Harmony of the Gospels

 HARMONY OF THE GOSPELS
November 7, 2007

 

DATE: TUESDAY OF CHRIST’S LAST WEEK ON EARTH

LOCATION: BETHANY

Title: Anointing By Mary at Simon’s Feast

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 26:6-13 (FOCAL PASSAGE); Mark 14.39; John 12.2-8

 

INTRODUCTION

What would your plans be if you knew you had only six days to live? Jesus took time to visit dear friends and fellowship with them. Their home was in the city of Bethany, and there Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus were included in a feast given in honor of Jesus. Mary’s adoration for her Lord was apparent and not only revealed her love, but it brought joy to His heart, exposed Judas’s sin, and gave the church an example to follow. Are the places where you go filled with Christ’s fragrance because of you? “For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things” (2 Cor. 2:15–16)?

COMMENTARY

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. (Matthew 26:6-7)

And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. (Mark 14:3)

There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. (John 12:2-3)

Bethany was a village only two miles from Jerusalem. The two sisters, Mary and Martha, lived there with their brother Lazarus; the same one that Jesus raised from the dead. Lazarus was described as a person that Jesus loved, and the Lord gave evidence of that love when He wept at his tomb. In spite of the large numbers, who were opposed to Jesus, there were still a few hearts which beat with true love for Him.

Now Lazarus is in attendance at a supper given in our Lord’s honor, where he thought he would have an opportunity for a pleasant conversation with Jesus.  Martha, Lazarus’ sister, was there and she served the food out of respect for the Master.  Although, she was a person of quality, she did not think it below her to serve tables.  In fact, she was willing to stoop to any service, whereby Christ would be honored.  At an earlier feast given in his honor Christ had scolded Martha for being troubled with much serving.  However, she did not stop serving as most people would, who have been rebuked by such a respected person as Christ was.  Perhaps she felt that it was better to be a waiter at Christ table than a guest of a prince.  Lazarus, by being there proved his resurrection was true. Note; those whom Christ has raised up to a new spiritual life will sit together with him (Ephesians 2:5-6)[1].

This feast was held six days before Passover in the house of Simon the leper.  He was probably the man who had been miraculously cleansed from his leprosy by our Lord Jesus, and he would naturally want to show his gratitude to Christ by entertaining him. By opening his house to friends and strangers, we certainly have proof of his healing, because lepers were considered to be unclean, and therefore were not permitted to socialize or even live in cities. And Christ did not hesitate to speak with him, go to his house, and dine with him.  Although, he was cleansed, he was still called Simon the leper as a testimony to his healing, but that is all we know about him.

By comparing this passage with John 12:1-8 (particularly verse 4), a reasonable conclusion can be drawn concerning Simon, that he was the father of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed our Lord.

Jesus was at the house of Simon the leper when a woman[TL1]  came in and poured out a flask of very expensive ointment[TL2]  on His head. The costliness of her sacrifice expressed the depth of her devotion for the Lord Jesus, saying, in effect, that there was nothing too good for Him.

John identifies this woman as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus.  She is found only three times in the gospels, and in each instance she is at the feet of Jesus.  She sat at his feet and listened to the word (Luke 10:38-42); she came to his feet in sorrow after the death of Lazarus’ (John 11:28-32); and she worshipped at his feet when she anointed him with the ointment (John 12:1).  Mary was a deeply spiritual woman.  She found at his feet her blessing, she brought to his feet her burdens, and she gave at his feet her best.
When we continue the gospel records, we learn that she anointed both his head and his feet, and wiped his feet with her hair.

Alabaster is a whitish stone found only in Egypt. The ancients considered it to be the best material in which to preserve their ointments. The alabaster, referred to here, is a translucent carbonate of lime, formed on the floors of limestone caves by the percolation of water. It is of the same material as our marbles, but formed differently. It is usually clouded or banded like agate.

Mark and John identify the contents of the box as spikenard, which is made from an aromatic herb. It is clear from the indignant surprise registered by the other guests that it is an expensive substance. She had a pound of it, which she must have bought for her own use and may have cost Mary 300 pence ($45.00). The costliness of Mary’s offering may be understood best, if you know that a penny (one denarius) was the average pay for one day’s labor; she paid an equivalent of 300 days labor for this sweet-smelling ointment...
Mark, in his gospel, says that she brake the box. That would be necessary only if the box was sealed in a manner which required breaking it to get to its contents, and therefore, all of its contents would be used at one time. No doubt she intended this as a token of her love for Christ, who had given real tokens of his love to her and her family. Some of the disciples viewed this as an unnecessary extravagance. Note; Christ must be honored with all we have. Do we give him the precious ointment of our best affections? Let him have them all; love him with all tour heart.

In Palestine people did not set to eat.  They reclined on low couches.  They laid on the couch resting on the left elbow and using the right hand to take their food.  It was the custom to pour a few drops of perfume on a guest when he arrived at a house or when he sat down to a meal.  It was more than a few drops that this woman poured on that head of Jesus; she broke the box and anointed him with the whole contents.

For you or I to do what Mary did, would be considered strange. But back then it was considered the highest form of respect; for the smell was very pleasant, and the ointment itself refreshing to the head. This may be looked upon:
1. As an act of faith in our Lord Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed. To signify that she believed in him as God’s anointed, God Himself, she anointed him and made him her king. This is kissing the Son.
2. As an act of love and respect for him.
3. A generous love. Note, those who love Christ truly love him so much better than this world that they are willing to lay out the best they have for him.
4. A condescending love; she not only bestowed her ointment upon Christ, but with her own hands she poured it upon him, which she might have ordered one of her servants to do. Considering what Christ has done and suffered for us, we are very ungrateful if we think any service is too hard to do, or too lowly to stoop to, if it glorifies Him.

The filling of the house with the pleasant odor of the ointment may suggest to us that those who entertain Christ in their hearts and houses bring a sweet presence into them; Christ’s presence brings with it an ointment and perfume which rejoice the heart.

But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? (Matthew 26:8)

And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? (Mark 14:4)

Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, (John 12:4)

Contrasted to the generosity of Mary is the selfishness of Judas. He had estimated the ointment to be worth three hundred pence or the amount of wages a person would receive for three hundred days’ work. Judas’s disliked Mary’s offering, or token of her respect for Christ.

I wonder how much Judas and the other disciples really care about the poor.  They remind me of people in our contemporary society who are always talking about taking care of the poor but are doing nothing about it themselves.  In our government there are quite a few legislators who are millionaires and are always talking about a poverty program and other aid for the poor. Have you ever attempted to find out how much they personally have done for the poor?  I don’t care for that kind of hypocrisy!  The evidence of the sincerity of your concern is always in what you yourself are doing.  Are you trying to make an impression, or are you really trying to help people? 

Judas was the one who found fault with Mary the most. He was one of the Lord’s disciples; but He did not have their nature, even though He was one of their numbers. It is possible for the worst of men to lurk under the disguise of the best Christians; and there are many who pretend to have a relationship with Christ who really have no love for him. Judas was an apostle, a preacher of the gospel, and yet he attempted to stop this instance of pious affection and devotion. Mary used the opportunity she had for expressing her devotion to Christ, but Judas used that same opportunity to criticize her. Nothing given in love to Jesus is ever wasted. Judas was the one who ended up wasting his life!

The disciples did not know the true character of Judas.  In spite of his affiliation with the band of disciples, and his association with Christ, Judas was not a true believer. Jesus called him “son of perdition” ( John 17:12)[3] which literally means “son of waste.” When Jesus washed the disciples feet he made it clear that one of them (Judas) was not cleansed ( John 13:10 –11)[4].  Like many professing Christians today, Judas was “in” the group of believers but not “of” them.

Notice that every time Mary sought to do something for Jesus, she was misunderstood.  Her Sister Martha misunderstood her when she sat at Jesus feet to hear him teach the word.  Judas and the other disciples misunderstood her when she anointed Jesus.  Her friends and neighbors misunderstood her when she came out of the house to meet Jesus after Lazarus’ had been buried ( John 11:28-31)[5].  When we give Jesus Christ first place in our lives, we can expect to be misunderstood and criticized by those who claim to follow him. 

Mary’s act of worship brought joy to the heart of Jesus and malice to the heart of Judas, who wanted the money she had spent ( John 12:6)[6]. Other women came to anoint Him after His burial ( 16:1)[7], but Mary did it when He could be encouraged by her love.

There were others, besides Judas that called it a waste of the ointment. The disciples, as many as were present that evening, also thought it was a waste. Because they could not have found it in their hearts to pay such a large price for the honoring of Christ, they thought that she was wasteful.

They thought the money should be used in a way other than giving it to the poor, and that upset them and led them to ask Jesus, “To what purpose is this waste?”

It is true; there may be the possibility of over-doing it in the service of the Lord. We must learn to be cautious and not take on more than we can do well at. But we should not criticize those who run to extremes in our eyes, because God may accept what they do as a testimony of their great love for Him. We must not say, “Those who do more than we do for religion are doing too much,” but rather, we should aim to do as much as they do.

There may be a reason for the disciples saying that the ointment was wasted.  They knew their master was dead to the things of the world; He was so grieved over his people’s refusal to receive him as Messiah that he did not care much for being anointed with expensive ointments.  That is why they supposed it was wrong, and why they said it was a waste.  But, even if Mary’s act was wrong, they were still wrong to call it a waste, since Jesus accepted it as a token of His friend’s love. People still think it is a waste to give a year of one’s life to the Lord. How much more a waste would they consider it to give one’s whole life to the Lord! Note; we must never think that anything is wasted, which is bestowed upon the Lord Jesus, either by others or by ourselves. We must not think that time spent in His service is wasted, or that money given for Christian charity and work is wasted.

For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. (Matthew 26:9)

For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. (Mark 14:5)

Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. (John 12:5-6)

Here the flesh is on display, intruding into this most sacred of occasions. The one who was about to betray his Lord could not stand to see precious oil used in this way.

Judas[TL3]  did not consider Jesus to be worth three hundred pence. He felt that the perfume should have been sold and given to the poor. But this was sheer hypocrisy. He cared no more for the poor than he did for the Lord. He was about to betray Him, not for three hundred pence, but for a tenth of that amount.
Judas asked, “Why was it not given to the poor?” The question did not come from a principle relating to charity that he adheres to. He did not care for the poor. He had no compassion for them, no concern for them: what were the poor to him except that he can use them to serve his own ends? The question did come from a principle of covetousness. The truth of the matter was that this ointment was intended for his Master, but he would rather have had the cash to put in the bag with which he was entrusted, and then he knew what to do with it.

Judas was treasurer for those who followed Christ, and that is how he got his name; Iscariot, the bag-bearer. It is easy to see that the treasurer did not have much to do, because Jesus and His disciples were poor. They had little to live on; they did not own farms or possessions and they did not have barns or storehouses, only a bag. If they ever did have money in excess of their needs, it went to the poor.

Judas was appointed to the office of treasurer for a reason.
1. Because he was the least and lowest of all the disciples; (although it was a place of trust and respect). In his heart he loved to be fingering money, and therefore he had the moneybag committed to him.
2. As a kindness, to please him, and thereby obligate him to be true to his Master. Judas had no reason to complain; he chose the bag, and the bag was his.
3. As a judgment upon him, to punish him for his secret wickedness; the bag would be a snare and trap to him.

When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. (Matthew 26:10)

And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. (Mark 14:6)

Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. (John 12:7)

Jesus corrected their distorted thinking. Her act was not wasteful, but beautiful, and her timing was perfect. The poor can be helped at any time. But only once in the world’s history could the Savior be anointed for burial. That moment had struck and one lone woman with spiritual discernment had seized it. Believing the Lord’s predictions concerning His death, she must have realized it was now or never. As it turned out, she was right. Those women who planned to anoint His body after His burial were foiled by the resurrection ( Mark 16:1–6)[8].

Jesus defended her deed. It would have been commendable to give the money to the poor, but she had a better use. She had done what she could to show her love for her Lord.

Christ’s command was “Let her alone,” which implied His acceptance of her kindness. Although he was completely insensitive to all that delighted the senses, yet, He accepted her act of worship as a token of her love, and signified that He was pleased with it; therefore, they should not attempt to embarrass or harm her. Note, it is a painful ordeal for good people to have their good works condemned and misconstrued; and it is a thing that Jesus Christ takes very seriously. Here He took the part of a good, honest, zealous, well-meaning woman, against all His disciples, who believed they had reason on their side.

For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. (Matthew 26:11)

For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. (Mark 14:7)

For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. (John 12:8)

Jesus rebuked their murmuring. Mary had recognized her golden opportunity to pay this tribute to the Savior. If they were so concerned for the poor, they would always be able to help them, because the poor are always present. But the Lord would soon die and be buried. This woman wanted to show this kindness while she could. She might not be able to care for His body in death, so she would show her love while He was still alive. What Mary did was more important than feeding the poor; however, Jesus implied that Christians must minister to the poor, since the poor always ye have with you. Note the reasoning behind this statement:
1. There are some opportunities for doing and getting good which are constant, and which we must constantly try to develop. We always have Bibles with us, the Sabbath is always with us, and so are the poor. Note, Those who have a heart-felt desire to do good, never need to complain of a lack of opportunity.
2. There are other opportunities of doing and getting good that only come once in a while. They may be short in duration and uncertain, and require more work on our part to carry them out, and some of them ought to be chosen before the others; "Me ye have not always, therefore use me while ye have me.” Sometimes special acts of faithfulness and devotion should take the place of acts of charity. The poor must not rob Christ; we must do good to all, but especially to the household of faith.

For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. (Matthew 26:12)

She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.
(Mark 14:8)

Our Lord makes His anointing an act of great faith, as well as great love; "She is come beforehand, to anoint my body to the burying, as if she foresaw that my resurrection would prevent her doing it afterward.”  The point seems to be that the act was appropriate in view of His burial which was soon to take place, and that it might be regarded as symbolic or prophetic of the burial.

This does not necessarily mean that Mary is consciously aware of the significance of her act.  It is doubtful that she knows of his approaching death or how close it was.  This act is purely worship, her heart having been moved by God to perform a sacrificial and symbolic act, the significance of which she probably did not know.

His burial was a kind of foreshadowing of, or prelude to, His approaching death. Can you see how Christ’s heart was filled with the thoughts of his death, how every thing was construed with a reference to that, and how casually he spoke of it on many occasions? Christ’s death and burial were the lowest point of his humiliation.

Mary may have understood Christ’s frequent predictions of his death and sufferings better than the apostles did; but they were rewarded with the honor of being the first witnesses of His resurrection. The Lord is always willing to make the best, and to make the most of His people’s well-meant words and actions. The disciples thought the ointment was wasted, when it was poured upon his head. “But,” He said, in effect, "If so much ointment were poured upon a dead body, according to the custom of your country, you would not begrudge it, or think it waste. Now this is, in effect, true; since the body she anoints is as good as dead, and her kindness is very appropriate for that purpose; therefore rather than call it waste, think of it as the proper thing to do.

Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (Matthew 26:13

Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her. (Mark 14:9)

Many people knew that Jesus was in Bethany, and that He was in Simon’s house for a feast in His honor. He was the talk of the town, and they came flocking to the house. They came to see Jesus, whose name was even more famous after He raised Lazarus from the dead. They did not come to hear him, but to gratify their curiosity by catching sight of Him here at Bethany. They did not come to capture him, or inform on him, although the government had designated Him a criminal, but to see Him and show Him respect. They came to see Lazarus and Christ together, which was a very fascinating sight. Some came to affirm their faith in Christ, and to hear the story from Lazarus’s own mouth. Others came only to gratify their curiosity, and so they might be able to say they had seen a man who had been raised from the dead. Perhaps some came to ask Lazarus about some things they were curious about, such as, what did you see or feel while you were dead. But our Lord Jesus was present, and He was a much better person for them to ask than Lazarus. However, it could be said, if we do not hear Moses and the prophets, Christ and the apostles, if we reject what they tell us concerning another world, neither would we be persuaded by Lazarus rising from the dead. The fragrance of that perfume reaches down to our generation. Jesus said that she would be memorialized worldwide. She has been—through the Gospel records. Any act of true worship fills the courts of heaven with fragrance and is indelibly recorded in the Lord’s memory.

The honor which comes from doing good, even in this world, is sufficient to balance the reproach and contempt that are cast upon it. The memory of the righteous is blessed, and when they have been laughed at and ridiculed, they will attain a good report ( Heb. 11:6, 39)[9]. So this good woman was repaid for her box of ointment; she got a good name which is better than precious ointment. Those that honor Christ, he will honor.

 

Scripture References

[1](Eph. 2:5-6) Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved);And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

[2]

[3](John 17:12) While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. 

[4](John 13:10-11) Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.

[5](John 11:28-31) And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. 

[6] (John 12:6) This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein

[7](Mark 16:1) And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

[8](Mark 16:1-6) And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.

[9](Heb. 11:6,39) Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised... And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: 

Special Notes

[1] John identifies the woman as Mary, Lazarus’ sister (see John 12:2-3).

[2] OINTMENT — a perfumed oil, sometimes used in Bible times to anoint people as well as bodies for burial.
The term “ointment” frequently means oil, particularly olive oil mixed with aromatic ingredients such as spices, myrrh, and extracts of the nard plant. Many of these ingredients were expensive, leading the prophet Amos to associate those who used “the best ointment” with a life of self-indulgence (Amos 6:6). The use of ointment originated with the Egyptians, and it eventually spread to neighboring nations, including Israel. Ointment was often imported from Phoenicia in small alabaster boxes that best preserved its aroma. Some of the better ointments were known to keep their distinctive scents for centuries.
Perfumed ointments were widely used in warm climates of the ancient world to combat perspiration odor. Ointment had a cosmetic use among the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and probably the Jews.

[3] Ryle says about this event:
That anyone could follow Christ as a disciple for three years, see all His miracles, hear all His teaching, receive at His hand repeated kindnesses, be counted an apostle, and yet prove rotten at heart in the end, all this at first sight appears incredible and impossible! Yet the case of Judas shows plainly that the thing can be. Few things, perhaps, are so little realized as the extent of the fall of man.

Do you have any questions or comments?

 In a recent Dennis the Menace cartoon there was a vivid picture of grace. Dennis was shown walking away from the Wilson’s house with his friend Joey. Both boys had their hands full of cookies. Joey then asked, “I wonder what we did to deserve this?” Dennis delivered an answer packed with truth. He said, “Look Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we’re nice, but because she’s nice.” My name could easily be replaced for Dennis and God could be substituted for Mrs. Wilson. The good that comes my way is not because I’m good but because God is so good. “Every good and perfect gift is from God . . . (James 1:17)-Houston Chronicle, July 13, 1995, p. 10A

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