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“Six Days Before the Passover”
“Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom He raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with Him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray Him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of My burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but Me ye have not always. Much people of the Jews therefore knew that He was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.” (John 12:1-11)
May God the Holy Spirit, whose Word we have before us, graciously take the things of Christ and apply them to our hearts as only He can. As we open our Bibles to the 12th chapter of John’s Gospel, we come to the end of our Lord’s public earthly ministry. Everything else recorded in John’s Gospel, until His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, tells us about our Savior’s private instructions given to His beloved disciples during the last six days of His life on this earth.
John 12 is really a climactic chapter. For three years, without wavering, the Lord Jesus had declared and proved His manifold perfections. He had manifested His blessed person in public and private; and He had verified every claim He ever made as the Son of Man by His words, by His deeds, and by His behavior. And the result among His own disciples was a deepening knowledge of Him. They began to see and appreciate more fully who He really is. Then, after the climactic resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, His chosen, the sheep of His fold, had a more confident awareness that this is indeed the Son of God. Yet, the unbelieving were more completely hardened in their unbelief. The very same things that had in those three years melted the hearts of God’s elect only hardened the Lord’s enemies; and their hatred intensified with every passing day (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
The event described in the passage before us is recorded no less than three times in the Gospel narratives of our Lord’s earthly life. Obviously, the Holy Spirit intends for us to learn much from it and meditate often upon it. First, we have a sweet picture of the blessed company of the redeemed (vv. 1-3).
“Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom He raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with Him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.”
With the observance of this passover, the legal, Old Testament ordinance ceased forever. The passover here mentioned was the fourth during our Lord’s earthly ministry. The Lord Jesus was looking forward to it with peculiar delight. He was anxious to eat it with His disciples before His death (Luke 22:15), because He was anxious to fulfil His Father’s will and complete His covenant engagements as our Surety, anxious to finish the mission for which He had come into the world, — anxious to save His people from their sins! With the celebration of this passover, the ordinance of it was to cease forever, because Christ our Passover was about to be sacrificed for us. Once the substance came, the shadow died away (1 Corinthians 5:7-8; Colossians 2:16-17).
Six days before the final passover our Lord Jesus came again to Bethany, the town of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They made a special supper for Him. Martha, who was always a busy, active woman, served the Lord and the guests. Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead, sat at the table with Christ and the others. Then, we read in verse 3 that Mary, whom we saw sitting at the Savior’s feet and hearing His Word in Luke 10, took a pound of very costly and fragrant ointment, anointed His feet and wiped them with her hair. When she did, the house was literally filled with the fragrance of the ointment.
We read in verse 2 that “They made Him a supper.” That is what we should seek to do every time we come together in His house, every time we gather our families to pray, and every time we enter into our closets. O Holy Spirit, make it so. Public worship (and private), gathering together in His name, more than anything else, is to gather for His honor, to make Him a feast (Song of Solomon 1:7, 13). If we make Him a feast, He will come in and sup with our souls (Revelation 3:20; Song of Solomon 5:2)
Here are three things, three great features, which ought to characterize every believer and every Gospel church…
1. Communion with Christ, as portrayed in Lazarus sitting at the table with the Savior.
2. Worship, as portrayed by Mary anointing His feet.
3. And service to Christ and His people, portrayed in Martha serving the table.
The work was harmonious: no envy and no self-exaltation. Each were in their place. The workers were one. — “They made Him a supper.” How blessed God’s Church is when the Holy Ghost gives us grace so to serve our Savior! Let us ever seek grace to do so (Philippians 2:1-5, 14-18).
Lazarus at the Table
John just casually mentions the fact that Lazarus, whose body just a few days earlier was rotting in the tomb, was sitting at the table with the Lord Jesus, his family, and friends, and a good many neighbors, including the chief priests and Pharisees. So the second thing we see here is the fact that our Savior’s wondrous works are as undeniable as they are unexplainable. — There sat Lazarus!
No one could pretend that his resurrection was a mere optical delusion, and that the eyes of the bystanders must have been deceived by a spirit or vision. There sat Lazarus, in the flesh, eating and drinking and talking with other men.
The very same things are true with regard to our Savior’s resurrection from the dead. Was Lazarus seen by the people of Bethany, going in and coming out among them? So was the Lord Jesus. Did Lazarus eat food before the eyes of his friends? So did the Lord Jesus eat and drink before His ascension.
We should mark this and remember it in this age of abounding unbelief and skepticism. Our Lord’s resurrection will bear any weight we can lay upon it. Just as He placed beyond reasonable doubt the resurrection of Lazarus, so He placed beyond doubt His own victory over the grave. If we believe that Lazarus rose again, we need not doubt that the Lord Jesus rose again also. If we believe that Christ rose from the dead, we need not doubt that He raised Lazarus from the dead, and will raise us from the dead. All of our Savior’s wondrous works are both undeniable and unexplainable (His Incarnation — His Sinless, Perfect Obedience — His Supernatural, Substitutionary Death — His Resurrection — His Ascension).
Next, John gives a brief description of Mary’s very instructive act of anointing the Savior’s feet. — “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (v. 3).
There are several things that are both striking and instructive here. When we consider who Christ is, we ought to be overwhelmed at His wonderful condescension in allowing this woman to anoint and bathe His feet! You and I who are His should be astounded that He condescends to allow us to serve Him (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). When we realize who Mary was, (Luke 7:37) what a great privilege this was for her! This was an act of great love and devotion, displayed in extraordinary, sacrificial generosity. Mary poured out “a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly.” It was worth 300 pence, about a year’s wages (Matthew 20:2). Love never counts the cost. Love never weighs the consequence. Love never considers a loss a loss when the loss is made for the one who is loved.
This was an act of great humility. Mary wiped the blessed Savior’s feet with her hair. The whole thing was motivated and inspired by gratitude. The Lord Jesus had just raised her brother from the dead. Though it was a spontaneous act of love, this sacrifice and anointing required thoughtful, deliberate preparation. Our Master tells us here that Mary had specifically kept this precious ointment for this occasion. And Mary did this thing without calling any attention to herself. C. H. Spurgeon wrote, “Silent acts of love have musical voices in the ears of Jesus. Sound no trumpet before thee, or Jesus will take warning and be gone.” Mary’s love and gratitude produced her humility and generosity. To whom much is given and forgiven, the same will give, forgive, and love much (Luke 7:47).
This anointing of our Lord Jesus by Mary is also a beautiful picture of Gospel preaching. The Word of God is a casket, a treasure chest, containing the costly spikenard of Christ crucified. The Gospel preacher breaks open the casket and pours out the spikenard. And the sweet odor of Christ crucified fills the house.
In verses 4-6 we are told that Judas Iscariot, who had no love for Christ, but rather was a hypocrite and a covetous person, said, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?” Judas did not care for the poor. He was interested in money and material things. What he really had in mind was that Mary should sell the ointment and give the money to him as the treasurer of the twelve. Of course, he could not suggest his real thoughts; so he tried to impress the Lord and the others with his piety and concern for the poor.
So the fourth thing we see in this passage is the fact that anyone who seeks the honor of Christ and seeks to serve the interest of His honor will meet with opposition, often in the most unsuspected places. Mary anointed the feet of our Lord with precious ointment and wiped them with the hair of her head. The ointment was not poured out with a niggardly hand. She did it so liberally and profusely that “the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.” She did it under the influence of a heart full of love and gratitude. She thought nothing too great and good to bestow on such a great Savior. Sitting at His feet in days gone by, and hearing His words, she had found peace for her conscience and pardon for her sins. At this very moment she saw Lazarus, alive and well, sitting by her Master’s side, — her own brother, Lazarus, whom he brought back to her from the grave. Greatly loved, she thought she could not show too much love in return. Having freely received, she freely gave.
But there were some present who found fault with her conduct and charged her with wasteful extravagance. Judas led the charge; but all the other apostles joined his opposition of Mary and her devotion. Judas was of so great esteem and authority among them, that what he did they are all said to do. So cunningly he had carried his conspiracy, that they all suspected themselves rather than Judas; each said, “Is it I?”
Many, like Judas, who have no interest in the cause of Christ, except in pretense and show, openly oppose true devotion at every opportunity. Sadly, many truly faithful disciples are influenced by them and follow their lead. We must never allow ourselves to be moved from “patient continuance in well-doing” by such people.
Fifth, in verses 7 and 8 the Lord Jesus comes to Mary’s defense. Our God has promised, them “that honor Me I will honor;” and he is as good as his word. — “Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (vv. 7-8).
Mary often sat at His feet and heard His words. She listened much and said little. She knew that His death was near; and she took this opportunity to anoint Him for that day, fearing that once the Pharisees laid hold on Him, she would not be able to anoint Him (Matthew 26:12; Mark 14:6-9).
Mary believed the Word of God which she saw fulfilled in the Lord Jesus. In a day when few understood His doctrine, Mary believed, and believing, she understood. Faith is simply trusting Christ, taking God at his Word, believing Him. That faith which stands in the word of man is not faith at all. True faith stands in the Word of God alone. Our Lord Jesus told His disciples that He must die and rise again. Mary simply believed Him, and came as a poor, broken-hearted, forgiven sinner to anoint Him for His burial. Where does your faith stand? What is the basis of your faith? Is it your feeling? Your experience? Or, is it the Word of God?
Faith believes the Word of God (1 John 5:7-12). The basis of our faith is the Word of God, and the Word of God alone. I fully agree with Martin Luther who wrote…
“Feelings come and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving.
My warrant is the Word of God;
Naught else is worth believing!”
With David, I say, “My soul fainteth for Thy salvation: but I hope in Thy word.” — “Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in Thy word.” — “Remember the word unto Thy servant, upon which Thou hast caused me to hope.” — “I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in His word do I hope” (Psalm 119:81, 114, 49; 130:5). Our feelings are no basis for hope. Our hope is in that which God has caused to be written in Holy Scripture. If I have “a good hope through grace,” I ought to be able to turn to some text, or fact, or doctrine of God’s Word as the source and basis of it. Our confidence must arise from something that God has said in His Word, that we have received and believed with our hearts. — “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). — “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26). Good feelings are deceiving, unless we can point to “Thus saith the Lord” as the basis of our hope. Our hope is found in, arises from, and is based upon the Book of God. — “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The Book of God was written specifically to give believing sinners an assured hope of grace, salvation, and eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord (1 John 5:1-3).
The basis of hope is the Word of God. And that which is revealed in the Word of God which gives us hope is the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Substitute (Romans 8:34-35; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Christ is the Foundation upon which we are built. — “Christ is our Hope” (1 Timothy 1:1). — We “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3). — “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24). — Our hope is in Christ, our Covenant Surety, our blessed, sin-atoning Redeemer, our Righteousness, and our Advocate and High Priest in heaven. — “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
The basis of our hope is the Word of God. That which is revealed in this Book that gives us hope is the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I want you to see that the good hope of grace and salvation that God gives to His elect is something that is felt in us, felt inwardly in our hearts. The Apostle Paul speaks of God’s saints as people “rejoicing in hope” (Romans 12:12). We read in Romans 5:5, “Hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
The Lord Jesus undertook Mary’s cause, came to her defense, and held her up as an example of faith and devotion. I say with David, “Be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me” (Psalm 31:2), — “Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me” (Psalm 35:1), and with the prophet, — “O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me” (Isaiah 38:14). — “I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause” (Job 5:8). — “Plead my cause, and deliver me: quicken me according to Thy word” (Psalm 119:154).
In verse 8 the Savior says, “There will always be poor people in the church and in the world for you to take care of and provide for; but I will not be with you very long in the flesh, and you will not have these opportunities to show your love and devotion to Me so directly.” However, in these days He tells us that what we do for others in the His name is done unto Him (Matthew 25:34-40). We should never forget that, and ever look for opportunities to serve the spiritual and eternal, and physical and emotional needs of others.
Sixth, in verses 9-11 we see what desperate hardness and unbelief there is in the heart of man. — “Much people of the Jews therefore knew that He was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom He had raised from the dead.”
Multitudes who came to Jerusalem for the passover journeyed to Bethany, which was only two miles from Jerusalem. It was reported that the Lord Jesus was there; but they came to Bethany not so much to see Christ as to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. How dull and dark is the understanding of the natural man, who is more interested in the curious than in the Creator, more interested in Lazarus than in the One who gave him life!
Here, again, we are reminded that while miracles are a witness of the Deity and power of Christ, they do not beget saving faith. Faith is the gift and operation of God the Holy Spirit, bestowed upon and wrought in the hearts of sinners by the preaching of the Gospel (Luke 16:29-31). While it is said that many of these people believed, they were like those in John 2:23-25, who were impressed by the miracles He performed (John 12:37-40).
The chief priests were not impressed, but rather angered because of the notoriety that Jesus had received, and because the people were flocking to Him. They took counsel that they might not only put Christ to death, but Lazarus too. — “But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus” (vv. 10-11). Their hearts were totally hardened. They wanted to murder the Son of God and erase every trace of His ministry from the face of the earth. They wanted to murder Lazarus because Lazarus’ very existence was a witness to Christ as Savior, Lord, and Messiah, and exposed them as pretentious, religious hypocrites.
What hardness of heart possessed Judas Iscariot! An apostle and a preacher of the kingdom of heaven, Judas proved himself to be both a thief and a traitor. So long as the world stands, that reprobate man will stand as a lasting proof of the depth of human corruption. That anyone could follow Christ as a disciple for three years, see all His miracles, hear all His doctrine, receive at His hand repeated kindnesses, be counted an apostle, and yet prove rotten at heart in the end, all this at first sight appears incredible and impossible. Yet the case of Judas shows plainly that the heart of man is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” No mortal knows the extent of the desperate hardness and unbelief there is in the heart of man. Let us thank God if we know anything of faith, and can say, with all our sense of weakness and infirmity, “I believe on the Son of God.” Then “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
This act performed upon the Lord Jesus was an act of singular respect and honor. It showed great humility on the part of this woman. More importantly, it was a literal fulfillment of the Song of Solomon (1:12) — “While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.” What this woman did for the honor of Christ, every Gospel preacher must do every time he stands to preach the Gospel. The Word of God is like a sacred chest containing precious spikenard, the rich, fragrant spikenard of Christ crucified. As this dear women broke open her box of spikenard, it is the privilege and responsibility of the Gospel preacher to break open the Word of God, that the sweet, sweet aroma of Christ may fill His house. The Gospel of Christ is as ointment poured forth. The sweet savor of the knowledge of Christ is diffused in the house of God when Christ is preached.
Let every ransomed sinner anoint the Son of God spiritually, by faith in Him, giving Him the honor He so richly deserves. Anoint Him as your sovereign King with the kiss of allegiance. Anoint Him as your glorious Savior with the kiss of repentance. Anoint Him as your Beloved with the kiss of affection.
Mary lost nothing. Her oil was not wasted. Her labor was not spent in vain. She got by it that good name which Solomon says is “better than precious ointment.” You can count on this: those who honor Christ, Christ will honor (1 Samuel 2:30). — “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).