Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, welcome to episode 114 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 113, we saw Jesus journeying into and through Jericho, a beautiful city about 18 miles to the east of Jerusalem. There Jesus had lodged with Zacchaeus, a tax collector, and had healed a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. I talked about how both of these men were examples of what Jesus has been looking for throughout His ministry - those who bore the fruits of repentance, and those who believed that He was Israel’s promised Messiah who would sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem and rule from there forever. Now all of the events we’ve been looking at since episode 106 from Luke 17:11 onward have all taken place within only perhaps about a week or so as Jesus has journeyed southward from Galilee for the Passover feast in Jerusalem. As we will see, the Gospels really begin to “zoom in” and give us so many details of this final week of Jesus’ life before His crucifixion. Today we’re going to look at some precious moments that take place in Bethany just before that week begins, so let’s read from John’s gospel:
"Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 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."
(John 12:1–3 ESV)
Well John tells us that six days before the Passover, Jesus is in Bethany. We know from the other Gospels that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, and Bethany is just on the doorstep of Jerusalem, only a few miles away. Now I think if you can see the progression of the events here, it will make it more real to you. First, recall that the Sabbath day, the Jewish day of rest as commanded by the Old Testament, begins on Friday at sundown and finishes on Saturday at sundown. Jesus would not have been traveling on the Sabbath, so it seems like it would have been on Thursday night that Jesus stayed with Zacchaeus in Jericho. Then on Friday, He and His disciples along with the band of pilgrims, set out to from Jericho to Jerusalem. Before sundown on Friday, they end up in Bethany, and Jesus spends the last Sabbath before His crucifixion in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Then at sundown on Saturday, when the Sabbath ended, a dinner was prepared for Jesus. John doesn’t mention where this dinner was, but Matthew 26 and Mark 14 both say that it took place in the house of Simon the Leper, or maybe better said, Simon the former leper. Perhaps he had the largest house in Bethany to be able to accommodate all of the guests, or maybe his house was closest to the synagogue - we can only speculate why the meal was there. So with this timeline in mind, let’s take a quick look at a map. So Jesus is in Jericho here on a Thursday, and stays with Zacchaeus on Thursday night. Then on Friday, He travels the 10 miles or so to Bethany, and arrives before the beginning of the Sabbath that begins at sundown. He stays with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany for the Sabbath, then on Saturday after the Sabbath ends, He goes to the meal at Simon the Leper’s house in Bethany.
Now once again the parallel passages in Matthew 26 and Mark 14 tell us that Lazarus is there at the meal at Simon the leper’s house. The whole town was full of anticipation and activity because of the feast, but now we get to go inside of a house for a little bit. Think about this for a second - reclining at the table with Jesus is Lazarus, a guy who used to be dead. He was wrapped up in grave clothes and was in a tomb for four days, but now he’s eating and talking and laughing again. Oh, what a living testimony of Jesus and His glory right there in front of all the guests, including the inhabitants of Bethany as well as pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover! How must they have viewed Jesus? Lazarus was just there looking at the guy who raised him from the dead! Wow.
Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, was also at this dinner in Simon’s house. Roughly six months before this moment, right around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles last October, Jesus had come through Bethany and was staying with Mary and Martha. We find this in John chapter 10, and we looked at it back in Episode 89. There, while all the men including Lazarus and the Twelve were off in Jerusalem for the feast, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His words. And what were those words? I believe Jesus told Mary what He had only shared with His closest disciples at that point - that He was to go to Jerusalem and suffer and be killed at the hands of the Jewish authorities and the Romans. Though in Luke 9 Jesus had told His disciples about His coming suffering and even said “let these words sink down into your ears”, they had not received His words, because they immediately go on and argue about who the greatest is. But Mary had heard, treasured, and pondered those words, and I believe that is what led her to do what she did here, less than six days before Jesus was to be crucified.
John says that Mary had a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard. According to the parallels in Matthew 26 and Mark 14, about 12 ounces of perfume was in an alabaster flask or jar. This flask would have to be broken at the neck of it in order for the perfume to be poured out. The ointment or perfume was made from nard, which was a very special oil probably extracted from the root of the Indian nard plant. This was a very fragrant, very expensive oil. We can only speculate where she got this - perhaps it was given to her before she had even met Jesus. She goes on to pour this oil all over Jesus right in front of all of the guests. John says she poured it on Jesus’ feet, Matthew and Mark say that she poured it on His head too. But why did she do this? Why such lavish extravagance and why such a seeming waste? There are so many questions that the Gospels leave unanswered… But I think we can safely say that this act was a beautiful response to the mixture of sorrow, faith, and devotion in her heart. Sorrow for and identification with His coming death, faith in who He was as the promised Jewish Messiah, and devotion to Him because of His preciousness. The oil was nothing compared to Him, who God had demonstrated Him to be, and what she believed He was going to accomplish according to the Law and the Prophets. When did it come to her mind that she was going to pour out her life and future upon Him like this? Was it six months before when Jesus told her of His coming suffering? Was it gradually decided in the weeks and months leading up to this day? Whenever it was, this was one of the most humble, most precious, most beautiful deeds done to Jesus, that both Matthew and Mark record Jesus saying that Mary of Bethany's story was to be told with the proclamation to the world of God’s certain faithfulness to His covenantal promises to Israel. Even for us today, we would do well to ponder Mary’s act as we think about the sacrifice of Jesus. Well, let’s keep reading in John:
"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?” 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. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”"
(John 12:4–8 ESV)
Matthew’s Gospel says that all of the disciples were outraged with Mary, seeing her act as a waste because the perfume was so valuable. John highlights Judas, because Judas obviously went a very different direction with his offense, being the one who would betray Jesus just a few days from this point. Judas didn’t care about selling it and giving to the poor, John says he was greedy and loved money just like the Jewish authorities and others we’ve looked at in the story of the Gospels. Jesus responds to them, undoubtedly shocking them all. Mary had sat at His feet and heard His word, and at some point vowed in her heart to give her all as an anointing for His burial. This is why this moment was so precious to Jesus, and this is what made it so precious to the early church. John actually expected the readers of his gospel to know who Mary was, because the apostles actually obeyed Jesus and talked about her when they preached the gospel. When they told His story, they made sure she was in there. Oh, that is just so precious.
Now the smell of this ointment would have likely been on Jesus for days. It wasn’t like He just got in the shower and then changed his clothes and then it was gone. Jesus was just a few days away from His crucifixion, and the smell of what Mary did could have been with Him for days. Astonishing. Let’s finish up this passage in John:
"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. 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."
(John 12:9–11 ESV)
Word that Jesus was in Bethany got to Jerusalem, which was just a couple of miles away. And so the pilgrims coming for the feast combined with those already in Jerusalem as well as the inhabitants there come up to see both Him and Lazarus. Remember, it hasn’t been all that long since Jesus had raised Lazarus. He did that at some point just before heading north to see His family and then travel south again for the Passover - we looked at that in John 11 back in Episode 105. At that time, the Jews began plotting to kill Jesus because many had believed who Jesus was on account of Lazarus’ raising. And John records here that not only did they have plans to put Jesus to death, but they now were planning to kill Lazarus. Think about what was going through Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ minds when they heard rumors of death threats. They didn’t live all that far from Jerusalem, and they seemingly didn’t have any plans to withdraw northward like Jesus did after the Jews began to make plans to put Him to death. But I think they knew that they were safer with the One who can raise the dead than they would be without Him. Their assurance and faith in God’s promises was what would sustain them through the momentary afflictions of this present age.
Well there’s so much more that could be said - I feel like 10 minutes is not enough time for precious scenes like this one and others that we’ll be looking at in the upcoming episodes. But these videos are merely to jumpstart your meditation and further study, so I hope this one was helpful. As always, you can find the past episodes in this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Join me next time as we start looking at the next and final time period in Jesus’ ministry, Passion Week. God bless.