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Jesus Anointed with Oil to Prepare Him

Scripture Readings: Mark 14:1-11(text); Psalm 133:1-2
March 14, 2010

"Woman at Simon's House" (unknown artist) (click to enlarge)

“Woman at Simon’s House” (unknown artist)
(click to enlarge)

In the early 1970s, when I was in college, a rock musical called “Jesus Christ Superstar” became a hit in Broadway and in the movies. It was the story of the struggle between two personalities in John’s gospel: Our Lord Jesus and Judas Iscariot. Also prominent in the play was Mary Magdalene, who was portrayed as a prostitute who fell in love with Jesus. In one scene, she sang a hit song with these words illustrating her confused feelings,

I don’t know how to love him.
What to do, how to move him. . .
He’s a man. He’s just a man.
And I’ve had so many men before,
In very many ways, he’s just one more.

This scene is based on the Gospel accounts of a woman pouring expensive perfume on Jesus during the last week of his earthly life. In Matthew 26:6-13 and in our text in Mark, the woman is unidentified. In John 12:1-8; 11:2, the woman is identified as Mary, the sister of Jesus’ friends Lazarus and Martha. But in Luke 7:36-50, we find a similar story, but the time in Jesus’ ministry, the woman and her actions, the critics, and the response from Jesus are very different from the other three Gospels. The unidentified woman is described as one who has “many sins,” and Jesus later declared forgiveness of her sins.

There is a popular notion that arose during the medieval times that this unidentified woman is Mary of Magdala. Contrary to popular belief, she is not a prostitute, but a demon-possessed woman whom Jesus healed in Luke 8:2. But nowhere in the Bible can we find any evidence that the woman in the accounts of Mark 14, Luke 7, Matthew 26, or John 12 is Mary Magdalene.

Superstar is only one of those Broadway productions by unbelievers such as Andrew Webber for the entertainment of unbelievers. Like “the Man upstairs” or “Bro,” “Superstar” is a blasphemous name for Christ, and he should not be described in street language such as “Jesus Rocks!” as though he was just some popular rock star. As in Mary Magdalene’s song, when Jesus is called such names, he is relegated to being “just a man”””in fact, a mere buddy with whom we exchange fist bumps, high fives and chest bumps.

On his last week on earth, Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He spends most of the next few days in the Temple, cleansing it and teaching the people, and disputing against the leaders of the Jews who tried their utmost to trap him with many questions, but always ended up being confounded and stumped by his authoritative answers. Because he consistently stopped the Jews in their tracks, he became so popular with the people that the Jews plotted all the more to arrest and kill him “by stealth,” or secretly. They have to be careful that they do not arrest him in public, because the people might be incited to riot on account of his popularity.

Their schemes are now coming to fruition with Judas, one belonging to Jesus’ inner circle of friends, as the point man. He himself approached the Jews secretly to betray him. Why did Judas betray Jesus, after he heard the gospel preached to him for more than three years?

Perhaps the “last straw” for him was an event in Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem, where his friends Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, lived. In our text, it was now Wednesday, two days before the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, when hundreds of thousands of Jews make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem to join the celebrations. Jesus and his disciples were invited by a man in Bethany named Simon the Leper to eat at his house.

Why would a leper invite several people to eat with him at his house? Are not lepers outcasts, unclean, contagious, and so lived outside the gates of the city? It is most likely that Simon the Leper was known in Bethany as a leper but was healed by Jesus, and as a result became a disciple.

While he was eating with Simon and his disciples, an unnamed woman””identified by John as Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, who always showed total devotion to Jesus (Luke 10:39; John 11:28-32)””came with a very expensive alabaster flask of pure nard and poured it on his head. Nard is an aromatic oil extracted from the root of a rare plant in India or Arabia, and the amount in the flask (almost a pound according to John 12:3) could be sold for an equivalent of almost a year’s wages of an average worker. It is not therefore a common perfume, and used only in special acts of anointing of and devotion to a person.

What a waste! some of the disciples protested. It could have been sold and the money given to the poor. John reports in his Gospel that Judas Iscariot was the leader of the complainers (John 12:4-6). But Jesus cautioned the disciples to let the woman be, saying that she had done to him “a beautiful thing.” And Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 15:11, added that the poor will always be with them, while he will only be with them for a few more days.

What was “beautiful” in the woman’s action? It was her total devotion to Jesus in anointing him with the most expensive oil she possessed, not knowing that she was preparing Jesus for his burial.

And his sufferings, death and burial are only the beginning of the completion of his threefold office as our Prophet, Priest and King. In the Old Testament, no one man fulfilled all three offices. Moses and Samuel were prophet-priests. David was a prophet-king, declaring the word of God and ruling over his people. Jesus is the only one who fulfills and makes perfect all three offices in one person.

This afternoon, we will consider the anointing with oil of Jesus by the woman as preparation:

1. For His Priestly Sacrifice
2. For His Enthronement as Eternal King
3. For the Preaching of His Prophetic Gospel

For His Priestly Sacrifice
Jesus countered his disciples’ objection to Mary’s “wasteful” use of expensive perfume by saying that what Mary did was “a beautiful thing.” It was an act of pure gratitude and devotion. She wanted to show her deep thankfulness to him for raising her brother from the grave. She was grateful that Jesus taught her family the true gospel. Like the poor widow who gave everything she had””a penny””Mary gave all her treasure stored in that alabaster flask.

But her action prepared Jesus for his burial. In the Old Testament, priests were ordained by anointing them with holy oil, as when Aaron and his sons were ordained by God, “You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him… Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons” (Exod 29:7, 9). Aaron and all Israel’s priests were anointed with oil “that they may serve [the Lord] as priests”
(Exod 30:30). And ”the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” (Psa 133:2), extravagantly poured on Aaron when he was ordained as high priest, signified the unity of God’s people under him.

As was customary in those days, the dead were anointed with oil and spices before their burial. After his crucifixion, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and anointed with myrrh, aloes, ointments and other spices before he was buried (Luke 23:56; John 19:39-40). So the anointing of Jesus by the woman served as a sign of his own death and burial that he had predicted before he came to Jerusalem.

In his death and burial, Jesus accomplished his high priestly work. So in anointing Jesus, the woman was unconsciously preparing him for his office as our High Priest, just as Aaron was anointed as high priest of Israel. All priests were to be from the family of Aaron and ordained by God to serve him. Since Jesus was not from Aaron’s family, how did Christ then become our High Priest? Question 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism has the answer:

Q. Why is He called Christ, that is, anointed?
A. Because He has been ordained by God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body has redeemed us, and who continually intercedes for us before the Father; and our eternal King, who governs us by His Word and Spirit, and who defends and preserves us in the redemption obtained for us.

Christ became our High Priest not through blood descent from Aaron, but he was chosen, appointed and sent by God to redeem his people from sin. Since the Fall of Adam until Christ, there is no redemption from sin without the shedding of blood (Heb 9:22). Jesus as our High Priest fulfilled all of the Old Testament animal sacrifices in his once-for-all bloody sacrifice of his own body on the cross.

As the once-for-all sacrifice for the redemption of sin, Jesus had to live a perfectly righteous life, just as the animal sacrifices had to be without spot or blemish, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens”
(Heb 7:26). Once for all, this sinless offering would “secure for us an eternal redemption through his own blood” (Heb 9:12).

Not only does Jesus qualify as our High Priest because of his perfect righteousness. He also qualifies because he became a man who in every respect was like us, including suffering and temptations, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). And because he was also like us in all things except for sin, he is the only One who qualifies to be our Intercessor, Mediator and Advocate (Rom 8:34; 1 Tim 2:5; 1 John 2:1). Therefore, we have confidence that he hears our groans and petitions. We have joy that God is pleased with our praises and thanksgiving because they are offered through him.

For His Enthronement as King
All of Israel’s kings anointed with oil at their appointment by God, as we can see in Psalm 45, a psalm celebrating the coronation of their king, “God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Psa 45:7). King Saul was anointed by the prophet Samuel, “Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel?” (1 Sam 10:1). David as well was anointed as king by Samuel, “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward” (1 Sam 16:13).

When did Jesus become our Eternal King? The prophet Daniel saw in his night visions his enthronement as King when he ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of God the Father 500 years before this glorious coronation:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion…” (Dan 7:13-14)

But even as he entered Jerusalem before he was crucified, the Jews were already proclaiming him as King of Israel: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk 11:10). But they were looking for an earthly kingdom, not the heavenly kingdom that Jesus inaugurated when he first came and preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” When he preached the gospel, performed miracles, and cast out demons, it was to confirm that he had begun his kingdom, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt 12:28).

His anointing with precious oil by the woman signified not only his preparation for the office of High Priest, but for his coronation as Eternal King. This is why the Heidelberg Catechism says that the name of Christ also means that he was anointed by the Holy Spirit to be “our eternal King, who governs us by His Word and Spirit, and who defends and preserves us in the redemption obtained for us” (HC 31).

Today as the King of the kingdom of God, he helps the church in two ways. First, he continues to be Ruler over all things (Matt 28:18; Col 1:20), and is King of kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 17:14, 19:16), working all things for the good of the church (Rom 8:28). For our own sake, he reigns over the church (Col 1:18) and rules over her by his Word and Spirit (Matt 28:19-20). He has given us his Word, which are the laws that govern his kingdom (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Second, he leads us in our war against spiritual darkness. He defends and preserves us from our enemies, sometimes from physical danger, but at all times from spiritual forces of evil. In our war against Satan’s kingdom, Christ equips us with all the weapons we need: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit. All of these are based on his holy Word (Eph 6:14-17).

And as he awaits the day of his coming, Christ allows the kings of the earth oppose and plot against him and his church, persecuting and even killing his beloved people. But on the day of his coming, he will pour out his terrible wrath upon his enemies so that they would rather die than face his judgment
(Rev 6:16-17), and make them his footstool under his feet (Heb 10:13). But on that day, he will also bring to completion the good work that he has begun in you (Phil 1:6).

What comfort! What assurance! He rules over us with his Word. He preserves and defends us with his Spirit. So do not doubt your salvation. Do not doubt your security in this salvation. For Christ is in heaven, always interceding for us, always defending us from the temptations and attacks of our enemy.

For the Preaching of His Prophetic Gospel
Because of the beauty of her pure devotion, Jesus prophesied that the story of this woman who anointed him with precious oil will be told whenever and wherever the gospel of Christ is preached. We see the fulfillment of his prophecy today, 2,000 years later, as her story is told over and over again every season of Lent in churches throughout the world.

Jesus not only prophesied the spread of the story of this woman’s devotion. He also prophesied that the gospel will be preached everywhere, to the four corners of the earth, and to the end of the age. From the beginning of his earthly ministry when he preached the gospel to the Samaritan woman, to his prophecies about the end of the world at the Mount of Olives, those who heard him and witnessed the miracles he performed perceived him as a prophet from God.

It was the prophet Moses who foretold of the coming of a great prophet whom God would raise up from the tribes of Israel, telling them, “You must listen to him.” All those who would listen will be blessed; those who would not will be destroyed (Deut 18:15; Acts 3:22-23).

Many centuries later, Jesus came calling himself a prophet (Luke 13:33) who speaks with authority his Father’s words only (John 12:49-50). Jesus not only prophesied the future; he authenticated his words with signs and wonders (John 6:14; Heb 2:3-4). This is why after God’s holy Word was completely revealed by Jesus to the apostles and handed down to us through their writings, there is no more need for miracles to give authority to Scripture. Everything that man needs for salvation and eternal life are to be found in his Word (2 Tim 3:16).

Old Testament prophets, like the high priests and kings, were anointed, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me” (Isa 61:1), which Jesus confirmed he fulfilled in Luke 4:17-21. Isaiah also prophesied of the coming Messiah, “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isa 11:2). At Jesus’ baptism by John, this prophecy was fulfilled when the disciples saw the Spirit of God “descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (Matt 3:16-17).

This is why Jesus’ anointing with oil by the woman not only signifies his anointing with the Spirit as our High Priest and Eternal King, but also as our Prophet. As the Heidelberg Catechism again summarizes, Christ is “our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption.”

In these last days after he ascended into heaven, Jesus continues his prophetic work through the ministers of the gospel whom he endows with his Spirit. And he sends the Holy Spirit to those whom he wants to save to give them a new heart in order that they would repent and believe. So he enjoins men of God, “Preach the word!” “Preach only Christ and him crucified and resurrected!” “Preach the true gospel alone!” With the preached Word and the illumination of the Spirit, Christ accomplishes the redemption of all his people from slavery to sin. Salvation will never be accomplished by “new revelations from the Spirit” apart from the word of Christ.

We are to listen to Christ only through his word available and open to our eyes and ears. Nothing should be added to, or subtracted, from it. It is sufficient for our salvation, for our knowledge of God, for our life as a Christian, and for our comfort in times of need.

Jesus as our perfect Prophet, Priest and King gives us comfort and assurance. Jesus as our High Priest has done everything for our salvation. He is now interceding for us before our Father in heaven because as a Man, he is one of us and knows all our needs.

Jesus our Eternal King rules over the church so that everything is done with decency and order. He also defends and preserves the church against all evil spiritual forces. As the church assaults Satan’s kingdom, the gates of hell will never prevail against us!

Jesus our True Prophet continues to preach to us and teach us in our pilgrimage in this world through his faithful servants in the church. He continues to preach the way of salvation to unbelievers so that the Kingdom of God may expand and be completed.

And when the number of the elect is complete, he will come again as our great Priest, King and Prophet. Amen.