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An Alabaster Jar Matthew 26.6-13

Jesus is about to pay for our sins and restore us to the Father. In the next several weeks there’s a turn towards the cross.  Matthew 26 is days before the cross.  The setting is Bethany.  Jesus and His disciples spent time in Bethany.  Several times per year Jerusalem would swell with people because of festivals and events.  For example, at Jesus’ birth Jerusalem was full.  This is the scene.  Jerusalem is packed.  Jesus had friends in Bethany, outside of Jerusalem.  The home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus was located there.  They are in a different house close by for the final preparation for the cross.  Luke tells us this is the primary purpose of Jesus’ coming to this world.

In Matthew 26 the opening verses are a powerful demonstration of what it means to value Jesus.  How do we value Jesus?

How do you know what something is worth?  We can search online to get a feel for what something is worth.  How do you value Jesus?  Who is Jesus and what is He worth?

One woman shows us the value of Jesus.

Be extravagant with Jesus.

                        6Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,
7a 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. 

Simon the leper was well-known enough that everyone knew him.  He was probably Simon the former leper in Bethany.  Maybe he was healed by Jesus.  Simon is hosting a celebration away from Jerusalem.  This is an intimate setting in a home when a woman came to Jesus.

John says this woman is Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus.  Matthew doesn’t tell us who she is.  Jesus has said many times he is about to die but the disciples still don’t understand.  It’s about to come to fruition.  This woman does something extravagant.  She has a very expensive flask.  Mark 14 says it was worth a year’s wages.  She pours it over Jesus’ head.  It was customary to do this when you’re in someone’s home.  It’s just like us asking if we can wash our hands before dinner.  This was an ointment or oil poured on the head to freshen up for this moment.  It was normal, except, it wasn’t normal.  It was alabaster, a special nard from India, very expensive!  This only happened in rare circumstances.  The only other time this is recorded being used is in the presence of a king.  Most people would have never seen something like this.  This alabaster flask filled with ointment was an investment, like gold, it would appreciate each year.  If people had extra money they might buy this as an investment to save money.  People knew it was very expensive.

Pouring this over Jesus’ head was extravagant.  At a simple dinner party this woman is treating Jesus like they’re in a palace. 

Imagine in your home you’re having dinner guests, you have nice smelly soaps placed in the bathroom.  I’m still using the old bottle that has pumpkin spice, but the new one is ready for the guests.  Imagine one year’s wages spent on one bottle of hand soap and you pour the entire bottle over someone’s hands to wash them!  Why such an extravagant gift?  Is Jesus worth it?   It was rare that someone did something nice for Jesus. 

Be careful about questioning the motives of other people.

                        8And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

She treats Jesus like a king and the disciples get upset.  What a waste, they say!  Why does it bother us when others are generous to God?  Why do we question the motives of others?  We can lose our joy when we do this!  This was a tremendous act of worship!  The disciples could have said, “Wow!  Jesus is worth all of this!”  or, “What does this mean?”  Instead, they focus on the motives of the woman and it robs them of joy. 

Verse 9 gives their reason, they’re being logical.  It bothers us when people are illogical and impractical.  We do not fill out basketball brackets this way!  We have to be logical about them.  The disciples failed to see the value of her gift.  Was this a waste?  Or was it beautiful?

Hear the voice of Jesus over your life.

            10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 

Jesus corrects the disciples.  You will make sacrifices for God that even your family will not understand.   Listen to the voice of the one that matters most.  Jesus welcomed her gift.  The disciples are wrong.  Luke 10:42 Jesus is in Mary and Martha’s home.  They’re hungry and Martha is cooking.  Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening.  Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her.  Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen what’s good and it won’t be taken away from her.  She gave her most valuable possession to Jesus.  She gives a once in a lifetime gift.

Live by calling and not by needs.

This will seem like a departure from these verses, but it’s where Jesus is taking us.  Mary has a nudge of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is there.  She gives an extreme gift.  She doesn’t even fully understand why.  Jesus explains why it’s important.

                        11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 

What is Jesus teaching here?  It’s easy for us to see needs all around us and respond continuously over a long period of time.  Our purpose eventually becomes to meet the needs of others.  This is not our purpose.  The church isn’t here to meet people’s needs.  What’s the purpose of the church?  To worship God.  This purpose will remain throughout eternity.  God gives us a way to serve Him.  Our calling goes before the needs around us. Living out our calling and worship fuels our desire to meet people’s needs.  We want to see God’s Kingdom come here on earth.  If we get this off base we think our purpose is to meet the needs of others.  We become dry and there’s nothing left to give.  God calls us to bow to Him and to value Jesus.  Let’s not get these out of place: first we worship Jesus and then we have a desire and are fueled to do good things.  Our call in life is to make much of Jesus.

Make much of Jesus.

                        13Truly, 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.”

Matthew doesn’t give her name.  The focus isn’t on her.  It’s on what she does.  This woman got it right about Jesus.  It’s startling to Matthew that the women get it right about Jesus and the men don’t.  It was the women who discovered the resurrection.  When the Gospel is proclaimed what Mary did will be told again.  What Jesus did on the cross is the Gospel.  Jesus left Heaven.  Mary sees Jesus’ value.  He is King!  The King gave His life for us!  It’s good news.  Jesus loves us.  He came to forgive us of our sin.  There’s hope in this moment.  Do you value this King?  We are taking communion together this morning.  It’s a place where we say, “Jesus, you’re worth all we are.”  We celebrate the victory we have in this moment.

Sermon notes are taken, transcribed and posted by Jeni Martin Johnson.


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