Father, we ask that You would speak to us from Your Word this morning in a way which is appropriate, needful, and then help us to respond in a way that is faithful. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
What we’ve been doing for these Sunday mornings is we’ve been traveling through the last chapters of Matthew’s gospel and we are in chapter 26, verses 1 to 16. Now, this is a very powerful passage because it tells us two things, one, is that Jesus is completely in charge of the mess of the world and can bring a masterpiece out of it. And the second thing is this passage teaches us that if you put your faith in Christ, which will cost you, you will be infinitely rewarded.
So the first, I think in the first five verses, we see that Christ is the master of the mess. And those of you who know what it’s like to feel as though your life is a mess and especially the people part of it, and wonder every now and again, who can bring some kind of order, relief, recovery, solution, well, the answer is Christ and He is at work. And then, those of you who wonder whether investing your faith in Christ when nobody else seems to be doing it, and it doesn’t seem to matter to them, and nobody seems to be listening to the church or the believers as they speak the great news of Christ, nobody seems to be listening … I don’t know if you watch Q+A, which is designed to raise the blood pressure, I think, but a program which almost always designed to make sure that the Christian view is in the minority and seen to be just an opinion and, if possible, a pretty weedy one at that.
But here is this wonderful passage which tells us that Christ is in control and He will reward those who trust Him. And so I want to look with you for a few minutes at two things this morning from Matthew 26. The first is two sides of the cross and then two sides to the world, two sides of the cross, two sides to the world.
The two sides to the cross, you’ll see if you look at verse 1 that Jesus has finished His teaching, Matthew 26:1, He’s finished His teaching. No more parables, no more lessons, no more sermons. He has one announcement, verse 1, the Passover is in two days’ time. This is the feast which the Jewish people remember their rescue from Egypt by. And what was it that happened at the Passover originally? Well, what happened was that every family in Israel killed a lamb and took the blood of the lamb and put it on the door posts. And when the God of judgment passed over one night, they were spared. God, the Judge, passed over them.
Now the Passover was actually for a sign post to a much greater rescue which is to come when a much greater lamb, that is, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ would shed His blood, and the person who asks for that salvation, forgiveness, mercy will find that the judgment, the justice of God passes over them and always will.
In verse 2, Jesus says, the Son of Man will be crucified. It’s not a coincidence that He’s going to be crucified at the Passover. The Passover in the Old Testament is going to be fulfilled by the Passover in the New Testament at the cross. And if the Jews and the Romans think that they’re totally in charge of everything, they’re not. They’re just doing what God has planned for thousands of years, which is to put to death the Lamb of God for the salvation of millions.
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Well, this is the divine side of the crucifixion, that God is working to bring a thousand details together. All the promises in the Old Testament, all the previews in the Old Testament, He’s working with the politics, He’s working with the religion, throw in Judas, who’s a kind of an evil insider, and everything works for a rescue for people for forever. And we see that Jesus is completely in control. In fact, He’s so in control that it’s possible that verse 3 is a consequence of verses 1 and 2. Jesus said Passover’s coming. Son of Man will be crucified. Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled, almost as though they are being driven to do what God wants. Jesus is completely in control.
The crucifixion, in case you’ve never realised this before, is not a tragedy. It’s the mission of God to give people a way back to Him, forgiven, accepted forever. And Jesus is not only full of control, but He’s also full of grace and kindness because He’s going to go through with it, even though He doesn’t need to go through with it and He could easily escape it. He says in chapter 26 to the disciples, do you not realise if I just send up one simple prayer to the Father and said, please send 10 legions of angels, I wouldn’t be going through with the crucifixion, but I’m going through the crucifixion so that people can be forgiven and spotless and members of the family.
The word handed over in verse 2 is an interesting word, isn’t it? “The Son of Man is going to be handed over to be crucified.” Who’s going to hand Him over to be crucified? Is it Judas? Is it the Jews? Is it the Romans? Ultimately, it’s really the Father. It’s God who’s going to hand over His own Son. And we know this because in the rest of the New Testament, for example, in Romans 8, it says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over for us, will He not along with His Son, give us all things?” Exactly the same word, God hands His Son over in order that we might be forgiven. Well, that’s the divine side.
The human side you see in verses 3 to 5, where you’ve got all these plotting and scheming. Chief priests and the elders, they think they’re in control, but they’re not. They’re certainly not gracious. They’re plotting, scheming and irrational. It’s hard to work out what their problem is. Why would you hate Jesus Christ? One of the old hymns called My Song is Love Unknown has a fourth verse, which goes like this. “Why, what has my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run. He gave the blind their sight. Sweet injuries.” In other words, strange crimes that He’s committed. “Yet they, the enemy is displeased, against Him rise.”
Opposition to Christ is strange, isn’t it? The best, kindest, wisest person the world has ever seen, deeply, deeply hated. And for all of us here this morning who remember the days when we were not Christians and we were happy running rebels, we remember that our opposition to Christ was irrational. We’re avoiding every thought, every piece of information, every book we were ever given, every sermon we’d ever heard, we were avoiding, avoiding, avoiding. It’s irrational. And even becoming Christians, we find, don’t we, again and again that our opposition, our rebellion, our disobedience is ungrateful and irrational.
So these chief priests and these elders, they were not unusual. They were normal. I remember Mel Gibson got into a lot of trouble for his movie, The Passion, because he gave the impression that the Jews were the villains of the world. But actually the Jewish people who crucified Christ were exactly the same as all other people in the world who would like to remove Christ from their worlds. Some people do it aggressively. Some people do it politely. Some people do it with hostility. Some people do it with sophistication.
When I worked with a boss in the UK once, and he was preaching in Japan on Good Friday, the translator said to him, “Give me the thrust of your message. What’s your sermon all about?” And he said, “Good Friday,” he said, “is the proof positive that given half a chance, the human race will do away with its Maker.” It’s a great, great definition of Good Friday. We’re used to saying Good Friday is the day where God loves us, but actually, Good Friday is the day where we hate and proof positive is that we will actually get rid of Christ if we can, until He very gently and graciously brings us round to our senses and we come back to Him sometimes through hardship, sometimes through logic, sometimes through love, a whole host of ways, God brings us back to Christ, to His Son.
Well, you can see the self-interest of the chief priests and the elders in verse 5 because they say, look, we do want to arrest Him and kill Him, but we can’t do it during the Passover feast because there’ll be too many people. There could be a backlash. We’ll get into trouble. So even as they’re planning to kill this innocent Jesus Christ, they’re thinking of their own welfare. Little did they realise that Judas is about to land on their doorstep and make them an offer that they can’t refuse, which brings the whole Passover plot right into the present.
So there’s the two sides of crucifixion. I hope you know that the crucifixion, when you see the sign of the cross, you’re seeing something which God planned, and you’re seeing something which people planned. There’s a divine side and there’s a human side. John Piper says in his book, and I think this is great, “Christ died to take the condemnation that stood like a dam between the desert of our lives and the trillion ton fresh water reservoir of God’s goodness.” He died to remove “the dam between the desert and the trillion ton fresh water reservoir of God’s goodness,” what a tremendous work in dying to remove that dam, that barrier. So, that’s two sides to the cross.
The second, this morning, two sides to the world, and what I mean by that is that in verses 6 to 16, you can see that there is a lady who is obviously interested in the next world primarily, and you can see Judas who is interested in this world primarily. Verse 6, there is a woman who comes to the house, which is owned by a leper called Simon. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed in the New Testament that people called Simon are either lepers or Pharisees or sorcerers or disciples with a foot in their mouth, who get their name changed for something better. It’s not easy being a Simon in this world. I’m thinking of changing my name perhaps to Judas or something like it, a little more popular.
Now this incident of the lady coming with a jar of perfume and pouring it on Jesus is recorded in all four gospels so it’s a significant story. Mark is very guarded about the story. He says it’s just a woman and he says that some people objected. And Matthew and Luke tell the story with a little more specific detail. They say it was a sinful woman who came and the disciples objected. John is very specific. He says it was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. And the disciple who really objected says John was Judas.
It’s possible that this anointing of perfume on Jesus occurred twice. One of them seems to be on His feet. One of them seems to be on His head. It’s possible that it was done twice. But what Matthew wants us to see is that this is possibly an anointing of a king. Kings in the Old Testament got anointed with oil. It’s possible that this lady with the sight of faith is coming to recognise that Jesus is the King. He doesn’t look like a king, but He is the King. It’s almost certain that she is expressing her devotion to Him and giving up her life savings. It’s hard to miss that she is bringing to Him something which is undoubtedly her most valuable possession. It could’ve been an heirloom. If it was worth as Mark tells us a year’s wages, we’re talking about a bottle of perfume which today, let’s just say for the sake of argument is worth 80 to a hundred thousand dollars. That is an expensive bottle of perfume.
And the famous response to putting the perfume on Jesus from whoever it is nearby is that they’re angry and they call it a waste, verse 8. It’s hard to believe that they’re really concerned for the poor. They seem to be just complaining and whinging, just as people today will often be complaining or upset, frustrated with Christians who give away their years or their possessions or their finances for the work of Christ. People today who don’t understand Christianity, they may be blind to Christ, they get frustrated, don’t they, when their family members, their children, their grandchildren announce that they’re going to be a missionary somewhere. They think of that as a big waste of a life. Many parents get horrified when their children give up the great careers that the world calls the great careers. And it’s so great when families here go against the culture and rejoice when their children sign up for something like MTS or ministry or mission, even though the world’s never going to understand it, they are rejoicing and supportive. That is absolutely terrific.
I was talking with a builder, a man in charge of a construction company who took his wife and children off to Pakistan. His name is Peter and his Christian integrity in Pakistan was so great. His standards were so excellent that the company started to attract huge interest across the city of Lahore and all sorts of other construction companies were losing to the credibility and the integrity of this new company because his yes was yes, and his honesty and his promises were true. And he showed us last month a film of his work and in the film, he happened to point out to us one photo of a lady standing next to the family, a lady from Sweden called Brigita who’d gone over to be a teacher. She’d been in Pakistan for 38 years. And then his voice absolutely cracked and broke as he said she was shot by the Taliban in December.
And of course, as you look at that, you’d say to yourself, gee, what a tragedy, what a waste, thirty eight years in Pakistan. Wow. Who would do that? And then to be shot by the very people that you’re caring for and serving. And yet you open up the New Testament, it cannot be a waste because it’s been something which Christ has recognised, appreciated and infinitely rewards, not because she’s bought her way into salvation, but because she’s shown that she is a saved person. Well, this woman in Matthew 26 doesn’t hesitate to give back to Christ because she has been so greatly given to.
Now what are the things that would cause this woman to give up her savings? I’ll give you some quick thoughts. The first is that she has undoubtedly been a listener to Jesus. One of the things you notice about Mary in the New Testament is that she’s always sitting at Jesus’ feet. Even when Martha is busy, Mary’s listening. She’s a good listener. And she’s probably picked up that Jesus is going to die and she believes it and she understands it. She’s light years ahead of the disciples who are so slow. Maybe she thinks this is the last time she’ll see Jesus alive before He’s killed.
And then it’s very likely that she’s worked out who Jesus is. She’s worked out that He’s the King of kings. She’s not fooled by the fact that He’s in human flesh. She’s listened to what He says. She’s watched what He does. She’s worked out this is the King of kings. She’s not looking for immediate success. She’s not looking for heaven on earth. She knows that this is the King getting ready to lay down His life. She gratefully thanks Him.
And then the third thing about this woman, I suggest to you, is that she’s been given more, therefore, by Jesus than she ever gives to Jesus. She’s been given we might say tens of billions of jars of perfume and she’s just returning one. She’s been given from Jesus forgiveness. He’s paying for her sins. He’s giving her a door into the family of God. He’s giving her an eternal future. She has been given infinitely more by Jesus than she’ll ever return to Him.
And then the last thing to say about her is that she is therefore longsighted. She can see this world and she appreciates it, but she doesn’t miss the next. She’s longsighted. The disciples are short-sighted. This lady has appreciated eternal salvation. She’s ready to give up some earthly treasures. Remember, Jesus has been telling us in the last Sundays of Matthew 25 that those people who really appreciate Him will be ready to put what He has given them into action because they have received everything from Him. People who get the gospel, who get Christ suddenly see that everything else is temporary.
The wonderful thing here is that Jesus speaks up in the face of the accusation and He vindicates her. Remember He said in Matthew 25, we saw this last week, I’m going to vindicate you. Those of you who says Jesus, who have welcomed the message of Christianity, and you’ve taken your stand with Christ, and you pay a fair cost in the world and you get nil appreciation, I will vindicate you, reward you and make it infinitely worthwhile. And already here in this incident, He vindicates her. He speaks up for her. He announces that her response is the best response of all.
You notice He doesn’t question that she’s given Him the perfume. He doesn’t say, oh, this is too much. I don’t deserve this. He receives it. He deserves it. It’s right that she gives it. But He announces in a public way what she has done. He says that she has done more than she’s ever realised. She’s poured perfume on His head, hardly appreciated exactly what she’s doing, and Jesus is basically saying in verse 12 and following, “Do you realise she’s gotten me ready for my burial?” Because in those days, you put perfumes and ointments and oils on people for the burial. But if you know the story of Jesus, you know that He’s not going to really need any of those oils or perfumes or ointments ’cause He’s not going to be in the grave for very long. He’s going to be out in 48 hours. But here is a lady who’s putting the oil, the perfume on ahead, and Jesus says she’s done more than she realises. She’s actually treating me as she should as the risen King.
And the third thing that Jesus says is that He announces that her action will be told all around the world. And I presume considering the story is written up in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the New Testament has gone all around the world, it pretty well has gone all around the world for 2000 years. She’s got no monument. Only one of the gospel writers tells us her name. The others don’t even tell us what her name is, but she has been the receiver of eternal life and now, in a sense, she’s a blessing to millions. One writer says, “If Christ is yours, all that He possesses is yours. His power is yours to defend you. His wisdom is yours to guide you. His righteousness is yours to justify you. His spirit is yours to sanctify you. His heaven is yours to receive you. He has given all He has to you and all that you have is His.”
Now this is in great contrast, isn’t it, to Judas who comes immediately after and looks an absolute reject in contrast. Judas has received many privileges, hasn’t he? He’s traveled with Jesus for three years. He’s heard the sermons. He’s seen the miracles. He’s experienced all the private tuition and he wastes it. He accuses the woman of waste and he’s the biggest waster in the world. He wastes everything. If she’s been a listener, he’s not a listener. If she’s grateful for Jesus, he’s ungrateful. If she’s longsighted, he short-sighted. If she lives her life in the light of eternity, he lives his life in the light of now. They are so different. These are the two sides of the world. And Judas receives a pathetic amount of money, which in the next chapter, he throws back in despair and disgust.
So friends, I just want to finish this morning by saying observe in the passage the two sides of the cross: God completely in control and gracious to give His Son; the human opposition, not in control, frantic, selfish, irrational; and Christ will bring out of the whole mess, salvation.
And look at the two sides of the world: somebody who latches onto who Jesus is and what He’s doing and puts their trust in Him, and is infinitely and eternally blessed. He’s ready to give up all the trinkets and all the baubles of the world. And then there is someone, Judas, who’s a real alarm bell, isn’t he? He’s either got two feet in the world or he’s got one foot in the kingdom and one foot in the world, like too many people today, one foot in the kingdom, one foot in the world, disaster. And it doesn’t matter how much he accumulates. In the short-term or the long-term, it’s going to be desperate. So if you follow in the steps of Judas, turn your back on Christ, gain the world, it’s a tragedy. If you follow in the steps of the woman, turn to Christ, receive Him, it’s an absolute blessing.
Father, we thank You this morning for giving to us a window into Your great and loving control. And for the many here this morning who feel that their lives are out of control, too many difficulties, please bring to them the peace and the promises which they need. We thank You, too, Father, for the window into the two types of people in the world, those who are living for this world, those who are living for the next. We pray that You would help us each one to see the eternal treasures of Christ to receive Him, to rejoice, to live, and then to see everything that is temporary in the light of eternity. We pray for Your gracious help to keep trusting and obeying in Jesus’ name. Amen.