In Matthew 26 the Lord Jesus Christ made a unique promise. This promise was not made about one of the disciples who followed Him throughout His ministry, nor about any of the prominent and important individuals with whom He had come into contact. Rather it was about a devoted woman that the Saviour made an unprecedented commitment: "Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her" (v.13).
The action singled out for posterity by the Saviour is among the most precious and profound recorded in the Gospels. Here was a woman, a sinner reached by the grace of God, whose appreciation of the Lord poured out in an act of worship that has a great deal to teach us.
The most outstanding feature of this womans deed both to the disciples and to us was its costliness. The ointment that she poured upon the Saviour was precious. Sold, it would have yielded much. As such it represented a considerable financial sacrifice. But it also embodied months, perhaps years, of self-denial, as this woman went without all manner of luxuries and perhaps of necessities in order that she might have something to pour out upon her Lord. In the calculations of the world, this was a waste. She could have enjoyed spending the money on herself, or could have prudently saved it against her future need. If she was set on sacrificing it, she could have expended it in practical charity. Anything, surely, would have been better than the wanton waste of unrestrainedly pouring out valuable ointment. But this woman evaluated the matter differently. The privilege of anointing her Saviour was well worth all that she had given up. In this estimation of the worth of the Lord she stands in stark contrast to Judas who, just verses later, placed the meagre value of thirty pieces of silver on the Christ of God. And the Saviour shared her spiritual economics. He knew exactly what it had cost her, and His response was measured by the value that He placed on her simple but profound act of devotion.
The womans action reveals priorities that ought to challenge and humble us. As we gather to remember the Lord do we bring that which has been costly? Does our worship silent or audible, from sister or brother represent any real sacrifice on our part? Or are we in danger of doing what David disclaimed: "neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing" (2 Sam 24.24). The action of this godly sister, so appreciated by the Saviour, though so little valued by others, should spur us to invest more seriously in our highest calling to worship Him.
If the Saviour appreciated the value of the womans offering, He noted too the consideration that it indicated. Her investment was not expended in a random act of impulse. This anointing was the act of an intelligent worshipper. She poured the ointment on Him for His burial (v.12). In the careful precision of her action she displayed a spiritual discernment to which the disciples seemed unable to attain. This consideration in no way compromised the warmth and sincerity of her act; it immeasurably enhanced its worth.
We should aspire to worship like this. Our worship should display an intelligent appreciation of the nature of God and of the person of Christ. It should not only be doctrinally accurate; it should be saturated in Scripture. In spite of a prevailing mindset that prizes spontaneity and informality and that creates a false opposition between the mind and the affections, this by no means implies that we should be stilted or artificial in our worship. Worship, to conform to the Scriptural ideal, must involve our hearts and our minds, our intellect and our affections. Like this woman, we enhance the beauty and value of our worship when we worship both in spirit and in truth.
It is significant that Matthew so carefully specifies the container in which this woman brought her ointment. The alabaster box must have been costly in itself, and beautiful in its craftsmanship and execution. But more importantly, it was a vessel that had to be broken. She did not bring a bottle or a flask that could have been stoppered up before all the ointment had poured out, allowing some of the precious cargo to be saved for later use. This worshipper holds nothing back, retains nothing. The box was broken, every last drop of the fragrance was liberated reservation and reuse was not an option.
One of the greatest challenges that we face is maintaining freshness in our worship. Far too often we seem to come with a bottle, pouring out a niggardly measure of worship and then replacing the cork until the next Lords Day arrives. Like the indolent Israelites, we have only worm-ridden and stinking manna. In view of the infinite and inexhaustible glories of the Person we worship, it is surely an incongruous thing if we constantly cover the same ground, using phrases so well worn that our fellow believers could almost recite them along with us. It would be more fitting if we had a fresh and fragrant appreciation of the Saviour to pour out without reservation upon His lovely Person.
This womans act was attended by a number of consequences. It is precious to reflect that, as the Saviour left the house, He carried with Him a fragrance that would linger to Calvary and beyond. Even as the soldiers spat in His face they would have caught the aroma of this womans devotion. As He hung on the cross, as He lay in the tomb, still there would linger the fragrance of worship. The womans act glorified Christ, and we, too, can have no higher ambition for our worship.
The consequences did not stop there. As the fragrance of the ointment percolated through the room it would have clung to the womans own clothing and to that of the disciples. Both the one who worshipped and those who looked on went on their way more fragrant, more obviously linked to Christ as a result of this worship.
Is our worship fragrant? We can add nothing intrinsic to Christ, but is there a portion for Him in our worship? Do we magnify His Person, make His worth more evident? And what effect does our worship have on our fellow believers? Do they rise from the Lords Supper a little more fragrant, a little more like Christ because of my worship? This is what we should desire, for this is what true worship will accomplish.
And, as we have seen, there was another consequence of the womans worship. The Saviour publically recorded His appreciation of her act, and decreed that it would be remembered through centuries after. In a sense, the fragrance of her offering has never faded it comes to us today just as sweet, just as sacred, just as precious as it did in the house of Simon the leper.
As far as Earth is concerned, no one gets much recognition for worship. We have much to say about gift (and those who possess it) in relation to preaching and teaching. Very seldom is exercise in worship singled out for praise, or even comment. And yet, it is the highest and most important form of service to which we can aspire. And it is recognised and rightly evaluated in the records of Heaven.
The woman brought a costly offering but the consequences of her action and her compensation far outweighed any cost. In this she exemplifies for us the blessedness and the value of fulfilling our calling to be worshippers of our God.
To be continued.