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The Alabaster Box

6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, 7 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. 8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? 9 For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. 10 When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. 11 For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. Matthew 26:6-11

1 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. 2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. 3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. 4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, 5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? 6  This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. John 12:1-6

“After being away on business, Tim, thought it would be nice to bring his wife a little gift. ‘How about some perfume?’ he asked the cosmetics clerk.

She showed him a bottle costing $50.00. ‘That’s a bit much,’ said Tim, so she returned with a smaller bottle for $30.00.

‘That’s still quite a bit,’ Tim complained. Growing annoyed, the clerk brought out a tiny $15.00 bottle. ‘What I mean.’ Said Tim, ‘is I’d like to see something really cheap.’ So the clerk handed him a mirror.”

At Bethany: Worship versus Waste (Matt. 26:1–16)

Matthew does not claim to give us a chronological account of the events of the last week. At this point he inserted a flashback to describe the feast in Bethany and the beautiful act that Mary performed. The religious leaders were meeting to plot against Jesus, but His friends were meeting to show their love and devotion to Him.

By joining these two accounts, Matthew showed the connection between Mary’s worship and Judas’ betrayal. It was after the feast in Bethany that Judas went to the priests and offered his help (Mark 14:10–11). The Lord’s rebuke triggered Judas’ response.

The feast at Bethany took place “six days before the Passover” (John 12:1) in the house of Simon the leper. Apparently he had been healed by the Lord Jesus. There were at least seventeen people at this dinner: Simon, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Jesus, and the 12 Apostles. True to her character as the “doer” in the family, Martha did the serving (Luke 10:38–42). The three key persons in this event are Mary, Judas, and Jesus.

Mary (v. 7). John identifies this woman as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. She is found only three times in the Gospels, and in each instance she is at the feet of Jesus.

· She sat at His feet and listened to the Word (Luke 10:38–42);

· she came to His feet in sorrow after the death of Lazarus (John 11:28–32);

· she worshiped at His feet when she anointed Him with the ointment (John 12:1ff).

Mary was a deeply spiritual woman.

· She found at His feet her blessing,

· she brought to His feet her burdens, and

· she gave at His feet her best.

I want you to see four things in this scriptural account as they apply to us. First, the resource of Mary; second, the rash act of Mary; third, the reason for Mary’s sacrifice; and fourth, the response of the disciples.

The Resource

Mary was not a wealthy woman. This alabaster box containing such expensive perfume very possibly represented her life’s savings. It was worth 300 denari, which was about a year’s salary in those days.

Alabaster is a beautiful semi-transparent gemstone. It was used to make containers which would hold only the most expensive and precious contents. When the contents were extremely precious, the makers would work the stone in such a way that the only way to empty it would be to break the container.

This perfume was made from the oil of an herb plant called nard and was only found in India in Biblical times, so this was a precious import and it could very well have been a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation. In biblical times, perfume was stored in an alabaster jar and could only be used once. Once you broke the seal of the jar, it had to be used at that moment, or it would loose its fragrance. Mary knew that this would be a one time deal. She was willing to give it all or nothing.

The point is that Mary’s resources were limited. She did not have the means to do what she did. She had probably secreted this away for a long time, thinking that if times ever got really tough, she would have something to fall back on.

It’s not so much what you give to God that counts in his eyes. It is how much what you give means to you that matters. We tend to measure our gifts horizontally…that is we figure out how much is expected of us or how much we think is reasonable and fair and we give accordingly.

We need to give our gifts to God on a vertical measure. Make it between you and God, not you and the world. This is what happens when a spirit of giving sweeps across a congregation. It happened at the General Conference in Columbus in 2006. God does not look at what you give, but what you have left after you give and what your gift means to you.

The Rash Act

Sacrifice never seems reasonable. I am not speaking exclusively of financial matters here. I will tell you that any time you contemplate making a step for God, it will seem to you and to others around you as rash, unreasonable, even stupid.

What? Give up your career? Give up your status? Give up you good looks (in the minds of some.) Give up your freedom and independence? Give up your friends?

Serving God never works out on paper, especially when the devil is telling you what numbers to write down. But God has a calculus to use that the devil can’t touch. Things that don’t make sense to you always make sense to God.

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. Luke 6:38

Mary anointed both the head and the feet of the Master, and wiped His feet with her hair. A woman’s hair is her glory (1 Cor. 11:15). She surrendered her glory to the Lord and worshiped Him with the precious gift that she brought. It was an act of love and devotion that brought fragrance to the whole house.

The Reason

It is important for us to remember that Jesus had been teaching his disciples that he was going to die. They did not believe him. Go back to Matthew 16:21.

21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. 22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. 23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

Jesus’ rebuke of Peter was an attempt to shock him back into reality. God will always warn us of things that are coming. Either he will use His Word, or the words of his servants, or He will use incidents that take place in the world.

I believe that the economic crisis we are in right now is God’s attempt to awaken the church to endtime prophecies. The “American Dream” that has motivated many people has no place in Bible prophecy.

I heard a man say the other day that he lost $70,000 in one week’s time from his 401(k) pension plan. Another man asked, “Is that all?” How many of you—if you knew you were going to lose $70,000 would just as soon given that money to missions rather than the federal government, or the banks who gave out bad mortgages? Yes. Easy to say AFTER YOU’VE LOST THE MONEY!

I wonder when we’re going to get silver-edged, laced thank you notes in the mail from the government, thanking us for the nice donations we made to failing banks, insurance companies and investment firms? Forget it. They didn’t ask us if they could have it and they’re not going to thank us for giving it. In fact, we didn’t give it. They just took it. Welcome to the new USSR.

The Bible always judges us on the basis of our commitment to God, not on our success (or lack thereof) in this world—according to the definitions of this world.

24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. 26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. 28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. Matthew 16:21-28

Because she had listened to His word, Mary knew that soon Jesus would die and be buried. It seems that she also knew that His body would not need the traditional care given to the dead because His body would not see corruption (Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:22–28).

Too many people wait until they see their way clear before they act. Not so with Mary. Instead of anointing His body after His death, she did so before His death. It was an act of faith and love.

The Response

Mary’s act did something else. It revealed the carnality and true motive of Judas. Take note of this.

Every sermon, every service, every act of sacrifice triggers both a positive and negative response. Some people are moved; others are resistant. Some surrender themselves; others steel themselves. It brings out the best in some; it brings out the worst in others.

Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, 5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? 6  This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. John 12:1-6

Judas (vv. 8–9). The disciples did not know the true character of Judas. His criticism of Mary sounded so “spiritual” that they joined him in attacking her. We know the real reason Judas wanted the ointment sold. It had nothing to do with the poor. The money would go into the treasury and he would be able to use it (John 12:6).

What are your resources?

What rash act are you prepared to do for God?

What ultimate reason or purpose will be served by your sacrifice?

What response will be triggered deep within your soul?

It cost the Simoneaux family their twelve year old son’s health. Timothy was rushed to a South African hospital diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, a fatal disease. God healed him. He stood on the conference platform at Greensboro, worshipping God with his missionary parents. The disease had destroyed his hearing in one ear. We prayed for him and his hearing was restored instantly! He kept snapping his fingers in his ear and saying, “I can hear. I can hear!” On Tuesday night, Bro. Jerry Richardson came up to us at a restaurant in Gatlinburg and said. “I just got an email five minutes ago. The boy just went to the doctor and 64% of his hearing has returned to his ear. He will not need a hearing aid!” The family is going back to Africa.

The Bennie DeMerchant family had a different result. Their son, Bennie Jr. was diagnosed with cancer. Eventually, they lost him at sixteen years of age. Guess what? Bennie and Theresa DeMerchant got their PIM’s completed at conference and they are headed back to Manaus, Brazil. They are in their late sixties.

Whether we win or lose, we sacrifice. If we win here, wonderful. If we lose here, the reward will be on the other side.

“He that cometh to God must believe that he is; and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

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Reader Comments (6)

Your article sounds interesting and informative post.
Thanks for sharing it.

I really liked this post.
You explain this topic very well.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngie from office plants

Enjoyed reading your post. Take exception to the comment that a woman's glory is her hair. A woman's glory is the life of Christ within and her hair is simply an outward adorning. The translation simply means honorable or praise worthy of. Blessings

March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.Mark Jordan

Dear Anonymous who used my name, J. Mark Jordan:

Your reluctance to use your own name (or even username) and use my name instead indicates something south of courageous, but, whatever.

Doxa is the Greek word for glory. It is used many times in the New Testament, frequently in reference to the glory of God. Specifically, the scripture says that a woman's hair is a glory to her. If that is different than saying "a woman's hair is her glory", then we really are splitting hairs! (Sorry for the pun.) Taken in context, the hair is still to be understood as vital to a woman's identity, as opposed to a man's hair. If not, what is the purpose of the entire illustration?


March 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterJ. Mark Jordan

This was very convicting and deeply touched my heart. Thank you

November 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRandy Sudduth

This is wounderful, thanks, and again i say a very big thanks for perfect explanation, God bless you.

October 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Thank you for this remarkable study on sacrifice! I Love the part when you brought out this point "Mary anointed both the head and the feet of the Master, and wiped His feet with her hair. A woman’s hair is her glory (1 Cor. 11:15). She surrendered her glory to the Lord and worshiped Him with the precious gift that she brought. It was an act of love and devotion that brought fragrance to the whole house.

I will bring this out in our Radio sermon Outreach this saturday! God Bless!

January 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCalvaryFM Radio

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