John 12:1 – Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
As the last chapter ended, we found Jesus withdrawing from the public eye due to the wicked plans of the enemy. He spent some time in the wilderness alone with his disciples, no doubt continuing to teach and strengthen them for what was shortly to come – his crucifixion.
It has been estimated that Jesus was with his disciples for about two months following the resurrection of Lazarus. But now the time had come to fulfill his mission. His journey to the cross began with a stop at Bethany, six days before the Passover.
By stopping in Bethany, Jesus once again brings the idea of resurrection to the minds of his disciples. They will spend time in the company of Lazarus; they will be reminded that Jesus has full resurrection power within himself. They needed this reminder because their faith was soon to be tested with the death of Jesus himself.
The stop in Bethany fulfills another purpose as well. Jesus was fully aware that Judas would betray him; he knew the appointed time for victory was at hand and he was ready to lay his life down for the sheep. This pause at Bethany gives Judas plenty of time to make his pact with the Pharisees and plan the betrayal of Christ (Matthew 26:14-16).
John 12:2 – So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.
The friends of Jesus decide to organize a dinner party for him. The event was held in the house of Simon the leper (Matthew 26:6). At the time of the supper he was no longer a leper. How do we know? If he was, he wouldn’t be permitted to be in the house. He would be banished outside of town. Clearly Jesus had healed him some time in the past.
Yet people continued to identify him as ‘Simon the leper’. Thus, the testimony of what Christ did for him continues to live on and bear witness to more and more people. Even the young people of that community probably knew him as the leper. If so, the testimony of this miracle spanned generations.
I know I have said this before, but if you have a testimony, SHARE IT. You don’t know who it might impact or how God might use it to further his purposes.
Lazarus’ presence at the party was also a testimony. His resurrection was no illusion – he was right there living, breathing, eating and enjoying life as any other healthy person would.
Meanwhile, Martha was heavily involved in planning and serving at the party.
John 12:3 – Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
The product that Mary uses in this instance is not simply an extract from spikenard. It was an expensive ointment or compound of many different odoriferous substances which was normally kept in a sealed jar or flask. It is not surprising that the fragrance traveled throughout the entire house once it was opened.
The question is, why anoint Jesus at all?
While this custom may seem strange to us, it was normal to the Jews. It was common to pour fragrant oils on the heads of distinguished guests as a sign of respect. This is probably the custom that was alluded to in Psalms 45:7 and Hebrews 1:8-9.
Hebrews 1:8-9 –But unto the Son he says, Your throne, O God, is forever and ever: a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.
Furthermore, when God established the Hebrew nation, he mandated the anointing of men when they were appointed to high offices (specifically prophets, priests and kings). When they were anointed, they received a special measure of Holy Spirit to enable them to carry out their office.
Think about that for a minute… Jesus was about to execute the most important office of all time – the Redeemer of mankind. Given that he was already filled with the Spirit without measure, it would only be fitting for him to be anointed before fulfilling this office.
Mary’s act of love and devotion to Jesus obviously went far beyond the normal custom of honoring a guest. It reflected the depths of her gratitude and reverence to Christ for all that he had done in her life. This no doubt included restoring her brother to life.
What feelings rise up in your heart/soul when you consider the depths of your sin and realize that only Christ the Redeemer could set you free? If you don’t instantly experience gratitude, reverence, love and devotion, then you need to take a second look at your sin. I assure you, it is far worse than you think – in God’s sight it was more putrid than the rotting flesh of Lazarus. Without Christ the Redeemer, you would still be spiritually dead in your sin.
It is plain to see that Mary gave Christ her very best. Can we do any less? Are we giving Christ the best we have to offer in every aspect of our lives, or does he get what is left over after we do what we want?
John 12:4-5 – But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
Various historians maintain that ordinary ointment could be purchased for ten denarii, while the best stuff was selling for 310 denarii. So, when Judas claims this ointment could have been sold for 300 denarii, he wasn’t exaggerating. It was really that expensive; it was the best money could buy. That amount of money would have lasted a poor man’s household for a year.
In essence, Judas is complaining that Mary wasted a vast amount of money by lavishly anointing Jesus. He maintains that in using this oil, instead of selling it, she has cheated the poor. In his opinion, she should be reprimanded.
John 12:6 – He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
Have you ever gone on vacation and left home for a week? How expensive was it to travel? Can you imagine the expense associated with constantly traveling for three entire years?
Obviously, the ministry of Jesus required money. As they traveled, the group carried a specific bag which held donations made by friends and supporters of the ministry. Scripture tells us that many of the financial supporters were women (Luke 8:1-3). Personally, I think it’s pretty cool that God allowed everyone to participate in Jesus’ ministry. Men and women alike were able to support Jesus and his disciples as they proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of heaven.
What role do finances play in the spread of the gospel today? I would say finances are just as important today as they were back then. We are fortunate to be able to spread the gospel through radio, TV, streaming services, websites, conferences, churches etc but none of these venues are free. Neither is the equipment needed to make them function. What are you doing to support the spread of the gospel?
Despite his protests, Judas was not interested in the welfare of the poor. He was interested in the welfare of himself! It is bad enough that he is stealing from the group, but now he goes a step further. Judas feels that he personally has been cheated by Mary because she did not put the ointment money into the bag, where he could help himself to it!
It’s hard to fathom such avarice, but it clearly existed in the heart of Judas.
Here is something to ponder: Some scholars suggest that Judas’ outrage at being ‘cheated’ out of the $300 was the final straw that caused him to seek out the religious leaders and request money to betray Jesus (See Matthew 26:15).
They also speculate that Judas knew Jesus was going to die soon, so he was anxious to steal as much from the bag as possible, in case the group disbursed. Of course, this theory cannot be proved, but psychologically speaking, it is an interesting point of view.
John 12:7 – Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.”
What does Jesus mean by the phrase ‘she may keep it’?
It means that the ointment was not used frivolously, as Judas alleged. It had been set aside for a specific use, at a specific time.
Jesus did not delight in having earthly honors or pleasures heaped upon him. If someone had tried to pour this ointment on him early in his ministry, he probably would have prevented it. But the appropriate time had come for this event.
As we mentioned, anointing was the spiritual symbol of a God appointed office. Jesus was about to step into his appointment as the Redeemer of mankind, the first fruits of those who are raised from death:
1 Corinthians 15:20-23 – But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
So besides affirming that Jesus is fulfilling the office of Messiah, this anointing also points once again to the promise of a final resurrection at the end of the age.
Furthermore, this specific anointing was entirely appropriate because of the imminent death and burial of Christ. According to Jewish custom, corpses were washed, laid out and then anointed with liquid spices prior to burial. Why should the body of Jesus be treated differently than any other Jewish person? Did Judas object to the use of costly spices when his friends and family were interred? Did he insist that their burial perfume be sold and donated to the poor? I doubt it!
The actions of Mary raise another question. Did she fully understand that she was anointing him for burial? Probably not. Motivated by intense love, she acted on the direction of Holy Spirit, who knows all things.
John 12:8 – “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
Jesus gives yet another gentile reminder of his approaching departure which contains some long-standing truths.
First, as long as we live in this fallen world, there will always be poor people.
Deuteronomy 15:11 – For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, you shall open your hand wide unto your brother, to your poor, and to your needy, in your land.
This means there will always be opportunities for Christians to show the love of Christ to the poor by assisting them (Proverbs 19:17). We are not here to judge the situation of the poor, or how they got there. While we should consider it our duty to assist them, we need to rely on the wisdom of God and the leading of Holy Spirit to determine how best to do that.
Secondly, while there was plenty of time to help the poor, Mary only had a limited amount of time to minister to Jesus while he was in bodily form on earth. In fact, there were less than six full days at the time of this supper. This teaches us that opportunities to do something for Christ do not last forever. Whatever you intend to do for God, you need to do it now.
- If you want to worship Christ, then do it lavishly, and do it now.
- If you want to witness for Christ, do it earnestly, and do it now.
- If you want to fellowship with Christ, do it joyfully, and do it now.
- If you want to serve Christ, do it faithfully, and do it now.
John 12:9 – When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
The crowd of Jews was probably large indeed. Remember, many had come early for the Passover celebration and the population of Jerusalem was significantly increasing every day. Because Bethany was so close to Jerusalem, it was easy for people to go and check out this miracle for themselves.
It was curiosity which prompted them to see Lazarus. They wanted to see this miracle for themselves. They probably wanted to hear a first-hand account of his death and resurrection (I know I would). They were full of questions about the afterlife. What was it like? Who did he see there? Did he speak to God? The questions were no doubt endless.
But as remarkable as Lazarus was, people were even more interested to see Jesus, the one who performed this miracle. The one who taught them with authority. The one who spoke a new and refreshing doctrine about the kingdom of heaven. And the one who was at bitter odds with the religious leaders; the one who was on the Pharisees 10 most wanted list.
There was speculation that Jesus may not come to the Passover as he had in years past, so many took this opportunity to go and see him in Bethany.
We find that God had arranged for the divinity of Jesus to be recognized by great numbers of witnesses just before his crucifixion. This miracle strengthened the faith of many believers. It planted seeds of faith in many others, which would bloom and grow once Jesus had been resurrected.
John 12:10-11 – So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
The religious leaders have gone mad. Fueled by their own envy and pride, they have completely rejected the gospel. And once a person has turned away from the truth, there is no end/limit to the sin and crime they will embrace.
Here is a case in point. These men are the leaders of the nation. They are supposed to rule in matters of righteousness and justice. Lazarus has done absolutely nothing wrong, yet they are plotting to kill him! Lazarus is singled out to be the object of their special hatred, because he represents the love and power of Christ.
His only crime is being a living witness to the power and divinity of Jesus. The leaders could not discount, deny or sweep his witness under the rug. Neither could they stop its effect upon the Jewish nation, which further infuriated them.
The truth is that all their efforts to silence Jesus over the last three years had been in vain. They had done everything in their power to alienate the Jews from him. They had stopped at nothing in an effort to discredit Jesus. Yet more and more people believed in him as the promised Messiah.
The religious leaders are left in the position of fighting against God himself. Clearly, it was God’s will that Lazarus was alive. Without his direct intervention, he would still be in the tomb. But the leaders won’t accept that. Their desire to kill Lazarus is nothing less than an act of defiance against God.
We find this principle at work in our world today. When people are determined to reject the authority of God, there is no evil/sin they will fail to embrace. There is no limit to the crimes they will commit. The god of this world is still blinding the hearts and minds of people today, just as he did in the day of Christ.
Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:
If you look around, you will find many people who fight against God just as vehemently as the Pharisees did. They too have been blinded by Satan, the god of this world. They too will embrace sin and evil without limit.
But remember, God has never lost a war or even a battle. There is no power on earth or in hell that can stand against him. Satan is already a defeated foe; Jesus took care of that issue long ago.
When you look around and see evil in the world, don’t perceive that as a loss. Don’t be discouraged by it. See it for what it really is – an opening to shine the light of Christ into the darkness. An opportunity to do battle for the kingdom of heaven. A chance to set people free with the gospel of Jesus Christ. A favorable time for God to do the miraculous.
Jesus is our victorious king, and we are victorious through him:
I Corinthians 15:57-58 – But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
So, let’s prepare ourselves to engage in spiritual warfare. Let’s get off the sidelines and into the greatest battle of all time. We will enjoy the victory more if we are a part of the action!