Is it WORTH it to worship Jesus?
Today we're beginning the final phase of the Gospel of the Matthew. This is the last week of Jesus' life—the passion, the crucifixion, the resurrection. The events in chapter 26 all take place on Saturday through Thursday. Chapter 27 takes place of Friday—the day we call Good Friday. Chapter 28 begins on Sunday, Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection.
We're calling this section "Worship the King," because in these chapters we see—perhaps more than in any other throughout the Gospel—the deity, the majesty, and the royalty of Jesus. We see that he is more than a man, more than merely a good teacher, that he is able to conquer death, and that is truly the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Today's message begins with a story that is told in other Gospels as well. It is the story of the woman coming to Jesus and anointing his head with some costly perfume. This was, in Jesus words, a beautiful thing—an act of worship worthy to be told about throughout the ages.
In this story we also learn some lessons about what it means to give him our worship, what it means it to truly love him. There are three key ideas in this story that I want us to recognize. First, let's listen to the story.
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. "This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor."
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." (Matthew 26:6-13)
When you compare Matthew's version of this story with Mark, Luke, and John, you see that there are some details included in their accounts that are not included in Matthew's version. Primarily, Luke mentions that it was a "sinful woman" who came to anoint Jesus with the costly oil. In other words, a woman with a past. Luke mentions it; Matthew doesn't. Why not? I'll tell you why. Because it doesn't matter. Her past doesn't matter. Luke, the historian, may have been more detail-oriented than Matthew, and may have included information that the other gospel writers didn't. Matthew didn't include this detail because her past wasn't important.
Neither is yours. Some of you here today may have come through these doors carrying a sinful past with you. You may feel unworthy to worship Jesus...you may even feel like you have no right to be in a church. I want you to know that we're not into those kinds of labels, and neither is Jesus. Your past doesn't matter—it doesn't have to prevent you from giving your life to Jesus today. It doesn't have to prevent you from worshipping him and loving him and serving him today. Don't let your past hold you back.
Now, let's look at three key ideas this story teaches us about loving Jesus. First of all, I want you to know that...
1. Jesus is worth the very best you have to give.
(v. 6-7) While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining on the table.
Matthew says it was very expensive perfume. Mark expounds on that detail, stating that that it could have been sold for 300 denarii, which was more than a year's worth of wages. That's a lot of money, and it must have been very expensive perfume. How much is a year's wages today? If you make minimum wage, it figures out to be about $12,000. Can you imagine, first of all, paying $12,000 for a bottle of perfume, and second of all, pouring it all on a man's head and feet? That's what she did. Why? Because Jesus is worth the very best we can give him.
Obviously, whatever this woman's situation was, she was a woman of means and could afford the perfume that she gave to Jesus. The point of this story is not that we should be extravagant beyond our means—the point of the story is that we should be as extravagant in our service to him as we can afford to be. And, of course, I'm talking about more than money.
Years ago a man named Mike Pilavachi was a youth pastor in a church in England. He and one of the kids in his youth group decided to get together each week to pray, study the Bible, and worship God. Mike asked the student, "What night would you like to meet?" The student said, "Well, Saturday night is the best night of the week [i.e. for a teenager], so let's give Jesus the best night. Let's meet on Saturday." Mike agreed, and they began setting aside their Saturday nights to meet together and worship God. The teenager in this story, by the way, was Matt Redmon, the writer of songs such as "The Heart of Worship," "Let My Words Be Few," "Once Again," and several others. And these Saturday night meetings started a worship movement in this church that has reached literally thousands of young people throughout England.
Jesus is worth the very best you can give him. Do you want to learn to love Jesus? Do you want to learn to worship him in a way that pleases his heart? Give him your best. Give him the best part of your day, the best part of your week. Be as "extravagant" with him as you can afford to be. He doesn't expect you to do more than you can do—but when you give him your very best he is pleased.
The second key idea I want you to notice is...
2. He is worth the criticism you'll face.
The sad truth is that when you do anything for Jesus, you'll have to endure criticism on some level, in some form or fashion. The most frustrating thing about it is that all too often the criticism comes from those you would least expect to be critical. This story is a perfect example.
In fact, the most unbelievable—and most shocking—verse in all of Scripture is found right here in this story. This woman poured this expensive perfume on Jesus, and do you know what his faithful followers said?
(v. 8) When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked.
Did you get that? They called it a waste. This act of worship, this gift given to Jesus to prepare him for the day when he would die for the sins of the world, they considered a WASTE. Isn't that sad? Isn't it offensive?
Can you imagine saying that about someone you love? "I bought my wife a new dress." "What a waste!" Hard to imagine, isn't it? Yet, this is exactly what they said about her gift for Jesus.
The disciples weren't usually wrong, but they were sure wrong this time. Giving the best you have for Jesus is never a poor use of your resources. Ministering to him, worshipping him, sacrificing for him is a never a waste. The disciples missed the point.
This teaches us something about critics. You see, while the woman was ministering to Jesus, the disciples were doing nothing. That's the chief characteristic of a critic. They're the ones doing nothing. They're the ones not trying.
When you give your best to Jesus, please keep in mind that there will be some people who won't get it. There will be some people who will find fault with what you're doing. They'll criticize your motives and they'll criticize your methods. But keep in mind that their criticism often serves as a smoke screen to obscure the fact that they are the ones doing nothing. Don't let the critics stop you from worshiping Jesus and expressing your love to him.
I have a friend who, after graduating from a prestigious seminary, decided not to follow the typical ministry career track of taking an appointment to pastor a church and spend his life moving up the ladder to bigger and better churches. Instead, he began working with a mission in Tijuana, Mexico, serving the poorest of the poor. Do you know what his family told him? Do you know what his pastor told him? They told him he is wasting his potential, as if the poor people of Mexico don't matter as much as the affluent people in Orange County.
When you give Jesus your very best, there will be those who find fault with your actions, who challenge the integrity of your choices, and who criticize your methods. And mark it down, sometimes this criticism will come from those you least expect. Don't let it stop you. Don't let the critics hold you back. Giving Jesus your best is never a waste of your time, and never a waste of your resources. In fact, giving Jesus your best pleases him. It is, in his words, a beautiful thing. He's worth the criticism you'll face.
The third key idea I want you to notice in this story is...
3. He's worth your attention right now.
Jesus said something in this story that has often been misunderstood, and, in fact, has often been abused. He said...
(v. 11) "The poor you will always have with you..."
While some social-minded people would voice the same objection that the disciples voiced—that extravagance is unnecessary when there are so many suffering people—others have used this verse to justify social inaction: "There will always be poor; why bother?" That's hardly the point Jesus was making. In fact, his point here is that she is to be commended because she did something for him, right NOW. Listen to what he said...
(v. 10) "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial..."
Helping the poor is a good thing, and we are commanded to do it. In fact, if you'll remember, in the previous chapter of Matthew Jesus told us that what we do for the least we do for him. But he is telling his disciples here the most important thing in our lives is our devotion to him—and the most important time for expressing this devotion is right now.
The difference between this woman and the disciples is not that she had access to an expensive bottle of perfume and they didn't; the difference is that her heart was focused on ministering to Jesus and theirs wasn't. She was willing to do something right now, and they weren't. They preferred to talk about their good intentions, to pontificate on how others should spend their money, but they weren't really ready to do anything themselves. Their master was about to die a horrendous death. In just a few days he would be beaten, mocked, ridiculed, spat upon, tortured and murdered. In just a few days he would be abandoned by almost all of his followers. He was, as we will soon see, facing anguish beyond our ability to comprehend. And what did they do about it? They argued about how a rich woman should spend her money, and they paid no attention to him.
Here is what I want you to zero in on: the difference between the woman and the disciples is that she worshiped Jesus in the present tense. Her heart was focused on him in the NOW, and she worshiped him in the NOW, and she served him in the NOW. Do you want to worship Jesus in a way that pleases him? Do something now. It doesn't do any good to talk about the way things should be done, if you're not willing to do—at this very moment—what you can do. He's worth your attention right now.
Let's not forget the phrase that Jesus spoke...
(v. 10) "She has done a beautiful thing for me..."
This story shows us how to express our love for Jesus. It shows us how to worship him and how to serve him in a way that pleases him. Do you know what that is? Give him the very best that you have to give—the best part of your resources, the best part of your time. Even when other people don't get it, even when the criticize and find fault with your actions, give him the very best that you have to give. And most of all, do it now. Give him your best today. He's worth it.