Marked by God

You may not have been physically anointed, but your service is no less sacred.

I like to use olive oil for cooking.  But imagine you walked into the kitchen and I smeared a handful of it across your forehead. You’d probably think I’d lost my mind. Yet this was a common practice in ancient times. In the hot and dusty Middle East, oil soothed the skin and was therefore applied liberally—even to guests (Ps. 23:5). As Psalm 104:15 puts it, God gave people the substance to make their faces “glisten with oil.”

“Anointing with oil could also take on a more special significance: setting someone apart for a specific vocation from God.”

Anointing with oil could also take on a more special significance: setting someone apart for a specific vocation from God. The Hebrews had a unique word for this “sacred calling” kind of anointing (mashach) to set it apart from the more ordinary “daily moisturizer” usage (cukh). But what was this sacred anointing all about?

Set Apart for Service In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed by way of inauguration into their vocation. For example, Elijah the prophet was told to anoint Elisha, his successor  (1 Kings 19:16). God told Moses the priests were to be anointed, marking their entrance into “a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations” (Ex. 40:15). The high priest was called “the anointed” after being consecrated to his office by oil in a public ceremony (Ex. 29:8; Lev. 4:3; Lev. 8:12).

And perhaps most significantly, the king was commissioned as leader of the nation through a public ceremony that involved being anointed with oil. Think of a presidential inauguration, where every four years our newly elected leader stands before the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in a massive assembly that marks the beginning of a new term. But rather than simply take the oath of office, ancient Israel’s new king was drenched with oil, which was poured over his head.

Being anointed, however, was about more than just holding office. It was about using one’s position to care for God’s world. When we talk about a call from God, some people envision this as something that pulls you out of your community into privilege, like moving into a country club where you don’t have to deal with the frustrations of the common folks anymore. But for Israel, anointing was actually being called into a special kind of service to the community. These were public officials who were taking on some extra responsibility for the neighborhood.

“Think of a presidential inauguration, where every four years our newly elected leader stands before the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.”

When the king was anointed, it was hoped that God’s character—and even more powerfully, God’s Spirit—would accompany him to fulfill this high calling. For example, we’re told that when David was anointed as king, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon [him] from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13).

In fact, “the Lord’s anointed” eventually became a synonym for king. (See 1 Samuel 12:3, 1 Samuel 12:5; 1 Samuel 26:11; 2 Samuel 1:14; Ps. 20:6.) Of course, some kings didn’t do so well— we all know how corrupt politicians can get. But in the midst of Israel’s bad kings arose their hope for a good one to come. In fact, “Messiah” (meshiach) means, literally, “the Anointed One,” a word that includes the Hebrew root for this “sacred anointing” (mashach). The coming Messiah embodied Israel’s longsuffering hope for God to return and set the world right again. The Greek word for Messiah is Christos, which we’ve brought into English as Christ. The Christ was the one who would be anointed to bring God’s justice to earth, and this hope is fulfilled in Jesus.

Jesus, the Anointed One

A frequent title for Jesus in the New Testament is “the Anointed One.” (See John 1:41; Acts 18:5.) Jesus’ baptism is depicted as His anointing (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34), where He’s drenched beneath the waters and arises to be publicly declared God’s beloved Son—the anointed one of Psalm 2:2, the chosen one of Isaiah 42:1. In this way, He is set apart and empowered by the Spirit for His mission, which is one of service.

“Jesus is set apart and empowered by the Spirit for His mission, which is one of service.”

This is the inauguration of the Lord’s ministry to establish His kingdom. As He launches His ministry, Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 to show exactly what this anointed endeavor would entail: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). In Jesus, Israel’s hope for God’s anointed—the One who would deliver the people from physical, spiritual, and political oppression—had arrived. And they rejected Him.

As Jesus prepared to go to His death, Mary anointed Him for burial (John 12:1-11). This is perhaps the  most significant anointing in the Scriptures, because Jesus was being set apart for the highest sacred calling: to atone for sin and save the world. And He was anointed not by a prophet, priest, or king, but by a woman (See Luke 7:37)—a representative for the church as the bride of Christ. The King is anointed to lay down His life for His bride.

Faithful and Good

We are told in  2 Corinthians 1:21 that God has “anointed us”—not with water or oil, but with His Holy Spirit. We’ve been drenched in the goodness of God’s very presence and set apart for a special calling—to lay down our lives for God’s glory in the neighborhood. Our purpose isn’t to atone for sin and save the world. And few, if any, of us are prophets, priests, or kings with significant political or spiritual authority. Instead, God has set us apart for Himself—not to be pulled out of the hard places, but rather to faithfully serve within them—to act as faithful caretakers, following Him all our days, and standing firm in faith. He’s calling us, you and me, to labor alongside Him in bringing restoration.


Illustrations by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Gods Will

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5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.

15 And wine which makes man's heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man's heart.

16 and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.

15 and you shall anoint them even as you have anointed their father, that they may minister as priests to Me; and their anointing will qualify them for a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations."

8 You shall bring his sons and put tunics on them.

3 if the anointed priest sins so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the LORD a bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.

12 Then he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him, to consecrate him.

13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah.

3 Here I am; bear witness against me before the LORD and His anointed. Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? I will restore it to you."

5 He said to them, The LORD is witness against you, and His anointed is witness this day that you have found nothing in my hand." And they said, He is witness."

11 The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD'S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go."

14 Then David said to him, How is it you were not afraid to stretch out your hand to destroy the LORD'S anointed?"

6 Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven With the saving strength of His right hand.

41 He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, We have found the Messiah" (which translated means Christ).

5 But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.

13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him.

14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?"

15 But Jesus answering said to him, Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted Him.

16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him,

17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him;

11 and a voice came out of the heavens: You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased."

21 Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened,

22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased."

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, `After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'

31 I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water."

32 John testified saying, I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him.

33 I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, `He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.'

34 I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God."

2 The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,



1 Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

2 So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.

3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said,

5 Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people? "

6 Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.

7 Therefore Jesus said, Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.

8 For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me."

9 The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead.

10 But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also;

11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.

37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,

21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God,

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