Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 13, 2000
This morning we are going to see in sharp contrasts in people’s responses to Jesus. At the same time one person is demonstrating her love for Jesus through a very expensive gift, another is grieved because of his greed for the value of that gift for himself. At the same time crowds of people are curious about Jesus and the wonders that He has performed, there is another group that is filled with hate that is plotting His murder.
The question for you to consider as we examine this passage is, what is your response? What group do you belong to? Do you actively demonstrate your love to Jesus with sacrificial giving of yourself and what belongs to you, or do you resent any claim that God has on your life? Perhaps your attitude is that God owes you rather than the other way around? Are you curious about Jesus and all that He has done? What efforts have you put forth in discovering more about Him? I don’t think that there would be anyone here that would fit the group that actively hates Jesus openly, but perhaps there are those here that do resent Jesus and have had a passive hatred for Him. Which group do you fit in?
Turn to John 12. As we begin this chapter we have entered into the last week of Jesus’ life. Sometimes it is called the Passion Week or the Holy Week because of all that occurs in this brief time span. John does not deal with all the events of this period because they are presented in the other gospel accounts. John is seeking to fill in some detail about just a few events that demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God sent from Father so that we might believe and find eternal life in Him (John 20:31).
LOVE & GREED (vs. 1-6)
John 12:1 (NASB) 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 therefore 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.
It is now April, AD 30. The antagonism between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders had reached a peak a couple of months earlier when He had raised Lazarus from the dead. Ever since that time the members of the Sanhedrin, the government ruling body of the nation, had been planning a way to kill Jesus (11:53). They were now looking for His arrival for the Passover week (11:57). For this reason, Jesus had been staying in the country near the wilderness in a city called Ephraim. Now that Passover week had arrived, Jesus came near to Jerusalem, but was not in staying in the city itself because of the orders of the chief priests and Pharisees to report His arrival to them. Bethany was only a couple of miles from Jerusalem (15 stadia – 11:18), so it would be a good place to stay for the Passover week. He would be close, but not in the city itself.
Without getting into all the details, I think the time reference here is to Jesus arriving in Bethany at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary on Friday before the Sabbath began. Jesus then enjoyed a Sabbath rest with His friends and that it is Saturday night, after the Sabbath, that a special supper is held for Him there (vs. 2).
John gives a brief description of this supper with emphasis upon Lazarus being there, since Lazarus figures prominently in the demonstration that Jesus is the Son of God. The supper is held at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 11:6). Simon had probably been healed by Jesus at an earlier time. Otherwise, he would not have been hosting such a dinner. Jesus’ disciples are also present (Mt. 26:8), but John makes no mention of them since they are not important to the point of this account of the events. Martha is busy helping with the serving. It would appear that hospitality was one of Martha’s gifts, for we find her doing the same thing in Luke 10. Martha is a doer and likes to give of herself in serving others. Mary also likes to give, but from what we know of her from Luke 10, she is more contemplative. We find her giving to the Lord in a different way in verse 3.
The “therefore” connects verse 2 and 3 and indicates the motivation of Mary’s action. She is grateful to the Lord for raising her brother Lazarus from the dead who even at that moment was there reclining at the table with Jesus. It is a heart filled with joy and love that prompts this beautiful act.
Mary takes a Roman pound (about 12 ounces) of a very precious and costly perfume made from pure nard. Nard is an aromatic herb grown in the high pasture-land of the Himalayas, between Tibet and India. Harvesting this plant in such a remote location, processing it and then transporting it to Israel would have made this an extremely precious perfume. The value of it is expressed as well in Matthew in that he points out that it was in an Alabaster jar, which in itself would have been expensive. In verse 5 Judas Iscariot estimates its monetary cost at 300 denarii. A denarius was the common wage for a full day’s labor. This perfume was worth what the average laboring man would have earned in a full year. To give you a little perspective, a worker who makes just $5 per hour earns $12,000 in 300 days of labor.
While this indicates that Lazarus, Martha and Mary were well of financially, it does not diminish in anyway the value of this perfume to Mary. She has sought to do something for the Lord as expression of her great love for Him and gratitude for having her brother back alive.
What Mary does here is remarkable. Matthew and Mark also give an account of her actions with each one stressing slightly different aspects of what she did. Matthew and Mark both point out that the perfume was in an alabaster jar. Mark remarks that she broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head (Mk 14:3). It is John that points out the amount of perfume which was so much that she also anointed Jesus’ feet with it to such an extent that she needed to wipe of the excess, which she did with her hair. No wonder the house was filled with the fragrance of this perfume.
The significance of all that Mary did is somewhat lost to us because we live in a different culture. We live in a culture that has high standards of hygiene. We have an abundance of water and most people tend to bathe and stay fairly clean. In that oriental culture water was not so abundant so bathing of the whole body was not as frequent as in our society. Add in the fact that they had to walk everywhere in a fairly warm climate, and it is easy to see that people might not smell very pleasant. Perfumes helped, but they were expensive. Anointing someone with perfume was a gracious and kind act.
It was also the common custom to wash a guest’s feet. They would be dirty from walking the dusty roads in sandals. It was also very refreshing. To also anoint the feet with perfume would be exceptional. But consider as well that Mary wiped the excess perfume with her hair.
In that culture it would have been an impropriety for Mary to have even loosen her hair in the presence of men much less use it to wipe a man’s feet. But Mary allows her heart to speak freely. She is not concerned with what other people think. She is only concerned about giving to Jesus. Mary loves Jesus and she gives to Him her best as a demonstration of that love.
What is your love for Jesus like? Ladies, would you have been willing to take your most expensive perfume and pour it out on Jesus like that? Men, how would you have reacted if it was your sister that did that? That alabaster jar of pure nard would have been very precious to Mary, but she poured it out as an act of love for Jesus. What would you willingly sacrifice in such an act of love to Jesus?
The disciples did not understand what Mary had done and so they question her. John points out in verse 4 that it is Judas Iscariot that leads the disciples in this rebuke of Mary.
Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii? The question had a certain pragmatic ring to it, so, according to Matthew and Mark the other disciples picked up the same question. From their standpoint it seemed like such a waste to anoint Jesus with something worth that much. Why, a real ministry, like feeding the poor, could have been accomplished if it had been sold.
John is also quick to point out the character of Judas introducing him in the story as the one that would betray Jesus, but then he also specifically points out the greed that was in Judas’ heart. Judas was not concerned about the poor. His only thought was what he might get out of it if it had been sold and put into their money box. Judas was a thief. He was the treasurer for Jesus and the disciples. They trusted him to be honest with the money that was given to them to pay for their living expenses. There is no indication that Judas was ever confronted and rebuked for his embezzlement. Even on the night that Judas left the last supper to betray Jesus to the Pharisees, the other disciples just thought that he had left to give alms to the poor since he was the treasurer (John 13:29). It would appear that John found out about the true character of Judas after the betrayal and the money box was examined.
Judas was evil, but the reaction of the other disciples was really not much better. They were not looking for personal monetary gain from the sale of the perfume, but they had a false idea of the nature of what it meant to serve God. They, like the Pharisees, viewed giving to the poor as a superior to a direct act of worship. Human pragmatism distorted what was really important. The social gospel of charity is built on this same basic premise.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We are to reach out the poor and strive to meet their needs. Many churches that have reacted to the social gospel have forgotten that, but both the Old Testament commandments concerning the care for the poor and the New Testament teachings about the poor call us to have practical ministry to those in need. However, that ministry must be done with proper motive and never as a substitute for true worship.
It is something that we must be careful of as well, especially as we strive to make a greater impact in our community through doing good works in it – like the work we did this past Friday and Saturday in helping clean up the damage from Thursday’s tornado, or giving away free lemonade and literature at the town day next month. Good works in themselves are not even pleasing to God unless they are done for His glory (Mt. 5:16). In addition, helping people out, meeting their needs and making them comfortable in this life is of little value if we are not also preparing them for eternity.
Another element we must see in what Mary did that makes it superior to selling the nard for a practical ministry to the poor, is that Mary did it as an act of selfless and sacrificial worship. She gained nothing for herself from it. Inherent in the idea among the Jews in giving alms to the poor was a benefit to themselves in gaining the favor of people by doing it. That is why Jesus had to make a stern correction of their practice in Matthew 6:1-4 that it be done for God’s glory and not their own. Perhaps it would be good to examine your own heart in your giving as to its true motivation. Too often we will give to causes that will give us some benefit from it and yet are hesitant to do so when we will not. Parents will give a lot if it will benefit their children. Generally, it is easier to raise money for special projects that have some perceived benefit to us and more difficult to raise money for thing that have no personal benefit.
An example would be going into the community to help clean up the damage from Thursday’s tornado. Please understand that I am not making any personal criticisms in saying this. I appreciate all those that helped and understand why a lot of the folks did not come, many of whom were already committed to helping other people with something else. However, I think we should consider our own hearts. What would the response have been if it had been the church property that was damaged? What would your response have been if it was the property of someone you personally knew or if it was your own? I think you understand my point.
Mary gave out of her love for Jesus in gratitude for all that He had done. Judas only considered what could have been in it for him. The other disciples improperly judged an act of pure worship with a pragmatic outlook.
REBUKE AND WORSHIP (vs. 7-8; cf. Matt. 26:10-13; Mark 14:6-9)
Jesus rebukes Judas and with him the other disciples in verse 7 and 8. John 12:7 (NASB) Jesus therefore said, “Let her alone, in order that she may keep it for the day of My burial. 8 “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.”
Jesus’ rebuke also reveals more about Mary’s belief. John only gives a brief paraphrase of what Jesus said. Matthew records it more fully saying, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. 11 “For the poor you have with you always; but you do not always have Me. 12 “For when she poured this perfume upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. 13 “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.” Mary had understood what Jesus had said on previous occasions about His approaching death (John 6:52-56; 7:323; 8:21-23; 10:11,15). Her anointing Him was in anticipation of His death and burial. Again, her great love for Jesus is evident in her actions.
Jesus also added a statement that these pragmatic disciples would understand. Their would always be opportunity to do good for poor people because they would always be around, but the opportunity to do good directly to Jesus would soon be gone.
So, yes, we do have a responsibility to help care for the poor, and that is a work that will never end until Jesus returns. We should take that responsibility seriously and help according to Biblical principles. Those involved in political science should also take note of this truth. There is no human political or economic system that can eliminate poverty. At best, a political & economic system can only increase the number of people who are not poor so that they in turn can help those that are in poverty (Eph. 4:28).
The rebuke silenced the disciples from further attacks on Mary and her actions. What Mary did was an act of selfless and sacrificial worship. It would be an act that would be spoken of in memory of her wherever the gospel message would go in the future.
CURIOSITY & HATRED (vs. 9-11)
John now changes the scene to what is happening outside the house. Remember that Bethany is only a short distance away from Jerusalem. If Jesus had arrived there on Friday before the Sabbath, news about His arrival would have spread throughout Jerusalem on the Sabbath. With the Sabbath now ending and with it the restrictions on travel, many would seek to have their curiosity satisfied.
CURIOSITY (vs 9)
John 12:9 (NASB) The great multitude therefore of the Jews 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.
They came not only to see Jesus, but also Lazarus because of the miracle performed upon Him. Those that lived less than a Sabbath day’s journey may have come earlier, but now there is a large crowd of people that have come. These would have been the pilgrims that had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations. The same ones that had been asking among themselves if Jesus would come to Jerusalem (11:55-57).
People are still the same today. They will go out of their way to have their curiosity satisfied. That can be a good thing if used properly. Part of the reason we were cutting up trees on Friday and Saturday was to provoke a curiosity about us. What kind of people would do such a thing without asking for anything in return? I have already been told that the Artus’ neighbors could not figure us out. Our prayer now is that their curiosity will now cause them to ask questions and perhaps even come here to check us out for themselves.
HATRED (Vs. 10-11)
Some were not curious. They only had hatred for Jesus and now that hatred was spilling over to anyone that caused people to believe in Jesus.
10 But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus to death also; 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away, and were believing in Jesus.
Lazarus would have to be considered passive in this. The people were not believing in Jesus because Lazarus was some great orator and convincing them of the truth. The very fact that He was alive was evidence enough that there was something different about Jesus. Only the Son of God, the promised Messiah could raise a man from the dead. The hatred of the ungodly chief priests was looking for a way to be vented in vile persecution of anyone that threatened their popularity and power. Lazarus was now also a target.
Those who are in Satan’s kingdom hate those that are in God’s kingdom. Our presence threatens’ their kingdom. Those who are evil hate those who are righteous simply because we exist. Our very lives demonstrate the wickedness of their lives. That is why Jesus warned all His followers that in this world we would have tribulation (John 16:33), that we would be hated for His sake and lied about, slandered and persecuted (Matt. 5:10-12). Yet, since He has overcome the world we can rejoice even in the midst of the persecution, for so the treated Jesus and the prophets before us.
Lazarus was now the target of their wicked murder plot, but Lazarus had nothing to fear. Remember, for Lazarus, death was something “been there, done that.” Death could not keep him because Jesus had other plans for him. Death would not keep in the future either. We have the same hope and promises of Lazarus. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24)
What a precious promise! I hope it is one that you have appropriated. If not, talk with myself or one of our leaders today.
What is your response to Jesus?
Is it a selfless and sacrificial love like Mary?
I pray no one here would be like greedy Judas who followed Jesus in an effort to gain for Himself, but perhaps you may be more like the other disciples who have yet to see the value in such pure worship of Christ. If so, accept Jesus’ rebuke and follow Mary’s pattern.
Perhaps you are like one of the curious multitude. If so, I pray you will soon see and also believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior. Again, talk with myself or one of our other church leaders. We would love to introduce you to Jesus.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the name “Mary” is said. 2) Discuss with your parents what Mary did to Jesus and what it meant. Do you love Jesus like she did?
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the Biblical context of John 12? What is the historical context? When did Jesus arrive in Bethany? What was done for Him the next day? Who else was present? Why does John specifically mention Lazarus among the many guests? How do the personalities of Martha and Mary differ? How did each seek to demonstrate their love for Jesus? Why is what Mary did in anointing Jesus with the perfume so remarkable? Why did Mary do it? What was Judas’ interest? Why did the other disciples join in the criticism of Mary? Do you identify more with Mary or the disciples? What sort of things do you give to freely? What sort of good things are harder for you to give too? Why? Search the Bible on the topic of helping the poor then answer this question: What responsibility do you have toward the poor? How are you fulfilling (planning to fulfill) that responsibility? What is the balance in the Christian life between good works, proclaiming the truth and worshiping God? How can you use people’s natural curiosity to further the cause of Christ among the people you know? Why did the chief priests hate Jesus so much? Why wouldn’t Lazarus need to fear their threat? Should you fear those who hate you?
Do you actively demonstrate your love to Jesus with sacrificial giving of yourself and what belongs to you, or do you resent any claim that God has on your life?
LOVE & GREED (vs. 1-6)
John places emphasis upon Lazarus being at the dinner because ______________________________
A Roman pound is about ______ ounces
Nard is an ______________ ___________ grown in the high pasture-land of the Himalayas
A denarius was the common wage for a__________ _________ labor.
What is your love for Jesus like? What would you willingly sacrifice in such an act of love to Jesus?
GREED (vs. 4-6 cf. Matt. 26:8-9; Mark 14:4-5)
Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii? The question had a certain pragmatic ring to it, so, according to Matthew and Mark the other disciples picked up the same question. From their standpoint it seemed like_________ ____ __________ to anoint Jesus with something worth that much.
Good works in themselves are not even pleasing to God unless they are done _____________(Mt. 5:16).
REBUKE AND WORSHIP (vs. 7-8)
The rebuke silenced the disciples from further attacks on Mary and her actions. What Mary did was an act of selfless and sacrificial worship.
Caring for the poor is a task that will not end until ________________________________________
We should take our responsibility to the poor seriously and help according to______________________
CURIOSITY & HATRED (vs. 9-11)
People will go out of their way to have their __________satisfied. That can be a good thing if used properly.
Lazarus was now also the target of their ______________ plot, but Lazarus had nothing to fear. Remember, for Lazarus, death was something ___________________________________________________________.
For comments, please e-mail Church office