SESSION EIGHTEEN: JESUS ANOINTED AS KING (JOHN 12:1-19)
INTRO: What do you like best about parades? Like least?
- Given the value of the perfume used (12:5), how would have reacted as you watched Mary anoint Jesus?
- How does Jesus interpret Mary's action? How is his comment in verse 8 especially applicable to Judas?
- What previous stories stand in contrast to the unity and enthusiasm the people are expressing in Jesus' triumphal entry?
- How could you tie in their hope that Jesus will do at THIS Passover what God id a the FIRST Passover?
- If you had a year's salary or time to use for Jesus Christ, how would you use it? Why?
- What convinced you that Jesus is your King? What is the best think you've seen about the type of King he is?
- Is your worship life like a hero's victory or a funeral dirge? Why?
TAKEAWAY: What is your greatest takeaway from this story? What specific life changes do you need to make? How will you hold yourself accountable?
COMMENTARY: THE ANOINTING OF JESUS AS KING (JOHN 12:1-19)
The end is near for Jesus. His earthly work is almost complete.
He's now returning to city of Jewish kings. King Saul. King David. King Solomon. It's also Passover, the greatest Jewish festival all year long. The Jewish Passover was inaugurated during the time of a different king--an Egyptian king--who had enslaved the Israelites for 400 years. But there was news of a new guy in town named Moses, a man of miracles who is able to dismantle the gods of men. Moses will turn water into blood, bring down curses upon the people and, in the end, permit a death angel to kill the firstborn throughout all of Egypt.
It's impossible to read this passage, or the stories yet to come, without considering the Passover festival in the City of David. John has already shown that Jesus participated in the Jewish festivals, even at great risk to his own life. While the other gospel writers overlook this detail, John is careful to build his argument that Jesus is the "way, truth and life" (John 14:6) using the various festivals as metaphors.
The Passover every spring was considered a Jew's most important obligation. They could miss Pentecost or Tabernacles or the Festival of Lights, but Passover was different. It was the centerpiece festival where Jews gathered to remember their escape from Egypt and the night the death angel "passed over" their home if it was properly covered in lamb's blood. The Passover feast was a special meal, with each food and drink a reminder of that night long ago.
The Jewish Passover would swell the city of Jerusalem to over a million in population. It was Christmas and Easter and Independence Day all rolled into one. During the week, tens of thousands of lambs (born in Bethlehem and without blemish) were anointed and herded into Jerusalem to be slaughtered. The Holy of Holies had a special drain that allowed the blood to funnel to the the Kidron Valley, between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. So much blood flowed during Passover that the Kidron brook would flood bright red.
In John 12:1-19 Jesus is anointed as King, first by one of his best friends (Mary) and the next day by enthusiastic crowds. John has showed Jesus to be just like Moses: he turned water into wine, and was a man of miracles who dismantled the gods of Jewish religious elitism. Jesus was also the coming Lamb, the final Lamb, of Passover. Just as the Passover lambs were anointed and herded into Jerusalem on Sunday--now known as Palm Sunday--Jesus will be anointed and herded into town as the Last Lamb.
LOVE'S EXTRAVAGANCE (John 12:1-8)
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 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.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
When Jesus came to Bethany, his close friends--Mary, Martha and Lazarus (who he had recently raised from the dead)--provided him a place to stay and fed him. Martha was serving the supper when Mary entered the room carrying an expensive jar of ointment. This ointment was so extravagant that it cost a year's wages (12:5). Mary anointed Jesus' feet with the expensive nard, wiping his feet not with a customary towel but with her own hair. It's the ultimate act of humility, allegiance and honor.
In Palestine no respectable woman would ever appear in public with her hair unbound. On the day a girl was married her hair was bound up, and never again would she be seen in public with her long tresses flowing loose. That was the sign of an immoral woman. But Mary never even thought of that. When two people really love each other thy live in a world of their own. There is no self-consciousness. There's no concern about what others think. There's no fear of mockery, retribution or judgment.
John mentions "the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment." Many early Church fathers saw a double meaning in this statement. It's more than just a smell in the air. It's how the whole Church (house) is filled with the fragrance of our "good deeds." Mary's act of anointing Jesus' feet (not his head) was a sign of humility. Ironically, in the very next chapter, Jesus will return the favor and anoint (wash) his disciples' feet. It's an extravagant act of love.
In this passage we also learn three things about Judas Iscariot:
- We witness Jesus' trust in Judas. As far back as John 6:70-71, John reveals that Jesus is aware that there's a traitor in the ranks. It may well be that he tried to touch Judas' heart by making him the treasurer of the apostolic company. It may well be that he tried to appeal to his sense of honor. But nothing Jesus' did worked with Judas, but the fact remains that often the best way to reclaim someone who is on the wrong path is to treat him not with suspicion but with trust; not as if we expected the worst, but rather the best.
- We see one of the laws of temptation. Jesus would not have put Judas in charge of the money box unless he has some capabilities in that direction. Temptation commonly comes through that for which are most naturally fitted. Judas had a gift for handling money, but his fondness for money made him a thief and traitor.
- We can see how a man's view can be warped. Judas had jus seen an action of surpassing loveliness; and he called it an extravagant waste. He was an embittered man and he took an embittered view of things. A man's sight depends on what is inside him. He see only what he is fit and able to see. A warped mind brings a warped view of things. It was Judas' ill-natured complaint--that the money which that ointment could have raised should have been given to the poor--reveals the warpness of his mind. Judas was someone who walked near Jesus and yet still missed the Message of Jesus. He was someone who cared for Jesus' physical well-being but could seem to care about his spiritual mission. Judas, like many people who claim to know Jesus, missed the Truth by eighteen inches...the distance between his heart and his head.
A PLAN TO DESTROY THE EVIDENCE (12:9-11)
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So 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 believing in him.
For the leaders of the Jews things were getting into an impossible position. The liberal Saduccees were particularly threatened.
First, they were threatened politically. The Saduccees were the wealthy aristocratic class and they worked closely with the Roman authorities. The aim was to ensure their own wealth and ease and comfort. The Romans gave a liberal berth, which the Saduccees enjoyed, as long as no trouble ensued. But that's the problem. Jesus is trouble. He may be launching a rebellion that politically threatens the Saduccees position and power with Rome. Jesus was stealing the hearts of the people and that was a good reason to get rid of Jesus.
Second, they regarded Jesus' message--particularly of resurrection--as theologically intolerable. The resurrection of Lazarus was a blast of theological reality in their faces. Unless they could do something, their influence and their teaching, were slipping away.
And so the political and theological solution was to kill Lazarus. He's the evidence that proved Jesus' ministry. Political cover ups are as old as time itself. If you want to destroy your opponent, just remove what proves his message valid through lies, misdirections, doubts or fears. Suppress the truth to further your own self-interest (power). There's truly nothing new under the sun.
A KING'S WELCOME (John 12:12-19)
The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
As mentioned, Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles were the three compulsory festivals for the Jews--who came to the Passover from everywhere in the known world. At such a time Jerusalem and her surrounding villages were crowded. On one occasion a census was taken of the lambs slain at the Passover Feast. The number was 256,000 lambs, suggesting a population count between one and three million people!
It's that volume of people that create a problem for the Sanhedrin (Pharisees and Saduccees), the Jewish "king" (Herod) and the Roman authorities (Pilate).
The trigger for a commotion among the people--and a buzz about Jesus in particular--is the resurrection of Lazarus. The Saduccees' fears are proving true. The same man who conducted a resurrection from the dead is now in Jerusalem...and its got the people riled up. Many are calling him the "Messiah." Others claim he's the "King of Israel." The word "hosanna" means "save now." Essentially the people were shouting "God save the King!" Jesus was creating a political stir. And these types of reports don't sit well with Herod and Pilate, nor does it give the high priest Caiaphas much comfort. Passover is not about insurrections and resurrections.
Essentially there are two crowds following Jesus: 1) the crowd that met Jesus in Bethany, that had been hanging around ever since Lazarus was raised from the dead; and 2) the Jerusalem crowd that saw Jesus arrive on a donkey (a Messianic prophecy) who viewed him as a conquering king. Kings came to town on white horses, but Jesus doesn't do that. He saddles up a young donkey...a bit more humbling. It's the difference between a black limo and a Honda Civic. But for the informed Jew it was essentially saying, "I'm the Messiah" (Zechariah 9:9).
But Jesus' use of a young donkey signaled an intent. Unlike today, where donkeys are more lowly in view from a horse, in the ancient Eastern culture, they were rather noble. The judge named Jair had 30 sons who rode young donkeys (Judges 10:4). Ahithophel rode a young donkey (2 Samuel 17:23). Mephibosheth, the royal prince and son of Saul, came to David riding on a young donkey (2 Samuel 19:26). The point is that a king came riding upon a horse when he was bent upon war but when he came riding upon a donkey it showed he was coming in peace. Jesus was the Messiah, but not the type of Messiah the Jews were expecting. This no doubt created confusion among the people.
In the background, again, are the Jewish authorities. They felt frustrated and helpless; nothing they could do seemed able to stop the attraction of Jesus. "The whole world," they lamented, "is going after this man." Do you see irony in John's words? You should. No writer in the New Testament can say so much with such amazing reticence. It was because God so loved the world that Jesus came into the world; and here, all unwittingly, Jesus' enemies are saying that the world has gone after him.
One final observation: We must remember Jesus was an outlaw and the authorities were determined to kill him. A smart man would've turned back and retreated to Galilee or the desert. If entering Jerusalem was critical then that entrance was better done in secret and hidden, under the dark of night. But Jesus didn't come into Jerusalem like that. He entered with a bang. He made a show. He caused a ruckus. He wanted every eye to see WHO HE WAS and WHAT HE WAS DOING.
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