John 12 Part 1

From the House of The Nazarene. This will be a very in-depth deep dive study of the Book of John.
Let’s continue our journey through the Gospel of John, and we are in chapter 12 and as we look at this Gospel, we see that this is the last chapter in what is referred to as the ‘book of signs’. The ‘book of signs’, chapters one through twelve, focuses in a very clear structure around seven miracles and responses as well as narrative discourses. Usually the responses are afterwards, although in chapter 11 we noticed that John reversed the order and had the discourse before the raising of Lazarus. The important thing to note is that when Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and then He follows that up with the resurrection of Lazarus, that is an important power. When He says, “I am the light of the world,” and gives sight to the man born blind, when he makes these claims He always verifies them and backs them up. These are not just claims that are empty. One of the things about Jesus’ life is that His words and His works were perfectly congruent. There was a complete integrity between the two.
So, His claims and His credentials actually reinforce one another. That is why I always say that belief in Christ, when we look at the real evidence, instead of the deconstructionism among many liberal theologians today, which is not warranted by history, by the manuscript evidence or by the early Church. All these are later and modern theories imposed on the text and you have to basically deconstruct the text and then rebuild it according to your own opinions. That leads to total subjectivity. My argument is actually a simple analysis of the Gospels as primary historical documents demonstrates that belief in Christ is not a leap in the dark, but a step into the light. A step it is, though, and it is not going to just be automatic.
A step is required, as we will see in this material. In John chapter 12, in fact, Jesus is going to have a discourse at the very end and it is His last public words. It is an exhortation, and appeal to the people to respond because after that, beginning in chapter 13, as you know, and through chapter 17, we have Jesus only with His disciples in the Upper Room and then after that the narrative completes the story with the Passion and the Resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances of our Lord. That is the general structure of John’s Gospel. It is highly selective material. Let’s look at chapter 12, then, and beginning there, remembering that it is important to know that these chapter divisions are generally good, but not always the best. There is an integrity between one verse and the next. They were not, originally, divided into either verses or chapters. In fact, they didn’t even have punctuation.
Now, “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary 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 perfume.” Let me stop here for just a moment. I have just argued that there have been many correlative witnesses and truths throughout, but Mary is seen as the culmination of Jesus’ message. What is significant here is that this woman demonstrates greater understanding of the mission of Jesus than did His own disciples. His disciples did not really grasp or understand what He was really about. Jesus made it clear to them that only after the resurrection did they “Understand the things He had told them.” Then they understood how it all connected. The idea of what He was really intending to do was so radical that really no one on this earth could have made it up. That is why there is no other religion that has the idea that God suffers for us. That is because it is too radical for a person to make up. In particular, there is no religion that says there is grace through faith and not by any merit or attainment of our own but it is a gift of God. These are unique things because they are products of God and not human imagination. In fact, that uniqueness is, in my view, one of the evidences for the truth of Christianity. There is nothing like it in all the world. This is not something people would have made up. That is why His own disciples misunderstood His mission. It was more radical than anyone could have imagined at that point.
But, my view here is that Mary seemed to have a deeper understanding. To some degree it may have been a bit like Caiaphas, who, you recall, made a proclamation that it was necessary for one man to die for the sins of the people.
But, he did not know, as high priest, that God actually spoke to him and actually gave more truth than Caiaphas knew at the time. Similarly, there may be some degree to which Mary’s action of preparing Him for His burial was an action that was a little bit more than she fully understood, because what she was really doing was preparing Him in advance. Let me go back to a thought before I continue in the text. I want to stress that the John 14 image, that we are going to come across; the image of Jesus being ‘the way’ and ‘the truth’ and ‘the life’ is significant. As I see it, there seem to be three primary crises in the Gospel.
The first is that many disciples no longer walked with Him. The point here is that He is the way and He is the truth and He is the life. As to ‘the way’, many of His disciples would no longer walk with Him especially when He sharpened the edge of His teaching. In John chapter six, “He divided many people.” As ‘the truth’, “Many people refused to believe in Him,” as we see in chapter 12 verse 37. ‘Though He performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him,” although He was the truth. And though He is the life, they wanted to put Him to death. They sought to crucify Him. And so, we see in one witness and proof after another and the point is that He was rejected by His own, as John 1:11 tells us. Ultimately, beginning in the next chapter, we are going to see that He focuses on His own disciples.
But, the interesting thing with Mary anointing His feet, and we know from the parallel Gospels that she also anointed His head, is that it is an interesting moment for several reasons. One of them is that she fulfilled Jesus’ words, that we ought to wash the feet of one another, even before He uttered those words, in the next chapter. There is a clear and evident parallelism here that we are invited to see. Let me make a comment. The other Gospels mention they were at the home of Simon the leper. Chances are that might have been the home he owned but it doesn’t say he was actually there. It is also possible that might have been Martha’s home and that she was the hostess for this event. It is difficult to say, but we do know that Martha is fulfilling her customary role here where she is busy serving and Mary is worshiping. The three times we see Mary with Jesus she is at His feet.
That is a very significant thing. And so, we see again this image here and while Martha was serving Mary was worshiping, but we can not demean Martha in this regard. They are sisters and both work and worship go together. The active and the contemplative lives ought to be joined, so we can not demean that role of practicality. It is to be in word and deed. It is to be in truth but also in our lives.
Not to be confused Jesus feet was anointed at another time. That is a different account and in a different context. It is a different occurrence all together. It is a separate incident and it is in Luke 7:36-38. It is a different setting and a different woman.
The thing I want you to keep in mind as we look at this material here is that the mounting opposition is such that the Sanhedrin, or the temple authorities, are going to be so opposed to Jesus that they are going to want Him to be killed. The deeper story behind all this is that the work of the Sanhedrin will actually propel Jesus to greater glory and not less.
So, He will use them, ironically, for the purposes of God and this is always how He works. Everything will fulfill and accomplish His purposes, even when people choose to reject Him. Going back to the text we have before us, there are parallels, especially between Mark 14 and John 12, but as I mentioned before, Mark 14 gives us some evidences that we don’t have here. One of them is that it mentions an alabaster jar and that she broke the jar. We don’t have that here. By breaking the jar, it really meant that the seal was broken on top of the jar. When it says, “Pure nard,” nard is a very important thing because it is a very rare and precious spice. It actually came from northern India and typically it was mixed with its own root to increase its own weight.
That kind of impure nard was about a 100 denari for a pound, but she bought the best available and spent 300 denari. This is somewhat extravagant and I will comment on that kind of extravagance in a moment. I define it as extravagance with abandon. Figure out the actual cost. She is blowing almost a year’s wages on this perfume. As you know, this offended Judas and then the other disciples caught on and also objected. The interesting thing is that in John’s commentary here, “Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denari and given to poor people’?” He said this, John tells us, “Not because He was concerned about the poor but because He was thief and as he kept the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.” I think part of the reason John is saying these things is that he knew Judas for three and half years and walked with him, but none of the disciples ever realized this fellow’s treachery.
If they had, they would have realized it at the Last Supper. Even when Judas got up and went out, they just figured he was going for provisions. They never caught on and John is making an extra effort to understand that and to look back and give us reflection as to why all this happened. I might mention, by the way, that the blessing of Mary’s deeds spread around the world, as we see from Matthew and Mark. The whole world remembers this as we talk about an event that happened 2,000 years ago. There is a ripple effect of a good deed.
So, the contrast between Judas and Mary could not be greater. “The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot,” Proverbs 10:7 tells us. “A good name,” it says in Ecclesiastes 7:1, “is better than a good ointment.” Mary had both, a good name and great ointment. And the fact is, we don’t name too many of our sons after Judas. We name them after David and Paul and Matthew and Mark and so forth. The point is that kind of thing is a fulfillment of this very issue.
Now, Jesus said to Judas, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.” Again, I don’t think they grasped, nor did she fully grasp, what was going on.
But, the fact is this extravagant work, where she at first anointed His head and then it flowed over His garments, filled the entire house with its pleasant odor. By the way, we think it had a smell like gladiola, so it had a sweet scent and also a red color. My suspicion is that He smelled like this for the rest of the week.
So, the symbolism is that it was the last good smell He would have. The point here is that she is, in effect, showing her devotion to Jesus before it is too late. If you look at Mark 16:1, you will notice who went to prepare the body. “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of Salome and James, bought spices so that they might come and anoint Him.” The interesting thing here is that Mary of Bethany was not among them. Why is that? Because she had already anointed Him. You see the concept here? She showed her devotion to Jesus before it was too late and I must tell you that this is one of those things that grips me about our own lives and how we need to be people who show our devotion before it is too late. I watched the film, Waking Ned Devine, recently and there was a great moment. As you know there is the story of how Ned Devine wins this fabulous lottery. In fact, it is so great that he dies of a heart attack on the spot. His friends bury him, but they also know that the people from the lottery won’t give any money if he is dead.




Continued in part 2

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