A woman with an alabaster jar of perfume anoints Jesus. Although this is a familiar story from the gospels, Pastor Marshal invites us to look closer.
How does it reflect on the heart with which we worship? With which character do you find it easiest to identify? Take a moment and find your place in the story.
Alabaster Box Anointing
Your Place in the Story
Sermon Notes by Marshal Blessing
We just sang about an alabaster jar. The last time we sang this song a few weeks ago, God put a message on my heart that I want to share with you today. Who here knows the Biblical story about Jesus and the woman with the alabaster jar? You might say, “Which one?” because there are multiple accounts. But really it’s all part of one story. It’s a beautiful story. It’s an important story. It is mentioned in all four Gospels. So I would like to take a closer look at it today, unpack it a little bit, and help you find…
Your Place in the Story
One reason that I want to spend some time and focus on this story is that it can be a little confusing. As I said, it appears in all four Gospels, if we’re just casually reading through the Bible we might get the impression that it happened multiple times. It can start to seem like Jesus was being anointed with perfume every few weeks.
Really, some of the Gospels writers are giving their own description of the same events. It didn’t happen four separate times. But if we try to put together all the Gospel accounts, there seem to be some conflicting details.
I believe these stories do fit together. Based on Scripture, I am convinced that Jesus was anointed with perfume twice. The focus of my message today is not to go in depth and reconcile the four gospel accounts, but if you have questions about it I would be glad to discuss it with you.
Feel free to contact us on our
Text Line 214 856 0550
If you have questions we want to answer them. It can be anonymous, or you can identify yourself: “This is…” If you think I’m wrong about something, let me know. I don’t want to be wrong. Let’s talk about it.
I believe Jesus was anointed twice. The first time is recorded in the Gospel of Luke.
Middle of Jesus’ ministry … before feeding 5000
Dining at the house of Pharisee, woman with alabaster jar anoints His feet and wipes with hair, unnamed
The second time is recorded in Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John
Within the week before Passover, within the week before He was Crucified
In Bethany. Matt and Mark, at the house of “Simon the Leper.” Woman with alabaster jar, breaks it anoints Jesus’ head. Woman is unnamed.
John records that this woman is Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. John doesn’t mention alabaster jar and says she anoints His feet. But mentions large amount of perfume, enough to anoint head and feet.
Also, same type of perfume as Matthew and Mark, very rare in Jesus’ day. Disciples react same way.
And she wipes His feet with her hair, just like in Luke. I believe in all four Gospels this woman is Mary
Jesus says, “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told”
Your Place in the Story
Now, I would like to take a minute and read through these sections in the Gospels of Luke and Mark.
Can I read the Bible in church? It’s one of the three things – Everybody receives the Word, so that’s what we’re going to do.
But first, I know we’ve got some readers here at Redemption…
Sometimes when we read we identify with a particular character…
As we read these passages, think about which character you identify with. Try to find your place in story
We will begin with the 7th chapter of Luke, starting at verse 36. I will be reading from the ESV
Luke 7:36 ESV One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.
Luke 7:37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment,
Luke 7:38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
Luke 7:39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
Luke 7:40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
Luke 7:41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
Luke 7:42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Luke 7: 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Luke 7:44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
Luke 7:45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.
Luke 7:46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
Luke 7:47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Luke 7:48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Luke 7:49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
Luke 7:50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Amen. From there Jesus went on to do many things… calm the storm, feed 5000, raise Lazarus…
We’ll pick back up with Mark chapter 14, starting at verse 3.
Mark 14:3 ESV And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.
Mark 14:4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that?
Mark 14:5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.
Mark 14:6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.
Mark 14:7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.
Mark 14:8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.
Mark 14:9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Amen and amen. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for your Word.
So, which character did you identify with? I’ve set up an online quiz… Which Biblical character in the story of the alabaster jar are you? Think about it.
A long time I learned that when you’re asked a question in church or Sunday school and you don’t know the answer, you should just say “Jesus.” Most of the time that was the correct answer. But that doesn’t really work in this case.
“I identify with Jesus. People are always anointing me with perfume. I can’t go out to eat anymore.”
If you see yourself as Jesus in this story, that might be a problem. Contact our text line 214 856 0550
Jesus is the only character in this story who is still alive today. Throughout our lives we are deciding how do we relate to Jesus. So, in this case, He is not really the person we should project our self onto.
But here at Redemption we are Centered on Jesus. We are focused on Him. So, let’s talk about him for a moment.
How does he receive this woman’s offering? He is the only one who seems to receive it positively.
When we offer things to God with a sincere heart He receives them. Shows compassion because He doesn’t have to. What can we give to God? He created the universe! We could give him the whole planet, the solar system, and it is still just a drop in the bucket. Here,… pocket lint.
And it is all His anyway.
1 Chronicles 29:14 NIV But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.
Psalm 50:10 NIV for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.
Can I have some pocket lint?… Here, I’d like to give you this.
Acts 17:25 NIV And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
Our very lives come from Him. He could demand them from us at any time, but He doesn’t. And when we give our lives to Him, He receives them.
He esteems the heart with which we give. Our heart, our choice to love Him is the one thing that isn’t automatically His anyway. Out of love He gave us free will, so it is our choice to love Him and worship Him. In that sense, it doesn’t matter what you offer Him. If you are giving it with a sincere heart He receives it; He appreciates it. That’s why the widow’s offering was so important. It was just two copper coins, but she gave all she had out of wholehearted devotion. And Jesus recognized and honored that.
Next, let’s look at Mary. Of all the people in this story other than Jesus, the one we should most want to be like is Mary. She had a questionable past. But Jesus forgives that. She has an overwhelming desire to worship Jesus. And Jesus receives her.
What did she give to Jesus? What was her offering? Alabaster jar full of nard (perfume), very expensive
Nard or Spikenard is an herb used to make perfume. I brought some oil so you can smell it.
It only grows on the Himalayan Mountains in India, so in Jesus day it was very rare, which is why it was so expensive. In the passage they say it could have been sold for 300 denarii.
There is some debate over how much that would be worth today. A denarius was a silver coin about the size of a dime. Today, that much silver would be worth a couple hundred dollars. But, a denarius was a denomination of money, and the Gospels record that 300 denarii was a working man’s wage for a whole year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary in this country in 2013 was about $44k. Even at minimum wage a person would earn almost $20k in a year. That’s an expensive gift.
Think about how much you earn in a year? If you don’t work, think about a spouse or a parent. How much in a year, before taxes are taken out, before you pay for rent or food. Imagine taking that amount of money and just giving it away. Have you ever worshipped the Lord that extravagantly? I haven’t. Would you be willing to?
We often focus on the alabaster jar. Perfumes were often transported in alabaster vessels. Alabaster is a soft stone that looks like marble. It’s easy to carve as we saw in the video at the beginning. Alabaster was a fairly common material, even in those days. The alabaster wasn’t why it was so expensive.
But the alabaster jar was important. Because she broke it. Mary didn’t hold back. She wasn’t going to save some of the perfume for later. She wanted to get every drop of perfume out of that bottle and give it to Jesus.
And that’s what I started to think about as we were singing that song.
This alabaster jar, was all she had of worth. She broke it at His feet. It was less than He deserved.
And yet he received it. This jar could have been her life savings. This could have been her whole life. According to some traditions this was to be dowry gift that she was supposed to give to her husband. This was her future. This was all she had, and yet she broke it open to give it all to Jesus.
That’s trust. That’s love. We should strive to show such love.
Even giving our whole lives, we acknowledge it is less than He deserves, and yet he receives it.
Now, let’s be honest. This seems like sort-of a weird gift. I used to think that Jesus was just being polite to the woman. That may have been me projecting my personality onto the story. I’m not a big perfume guy. I don’t have a great sense of smell. I realize smelling nice was a bigger deal in Jesus’ day, and nice smells were much more rare. But it’s not like it really mattered. You smell nice for a little while. Hooray!
So I used to think that Jesus was just being polite in receiving this woman’s expensive gift. “Oh, perfume. Ha ha; that’s nice. Thanks.” I don’t know why I thought he was being disingenuous or condescending. I don’t see that in His character anywhere else in the Gospels. That’s not the Jesus I know.
Instead can I suggest that Jesus actually did appreciate it? That maybe it was even comforting to Him?
Jesus knew what was coming. He knew He was going to suffer and die on the cross. In Gethsemane He was so worried about it that He sweats blood. And none of his disciples seem to get it.
I don’t know if Mary understood what Jesus was saying any better than the disciples, but for some reason she wanted to get every drop out of that bottle. For some reason she seemed to think she wouldn’t get the opportunity to do this again. She seemed to have heard what He was saying.
Jesus was a man. He worried about things. Jesus may have been worried about what would happen to his body. He knew he would die and rise again, but what would happen in between? He knew His followers would desert Him, and Jewish people weren’t supposed to touch dead bodies, especially on the Sabbath. What would happen to His body?
But then Mary anoints Him and He says, “she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.” I don’t know if Mary saw it this way, but He may have taken comfort in this. In this He could see that He would be taken care of.
I’m not trying to tell you that you can comfort God with your offering. But I will tell you that your offering, your worship can touch God’s heart. I believe He sincerely appreciated what she did, even if others didn’t.
Others like the Pharisee from the passage in Luke. The Pharisee is the guy you don’t want to be like.
I’ll confess. I’ll claim this one. There have been times in my life where I can identify with the Pharisee.
Not all the time, but sometimes I see someone post a religious message on Facebook, and I think “Why is this person posting that? I know who this person is…” If Jesus knew what this person had done, he wouldn’t “like” that status.
We can fall into this trap in many ways. I think Jesus’ parable thoroughly addresses this issue, so I won’t try to elaborate other than to say, we aren’t supposed to compare ourselves to others for the purposes of making ourselves look better. We all need to be forgiven much.
When we see someone worshipping God, it’s a good thing. We should be glad. And then we should ask what have we done to worship God today?
We’re running out of options. Have you found your place in the story yet? Who do you identify with? There aren’t many options left. Maybe you identify with the Disciples?
Mark’s Gospel isn’t specific. It just says
Mark 14:4 ESV There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that?”
Matthew’s Gospel identifies that it was some of the Disciples.
Matthew 26:8 ESV And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?”
I suspect many of us can identify with this. Does it trouble you to know that in John’s Gospel
Judas Iscariot is the one who speaks up about this “waste”?
We do it too. We see someone worshiping and we say to ourselves,
“Wow. Well, that’s one way to worship, I guess… Is that really necessary?”
This kind of thinking could be motivated by judgment, or conviction that we haven’t felt that much passion in our worship for a while. Do I need to?! No that’s dumb. I’m fine; they’re weird.
Really, it comes back to pride, and comparing ourselves to others. At the heart of this statement we’re saying, “I could have done better.” I could have used that money better. I could have used that time better. I would look less silly.
Jesus shuts this all down by saying she is doing a good thing.
Here’s some advice, if Jesus calls something good, don’t call it bad.
She is worshipping in a way that will not be available to you for much longer.
Mark 14:7 ESV For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.
Does this mean we don’t need to give to the poor? NO! You can worship God by helping the poor.
It means don’t judge the way others choose to worship God just because it’s not the way you worship God. Don’t tell others how to worship. You can explain to people what worship is and how you worship. Sometimes it’s helpful to have people lead us in worship; the praise band does it every week.
But don’t tell other people they have to worship the same way you do. If they’re worshipping with a sincere heart, don’t tell them that they’re doing it wrong because it’s not how you would do it. God will judge their heart. We need to concern ourselves with how we can worship God in this moment.
There are certain things that only you can do to worship God. There are certain ways to worship God that only you can do. You have unique talents. There are unique situations in your life. To my knowledge, Mary was the only person with a pound of expensive perfume on hand on that day in Bethany. There will be times when you are uniquely equipped to worship God in a particular way. Don’t you think it’s a good thing when we seize those opportunities? Then don’t begrudge others when they seize their unique opportunities. Focus on God and worship with them.
Where are you?
So where were you in the story? Did you find someone you identify with?
There’s one more group of people that we haven’t talked about.
There were others present that day. They didn’t say anything. They didn’t do anything. They just sat back and watched and let it all play out. Is that you?
What is the appropriate response when we see others worship God? I don’t believe the correct response is to sit back and wait until they’re done.
In the book of Revelation we are given a glimpse of what heaven is like. There are these giant living creatures that continually offer praise and worship to God.
Revelation 4:9 NIV Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever,
Revelation 4:10 NIV the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
Revelation 4:11 NIV “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
When others are worshipping, worship with them. Let their worship serve as a reminder of all that you have received. Shift your focus to God, and remember how great He is. Remember how much you have been forgiven. Whatever worship you can bring, if you bring it with a sincere heart, God will receive it.
Have you given your life to Him? Do you realize we can do that on a daily basis. Have you ever worshipped God in an extravagant way? Do you believe He is worth it? I don’t even know what that might mean to you, but I encourage you to think about it.
I can’t tell you how to worship God. But brothers and sisters I encourage you to worship Him. Worship Him in any way you can. Worship Him in new ways. If you paint, paint a painting just for Him. If you sing, sing a song that’s just for Him. If you fix computers, fix some computers for other people with your purpose being to worship God by doing it.
And now in this moment, as I draw to a close, you have another opportunity to worship the Lord. Every week we open these altars and everyone is invited to come and talk to God. Where did you see yourself in that story? Who do you want to be like? An altar is a place where you make an offering. Today I invite you all to come forward and make an offering. Let your offering be yourself, your life in this moment as you focus on Him, talk to Him, and worship Him. These altars are open.
If you would like special prayer please stand within two feet of the steps and we would be glad to pray with you.
I can’t tell you how to worship; but I invite you to open your heart and talk to Him and worship Him today.
Alabaster Box Anointing