The disciples could scarcely believe their eyes. While they and Jesus were enjoying supper at the house of Simon the leper (evidently Simon's expression of gratitude to Jesus for healing him of his leprosy), a woman came to Jesus, broke open a box of very costly oil, and poured it upon His head.
Filled with indignation, they pounced on the poor woman. "Why this waste?" they sternly asked. This was foolish, extravagant, and senseless. No, it was worse than that. It was a morally despicable act. Yes, that's what it was! The poor could have certainly used the money that would have been realized had the ointment been sold. What the woman had done, therefore, was tantamount to taking food out of the mouth of the poor. A callous act!
This outburst represented an aberration for the disciples. They certainly didn't believe that anything done for Jesus is a waste. But there are those who so believe. What was a momentary glitch for the disciples is a settled mentality with many today. They look at the church and pronounce it all a waste — a waste of time, a waste of energy, a waste of money. To them, it is all so foolish and senseless. Those who give themselves to the Lord's work are frequently considered to be rather pathetic souls who could, were it not for their lack of enlightenment, be giving themselves to things that really count. When they see Christians doing anything in the name of Christ, they eagerly resurrect the disciples' question, "Why this waste?"
They deserve an answer. And the answer is not hard to come by. It is right there in the words of the angel who appeared to some simple shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem: For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
There were many people in Bethlehem that night. There may very well have been other babies born there that night. But Jesus was not just another baby. He was the Savior from glory. He, the second person of the Trinity, took our humanity to Himself without lessening His deity. He took it so that He could receive the penalty of God's eternal wrath against sin. Man had incurred that wrath through sin and man had to pay the debt. By becoming a man, Jesus could and did pay that debt. Because He was also God, He could pay it for many. He came to Bethlehem so He might go to Calvary. There He performed the work of redemption.
The woman at Simon's house had been enabled to see Jesus' saving work on the cross. The disciples no doubt congratulated themselves on being terribly perceptive about her act, but this woman whom they belittled far outpaced them in perception. Her anointing of Jesus flowed from nothing less than a heart amazed at the thought of Calvary's love.
She looked down the corridor of days,
Saw Calvary's love and stood amazed.
She saw that dying form, that disfigured face,
And marveled at the sight of redeeming grace.
Those who see Bethlehem and the Calvary to which it led, who see the sight of redeeming grace, are ready to respond to the skeptics. This Christmas we say again — emphatically and with hearts full of love — it is no waste to pour out the ointment of our lives in the worship and the service of Jesus Christ. Through Him we have been rescued from condemnation and made heirs of eternal life. He is our glorious Savior. It would be a waste not to serve Him.
Roger Ellsworth is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton, Illinois, and the author of fifteen books.