A Good Work Done for Christ
“And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples, Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people. 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. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. 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 26:1-13)
Commenting on this passage, J. C. Ryle wrote, “We now approach the closing scene of our Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. Hitherto we have read of his sayings and doings. We are now about to read of his sufferings and death. Hitherto we have seen him as the great Prophet. We are now about to see him as the great High Priest.”
I would not exalt one portion of Scripture above another; but the last three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, along with the accounts given by Mark, Luke, and John of our Savior’s sufferings and death as our Substitute, ought always to be read with peculiar reverence and careful attention, and ought to be read often. This truly is “holy ground.” Here we see the Seed of woman crushing the serpent’s head. Here we see that one great Sacrifice to which all the sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed. Here we see that blood shed which “cleanseth us from all sin,” and that Lamb slain who “taketh away the sin of the world.”
In the substitutionary death of our Lord Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit shows us how God can be both just and the Justifier of the ungodly. The things contained in these chapters are of such peculiar importance that all four gospel narratives contain a detailed account of them. Frequently, with regard to other matters, when one of the gospel writers refers to something, the other three say nothing about it; but when it came to the events surrounding our great Savior’s great sacrifice for sin, the Holy Spirit inspired all four Gospel writers to describe that event of all events in great detail.
The Message of the Bible
“And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples, Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified” (vv. 1-2). — Throughout his earthly ministry the Lord Jesus carefully and constantly called the attention of his disciples to his sin-atoning death at Calvary.
The connection of these first two verses with the preceding chapter is not accidental. Our Redeemer had just been talking about his glorious second advent, the end of the world, the day of judgment, and the eternal states of the righteous and the wicked. Then, without the least pause, he directs our attention to his own crucifixion and death. While the wondrous predictions of the end were still ringing in their ears, he tells his disciples once more of his sin-atoning death. He reminds them that before he reigns as the King of Glory, he must die as the Substitute for sinners. Before he takes his crown of universal monarchy, he must endure and satisfy the wrath of God as our sin-offering. Before he could sit down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, he must put away the sins of his people by the sacrifice of himself.
We can never attach too much importance to the sin-atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ. The focal point of Scripture, upon which our minds ought to ever be fixed, is the death of Christ. Without the shedding of his blood, there is no remission of sins. This is the foundation doctrine of Holy Scripture. Without it there is no gospel in the gospel. Without the doctrine of the cross, the Bible is a meaningless book. It is, as Ryle stated, “like a clock without a dial or a spring, a building without a foundation, or a solar system without a sun.”
We must never minimize our Lord’s incarnation, fail to follow his example, ignore his parables, forget his miracles of mercy, or despise his words of instruction; but he intends for us, above all things, to makes much of his cross. I delight to think of his second coming, heavenly glory, and the day when our God shall make all things new; but these things, great and glorious as they are, are meaningless without our Savior’s death upon the cursed tree. The doctrine of the atonement is the master-truth of Holy Scripture. This is and must be our daily bread. “Christ died for our sins!” What can be more marvelous? What can be more inspiring? What can be more instructive? Some, like the Greeks of old, sneer at this message and call it foolishness. Others, like the Jews of Paul’s day, looking for signs and wonders, stumble over it and perish; but to those who are saved by the grace of God, Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The message of the Bible is the gospel of Christ’ substitutionary atonement (Luke 24:27, 44-47; 1 Pet. 1:25). That is the message God’s servants are sent to preach (1 Cor. 2:1-2). The sacrifice of Christ for us is the motive and inspiration for devotion, faith, godliness, worship, and obedience (1 Cor. 6:19- 20). The doctrine of the cross is the glory of the redeemed (Gal. 6:14).
“Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people” (vv. 3-5).
What a display we have here of the hypocrisy and viciousness of self-righteous, lost religionists! Little needs to be said about these men. They were lost, religious zealots. They were the religious leaders of the day. They spent their lives in religion. They did all that they did in the name of God. But they were lost. And you can mark this down, as a general rule, the most vicious people in this world are lost religionists. Here are “men of the cloth,” as they say, consulting on the business of trumping up an excuse for murdering the Son of God because they despised his doctrine; and they did it in the name of God!
God’s people in this world are sinners still. And we all, at different times and in different ways, behave in such a way that we make manifest what weak, sinful creatures we are. Such shameful weakness we see in the response of our Lord’s faithful disciples to the humble devotion of another, as she bows before and worships the Lord Jesus.
“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. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor” (vv. 6-8).
Remember, these were our Lord’s disciples: loving John, bold Peter, and faithful James. They, along with the rest, were indignant at this dear women; but they were led astray by the actions of one wicked man, whom they mistakenly respected. When Judas spoke against this woman, so did the others (John 12:4-5). Judas was probably the most prominent and highly respected man in the church at this time. His word and opinions carried weight.
Observing the bad behavior of these saints, as it is recorded here, we should learn two things and lay them to heart. First, we should never harshly and rashly condemn one another when our weaknesses are manifest. Frequently, genuine believers are led into evil actions by the influence of others, actions which are contrary to their character. I do not excuse the evil done by these disciples. It was a horrible thing that they did to this woman. But their actions did not reflect their true character.
Second, self-denying, self-sacrificing acts of devotion and commitment to Christ are seldom understood by others, not even by other believers. Can you imagine how shocked this woman was when she heard the response of her brethren to what she had done? She only intended to honor her Lord. She wanted to show, in some public way, how much she loved him and how thankful she was for his goodness and grace to her. The sad fact is, if you are committed to Christ, if you are inclined to do some unusual thing for his honor and the interest of his kingdom, because of your love for and gratitude to him, you need not expect the approval of others. Others will always consider that which is done for Christ a waste.
Honored of Christ
Others rarely recognize and honor that which is done for Christ, that which is truly done for Christ. But God our Savior declares, “Them that honour me I will honour” (1 Sam. 2:30). And he honored this woman who honored him.
“When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. 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” (vv. 10-13).
In these verses our Lord Jesus shows us what high regard he has for anything that is done for him. Others found fault with what she had done; but the Master quickly rebuked the fault-finders and honored the woman. Those who honor him, he will honor. Not only did he approve of her sacrifice and accept it, he gave her the highest honor imaginable in this world for what she had done. He called her work a good work (v. 10). She had done what she could, what she was able to do and had opportunity to do for him. And our Savior established her work as a memorial to be proclaimed throughout the world (v. 13).
Since Christ was pleased with what she had done, I am sure this dear soul was indifferent to the opinions of others about what she had done for her Lord. Their opinions mattered nothing. Her faith, love, and devotion to Christ gave her courage and boldness in the face of opposition.
If I am conscious that I am doing something as unto the Lord, for the glory of Christ, in the interests of his kingdom, and for the furtherance of the gospel, the opinions of men, either their approval or their disapproval, are of no consequence to me. As David said to his envious, cowardly brothers, we ought to say to those who would oppose our work for our Master. — “Is there not a cause?” If we would serve Christ, we simply must not allow the opinions of men to rule, or even influence our actions (John 2:5; Gal. 1:16).
This woman is held before us as a noble example to follow. Our Lord holds her up as an example of what we should be and do as his servants in this world. Let me show you several things about what this dear lady did, by which her work shows itself to be indeed a good work done for Christ.
1. It was a work done for the glory of Christ alone. — She was wrapped up in, absorbed with, and consumed by the Lord Jesus Christ. She cherished him. This perfume was meant for no one but him. She had no regard for herself, the consequences of her actions, what she might lose, or what she might gain. She wanted nothing but to honor Christ.
2. This was an act of pure love. — This is exactly what Luke’s narrative of this event teaches us (Luke 7:36-52). The one thing that motivated this woman to do what she did was love for Christ (1 John 4:19; 2 Cor. 5:14). When our hearts and lives are ruled by love for Christ, they are well ruled.
3. This was a work requiring considerable cost, self-denial, and sacrifice. — If you read the accounts of Mark and John, you will find that this ointment was worth nearly a year’s wages (300 pence - Compare Matt. 20:9-13).
4. This great sacrifice was the result of thoughtful, deliberate preparation. — This was something she had been planning for some time. She had been saving this rich, costly perfume specifically to use it for Christ’s honor at the appropriate opportunity (John 12:2).
5. This woman’s sacrifice was made silently. — She said nothing; she drew as little attention to herself as she possibly could. She said nothing about what she would like to do, what she planned to do, what she was doing, or what she had done. She just did what she could.
6. This was the response of a believing heart to the sacrifice of her Lord. — This woman appears to have been the only one of the Lord’s disciples who clearly understood at the time how he must accomplish our redemption by his death as our Substitute.
7. This was an act of faith. — She anointed him for his burial, but she did so in anticipation of his resurrection (Isa. 53:10-12). The primary object of embalming was and is a belief in the resurrection of the dead.
I see in this incident a blessed foretaste of the honor that shall be given to God’s elect on the Day of Judgment. In that great and glorious day, no honor done to Christ shall be forgotten. The speeches of orators, the feats of warriors, the deeds of the greatest politicians, the trophies of athletes, the poetry and literature and art produced by men, all shall be forgotten; but this work, and the least work of any and every believing man and woman, even the giving of a cup of cold water in Christ name shall be remembered and honored before men by God himself! So do what we can for our Redeemer and his honor as he gives us opportunity (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 10:31; Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 15:58).