Matthew 26:1-16

Jimmy JoMatthew, SermonsLeave a Comment

Read the passage here.

Our passage today begins the closing narrative arc of Matthew’s gospel.  Over the next several weeks (a couple months), we are going to be looking at Matthew’s passion narrative – that is, the part of the gospel that talks about Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection. 

As we’ve gone through Matthew’s gospel, especially in the last several passages, Jesus has been talking to his disciples about his impending death.  As we’ve also noted, this is not an image of the Messiah that would have made sense to the disciples, indeed to any of the Jews.  The Messiah was one who would bring victory, power, and rulership – the notion of a Messiah who would die would have been completely foreign. 

And yet, for us Christians, those of us who sit on the other side of the revelation, the Messiah who died, and died for us, is the stone on which everything else rests. 

And it certainly seems that Jesus had a clear idea that His mission, His purpose, as the Messiah was not only to proclaim the Kingdom, but to die.  With that in mind, I want to note a few things about this passage. 

Firstly, we’re going to look at the passage in three sections and make a few brief observations.  The first section reads as follows:  

26 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”

Matthew 26:1-5

Now again, we see here that Jesus knows that his ministry will end – or from our perspective, “culminate” – in His death.  And the context of Jesus’ crucifixion is the Passover.  Now this may not seem like a big deal to us.  We don’t really have a sense of the significance of the Passover.  But for an observant Jew in Jesus’ time, this should be immensely significant.  The Passover, you’ll remember from our series in Exodus (though, of course, most of you are familiar with this anyways), the Passover is the feast celebrating/remembering God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  It’s this event that, in many ways, forms the foundation for the Israelite identity and their particular relationship with God.  You might even say – with all due respect to Abraham and the patriarchs – that the Passover and Exodus function as the birth of the nation.  Now we’ll have opportunity to discuss this more later on so we won’t dig into it further here.  But it’s worth keeping in mind that the context of Jesus’ crucifixion is the Passover. 

Moving on from there, vv. 3-5 show us that the growing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders that we’ve been following throughout the gospel of Matthew finally comes to a head.  They have now come to a concrete decision that Jesus must die. 

The second part of our passage is the story of anointing of Jesus. 

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of 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.”

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Matthew 26:6-13

Matthew tells us that Jesus and the disciples go to the home of Simon the Leper where a woman pours expensive oil/perfume over him.  At this, the disciples protest because, as they say, “[the] perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.

Now this is interesting for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, several weeks ago, when looking at the “camel through the eye of a needle,” passage, we talked about the generally accepted wisdom that a person’s wealth was indicative of their blessing by God (Matthew 19:16-30).  In other words, it was generally assumed that if you were wealthy, that must mean you were blessed by God, which must mean that you were righteous in God’s eyes.  Conversely, if you were poor, or disabled, or otherwise low on the socio-economic ladder, it must mean you were not blessed by God, which must mean you were not righteous in God’s eyes. 

And Jesus, throughout Matthew, has been demonstrating how these assumptions (along with a host of other assumptions) were wrong.  Throughout the gospel, Jesus re-defines what righteousness means, what faithfulness means, what is actually important in the kingdom. 

So, when the disciples say, “we should sell this expensive thing and give it to the poor and needy,” it might seem to indicate that they are getting something of what Jesus is saying.  And I like to think this is true.  I like to think that the disciples are starting to understand that those who have been neglected, abused, and forgotten are finally finding their place in the new world order – in the kingdom. 

However, Jesus yet again does the unexpected.  He says: 

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.  12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.

Matthew 26:10-12

In other words, Jesus recognizes the significance of the act – that is, the pouring of oil on a body in order to prepare it for burial – underscoring his impending death. 

Now I want to carry on, but keep that story in your minds as we read the final few verses of our passage.  They say: 

14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Matthew 26:14-16

Now when I’ve read this in the past, I’ve always just understood it as logically following on the narrative flow of Jesus’ upcoming death.  The religious leaders condemn Jesus to death, the woman anoints Jesus before his death, and Judas makes a way for the religious leaders to carry out plans for Jesus’ death.  However, I recently realized that I was missing something. 

Last week, the fifth discourse section in the gospel of Matthew was closed off with a discussion on the Sheep and the Goats passage.  One of the things talked about was the idea that the judgement, the separating between those who will enter into life and those who will not takes place according to criteria that is different than what folks might have expected.  And this underscores much of what we’ve been talking about as we’ve gone through Matthew. 

But something was also mentioned about today’s passage that really helped me frame how I understand what’s going on.  He said (with apologies if I am citing incorrectly) that Judas ultimately decides to betray Jesus when he realizes that Jesus intends to die.  And I think that he’s right. 

In the anointing passage, Jesus says,

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.  12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.

Matthew 26:10-12

Again, I’ve always understood “the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me,” as a call to continue to serve the poor and unfortunate; as a call to always look out for the weakest among us. 

However, I think the point is actually pretty straightforward.  Jesus is saying, “you will not always have me.”  There will come a point (very soon) when I will no longer be here.  The poor will continue to be here, but I will not – because soon I will die, and this woman is preparing me for that. 

Jesus has been telling his disciples that he is going to die and I suspect, at this point, Judas finally understands what this means.  But he understands it from a pre-Kingdom worldview.  As we’ve said many times before, the understanding had always been that the Messiah would be a political and military figure who would overcome Israel’s enemies and restore Israel to its place of prominence.  The disciples, including Judas, had been with Jesus for several years now.  They firmly believed that He was the Messiah and that He would soon bring about His kingdom.  And they assumed that when this happened, they would take their place beside Jesus as his vice-regents, or whatever.  But at this point, Judas finally understands that this will never happen – his expectations about the Messiah, and Israel, and his own place in it will never come true.  Because Jesus is going to die. 

Now this is an aside, but it’s really interesting to look at John’s account of this story.  Aside from a couple of other differences, whereas Matthew tells us that the disciples objected to the “waste” of perfume, in John, it’s specifically Judas who objects.  John tells us that it’s because Judas had intentions to embezzle the funds.  But I can still see, within that explanation, a characterization of Judas that was looking for power.  At any rate, we can’t get into that here. 

But, returning to our verses here, we can maybe see that Judas’ decision to turn Jesus over was (perhaps) not just an issue of greed or betrayal, but (again perhaps) it was a “final straw” for Judas who finally realizes that Jesus was not going to bring about, in any way, the kingdom that Judas had been hoping for.  Judas was not going to get what he thought he deserved and certainly not what he wanted. 

Now as we look forward to the season of Lent, which anticipates the celebration of Easter, what can we take from this?  Lent is usually associated with some form of fasting, giving something up.  Thematically, we focus on repentance, as we contemplate our sinfulness, in preparation for the remembrance of the crucifixion.  And that’s the thing.  Lent leads to the cross.  Now, of course, the days on the calendar don’t truly matter.  The number of days and weeks of Lent have no significance in and of themselves.  But the reason does matter.  It helps us, or at least can help us, focus on the cross.  Because it’s the cross that matters.  It’s the cross that gives us life. 

And it’s precisely this that Judas couldn’t wrap his head around.  It’s precisely the idea of a Messiah who dies that made no sense to Judas. 

We’ve talked before about how Jesus was revolutionary and His message was counter-cultural.  But it’s in this that, perhaps, we see this most clearly.  Because the notion of a Messiah who dies certainly doesn’t make sense.  We don’t want a Messiah who dies.  It goes against how we think the world works (or how much of the world thinks the world works). 

In many ways, we live in a world that is obsessed with winning.  And it’s not merely that we’re obsessed with winning but that winning means making other people losers.  Winning means beating others and the greater that we can beat the other, the more of a winner we are. In many ways, victory shapes identity.

Now I have a lot of thoughts about this – not least of which is how we as the Christian Church in the West view our position in society.  But my point is this – the scandal of the gospel is that our salvation is gained by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Jesus didn’t seek to defeat others.  He wasn’t trying to create losers among the religious leaders or the political elite.  Jesus entered into, and took upon Himself, the pain, suffering, and sin of the whole world.  Jesus walked willingly, intentionally to the cross. 

Judas wasn’t able to handle this.  It wasn’t acceptable to his sensibilities because (and I’m making assumptions here) he wanted to win.  He, like many of the Israelites, wanted to destroy their enemies, overcome their oppressors.  But the gospel of the kingdom is something else.  The gospel of the kingdom is precisely not about using the means and ways of the world.  It’s something else.  The gospel of the kingdom is something more. 

As we enter into the season of Lent, one of the things that Christians have historically done is fasted.  Historically, Christians give up food (usually just meat), though in more contemporary settings, some give up something else (i.e. things like social media, internet, are popular these days).  If done right, it’s not just a custom, and it’s more than an offering – it’s a spiritual practice.  If done right, it can serve to remind us that Christ meets us in our suffering; He meets us in our longing; and He meets us in our brokenness.  And perhaps, as we walk through the season of Lent together, towards Easter, the cross, and the resurrection, it can serve to remind us of who we are truly called to be, and how we are truly called to be, as the church in this world.

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