Mary Anoints Jesus
After raising Lazarus, Jesus left Bethany and went out to a town called Ephraim, near the wilderness.
But, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany to see Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. This appears then to be the Saturday before what we call Holy Week begins. Saturday, as reckoned by the Jews, would start on Friday after sundown. If so, they would like have waited until Sunday for this dinner (Saturday after sundown and the end of the Sabbath), which would be Saturday night by our reckoning. Therefore, this anointing appears to occur on what we call Saturday night.
This will be the third and last Passover of Jesus’ ministry. It is 30 A.D. (The first Passover of his ministry was 28 A.D., 46 years after Herod the Great began rebuilding the Temple. (2:20)
A dinner was given for Jesus there in Bethany, likely to honor and thank him for raising Lazarus. The disciples also attended. Lazarus was there reclining at the table with Jesus and the disciples and, possibly, other guests. (2) Martha, of course, was serving them. (2)
Then, a dramatic even occurs. Mary came in with a jar that held a Roman pound of expensive ointment (11 1\2 ounces). The ointment was made of pure nard. This came from a plant that grew in the Himalayan mountains of northern India. It was expensive. Judas later refers to it costing the equivalent to a year’s wages for a laborer. Wealthy Romans used it to make perfume.
Jesus was reclining on his left elbow, with his head facing the table, and his feet stretched out away from the table. Mary used the nard to anoint the feet of Jesus. Then she undid her hair, and wiped his feet with it.
This act was extravagant and sacrificial, using this expensive oil on Jesus’ feet. It was also humble. Normally, only servants tended to the feet of guests. Additionally, Jewish women did not normally unbind their hair in public. Mary was not thinking of herself or her dignity. She showed total devotion to Jesus with no thought to herself.
Verse 3 says the room was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. That reminds me of the Old Testament sacrifices that were burned on the altar and yielded an aroma that was pleasing to God. God accepted those offerings and was pleased with them.
The Reaction of Judas
Judas reacted negatively to Mary’s act of devotion. He asked why it was not sold and given to the poor. (5) John explained that Judas really only wanted the money so he could steal it. Even today there are those who profess to be Christians but will demean other believers for being fanatics or Jesus freaks because they express their devotion to Christ publicly.
Jesus Accepted Mary’s Act of Devotion
Jesus rebuked Judas in front of the whole group, telling him to leave Mary alone. He said she did it to keep it for the day of his burial. She was doing in advance that which she would not be able to do at his burial. Mary did not know this to be the case. For her it was an act of devotion. But it prefigures Jesus’ death and the preparation of his body by Joseph and Nicodemus. (19:38-42)
Jesus also said they would not always have him with them, but would always have the poor. He was not putting down the poor. He actually used the language of Deuteronomy 15:11, which is about caring for the poor. He was saying he would only be with them a short time and it was appropriate to minister to him now.
Jesus accepted Mary’s act of devotion, showing he was entitled to it, and that Mary had done a good thing with which he was pleased.
Plotting to Kill Lazarus
Once people heard Jesus was back in Bethany, they came back out to see Jesus. They also came to see Lazarus. He had become a celebrity, being the only person anyone knew who came back from death.
This prompted the chief priests in Jerusalem to add Lazarus to their hit list, wanting to kill him since he was a living testimony to the supernatural power of Jesus the led people to believe in him.
The Triumphal Entry
The next day (12) was Sunday and we celebrate the day as Palm Sunday. Jesus left Bethany and headed to Jerusalem. But he did not come secretly as he had been doing. He came very publicly.
As Jesus came from Bethany toward toward Jerusalem, he was seen by all of those who came to Jerusalem ahead of the Passover. They took palm branches and went out to meet Jesus, waving the branches as they would for a general who has conquered the enemy. They did this because they had heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave. (17-18)
The crowd shouted “Hosanna! blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”. The words, minus “even the king of Israel, are from Psalm 118:25-26, which celebrates a great deliverance by the Lord with a procession into Jerusalem. They were very familiar to the Jews as Psalms 113-118 were sung at several of the festivals. They are blessing one who comes in the name of the Lord.
“Hosanna” is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word for “save” or “give salvation now”.
The words “the King of Israel” are not in the Psalm. The crowd added those words, showing who the one is who comes in the name of the Lord. It is the King of Israel.
These words also show us the concept of the Messiah among Jews of the time. The Messiah would be a King who accomplished military victories and threw off Roman rule. It seems that the people in the crowed believed that one who could raise Lazarus from death must be the Messiah.
Jesus mounted a young donkey and rode it into town. John writes that this fulfilled what was written, meaning an Old Testament prophecy.
The main writing, or prophecy, is Zechariah 9:9, which John quoted for us in verse 15 (from the Septuagint): “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt”.
Zechariah 9 is a prophecy of the Lord returning to Jerusalem as God restores and saves his people. The Jews rightly considered it a Messianic prophecy.
However, the words “fear not” are not in Zechariah 9:9. They are in Isaiah 40:9, which is tells a herald not to fear, but to lift up his voice and say to the cities of Judah “behold your God”.
This is an example of something we see often in the New Testament, where two passages are cited together. So, John showed us that Jesus is the Christ, or Messiah, fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus came, not on a war horse or chariot, and the conquering king, but as the humble savior who brings restoration of the relationship to God. In addition, John writes, Jesus is God, the one to whom Israel should look.
The disciples did not understand all of this at the time. But, when Jesus was glorified they came to remember and understand these things. (16)
In the midst of this celebration, the Pharisees continued to see Jesus as a problem. They were making no progress against him. They said “Look, the world has gone after him”. (19) This would turn out ultimately to be false, as the world would turn against him.