Yesterday we concluded by asking whether, like Mary, we spend much time with Jesus and try to learn from him. You say, “How can I do that today? Jesus isn’t here. It was easy for Mary. There he was. All she had to do was go and sit at his feet and look up at his face.” Well, I don’t think that’s true. It is true that Jesus was there physically in her day, but he wasn’t always there, at least not always in Bethany. We only have the three stories. No doubt he was there on other occasions and she used every occasion she had, but he was often gone. By contrast, though we do not have Jesus present, if we belong to him we do have his Word and the presence of his Holy Spirit with us always to help us understand. The question for us really boils down to this: Do we spend time in the Word of God? That’s where we come to know Jesus. That’s where he speaks to us.
A former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church was Donald Grey Barnhouse, who told a story that came from his youth as he was doing his studies out in California. He had been going to the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, now Biola. He had accompanied R.A. Torrey, the well-known Bible teacher, around in some of his speaking tours. He did it mostly by train in those days, and on one occasion he was sitting next to Torrey. Torrey was reading his Bible, while Barnhouse was reading the newspaper. Barnhouse was a young expositor who wanted to follow in Torrey’s steps. Barnhouse turned to Torrey to make polite conversation and said, “I wish I knew the Bible the way you do.” And Torrey said to him, kindly, “Well, you’ll never learn it by reading the newspaper.” When Barnhouse himself told that story, he said he got the point in a hurry. He folded up the newspaper and he got out his Bible and began to read. And of course, he became a great Bible teacher himself.
That’s a very practical thing. How much time do we spend reading the Bible? It would be very interesting, if you are serious about it, to make a log of the amount of time you spend reading the newspaper over and against the amount of time you spend reading the Bible. And if that isn’t shocking enough, and it probably will be, put down the amount of time you spend watching television over against the amount of time you spend studying the Bible. We’re told that the average American spends six to eight hours a day watching television. Six to eight hours a day! That is about the same amount of time as a working day for many people.
Now think what we would know of spiritual things and how we would grow in the Lord and what we would know of Jesus if we would spend half of that time, or even a quarter of it, studying the Bible. And we have the Bible and we have the Holy Spirit, as well as other sources available to help us grow in our knowledge of him.
Well, I want to say a couple other things about this woman. First of all, we’ve talked about her understanding of what Jesus was about to do and why. She empathized with him in that. The second thing is that out of this knowledge and love for Jesus came the extravagance of her devotion. She did this, not to prove that she understood, and not to merely show to others how generous a believer she was in giving her most precious possession. She wasn’t thinking of those things at all. What she was asking herself was how could she show that she loves Jesus. It was out of her love for her Savior that she offered this extravagant gift.
Jesus didn’t fault her for it. When the disciples remarked, “Oh, this should have been sold and given to the poor,” Jesus didn’t turn to them and tell them that they had a good point. He did not go on to ask Mary whether she considered the good this ointment could have done if used differently. He simply defended her. Certainly Jesus cared about the poor. But he said they were not going to always have him. And what she did is going to be remembered about her.
Immediately after this in Matthew’s Gospel, we have that incident that concerns Judas, when he goes to the chief priests and agrees to betray Jesus over to them. If you look at this carefully, it seems that verse 14 really follows upon verse 5. The opening of this chapter tells of the plot of the high priests and the others against Jesus, and then in verse 14, one of the twelve went to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus for a certain sum of money. That’s how the story progresses in chronological order. Moreover, when you look at the place this anointing in Bethany occupies in the other Gospels, you’ll find, especially in John’s Gospel, that it actually occurred earlier in the week. In Matthew 26:2 we are told that the Passover is at that point only two days away; but from John’s Gospel we learn that the anointing at Bethany was at the very beginning of the week when the Passover was six days away.
Some people might use this difference between the Gospels to charge the Bible with an error and that Matthew was wrong in how he told the account of Jesus’ last week. But, of course, Matthew’s not wrong. He’s merely arranging these events in a more topical or thematic way in order to bring what Mary did into conjunction with what he now tells us about Judas. He means for us to compare the two; and when you do that it’s a very striking thing.