THE CONTEXT AND INTRODUCTION
Look at verses 1 and 2 of Matthew 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 [that is Jesus] will be handed over to be crucified."
Jesus has just been teaching about his second coming as Judge. Look back for a moment at v31 of Matthew 25. Jesus says:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. [And the goats (those on his left who have no genuine faith in Christ) v46] will go away to eternal punishment [in hell], but the righteous [the sheep – those on his right who have genuinely trusted in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord as evidenced by their fruit] to eternal life.”
On which side of Christ are you going to be on the last day – on Jesus’ left or on his right? Are you going to go away to eternal punishment or to eternal life? Are you going to reject Christ or trust him as Lord and live for him before it’s too late? If you have already genuinely put your faith in Christ are you going to help others to be ready by inviting them to Carols by Candlelight and Christianity Explored?
You see the only way we can be put right with God and have eternal life is through faith in Jesus Christ – in his death on the cross in our place, and in his resurrection from the dead. Jesus, the Bible teaches, came into the world at the first Christmas to save sinners – to save you and me – to rescue us from our sins and from their wages - eternal punishment in hell; and to bring us to God. According to ‘The Times’ the most sung carol in Britain today is Hark the Herald Angels Sing and not just because we’ll be singing it 9 times over the next few days! Part of the last verse goes like this:
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
The Son of God loved you and died for you.
And here at the beginning of Matthew 26 it is to his death that Jesus now turns. The connection between his words here in v2 with the preceding chapter is very striking. After teaching so clearly about the Day of Judgment he now reminds his disciples what must happen to him if we are to have the hope of eternal life and before he returns in power and glory to judge the living and the dead. Jesus says to his disciples (v2):
"As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."
This also reminds us that what is about to happen is planned by God even before it is planned by men in v3-5! Jesus knows what is going to happen and accepts it. He even knows exactly when it will happen - after two days at the Passover. Whereas the plotters in v5 say it will be after the feast which would mean in more than a week’s time. They didn’t know about Judas but Jesus did. He knew he would be betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, deserted by the disciples and handed over by the Jews to be crucified by the Romans. Matthew’s Gospel makes it plain that Jesus is in charge. The hand of God is to be seen in all of this. Matthew is not narrating simply what some evil people did to a good and compassionate man. Listen to what the Apostle Peter preaches to the men of Israel in Acts 2:23:
“This Jesus was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
And of course the fact that it is to happen at the Passover is no coincidence. The commemoration of Israel’s rescue from Egypt is the appropriate time for the ultimate act of redemption to occur. Then in v3-5 we come to
THE PLOT AGAINST JESUS
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. "But not during the Feast," they said, "or there may be a riot among the people."
Under the chairmanship of Caiaphas, the high priest from AD18-36, the priestly and aristocratic groups of Israel met to plot the arrest and murder of the Messiah, the true high priest. Matthew makes it clear that it is the official representatives of Israel who have now finally rejected the Messiah, just as Jesus predicted they would back in Matthew 20:18 and as we’ve seen from v2. It is often true today that religious leaders and others in authority reject Jesus and his word. But they cannot stop God’s purpose being worked out. The dilemma the chief priests and the elders face is clear from v5. An arrest was possible only during the feast and yet it was bound to cause trouble unless it could be done in some sly way (v4). It was to this dilemma that Judas’ offer provided the unexpected answer as we’ll see shortly from v14-16. But as his own disciple and his own people plot to betray and kill him we now come to a woman who does a beautiful thing to Jesus, which emphasizes who he is, what he’s come to do and how we should respond to him. So thirdly
THE ANOINTING AT BETHANY
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 [John tells us that the woman is Mary the sister of Lazarus]."
This anointing with a whole jar of very expensive perfume (worth a year’s wages so John’s Gospel tells us) emphasizes both that Jesus is the Messiah – the Anointed One and that he’s about to fulfil his mission as it also shows Jesus prepared for his death in fulfilment of that mission (v12). So again behind the human plots of priests and Judas stands Jesus’ deliberate acceptance of his suffering and death. He is going to the cross for you and me. He is worthy of our worship. Of course a body wouldn’t normally be anointed for burial before it was dead! So Jesus seems to assume here that his death will be that of a criminal, whose body would not be buried with proper ceremony.
The disciples think that this lavish act is a waste. But we must never forget that no offering lavished on Jesus is wasted. Of course it is vital to care for the poor. Jesus has just made that very plain in the parable of the sheep and the goats. It’s important we give to TEAR Fund this Christmas. But nothing so delights the heart of Jesus as loving devotion from his disciples, something done expressly out of love for him. When did we last do something expressly out of love for him or is our faith just expressed purely in terms of activism? Sometimes we can be rushing around doing many things but not spending time worshipping the Lord. Not that working for him is discouraged here. No as Bishop Ryle encourages us: Do we know what it is to work for Christ? If we do, let us take courage and work on. What greater encouragement can we desire than we see here? We may be laughed at and ridiculed by the world: our motives may be misunderstood; our conduct may be misrepresented; our sacrifices for Christ’s sake may be called waste, waste of time, waste of money, waste of strength, waste of candles! Let none of these things move us. The eye of him who sat in Simon’s house at Bethany is upon us: He notes all we do for him.
And the other beautiful thing to remember is that no sacrifice made for Jesus is ever forgotten (v13). What this woman had done would be known all over the world as the gospel spread. And on the Day of Judgment no honour done to Christ on earth shall be found to have been forgotten. Great sporting achievements, the works of poets, painters and novelists, won’t be mentioned on that day; but the least work that the weakest Christian has done for Christ or his followers will be found written in a book of everlasting remembrance. Not a single kind word or deed, not a cup of cold water, or a box of ointment, shall be omitted from the record. The pathway to lasting honour is to honour Christ.
Those twin facts, that nothing done for Jesus is wasted or forgotten, should nerve us to take the cap off our alabaster jars of precious possessions and pour them out for Jesus. Finally this morning
JUDAS JOINS THE PLOT
Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
The canoeist John Darwin has, it would seem, been living on dry land for quite some time. It appears that he and his wife tried to defraud the life insurance company etc. for a payout and a new life in Panama after faking his disappearance. His sons now feel betrayed. A few years ago an Army Major, Charles Ingram, his wife, Diana and a college lecturer, Tecwen Whittock, were all convicted of cheating on 'Who Wants to be A Millionaire'. Diana set up the scam, Tecwen coughed at the appropriate moment and the Major after much deliberation chose the answer that had been coughed at. They were full of covetousness and deceit. They tried to defraud the programme of £1million. As the show's host, Chris Tarrant, put it,
'it was a very cynical plan motivated by sheer greed'.
Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, Matthew tells us in v14, was motivated by greed (v15) and prompted by the devil to betray Jesus Christ (John 13:2). Judas' love of money - his covetousness, greed and avarice - his materialism contributed to Jesus being crucified.
And in John’s account of the anointing at Bethany we see both Judas' covetousness and deceit as he cloaked his true desire to line his own pocket with some of the money that could have come from the sale of Mary's perfume under a plea for it to be used to help the poor. John 12.4-6:
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." Judas did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.’
Yet Judas was 'one of the twelve'. Matthew and the other Gospels repeatedly tell us so - in fact they tell us so ten times. Yes, as we'll see from John's Gospel, Judas never came to true faith in Christ. He was a devil! But we can't escape the fact that Judas was called by Jesus, that Jesus' call was genuine, and Judas was one of the twelve disciples
'who shared in the ministry' (Acts 1:16).
Now for those of you with a statistical turn of mind 'one of the twelve' means just over 8% of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples. So that perhaps could mean say 20 of us here this morning who are involved in the church infected with the same materialism as Judas. That's when the Bible's account of Judas begins to get really close to home for some of us. This is when it makes us ask "Lord is it I?" as the disciples did on learning that one of them was to betray Jesus. In Home Groups last Wednesday we read this from Luke 12:15:
"Watch out, and guard yourselves from all kinds of greed; for a man's true life is not made up of the things he owns, no matter how rich he may be."
The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:9&10 warns:
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
But whether it's materialism or another sin of 'friendship with the world', which is causing us to betray Jesus we are instead to 'submit ourselves to God', says James 4:7, and
'resist the devil, who then will flee from you.'
It is startling to think that Satan can actually come into the heart of a man in such close touch with Jesus as Judas was. And he’s cunningly trying to do it today. Yet he can get in only through a door opened from the inside. "Every man controls the door of his own life." Satan can't get in without our help.
Judas was called and was appointed one of the twelve apostles by Jesus but Judas was never a true believer. Jesus says so in John 6:64 when addressing a wider group of disciples than just the Twelve.
Yet there are some of you who do not believe.
For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. Following that in John 6:70-71 Jesus says he chose Judas as one of the twelve and foreknew that Judas would betray him:
Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil! (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
Among the apostles Judas was the treasurer. John 13:29 states that
'Judas had charge of the money'.
John 12:6 also says that he was the
'keeper of the money bag.'
Without any of the other apostles knowing, Judas used to help himself to what was put into the money bag. He was a thief says John 12:6. He was also a deceiver and a materialist. As we've just seen Judas saw only denarii signs when he saw Mary pour expensive perfume on Jesus' feet, an act of worship which Jesus praised.
In fact in that incident there are four fascinating contrasts between Mary and Judas.
1. Judas' greed versus Mary's generosity.
2. Judas' covert deception versus Mary's open act of worship.
3. Judas' pride versus Mary's humility.
4. Judas' cool detachment versus Mary's unmeasured devotion of Christ.
Which are we?
Immediately following that Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests to ask how much they would pay him to betray Jesus. He accepted their offer of just 30 pieces of silver. What a contrast between Mary who anointed Jesus with ointment worth a year's wages, and Judas who betrayed him for a relative pittance. Which are we? Who needs to sort out this sin of avarice, this whole issue of materialism, which so ruined Judas, one of the twelve?
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection there is forgiveness for those who repent trusting in him and power to change and live for Christ as Lord.
Judas never believed in Jesus as Lord. He never got further than calling him Rabbi or Teacher. Perhaps that’s true for someone here this morning. You’ve always believed that Jesus was a good teacher but now you’re beginning to realize who Jesus really is and what he’s done for you and that he’s worthy of your worship. So trust him with your life & with your death and follow him as your Lord and King whatever the cost.