The Woman Who Anointed Our Lord’s Head (26:1–13)
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.
It is a portion of Scripture which ought to be read with particular reverence and attention. The place we stand on is holy ground. Here we see how the seed of the woman crushed the serpent’s head; here we see the great sacrifice to which all the sacrifices of the Old Testament had long pointed; here we see how the blood was shed which "purifies us from all sin" (1 John 1:7), and the Lamb slain who "takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). We see in the death of Christ the great mystery revealed, how God can be just, and yet declare the ungodly to be righteous. No wonder all four Gospels contain a full account of this wonderful event: on other points in our Lord’s history, we often find that when one evangelist speaks the other three are silent; but when we come to the crucifixion, we find it minutely described by all four.
1. Christ Calls the Disciples’ Attention to His Death
First, let us observe how careful our Lord is to call the attention of his disciples to his own death. He said to them, "As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified" (verse 2).
The connection of these words with the preceding chapter is very striking. Our Lord had just been dwelling on his own second coming in power and glory at the end of the world; he had been describing the last judgment and all its awful accompaniments; he had been speaking of himself as the judge before whose throne all nations would be gathered. Then at once, without pause or interval, he goes on to speak of his crucifixion. While the marvelous predictions of his final glory were still ringing in the ears of his disciples, he tells them once and again of his coming sufferings: he reminds them that he must die as a sin-offering before he reigns as a King; that he must make atonement on the cross before he takes the crown.
We can never attach too much importance to the atoning death of Christ: it is the leading fact in the Word of God, on which the eyes of our soul ought always to be fixed. Without the shedding of his blood, there is no remission of sin. It is the cardinal truth on which the whole system of Christianity hinges. Without it the Gospel is an arch without a keystone, a beautiful building without a foundation, a solar system without a sun. Let us make much of our Lord’s incarnation and example, his miracles and his parables, his works and his words, but above all let us make much of his death. Let us delight in the hope of his second personal coming and millennial reign, but let us not think more even of these blessed truths than of the atonement on the cross. This after all is the master-truth of Scripture; on this let us daily feed our souls. Some, like the Greeks of old, may sneer at the doctrine and call it "foolishness"; but let us never be ashamed to say with Paul, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14).
2. Christ Loves to Honor Those Who Honor Him
Second, let us observe in these verses what honor Christ loves to put on those who honor him.
We are told that when he was in "the home of a man known as Simon the Leper" (verse 6), a woman came while he sat at meat and poured a jar of very expensive perfume on his head. She did it, no doubt, out of reverence and affection: she had received soul-benefit from him, and she thought no mark of honor too costly to be bestowed on him in return. But this act of hers earned the disapproval of some who saw it: they called it "waste" (verse 8); they said it might have been better to sell the ointment and give the money to the poor. At once our Lord rebuked these cold-hearted fault-finders. He tells them that the woman "has done a beautiful thing to me" (verse 10), and one that he accepts and approves; and he goes on to make a striking prediction: "Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her" (verse 13).
We see in this little incident how perfectly our Lord knew things to come, and how easy it is for him to confer honor. This prophecy of his about this woman is receiving a fulfilment every day before our eyes: wherever the Gospel of St. Matthew is read, her action is known. The deeds and titles of many a king and emperor and general are as completely forgotten as if written in the sand; but the grateful act of one humble Christian woman is recorded in 150 different languages, and is known all over the globe. Human praise lasts only a few days: the praise of Christ endures forever. The pathway to lasting honor is to honor Christ.
3. A Foretaste of Things to Come
Third, we see in this incident a blessed foretaste of things that will take place in the day of judgment. On that great day no honor done to Christ on earth will be found to have been forgotten. The speeches of parliamentary orators, the exploits of warriors, the works of poets and painters, will not be mentioned on that day; but the least work that the weakest Christian woman has done for Christ, or his members, will be found written in a book of everlasting remembrance. Not a single kind word or deed, not a cup of cold water, or a jar of perfume, will be omitted from the record. Silver and gold she may not have had; rank, power and influence she may not have possessed; but if she loved Christ, confessed Christ and worked for Christ her memorial will be found on high: she will be commended before assembled worlds.
Do we know what it is to work for Christ? If we do, let us take courage, and work on. What greater encouragement can we desire than we see here? We may be laughed at and ridiculed by the world. Our motives may be misunderstood; our conduct may be misrepresented; our sacrifices for Christ’s sake may be called "waste"—waste of time, waste of money, waste of strength. Let none of these things move us. The eye of him who sat in Simon’s house at Bethany is upon us: he notes all we do, and is well pleased. Therefore, "stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).