The Gospel Of John — Part 14
Feb 2, 2010 1660
The Anointing of Jesus
John 12:1-8 Six days before Passover Jesus went back to Bethany, where he had raised Lazarus from death. A meal had been prepared for Jesus. Martha was doing the serving, and Lazarus himself was there.
Mary took a very expensive bottle of perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet. She wiped them with her hair, and the sweet smell of the perfume filled the house.
A disciple named Judas Iscariot was there. He was the one who was going to betray Jesus, and he asked, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?’
Judas did not really care about the poor. He asked this because he carried the moneybag and sometimes would steal from it.
Jesus replied, ‘Leave her alone! She has kept this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me.’
There are two significant events in the life of Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 11:1-2), which provoked the censure of people but which were defended and praised by Jesus. In the first event, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet totally absorbed in what he had to say, leaving her sister Martha to care for ‘the preparations that had to be made’ for the guests. Martha, naturally upset at being left with all the work, would have liked to have been listening to Jesus also, asked Jesus to send Mary to help her prepare the food for the guests. Jesus chided her by saying in effect, ‘Martha, you will always have entertainment responsibilities, but you won’t always have me. If you have to choose between the two, do what Mary has done and choose what is better’ (Luke 10:38-42).
In the second event, Mary brings an alabaster jar full of expensive perfume (about $40,000 worth in today’s currency), and pours it on Jesus’ feet then wipes them with her hair.
John 12 begins with the words, ‘Six days before the Passover …’, that is, six days before Jesus was crucified. The last ten chapters of John (almost half of his book) cover the final week of Jesus’ life. Everything in these ten chapters points forward to the Cross, even Mary’s anointing of Jesus.
Whenever a king was crowned in Old Testament times he was always anointed with oil (1 Sam. 16:12-13; 2 Kgs. 9:6). Accordingly, the King was known as the anointed one, or Messiah. Matthew and Mark reveal that Mary poured the perfumed oil first on Jesus’ head (Mark 14:1-9; Matt. 26:6-13), while Luke and John mention that she then poured it on his feet also (Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8).
Mary, as the representative of all repentant sinners, accepted Jesus as her King, and anointed him as her Messiah. Unlike earthly kings, Jesus does not impose his kingship upon people contrary to their will, but is King only to those who voluntarily accept him as King—as Mary did (John 18:36-37).
When Solomon was anointed King of Israel (1 Chron. 29:22), it was the high point of his life, but when Jesus was anointed as King it was the preparation for his burial, because there could be no kingdom unless his blood first redeemed all who would become its citizens, for if there were no citizens, there would be no kingdom. So it was entirely fitting that such expensive perfume be used to herald the greatest event of this Age.
When Jesus died on the Cross his death was the epitome of love’s extravagance. As the Creator of the universe he gave himself totally—withholding nothing—for the sin of the world. Similarly, when Mary poured her life’s savings on Jesus she gave everything she had for the Saviour of the world— withholding nothing—because Jesus’ limitless love demands a like response. While salvation is a free gift which costs nothing, it requires that we give up everything that keeps us from accepting the gift (Luke 9:23-25). Mary surrendered to Jesus her whole past and its ill-gotten gains.
Matthew Henry says: ‘Love never calculates; love never thinks how little it can decently give; love’s one desire is to give to the uttermost limits; and, when it has given all it has to give, it still thinks the gift too little. We have not even begun to be Christian if we think of giving to Christ and to his Church in terms of as little as we respectably can.’
Such lofty sentiments were lost on Judas. Stung by Jesus’ rebuke, he went out and laid plans for the betrayal of the Saviour.
LUKE 7:36-50 CEV*
A Pharisee invited Jesus to have dinner with him. So Jesus went to the Pharisee’s home and got ready to eat. When a sinful woman in that town found out that Jesus was there, she bought an expensive bottle of perfume. Then she came and stood behind Jesus. She cried and started washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. The woman kissed his feet and poured the perfume on them.
The Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this and said to himself, ‘If this man really were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him! He would know that she is a sinner.’ Jesus said to the Pharisee, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’
‘Teacher, what is it?’ Simon replied.
Jesus told him, ‘Two people were in debt to a moneylender. One of them owed him five hundred silver coins and the other owed him fifty. Since neither of them could pay him back, the moneylender said that they didn’t have to pay him anything. Which one of them will like him more?’
Simon answered, ‘I suppose it would be the one who had owed more and didn’t have to pay it back.’
‘You are right,’ Jesus said.
He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Have you noticed this woman? When I came into your home, you didn’t give me any water so I could wash my feet. But she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You didn’t even pour olive oil on my head, but she has poured expensive perfume on my feet. So I tell you that all her sins are forgiven, and that is why she has shown great love. But anyone who has been forgiven for only a little will show only a little love.’ Then Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Some other guests started saying to one another, ‘Who is this who dares to forgive sins?’
But Jesus told the woman, ‘Because of your faith, you are now saved. May God give you peace!’’
This story, about two people and their treatment of Jesus, and Jesus’ evaluation of their actions, supplies us with information that is not included in John’s account given above. One of the two people was Simon, who once had leprosy (Mark 14:3), and the other, Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 11:1-2, 12:1-8). Simon was a self-righteous Pharisee; Mary was a repentant sinner. Simon put his faith in his observance of the law; Mary put her faith in the free grace of the Lord.
Living by the law is self-centred; living by grace is Christ-centred. Because Simon had neither sought, nor obtained the forgiveness of God for sins he refused to acknowledge, the Spirit of God had not come into his heart with pure love. ‘He who has been forgiven little loves little,’ commented Jesus (Luke 7:47). Simon was unable to give what he had not received. He lived by the law and judged both Jesus and Mary by the law (Luke 7:39). He judged that Jesus was not a prophet, because Jesus did not see things the way he thought he should. And he judged that Mary was a sinner, because he himself had not experienced God’s grace that turns sinners into saints. Jesus’ judgement of Mary, however, was quite different from Simon’s. And Jesus, not Simon, is the true Judge (John 5:22).
Simon was critical; Mary was loving. Simon withheld; Mary gave (Luke 7:44-46). Simon’s faith produced no good works; Mary’s did. When grace enters a person’s life the response results in loving deeds towards others, not criticism of their weaknesses.
When Mary knelt and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, she took the place of a slave whose duty it was to wash the feet of guests. She did not lord herself over Jesus as did Simon, but humbled herself, to show her complete and utter devotion to the One who was able to freely forgive her sins.
Bishop J.C. Ryle wrote: ‘Forever let the mighty principle laid down by our Lord in this passage, abide in our memories and sink down into our hearts. It is one of the great cornerstones of the whole Gospel. It is one of the master-keys to unlock the secrets of the kingdom of God. The only way to make men holy, is to teach and preach free and full forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The secret of being holy ourselves, is to know and feel that Christ has pardoned our sins. Peace with God is the only root that will bear the fruit of holiness. Forgiveness must go before sanctification. We shall do nothing till we are reconciled to God.
The Anointing of Jesus
This is the first step in religion. We must work from life, and not for life. Our best works before we are justified are little better than splendid sins. We must live by faith in the Son of God, and then, and not till then, we shall walk in his ways. The heart which has experienced the pardoning love of Christ, is the heart which loves Christ and strives to glorify him.’
THE EMBARRASSING REDEEMED
When Mary entered the enclosed courtyard of Simon’s residence, there was only one Person in the gathering there who mattered to her, and that was Jesus. Bethany was a very small village where everyone knew everyone else. Mary’s sister, Martha, had been invited to do the catering for the meal, and her brother, Lazarus, was reclining at the table with Jesus (John 12:2), but Mary herself had not been invited because of her notorious past (Luke 7:37). When she ‘learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house’ she took her most precious possession to him and poured it on his head.
Mary was so heart-broken over her past, and so hungry for Jesus’ forgiveness, that her tears flowed freely and fell upon Jesus’ feet. Embarrassed, she unbound her long hair and began to dry the Saviour’s feet. She then poured what was left of her perfume on his feet.
The male guests at the meal were scandalised by the conduct of this prostitute. For a Jewish woman to let her hair down in public was a grave immodesty. Simon, behind an impassive face, decided that Jesus wasn’t a prophet after all, because if he were he would know all about this sinner and wouldn’t let her touch him.
How many Simon’s are in our churches today—well-meaning people who judge others by their outward appearance rather than by their hearts? God grant us the honour of upholding such a life-transforming gospel in our assemblies, that our churches are full of people covered with prison-tats, men and women with faces full of studs, folk addicted to alcohol and drugs, and people who’s sexual genders differ from our own—all hungry for the converting grace of the Lord Jesus. Their tears of repentance are worth more in God’s sight than churches full of respectable people who are righteous in their own eyes. Jesus says to all who repent of their sinful past, as he said to Mary, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ (Luke 7:48).
Endnote: * Luke often assembles events according to themes rather than according to their chronology.