Wednesday is often referred to as a day of silence. But you could also call it a day of worship and community. Because on that day, Jesus honored the Father by shepherding His people, spending time with good friends, and receiving worship and an anointing from an unnamed woman.
On Wednesday — just two days before Jesus’ execution and death — Jesus may have started the day by going back to the Temple for another day of teaching. In describing the last days of Jesus’ life, Luke writes the following:
Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. 38 The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear him…—Luke 21:37-38 NLT
It’s fascinating that as Jesus approached the end of His life, He demonstrated the priorities in His life by…
spending time with His Father,
pouring into the lives of His followers,
teaching daily in the temple, and,
compassionately healing the sick.
The amount of time Jesus spent in the temple is a revelation of God’s heart for the place designated and established for worship and for ministry to the people the temple was designed to serve.
The Good Shepherd
In the Gospel of John, Jesus made several incredible statements, but one statement reveals so much of His heart for people and the temple. In John 10, Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.” —John 10:11, 14
This is one of seven “I am” statements that appear in the Gospel of John (Cf John 6:35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12; 10:7, 9; 11:25; 10:11, 14; 14:6; 15:1, 5)
In the Old Testament, God is referred to as the true shepherd (Ps 23; 80:1; 95:7; Isa 40:11) . He is often shown in contrast to the unfaithful and untrustworthy shepherds of the people — or Israel’s leaders, priests and prophets (Jer 23:1-4; Ezek 34; Zech 11:4-17).
The reference to being “the good shepherd” who “lays down His life for the sheep” is a tip of the hat to David, who literally risked his life for his father’s sheep (1 Sam 17:34-37).
The 3-4 days Jesus spent in the temple during the last week of His life demonstrates His commitment to being a good and faithful shepherd.
He served His sheep by ministering to their needs and nurturing, feeding and watering them through the teaching of God’s Word.
He served His sheep by protecting them from “wolves” that were often disguised as sheep or shepherds.
Ultimately, He would serve them by not simply risking His life, but actually sacrificing His life for the sheep. He would become their “Passover Lamb” (Cf John 1:29).
Ezekiel 34 contains a blunt message that describes how God feels about so-called shepherds like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who refused to humbly and sacrificially serve, nurture, care for and lead the sheep God had placed in their care.
Then this message came to me from the Lord: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? 3 You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. 4 You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. 5 So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. 6 They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. —Ezekiel 34:1-6 NLT
While these words were intended for a specific group of leaders in Ezekiel’s day, they also describe the way the priests and religious leaders at the time of Jesus were treating God’s people — His sheep.
As mentioned in a prior post, in Matthew 23 Jesus was uncompromising in His appraisal of the current religious leaders.
“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” —Matt 23:4 NLT
“I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.” —Matt 23:13 MSG
Spiritual leadership is important to God. It isn’t something that should ever be entered into lightly. It should always be taken seriously. It should never be pursued for personal gain, popularity or power (1 Pet 5:1-4; 1 Tim 3:1-13). Spiritual leadership should always seek to glorify God by humbly and lovingly serving God’s people — His sheep as Jesus did (Mark 10:45). God places a ton of weight and responsibility on those who lead.
Unfortunately, the religious leaders in Jesus’ day were blowing leadership completely. Incredibly, Isaiah had prophesied approximately 700 years earlier that a true shepherd would appear who would actually doeverything that God had designed and called a shepherd to do…
O Zion, messenger of good news,
shout from the mountaintops!
Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.
Shout, and do not be afraid.
Tell the towns of Judah,
“Your God is coming!”
10 Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.
—Isaiah 40:9-11 NLT
Jesus was “the good shepherd.” Throughout His ministry He demonstrated what spiritual leadership looks like by loving, caring for, nurturing, feeding and sacrificing His very life for the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep…”
—John 10:11 NLT
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,
15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father.
So I sacrifice my life for the sheep…”
—John 10:14-15 NLT
I’ve had the honor of serving as a pastor in some form or capacity for more than 30 years. Early on in ministry, God gave me what became my life verse. It’s the passage that serves as a North Star for ministry and leadership. It involves a challenge to shepherds. It’s found in Acts 20:28.
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit
has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God,
which he bought with his own blood.”
—Acts 20:28 NIV
For years, I’ve meditated on and recited that verse. God loves the church. Jesus died for the church. The church was purchased with His blood! Several years ago after meditating on Acts 20:28, I came up with this statement or declaration that I remind myself of regularly:
“If the church was worth Jesus dying for, it’s worth me living for.”
This doesn’t mean that I’ve perfected what it means to be a shepherd or spiritual leader. Certainly not. In fact, I’m certain that over the years I’ve experienced more stumbles, failures and setbacks than successes. But this passage does inspire and challenge me to model my calling and ministry after the “Great Shepherd” (1 Pet 5:4).
Jesus is the personification of spiritual leadership.
Jesus perfectly fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah!
He is strong, but gentle.
He is powerful, but kind.
He is sovereign, but loving.
He feeds, nurtures and provides for His sheep like a good and true shepherd.
He carries His lambs in His arms.
He holds His sheep close to His heart.
He is tender when His sheep feel weak, vulnerable and afraid.
Jesus is the good shepherd!
He demonstrated His shepherd’s heart throughout His ministry, but especially during His final days. From Sunday – Wednesday, Jesus spent a considerable amount of time in the temple pouring His heart and life into His sheep.
What’s fascinating is that while Jesus was pouring into people — while He was being a Good Shepherd, Matthew, Mark and Luke — all three of the Gospel writers — describe what the Jewish religious leaders of that day were doing.
As Jesus cared for the sheep they were actually responsible for… While Jesus was doing their job, the religious leaders met together privately to plan, plot and brainstorm how they were going to get rid of Jesus.
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” 3 At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, 4 plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 5 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”—Matt 26:1-5 NLT (Cf Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:1-2)
On Wednesday, evil plots and plans were considered, weighed and hatched by people who thought they were in power and control.
They reached this conclusion: “Jesus has to die. We’ve got to kill him, but it can’t be during Passover.” The inference was, “Let’s wait until after Passover… Maybe until the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when the crowds disperse and the people go back home…”
This religious mafia was willing to sit tight, bide their time and wait for their moment. But what they were completely unaware of and blind to was the fact that they were not calling the shots. Jesus was!
He would not die on their timetable or schedule. He would die during Passover. As we’ll cover in a future blog, some Bible scholars believe that at the very moment the final Passover Lamb was being slaughtered (around 3 pm), Jesus Himself also took His last breath (around 3 pm).
It was also on Wednesday that one of Jesus’ own inner circle, Judas, made an agreement with the religious leaders to betray His rabbi and friend.
14 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests 15 and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.—Matt 26:14-16 NLT (Cf Mark 14:10-12; Luke 22:1-6)
All of this action went down on Wednesday. But the day isn’t over.
At some point that evening Jesus and His disciples returned to Bethany to the home of Simon, a man who had evidently previously been healed of leprosy (Matt 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9).
Can you imagine the drama? On the very day representatives from the most elite group of religious experts in Israel were plotting a murder, Jesus went to the home of another friend, a former leper — (aka Outcast #1) — to have dinner. During dinner, a woman — (aka Outcast #2) — interrupted the party to worship and anoint Jesus again — the second time in the span of 5 days — in preparation for His death and burial.
The Passion Translation paraphrases the moment like this:
Then Jesus went to Bethany, to the home of Simon, a man Jesus had healed of leprosy. A woman came into the house, holding an alabaster flask filled with fragrant and expensive oil. She walked right up to Jesus, and in a lavish gesture of devotion, she poured out the costly oil, and it cascaded over his head as he was at the table.
—Matthew 26:6-7 TPT
There are a variety of opinions about how many times Jesus was anointed as He approached the end.
Some believe Jesus may have been anointed two times just days before his arrest and execution. For instance, these students believe that on Friday, Jesus was anointed by Mary in the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (John 12:1-11). (We covered this in the first blog of this series.) Then, on Wednesday, two days before Passover, He was anointed again. Incredibly, these anointings coordinate with the experience of the Passover Lamb.
Here’s what I mean. The Passover Lamb was chosen on the Tenth Day of Nissan — five or six days before Passover. This allowed the lamb to be brought into the family’s home, become part of the family and be inspected for blemishes and defects. As part of that inspection, anointing oil would be rubbed into the feet and ankles of the Lamb.
This is exactly what Mary did for Jesus in John 12:1-11 on Friday, one week before Jesus’ death. She anointed His feet and wiped them with her hair! She anointed the same feet that days later would be pierced with nails.
Then, just two days before Passover, the Passover Lamb would be anointed a second time. This time on the head. This was to announce that the lamb was free from defects, sicknesses and blemishes and ready to serve as a sinless, perfect substitute.
This is one of the reasons I believe that a second anointing did take place, and, that this is the anointing referred to in Matthew 26 and Mark 14.
During this anointing, Jesus’ head was anointed with oil — the same head and brow that hours later would wear a crown of thorns. The symbolism is powerful! Jesus experienced both anointings because He is our Passover Lamb (See John 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7). 
Jesus is our Passover Lamb.
Rabbinical teaching of that day indicated that if a guest entered your home, it was okay to “anoint them” with perfume. That was viewed as being hospitable. But it wasn’t okay to anoint them with pure nard. That was viewed as being extravagant or wasteful. This is one of the reasons some of those at the table blew a gasket! They felt this was a violation of the Torah.
The Bible describes their disgust like this — they “were indignant” and “scolded her harshly” (Mark 14:4-5). But make no mistake about it, what angered them honored Jesus! Because when this unnamed woman poured pure nard on Jesus’ head, she was symbolically proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God!
And, what makes the moment so striking is that Jesus was anointed Messiah and King, not by other kings, heads of state, nobility or world leaders, but by an unnamed woman. On top of that, He was anointed in the home of a former leper, in a town called Bethany, not in the Holy City, the Capital Building or the Temple. This was in keeping with the way Jesus had lived His life.
During that time period, taking a bath was not part of a person’s daily routine. Because of how inconvenient bathing was, people would regularly go a number of days before bathing.
Why would I interrupt the narrative to mention that? Because it’s highly likely that the anointing of this unnamed woman would stay with Jesus throughout the final 48-hours of his life.
Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola describe it like this in their excellent book, Jesus: A Theography:
“Jesus entered this world smelling what? Barnyard smells of straw, stable dung, and smelly shepherds.
“Jesus left this world smelling what? Perfume.”
“Ancient Israelites didn’t take baths every day. They washed their hands frequently before every meal, but they washed their bodies even less frequently than the Egyptians did…
During His execution, Jesus would be assaulted with a variety of horrific smells. The smell of blood, sweat, urine, feces and refuse would create an unbearable stench. But the aroma and fragrance of this woman’s worship would stay with Jesus through everything He went thru and experienced — from His prayers in the Garden, to His torment on the cross. As Jesus breathed in the horror and reality of that experience, He also breathed in the aroma and fragrance of this woman’s worship!
No wonder, when people in the house began to criticize her, Jesus promptly jumped to her defense.
But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? 7 You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”—Mark 14:6-9 NLT
This woman’s worship created a lasting memorial that still inspires believers 2,000 years later.
As we close, I want to reflect for a few moments on the importance of worship. I love the way Harold Best described and defined worship in his book, Unceasing Worship. He wrote:
“Worship is the continuous outpouring of all that I am, all that I do and all that I can ever become in light of a chosen or choosing god.”
—Harold Best, Unceasing Worship
I love that definition.
“Worship is the continuous outpouring…” In other words, worship doesn’t start and stop. It can’t be limited to a specific day of the week or time slot on Sundays. It’s a lot bigger than music or any of the trappings we normally associate with it.
Worship is ALL OF LIFE. It is NON-STOP and CONTINUOUS.
This is one of the reasons I memorized Romans 12:1-2 in The Message several years ago.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
—Romans 12:1-2 MSG
Like Mary in John 12, the unnamed woman in Matthew 26 and Mark 14, took her life — her entire life — represented in a bottle of pure nard — and poured it all out on Jesus in a beautiful, extravagant act of worship. And, her worship would likely remain with Jesus through His rejection, betrayal, loneliness, torture, crucifixion, right up until His death.
That’s the power of extravagant worship.
Why did this woman worship so extravagantly?
If Luke 7:36-50 is a parallel passage to Matthew 26 and Mark 14, Luke gives us a little insight into this woman’s “BC” life. He writes, “a certain immoral woman from that city.” In other words, this woman had a name and she had a reputation. But, evidently, just like Simon, her name and reputation described who she was BEFORE CHRIST — BEFORE JESUS.
Just as Simon’s leprosy had previously defined him. This woman’s sinful, shameful and guilt-ridden past had previously defined her. But, like Simon, she had been covered, cleansed, redeemed and set free! In her mind, the only reasonable response to that kind of love, mercy, grace and redemption was worship.
A life of extravagant worship is the only reasonable response
to the extravagant love and grace of God.
“All in” is the only way to live when you realize
that God went “all out” for you!
In closing, Hebrews 13 describes the faithfulness and sacrifice of our Good Shepherd and great Priest, Jesus Christ. It also describes the only reasonable response to His sacrifice and grace.
Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. 12 So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. 13 So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. 14 For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. 15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. 16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.—Heb 13:10-16 NLT
As we reflect on the events of that Wednesday, let’s also reflect on God’s grace in our lives. And, may we respond as that unnamed woman, with worship that is extravagant.