The account of Jesus’ anointing at Bethany contrasts the generosity of a woman and the greed of Judas. In their respective responses to Jesus, we see the importance of giving Him priority and honor over everything in our lives. The distinction between these two people serves as an opportunity for us to consider our own hearts in light of the opportunity we have to express our devotion through visible acts of worship.
Today we begin a series called “Jesus Saves.
The whole reason for which Jesus came was to bring about salvation for men like us who have strayed far from God.
Two events form the centerpiece of our salvation, and the first is the crucifixion. Jesus became human, and lived in perfect obedience to God. That qualified him to step in as the perfect sacrifice and take on himself the punishment that should have come to us.
Much of what Jesus said and did while on the earth was misunderstood, and the means by which Jesus would accomplish salvation were not what people expected. That explains in part why in today’s story, the disciples react strongly in opposition to the women who anoints Jesus head with oil.
The path to bring about salvation was an excruciating death by being crucified. Jesus was teaching that, but it doesn’t always come through. God plan was carried out by sinful men, but it was God plan! God poured out His wrath for our sin on his son. Jesus willingly drank from the cup of that wrath but going to the cross.
The second event that forms the centerpiece of our salvation is the resurrection. He gave His life so that we might live, but there’s no way that he can give us life, if he doesn’t possess it. The resurrection tells us sin and death are dead for those who place their faith in the Savior.
We’ll be looking at these events events in this series, as well as some of the events that immediately follow. Jesus appeared to people following the resurrection, and confirming His resurrection. Those appearances were designed to answer any doubts this followers may have had, as well as be an opportunity to commission his followers into gospel service.
We launch this study in Matthew 26, but open your Bible to Matthew 21.
In Matthew 21, Jesus enters Jerusalem in what we call the Triumphal entry. He entered the city riding on a donkey. The people are shouting and celebrating - like the arrival of a conquering king.
In about the middle of chapter 21, Jesus started teaching - there’s a lot of red if you have a red letter Bible.
In 22:15, the religious leaders are plotting to trap Jesus in his words so that they can deal with him legally.
Keep moving forward - there’s more teaching. In Chapter 24, he left the Temple and went to the Mount of Olives where he teaches more.
Then in 26:2, Jesus comes out and says “I’ll be crucified in two days time.”
It’s here that Matthew tells the account of Jesus being anointed by Mary - in the context of his soon pending death. The event according to John’s timeline happened a few days prior. Matthew inserts it here because he wants his readers to not miss the connection that this anointing was connected to his death.
Lets jump in, beginning with...
Point One: Mary prepares Jesus for His coming death and burial. (Matthew 26:6-7)
Matthew 26:6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.
There’s a lot about this event that seems strange. First of all, Simon the Leper probably didn’t get many house guests. There were strict laws regarding skin diseases like leprosy.
Leviticus 13:45-46: The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.
Since Simon welcomed visitors into his home, perhaps he had been healed of his skin disease. But since he is being called “Simon the leper,” there was likely a stigma surrounding him in that neighborhood. But there’s Jesus, in the middle of this house belonging to “the leper,” reclining at the table as they shared a meal together.
Then of course as the handbook points out, this anointing would seem very awkward. Imagine this happening to one of us during our meal together today.
I don’t know how big this flask was, but it was big enough to be very expensive. Jesus is now has oil dripping off his head and soaking into his clothes. It’s some sort of scented oil. Anyone use Essential Oils at home? Imagine pouring a big jar.
Where our handbook leads us in considering this event is to understand that God often works in ways that humans don’t expect him to. Almost all of the events that are about to unfold would be unexpected. And, if a human were to devise a plan for the salvation it wouldn’t have looked like God’s plan. Every man-made religion of the world proves that.
So at the top of page 12, there's an opportunity to think about the fact that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. “What are some other evidences you can think of from Scripture of the kingdom of God reversing expectations?”
Regarding this anointing by Mary: We learn from John that it’s Mary who does this - It’s the Mary that’s the sister of Lazarus. Lazarus is also one of the guests at this meal, along with the disciples. Martha is serving the food. And Mary is performing this anointing. We can’t say with certainty that Mary knew the significance of what she was doing, but I think she likely did. We learn from resurrection of Lazarus that this family is very close to Jesus. Mary probably believed Jesus when he taught that he was moving toward Jerusalem to die. This act was in preparation for that.
In our tradition, we don’t anoint with oil. In my previous church, if someone wanted the Elders to pray for them, and anoint them with oil we would, but it was uncommon. Did any of you see the Netflix series The Crown - the Queen’s coronation involved anointing.
In the Bible, this was quite common.
People are most familiar with it in its symbolic function to confirm an Israelite office or authority. For example, priests were to be anointed with oil (Ex. 29:7), as were kings (1 Sam. 10:1), and sometimes even prophets (1 Kings 19:16).
Additionally, certain objects were anointed, such as the tabernacle and everything in it (Ex. 40:9).
What all of these examples have in common is the consistent theme of setting apart a person or thing for devotion to God. Well, Jesus was definitely being set apart, and not everyone is happy about it!
Point Two: Jesus praises Mary’s extravagant gift of love. (Matthew 26:8-13)
Matthew 26:8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Have you seen the show American Pickers? These guys travel around looking for junk that might be really valuable.
Or Antique Road Show where people can discover if something from their attic is worth a lot of money. A rare 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence was once purchased for less than $3 and later sold for nearly $500,000. An Andy Warhol sketch was once purchased for less than $5 and valued at around $2 million. A rare 1,000-year-old Chinese bowl was purchased for about $3 and sold at auction for more than $2 million.
This doesn’t happen everyday, but occasionally the national news will share an epic story like these of one man’s trash becoming another man’s treasure.
When that happens, we marvel at the lucrative discovery and we start wondering what’s in my attic. But, what are your feelings toward the person who failed to value the object? We can look with derision at the person who sold the fortune for a pittance. That’s how the disciples’ feel about Mary.
What a wasted opportunity!
The disciples see this act as wasteful and Jesus sees it as beautiful. Once again, expectation are turned upside down.
Look at the second paragraph on page 13:
“Why this waste?” A simple question from the perspective of the disciples. For them there was no compelling reason to empty an entire bottle of valuable oil upon the head of Jesus. Regardless of their true motivations, they missed the significance of this act of devotion and expressed their belief that her gift was wasted. But in demeaning this woman and the value of her act, the disciples unknowingly demeaned Jesus and His coming death and resurrection.
By the way - just to drive home what’s happening, Mark tells us that she broke the flask in the act of anointing Jesus. (Mark 14:3). This might have been a nice flask. It would have had at least some value. But the point Mark makes is that together, the giving of the jar and the oil, symbolize the totality of the gift. Nothing was held back.
Imagine you have $50,000 in the bank, and that represents all the money you have. You’re presented with an opportunity to make an investment, but to do it, you have to commit everything you have. How certain would you have to be that the investment is truly a worthy pursuit?
For regular people like Mary, Martha and Lazarus, burning through a years worth of income in the time it takes to break a bottle - that’s no little thing.
The disciples recognize that, as would each of us. Wait! What are you doing!
But Mary is demonstrating not only her generosity but also her faith and confidence in Jesus. She had witnessed firsthand His provision and power. Now, she came and freely gave in this act of anointing.
Jesus has a completely different response. In answering the disciples question, why this waste, Jesus makes three statements:
“Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”
This is an act of love a devotion. She is preparing his body for burial, even though he is still alive. Jesus is grateful for her kindness and generosity, and considered it to be beautiful instead of a waste.
“You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”
Caring for the needy is important and Jesus would never minimize that. Solomon wrote: “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13). John said: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
But the point is that acts of love and devotion to Christ are equally important.
Jesus statement here reminded me of the criticism we’ve endured as a church, often from within the church, for the way we’ve thought about money. I remember when we were building this facility. We could have built something that looked more like a walmart for less money. Lots of people told us that’s what we should do, and they brought up the same argument that the disciples did - “Imagine how many poor people you could feed with what this building cost.
But I was in complete agreement with the Elders that sacred space, space that’s dedicated to the glory of God, is worthy of beauty and excellence. Looking for ways to express love and devotion to Christ doesn’t mean that we neglect the poor, but there’s a place for both!
His third response:
“Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
And of course, that came true! By the way, she’s not the only one! Throughout Scripture, the people of God are marked by their giving.
King David refused to give a sacrifice that cost him nothing. (2 Samuel 24:24).
Abraham prepared himself to lose his beloved son. (Genesis 22).
The Macedonian Christians gave even beyond their means for the sake their poor brothers and sisters in Christ in Judea and Jerusalem. (2Corinthians 8).
So, as the book says near the bottom of page 14, the people of God are compelled by love to give to the work of God’s kingdom: Matthew moves on to contrasts Mary with Judas. Mary prepares Jesus for his death through an act of extreme generosity. Judas contributes to Jesus death through an act of extreme greed.
Point Three: Judas plans the betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. (Matthew 26:14-16)
Matthew 26:14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
Modern translations of the Bible often break up sections of Scripture using subheadings. I use the ESV. Chapter 26 begins with this heading: “The plot to kill Jesus.” Then: “Jesus Anointed at Bethany.” Then “Judas to Betray Jesus,” and “The Passover with the Disciples.”
These divisions help us find things quickly, but they also can interrupt the flow and feel of a passage. In this case, the headings separate events that Matthew had intentionally linked.
Look at the bottom of page 15. We don’t want to miss this:
“Matthew’s Gospel immediately moves from the anointing by Mary to the betrayal by Judas, and what is implicit in his account is made explicit in John’s Gospel. According to John 12, it was Judas who led the chorus of condemnation of the woman’s anointing, and it was not from love of man but love of money. <<Judas isn’t concerned about the poor. Judas is concerned about lining his pockets. >> Thus, when he went to the chief priests and asked for payment, his motivations had already been exposed. Judas was not driven primarily by religious or theological conviction but by greed.”
Turn to James 4:1-4. I want to read that section to you.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4)
According to James, quarrels and conflicts are motivated by our cravings. Would you agree that the opposite is also true? Generous expressions of love for Christ are also motivated by our craving for Christ.
Mary craved salvation and the Kingdom of God.
Judas craved money.
The chief priests craved power and privilege.
Satan, who was instigating Judas, craved glory.
In each case, their craving drove their actions! That’s why the handbook had this memorable statement: Mary was willing to forfeit wealth for Jesus. Judas was willing to forfeit Jesus for wealth. We need to consider that!
We need to see this passage as an opportunity to consider the condition of our own heart before the Lord.
C. Mack Roark said the following:
The ‘why’ question about Judas betraying Jesus remains a mystery. The Gospels do not explain; they merely record. In fact, all the guesses and observations show Judas’s crime to be within the range of all human experience. His act was not unique. We want an explanation for what Judas did because we want Judas to be different from us. We attempt to separate Judas from the likes of us. We want to be able to say, ‘Well, that’s not me.’ But we need to see that Judas may not have been that all that different from us. Judas was not the last follower to betray Jesus, sometimes by word, sometimes by deed.
When has greed motivated you to betray Jesus? One challenge for us then is this:
Reject the greed of Judas
Strive to be like Mary, who gave her most precious possession for Christ;
But even more so, strive to be like Christ, who gave Himself fully and freely to set us free from bondage to greed and lust.
If our motivation for giving is to receive praise from others or something in return, that is nothing more than greed. If our outright greed moves us to withhold generosity, then we have revealed that God’s call on our lives is secondary to our comfort. It also shows that we treasure things other than God and long for our own glory over Christ’s.
The Bible is clear: the people of God are marked by their joyful giving (2 Cor. 9:7). Even when our complex hearts reveal the deadly mix of generosity and greed, the convicting power of God’s Spirit moves us to repent and honor God. As God has given His Son for us out of the overflow of His heart, so He calls and compels His people to express their devotion through visible acts of worship. Let us follow the example of Mary, exemplifying love and devotion to our Savior in our generosity