When it comes to Hollywood movies and Broadway shows, there isn’t much for Christians to enjoy. But every once in a while something comes along which is not as morally offensive as the majority. And one of those productions has been mentioned around here a time or two – “Fiddler on the Roof.” As many of you know, In the opening scene, Tevye, the poor Jewish milkman, explains some of the customs they have in the Russian community of Anatevka. He says if it wasn’t for those ancient traditions their precarious lives would come tumbling down. Nearly everyone in Anatevka were like fiddle players trying to stay balanced on the peaks of their roofs.
Modern Christianity isn’t quite the same, but there is still a great deal of balancing and juggling. We’ve got our daily chores and sometimes there isn’t time to get them all done, so we have to pick and choose. We try to find a balance between necessary duties and the importance of rest and sleep. There is our devotional life which is often forced to take a back seat to the secular parts of life. So there is a conflict between things spiritual and things carnal. And another special balance is often made within our personal religion whether it should be or not. We have to balance worship with theology. Why is it that so often the man known for his Bible knowledge ISN’T also noted for his worship? Why is it that with all that is going on, worship – sincere daily praise and thanksgiving – is pushed to the back of our lives and the back of our hearts? I heard the other day – the only things we should keep in our lives ought to be either useful or beautiful. And when you stop and think about it, the worship of the Lord is both very useful and exquisitely beautiful.
With that in mind, let’s think about the people in our text. First and foremost there is the Lord Jesus – the Son of God – the Savior. For whatever reason, as far as Simon was concerned, Christ was the catalyst for the feast. Should we assume that the man had been redeemed by the grace of God; regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and quickened by the One who is “the way, the truth and life”? Shouldn’t we also assume that Simon had been cured of leprosy? If that is the case, shouldn’t we credit Christ Jesus? So there was, Simon, the host of this gathering and most likely his wife and family. They probably couldn’t have felt more honored and thankful to have the Lord with them for this meal. Then of course, everywhere Christ went His disciples were there as well – honored guests. How many other, more distant disciples were, present – local believers who were not among the 12? This was in Bethany, so might we assume that the now famous Lazarus and his sisters were invited? Was this dinner party so large that this woman with the alabaster box was unnoticed until she began to anoint the Lord? Or was she one of the invited guests? I may be wrong, but I picture a relatively large group of guests, laying about on mats on the floor with a good number of people serving the various courses of food.
But this woman is not interested in the food, famous Lazarus, Simon or any of the handsome bachelors there. She is presented to us as the epitome of a true worshiper – a worshiper of Christ. Ignoring what anyone might say – unconcerned about what might happen to her, she opened the gift she had brought for the Lord and began to pour it upon His head. For a few moments, as people took it in, there was an astonished silence, and a smile crossed the Saviour’s face – despite the interruption of His meal. And then outrage hit the assembly. The scent of the perfume covered the aroma of the well-prepared food. The host was visibly distressed that his well-planned party had been stolen. Some of the servants ran toward the woman until Jesus raised his hand to stop them. And then began a quarrel about the nature of her worship – raised by the very men who were closest to Christ. Those who were theologically correct took exception to with the one who was reverentially correct. And the Lord rebuked the theologians, not the spiritual interloper.
This morning I have two disconnected messages, linked only by the Word of God. One of the messages may be for you, while the other isn’t – or perhaps both may be for you. I’d like us to begin with the woman’s adoration and conclude with her liberation.
Think first of all about the lessons surrounding the worship of this woman.
It shines out of a murky cloud of religious mediocrity. Mediocrity is the town where we live, the capital of the state of self-satisfaction, in the nation of complacency. EVERY Christian trusts the Son of God as his personal Lord and Saviour or he is not really a Christian. He is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He is sealed by His divine presence until the day of his ultimate redemption. That Christian may or may not be well-grounded in the Word of God. He may have been scripturally baptized and takes the Lord’s Supper when ever possible. He may be quite regular in his attendance upon the Word of God. He tithes of all that the Lord gives him, and digs into his pockets deeply when there is a need. He is known to be generous and charitable towards others. And yes, and when Saviour sends him out on dangerous and exciting assignments, like preaching the gospel or miracle-working, he is ready to do the Lord’s bidding. Perhaps the more mundane things he leaves to others, but still he’s considered faithful to the big stuff. He’s the perfect model of the modern major Christian. His name might be Andrew or Simon, Peter or even Martha.
It’s too bad he has lost his first love for Christ; his Christian life is has become mundane and mediocre. His faith in Christ is unchanged from the day of his regeneration, and he is looking forward to the rapture. But at the same time his faith is unchallenged, his conscience is slipping and his devotion is ebbing. Excuses are easy; service is shallow, and his time is considered personally sacred. While not being particularly worshipful, his theology makes him quick to criticize other people’s worship. He is ready to protect the Saviour, but not to honor and adore Him.
And then along comes a woman with an alabaster box. What temerity – what audacity she has, to march right in to the dinning room of the Saviour. This is Simon’s house – not hers. This meal is for the honor of Christ – what business does she have to honor Christ? Even if she was an invited guest, she’s breaking the rules of etiquette, if nothing else. This woman was motivated by love and thanksgiving – empowered by her focus on the Lord Jesus. She cared nothing about the comments of the men, or about the rules of religious decorum. In fact, knowing some of those brethren, she might have expected to be rebuked. There was nothing sinful about what she did – it hurt no one but herself. The ointment was hers to give, the box was hers to open, to give away, even to destroy. This was an act of adoration, of worship, of veneration.
This was a personal act, without the assistance of anyone else. That is one of the characteristics of true worship. Worship cannot be scripted and choreographed through a prayer book, song book, or priest. Despite what Tevye might say, worship is not a matter of tradition. Although there may be precedents and examples of true worship which we might imitate, it isn’t necessary. Worship is an energy of the heart that pushes the piston or drive-shaft which moves an entire life. The kind of worship which is kept bottled up inside, finds no praise from the Saviour.
Doesn’t the One who has saved us deserve to be served and worship in impressive ways? Doesn’t His great gift of redemption deserve our lives as well as our Sunday mornings? Doesn’t He deserve the most prized possessions in our mundane existences? Is a bottle of extra virgin olive oil an acceptable gift to Christ, when we have an alabaster box of precious ointment at home? Is a T-shirt with the words, “I love Jesus” appropriate for our worship in the house of God? Why are we joyful in the presence of our family, but we can’t even smile in the presence of Christ?
The poor lady was charged with waste. Waste? What is given to the Omnipotent God, isn’t wasted; it’s multiplied. Nothing which is spent on the Lord is ever squandered. Hoarding isn’t saving if we aren’t worshiping the Lord as we should be. Dante Aligieri was in his Catholic church deep in meditation one Sunday morning and missed the cue that he was to kneel, so he remained seated. Someone saw him and reported him to the bishop. The man’s defense was that if his accusers were more interested in the Lord than the ceremony they never would have noticed Dante’s faux pas.
If the disciples were more interested in the Lord, they wouldn’t have been bothered by the woman’s gift.
We should all be able to find some lessons from this selfless act of adoration.
But now lets switch our attention to the Lord’s act of LIBERATION.
Have you ever noticed that what the woman did for Christ was a cameo of what the Saviour did for her? By definition a cameo might be piece of jewelry, typically oval in shape, consisting of a portrait carved into some sort of semi-precious stone. Or it might be a short descriptive literary sketch that neatly encapsulates someone or something. It might be the brief appearance of some famous person before he’s gone again. What this woman did illustrates what Christ did for her. Let’s have this woman sitting at the supper and the Saviour comes up behind her.
This supper was taking place in the house of a man who had been a leper. It is possible that he was still a leper, but it is more likely he had been healed by the Saviour. The thing to keep in mind is that the woman is a sinner, in the house of a sinner. That is a description of me and of you. When prophet Isaiah was permitted to see God he immediately recognized his precarious position. “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Not only are you and I sinners by nature, but we live among a race of sinners. We are all sinners in the eyes of the infinitely holy and righteous God. There is none among men that are righteous, no not one. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God – each and every one of us. “There is not a just man upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” and “the wages of (our) sin is eternal death.” There are no exceptions to that description and denunciation.
In our imaginations, there is this woman sitting at the table with these other sinners, casually eating. Life places us all in the midst of some very basic, every day situations. Life demands that a great many different things are performed each and every day. There is nothing sinful or wrong with eating, sleeping, eating or laughing with our family and friends. But without Christ those things mean nothing – especially when it comes time to die. We might be well taught to eat only what is healthy for us to eat. We might get a full eight-hours sleep every night and rise at the crack of dawn every day. We might not own or view television, and our radio might never catch a rock and roll station. We might have the best education that our parents can give us. Our morals may be immaculate, and our reputation before the world be outstanding. But we are lepers, and if Christ be not our Saviour, then we’ve wasted our three score and ten years. Here is an otherwise good lady, sitting at supper, while the Saviour approaches.
And what is that in his hand? A container made of alabaster. Alabaster is a crystal formed either with gypsum or stalagmatic lime. It is beautiful and quite often pure white – it speaks of expense and purity. There has never been anything more pure or beautiful than the Person of Christ Jesus. No sin, no cause for shame, no excesses, no excuses, no lack, no back talk. Jesus was perfect humanity, because He is the perfect Son of God. Alabaster!
That ointment with the wonderful fragrance which filled the room and house, could be used as a picture of the shed blood, poured out of the sinless life and Person of Jesus Christ. The blood of the Son of God is the most valuable ointment ever applied to a human soul. It is both natural and unnatural; natural and supernatural. The blood of the Lord Jesus is the only substance known to man capable of cleansing away sin. Behold the blood of the lamb of God – “which taketh away the sin of the world.” “Almost all things are purged with blood and without the shedding of blood there is no remission” of sin. “Neither by the blood of goats and cavles, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”
But what is the reaction of the average man to these precious words about the Saviour’s blood? “What is the meaning of this waste? “Am I not good enough to earn acceptance with God on my own? What meaneth this waste? “Sure some are sinful enough to need the help of God, those poor wretches caught in adultery, drugs and murder. But I am not like one of them; to what purpose is this waste?”
I’m sorry, but the Lord Jesus says that this is the only way that any of us can become pleasing to God. Our sins, which are many, have only one cure. And it is not our merits that can deal with them. “How shall we escape if we neglect (God’s) great salvation?” There is no escape. If the Lord doesn’t open His alabaster box over our heads and hearts, we have no acceptance with Him. If the Lord doesn’t anoint our heads with His grace then we shall forever stink before God.
What I would like you to see this morning is that Jesus praised the sacrifice of love this woman made for Him. And in what she did, she unwittingly painted a picture of what Jesus has done for many of us. Have you joyfully received the anointing of Jesus’ saving grace? Are you under the blood of the Saviour today?