Palm Sunday series A 2023
Matthew 26:1-13 (Anointed for Burial)
Today as we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we begin Holy Week. This week we focus on Christ and the cross and the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter. As we shall see, the cross was not a surprise for Jesus. Jesus went willingly to the cross. Jesus allowed the Father to lead him to the cross, where he would die for our sins. My prayer is that as we follow Jesus’ path to the cross this week, the cry of your heart is: “Lead me to the cross where my Savior died so that I also may take up my cross and follow you.”
As we enter these final chapters of Matthew, we stand on holy ground. These chapters tell us the final events leading up to the cross of Christ. The week approaching Christ’s death and resurrection is the most critical in human history. Matthew begins his narrative of passion with an anointing, an extravagant act of love by someone who understood that Christ’s death was near.
The setting for this beautiful act of love is Jesus’ prediction of his death in verses 1-5. We begin with verses 1-2:
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
In verse one, He tells the disciples that Passover is only two days away. They know the Feast is near but don’t understand that the fulfillment of all the Passovers that were ever celebrated over all the years is now only two days away. Jesus, the Passover Lamb, will be sacrificed.
This is the fourth time Jesus has told the disciples he will suffer and die in Jerusalem, but this is the first time he gives them a specific time frame. With this statement, Jesus shows his willingness to submit to the Father in going to his death. He embraces God’s plan for his life.
The religious leaders want to arrest and kill Jesus, but they are afraid of the crowds. There were over two million people in Jerusalem for the Feast, most of them pilgrims from outside the city. Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead. Earlier in the week, he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the praise and acclaim of the crowds. They know they can’t march up to him and arrest him during the celebrations, or they may prompt a riot. So they have to be very careful how they proceed. They need to be secretive about it. They plan to arrest Jesus after the Feast. But as it turns out, Judas will give them a perfect opportunity, so they will arrest Jesus during the Feast – precisely as Jesus foretold.
This is the setting for all that takes place in the following two chapters. Jesus predicts the time of his death and begins his walk to the cross. Jesus is in the town of Bethany having dinner when a woman comes and anoints Jesus’ The gospel of John tells us that this is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
Matthew tells us that the perfume Mary used was very expensive. The anointing of oil on the head was reserved for the guest of honor, accompanied by the washing of feet. But instead of common household oil, Mary uses this costly perfume. And she not only anoints Jesus’ head, but she also pours it out on his head. Those there that day would consider this reckless, careless abandon. The word “Christ” or “Messiah” means the anointed one, and Mary anoints her Messiah with this extravagant act of love.
The disciples watch in disbelief as Mary pours this expensive perfume on Jesus’ head, and they are offended at the waste of money. Wouldn’t it have been better to sell the perfume and give the money to people experiencing poverty?
It is a reasonable objection. If we were there, any of us would have said or at least thought the same thing. The disciples look at the perfume running down Jesus’ hair and onto the floor, and all they can think is, “What a waste!”
Knowing this, Jesus asked them, “Why are you bothering this woman? Jesus defends Mary as having done a beautiful thing for him. Jesus saw a beautiful demonstration of love where the disciples saw only waste. The cross was looming soon, and Jesus told the disciples that this woman anointed him with perfume to prepare him for burial.
Simply put, Mary gets it. The disciples still don’t understand that Jesus must die, but Mary does. She has spent time at the feet of Jesus, listening and learning from him. She knows what Jerusalem means for her Lord. This may be the last time she sees Jesus, so she gives him her best. She breaks open the alabaster jar and anoints him. She wipes his feet with her hair. She shows Jesus an extravagant love that leaves you breathless. And Jesus calls it a beautiful thing.
Jesus said that this story of Mary’s extravagant love would be told along with the preaching of the gospel, and this is the key to the whole incident. The anointing is inseparable from the gospel because God showed his extravagant love for us on the cross. Saint John tells us, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Mary anointed the sacred head of Jesus that was wounded for you and me. She anointed his feet that were pierced for you and me. She anointed his body that was pierced by a spear for you and me. As Jesus said “Mary’s extravagant love for Christ would be shared along with God’s extravagant love for us.”
Our love for God will always be in proportion to our understanding of his love for us. Do you understand the price Jesus paid for you at the cross? Do you realize how much God loves you? If you do, then it will have a profound effect on your love for God. You see, the gospel demands a response. God showed his extravagant love for us when he sent his Son to die on the cross. God gave his very best for us, and so we should give our very best for him.
And so I ask you this morning, what will you sacrifice for Christ? What will you pour out for him? Love and worship for Jesus is far more important than anything else, even more, important than helping the poor, which both God and Christ command us to do. Jesus is the supremely valuable one who is worthy of all your worship.
So what is your alabaster jar of perfume this morning? What is most important or valuable in life to you? Is it your family? Your children? Your spouse? Your career? Is it money? Influence? Approval? Friends? Would you give it all away for Christ? Will you give it all to him this morning?
CONCLUSION: No sacrifice is too great for Jesus. Mary showed her extravagant love for Jesus when she broke open her alabaster jar and poured out the perfume for Christ. God showed his extravagant love for us when Jesus poured out his life and blood for our sins. When we truly understand God’s extravagant love for us, we will show it by bringing him our very best and pouring it out before him in worship, love, and praise.
Frederick Bruner describes this passage in Matthew as a Call to Worship as we approach the passion narrative that follows. He writes: “It is a portal leading into the Passion, which says, ‘The way to enter this holy ground is like this woman – with a heart full of devotion.’ It is a Call to Worship.” (Bruner, Matthew, Volume 2, p. 945)
May we enter this Holy Week with a heart full of devotion and praise for Jesus our Savior as we gather together at the foot of the cross on Thursday and Friday at 7 pm.
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Rev. Dennis Rhoads
Vacancy pastor. LCMS