(This message was delivered by Revd. Xue Yu Guang, in his book, 给传道者的话. I have taken the liberty to translate it from Mandarin to English. My prayer is that his message would stir you to offer up your lives for God’s work!)
The Most Beautiful Offering
Reverend Xue Yu Guang
Matthew 26:6-13 English Standard Version (ESV)
Jesus Anointed at Bethany
6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
The Scripture passage mentioned above takes our thoughts back to an event that took place two thousand years ago, as if we are exposed to the midst of Simon the leper’s home in Bethany. We see the Lord Jesus, full of love, being a guest at a dinner, accompanied by his disciples. At this time, Mary, a woman who loved the Lord, took a flask of expensive pure nard ointment, and in front of everyone, she – in a totally unselfish manner – broke the alabaster flask, and poured the ointment onto the body of the Lord Jesus, from the top of his head to his feet. Next, she bent down and used her hair to wipe his feet, causing the entire house to be filled with the fragrance of the ointment. Because of this incident, immediately an argument – which appeared small, but in fact wasn’t – arose.
Regarding Mary’s offering, there were two sides giving comments at that time, the first side was the disciples who had followed the Lord for three years, with Judas as the speaker (see John 12:1-8). The other disciples added on and supported Judas’ opinion and they said that Mary’s deed was too wasteful: “It’s natural that we should love Jesus, but we don’t need this kind of extreme, extravagant actions that create a big scene! There are so many poor people in our society, if we sold that flask of ointment for money which can be given to the poor, isn’t that of greater value? If Mary did something like that, maybe more people would believe in Jesus!”
But the opinion of the other side was totally opposite. This side had only one speaker, with no one else adding on or supporting; this speaker was none other than the Lord Jesus himself. He said that Mary has done well – done right – this is a beautiful thing, her example is worthy of following. His only reason was: “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” The opinions of the two sides did not reach any compromise at that time, but it was the start of an argument which depended on more facts and a greater length of time in order to prove who was right and who was wrong.
Two thousand years have already past, and countless facts and examples have proven who the winner of that argument was. The Lord Jesus has completely won, His words have not fallen to the ground, and people in later generations have all admitted that what Mary did was truly a beautiful thing. And that what the Lord promised – “wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” – has been a hundred percent fulfilled. Every time Christians gather in a place, when they encourage one another to seek a deeper love for the Lord, they will never fail to bring up the story of Mary’s offering of ointment. Today, all of us support Jesus’ words, that what Mary did was indeed a beautiful thing. None of us would be willing to stand on the other side to reprimand Mary and say that her offering was a waste.
However, do we really love the Lord with such devotion? Are we brave enough to face the facts? Let us again bring our thoughts back to that time and place, so as to put our faith and lives alongside Mary’s for a comparison. Shall we see how we measure up against her?
This world truly resembles the home of a leper. Everywhere we find evil, corruption, pain and suffering. Regardless of how advanced scientifically or culturally the human race has become, in the areas of spiritual life, it has contracted a hopeless form of leprosy – with all kinds of sin. Our Lord already came to this world, died, resurrected and ascended to heaven. He is the world’s one and only Savior and hope. Our Christian young people have received our Lord’s love, and this love is no less than what Mary received. But in the presence of the glorious and precious Savior, who truly, willingly, offers up the best offering he or she can? And the best offering we can give our Master is our lives for His service.
Among us, there are many who enjoy listening to the Word, but do not like hearing about the subject of offering up our lives for God’s work. In the church we can find lots of parents like that, who only desire their children to believe in Jesus to be saved, so as to not be thrown into hell. But if their son or daughter passionately wants to offer up themselves for God’s work, they would immediately object and even use all kind of ways to block their children from walking down that road – the road of dedication to God. In the church there are also many young people who once made the resolute decision to offer themselves for God’s use, but later as they look at their peers who walk the ways of the world and become high-flyers, they retract all of the offering they had once made in the past. Today there are way too many Christians who live a life similar to what was written in this hymn (Willing to Suffer for the Lord):
Everyone wants to be with the Lord in high places, but fears the lowly places;
When God has prepared all things for him, he then rises in large praise to God;
When God asks him for just a little, he immediately complains.
When God asks him for just a little, he immediately complains.
In the church, there are so many people who are cold and indifferent to the subject of offering up our lives for God’s work. Is it because God’s work no longer requires workers? Or is it because there are enough preachers in every place? The answer is: of course not. Today’s world urgently requires more people to spread the Gospel, various kinds of organizations require people to be a witness for Christ, and many foreign fields repeatedly call upon young people become soul-winners. Our nation’s church is also in a pitiful state.
Is it because the secular world of work has a greater need for talent? The fact is, we see unemployment everywhere, with many organizations now doing mass retrenchments and salary cuts. However, people are still willing to idly wait for their next opportunity, are willing to squeeze into those organizations that are already suffering from overcrowding, but are unwilling to be used by God. What is the reason for this?
The reason why we are not willing to offer our lives to God’s service is because we think that it is too wasteful. Many theological schools cannot get students from the graduate level and above, because some think that university graduates becoming preachers is too much of a waste, and only extremely few parents are willing to offer their first-born child or the most talented and capable child for the Master’s use.
Many parents, by their actions, are saying to the effect, “Offering my son or daughter would be rather wasteful! My talented, capable child is like an expensive ointment.” They follow Judas in saying, “That jar of pure nard should be carefully kept. We will then wait until it can fetch the highest price in the market and sell it for the greatest profit. The money from the sale can be used to help the poor.” This would let the world praise them for being so capable in doing things, and being so concerned for society’s needs. Whereas in regards to the arrangements for Jesus’ burial, they ignore him, and simply let him receive shame and insult.
We should not think that Judas and the other disciples of our Lord were too ungrateful; our lives show that our thoughts are about the same as theirs. Many times, we want to consider our own plans, and we have our own decisions. We say that we want to serve society, craving for the praise of men. We are unwilling to offer ourselves to God as we think that if a university graduate were to give up a monthly salary of several thousand dollars to become a poor preacher – that is truly a waste. People of the world would think this way, but sadly, lots of Christian young people also think this way.
Suppose a girl, who studied abroad for several years, who received professional musical training and specializations, returned home and then married a wealthy businessman. From then on, she no longer used her education and skills to serve society, but exchanged it for a lavish lifestyle. She now spends all her time looking after the family and the kids. No one would say that she has a wasted life; on the other hand, some would praise her for being blessed!
Or suppose a doctor who has brilliant medical skills, who after his graduation opens a private clinic. Every month he earns thirty to fifty thousand dollars and spends his money in pubs, clubs and gambling. Also, no one would say that he is living a wasted life. Only when a young person with an education who gives up his career to serve Jesus Christ the King of Kings, who joins the work of saving millions of precious souls, who turns society’s darkness into light – some people actually believe that this is a wasted life, isn’t this the strangest thing?
I deeply believe Jesus has enormous hope for each and every Christian young person. He has a great plan, and wants to use us in this generation, to take on the responsibility of doing his important work. If at that time before Christ had died, his love was already able to call Mary to offer up that expensive ointment; how much more should his love compel us today to offer ourselves to Him! Jesus Christ whom we rely on has already bled and died for us, saving us from the power of sin and death. He has also given us such great opportunities to receive a university education; shouldn’t we offer up ourselves as first-fruits for his use? Maybe He wants to call us to the preaching work; maybe he wants us to be his faithful witness in our career position. We should offer up ourselves completely to God as living sacrifices. This is a beautiful thing, not a wasted thing.
A story is told of Dr. Alexander Duff, that great veteran missionary to India. He returned to Scotland to die, and as he stood before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, he made his appeal, but there was no response. In the midst of his appeal he fainted and was carried off the platform. The doctor bent over him and examined his heart. Presently he opened his eyes.
“Where am I?” he cried. “Where am I?”
“Lie still,” said the doctor. “Your heart is very weak.”
“But,” exclaimed the old warrior, “I must finish my appeal. Take me back. Take me back. I haven’t finished my appeal yet.”
“Lie still,” said the doctor again, “You are too weak to go back.”
But the aged missionary struggled to his feet, his determination overcoming his weakness; and with the doctor on one side and the moderator on the other side, the old white-haired warrior was led again to the platform, and as he mounted the pulpit steps, the entire Assembly rose to do him honor. Then he continued his appeal.
“When Queen Victoria calls for volunteers for India,” he exclaimed, “hundreds of young men respond; but when King Jesus calls, no one goes.” Then he paused. Again he spoke. “Is it true,” he asked, “that Scotland has no more sons to give for India?” Again he paused. “Very well,” he concluded, “if Scotland has no more young men to send to India, then, old and decrepit though I am, I will go back, and even though I cannot preach, I can lie down on the shores of the Ganges and die, in order to let the peoples of India know that there is at least one man in Scotland who cares enough for their souls to give his life for them.”
In a moment young men, all over the assembly, sprang to their feet, crying out, “I’ll go! I’ll go! I’ll go!” After that, many young people continued in the footsteps of this great missionary, offering their entire lives as God’s missionaries, to save men’s souls.
I wish to point out to everyone: Today, the Singapore and Malaysia we live in, as well as the entire South-East Asia, needs excellent young men and women to offer their lives as the Lord’s witnesses. God’s mission calls us to preach the Gospel to all nations, and this responsibility has fallen upon us. When God’s Spirit convicts you in this moment to offer your life, what will your response be? Do you think a life given for the Lord’s use is a waste? Or something beautiful instead? The Lord Jesus doesn’t want nice-sounding answers from your mouth. He wants you to show clearly through your life and actions the evidence that proves the respect, love and devotion you have towards Him.