A Saviour who divides - Matthew 26:1-16

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 7th March 2021.

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Passion 1 - Matthew 26 v 1-16 “A Saviour who Divides”


Open Doors is an organisation that we in CC Riverside are seeking to partner with as we go forward as a church. Please watch this short Open Doors video and then we will look at Matthew 26, the part of the bible read for us today.  


Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGXxe5KFbqA


If you are not a Christian yet or quite new to Christianity, then maybe that video is quite a shock for you. Perhaps there are many others of us who are Christians already but are wondering why I have showed that video when the topic is supposed to be Easter and Jesus heading towards the cross. The reason I wanted us to watch that first, and the reason why an organisation like Open Doors is so important is all tied up with the cross of Jesus Christ and the sensible, logical, coherent responses of people to him. In that video you can see that there are people all over the world who love the name of Jesus so much they are willing to give up much comfort and security for the privilege of belonging to him. But there are others who hate the name of Jesus so much they are willing to persecute, imprison and even kill those whose only crime is to be called a Christian.



In a country like England where most people don’t seem to care that much about Jesus one way or the other, a video like that is quite a shock. But it shouldn’t be, because actually, it is our response of apathy to Jesus that is the shock, the least fitting of all the possible reactions. Love and hate make sense when it comes to Jesus, apathy doesn’t.


I realise that the sentence I am about to speak you might find a bit offensive and I don’t like offending but it is worth the risk if it causes us to waken up and deal with Jesus Christ properly, here goes; If you aren’t that bothered by Jesus it is because you are ignorant of the real claims he makes about himself and about you (Repeat). I don’t mean you haven’t heard them or that you are somehow failing intellectually (I know that many of the people listening to this today are far more clever than I am), but somehow, despite your intelligence and talents, despite the privilege you have had of hearing his words and seeing up close those who belong to him, if you are apathetic about Jesus then you are ignorant of the implications of his words. Jesus is a saviour who divides people between love and hate and my prayer is that this very morning, any ignorance we have would be replaced by understanding and that understanding should lead us to real love for Jesus.  



             1) Jesus is a hated saviour (v1-5)

Firstly then, see that Jesus is a hated saviour in verses 1-5 of our reading. In Matthew’s eye-witness account of Jesus’ life, Jesus knows he is in the final week of his life and ministry – we read this in 26 verse 1and2; “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 ‘As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’” By this time in the gospel we have read of Jesus doing amazing things that made people’s lives a lot better and teaching amazing things that would make people’s eternities a lot better. Jesus offered life.

Why then is he talking so much about his coming violent hatred-provoked death? Quite simply it is because the very core of his teaching was that no person ever was able to get to God their own way. No religion or religious practice can get you to God. No good deeds or heroic actions can get you to God. No spirituality or care of the planet can get you to God. Jesus taught that every human was far from God and that the only way to God was by coming to Jesus himself – and this led some of those who understood the implications of this to real hatred. We can see from the passage who the haters were, verse 3 and 4; Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.” 

The chief priests, the elders and the high Priest were the ones who hated Jesus so much they schemed so that they could have him murdered. It is quite hard for us to feel the weight of this truth because our society doesn’t have a lot of respect left for religious leaders. But at that time, these were the good people. The group of people who represented the pinnacle of society – they were the thinkers who shaped the direction of the culture, they were the ones to look to for hope and goodness. Perhaps we could think of the people pouring their fortunes into researching sustainable power, campaigning for racial equality, raising money for the NHS. These were the Captain Tom’s of their day. These were the admired, respected people we all think we are a bit like. And when these ‘good people’ listened to Jesus, they hated him so much they didn’t just want to kill him, they arranged to kill him.

Are you amazed? Don’t be – instead consider that Jesus’ words are absolutely accurate. In fact, the things that Jesus had just finished teaching were all to do with heaven and hell and God’s judgement based on how people treated Jesus and his followers. If you have your bible open look at the verses just before our passage today, chpt 25 v 45 and 46; “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” 46 ‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’ Those verses are very sobering considering the video we just watched and how God’s people in so many nations are being treated so badly. Of course then, the ‘good people’ of the day hated Jesus – he was telling them they were wrong, that their lives were not good enough, and that they needed Jesus’ forgiveness if they were to be accepted by God.

Their response to Jesus then was actually a sensible one, a logical one, a coherent one, one that made sense based on their convictions. They weren’t foolish enough to listen to Jesus telling them they were sinners who were on their way to hell, and then just shrug their shoulders, and go off and continue to live life their own way. They hated him instead. But many of us in this area of Hull are foolish enough to just shrug and carry on (and when I use the word foolish, once again I am not referring to intellect but instead to our ignorant hearts which are so numbed by apathy that Jesus’ words about sin and judgement and hell barely result in a flicker of response). The gospel of Jesus Christ is the amazing news of the cross - God himself coming to rescue sinful people who hated him. To simply shrug your shoulders is like noticing your house is on fire around you and continuing to read the paper. 

             2) Jesus is a loved saviour (v6-13)

If that was all the bible had for us today then we would be left feeling the way I have felt every time I have watched the news this past year. But there is a far healthier response to Jesus in our passage as well – Jesus is a loved saviour and we see that in verses 6-13.

Jesus was often in people’s houses, eating with them, enjoying their company, loving them and, as always, teaching. (Part of why Covid has been so difficult is because our God is relational and sociable and has made us that way as well – Jesus loved being with people). There he is reclining at Simon’s table when this unnamed woman enters and pours perfume worth a sizeable amount of money on his head.


The religious instinct within the disciples kicks in immediately and we read that they were ‘indignant’ (that is a very strong word describing a very sharp response); she could have sold the perfume and given the money to the poor. When I read things like this I realise that people have always been the same – fast-forward 2000 years and the disciples would fit in perfectly with the Twitter culture we live in right now. This perfume was nothing to do with them, it was the property of this woman and completely up to her to use it as she wanted. And yet when she decided that Jesus was worth her treasure, they all jumped in full of judgement and self-righteousness.


That, actually, is an excellent summary of what dead religion produces. Religion by itself is simply advice and instructions telling people what they can do to earn God’s favour, what they can do to make themselves good enough. It always leads to comparisons and judgements, it never leads to real love. 


The amazing news of Christianity is that religion is not what Jesus Christ offers people (Right to reject religion!). You have seen some evidence of that already in this passage – it is the most religious people of the day who were plotting to kill Jesus. But even greater evidence is the actions of this woman. A writer called William Hendriksen described it like this; “The true meaning of what happened here will never be grasped until it is realised that when she was pouring out her perfume, she was also pouring out her heart, filled with genuine love, gratitude and devotion.” As we read this historical account we are supposed to see the massive contrast between religion (that is all about outward appearances and which doesn’t change a person for the good) and following Jesus (which utterly changes the very heart of a person so that their life gets filled with love, love for God and as a result, love for people).

This is the incredible news of Easter – the God who is love, the God from whom all genuine love, care, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, in summary anything that is truly good has come from God; this God stepped into our world in Jesus so that he could do what religion could never do, so that he could change the hearts of people from sin and hate to love and good. Don’t think that Jesus was down-playing the importance of giving money to help the poor and caring for the needy in this encounter, not at all, but rather he was pointing to the ultimate hope for all of us poor people weighed down by our own sin, the sin of others, and the brokenness of this world.   

The ultimate hope is the cross of Jesus Christ; Jesus said that this woman lovingly pouring out her treasured perfume on him was preparing him for burial. In the entire history of the world, there is nothing so weighty and important and loving as the events around the cross; Jesus went to the cross because of God’s deep costly love for people, and it is the cross and resurrection of Jesus that fills his followers with this same love. Jesus actually changes people – if you know yourself, you know you need to be changed. Religion won’t do it because it can’t and in fact it will make you more self-righteous, more prone to judge, more hard and competitive. Jesus is a loved saviour and he will change those who come to him for forgiveness and salvation - their lives will begin to show the deep love that he has put there.   


Conclusion: (v14-16)

I wonder how you have been listening to this sermon? If you aren’t a Christian yet, I pray you have been listening with hope, hope that Jesus really could change you forever – please don’t shrug your shoulders once more and get on with your life. You should either hate Jesus for what he says about you (you are a sinner on your way to the eternal judgement of hell and there is nothing you can do by yourself to change that), or you should come to Jesus who loves you and let him change your life from the inside out (and let him set before you an eternity of love and joy with him). I pray it is that one.


But this part of the bible has weighty things to say to those of us who are Christians already, who already say we know Jesus and love him. Verses 14-16 are so sad because it was one of the twelve, one of Jesus’ closest associates who in the end showed that his heart was full of coldness and hate rather than the sort of burning love that the woman with her perfume showed. CC Riverside, as we read this passage and see the love of this woman and then as we look to Easter and try to comprehend the depths of love that God has poured upon us in Jesus, it is right for us to despair of the lukewarmness of our own love for God and the people around us.


But there is only one thing to do with that despair so that we remain like the 11 disciples with Jesus rather than turning our backs like Judas Iscariot – we bring it to our loving Saviour, we ask him to change our hearts once more, and he will. He will fill them up with love and it is that love that will send us out from here and cause us to live perfume-pouring-out lives like those in the video at the start – lives that cost us a lot, lives that were paid for at the greatest expense by our great saviour Jesus Christ.    


Passion 1 - Matthew 26 v 1-16 “A Saviour who Divides”


Intro: Respond properly to Jesus


                1) Jesus is a hated saviour (v1-5)

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.” 


  • The ‘best’ people hated Jesus



  • Because Jesus told them they needed a saviour



Hatred makes sense – apathy towards Jesus is like reading a newspaper while your house burns down around you



            2) Jesus is a loved saviour (v6-13)

“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.”

  • The ‘religious’ around were indignant


Religion leads to judgement and self-righteousness.


It is right to reject religion because it cannot change us.



  • The woman loved Jesus properly


Her heart responded in love to the God of love


The cross of Jesus Christ means we can be changed from within





Conclusion: (v14-16)

  • Come to Jesus in Faith for the first time


  • Come to Jesus again for real heart change



Passion 1 - Matthew 26 v 1-16 “A Saviour who Divides”

Home Group Questions

1) The Open Doors video reminded us that across the world people who love Jesus are hated for their faith. Why do you think so many people are apathetic to Jesus in the UK?



2) Read Matt 26 v 1-5. Why did the chief priests and elders hate Jesus so much? What parts of Jesus’ teaching might cause the people around us to hate us?



3) Have you experienced opposition in your life to the gospel? How can we respond well and how should we encourage one another during these trials? Take time now to pray for one another in response to these answers.



4) Read Matt 26 v 6-13. Why do you think the woman spent her precious perfume on Jesus? Are there sacrifices and costs that we incur as Christians that help us to identify with this woman?



5) Read Matt 26 v 14-16. How can we avoid the cold-heartedness of Judas towards Jesus and instead burn with love for Jesus like the woman did?

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