Text: Mark 14:1-72, Isaiah 53:2-3
Waste not, want not. Right?
When the woman at Bethany cracked the expensive jar of oil and poured it over Jesus’ head, her relatives flared their nostrils and demanded, “Why has this fragrant oil been wasted?” It seemed like a good question because the jug of oil was worth 300 denarii (Mark 14:4-5). Considering a day’s wages in Palestine at that time was one denarius (Matthew 20:2), this woman poured out a year’s wages on Jesus’ head, and all she had to show for it was oily hands.
But Jesus wiped His eyes and celebrated her gift, announcing that she had anointed His body in advance for burial. Indeed, in this chapter, the longest in the Gospel of Mark, we see Jesus in the center of several kinds of preparation as He walked through the days that led Him inexorably to the cross.
The preparations began with a plot to kill Jesus (v. 1), followed by the parenthetical anointing to prepare His body (v. 8). This led to the disciples’ preparation for Passover (v. 12) and concluded with Jesus’ prediction of betrayal (v. 18). And in the middle of all this preparation and betrayal, Jesus stopped and instituted the Lord’s Supper. He was preparing them for life without Him.
It makes sense that this indelible sacrament—one of His dearest gifts to us—was given as He was surrounded by betrayal on one side and suffering on the other. But the gospel is only realized in suffering. In fact, there is no gospel apart from Christ’s suffering.
As He broke the bread and offered up His body, Jesus was really giving us His whole “person” (Aramaic), His entire “being” (Greek). He then took the cup and said to them, “This is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many” (vv. 22-24). The Last Supper is the truest representation of our fellowship with Christ, and in this meal we see that His gift to us was complete.
The guests at Jesus’ final table would go on to betray Him—and not just Judas. In the end, they all deserted Him (v. 50). But even the most evil plots of men are within the scope of God’s providence. Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would be “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3), and so it is fitting that the Lord’s Last Supper was attended by traitors.
The Lord’s Supper is not a table of virtue; it is a table of grace. Even on our best days we cannot earn His gift. He invites us to partake just as He invited the disciples—in spite of our betrayals and scheming against Him. Apart from Christ’s suffering, there simply is no gospel.
None of these preparations or promises made sense until He went to the cross. The great mystery of the gospel is revealed in Jesus’ death.
The jar that was broken to anoint Jesus was a complete gift. No one could pick up the shards and piece the pottery back together for another use later; the jar was smashed and irrevocably given (Mark 14:3). Christ was crushed for us, and His sacrifice is also freely, entirely, and totally given. We remember this every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper (Isaiah 53:5). His extravagant gift to us was not wasted and has changed the world forever.