the woman has done is eternally saving.
A few gospel notes on the text:
1. Crushing is the way to blessing.
"Whomever God uses greatly he must wound deeply," Oswald Chambers has said. The breaking open of the nard is a beautiful picture of that. It complements Paul's illustration about we ourselves carrying treasures in jars of clay in 2 Corinthians 4.
Maybe Jesus' friend Mary, whom John's Gospel has identified as the woman in this scene, learned this precious lesson from the death and resurrection of her brother Lazarus. The way to the blessing is through brokenness. Perhaps Mary understands that now, perhaps she is showing Jesus in this act of tender care and extravagant worship that she "gets it."
And God is not above keeping his own rules, for he committed to the crushing of his own son in order to cover his children with grace. Think of the lavishing of grace this is! (Some would call it a waste…)
2. God loves us so much, he will do whatever it takes to help his children be satisfied in Jesus alone.
Our Lord knows we need to be startled to see his beauty. He knows we struggle in our flesh to naturally see Christ as glorious and all-satisfying. We need to be shaken awake. We need the smelling salts of the gospel waved under our noses.
He knows that a life of comfort and ease is spiritually speaking very dangerous for us.
So: What needs to break in your life so you see the preciousness of Jesus? What needs to be taken away from you?
In his fantastic little book on Romans 8, Supernatural Living for Natural People, Ray Ortlund writes:
When Paul says that some people have their minds set on the things of the flesh and others have their minds set on the things of the Spirit, he is not using the word mind in a merely intellectual sense. He is talking about our mindset… He is talking about our whole mentality, what we dwell upon, the tilt of our likes and dislikes, what we respect and admire, what we want out of life, what we aspire after… Paul himself was like this. He discovered in Jesus a treasure so rich that he took all his hard-won lifetime achievement awards and junked them in order to have Jesus. And then he looked at that pile of earthly prizes there in the dumpster, threw his head back and laughed: "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:8, RSV). If you are a Christian, but bored, maybe you need to lose something. You cannot just add Jesus to an already crowded life. So what do you need to off-load, so that your heart can feel the surpassing worth of knowing Christ? And do not stop off-loading until that sense of privilege in Jesus really starts to percolate. When our hearts thrill to his surpassing worth, the world loses its appeal.
Speaking personally, I can say that it wasn't until I lost everything that I found out I had everything in Christ.
3. Christ is most precious.
The breaking of the expensive gift, its pouring out all over the Teacher, was not a waste because he was more valuable than it. All gifts are wasted if they don't adorn the Giver.
All precious gifts must adorn the most precious gift of the precious Giver himself or they cease to have value.
Here is Spurgeon, preaching on 1 Peter 2:7:
A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, "What do you think of my sermon?" "A very poor sermon indeed," said he. "A poor sermon?" said the young man, "it took me a long time to study it." "Ay, no doubt of it." "Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?" "Oh, yes," said the old preacher, "very good indeed." "Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn't you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?" "Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon." "Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?" "Because," said he, "there was no Christ in it." "Well," said the young man, "Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text." So the old man said, "Don't you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?" "Yes," said the young man. "Ah!" said the old divine "and so form every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, to say, 'Now what is the road to Christ?' and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ. And," said he, "I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it."
Go and see some of our sick and dying friends; go and talk to them about the Reform Bill, and they will look you in the face and say, "Oh, I am going from this time-state: it is a very small matter to me whether the Reform Bill will be carried or not." You will not find them much interested in that matter. Well, then, sit down and talk to them about the weather, and how the crops are getting on—"Well, it is a good prospect for wheat this year." They will say, "Ah, my harvest is ripening in glory." Introduce the most interesting topic you can, and a believer, who is lying on the verge of eternity, will find nothing precious in it; but sit down by the bedside of this man, and he may be very near gone, almost unconscious, and begin to talk about Jesus—mention that precious soul-reviving, soul-strengthening name Jesus, and you will see his eye glisten, and the blanched cheek will be flushed once more—"Ah," he will say, "Precious Jesus, that is the name which calms my fears, and bids my sorrows cease." You will see that you have given the man a strong tonic, and that his whole frame is braced up for the moment. Even when he dies, the thought of Jesus Christ and the prospect of seeing him shall make him living in the midst of death, strong in the midst of weakness, and fearless in the midst of trembling. And this proves, by the experience of God's people, that with those who believe in him, Christ is and ever must be a precious Christ.
If you have Christ, when you are breaking open in suffering or death, you will find you have a precious Christ!
His preciousness is total and complete:
Romans 10:12 says he has riches to bestow and Psalm 50:10 says the cattle on a thousand hills are his, so you know Jesus is unrivaled in his resources.
Proverbs 3:19 says "The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens" so you know Jesus is unparalleled in wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 8:4 says "For the word of the king is supreme," so certainly King Jesus' supremacy is undoubtable.
In Isaiah 6, the cherubim cry out, ""Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" so you know Jesus' glory is boundless.
Ephesians 1:7-8 says "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight," so you know the grace in Jesus is invaluable, incomparable, gratuitous, and infinitely precious.
Our Christ's preciousness is more than deserving to be adorned with the drink offering of our very lives. And it is our willingness to adore him in and through our breaking open that shows we believe this.