Sunday, January 05, 2020

"A Beautiful Thing" [Matt's Messages]

“A Beautiful Thing”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
January 5, 2020 :: Matthew 26:1-16

Last week (last year, last decade!), we concluded our study of the Olivet Discourse Matthew 24 and 25, that great big final teaching on eschatology, the doctrine of Last Things, Jesus’ teaching on Jesus’ own return.

And now in chapter 26, we turn the corner back into the crucial events of that crucial week that we often call Passion Week or Holy Week.

We’ve actually been slowly walking together through the events of this crucial week in Matthew since the month of July.

These events are worthy of our close study and careful consideration especially for application, for what they mean for our lives today. These crucial events are at the center of the gospel that we believe.

Now, here’s the title for today’s message:

I’ve stolen it from verse 10. It’s called, “A Beautiful Thing.”

Because in today’s passage a woman does to Jesus what Jesus calls “a beautiful thing.”

That’s not how everybody sees it, but it’s how Jesus sees it, and how Jesus sees something is the right way to see a thing!

“A Beautiful Thing.”

You know, there are really two beautiful things in this passage, and there are at least 2 really ugly things in our story, as well.

And there are also two major prophecies by the Lord Jesus.

One that has already come to pass, and one that is going to come to pass in this very room on this very day!

How’s that for a prediction?

How do you feel about fulfilling a prophecy of Jesus this very morning in this very room? Want to do that?

Now, remember, Matthew did not put these verse numbers in his book.

The great big 26 is there to help us find it, but Matthew didn’t put it there.

Matthew flows right from chapter 25 right into chapter 26.

He flows right from the Son of Man judging all the nations like a Shepherd separating the sheep from the goats right into these words. Matthew 26, verse 1.

“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.’”
What an amazing ending to this End Times Teaching!

Jesus just said that the Son of Man [same words] was going to come in all of His glory with all of His angels and sit on His glorious throne.

In almost the next breath He says that the Son of Man is going to be handed over to be crucified, this week!

The judge of all of the nations is going to be judged Himself!

And He’s going to be executed on a Cross!

I know that we know this already, but this is utterly incredible!

The crucial events of this week are incredibly strange.

They are incredibly ironic.

They are incredibly upside-down.

Nobody would ever come up with this story if it weren’t true!

The Son of Man is going to be handed over to be crucified.

Here’s the first strangely beautiful thing I want to point out to you:

Jesus knows this, and Jesus is choosing it.

It’s one thing that we all know it in hindsight.

It’s a whole other thing that Jesus knew it with foresight.

What day is this? I think it’s Tuesday of Passion Week.

It seems that Jesus taught this Eschatological Olivet Discourse on the Tuesday of this Crucial Week.

And Passover is going to happen on Thursday. It’s two days away.

If you knew that you were scheduled to be executed in State College in two days, what would you do today?

I don’t know about you, but I would get in my mini-van and head towards Chicago!

But Jesus hangs around town.

Jesus knows what’s going on, and Jesus is choosing it.

That’s a beautiful thing.

In just a few minutes, we’re going to remember Jesus’ crucifixion at His Table.

And we need to remember that He chose it.

Not only did it not take Him by surprise, He walked right up to it.

And He told His disciples that it was coming.

And, for us, that’s a beautiful thing.

Now here’s the first ugly thing in today’s story. I think it happened on the next day, on Wednesday. It’s a conspiracy, a devious plot, and it’s in verse 3.

“Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.”

I love that Matthew tells us that it’s Jesus’ plan before he tells us about these bad leaders’ plan.

So we don’t get the idea that they are truly in charge. They can’t do a thing (even such an evil thing) that doesn’t somehow conform to the grand plan of God.

But it is an evil thing they plan.

They plan a murder.

They plan the assassination of an innocent man.

This is the first time in a long time in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus is not center stage. Jesus isn’t in this scene. This conspiracy takes place at Caiaphas’ house (the son of the last high priest who was named high priest by Rome by that Governor Quirinius that we always hear about on Christmas Eve). Interestingly, in 1990, archaeologists uncovered what they think may be Caiaphas’ house and maybe even discovered the box (the ossuary) that his bones were buried in.

Caiaphas is the high priest, and with him mare are the chief priests and the elders, but they are not leading the nation for God and for good.

They are doing evil.

They are plotting to arrest and secretly kill Jesus.

Just let that sink in.

These religious people planned to kill Jesus.

Verse 5. “‘But not during the Feast,’ they said, ‘or there may be a riot among the people.’”

They want to wait a week.

They want to wait until the big holiday crowds go home. Jesus has been too popular, and they don’t want to stir something up.

Question: Do they get their wish?

Well, they do get to kill Jesus.

But they don’t get to do it when they wanted.

I think that’s so ironic!

When do they get to kill Jesus?

On the day that Jesus said they would.

I wonder who is really in charge here?!

Now, here’s the story of the beautiful thing.

It’s actually a flashback a few days in time. If you track this event in the other gospels, John tells us that it actually happened before the Triumphal Entry.

But I think Matthew places it here in his book to juxtapose it with what Judas does in the next story.

Regardless, it happened, and it was a beautiful thing. V.6

“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.”

Now, it’s really something that Jesus is in the home of a guy named “Simon the Leper.” I mean if he’s still leper, Jesus was disobeying the Mosaic Law, but it probably means that Simon used to be a leper. That Simon is now healed.

I wonder who did that?

And at this home in Bethany, this woman comes to Jesus with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, and she pours it on the head of Jesus as he is reclining at the table.

This is an amazing thing.

They don’t have tall tables with chairs like ours.

They have low tables in the center and like cots or low benches or mats that they lay on like spokes on a wheel coming out from the food. They reclined at the table.

And this woman (John’s gospel tells us that this is actually Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. I wonder if Simon the Former Leper was their father? This woman...) steps past Jesus’ feet and probably breaks the head off of the alabaster stone jar and begins pouring this stuff on Jesus’ head. The rest of the gospels say that she proceeded to pour it on His whole body down to feet.

The whole jar of perfume is poured out.

Can you imagine the smell?

Have you ever poured out a whole bottle of perfume? I haven’t!

I don’t think we can get the sense of what this must have been like.

We don’t really have anything like this in our culture.

It’s not like pouring the gatorade on your coach after a win.

This is an act of anointing.

Like Psalm 23, “You anoint my head with oil.”

Or more like Psalm 133, “like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes.”

Full immersion in fragrant liquid.

And it is costly.

Matthew tells us that it was “very expensive perfume.”

How expensive?

Mark tell us that it was worth more than a year’s wages.

More than a year’s wages?!!!

How much do you make in a year?

How much are you scheduled to make in 2020?

Imagine having that much money saved up in a saving account at the bank.

And on a Saturday morning, right after the bank opens, you walk in the door. And you ask for the whole thing. The teller on the other side of the counter winces at the thought of just handing you your big lump sum, a year’s wages saved in their account.

And they talk with the Branch manager, and they come back to you and they say, "Would you come into my office, uhhm I understand that you want a cashier's check for your whole savings account.  Do you understand that that totals about a whole year’s wages?"

You indicate that you do.

So she says, "Uhh, I don't want to pry, and it's your money and you can have it any time you want, so I'll print out the check, but I am curious. Are you taking your business somewhere else? Because if you are, I would like to know if there's something about our service or our rates that is causing you to go elsewhere.  And I'd like a chance to talk with you about getting you a better deal here.”

Now imagine, that you look her square in the eye and say this: "Oh no, I have been more than pleased with the service here. You have a great bank. But today I'm going to use my one year’s wages."

"Oh, I see. Are you buying a house with cash? Or two Sport Utility Vehicle with cash?"

"No, I'm going to buy a vial of perfume."

"Perfume? You're going to buy a vat of expensive perfume?"

"No, a small amount, I'm guessing around ½ a liter, 11 ounces."

"You are going to buy a year’s salary worth of perfume today?  Just 11 ounces?"

"That's right. Is my check ready?"

"Uh, just a second. I just have a couple more questions. Uhhmm, what are you going to do with that perfume? Is this some kind of an investment?"

"Oh, I guess you could call it that. I plan to break the top of the bottle and pour it out on someone today."

"What? .... Who could be worth that?"

Do you see?

Now, she probably didn’t buy it this day. It was probably a family heirloom. It might have represented the family fortune. We don’t know.

What we do know is that she poured it all out on Jesus that day.

What a woman!

By the way, the women in Matthew’s gospel are the best disciples. They are often overlooked, but they are consistently the most faithful and greatest role models for our discipleship today.

Never underestimate a woman who is a true disciple of Jesus Christ!

But that’s exactly what the male disciples do at this moment.

And, I think, they underestimate Jesus at the same time. V.8

“When the disciples saw this [pouring out of this expensive perfume on Jesus], they were indignant. ‘Why this waste?’ they asked.‘This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.’”

Now, of course, they have a point.

She could have sold this stuff and given it the money to the poor.

And that would have been a good thing.

Not a bad thing to do.

We should take stock of what we have and ask if we’re leveraging it in the right ways especially in regards to the poor.

Matthew just finished narrating Jesus’ story about the King who said that when we do generous things for the least of these his brothers, we are doing it for Him, including feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless.

Let’s be doing that!

But the disciples were missing something here.

“Why this waste?” they asked?

They do not see what has truly happened.

But Jesus did. Sopping wet with redolent scent, verse 10.

“Aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. [CSB “a noble thing.”] The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

This act is not a waste.

This is worship!

That’s what worship is, you know.

It’s “worth-ship.” Worship is an act that shows the value you place on something.

If you put all of your money or all of your time into something, you can probably say that you are worshiping it.

If you do nothing but work, especially when you don’t have to, you can be worshiping your work (instead of worshiping with your work).

If you spend all of your time on sports or hunting or reading books or whatever is your hobby, it could be properly said that you worship your hobby.

Some people worship their families.

Worship is whatever you do to indicate the ultimate worth of something to you.

This woman with her lavish act was saying that Jesus was worth everything to her.

So this is a great question to start a new year and a new decade with.

What is Jesus worth to you?

And how do you show it?

What is Jesus worth to you in 2020 and how can you demonstrate it?

Are you surprised that Jesus makes this all about Him?

This is the Gospel of Matthew, after all. So we need to keep our eyes on the ball.

The disciples had their eyes on the perfume. And their eyes on the money.

The other gospels tell us that Judas was the primary one who objected here. No wonder. He was the treasurer. And he was the traitor. But they all agreed.

"This was a waste!"

But Jesus says that it isn’t a waste.

Yes, we should serve the poor. But they will always be here.

But you have a limited window here and an unique opportunity here because Jesus Himself is here!

“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

So this is a beautiful thing!

This is costly worship.

This is extravagant worship.

And catch this: Jesus believes that He is worth it!

What’s amazing here is that Jesus doesn’t stop her.

Jesus doesn’t demur.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Oh, no, no. Let’s not do that. Let’s save our perfume. Let’s sell it and give to the poor. Or keep that money for your savings.”

No, Jesus basically says, “Thank you. I deserve that.”

This is not a waste. This appropriate worship.

What is Jesus worth to you in 2020 and how are you planning to show it?

What are you planning to do with your money, your time, your treasures, your relationships, everything that is of value to you, to show that Jesus is your ultimate treasure?

I think we all ought to spend some time today answering that question for ourselves.

Jesus is not expecting us to get out our life savings at the bank and buy a jar of perfume and pour it out on Him.

We can’t. He’s not here physically.

But He does expect and deserve our worship.

What beautiful things might we do as a church family in 2020 to show the world that Jesus is worthy?

Here’s a good way to get at this.

What are you doing or planning to do that others might say, “Why this waste?” if they don’t see how worthy Jesus is?

If there is nothing in your life that an unbeliever would shake their head at, then you need new priorities for a new year.

Because Jesus should be our number one priority.

“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

And yet we do always have Him spiritually. V.12

“When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”

She might not have known that was coming, but Jesus does.

Jesus knows that He is the Messiah which means the Anointed One.

And this anointing was not to do battle like King David with His slingshot and sword.

This anointing was to do battle by dying on the Cross.

“She did it to prepare me for burial.”

Jesus’ victory begins with His death.

Verse 13.

“I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’”

Do you see it?

It just happened.

This prophecy of Jesus was just fulfilled in this very room!

We are preaching the gospel and we are telling the story of this woman and what she did.

It was the opposite of a waste.

It was a timeless act of worship.

Worthy of retelling and retelling and retelling so that all generations know that Jesus is worth it all.

Here we are doing it right now.

Her act of extravagant worship is a blessing on the world. And that’s a beautiful thing.

What acts of beautiful, extravagant worship might you and I do to be a blessing to this world in 2020?

This woman valued Jesus highly.

Sadly, Judas valued Jesus lowly. What an ugly thing! V.14

“Then one of the Twelve [what a phrase]–the one called Judas Iscariot–went to the chief priests [from verses 3-5] and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ [Same root word for “handed over” in Jesus’ prediction of v.2] So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”

This will move things up on the timetable from what they originally wanted. But now they have an inside man.

An inside man, a traitor, who has just valued Jesus at 30 silver coins. Perhaps a 120 days’ wages. The cost of replacing an ox.

And this was not what Judas thought he would spend on Jesus.

This is what Judas thought he could get for selling out Jesus.

What is Jesus worth to you?

The contrast between these two valuations of Jesus could not be more stark.

Judas devaluing Jesus to thirty silver coins.

The woman valuing Jesus at the greatest worth.

You and I, today, are probably somewhere in between those two.

If you have been like Judas, I invite you to repent and come to trust in Jesus and worship Him as your highest treasure.

Amazingly, Jesus’ blood is precious enough to cover all of our sinful devaluing of Him, bringing us forgiveness and new life.

Repent and receive Him today.

And all of us should take time right now and today to take stock of our lives and ask what in our life shows how much we value Jesus.

What in our life does the world say, “Why this waste?”

“Who could be worth that?”

Because, amazingly, Jesus who is worth all of this, counted it joy to go to the Cross for us.

“For the joy set before Him, He endured the Cross.”

Remember, He knew.

He knew this in advance.

And He chose it.

He knew even when she didn’t know.

He said, “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”

“This is my body broken for you.

This is my blood poured out for you.”

Not just perfume but blood.

And that is a beautiful thing.


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise
45. Take Up His Cross
46. Like the Sun
47. Seed-Sized Faith
48. These Little Ones
49. If Your Brother Sins Against You
50. The Lord of Marriage
51. Drop Everything
52. First and Last
53. The Suffering Serving Son of Man
54. Shouting for the Son of David
55. Expecting Fruit
56. Come to the Wedding Banquet
57. Whose Image?
58. Acing the Test
59. What Do You Think About the Christ?
60. How Not To be A Leader
61. Malignant Religion
62. Fakes and Snakes
63. Birth Pains
64. The Coming of the Son of Man
65. No One Knows
66. Keep Watch
67. Well Done!