We are turning now to a very great story in Matthew’s Gospel, one recorded in chapter 26, from the very last week of Jesus’ ministry. What an important week that was. It was undoubtedly the most important week in all the long history of the world. We can think even in terms of other great weeks recorded in the Bible. There’s a great week at the very beginning in Genesis, the week of creation. In John’s Gospel there’s an emphasis upon the very first week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. John calls attention to what happened on all of the various days of that week.
And yet, if you think back carefully over not only the life of Christ but over the whole history of the world, there had never been a week more significant than the one to which we come in Matthew 26. That is why in the four Gospels so much time is given to it. In Mark, the very next Gospel, one-third of everything that is written is given over to the events of this week. You find them in Mark 11–16. In Luke, one-fifth of the Gospel, chapters 19–24, concern this week; in John it is one-half of the Gospel, chapters 12–21; and in Matthew, which we’re studying, it takes up one-fourth, chapters 21–28.
Now there are a lot of things that happen in this week, as we know. At the very beginning there was the procession into the city of Jerusalem, Jesus riding upon a donkey and all of the people crying out in extravagant praise, “Hosanna to him who comes in the name of the Lord!” And that certainly was significant. This was followed by his cleansing of the temple by casting out the money changers. That, too, was significant. It stuck in people’s minds, particularly in the minds of the religious leaders. It was a threat to their establishment. And then of course there were various incidents throughout the week, and we remember among them especially the Last Supper, the arrest, the crucifixion, and then three days after that the resurrection.
Now in the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew we have an incident that’s stuck in everybody’s mind. In itself it was a rather insignificant thing. Jesus had come to Bethany at the very beginning of the week, and those who were his friends there in Bethany had a supper for him and his disciples. While he was there a woman (we learn from John’s Gospel that it was Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus) came behind him and broke a valuable alabaster jar of ointment. And we’re told in John’s Gospel that it was spikenard, which was very precious. She used it to anoint his head and his feet, and ran down on his body. When the disciples saw this, they protested because it seemed to be a colossal waste of money. This perfume was a valuable thing. Why didn’t somebody sell this, they said, and the money could be given to the poor? Jesus, however, rebuked them, praised the woman, and said she’s done a wonderful thing for me.
Now that story stayed in everybody’s mind for a number of reasons. Certainly this was the case because of the extravagance, but chiefly because of what Jesus had to say about Mary’s act and what it signified. Undoubtedly for that reason it’s recorded in these Gospels. Besides Matthew, it’s also in Mark and John. The reason why it probably is not in Luke’s Gospel is because Luke has a similar though a different story. It concerns an anointing like this, but it took place early in Jesus’ ministry and in the house of a Pharisee, rather than in the house of Simon the leper, as is the case here in Matthew.
It’s interesting to see the set-up for this. Jesus had friends in Bethany—Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Simon the leper, as he is identified here, must also have been one. And because Jesus had friends in Bethany and because Bethany was very close to Jerusalem, just across from the Mount of Olives, this is where he spent the final week. Some people have in mind that he must have spent the week in Jerusalem, but he didn’t. Jerusalem was crowded at the Passover and other holiday seasons. Anybody who had relatives in Jerusalem would tend to pack into the house of the relatives, and people who didn’t have relatives wouldn’t find a place to stay.
He probably had other reasons for staying in Bethany as well. The enemies of the Lord were in Jerusalem. Jesus was very careful about the timing of all the events of this week, and so he was in a place where he, not his enemies, could control the circumstances. And so from Bethany he traveled into Jerusalem each day doing the things that are recorded in the Gospels. Then at the close of the day he would go back over the Mount of Olives to Bethany at night.
Now presumably he was doing that on the final night when he was arrested. You recall that he went to the Garden of Gethsemane, was praying there, and, as it would seem, was waiting in the Garden. Well, it’s because he knew that it was the time of his arrest. He was well aware of what Judas was doing, and so he was waiting there until Judas should come with the arresting party. And when he was arrested the disciples scattered, back over the Mount of Olives to Bethany, which is the direction in which they were heading. That were not going back to Jerusalem. This explains why at the time of the crucifixion the disciples were not present, with the sole exception of Peter and John, who were there on the final morning when Mary told them the report of having seen the angels. It was these two disciples, but not others, that raced to the tomb. Well, that is the geographical layout of what is going on during this final week.