“And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they criticized her sharply. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.’”
The righteous saints who are born of the Holy Spirit are called to serve the Lord by holding onto the gospel. Needless to say it twice, it is natural for all the saints to do so.
Today’s Scripture passage talks about a woman who poured costly fragrant oil on Jesus. Based on today’s passage, we can see that Jesus cherished and admired this kind of act no matter whether she poured her oil on Jesus’ head or His feet. This account is recorded in all the Four Gospels. When we look at the Gospel of John or the Gospel of Luke, we can encounter the story of a sinful woman who poured her expensive oil on Jesus’ feet wetting them with tears and washing His feet with her hair.
She did this out of gratitude for the remission of her sins that the Lord had given, and this pouring of oil was to prepare for His burial. At that moment a Pharisee who invited Jesus thought to himself, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). The woman was that much of a sinner. In other words, she was such a well-known sinner in that town. Nevertheless, Jesus said this to them, “I entered your home; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair. She by doing this has prepared My burial beforehand and is serving the gospel.” He added, “Those who received the remission of their sins will do the same as she has done, but those who do not receive the remission of sins will reject Me. But those who deny their sins will not accept Me.”
This event in today’s passage occurred when Jesus was eating at the house of Simon the leper in Bethany. A woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. (Note: the Bible is not referring to a specific named woman, but it says just ‘a woman’). Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. Using this as an opportunity, the Pharisees tried to pick a fight with Jesus.
Does the passage not say, “A woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard? Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head”? One flask of pure spikenard was very expensive. One flask of spikenard was worth 300 days’ wages done by healthy and strong young men. What do you think happened when she broke the alabaster jar of such costly oil? Would the fragrant oil not run all over Him? It is not hard to imagine this scene, “Oh my goodness! What a waste! Such costly oil is now gone only wetting His head once. One year’s salary of a healthy man has just been wasted.”
But this is a mistaken idea. Our Lord is telling us that it is wrong to think that the money spent for doing things invisibly such as spreading the gospel, worshiping Jesus and helping people receive the remission of their sins is not as wisely spent as money spent for enhancing the body, helping the poor, or curing diseases. The Lord told His disciples to commemorate what she has done, saying, “Wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
In Middle Eastern countries including Israel where the quality of water is poor, fragrant oil is a very expensive item. This is because perfume is necessary for people to use on the body to hide odor in these places where there is not enough water and having a poor quality of life. Historians say that the original spikenard oil was extracted from aromatic trees in the Himalayan Mountains, and because it was so rare, it always had been extremely costly. The point is a woman poured that type of expensive oil on Jesus’ head. When the alabaster flask was broken and she poured it all out at once, such costly oil worth a year’s wage all disappeared. Those there who were watching this thought it was a huge waste and commented, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.”
As I mentioned earlier, one denarius was a man’s daily wage. To calculate what she had done for better understanding, three hundred denarii is the amount a man would have earned after three hundred days’ of hard labor without spending it on expenses. People probably considered her act wasteful. They thought it would be better and more meaningful if she had not poured that fragrant oil on Jesus’ head, but had instead sold it and had given the money to the poor. Even though people were judgmental, Jesus did not regard her act of service as a meaningless waste. Jesus said what she did was good and He praised her for preparing His death and burial. And He then commanded His disciples to commemorate her deed wherever the gospel is preached.
What Does It Mean to Serve the Lord?
We can ponder thus, “What does it mean to serve the Lord?” When Jesus was sitting at the table in Simon the leper’s house and a certain woman was pouring out such costly fragrant oil, the Pharisees and many other people there thought immediately about poor people: “Should this oil rather have been sold and given to the poor than wasted it like this? The poor would benefit from it, and then she would feel good about it” Their thoughts were based solely on worldly and humanistic terms. They also judged her act based on these kinds of thoughts.
But Jesus said to them, “She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.” Jesus was talking here about the proper and correct way to serve the Lord.
We can think about how we should look at ‘the act of serving’ from our prospective. Serving people is a precious deed. From the world’s perspective, it is surely a meaningful act to help the poor with 300 denarii which would be equal to three hundred days’ wages of an average working man. But the Lord is asking us: Which is better, serving people or serving the gospel of the Lord? Which is right thing to do? We are receiving godly teaching about this through His Word.
Verse 8 says, “She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.” This means that she served the gospel with all her strength. We need to ponder what it really means to serve. In other words, we need to meditate what to serve while we are living. In today’s passage we see people saying she “wasted” this fragrant oil, but in fact what others do for people can be seen as a complete “waste” in most cases. Investing in people and helping people with some things is a “waste” in a real sense. According to an old Korean saying, “Do not take care of a black-haired animal.” We Koreans are all black-haired. So this saying means it is better to help animals than to help men. Animals always return their favor with grace while people return their favor with hatred no matter how much they have been helped. I believe it is based on our ancestors’ experience.
When we ponder on “serving” and whom to serve either God or people, the Bible tells us that serving God is really the righteous thing to do, and it is proper to serve the Lord whenever we have the chance to. They always had poor people around and He could help them as long as they were willing while the days of Jesus were numbered before He was punished on the Cross on our behalf. So pouring the fragrant oil on Jesus’ head was preparation for His burial.
We actually don’t have many opportunities to serve the gospel. Do we have many chances to work for the gospel throughout our entire lifetime? You will soon find out that these chances are few and far between. God is explicitly telling us the right answers to the following questions: “What should Christians serve? And whom should we serve between God and man after we have become His children? From what perspective should we serve God, from a human’s perspective or from God’s?”
Serving and helping people have no end. There is a non-stop supply of people who need help. These days some Korean Christians have been sending “Bread of Love” to children in some African countries, and the help they are giving is huge. Nevertheless, these countries still have children dying of hunger everyday despite their help. Our country is helping them with astronomical amounts of money. I bet rich countries like U.S.A. are sending more money than we do. Then why is their situation not improving with all the help they have been receiving? As you can see, helping people just physically and financially is endless and meaningless. If you really want to help people, you need to share the gospel first before anything else. If they stop serving their idols and ancestral worship and start serving God, these countries can have blooms and abundant grains instead of diseases and famine.
In today’s passage people thought of the poor and considered the fragrant oil poured on Jesus as a total waste, but what is actual waste? We should realize that what they thought as serving and helping people was a real waste. When we serve God, He always provides His people with things they need. But serving people is a pure waste. There are different perspectives on this. Believer’s perspectives differ from that of nonbelievers. Jesus saw things differently than the Pharisees did. In the eyes of Jesus, this woman did what was right, which was preparing His burial and His gospel work. The Bible says that she humbly served the Lord without sparing her possession for the gospel of saving all people. The Pharisees said she wasted her possession, the expensive fragrant oil, but Jesus said that giving it out to the poor is waste.
We should be fully aware of this: “Which is right, to serve God or man? Whom are we serving right now? Whom should we serve in the future?” We need to decide carefully whom we should serve as the Lord of our life.
We should not spend our energy in useless things or serve useless man, but we should select someone who really deserves our service. You may not understand what I am telling you. You may question this and say, “Why is it a waste to help the poor? Isn’t that love?” Yes, of course it is love. It is a type of love, but you need specific skills in doing that kind of charity of helping others. You have to have certain skills in helping people. It is not right to help others blindly. Giving food away to beggars without a second thought encourages them to keep begging. You should never give money to beggars. You should not give rice to beggars. In a way, you should give them the cold shoulder. When beggars come into the sanctuary to get something, I say to them coldly, “Get out! Do you think the Church is just a place to give money away to beggars? You would waste the money on liquor if we gave you anything. Do you think the people here give offerings for you to just buy liquor?”
I will tell you why I say such harsh things to them even when I can help them out of pity. I can give them ten or twenty dollars or even a hundred or million dollars. I am willing to help anybody if he is going to start a business and get back on his feet with the money I would give him. But these people would spend all the money in consuming liquor. These kinds of people will waste whatever you give them and become even worse. That is why we should not help these people. We don’t help them because our act of helping will end up letting them ruin themselves and be in even a worse situation.
We also need to ponder over whom to serve, God or man. You cannot say serving is always good. Serving is generally a good thing, but serving blindly cannot be good all the time. You will be in big trouble if you are serving gangsters and drug dealers. We need to serve the one who really deserves our serving. Proper serving is to serve the right person for the right cause.
We should choose one or the other, that is, God and His gospel or the world. When we choose to serve God and the gospel, His gospel will spread and bear fruit thousands and millions times over and people will become happy. Sinners will receive the remission of their sins and live a new life, and doomed people will be saved from their sins and lead a good life with hope. On the other hand, poor people will never disappear even if we help. The poor will always exist until the end of the world. Poverty exists even in any advanced country. There are poor people in the U.S. and in many European countries. Korea is not an exception. Some people spend more than someone’s monthly salary for just one meal. Others spend an average man’s monthly salary for one luxury bath or a bottle of wine. What do these people live for? What do poor people live for and what do rich people live for? In this world, the personal value is based on what they live for.
The Bible says this woman who poured the oil on Jesus’ head and served the gospel showed a great example of proper service. She served the Lord most properly as the one who had been saved. What was outstanding about her deed is that she offered her precious possession which was worth of a man’s one full year’s salary for the burial of the Lord. The fact that she made a right decision and carried it out is wonderful and righteous.
Dear fellow believers, you need to think for yourself about whom you are serving in your life. Whom are you serving right now? Who is it that you actually serve? There are some of God’s people who were saved but still are confused about the concept of ‘serving the Lord.’ We need to ponder over this and straighten it out.
Whom should we serve? Who really deserves our service when we receive the remission of our sins? It is proper to serve God. Do you believe so? How should we lead our lives on this earth? How are we supposed to live? We should establish the maxims to serve God. Sometimes we forget whom to serve. But when we deliberate on this, we can realize everything but serving God, is meaningless as it is written,
“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher;
‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’
What profit has a man from all his labor
in which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3)
God is telling us the born-again that serving God is the worthiest thing to do. In other words, serving the gospel is the most rewarding thing. Our Lord is telling us that serving the world is a waste. “Poor people will always be amongst you, but I am not with you all the time. You will fail if you look after the poor only,” says the Lord.
According to one of our old sayings, poverty is out of control even for a nation. Neither a nation nor a king can stop poverty. No matter how hard the poor try, it is very difficult to overcome poverty. Unless God provides everything we need such as rain and warm weather, poverty is unstoppable with any amount of human strength.
What Is Proper Service?
There are a lot of people who serve their parents and children or their own people. Why then does poverty still exist on earth? Today’s passage is telling us why. It is written in Mark 14:7, “For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.” The Bible says it is God’s will that there always are the poor on the earth. Human beings do not seek God if not for troubles and sorrows.
Today’s Scripture passage continues to say, “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Mark 14:9). Her act of pouring the oil on Jesus’ head means she served the gospel. Serving the gospel is the most proper service. Out of all the services such as serving the gospel, serving parents, serving your people, or serving the poor, serving the gospel is the most desirable service. Everybody in the world including you and I are serving something. We all have someone to serve. But above all this we need to serve the gospel. This is the right service. It is the righteous and proper service. I will prove this to you.
Once upon a time, there were a group of Evangelicals in seventeenth century England. They were severely persecuted by the mainstream religion of that society. It was still the Medieval Dark Ages that originated from the Edict of Milan. Roman Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan and legalized Christianity. People in Rome started to believe in Jesus as a national religion. Historians say that it was a great victory of Christianity against this secular power, but this was not the case. True faith deteriorated by the degrading of this true Christianity, and Christianity itself collapsed when the Roman Empire ruined it. As long as a person came into the Church and confessed his faith, that person was considered a Christian. No one cared if that person really had faith or not. Only a few people gathered together with real faith. As time went by, the secular church gained more power and started to persecute these true Christians who still had this real faith. They arrested and killed these people who lived by the Bible as it was written.
Among them were God’s servants and children who had the proper faith. They were living in England. They were preaching the gospel. They had this unique faith that was different from that of the Catholics or that of the Anglican Church. At that time, when the Evangelicals lived in England, it was called “a country with no sunset.” This country had so many colonies all over the world, and the sun was always shining somewhere in those colonies. England kept winning the wars and increasing its wealth, so it did not seem that this country would perish. This country became the most powerful and famous in the whole world.
This powerful England persecuted these Evangelicals. These people could not bear this persecution anymore so they fled to a new land, that is, America by boat. From then on England became a just a normal country with the sun going down like all the others. England did not win any more wars, and so they had to free their colonies. And America then became the most powerful country with no sunset.
Faithful Christians traveled from England to America. They lived in America and preached the gospel to the world. Then America became the most powerful country in the world. This country with two hundred years of short history became the most powerful country. Countries with a long history like China and Korea are no match to this country. England is not as powerful as America. Even the whole of Europe combined does not have the same power as America. Russia also does not have as much power. This is how things are right now.
Then what is the reason? Even though the Evangelicals had not preached the gospel of the water and the Spirit, God cherished their pure love of Him and blessed them. God poured out His blessings on those who keep the faith and preach the Word of God. Do you find it hard to believe because I am not giving you exact dates and years? I hope not. You all know this is truth. This is pure history.
Becoming a powerful country without a sunset depends on how many people preach the gospel and how many people serve God. Korea has become a well-developed country. They call this miraculous development “the Miracle of the Han River.” How did we become so affluent? According to some renowned economists of this world, Korea is not a country that could achieve such development and become affluent. We hardly have had any natural or human resources. Are we collaborative and industrious? No, we are idle and self-centered. Do we have any natural resources? No! That is why they say our country’s development is the miracle of this century. They say our country is very unique. The reason why we became so wealthy is that there were people who served the true gospel in Korea. God blessed our country because of these people. Do you believe this as facts?
The Bible also says that what this woman did would be told wherever the gospel is preached because she served the gospel. This is proper. Dear fellow believers, not every service is proper: only serving the gospel is the real service and the rest is just waste.
I am not saying you should not love others. You can do other things while you are serving the gospel. The Lord said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). We need to put get our priorities right in serving the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. What we must remember regarding the worthwhile and proper service is that we are supposed to serve the gospel while we live. If we do this, God will remember us. He will make us prosper in this world. This may sound a little childish when I say to you, if you preach the gospel you will be wealthy and blessed, but it is actually true. Even if God does not do this, we should nevertheless always serve God and the gospel. Do you follow me?
I am telling you the secret to a successful life for your family, and this secret is to serve the gospel. When you do this, there is no stopping the flow of blessings and you cannot go bankrupt even if you want to. This is like a valid check. Serving God is the check you can cash in for everything. God rewards anyone who serves Him in any way. You might say, “I haven’t done anything good, but how did I get this?” God’s blessings go to those who serve Him and the gospel. If you don’t serve God or this gospel from your heart, your descendents will not prosper no matter how well you pretend to be good or no matter how much you donate to orphanages and schools, or no matter how mercifully you take care of beggars. You will also walk into self-destruction. This is a given fact. All we need to remember is to serve God while we are living. In other words, we need to serve the gospel. If you learn to serve the gospel and turn it into your motto, success is guaranteed.
Do you know that the Holt International Children’s Services is in Korea? This organization was established in Korea in 1960 by Bertha and Harry Holt. Mrs. Holt passed away not so long ago, and Mr. Holt adopted and took care of many orphans and interracial children after the Korean War. He did not even finish his elementary education even though he made a large profit in his business. He became a millionaire through his paper factory. We use toilet paper, right? Americans were using toilet paper long before we did. A certain toilet paper factory kept shutting down and changing owners. Mr. Holt bought this factory―lock, stock and barrel―for a dirt-cheap price and started his business, which turned out to be very successful.
After he survived a heart attack, he chose to devote his whole life to God. So he started a welfare business for children to do something good. He established the Holt International Children’s Services not only to take care of orphans but also to preach the gospel. He took Korean orphans to Christian homes and helped them to grow in their faith. He possessed this precious motivation. And as a result, God blessed all his life because of his righteous wish to serve the Lord.
Dear fellow believers, I am going to wrap up what I have been sharing with you. God is telling us that it is our job to serve Him and the gospel. I hope you had a chance to think over what you have been serving and what to serve from now on through today’s message. You need to find out what you are doing right now and in whom you will be serving from now on. Those who have received the remission of sins but do not know about what to serve will get a zero grade in the life of faith. If you have as yet not found the subject to serve, you are very far from being happy. You are saying good-bye to God and to happiness. But when you choose the right subject to serve, your life of faith will be prosperous and happy. And you can do things that are rewarding to God.
After this woman poured this oil worth a man’s one full year’s salary on Jesus’ head, He told His disciples to commemorate her deed wherever the gospel is preached. As I mentioned earlier, the large amount of its price is not the point. The Bible is telling us, she served the right Person and knew exactly what she had to do.
Since the Bible simply refers her as a woman, she was one of the many women at that time. The Bible does not tell us her name, which means she was not anybody special. She was one of the common women who were around Jesus. She wasn’t special. However, she knew what was right. She knew what to serve and what she should do for the rest of her life.
We also need to find out what to serve. Even if we cannot give our one year’s wage to God, even if we have nothing to offer to Him, even if we don’t have any abilities, what is important is to know what and whom to serve as we live. We should choose the right subject to serve. Do you understand me?
Do not think I am telling you this because I am a pastor. I am the same as you when I stand before the Word of God. You might think pastors say things like that habitually. Some Korean pastors and revival speakers like to say our country has been evangelized thanks to them. Then I tell them this. Korean pastors and revival speakers rather destroyed our country. They were good at exploiting money. But they did not tell their audience how to choose godly ways and what to serve. They were busy collecting money from people’s pockets and their bank accounts. They did not teach people about the proper way of life, but they were only concerned about their own achievement such as how big a church building they could build. These revival speakers did their job focusing on how much money they could exploit from Korean Christians.
I am not saying this because I am a pastor. I just want you to know that serving God and the gospel is the right thing to do even though you may not have enough time and money. Do you understand this? You can be really happy once you realize this. It works vice versa: If you live your life without realizing this, you will be miserable. Either a swindler or illness will take all your wealth away, no matter how much you have accumulated your possessions. If you serve God, He will acknowledge you and your life will flourish. I wanted to tell you this today.
Ask yourself this: “What am I going to serve in the future?” I am strongly convinced that serving God is right thing to do while I live. “Am I going in the wrong direction because I am too busy with my work?” I am worried that I may be serving the world and myself with good excuses without realizing it. I am a hundred percent sure that my life will be righteous and rewarding if I serve God and the gospel for the rest of my life. It applies to you as well.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Bible tells us about what true service is through a woman’s service. A proper life of faith that trusts in God and follows Him after receiving the remission of sins is none other than serving God. The Bible is showing us it is proper. We should realize God is telling us that serving Him is our first priority and everything concerning ourselves comes second and this is right thing to do.