Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.
We are now approaching in our study the closing hours of our Lord’s ministry here on earth. He had come to Jerusalem for the last time to give His final testimony, knowing well that rejection and crucifixion awaited Him, for none of these things took Him by surprise. He had come from heaven for the express purpose of dying for lost men. We read that very definitely. He said, “The Son of man [is come] not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45). He had declared this from the very beginning. He is represented in Psalm 40 as saying, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God” (vv. 7-8; see also Heb. 10:7).
The doing of that will meant His going to the cross. But as He got nearer and nearer to the cross, because He was perfect man as well as true God, the horror of it all grew upon His own soul until at last we see Him (recorded in other Gospels, not in John in the same full way) bowed in agony in Gethsemane’s garden, praying, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39). And yet He says, “If this cup may not pass… except I drink it, thy will be done” (v. 42). And a little later we hear Him saying to Peter, who had cut off the servant’s ear, “Put up thy sword… the cup that my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).
That cup was the cup of wrath, the cup of divine judgment that our sins had filled, the cup that was overflowing with the indignation of a holy God against iniquity. Jesus could not have been perfect, holy Man if He had not shrunk from the drinking of that cup. To be made sin meant to be dealt with by God as though He were the one great sinner of all the ages. All our iniquities were laid upon Him. It meant a horror and darkness of soul that our poor finite minds cannot understand. It meant bearing there upon the cross, in the depths of His own spotless spirit, what lost men who reject Christ will have to endure in the pit of woe for all eternity.
He realized the awfulness of sin, the dreadfulness of having to do with a holy God in regard to it. In Psalm 69:20 it is written, “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.” He was so intensely human that He longed for those who could enter with Him into His sorrows. We feel like that. We look to our dear ones for comfort to express the love that they feel for us. And Jesus longed for human fellowship and was glad when He found it. We have a beautiful picture of that in this twelfth chapter.
He had come to Judea, and He and His little company were now at Bethany, the city of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. We have already considered His raising of Lazarus from the dead. We read here, “Jesus, six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper” (vv. 1-2a). In Mark’s gospel we read that it was actually two days before the Passover that this supper was given to Him. He came to Bethany six days before the Passover. Four days went by, and then they made Him this supper. It was a testimony on the part of His loving friends, an evidence of their affection for Him.
We learn from Matthew 26:6 that this took place in the house of Simon the leper. He could not have been a leper still, for then it would have been impossible for him to have dwelt there. “[The leper] shall dwell alone,” the Scripture says (Lev. 13:46). He was to have “a covering upon his… lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean” (v. 45), if anyone drew near. This must have been the past state of Simon the leper—for how long we do not know. But we gather from this Scripture that one day a wonderful event occurred in Simon’s life. He met with Jesus and everything was different. Have you had a meeting like that? Have you been affected with the leprosy of sin, utterly lost and ruined? Have you had a meeting with Jesus? That changes everything! To hear Him say, “Be thou clean” (Matt. 8:3; Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13), to have Him speak peace to the troubled heart, to know He has cleansed the guilty soul—what an experience that is! Simon must have had an experience like that; otherwise, he would not have been there in Bethany.
Among those who were participating that evening besides the blessed Lord and His apostles, there are three who stand out prominently—the three who had so often entertained Jesus in their home. We read, “Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus” (vv. 2-3a). These set forth three aspects of the Christian life. We see in Martha, service; in Lazarus, fellowship; in Mary, worship. Service, fellowship, and worship—how much do we know of these aspects of the Christian life? Service here comes first—“Martha served.” When we are saved we are no longer our own. How natural it is to yield ourselves to Him as those alive from the dead, that we may serve the Master who has done so much for us. I do not understand those who profess to be saved but give no evidence of a desire to be of service to the Lord Jesus Christ. That should be the first proof of the new birth: “He saved me. Now what can I do to show my love for Him?” We are not saved by our service. Salvation is not of works, lest any man should boast. No effort of ours can cleanse our guilty souls.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfil Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone:
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
But does that mean that we make light of service or that we are indifferent to good works? Not at all. We recognize that when one is regenerated, when he has been justified from all things, when he has become a child of God, he is responsible to work and labor for the One who has done so much for him.
And we serve Him as we minister to those for whom He died. Service for Christ is not some mysterious thing that is not practical. If I give a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus, I am serving Him. And if I refuse to give the cup of cold water, then I am drawing back from service for Him. If men are in distress and I minister to them, giving clothing to the naked, food to the hungry, sharing the troubles and sorrows of others, I am serving Him. When He shall sit upon the throne of His glory when He shall return to this earth, the standard of judgment will be this: “I was sick, and you ministered to Me; I was hungry, and you fed Me; I was naked, and you clothed Me.” Some say, “When did we see you sick and hungry and naked?” And He says, “Inasmuch as ye [did] it unto one of the least of these,… ye [did] it unto me” (Matt. 25:40). And others say, “But when did we ever see you in such circumstances and did not minister unto you?” “Inasmuch as ye did it not to the least of these, ye did it not unto me” (v. 45).
Do not let us overlook the importance of that Scripture by seeing only its dispensational aspect. It has a very practical lesson for all ages. It sets before us the standard that every one of us will have to face when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ. He is going to credit us with all service done for His own as service done for Himself. This is a very serious thing. Do you treat coolly some fellow Christian? Do you call on some poor, needy ones whose distress you might alleviate, or do you pass them by indifferently? Do you harden your heart against the needy? Then listen! He says, “Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it not unto me.” But when you share what you have with those in trouble, when you minister to those afflicted, when you try to manifest the grace of Christ to those who are suffering, He accounts it as done unto Himself.
Do not let us make light of service. It is very important. It comes first here. “Martha served.” It was not grudging service now. There was a time once before when Martha was cumbered about her service, but it was not so on this occasion. Martha served, and evidently she did it gladly. Only a few days before, her brother lay cold in death. Then she had gone with Jesus to yonder tomb and heard Him cry, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). And he that was dead came forth bound hand and foot with the grave clothes. Martha had seen all that and her heart swelled with gratitude to the Lord, and she was so glad to be able to serve. I imagine that if somebody had said, “Let me serve,” she would have refused and said, “He has done so much for me that I want to do everything I can for Him.”
I heard once of a dear old brother who belonged to a group who ran a little mission hall. He wanted to preach but had no gift for it. He helped open up this mission hall. This man used to go down there after his office closed on Saturday noon. He would roll up his trousers, take a bucket of water and a brush, and clean the chairs and scrub the floor. No one of the rest of the company knew of his service. You know how careless people are. They never thought to ask who did the cleaning. But it happened one day that a couple of the young men went over in the afternoon to get some song books. Just as they opened the door they saw the old man scrubbing away. They threw up their hands and said, “Oh, we never knew you were doing this! You must not do this. We will scrub this floor.” “Oh,” he said, “please let me do it for Jesus’ sake.” He pleaded not to be robbed of the privilege of doing it for Christ’s glory, so they had to leave it to him.
But now the next one. “But Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.” That means fellowship. Lazarus, the risen one, sits at the feast with Jesus and enjoys hallowed communion with Him. Get together with people of like mind and how they enjoy a great repast together—not merely because of that which is set before them, but they delight in the exchange of thoughts in regard to the things that are precious to them all. Sometimes we speak of the Lord’s Supper as the Communion. We meditate together upon His loveliness. So here they were occupied with Him whom they loved. I am sure that wherever Jesus sat was recognized as the head of the table. It was in Simon’s house, but He would be the Host.
So Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus—Lazarus, who had been dead, and lived again! You and I, who are saved, are men and women of the resurrection, and it is our blessed privilege to have fellowship and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ as our glorious Head. It takes two to have fellowship. One speaks and the other responds. We have fellowship with Him when we get before Him over His own Word and He speaks to us, and when we draw near to Him in prayer and pour out our hearts to Him.
Worship is the next thing. “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3). I wonder if she was thinking of the verse in the Song of Solomon, “While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof” (1:12). She looked at Jesus and said, “Oh, He is my King, and I must show Him how much I love and adore Him.” She remembered that she had a pound of spikenard, very precious. It would have taken one year’s labor to pay for it. She may have kept it for a long time, perhaps using a little of it on special occasions. But now she knows Jesus is going out to die. He tells us that a little later. She says, “I want to give Him the best I have.” And she broke the alabaster box and poured its contents on His feet. In Matthew and Mark we read it was, “on His head.” There is no contradiction. She did both. It was the expression of her heart’s adoration, for that is what worship is. We worship as we give back to Him of that which He has given to us. In the Old Testament God is worshipped as the Creator. That is very precious, but oh, it is when you come over to the New Testament that you will find the Lord Jesus the object of the worship of His beloved people as they cry, “Thou art worthy… for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9). How Jesus covets that! How He loves to have the hearts of people lifted up in worship before Him!
But the unsaved cannot understand that. The one who was to betray Him said, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Had Jesus ever been indifferent to the needs of the poor? Had Mary? Not at all. Give Christ the first place, and everything else will come out all right. He who worships and adores the Lord Jesus Christ as the preeminent One will not forget the poor and needy.
But Judas cannot understand. “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (v. 6). Jesus and the disciples had appointed Judas to carry the bag, and we read he “bare what was put therein.” Literally it is, “he bare away.” He was a covetous man. He felt Mary was wasting her treasure on Jesus.
But the Savior understood and knew what was going on in the heart of Judas. And He said, “Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (vv. 7-8). We do not want to forget those words of His. In Mark He says, “Whensoever ye will ye may do them good” (14:7).
Now in the closing verses we read, “Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death” (John 12:9-10). They said, “We would rather he were dead once more than that people, through him, should believe in Jesus.” “Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus” (v. 11).
Oh, the evil of the human heart! Listen, if you will not believe in Jesus because you know you need a Savior, if you will not come to Him through the Holy Spirit, you would not come to Him no matter what miracle was wrought.