Matthew 26 1-16: JESUS ANOINTED AT BETHANY

(1) Introduction.

I have written about about the events recorded in Matthew25v1to16 in John12v1to11 and ACTS1 v12 to 26. In this exposition I will deal with the major players in the contrasting events Matthew describes in this passage of his gospel.

(1) Caiaphas the chief priest.

Caiaphas calls a meeting of other chief priests to discuss what to do about Jesus. This should give us pause for thought. Surely there should only be one high priest - an office traditionally passed on from father to son.

It seems the Romans acknowledged the intensely religious nature of Judea and appointed the chief priest to speak on behalf of the Jews who inhabited the province. So the role of the chief priest became increasingly political. He collaborated with the Roman Governor. If the chief priest fell out with the Governor pressure was brought to bear to have him replaced. This led to a rapid turnover of chief priests and a growing number of former chief priests. Caiaphas was something of an exception as he managed to hold office for 18 years.

The question is, why did the chief priests hate Jesus so much they wanted to kill him? There are four obvious reasons:

(a) Jesus threatened the chief priests relationship with the Romans and the status quo.

Jesus had entered Jerusalem, albeit riding on a donkey, as a king. The "hosannas" of the crowd sent shudders down the High Priest's spine. If the Galilean contingent attending Passover in Jerusalem took the law into their own hands and proclaimed Jesus king, the Romans would put down the uprising and end consultations with the chief priest and his advisors. The priestly class would lose their power and no longer be able to negotiate concessions from the Governor. This would be to the detriment of Jews living in Judea. On one occasion Caiaphas told the Sanhedrin which was meeting to discuss Jesus, "You know nothing at all! You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." John11v49.

The lesson for the church is clear: don't get involved in politics. Throughout the history of England the church has ignored this advice and got itself into some terrible muddles.

(b) Jesus antagonised the priests by exposing the corrupt and dishonest practices carried out on temple premises.

Devout Jews of modest means were being rapidly ripped off so that the priests could line their pockets.

Anyone who exposes wrong doing in high places is liable to suffer for it. No one loves a whistleblower!

(c) Jesus bested to the priests in debate and made them look silly.

The priests, otherwise known as Sadducees, were rationalists and didn't believe in the resurrection from the dead. So, they posed a question to Jesus about a woman who married seven brothers one after the other. The Sadducees then asked Jesus whose wife would she be at the resurrection. Jesus put them right about this saying, "At the resurrection people will neither marry or be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." See Mt22v29to32.

It is always dangerous to show up the so called expert. People don't forget. They just bide their time until they can get their own back.

(d) Jesus was very popular with the common people who heard him gladly.

Jesus' popularity made the priests envious. Pilate, the Roman Governor, knew that the main reason the priests hated Jesus and wanted him dead was their envy of him. For he knew it was out of envy that they handed Jesus over to him. Mt27v18.

We need to guard against envy. It is a terribly dangerous emotion. It led to a whole series of violent acts recorded in the Bible: the first murder, Moses belittled by his brother and sister, Saul's attempt to skewer young David, the plot that led to Daniel ending in the lion's den.

We may not actually go as far as murdering anyone - but we can set out to destroy a person's reputation. This is not uncommon in religious circles.

F.B. Meyer held meetings in Northfield, Mass., and large crowds thronged to hear him. Then the great British Bible teacher G. Campbell Morgan came to Northfield and people were soon flocking to hear his brilliant expositions of scripture. Meyer confessed at first he was envious. He said, "The only way I can conquer my feelings is to pray for Morgan daily, which I do." With thanks to ChristianGlobe.

(2) Judas.

I have dealt thoroughly with Judas in these two expositions:

ACTS1 v12 to 26. and JOHN13 v18 to 38.

It is clear from John's account of what happened that Judas instigated the criticism of Mary for anointing Jesus with precious, scented oil. However, Judas' opinion was shared by some of the other disciples. Later, Judas goes to see the chief priests and accepts a payment 30 shekels to facilitate the arrest of Jesus. 30 shekels was not an insignificant sum; it amounted to 120 denaris. One denari was the daily wage for a labouring man. So it was equivalent to about 6000 today. Some commentators attribute Judas' action purely to avarice. They are supported in this view by John's bitter comment about the criticism Judas levelled at Mary. He didn't say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jn12v6.

It is likely that Judas thought he was owed something as treasurer of the Jesus' movement! It cannot be denied that he took the opportunity to make a considerable sum out of the chief priest's desire to arrest Jesus unobtrusively. However, I believe that Judas' motivation was more complex than simple greed.

It is likely that Judas and some of the other disciples were getting impatient with Jesus over his plans for the future. Perhaps they were out of sympathy with the cosy little get together in the home of Simon the Leper arranged by his friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The majority of the disciples probably thought there were better things for Jesus to be doing - like capitalising on Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

If Judas and some others were in a bad mood this might explain their churlish attitude towards Mary's expression of devotion to Jesus.

It is highly likely that Judas and a majority of the other disciples differed greatly from Jesus over the nature of his kingdom. They may have been unimpressed by what Jesus said about the sheep, the goats and the importance of being kind to the poor. Judas could have been saying in affect, "Look here, Master, if you really cared about the poor you would have discouraged this woman from her incredible extravagance."

There is no doubt that in criticising Mary, Judas was criticising Jesus.

So, I don't think it possible to explain the contract Judas made with the chief priests to deliver Jesus into their hands in terms of greed alone. If his chief motivation was to make money out of betraying Jesus, why did Judas throw the 30 shekels away and commit suicide. The clue to his motivation is in his impassioned declaration to the priests: "I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood." Jesus had not reacted to his arrest in the way Judas hoped he would. He just tamely allowed himself to be apprehended. Jesus was no revolutionary - just a misguided, idealistic innocent. All Judas' hopes were dashed and in despair and disillusionment he ended his own life.

It seems highly likely that Judas was manoeuvring Jesus into a situation where he would finally have to show his hand. Would Jesus declare himself, king of the Jews, and use his miraculous powers to confound the Romans - OR not?

There are indications in the gospel narrative that Judas was attached to Jesus. He didn't have to identify Jesus with a kiss. Judas could simply have placed a hand on Jesus' shoulder. Nor was the kiss of a formal, impersonal nature but warm and affectionate. It prompted Jesus to say ironically, "Judas are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss!" Lk22v48.

The remorse Judas experienced when Jesus' fate was sealed must have owed something to the attachment he felt for him. He had no desire to witness the death of Jesus.

There are grave dangers in serving Jesus according to our own agenda. We can have our own ideas about what Jesus should do for us. So long as we have a nice home, a loving wife, affectionate and obedient children and a well paid job - we will pay lip service to Jesus.

It is equally unsatisfactory to serve Jesus with mixed motives. We may work hard for Jesus so long as our efforts are recognised and rewarded. In the event that our labours are not crowned with success, we may end up disillusioned and demotivated.

I find myself longing for recognition over the expositions on this website. If 2 or 3 months pass without an email of appreciation I begin to feel discouraged. I forget that we ought to give of ourselves to Jesus without thought of reward in view of all he has done for us.

(3) Mary.

Mary must have been a wealthy woman to possess an alabaster flask containing a pint of pure nard - a very expensive perfume. It was worth a year's wages of a labouring man - something like 15,000 to 20,000. It seems that Mary broke the neck of the flask and first poured some perfume over Jesus' hair. She then anointed his feet and spread the perfume about with her own hair.

There are a few points to note:

(a) Jesus was singled out for special treatment. Although this is true, everyone benefitted because, as John notes in his gospel: The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Whenever we single Jesus out for special, loving treatment, others will benefit from the action. This is true in many respects. Consider all those who have rejoiced at a performance of Handel's, 'Messiah'. Another example occurs when a believer is baptised in obedience to Jesus and declares their devotion to the Saviour. Everyone at the service benefits from the joy surrounding the event. There was a wonderful atmosphere at my own baptism. My uncle Stephen came down from London especially to sing in his fine tenor voice a solo of celebration. It was an occasion made fragrant by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

(b) Mary's gift was an expression of her gratitude for everything Jesus had done for her. Jesus allowed Mary to sit at his feet thereby accepting her, a woman, as one of his students. He stood up for her when she was criticised by her sister, Martha, for not helping with refreshments. Mary would never forget Jesus raising her brother, Lazarus, to life.

We, like Mary, have so much to thank Jesus for. It is good sometimes, when we pray, to count our many blessings, to name them one by one, for it will surprise us what the Lord has done.

(c) Mary's sacrificial gift was an expression of her intense devotion to Jesus.

Last week I finished my weekly shopping at Waitrose and pushed my trolley to the car to unload. I was accosted before I could raise the lid of the boot. I was hugged and then hugged again. The lady thanked me for conducting her mother's funeral - then she poured out her troubles.

Jesus is the sort of person we love and who we can share our troubles with. I enjoy singing the old Sankey hymn:

          There's not a friend like the lowly Jesus,
          No not one! No not one!
          None else could heal our soul's diseases,
          No not one! No not one!

          Jesus knows all about our struggles,
          He will guide till the day is done;
          There's not a friend like the lowly Jesus,
          No not one! No not one!

When I was a boy in Sunday school we sang with particular relish: 'Jesus knows all about our struggles - he will guide till the day is done!'

(d) Mary's gift was fearless. She didn't care if it did attract attention and criticism.

I read in my father's old Biblical Illustrator a quaint illustration by one, A.G.Brown. He wrote: There are not a few who would like the religious experience of the church to be something like West Norfolk scenery. When I was preaching there some time back a farmer went out with me for a walk and just as I was thinking that it was the most deplorable bit of country I had ever seen - as flat as a billiard table with here and there a ditch, he suddenly stopped and said, "Now, Sir, this is what I call a really fine view." I looked at him in astonishment; but with all simplicity he said, "I call this a really fine view; for whichever way you look there is nothing to break it. Now in Kent or Cumbria, wherever you look there is something that stops the view, but here there is nothing."

This is the idea of Christian service that many entertain. Its charm lies in there being NOTHING to attract attention - nothing excessive, nothing extreme, nothing too emotional, nothing over demonstrative, nothing embarrassing, nothing to make us uneasy, nothing like Mary's display of intense devotion.

(e) Mary's gift was perceptive. Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body before hand to prepare for my burial." Mk14v7and8.

Mary perceived that Jesus was nearing the end and her gift was a way of identifying with his ordeal to come and showed her undying allegiance whatever might transpire.

Ladies tend to be more perceptive than men. I can recall, something like 25 years ago, receiving a visit from Liz. She dropped in after several younger members of our congregation followed Simon, our pastor, and left the church. Liz said, "I thought you might be down. I've just called to express my sympathy." I was down and now, 25 years later, my worst fears are being realised.

My mother used to write letters to young men she thought needed cheering up - young men in hospital, young men in the services, young men abroad. Recently, three old men, Cliff, Peter and Jim, have all showed me letters my mother sent them 60 years ago.

(4) Jesus.

Jesus' reaction to both Mary's expression of love and the disciples' mutterings of disapproval tells us something about him:

(a) Jesus was not a leader who couldn't be criticised. Criticism is undoubtedly implied by the reaction of the disciples to Mary's lavish gift. They muttered among themselves, "Why this waste? This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor."

I think the mean spirited, "Why this waste", was especially hurtful. But Jesus didn't lose his temper - he wasn't like that. On one occasion he said, "I am gentle and humble of heart ..... my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Mt11v28to30. I love the Authorised Version: "I am meek and lowly of heart."

Jesus' humility resulted in some of Jesus' disciples questioning his judgment and none more so than Peter who, when Jesus predicted his death on one occasion, took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Never Lord! This shall never happen to you."

I believe authoritarian leadership is anathema to Jesus.

(b) Jesus does, on this latest occasion of his disciples' disapproval, defend himself. He said in response to his disciples' criticism: "The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me." There was very little time left for Jesus' followers to show their appreciation of him in the flesh. There is an important lesson here: we need to show appreciation to those who have been a blessing to us - while we are able. I am always intensely moved and grateful when a former pupil pays tribute to my teaching, I have received fulsome thanks this winter (2017/18) from some of my former students. How it raised my spirits.

(c) Jesus defended Mary. Actually he did more than defend her - he commended her. Jesus said, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. .... When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial."

Jesus recognised what Mary had done for him - a beautiful thing. I had a letter after Christmas 2017, a letter out of the blue expressing appreciation for being a wonderful teacher. Irrespective of whether or not I had been quite as good as my former pupil testified, it was a beautiful thing that Rachel did for me. It brought tears to my eyes and I thanked God for it.

There is no doubt that for 2000 years numerous men and women have done beautiful things for Jesus. In her book, 'Tramp for the Lord', Corrie ten Boom describes what occurred in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp the night after her sister, Betsie, died. There was a shuffle of feet near Corrie's bed. She looked up and there was a Russian woman, thin and gaunt, shuffling down the aisle between the beds looking for a place to sleep. The Russians were not well received and every one turned away as she drew near. Corrie saw the hurt look in the woman's eyes. How awful to be in prison and to have nowhere to sleep.

Betsie's place beside Corrie was vacant. She motioned to the Russian women and threw back the blanket for her. She crept in gratefully and stretched out beside Corrie. They lay side by side sharing the same pillow. Corrie wanted to communicate with the woman but didn't know Russian. She just said softly, "Jesoes Christoes."

The Russian responded immediately. She made the sign of the cross, threw her arms around Corrie and kissed her.

Corrie did a beautiful thing for Jesus. One day he will say to her, "I was a stranger and you invited me in." See Mt25v35

(d) Jesus expressed hope for the future. Jesus said to Mary, "I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her." v13.

There is something strange about this wonderful promise. Jesus said, "this gospel" and I think, "What gospel?" He did not declare any good news in the passage under consideration that is particularly relevant to the world in general.

I like to think that when Jesus said, "this gospel", he pointed to the broken and discarded alabaster flask. Mark records that the flask was broken. See Mk14v3. It was broken so that all could benefit from the sweet perfume that filled the house.

Jesus had to be broken; he had to suffer, bleed and die before the fragrant good news of God's salvation could be released to the world. Jesus had to be discarded, like the empty flask, before being vindicated by God and able to impart the Holy Spirit to his church.

          Oh, the wondrous gospel story!
          There is life in every word:
          There is hope and consolation
          Where the message sweet is heard;
          Let us tell it to the weary,
          And its beauties all unfold:
          'Tis the only guide to heaven,
          And the story must be told.

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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