************ Sermon on John 12:1-11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 17, 2013
"Preparing Jesus for Burial"
Remember what we looked at last time as we began our observance of Lent? The Scripture reading started with informers running to Jerusalem; it moved on to plotters wanting to kill Jesus; and it ended with those who betray the Lord into the hands of men. This time we look at the anointing of Jesus.
As I was studying this past week it occurred to me that the two stories are highly similar. Both stories involve the village of Bethany. Both involve Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Both have a statement about Jesus' death. Both say something about the hatred and animosity of the chief priests. Both include a great crowd of people. Same people, same place, same issue, same crowd.
In this season of Lent I want you to notice that the two stories are also quite different. The first shows the unbeliever's hatred for Christ and the Gospel and ends with Christ's death. The second shows the believer's love for Christ and the Gospel and ends with Christ's resurrection.
I The Lazarus Family
A We are told that "Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany" (Jn 12:1). We need to remember that Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem; Bethany is only two miles from the Jewish religious leaders who hated Jesus; Bethany is only two miles from those who plotted to take His life.
Jesus knew the Jewish leaders wanted to arrest Him and kill Him (Jn 11:53, 57). So He went into hiding in the area of Ephraim (Jn 11:54). Yet now He returned to Bethany. Why? Scripture tells us why: "Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor" (Jn 12:2).
It quickly becomes obvious that the dinner was hosted by the Lazarus family. We are told that Martha served the dinner, Lazarus was among those reclining at the table, and Mary poured perfume (Jn 12:2,3).
Jesus returned to Bethany so that He might spend some time with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. That says something about their relationship. They were close and dear friends of Jesus. This time of fellowship was meant to honor Jesus, to thank Jesus, to encourage and strengthen Jesus in His final week before the cross.
Now, let's take a look at the role all three members of the Lazarus family played at the dinner given in Jesus' honor.
B Lazarus is at the meal as a witness. He is identified as the man "whom Jesus had raised from the dead" (Jn 12:1). We have no recorded words from Lazarus in the New Testament, but his miraculous life is a witness. In contrast, John the Baptist did no miracles, yet his words brought people to Jesus (cf Jn 10:40-42).
Lazarus is at the meal as a witness. Lazarus is a living, breathing witness to the power of Christ. Lazarus is a living, breathing witness to Jesus as the resurrection and the life (cf Jn 11:25). Lazarus is a living, breathing witness to life in Jesus. Lazarus pointed away from himself and to Christ. Similarly, our lives, our works, our thoughts, our words should do the same – they should point away from ourselves and to Christ, His power, His grace, His love, His life.
Lazarus is at the meal as a witness. So, look at what happens at the end of our Scripture reading. It ends with a large crowd who came not only to see Jesus but also to see Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead (Jn 12:9).
Lazarus is at the meal as a witness. So, look at what else happens at the end of our Scripture reading. "The chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him" (Jn 12:10). Remember what the leaders did to the blind man healed by Jesus? They hated his testimony, his witness to the power of Christ, so they threw him out of the Temple (Jn 9:34). Both Christ and those who witness to Christ are hated and despised. So, both Christ and those who witness to Christ must die. They wanted to put Lazarus back into the tomb because he was leading people to faith in Christ. If you will not accept the evidence of Jesus as Savior and Lord and Messiah, then you must try to get rid of it.
Don't we see the same thing happening today? I've mentioned before various newsletters I get about the persecution of Christians.
An email from Pakistan this week says:Those, like Lazarus, who witness to Jesus can expect to be persecuted.
Christians in Pakistan need prayers. Persecution increases day by day. Recently Muslims burnt the Christian colony in Badamibagh Lahore. They burnt 200 houses and the church building also. The Government always promises to arrest those people but there is no result.
A newsletter from the Middle East this week says:
On March 10, the first court hearing was held for five Christians of Muslim background in Iran who face charges related to public order, national security, and evangelism. The five believers were arrested in October during an evening raid on a prayer service in a house.
C Now we come to Martha. True to her personality, Martha is busy serving. Isn't this what she did the first time Jesus came to their home for dinner? Mary sat at the Lord's feet listening to what Jesus said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made and complained that Mary was listening instead of helping (cf Lk 10:38-42).
Remember, "a dinner was given in Jesus' honor" (Jn 12:2). The dinner doesn't just magically appear – as children and husbands often seem to think. It needs to be planned. The food needs to be purchased. The items need to be prepared. The table needs to be set. The house needs to be cleaned. Fresh flowers need to be picked. Martha does all of this.
The dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Such a dinner needs to be served in stages.
Ruth and I have a Chinese friend who loves to cook for us. Her dinners are five or six courses: hors d'oeuvres, soup, salad, vegetables, two or three meats, spring rolls, rice, fruit, dessert.Martha is like my Chinese friend – she served. She served the dinner in stages. She was honoring Jesus and put on the best feast possible. What Martha did that day was nothing to sneeze at. As Hebrews reminds us,
(Heb 13:16) And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.Martha's service was just as much a fragrant offering as was Mary's perfume.
Martha shows us something. Martha shows us to never put down or despise the labor of those serving the fellowship luncheons, providing food after funeral services, arranging the church picnic, arranging for our hospitality nights, or serving as a hospitality family. This is all important in the eyes of our Lord.
D The third member of the family is Mary. Lazarus is a witness, Martha serves, and Mary worships and adores.
(Jn 12:3) Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Let me repeat that last sentence: "And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." This sentence is far too real for some of our members. I hope no one will be offended by what I am about to say. We are told the house was filled with a strong smell. But it was also a natural smell. Nothing like the perfumes and after-shaves and lotions used today. Why do I mention this? Because we have people in worship who are highly allergic to the artificial smells with which people lather themselves today. Those with these allergies get headaches and feel nauseous if those around them in worship use strong fragrances. So, let me ask those in worship to keep perfume and after-shave and lotion to a minimum for the sake of your allergic brothers and sisters in worship.
Aside from this moment on a soap-box, what Mary did was a blessing to Jesus and an example to the church of worship. We see a couple of different elements to Mary's act of worship.
Mary took expensive perfume. As I already said, it filled the house with its aroma. All the guests recognized the scent as an expensive import from northern India. Everyone knows that a whole bottle of the stuff represented a year's wages for the average working man.
And, then, Mary got down on her knees and washed Jesus' feet. Who washed feet back then? Slaves, servant girls. This was an act of humiliation on Mary's part.
Finally, Mary let down her hair before Jesus, a man who was not her husband; she probably shook her hair loose so it hung on her shoulders. She dried Jesus' feet with her hair, her crown and glory as a woman. Back then, only a prostitute, a loose woman, someone immoral, did these sorts of acts in public.
We can learn from Mary. As far as Mary is concerned, nothing is too costly, nothing is too extravagant, nothing is too humiliating, to express her love and devotion for the Lord. For the sake of the Lord she uncovers her hair. For the sake of the Lord she acts like a slave. For the sake of the Lord she pours a most expensive perfume on His feet. Extravagant?! Certainly not. Wasteful?! Absolutely not. For Mary knows that nothing is too good for her Lord. Mary gave to Jesus her best, with all of her heart and soul and mind.
E In Lazarus, Martha, and Mary we see three responses to Jesus: we see witness, we see work, and we see worship and adoration. Do we see these responses in our lives?
We baptized a precious child this morning. One of the responsibilities of Phil and Lisa – and us all – is to teach our little ones that they, too, need to respond to Jesus by witness, work, and worship. So, do you hold these responses before your children and grandchildren?
II Chief Priests and Judas
A As Scripture so often does, it presents a contrast to Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.
First, we contrast the actions of the Lazarus family to that of the chief priests. Remember what Caiaphas had said? He said, "it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish" (Jn 11:50). So, the Sanhedrin decided that Jesus had to be killed before "everyone believe in him" (Jn 11:48), and "from that day on they plotted to take his life" (Jn 11:53). Also, as already mentioned, they now decide Lazarus too had to die because of his witness to Jesus.
When Lazarus, Martha, and Mary see Jesus they are filled with an overwhelming love. When the chief priests see Jesus their teeth are set on edge.
B There is another contrast as well: with Judas. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary respond to Jesus with an act of love – a feast, a dinner, a time of hospitality. As is often the case, people become critical of those who strive to give their best to the Lord. It is Judas who started the criticism. The plural "you" of verse 8 indicates the other disciples must have joined in; they did not know Judas was of the devil and they admired his concern for the poor. In fact, until the very end, the other disciples believed that Judas was a devoted follower of the Lord.
Our Scripture reading records the first words of Judas found anywhere in the four gospels: "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages" (Jn 12:5).
Do you hear what Judas was saying? Judas was saying – unlike Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus – that Jesus was not worth it. We can only believe that Judas had already decided to betray the Lord (cf Jn 12:4).
Judas claimed concern for the poor. Judas was not concerned for the poor; rather, he was concerned for himself. John tells us Judas was a thief and used to help himself to the monies put in the money bag (Jn 12:6). It appears the monies were meant for the poor but Judas spent the contents on himself. Jesus and His disciples must not have had a system of audits and checks and balances.
We call our daughters Martha or Mary. Occasionally I have come across the name Lazarus. But no one today would call a son "Judas." His very name is listed in the dictionary as a synonym for treachery. The contrast of the Lazarus family with Judas is seen in the words of Proverbs 10:
(Prov 10:7) The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.Here is a reminder that a good name is worth much in our mixed up, fallen world.
A We end by looking at the words of Jesus. In response to Judas, and the other disciples, Jesus explains what Mary did:
(Jn 12:7-8) "Leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. (8) You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."Jesus mentions "my burial." In other words, Jesus acknowledges that He will die – just as the Sanhedrin wants.
Don't forget the where and the when of these words. The where is in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, a scant two miles from those who hate Jesus and plot to kill Him (Jn 12:1; cf Jn 12:53, 57). The when, says Scripture, is "six days before the Passover" (Jn 12:1). The Passover, as you all should know, is when the lamb is killed in remembrance of God's great salvation act in Egypt. At that time, God's angel of death passed over every home whose doorpost was sprinkled with the blood of the Passover lamb. In other words, the lamb was only days from being slaughtered. In mind was not just any lamb, but the Lamb of God, even the Lord Jesus Christ. The time of Jesus' suffering and death is almost at hand. The time of burial has almost come.
B The perfume, says Jesus, is meant "for the day of my burial" (Jn 12:7). But now a question: why was Jesus anointed before His death? In that time and place – and today as well – bodies are prepared for burial after and not before death. So, why was Jesus' body being prepared for burial before He died?
Among the Jews a body is not prepared for burial when it belongs to a criminal executed for his or her crimes. In such cases, part of the punishment includes a less than honorable burial. Mary's anointing of Jesus' body before He died is, then, a proclamation of the kind of death Jesus would suffer: namely, the death of a criminal. In the words of Isaiah 53, "He was assigned a grave with the wicked" (Is 53:9).
"It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial" (Jn 12:7). This is an acknowledgment by Jesus that He anticipates suffering a criminal's death. This is an acknowledgment by Jesus that He anticipates being crucified for our sins, for us, in our place.
C "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial" (Jn 12:7). Jesus also has something besides a criminal's death in mind.
Mary – together with Lazarus and Martha – was a close friend of Jesus. She was a dear friend of Jesus. She lived close to Jerusalem. Yet, she is not listed among those who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. This is highly significant.
Mary anointed Jesus for burial in Bethany. Mary did not go the tomb. Why? Because she suddenly understood and believed what Jesus said to her after Lazarus died. Do you remember what Jesus said? Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life" (Jn 11:25). Mary believed this. Mary literally believed this. She knew and believed that Jesus was going to die for her sins. But she also knew and believed that Jesus would not remain in the grave; she knew and believed that He would rise from the dead; and, of course, a resurrected Jesus needs no anointing. She knew and believed that now was the time to act, now was the time to show devotion, now was the time to show love and worship because His body would not remain in the grave for long.
In this season of Lent we see that the priests and the elders of the people want to kill Jesus. We are reminded that Judas betrays Jesus. And, we see a believing family Who want to live for Him Who not only went to the cross but also arose from the grave.
My prayer is that we all, like the Lazarus family, will bring comfort and joy to the heart of Jesus.
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