Friday, January 18, 2008


By Charles Woodruff

“And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. 4 And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? 5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. 6 And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. 7 For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. 8 She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. 9 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her” (Mark 14:3-9).

It seems most evangelical commentators believe, as I do, that the accounts in Matthew, Mark and John are the same, and that the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany was Mary, sister of Lazarus. There was a somewhat similar incident recorded in Luke 7:36 when Jesus was dining with a Pharisee whose name was also Simon (a very common name in those times, as John or Bill is today). An unnamed woman came in with an alabaster box of ointment and washed His feet with her tears, putting on the ointment, and drying His feet with her hair.

There the similarity ends. This woman in Luke was a repentant sinner. Some do think she was Mary Magdalene. Because Jesus allowed her to touch Him, Simon the Pharisee protested much. Jesus gave an illustration about forgiveness. He told the woman her sins were forgiven, and riled up the Jews. The Luke incident is much earlier in the ministry of Christ. It was not said to be in Bethany, while Luke does record Him visiting there later in Luke 10:38, where He found Martha serving, and Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, which is so characteristic of these two women. Let us examine three main points about this second woman who anointed Jesus.

The Magnitude of Her Deed

This was the last time in his earthly life that Jesus visited Bethany. Remember that Lazarus lived there with his sisters, Mary and Martha. This is where the mighty miracle was wrought by Jesus of raising Lazarus from the dead, a man who had been dead four days! Remember Jesus had told Martha (and us), “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believeth thou this?” (John 11:25, 26) Believeth thou this reader? I ask you this question. A question we will explore another time soon, D.V., along with the story of Lazarus.

This time Jesus was having dinner at the house of Simon the leper, whom He had healed. No, scripture doesn’t expressly say that Christ healed him, but two things are evident. First, a leper under the Mosaic law was not allowed to mingle with clean society, much less dine with them, unless healed. Second, leprosy was an almost incurable disease, meaning that only God could heal it. Evidently Simon was healed, or Jesus and other guests would not be there. Third, Since only God could heal it, and Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, obviously He healed him. Simon was called the leper to distinguish him from other Simons, because it was a very common Hebrew name. This was similar to Matthew (Levi), still being called a tax collector, though he was no longer that, but a disciple of our Lord.

As they sat at dinner, a woman came with an alabaster box of ointment, very expensive spikenard, and she broke the box and poured it over His head. Albert Barnes remarks: “Alabaster is a species of marble, distinguished for being light, and of a beautiful white colour, almost transparent. It was much used by the ancients for the purpose of preserving various kinds of ointment in”.(1)

This alabaster box, or cruse, was very beautiful, and the cruse itself rather costly. The ointment inside was not medicinal, but rather a perfume, pure nard from the orient, with a very pleasant odor. We are told she brake the box. Albert Barnes takes that to mean she “broke the seal”, otherwise she couldn’t have poured it easily, and some would then in reality have been wasted.(2) I do not know if he is correct or not, but either way, she cared very little how costly the perfume was, she willingly gave it for Christ.

John’s account again shows us these two women, Martha and Mary, right in character, Martha serving, and Mary worshipping. “There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with Him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.” (John 12:2, 3)

John’s account tells us several additional things. Jesus had came into Bethany six days before the Passover, yet Matthew and Luke speak of this incident being two days before the Passover. A discrepancy has been imagined. The answer is more than likely Jesus abode there in Bethany for the difference of four days with his friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary. These were the closest friends He had on earth, besides His disciples, and He enjoyed being with them. John tells us that these three, along with some of the disciples, and perhaps others, were there at Simon the leper’s house for the dinner. Martha was serving (right in character), Lazarus was at the table (the recipient of the miracle of being raised from among the dead), and Mary was preoccupied with worship of her Lord, again, right in character..

So here at this table we have a healed leper, a man who had been raised from the dead, and two others that were loved by Jesus, hence all sinners saved by His grace! What a sight, as Jesus Christ was about to go to be crucified in Jerusalem, which was about two miles away, and bring final fulfillment to 333 Old Testament prophesies concerning Himself.

But meanwhile, Mary anointed Him (for John 12;3 tells us it was Mary who took the pound of spikenard and anointed Jesus). Matthew and Mark tell us of her anointing His head, while John tells us she anointed also His feet and wiped them with her hair. It was easy to do both, because at the table in those times, one did not sit in a chair, but rather reclined on couches. The four gospels do not contradict each other, but complement each other. John expounds on the incident by telling us that “and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3b).

We are told that some were filled with indignation and complained and said “Why was this waste of the ointment made?”(Mark 14:4) Matthew says the complainers were “the disciples”. Mark says “some had indignation among themselves”, but John, who was no doubt there, shows Judas Iscariot as the instigator. He who was about to betray Christ was the one who had the money bag, and often cheated and stole from it. He started the complaints, pretending to be concerned about the poor. They all understood the value of this spikenard- a pound (twelve ounces in present US weight), could be sold for 300 pence (denarii’s), or about one year’s wages for the average working man of that century. Compared to today in America, that would possibly be $25,000 to $30,000 . Of course wages were lower then in that part of the world, as they still are today. Even if today’s value is “only” equivalent to $10,000 to $15,000, it is still a considerable sum. My point is; the alabaster box and spikenard was very valuable by any standard.

The Faith of Her Deed

When the murmuring began, our Lord spoke up immediately. He said “Let her alone; why trouble ye her? She hath wrought a good work on me” (Mark 14:6). Christ was ready to take the side of one who was intent on worshipping Him. Worship was the very thing that stirred the devil here. Sure, the ointment was costly, but Mary, so often at His feet to worship Him, wanted to honor him with all she had. Did she perceive that He was about to give His life for sinners? I believe so, because John tells us that Jesus said “Let her alone; against the day of my burying she hath kept this” (John 12:7). It appears she had more spiritual perception than any in the room. She knew it would be the last time to do Him good. It was a deed of faith, and remember who it is that gives the gift of faith. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9)

Mary and Martha both had faith, but manifested it in different ways. Martha served, Mary worshipped. Martha gets commendation as well. In his commentary on the Gospel of John, A.W. Pink said: “And Martha served”-This is most blessed. This was her characteristic method of showing her affection. On a former occasion the Lord had gently reproved her for being "cumbered with much serving," and because she was anxious and troubled about many things. But she did not peevishly leave off serving altogether. No; she still served: served not the less attentively, but more wisely. Love is unselfish. We are not to feast on our own blessings in the midst of a groaning creation, rather are we to be channels of blessing to those around: John 7:38, 39. But mark here that Martha’s service is connected with the Lord: "They made him a supper and Martha served." This alone is true service. We must not seek to imitate others, still less, work for the sake of building up a reputation for zeal. It must be done to and for Christ: "always abounding in the work of the Lord"(1 Corinthians 15:58).

"And Martha served": no longer outside the presence of Christ, as on a former occasion—note her "serve alone" in Luke 10:40. "In Martha’s ‘serving’ now we do not find her being cumbered, but something that is acceptable, as in the joy of resurrection, the new life, unto Him who has given it. Service is in its true place when we have first received all from Him, and the joy of it as begotten by Himself sweetly ministers to Him" (Malachi Taylor). (3) (emphasis mine-cmw)

Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ body was an act of faith. God gives faith - honors faith. Mary was seeing the moment of the cross and beyond. Remember both had been at Lazarus’ tomb. Both said to Jesus “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” Mary and Martha saw that miracle power. Simon saw that miracle power. Lazarus who had been dead, yet was now alive saw that miracle power. Some had called it “waste”, but that done in faith for Christ and in the faith of Christ is never waste. To the unregenerate, and unspiritual it would seem to be “waste”.

Judas, the thief and traitor, had pretended to be concerned about the poor, but Jesus, who really does care about the poor, said “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me you have not always”( Mark 14:7).

The Honor of Her Deed

The commendations of Jesus Christ in scripture to mere mortals are remarkable. This is because any good work He receives from us is because we have received His free grace in the first place! All of grace, all praise to Him! We are nothing without Him!

What an honor to have the Lord Christ commend you! The changed heart, (which He changed!) draws His praise. In out text in Mark, He tells all who are there (and us through the Gospels), regarding the woman who anointed Him, “She hath done what she could.” He says that wherever the gospel is preached, this will be remembered as a memorial to her. Wherever-- India, China, Japan, England, the Philippines, the United States--- wherever and whenever this gospel shall be preached what she has done shall be remembered as a memorial; she hath done what she could! Jesus, no mere teacher, but God Himself declares it and it is so! What He commends is commended still. What He curses is cursed still, now and for always!

Now in 2007 A.D., two millenniums later, we are right at this moment having a memorial service! We are remembering a poor, trembling sinner; a creature of flesh and blood like ourselves, because He told us we would. What is done for Him in true faith, which He alone gives to His children, is never wasted! She hath done what she could! How marvelous are His ways! May He inspire us, and enable us to do what we can!


(1) Albert Barnes, Notes on Matthew and Mark; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1964 edition, page 276.

(2)Ibid, page 381.

(3)Exposition of the Gospel of John, Arthur W. Pink; First appearance in book form, 1945 by I.C Herendeen, Swengel, PA; quote from 1970 edition, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; Vol. two, page 234.

Serious students should acquire a harmony of the gospels such as A.T Robertson’s (in print), or Stevens and Burton’s (out of print). Life of Christ in Stereo is excellent, and available used, or on CD-ROM.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008



And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: (Revelation 10:5-6).

And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand (Revelation 22:10).

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).

Here at the beginning of a new year, it is time to take inventory of some things. It is time to take stock of time itself. Time defines and limits man. It does not define and limit God. He lives outside of time. He is “the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15a). Time is under His control, and time will end someday. Time defines we mortals because people will say in passing “He is an old man.“ “She is a young lady.” “They are middle aged.” Time limits us because we say “I didn’t have time to finish the project.” It’s time for a change.” “ He served his time in the military.” So we are very much creatures of time, and limited by the constraints of time.

Some years ago I wrote an article titled Redeeming the Time, which was a message on Ephesians 5:16. I edited it recently and have it on my main blog if you would like to read it. I have preached many times from that text. It is so relevant to the proper use of the time God has given us to live our lives. We need to redeem or “buy up” the time for His glory. It is said that time changes things. From our human perspective it seems so, but one thing that time will never change is the gospel. The gospel, in essence, is a Person -- Jesus Christ. He is “The same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8b). Paul tells us that there is not another gospel. (see Galatians 1:7). In Revelation the angel has “the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth” (Revelation 14:6b). The gospel doesn’t change, just like God doesn’t change (see Malachi 3:6).

There are many things hard to understand in the book of Revelation, yet it is not meant to be a sealed book. In chapter one it is called the Revelation (Greek= αποκαλυψις, transliterated apocalipsis, or English= Apocalypse). It means a disclosure; a lifting of the veil. It is properly not the Revelation of the apostle John, but the Revelation of Jesus Christ which He gave to John. There is a blessing given to those who study this book, yet because there are so many symbols and shadows in the book, many avoid it altogether. Others have come up with elaborate and doubtful interpretations. As someone once said “After chapter three of Revelation the water gets over the head of the greatest saints.” That being so, there are certainly many “islands” in this water that we can see. Most all of them reveal Him whom the book was meant to reveal, Jesus Christ. It is mainly about Him. As I said, He IS the gospel.

Christians need to be about the Father’s business this year and every year. There is so much I did not accomplish last year, that without making a long list of resolutions (which I, like most of you, would probably break!), I resolve one thing: as God enables me, I want to exalt Jesus Christ this year as never before in all that I do. I want to preach this old gospel, and none other, in print, in person, online, in broadcasts and every way I am able. I do not want some new gimmick gospel. They old one is perfect! It will get the job done. It has, as far as its New Testament aspect, worked for 2000 years, wherever it has been preached in purity, and it will continue to do so until Christ returns.

I know many churches have abandoned the simple, unadulterated, gospel for programs and entertainment. They have largely thrown out the old hymns for slick, largely unscriptural songs, and semi rock, or even hard rock music. I’ll take the old gospel, and the old hymns and spiritual songs. Many who do not want to preach false doctrine will sing it in their songs. It may be a new century, a new month, and a new year, but the old gospel still works just fine. Declare it, brethren!

It is a new year, but we know not what a day may bring forth. We know not how much time we have on this earth, yet God can do much with little. Our efforts are no good unless He is in it. Charles Spurgeon, that most famous English preacher, lived to be only 58 years old, yet what a massive amount of rich material he left us in sermons and writings. Multiplied thousands God has been pleased to convert through his ministry while he lived, and likely far more since he left this world. Most of us have used his material from time to time. Some have preached his messages verbatim. That’s probably okay if God honors it, but at least acknowledge your sources. Be careful lest what you preach is simply a dead letter! If God is pleased to use any man, it is of His sovereign grace. We all “borrow” from each other. The main thing -- preach Christ!

I talked of Spurgeon’s short, useful, life. What about Robert Murray M’Cheyne? This blessed son of Scotland did not quite live until his 30th birthday, yet God has greatly used him. What about missionary David Brainerd? He was desiring to marry the daughter of Jonathon Edwards, that great American theologian and preacher. As his tuberculosis became more evident, he knew that although he loved Jerusha Edwards, they could never marry. Brainerd also only lived to be 29 years old, yet what a profound influence he had. Many were converted through his ministry, and William Carey, later missionary to India, was greatly influenced by him of the need to minister the gospel to every race. When Brainerd died, the man who would have been his father-in-law wrote the biography Life of David Brainerd. It is still in print. Read it, Christian, and you will likely be on your knees before God!
What of Jonathon Edwards himself? He died at age 54, yet left a great body of work that still influences so many today. He was perhaps the greatest American theologian ever.
Then there was his contemporary from England, George Whitefield, the mightiest evangelist of the Great Awakening. He only lived to be 55, yet was so used of God. Oh, just reading of all these men that God chose to use humbles me in the dust. It causes me again to realize how little I have accomplished in 65 years! Oh God, help me to be focused on thee! I am not saying we should never rest or relax, but perhaps we do that more than we need. We can rest with Him in glory!

Some Ultra Calvinist might dare to say “honoring all these men does not honor the Sovereign God.” Not so! God Himself honors some men He chose to use all through the Bible. Noah found grace. Moses was a meek man. Job was a perfect man. David was a man after God‘s own heart. Paul was a chosen vessel for the Lord. Some of the same Ultra Calvinists will certainly honor the founders of their group. All I am saying is God uses men and women, and I desire to be used to point men to Christ this year. No gadgets, no gimmicks. What about you? Please read what follows and be edified..

By W.F. Bell
C. H. Spurgeon is often quoted by Christians of all denominations. Here are some thoughts by Mr. Spurgeon on the subject of entertainment in the Church, which may not be too liked. Judge for yourself.
"The devil has seldom done a more clever thing than hinting to the Church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them."
He then relates how entertainment and amusement in the Church was once viewed: First, "spoken against, then toned down." Secondly, it was "winked at, then excused." Thirdly, it was "tolerated, then adopted." Is this not the same downward trend we see today?
Spurgeon again: "My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in Scripture as a function of the Church. If it is a Christian work, why did not Christ speak of it? 'Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.' That is clear enough. And it would have been added, 'and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.' No such words, however, are to be found."
"Then again, 'He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry.' Where do the entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people?"
"Providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all of his apostles. Short and sharp was the utterance, 'Let the dead bury their dead.' He was in awful earnestness!"
Let us hear loudly Spurgeon's prayer (and start praying it ourselves): "Lord, clear the Church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her, and bring us back to apostolic methods."
As Thomas Brooks said about zeal, we would say about entertainment: "Zeal is like fire; in the chimney it is one of the best servants; but out of the chimney it is one of the worst masters." Entertainment may have its place in the world, but it is a terrible master in the Church.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008



On a recent Sunday morning as I was preparing for church, I had the TV on, and Joel Osteen was on the air. In case you have been on Mars for the last year and don’t know it; Joel is pastor of America’s largest congregation, the 47,000 member Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. He is author of two best selling books Your Best Life Now, and the newest (released in October 2007), Become A Better You.

Actually, though I have seen him a couple of times in brief TV interviews, and have seen his photo on books and ads, I had never viewed his program. I met his father, John Osteen, once when I was in mission work with ECL/Door of Hope. John was a Southern Baptist pastor who came to embrace charismatic views and started the church Joel now pastors. Under John’s preaching the church grew to 6000 members. John died of a heart attack in 1999. Joel stated that though he was in the church there, he had never preached in his life until one week before his father died. Upon John’s death, Joel assumed the role of pastor.

Just watching this pleasant, nice looking, energetic young man as he spoke, I wanted to like him, listen to him and not criticize him. He really seems like a “nice guy”. I listened for some good word from the scriptures, some exposition, some admonition, some doctrinal content, or at least a verse I could meditate on. Something that might help the estimated total for two services of over 40,000 people in the audience that resembled the crowd at an NFL game; or that might help his millions of TV watchers with scriptural truth. I heard -- nothing! I think Joel was just giving some highlights of his book. He was telling everyone they shouldn’t feel second rate because of lack of success. He said “God wants you to succeed”. “If you fail, don’t take it so hard -- try again”. “Always look at the positive side”.

What makes his teaching different than the Schullers, or the late Norman Vincent Peale and their “positive thinking”, or “possibility thinking” theology? They have also pastored very large churches. Basically, Osteen’s teaching seems to be the same as theirs with a “name it and claim it” charismatic edge. Lakewood Church (as of October 2007), was almost twice as big as Willow Creek Church in S. Berrington, IL pastored by Bill Hybels, or Saddleback Church in Orange County, California pastored by Rick Warren, writer of The Purpose Driven Life. (These two pastors with their “seeker sensitive” philosophy could be discussed also, but another day perhaps).

I do not know if it is this way every service for him, but when Joel got to the end of his message that Sunday morning, with almost no quotes from the word of God for his great sea of possibly 25,000 faces, he took about 30 seconds to say “if you need to trust Jesus Christ as savior, ask Him right now to come in your heart. Now you’ve done that -- you are now born again. Contact us and let us know”. So divine “magic’ here. Just a few hocus-pocus words and men are “born anew”. Such a “just prayism” gospel! Such an “easy believism” gospel! I want to tell you, my friends, that isn’t the gospel! It is not the gospel that Christ Himself preached -- or that Paul preached -- or that Peter and John preached -- or that Spurgeon preached -- or that true Bible preachers preach today. Beware! It is another gospel! “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6,7 ESV)

Some will think me overly critical, and probably say “Who do you think you are?’ Well, I am nobody. I am not a pastor. Most of my ministry has been as a missionary, Bible teacher, evangelist and writer. Most of the large crowds I have addressed have been overseas. But brothers and sisters, is our goal simply to have a large crowd? It would be nice to have a large crowd if they mostly came with a desire to hear the gospel. John MacArthur and John Piper have pretty large congregations. There is nothing wrong with that. These two men preach the gospel of grace to their crowds. Yet, having a crowd is not to be an end in itself. Better to have a handful that love Christ, and a desire to hear the word of God and grow, than to have a huge crowd of worldlings that have to have multiple programs and entertainment to keep them coming. Remember, if entertainment brings them in, you will have to get better entertainment to keep them! If all you want is a large crowd, and the money they can give, and the fame it will bring you, you are playing games with the souls of men and women! Now hear the late Vance Havner, that old down to earth man of God on the subject of crowds.


Of the many delusions from which the ministry needs to be delivered today is the notion that a preacher may be judged by the size of his crowd. There are some prophets in every generation who are called and gifted for leading the multitude and attracting the throng. More power to them. But straightway we get out on a limb and conclude that every brother who is not speaking to packed houses is a failure and that something is wrong with him.

Something may be wrong with him and he should check up on himself, search his heart and take stock. But if he finds nothing after an honest inventory, then he need not get under the juniper because he is not preaching to overflow audiences. Once in a while some successful preacher is held up and this lesson is drawn: “This man gets crowds because he preaches the Gospel. If Christ is preached, the crowd will still come, for He will draw all men unto Himself." Thus the inference prevails that an unfilled house means unfaithful preaching.

Such argument is a lot of hocus-pocus. For one thing, some men who are not preaching the Gospel are having crowds for, having itching ears, men are heaping to themselves teachers and the Athenians turn out for their kind. Then, again, there are true and faithful pastors ministering to small flocks who are as consecrated to God, and sometimes more so, than some of the headliners. It is true that Christ draws, but men resist His drawing and they resist the Gospel and going to church.

Concerning the true preacher, Alexander Whyte wrote:

“He may have, he usually has, but few people, as people go in our day, and the better the preacher, sometimes, the smaller the flock. It was so in our Master's case. The multitude followed after the loaves but they fled from the feeding doctrines till He first tasted that dejection and that sense of defeat which so many of His best servants are fed on in this world. Still, as our Lord did not tune His pulpit to the taste of the loungers of Galilee, no more will a minister worth the name do anything else but press deeper and deeper into the depths of truth and life, till, as was the case with his Master, his followers, though few, will be all the more worth having."

Matthew Henry lamented over the poor response to his ministry and felt that his labors in his parish were done, since many had left and few had been added. But he still feeds us with messages not too well appreciated in his own time.

This worship of crowds is part of our Americanism, and a poor part. We are such confirmed lovers of big statistics, quantity production, and mass movement that we low-rate anything that does not run into big figures. The great god Ballyhoo has most of us on our faces, and any Hebrew children that will not prostrate themselves before him land in a fiery furnace. But in that furnace there is a fourth party “like the Son of God."

The Son of God trod this road. He had crowds at the beginning, but the closer He came to the cross, the thinner His crowd. And the closer we come to the cross and all it means, the fewer the people—but the better they are!

All of this can be twisted into an excuse for laziness on the part of some preachers who will not work. They are a different sort and must give account. But if a man be honest, right with God and men, and faithful, let him watch for souls and not for statistics. God keeps the books.

Vance Havner-excerpt from Pleasant Paths; Baker edition, 1983; now out of print; original publisher-- Fleming Revell in 1945