About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Jesus Anointed At Bethany (ch. 12:1-11)


To begin, all four gospels record an event where a woman anointed Jesus.  They are found in Matthew 36:6 to 13, Mark 14:3 to 9, Luke 7:36 to 50, and here.  The account in Luke is not the same as the account here in John.  Some suggest that Matthew and Mark's account is the same as here in John while others suggest they might be two different accounts.  John's account just seems a bit different.  That is to say, it was more of a preparation for Jesus' death.  One things seem sure though.  All accounts, except for Luke's account, Mary, the sister of Martha is doing the anointing.      


In verse 1 John tells us that this event took place six days before the Passover, the last Passover Jesus would attend.  Bethany is about two miles to the east of Jerusalem.   


We should note that in Matthew 26:2 the text appears to state the timing of this event differently than John.  Matthew says it was two days before Passover, not six days as stated here by John.  I think there might be a logical solution to this apparent discrepancy.  First of all, Matthew, as most Hebrew writers wrote, was not all that interested in chronology of events.  I believe this is key here.  Matthew 26:1 tells us that after Jesus said certain things there were two days before Passover.  Obviously then, what Jesus said in Matthew 25 was two day before Passover, but, it was six days before Passover when we see the dinner held in honour of Jesus.           


Verse 2 tells that that a dinner was held in Jesus' honour.  Matthew 26:6 tells us that this dinner was at the home of Simon the Leper.  Of course, he was no longer a leper because Jesus had healed him.  Some suggest that Simon and Martha were married but there is no evidence of that.  It appears to me from the last chapter that Martha had her own home.  Simon and Martha were probably neighbours.     


John says that Lazarus was one of the people reclining at the table with Jesus to eat this meal.  Wouldn’t it have been nice if we could have listened in on that conversation?  Here Lazarus and Jesus were sitting side by side, and we don’t know what they were talking about.  My guess is that part of the conversation had to do with Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead.


We must remember that people did not sit on chairs at a table to eat a meal.  They reclined on large cushions on the floor.  It should also be noted that only men reclined at a meal in those days. 


We also note that Martha was doing the serving, as we see in the other gospel accounts.  Martha seems to be the one who always does the work and has things under control. She seems to be more of a business type than her sister.


In verse 3 we note that sometime during the evening Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, took some expensive perfume made of nard and poured it on Jesus’ feet.  Nard was a plant that when dug up had a very nice odor to its roots.  This was an expensive perfume imported from India .  Mary poured a whole container of this perfume on Jesus’ feet and then she wiped His feet with her hair.  This is very significant.  Normally a woman would have her long hair tied back so it would be out of the way.  A woman untying her hair in public would be disgraceful and even immoral.  For a woman, letting her hair down for a woman was a very private, even intimate, act.  It might be compared to taking her clothes off for sexual intimacy.  To me this was an act of passionate worship on the part of Mary towards Jesus.  The Greek word "proskyneo" is translated as worship in the New Testament means "to kiss towards," a word denoting intimacy.  It is clear that Mary did not have a sexually intimate relationship with Jesus, but what she was doing here was expressing intimate feelings in an honourable way.  Mary appears to be very passionate, especially towards Jesus.  This just seems to be part of who she is; part of her character.  This to me was the best way that she could show honour to Jesus. 


Over the centuries people have romanticized Mary and Jesus' friendship but I do not believe their was any romantic feelings, at least on Jesus' part.  That being said, we must remember that Jesus was temped in every way a normal man was tempted.  So, I am sure He felt temptation while in Mary's presence.    


At this point I should explain further just how Mary was able to wash Jesus' feet with perfume.  People in those days and in that culture did not sit on chairs and eat off of tables like us.  The tables were low to the ground.  People laid on cushions on the floor, often leaning on one elbow, with their feet spread out behind them.  To be clear, their feet were not under the table.  They were behind them and that is why Mary could reach Jesus' feet.  This would be impossible if Jesus had been sitting on a chair with his feet under the table.        


To the men observing what Mary was doing. it was probably very disgusting.  Mary was doing a private and intimate thing in public, but once again, this was not a sexual thing for Mary, or so I believe.  It was a supreme act of worship.  We need to understand that when we worship Jesus today, it is an act of spiritual intimacy.  Worship is more than singing songs and hymns.  Of course I'm speaking here of worship that we do in a gathering of the saints.  Worship is far more than simply  singing songs of worship in a meeting.  


Some scholars believe the Mary mentioned here by John is not Mary the sister of Martha but Mary Magdalene whom they believe to have been a prostitute before meeting Jesus.  The reason why they believe this is due to Mary' loosening her hair, but I think the context suggests that this Mary is Martha’s sister.  The mention of both Martha and Lazarus in the same paragraph leads me to believe this.    


In verse 4 we note that Judas was upset by the fact that Mary used this expensive perfume on Jesus.  John said this perfume was worth a whole year's wage.  In other words, it was the yearly wage of the average common worker.  He felt that Mary should have sold it and given the money to the poor. 


The name Iscariot, as in Judas Iscariot, can mean either one of two things.  It can refer to a city in Judea .  If this is so, that would suggest that Judas came from Judea, and would be the only disciple of Jesus from Judea .  The rest were from Galilee . The other meaning of the name refers to an assassin's knife, which would be appropriate for Judas.      


In verse 6 John tells us the real reason why Judas was so concerned, and it had nothing to do with poor people.  John says that Judas was the treasurer of Jesus’ band of followers and that he was also a thief and every so often would help himself to the money.  He would have loved to have had the value of that perfume in the money bag so he could help himself to it.


It is also interesting to note that Jesus made Judas in charge of the money they needed to do what they did.  Jesus knew Judas was a thief, but still he let him in charge of the money anyway.   This goes against all human common sense, but again, Jesus was not justy human.  He was God in human flesh.   


It is also interesting to note that Jesus needed a money bag and someone in charge of it.  Yes, Jesus needed money to do the things He needed to do, but, was money an all consuming thing for Jesus?  No, it wasn’t, or else He would not have put Judas in charge of the money.    


They history of the word "bag" we see here goes as follows.  Musicians used to carry bags where they'd put their mouth pieces in, like a flute.  This bag eventually was used for other things, like a money bag.


In verse 7 Jesus rebukes Judas with what I believe were sharp and harsh words when He said, "leave her alone," or as to say, "stop bugging her."


 The NIV says that the perfume was intended for the day of Jesus' burial.  There is some discrepancy over what Jesus meant here.  Jesus might have understood Mary anointing Him as an act of worship instead of saving the perfume for the embalming process after He died.  It is like saying, she’s spending her money on me while I am alive instead of after I’m dead.


On the other hand, I'm not sure that Mary understood that Jesus was about ready to soon die.  Did she really think in terms of Mary saving this for His burial or was this in fact Jesus' thoughts or interpretation of this event?  Jesus might well have been putting a prophetic slant to what Mary did.     


In verse 8 Jesus says that "you will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."  This is an interesting statement.  Jesus is putting Himself ahead of the poor in this particular instance.  The poor will always be around, but Jesus will not always be around.  As a matter of fact, Jesus only had a few days left before His death, something those with Him at that moment didn't realize.  Jesus is putting things in their proper perspective.  Yes, there is a time to feed the poor, but the poor did not come before Jesus at that particular moment in time. 


The liberal church is very socially conscious, but social consciousness apart from Jesus is not Biblical.  Jesus needs to be the centre of all the good works we do.  We worship Him first, and then we go and feed the poor.  Feeding the poor should be a natural outgrowth of our relationship with Jesus.  


The reference to feeding the poor might well be in reference to Deuteronomy 15:4 and 11. 


In verse 9 we note that a large crowd came to not only see Jesus but also Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  We must remember, this was just days before Passover.  All Jews, if at all possible, were to visit Jerusalem for Passover.  There would have been thousands of visitors to Jerusalem when Jesus resurrected Lazarus, and word of the miracle would have naturally spread very rapidly.  This must have been the buzz of the city that Passover.           


In verses 10 and 11 we see that the 
Jewish leaders were now prepared

to kill Lazarus because on account of
him being raised from the dead many
Jews were putting their trust in Jesus. 


I've said this before, but I will say it again.  Jesus raising Lazarus has great significance to Jesus' death.  For one thing I think it is a prophetic illustration that there would be another resurrection, not too many days in the future.  Another significance is the raising of Lazarus from the dead was the final straw that made the Jews kill Jesus.  In other words, life for Lazarus meant death for Jesus.       


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