Date: March 10, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Category: Biblical Exposition
Scripture: Matthew 26:1–26:16
Often times people pay surprising amounts of money for things.
How do you determine value? And, more to the point, what would you sacrifice for?
Our text this morning is full of contrasts. Contrasts of value. In each scene, Jesus is the one being assessed. The question we are forced to ask is, how valuable is Jesus? The Bible argues that Jesus is worthy of infinite value. To show this, our author, Matthew, with literary skill, moves us through various scenes, showing the highs and lows of personal relationships—the high of heartfelt love and the low of heartless betrayal.
All of this to convince us of this one thing: Jesus is worthy of your costly devotion.
Outline: 4 scenes that move toward Christ’s death. A prediction on the mountain, plotting in the palace, preparation in a leper’s house, and a proposition in the palace.
Have you ever met many people who are adept at predicting the future? You know, those people who have this uncanny knack for telling you what’s going to happen in the days and weeks ahead. Neither have I.
This is what makes Jesus statement in verse 2 remarkable. He is predicting what is going to happen. And what’s more, he’s talking about his own death. This is now the 4th time he has said this in Matthew. He is saying that he is going to be killed in a violent fashion. He says he is going to be crucified.
It’s time. He has finished his teaching and it is time to go to the cross.
I want you to notice and be affected by the remarkable certainty that Jesus displays here. He knows what is coming. He is marching into the teeth of the storm. This is to be seen in marked contrast to other religious leaders when faced with their own peril. Consider Joseph Smith, the Mormon leader, who emptied his clips trying to fight off his enemies who were coming for him. Or Muhammad, who ran for his life. Jesus, on the other hand, is remarkably calm, cool, and collected with the shortening shadow of the cross before him. Why is this? It is because he is the real deal. He is God in the flesh. This is the reason why he came into the world. The cross is not an accident or an afterthought; it is the central plan. This is why the events that surround his death will function to accentuate the glory and beauty of it. Like stage props and decorations at a play, the events in Jerusalem at the time only serve to put the attention on Jesus and what he came to do. It is moving us forward to the cross.
Consider the religious holiday that is coming upon them? It’s Passover. What is this about? The Passover is the Jewish feast that celebrates God’s deliverance of his people from the oppressive tyranny and forced slavery by the Egyptians. You might recall in the Book of Exodus, that after 9 plagues, God brought one final plague of judgment. In Exodus chapter 12 God tells the Israelites to take a lamb for their household and then bring it in. And for a period of a few days, it is to be kept in the house and prepared for sacrifice. Then on the 4th day, the lamb was to be sacrificed for the people. Then the blood was applied to the door-frames of the homes of the people of God. Those with the blood applied where to be free from the impending wrath of God that would be unleashed on Egypt. The Jewish people then were saved from wrath by the blood of the Passover Lamb.
Here Jesus is saying, on the Passover—with all of this background—I will be delivered up to be crucified. I’ll be handed over. Like a lamb led to the slaughter. Like a Passover lamb. On the very day when the Passover lambs will be killed and their blood applied in symbolic form, Jesus Christ, the true lamb of God will be killed. And his blood will be truly applied to the door frames of the hearts of all who trust in him.
This prediction on the mountain is made with remarkable certainty and clarity. And it fits in and is enveloped in the biblical types and shadows that have existed for the people for centuries. It is time for the lamb of God to die for the sins of the people. We are moving forward to this time.
But we move on now from the mountain to the palace of the high priest, in verses 3-5.
The camera now shifts to the palace. This is like the courtyard of the high priest. So here it is with the religious leaders gathered together. They are in a meeting. They are doing what you would think, just not in the way you’d expect.
They are planning for the Passover. But, there’s a twist. We read that they were, according to verse 4, plotting together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.
These guys are supposed to be preparing for the Passover but instead, they are preparing for the sacrifice of the true lamb of God. Their free and bloodthirsty will fulfills God’s sovereign design.
Notice they want Jesus dead. Why? He has just rendered a blistering rebuke upon them. He exposed them in the previous chapters as a bunch of hypocritical hucksters. There are a religious sham. Whitewashed tombs. Jesus’ came as a prophet, issuing an excoriating referendum upon them.
Do they value Jesus? No, they hate him. He is an impediment. He gets in the way. So what do they want to do with him? They want to silence him. They want to get rid of him. they want to kill him.
They need to plot because it’s tricky. They fear the people and don’t want to cause an uproar. That is a riot or a commotion. They fear the people.
So they are going to do this by stealth. This word refers underhandedness and deceit. It’s trickery. It’s cunning. It’s a slight of hand. They are crafting a sinister plan to extinguish the flame of the most loving and honorable person who ever lived.
They don’t value Jesus. They should, but they don’t.
Let’s move to the third scene, preparation in a leper’s house.
The camera moves now from Jerusalem to Bethany. Jesus has moved from the mountain to a place of familiarity. He is going with his disciples to his friends. Jesus is in the house of Simon the leper. Simon is no longer a leper—there would be strict rules about going to dinner at a leper’s house—but rather, he was a man who was likely healed by Jesus. This is a man who personally knows the value of Jesus. He’s been healed of his disease and instead of experiencing the ongoing shame, isolation, and persecution of leprosy, he was enjoying the blessings of restoration. Jesus has healed him. And he is throwing a party.
But there are others there with them. In a parallel account, John tells us a few more details. We learn that at this party, Martha was there serving as was Mary her sister. Their brother, Lazarus was there also. If you are not familiar with Lazarus, he presence is noteworthy. He was actually dead and in his grave. But Jesus came and interrupted the mourning and resurrected him from the dead—by commanding him to come back to life.
All of these people value Jesus. But it’s one woman that Matthew wants us to notice. The camera zeroes in upon this woman. In Matthew and Mark, she is unnamed. But in John’s gospel, we learn that this is Mary. She is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. We read in verse 7 that she came up to him. In this culture, the meals would have been eaten while sitting on a floor with the table in front of them. Notice what she does. We read that she comes up to Jesus with this expensive ointment and purse it over Jesus’s head. The reaction from one of the disciples, John tells us it was Judas, was one of contempt. He chides her for her devotional display.
Let’s contrast the exchange and then consider Jesus’ own response.
Start with Judas.
Judas was upset. Matthew writes that he was indignant. He was visibly angry; frustrated, and upset. People knew it. Matthew and Mark indicate that there were others upset but John focuses on Judas; apparently, he was the leader and didn’t have much of a poker face. But then he goes in and expresses his indignation with an expression of false humility. He asks why the ointment wasn’t sold and given to the poor. What piety.
But there is a bit of a tell, isn’t there. How does he characterize this gift? He calls it a waste. He is saying that she ruined it. Like burning up a check, Judas is outraged at the waste. It’s a tell because it shows Judas’ hand, doesn’t it? When compared to money Jesus is a waste. There is public resentment for the value of Jesus.
John tells us he was actually lining his pockets with the money rather than giving it away. Any veneer of nobility vanishes with his bankrupt past of skimming off the top of the church’s finances.
There are a number of things to notice about what Mary does. Both John and Mark write that it was a very expensive ointment made of pure nard. This pure nard was likely from India and very costly. First of all then, this was a costly sacrifice. John writes that it could have been sold for 300 denarii. A denarii is a day’s wage. In other words, it is the average days’ wage for a worker. Estimates vary, but let’s just say it was between 45-75 thousand dollars. Someone would work all year for this. Perhaps this was a family heirloom for Mary and her savings plan. It was her retirement. It was costly. It was all she had.
But notice also, there’s no intention of sparing any of it. Mary didn’t just put a couple of drops on Jesus. Mark writes that it was in an alabaster flask and she broke it. She had no intention of using a drop fo this on anything or anyone else. She was all in for Christ and this display of devotion to him. Her liberal use of the nard demonstrated her affectionate love for Christ. She cracked the flask and dumped the costly oil on Jesus.
She also showed humility by rubbing in the ointment with her hair. A woman’s hair is her glory and she used her hair as a tool to massage in the oil into Jesus’ feet
What are we to make of this? It reveals her costly devotion to Christ. She sees Jesus as worthy. And she makes a great sacrifice. Matthew notes that ointment is expensive.
For Mary, nothing is too valuable for Jesus. He is worthy of her costly devotion.
As we zoom in upon Jesus, we learn a lot about him and how he thinks about his disciples. This teaches us what he thinks about us and our devotion to him.
Notice first, how aware Jesus is. He knows what’s going on. He may have Calvary on his mind but he has his people on his heart. Look at verse 10, Jesus was aware of this. Believer, your troubles, especially at the hands of those who might oppose your devotion to him, is noticed by Jesus.
Secondly, did you see how Jesus defends Mary? He says, “Why do you trouble the woman?” He sticks up for Mary. She is in a vulnerable position. Her hair is dripping with oil. She has just cracked open her life’s savings and spent it on Jesus. What he says matters. He comes to her defense. Don’t miss Jesus taking up for his followers. He defends his people against the accusations of Satan, yes, but also against the persistent attacks of people in the day to day of life. Why do you trouble her? He asks. Why are you picking on her? His defense of her puts Judas on the defensive.
But Jesus goes further. Observe his commentary on her actions. She has done a beautiful thing, says Jesus. Her devotion to Jesus is considered beautiful. This tells us something about how Jesus receives the devotion and worship of his people. He does not say, “You are right. This is entirely inappropriate.” No, he receives it. Even more, he calls it beautiful. This is not the actions of a mere man who worshiped God. He is God who became a man. He takes this worship to himself and treasures it. He affirms it as right and good. In Mark’s gospel, he says that she has done all that she could. He affirms the sacrificial effort. He affirms the costliness of what she has done. Jesus not only can see the actions but he understands the heart behind it. He embraces it. He treasures her treasuring of him.
Then Jesus goes on to explain this. He says that she has prepared my body for burial. These oils were used for the purpose of preparing people for death. This devotion that Jesus is remarking on is more meaningful than the scent that fills the room. It properly frames up the fragrant offering that Jesus himself would soon make. This sacrifice from the heart and hands of Mary affirms the beauty and centrality of the cross. She is all in for Jesus and all about what he has come to do. This is something that searches our hearts. Are we more like Judas judging others and labeling their actions as religious fanaticism? Or like Mary smashing the flask and dumping the costly nard of all that we have on Christ?
Finally, Jesus memorializes this. He says that what she has done will be spoken of alongside of the proclamation of the gospel. Why? In memory of what she’s done. Jesus sees this as important and noteworthy. He hears Judas’ words and sees the betrayal in his eyes. He also sees Mary’s actions and he sees the loyalty in her eyes. Contrasting these two we see that devotion to Christ is a beautiful thing. Costly devotion to Jesus is what is due to him.
“We see in this incident a blessed foretaste of things that will yet take place in the day of judgment. In that great day no honor done to Christ on earth shall be found to have been forgotten. The speeches of parliamentary orators, the exploits of warriors, the works of poets and painters, shall not be mentioned in that day. But the least work that the weakest Christian woman has done for Christ, or His members, shall be found written in a book of everlasting remembrance. Not a single kind word or deed, not a cup of cold water, or a box of ointment, shall be omitted from the record. Silver and gold she may have had none,—rank, power, and influence she may not have possessed,—but if she loved Christ, and confessed Christ, and worked for Christ, her memorial shall be found on high. She shall be commended before assembled worlds.” (J.C. Ryle)
Mary values Jesus and spends lavishly to show it.
Judas sees it as a waste.
Jesus sees it as a beautiful thing.
Friends, listen to Jesus, mute Judas, and learn from Mary.
Jesus is worthy of your costly devotion.
We transition back to the priest’s palace. Or at least to the area around it. And as the camera zooms in, through the pen of Matthew, we find discover something unthinkable. One of Jesus’ inner circle, one of his followers, is attempting to cash in on Jesus—he is trying to sell him out.
Don’t miss the emphasis in verse 14, One of the twelve, that is supposed to leave a mark. It stings. The prediction that Jesus made in verses 1-2 now has a painful and personal fulfillment. One of the twelve disciples who walked with Jesus day after day is going to betray him. A guy who saw love incarnate, witnessed hundreds of miracles, listened to countless sermons, heard the words of grace flow from his lips, and seen the sinless integrity of the public life modeled in private. He saw it all. Now, he is done with him. He wants to get him out of the way. He’s fine with him dying—as long as he is out of the way and he gets a couple of bucks.
I mentioned earlier that the pages of Scripture are anticipating Jesus in many ways. We saw this with the Passover in verses 1-2. But this passage has an echo from another event that was also quite similar with a number of details overlapping. There was a brother who experienced the envy and frustration of his siblings. He was the beloved of his father and it kindled their rage. At one point the jealousy, anger, and hatred reached a boiling point. They had enough of any talk of a time when their brother would reign over them in a place of prominence. The desire to get rid of the brother was greeted with an opportunity. One brother had an idea to sell this younger brother to some traders. He took and sold him to men as they came by. He received a small amount - some silver - the price of a slave. But that was nothing compared to the relief of having their brother out of their life. This is just one of the many parallels to the life of Jesus in the story of Joseph. Where Judah sold out his brother for some silver and the opportunity to get rid of him. So too here, Judas (same name) sells off Jesus, delivers him over for some silver, a small amount, in order to get rid of the problem.
The priests were glad—elated—to get this type of insider cooperation. They paid him the slave’s ransom. And Judas went out to seek an opportunity to betray him. You should notice that this word “betray” and “deliver” is the same word. This act of betrayal is the deliverance that Jesus was talking about. The hands that would hand over Jesus are the same hands that broke bread with him.
“Judas Iscariot had the highest possible religious privileges. He was a chosen apostle, and companion of Christ. He was an eye-witness of our Lord’s miracles and a hearer of His sermons. He saw what Abraham and Moses never saw, and heard what David and Isaiah never heard. He lived in the society of the eleven apostles. He was a fellow-laborer with Peter, James, and John. But for all this his heart was never changed. He clung to one darling sin.” Ryle
Why? It’s because he does not value Jesus.
The outbursts at the Leper’s house was the bud. Now we have the fruit. He’s gone. He made a deal with the devil before he made the deal with the priests
Mark it down. The road to apostasy —or turning away from God—is paved by indifference to the glory and value of Jesus Christ. This is intended to be a sharp contrast to Mary.
And, this also serves as a connection to the previous chapter on the sheep and the goats. Do you recall how we are to determine the sheep and goats? What vindicates the king’s judgment on that last day? It is how they treat Jesus. Do they treasure Christ?
So it is in the church. And we should be warned today, friends. There are many like Judas who huddle around Jesus pretending to be in the flock but are actually really goats. How do we discern? What do we do with Jesus?
These scenes not only serve to move us ahead to the cross but they also provide a helpful diagnostic. They question us.
Do you see yourself in this text? You're here somewhere. Where do you fit?
Jesus Christ is worthy of your costly devotion.
Do you believe this?
Does your life reflect it?
We would each be well served to devote some time to think upon these scenes.