If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew, chapter 26 as we continue our study in the gospel. Last week, we began in the first five verses of this chapter, that we had come to as it were the final section of the gospel of Matthew, and everything in this chapter, and some of the material immediately following. As it were a prelude to the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so we also noticed the ironies that had been present throughout Matthew’s gospel intensifying when we get here to the account of the final persecution and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. The irony present in Jesus life is unique in history. He experienced hunger Matthew tells us, but he fed others. He grew weary, and yet he gave rest to others. He was the King and Messiah, and yet He pays tribute. He was called the devil by the Pharisees but He cast out demons by the power of God. He dies the death of a sinner, but He died to save His people for their sins. He was sold for thirty pieces of silver, but he gave His life as a ransom for many. He wouldn’t turn stones to bread for Himself, but He gave His own body as bread for his people.
And nowhere is this kind of irony which we have seen throughout the gospel of Matthew more apparent than when we get here to His final suffering and death. Here in this passage, Christ’s enemies, believed that they were finally getting rid of Him. But it turns out that their plan to push Him aside to persecute, hurt, and ultimately destroy Him was the very plan of God for the salvation for all those who trust in Him. The irony is more than delicious here. And so as we said last week, there are several themes that run throughout this final section of the gospel of Matthew. God’s sovereign control of the events surrounding Christ’s death is one of those themes. Jesus’ voluntarily embracing this death is another of those themes. The nature of Jesus as both the Son of God and royal Messiah on the one hand, and the humiliated and suffering Savior on the other. And the justaposition of those is another one of those themes. The guilt of the Jewish leaders. Matthew is writing this gospel in the context where not only are Jewish Christians going to be reading it, but many of their Jewish friends are going to be reading it. And he is making it very clear that the people who were esteemed in their eyes as religious leaders were very much guilty for being involved in the plan to kill the Lord Jesus Christ. And of course, another of the themes in this section is Jesus' victory over His opponents. They plan one thing, God has another plan. And God’s plan always triumphs.
As we looked at Matthew 26, verses 1 through 5, we saw God’s sovereignty highlighted, the counsel was planning to take Jesus secretly, and they said, “We’ll never be able to pull this off at the festival.” And Jesus, even while those words are on their list, Jesus is meeting with His disciples, saying, “By the way friend, in two days, I will be taken.” And so the Lord Jesus’ word proves to be true, and God’s plan proves to be sovereign even though those who are actually going to perpetrate the deed aren’t sure they can pull it off.
The voluntary nature of Jesus’ death is seen very clearly there in verses 1 and 2 of Matthew, chapter 26. Jesus knows that in two days He’s going to be betrayed, and He willingly embraces it for us. And then, of course, man’s responsibility is made very clear in verses in verses 3 through 5. For though God’s plan is going to be worked out, it is very clear that these men will be held accountable for their part in the plot. So let’s turn to Matthew, chapter 26, verses 6 through 13 and hear God’s authoritative work.
“Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an Alabaster vial of very costly perfume. She poured it upon His head, as He reclined at the table, but the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said why this waste? For this might have sold for a high price, and the money given to the poor. But Jesus, aware of this said to them, ‘Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For the poor, you have with you always. But you do not always have Me.’ For when she poured this perfume upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly, I say to you wherever this gospel is preached in the whole word, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.”
Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.
Our Lord and our God, we bless you for the truth of Your word. And we ask that You would build up our faith, even as we meditate upon it this day. If we come with skeptical hearts this day, we pray that You would remove the hardness of our hearts, strip away the incrustation, speak to us, applying the word of truth, very directly by power of your Holy Spirit. All to Your praise and glory, and our eternal good. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
In this passage before us, we see a strange extravagance in this woman pouring this expensive perfume on the Lord Jesus Christ. And we see a vocal indignation in response to this by the disciples. And then we see a wonderful pronouncement by Jesus about what this woman had done. And even as we see these things, we learn something of what our God is like, we are reminded of the priority of Christ. And we are prompted to reflect upon the uniqueness of the person of Christ, the meaning of His death, and the benefits which flow from His work and the promises that God has given to us. And I’d like to meditate for a few minutes today.
The passage breaks into three parts. You see in verses 6 and 7 this strange experience, this extravagant action by this woman, Jesus is at supper and she anoints Him with oil, very expensive perfume. And then you see the disciples' response in verses 8 and 9. That’s the second part of the passage. And then in verses 10 through 13, you see Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples and His glorious commendation of the woman, even at the same time while He once again foretells His own death. Let’s look at these three sections together today.
I. Jesus anointed with oil
First of all, in verses 6 and 7 where we see this strange and extravagant deed performed by this woman. Jesus in this brief passage, verses 6 and 7 fulfills three aspects of the Old Testament that tells us that God is like. The Old Testament tells us that God is exalted, but He dwells with the humble. The Old Testament says that God is the one who heals our diseases. And the Old Testament tells us that God alone is to be worshipped. In this brief passage, all of those things are manifest in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s look at it together.
Notice Jesus’ willingness here. And this is consistent with what He did throughout His ministry. Notice His willingness here to affiliate with those who are humble. He is in the home of Simon the leper. It strikes me a little ironic, doesn’t it? Lepers, if they are actively lepers, are outcast from the community. Not because he is now leprous, but because he was once leprous. And the Lord Christ healed him. But in order to distinguish him from the other Simons of the gospels, and in order to remind us of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in healing him, he is continually referred to as Simon the leper. Isn’t it interesting that our Lord Jesus Christ is invited into a leper’s home. Lepers were normally outcast. Our Lord Jesus didn’t have a home, and so He stayed with a former leper in his home. There’s a poignancy to that. He draws near to the humble.
Notice also in this passage we are reminded even by Simon’s name, and the title attached to it, Simon the leper, that he is whole by the hand of Christ. And we are reminded of Christ’s healing power and His saving abilities. And then we see in verse 7 this woman come and perform as act of profuse devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. What did it mean? What in the world is this woman doing? We know that sometimes important guests were anointed with oil as they reclined at the table. But this is a singular act. You’ll never understand the significance of this act if you don’t understand that this is an act of devotion. As Mary is pouring out this perfume, and by the way, it’s John in John chapter 12, verses 1 through 8, that lets us know that the woman referred to by Matthew is Mary, in fact, the sister of Martha. We’ll come back to that in just a few moments. But as Mary pours out this perfume, she is pouring out her heart. She is filled with genuine religious love and gratitude and devotion; and it entirely possible that she understands something about what Jesus is going to go through in the next few days, a degree or to better than the Lord Jesus’ disciples have understood it. And so her action is an act of devotion.
And so in this brief passage, you see a three-fold reflection in the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not hesitate to dwell with the humble. He’s not in Bethany with the mayor and city council. He’s not in Bethany with the great and prominent citizens of that little village. He is in Bethany with this man who was a leper. And with Mary, and with Martha, and with Lazarus and that odd ball collection of people who followed Him and loved Him.
Isaiah is the one who tells us of a vision of the exalted Lord. But Isaiah is also the one who tells us that though the Lord is high and exalted, He dwells with those who are humble and lowly in heart. If that doesn’t encourage you today, I don’t know what will. The Lord Jesus draws near to His people in fellowship with them, and that’s a picture of what is in store, my friends. You see here that the Lord Jesus is the one who heals and saves. The one who has the power to make us clean, picturing the God of the Old Testament about whom in the Psalm it was said, “He heals our diseases.” And then of course He’s worshipped by Mary here. How appropriate. The Psalm tells us to ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name. And the Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t say, “Now Mary, you’re going a little too far here.” He receives Her worship, and her extravagant act of devotion to Him, because He is worthy to be praised.
So we see God’s own attributes manifested in the Lord Jesus Christ in this brief passage. And as we come to the Lord’s Table today, we ought to be mindful of those attributes of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we ought to be mindful of just how much we owe Him because He has drawn near to us, and He has healed us of the disease of sin. And He is worthy of our worship, and we ought to worship Him in light of that which He has done for us in accordance with what He has done for us.
II. The disciples lack of understanding.
Then, as you look at verses 8 and 9 you’ll see a disappointing response from the disciples. They are vocally indignant about what has just happened. And the disciples, very frankly, display their deficient piety in the way they assess Mary. It’s a little bit of a rebuke because all of us know how, from time to time, how we misjudge the motives of other Christians. And we think and we say unfair things about them, and the disciples certainly did that here. They misjudged the heart and the motives of Mary. They didn’t understand the significance of what she was doing.
But even as we see this sad scene play itself out, we learn that nothing else that we do matters unless we rightly apprehend the priority of Christ. And that Mary did. Mary understood the priority of Christ in a way that the disciples themselves were struggling to grasp. The disciples were outraged when they saw this woman take this alabaster vial filled with perfume that John tells us was worth over a year’s wages. This had perhaps been a family heirloom. Who knows for how many generations this perfume had been sealed. As long as the seal of that alabaster bottle was shut, that perfume could last a long, long time. And she takes it, and she breaks it open, and she pours the whole thing out the Lord Jesus Christ. And the disciples are outraged, they are shocked. This is over a year’s wages. Think how many poor people could have been helped if we only could have taken that and taken the money and distributed it to the poor. And so the disciples are absolutely outraged. They think that the proper use of that perfume is not to waste it on anointing Jesus, but to give it to the poor.
Now, I must say I have two reactions when I see that. You know it’s very easy to pick on the disciples, just like they picked on Mary. It would very easy for me to be super spiritual and say, “Oh how could the disciples have done that?” You know I’m rebuked by the disciples. You know at least the Lord Jesus’ teaching about them caring for the needy and the poor and the lowly, had been so engrained into their hearts and thinking, and Matthew tells us that all of the disciples were at least thinking about, and caring of the poor. And I must confess to you, I don’t think enough about the poor for that thought to have ever entered into my head if I had been there. So the disciples are one step ahead of me. I don’t know about you, but you know, as genuinely concerned as many of those disciples were, save Judas, for the care and the needs of the poor, the disciple's response to Mary’s need is still shallow, it’s still superficial. Their concern for the poor was not sufficiently anchored in their apprehension of Christ’s love for them, and in their love for Christ or they never would have spoken this away. How could you possibly waste anything on the Lord Jesus Christ?
And so as we come to the Lord’s table, we ought not be stingy in our expression of love for the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to worship Him in light of His love shown to us. Devotion to Jesus’ Himself must exceed all our other agendas, all our other important and godly agendas have to be pursued in light of the priority of our love for Christ.
Have you ever wasted something and really regretted it afterwards? I saw my dad do this from time to time, and oftentimes it was on me. When I was in high school, I was in need of an automobile, and I got a Chrysler Newport. It was a 60’s model. Now this was the late 70’s. And it was a 60’s model Chrysler Newport. The eight-track tape that I bought for this car was more expensive than the purchase price of the automobile. And right before I was going to take it out and cruise around the school in this Chrysler Newport, we discovered we had a lot of brake work to do on this car. And the brake work was more expensive than the car itself. And my father very kindly paid that, and gave the car to me. The next day I totaled the car. I remember walking into my father’s office. First, he checked on me. “Son, are you all right?” “Yes, Dad.” “I just can’t believe I paid for all that brake work, and you’ve totaled the car.” That was the second thing that he said. He had wasted his money.
You’ll never waste anything on Jesus Christ. Waste your time, waste your strength, waste your life, it’ll never be wasted on the Lord Jesus Christ. And Mary understood that in a way that Jesus’ disciples had yet to grasp. And it’s a beautiful thing to see her pour out her heart and her light, even as she pours out this vial of perfume. No gift is too great in such in response to such a love as His. Divine love which not only gives everything, but is content to be unrequited. You’ll never outgive His love. Can’t you hear David’s words? “I will not give a sacrifice that cost me nothing. Who knows how long that heirloom had been in the family? But Jesus was worth it, and so she worshipped Him with what was perhaps what was the most valuable thing that her family owned. The disciples are shocked, but God is pleased, and Jesus is pleased.
III. Jesus defends Mary and announces His death.
And then we see Jesus’ response in verses 10 through 13, He gives us another foretelling of His impending death, and He gives us a wonderful announcement about Mary. And Jesus’ response simultaneously testifies to His uniqueness, it testifies to His death. It forces us to reflect on His coming death, and it includes a blessing. And again we learn that true faith in Christ apprehends who He is. It understands His uniqueness. If you truly believe in Christ, you understand and you embrace him as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. And, true faith in Christ also embraces Him in what He’s done. He understands the meaning and significance of His death. And the benefits which flow from that death for all those believe in Him. True faith apprehends Christ in who He is, and what He has done and His benefits.
Jesus immediately defends Mary’s good deed to the disciples here. And He gives a very specific defense in verses 11 and twelve. First of all, He says to the disciples, that they are indeed to care for the poor, the poorer the kingdom especially. He’s pointing them right back to Deuteronomy 15:11. You’ll see the verse. It’s almost a verbatim quote. But He’s saying to this them, “Friends, I am only going to be physically present with you for a little while longer. Jesus is going to promise them, by the way, at the end of the gospel of Matthew, that He’s always going to be with them. He’s not going to contradict Himself here, but He is saying this: “My friends, in just a little while I will no longer going to be physically present with you. I’m going to be with you by the comfort of the Holy Spirit, but I’m not going to be physically present for you. And the opportunities for pouring out your devotion to Me physically will pass. Never again will you be able to embrace Me until the day of the marriage supper of the lamb. Never again will you be able to speak to Me and see Me face to face. You won’t be able to pour an alabaster vial of perfume out on Me, and therefore, because of the uniqueness of these circumstances, though I always want you to care for the poor, it was perfectly proper that Mary would devote this kind of an extraordinary sacrifice to Me.
And then, of course, Jesus goes on to say something more extraordinary. In verse 12, He says, “She poured this perfume on My body, and she did it to prepare Me for burial.” He is saying to them that her anointing Him was in prospect of His coming death. This is an amazing statement. God is providing for His Son’s burial in the actions of Mary. You know criminals weren’t anointed in Jesus’ day. A nice upstanding citizen who died, would be prepared and anointed with expensive incense and perfumes and ointments and then would be buried in a tomb. But common criminals who died, especially the death of the cross, would simply be heaped into a common pit, which would be filled up and then covered over with dirt. There would no anointing. Jesus is saying, what Mary is doing here is in prospect of My burial, for I am going to die.
Did Mary understand what she was doing, or was she doing something beyond her grasp? Well, listen to this. Mary, of Bethany, was perhaps the best listener that Jesus ever had. And this may well have been her thought in what she did. She may have been thinking to herself, ‘This will be the last opportunity I ever get to bestow kindness on Jesus.” It went according to His own predictions. His enemies will kill Him. Will His friends be able to anoint him at that time? And so she takes the most expensive thing she has, and she anoints her Savior. R.V. G. Tasker says this: “These evangelist makes it clear that she had an intuitive appreciation of the significance of Christ’s death, which the disciples had yet to grasp. She knows that He is ready and willing to die as the supreme act of love for His friends, and she rightly reckoned herself and her family to be His friends. And so she pours the fragrant perfume, her most costly possession, over His head, as though she were anointing Him as a King.” And that oil flows down over His body as He reclines, and she takes some of that oil, John says, and she even anoints His feet, washes His feet with that oil. You see we have a picture here of Jesus not only being prepared for burial, and the prospect of His death, but we see a picture of true worship, giving the best we have because of His love for us.
I was in Edinburgh, and one of my dearest friends was the college officer at the Free Church of Scotland College. Now that’s a fancy name for janitor. He was the janitor of the Free Church of Scotland College. He also was the man who knew more about Scottish art and architecture in history than anybody I ever met. Mr. Bill Anderson would often take me around the city and show me historical sights. And one of the sights he showed was the covenantal memorial in the Gray Friar’s Courtyard. In the Gray Friar’s Courtyard in the middle of Edinburgh, a number of important historical events happened in the history of Scotland. But it was also the city cemetery. So common criminals and others were buried in a common grave, or common graves in the Gray Friar Courtyard. And in the days when Presbyterians were being persecuted in Scotland in the 17th century, many of those Presbyterian ministers and elders and church members were actually hung. In fact 18,000 Presbyterians were martyred during a period of about twenty years in Scotland. About 350 of them were martyred in the Courtyard which is called the Glass Market in Edinburgh, just a few steps from the Gray Friar burial site, and they were brought in Gray Friars to be put into this common pit, with the common criminals. And Mr. Anderson tells me that there is a story that has circulated since the seventh century, that two men during the time of the covenanters, who were the grave diggers at Gray Friars were sympathizers with the Covenanters. They admired them and appreciated them, and they didn’t want the criminals to be mingled with the covenanters. So they built a partition in the pit. And they put the criminals on one side, and they put the Covenanters on the other, so that their dust would not mingle with thieves and murders other wicked men. Mary was doing something similar. She was anointing her Savior. For though the world would look at Him in the next few hours as a criminal, she acknowledged Him as her God and Savior. And it was the ultimate act that she could do in showing her love for Him. As we come to the table, let us love and worship in view of His love for us in the same manner as Mary. Let’s pray.
Our Lord and our God, we ask that by Your graces, we come to Your table. That we would own Your uniqueness and worship You, and embrace the meaning and significance of Your Son’s death. And that we would remember the promised blessings that are in store for all those who are in union with Christ. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.