This free study is part of series called "Jesus' Final Days on Earth".
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1. The Anointing of Jesus
Jesus’ Final Days on Earth
The Passion of Christ refers to the suffering that Christ endured during the week of the crucifixion. The word is from the Latin “Passionem,” meaning suffering or endurance. This study will focus on the last few days of Jesus' life on earth, i.e., the period between His arrival in Jerusalem for the Passover until His resurrection. As we take this journey together, following the footsteps of our Lord, I urge you to imagine what this was like for Jesus, who had to suffer all of these things willingly in His humanity.
I came to Christ after several years of searching to find meaning in my life, and I was twenty –three when I heard the Gospel for the first time. During my childhood, I had little exposure to the Word of God and knew nothing of the reason for the death of Christ. I assumed He died a martyr's death and had little to do with me. At that time, I was working with my father on his fishing boat as a commercial fisherman on the North Sea. I found myself in some dangerous situations while at sea and had a couple of near-death experiences, which led me to search for meaning and peace in my life. I was scared of death, so I explored various religions and philosophies as I traveled to several continents in search of truth. I was searching for God, but I did not know it.
Looking back, God sovereignly led me to the States, to a small summer Bible camp near Richmond, Virginia. (It was not a typical tourist attraction for a British person.) I had no intention of visiting this camp when I boarded the "Freddie Laker SkyTrain," as it was called in those days, a very cheap way to travel. God saw the hunger in my heart and directed my path through people I met along the way. At this camp, I finally heard a clear explanation of what happened in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross. I listened as a man named “Brother Chapel” talked about the suffering of Christ on the cross. With tears streaming down his face, this man spoke about the crucifixion of Jesus, and his words cut me to the heart, for this message was what I had searched for all my life up to that point.
Suddenly, I was aware that Jesus had suffered for me. I saw a man in love with Jesus in Pastor Chapel, and for the first time in my life, I heard something that I knew would change my life forever. (And it certainly did!) I saw that Jesus didn't die a martyr's death, but rather, He died for me, in my place, taking the burden and penalty of my sin upon Himself. I found out that day that Jesus' death on the cross had everything to do with me–because He died for me. I hope that as you consider the suffering of Jesus, you will be filled with the knowledge of His love for you and given a fresh appreciation of what Christ accomplished on your behalf and know that what He did, He did for you. Father, I pray that you would open the eyes of all that hear and read of Your love for them and that You would change them and give them purpose and meaning for eternity.
Jesus Anointed at Bethany
With many threats against the life of Jesus (John 11:53), John the Apostle wrote that, after the raising of Lazarus, Jesus withdrew with His disciples from Jerusalem to a village called Ephraim on the edge of the barren wilderness area (John 11:54). Orders went out from the high priest that, if anyone found out where Jesus was, they should report it so that He could be arrested (John 11:57). Such things did not intimidate the Lord Jesus; He knew that His time was in God's hands. As the time drew close for His Passover and crucifixion, Jesus went back to Bethany, just on the other side of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem:
1Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3Then 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. 4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6He 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. 7“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:1-8).
The Apostle John devotes eight chapters of his writings to the last six days of Jesus' life before the crucifixion. He considers these few days crucial because of what Jesus taught and did in that short timeframe. At the beginning of chapter twelve, John writes that Christ returned to Bethany, where He raised Lazarus from death, no doubt checking on Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. He was aware of the danger gathering for Him at Jerusalem, but perhaps He was also mindful of the threat gathering for Lazarus. The chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus because of the testimony of Christ's power in raising him from the dead (John 12:10).
The Anointing of Jesus at the Home of Simon the Leper.
During the time preceding the crucifixion Passover, Jesus was invited to the home of Simon the Leper for a meal. If we only read John's account, we could presume that it was at Martha's house, but if we harmonize with the other Gospels, we arrive at more details. Matthew (26:6-13) and Mark (14:1-11) record the anointing as being at the home of Simon the Leper. Luke mentions another time earlier in Jesus' ministry when a sinful woman anointed the Lord. This occasion is thought to have happened in the Galilee area, and it was a separate incident (Luke 7:36-50) and should not be confused with the anointing by Mary, the sister of Lazarus. John tells us that the dinner was given in Jesus' honor (v. 2) and that Lazarus was also reclining at the table. Martha might have been Simon's relative or close friend, for we see her serving Simon's guests.
Again and again throughout the New Testament, we see fellowship and intimacy among believers as they share life with the Lord at the center of their lives. The guests reclined around a Triclinium table, a U-shaped table usually just a foot or two off the floor. Around the table were mattresses or couches where the guests leaned on their elbows, leaving their other hand free to reach onto the low table to get the food. The Triclinium table was composed of three long tables, with the open part of the U being available to the servants to bring food without disturbing or moving the guests. Often, the head of the next person alongside would be touching the chest of the person next to them (John 13:25), with the feet behind, leaving a short gap between the wall and the couches. This gap now allowed Mary, the sister of Lazarus, to come behind the recliners and close to Jesus' feet with her precious treasure.
She brought with her a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume. This spikenard was unadulterated and unmixed with any other cheaper balsam. The nard was an extract from an aromatic plant, Nardostachys jatamansi, grown on the edge of the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. Matthew tells us (26:7) that the pure nard was sealed in an alabaster jar to keep it fresh and smelling strong for when the moment was right. Mary had not saved this precious perfume for herself; it was far too costly to spend on herself. Judas had a head for figures and calculated the cost of the perfume to be equal to a year's wages (v. 5). The Greek text says that it was worth 300 denarii, with a denarius being a day's wage; hence, some translations call it a year's wages for an ordinary laboring man.
Likely, Mary did not know why she was saving it but inspired by the Spirit of God, she came behind the Lord reclining on the couch. I'm sure a hush fell on the guests as they saw the precious alabaster treasure in her hands. She broke the seal of the jar, and Mark wrote that Mary broke open the jar and poured it on the head of Jesus (Mark 14:3). If we had seen her face, I feel sure we would be in tears at the love and thankfulness expressed on Mary's face — her tender love seen as she gently wiped the perfumed nard from flowing down into His eyes.
Matthew and Mark record that the costly perfume was poured on Jesus' head, while John tells us that Mary poured it on the Lord's feet. There is no discrepancy here. The anointing was both to His head and His feet. Matthew and Mark do not mention that it was Mary who did this, possibly because they wrote their Gospels closer to the actual happening and wanted to protect Mary's name in the time of persecution that broke out at the growth of the Church after the Day of Pentecost (Acts 8:1). John wrote his Gospel nearer the end of the century, so it could be that John did not need to protect their names from any retaliation by the Jewish leadership.
What a beautiful act of devotion Mary bestowed on Jesus. She brought the treasure she had saved and broke it open, pouring it on Jesus' head and then going to His feet and pouring out the rest of the aromatic perfume. Mary may have heard of the other incident when a sinful woman had anointed Jesus while He was having supper in the house of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-39). It could be that Mary similarly desired to worship and thank the Lord.
After she poured out her treasure on the Lord, Mary did something no self-respecting Jewish woman at the time ever did; she unclipped her hair from being tied up, allowed it all to hang loose, and began wiping the perfume all over His feet with her long hair. I am sure no sound was heard in the room as they all watched this act of pure devotion to the Lord. The house was filled with the beautiful smell of expensive perfume (v. 3).
When she lowered her hair, Mary broke some cultural norms, which more than likely brought a gasp to the lips of some in the room. She was touching the feet of the honored guest at this meal, and not only that, but throwing all dignity aside; she wiped His feet with her hair, the crown and glory of a woman (1 Corinthians 11:15). Mary's heart was full of love and thankfulness to the Lord not only for what He had done for Lazarus but also for the time that Christ had given to the three of them, gently teaching them all about the love of the Father. Appreciation, love, and thankfulness welled up with a desire to do something in return, i.e., to love in return, to give something in response to His love.
Question 1) Imagine that you were a guest at this dinner. How do you think some of the guests reacted to Mary’s act of devotion? What do you think the guests expected Jesus to do in response to her actions?
When Mary broke the alabaster jar, what was in the heart of Judas, i.e., his greed and disapproval came out for all to see and hear. He was disappointed at the loss of an opportunity to make some money. It is possible that Judas joined the disciples because he saw a chance to make a name for himself, but now three years on, perhaps he felt that it was time to get out with whatever he could still get. He had just witnessed a year's wages slip from his grasp. Jesus defended Mary:
6Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9And truly, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” 10Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them (Mark 14:8-10; See also Matthew 26:10-13).
The Lord valued this expression of love so much that He commanded that this story of devotion would also be shared wherever the Good News was preached (v. 9). Jesus defended Mary, saying that she anointed His body beforehand for burial. Jesus may have told Mary, Martha, and Lazarus that He planned to die at the hands of the religious elite and the Romans, that He would be buried, but after three days, He would rise again. The traditional burial was to wash the body and anoint with perfume, i.e., the very thing Mary was now bestowing on the Lord. We don't know if Mary was consciously anointing Christ for His burial when she did this. It could be that she was aware that this might be the last opportunity to be with Jesus. Our sacrifices and tears of devotion ascend to the Lord as a sacrifice of praise. He treasures our sacrifices and words of praise and devotion, especially when we praise Him amid our difficulties.
As Jesus came into Jerusalem, the Jewish religious leaders saw the crowds of not only Jews but also Gentiles welcoming Jesus as Messiah. The air was full of excitement after the raising of Lazarus from the dead, a sign to the Jewish people that the Messiah had come (Isaiah 35:5-6). Everybody wanted to see Him and listen to Him. 18“Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’” (John 12:18-19). Hundreds of thousands of Jewish people were arriving from many countries near and far in preparation for the Festival of Passover in Jerusalem. Also preparing for the Feast of Passover was Gentile Greek God-fearers or, perhaps, converts to the Jewish faith:
20Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me (John 12:20-26).
John the Apostle points out the desire of these Greeks to see Jesus. They were drawn to Him as a moth is drawn to light. This drawing power of Jesus is something that is of a spiritual nature and is an operation, I believe, of the Holy Spirit. This drawing power of God would not let me go as I searched for that inward peace in my early life. Whatever you think drew you to the Lord Jesus, it was God at work in you, for no one comes to Christ without the work of God in them to bring that person to Christ. Jesus said:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day (John 6:44).
The Warm Accepting Heart of Jesus
What is it about Jesus that makes Him so attractive? What made people want to follow Him and leave everything to be with Him? Think about it. He is unlike the faith healers or self-help gurus we have in abundance today. He does not promise prosperity, happiness, or self-actualization; He offers quite the opposite. Instead, He speaks about the emptying of self, yet people of all nationalities and social classes are drawn to Him and hang onto His words. When people were around Jesus, they knew they were accepted. We each have a universal need for acceptance and widespread hunger for truth. We are instinctively drawn to those who mirror this image.
As one reads through the testimony of Christ's followers, it seems evident that it was not only His teaching to which they were drawn but also that they were attracted to His character, i.e., Christ Himself. He made time for others. He accepted everyone: children, the poor, the disabled, the paralyzed, lepers, prostitutes, and even tax collectors. Jesus is the face of God to humanity. If grace has a face, it is Jesus. No wonder people thronged to Him and wanted to be near Him.
The Hour Has Come
God has used all kinds of things in your life and mine to draw us to the Lord Jesus Christ, just as He did the Greeks in the passage we are studying. When Andrew and Phillip brought their request to the Lord Jesus, Christ replied that the hour had finally come, i.e., the hour of His glorification through suffering on the cross. Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). In at least two instances in the past three and a half years of ministry, Jesus spoke of a specific time for which He had been waiting when He would glorify the Father. It wasn't a literal hour but a short period when, in one act, He would bring great glory to the Father. When His mother, Mary, had asked him to intervene at the wedding at Cana in Galilee, he talked about His hour:
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).
Again, when Jesus was teaching in the Temple area, the priests and Pharisees sought to arrest Him after He had told them the truth that the Father had sent Him. Still, no one was able to lay a hand on Him because the time of the sacrificial Passover lambs to be slaughtered had not yet arrived:
28Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” 30At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come (John 7:28-30).
It is most likely that Jesus did meet with the Greeks, but John does not say. He writes that the Gentiles’ seeking after Jesus was a sign that the time had now come, i.e., the hour was at hand when Jesus, by one final act of obedience, would glorify the Father. The Lord went on to say:
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12:24).
Question 2) Is Jesus talking about Himself in verse 24 or about everyone? What did He mean by the imagery that the seed must first fall to the ground and then die?
The Substitutionary Seed That Must Die
Everything that Jesus did was as a model for those who would follow Him. In the analogy of a seed falling to the ground, it is possible that Jesus spoke of the life of humility, that the "way up" is the "way down." His example is that when the enemy is in a position of power over us, God's way is not to retaliate but to submit ourselves to the Father.
A second view is that the life of God given to the Church came in seed form in the Lord Jesus. The seed put into the ground speaks of the Lord Jesus’ carrying your sin and mine and nailing it to the cross. If Jesus had not died as a substitute on the cross, His life would have affected only a few. However, the question could be asked, “Why was it necessary for Christ to die such a brutal and violent death? Surely, the Father could have planned an easier death for His Son?" I believe the answer is this: only a violent death could have exposed sin in the way it so sorely needed revealing.
One preacher said, "Could Jesus have exposed sin in all its foul horrors if He had died in His bed, by accident, or by disease?" It is one of the tragedies of human life that we fail to recognize the destructive and ugly nature of sin. God's plan was for Christ to die as a substitute for all who put their faith in Christ's work on the cross, i.e., His death for theirs, to atone for sin, and bring us peace with God. There is another example of this kind of substitutionary legality found in history:
During a war between Britain and France, men were conscripted into the French Army by a kind of lottery system. A man had to go off to battle when someone's name was drawn. On one occasion, the authorities came to a certain man and told him he was among those chosen. He refused to go, saying, "I was shot and killed two years ago." At first, the officials questioned his sanity, but he insisted that was indeed the case. He claimed that the military records would show that he had been killed in action. "How can that be?" they questioned. "You are alive now!" He explained that when his name first came up, a close friend said, "You have a large family, but I am not married, and nobody is dependent on me. I'll take your name and address and go in your place." And that is indeed what the record showed. This somewhat unusual case was referred to Napoleon Bonaparte, who decided that the country had no legal claim over that man. He was free. He had died in the person of another.
From the viewpoint of God, when Christ died, He died as a substitute to release you from the legal claims that Satan had against you because of your sin. Christ died for you and as you. God saw Christ as taking your place just as the soldier went to war in another's place. When Christ died, God saw you as having died, too. Paul the Apostle explained these truths in his letter to the Colossian Church:
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules (Colossians 2:20).
1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).
Let’s think more deeply about what happens when a seed is buried in the ground. The darkness of its tomb, time, and the elements in the soil work on the seed until the outer husk cracks open, and the life inside the seed puts forth roots and grows to become a plant that reproduces itself into many seeds. Through His death, burial, and resurrection, the Lord Jesus came to give us His life. We received physical life from our forefather, Adam, but Christ came to provide us with the life of God, and this life is imparted to us when we wholeheartedly put our faith and trust in Him. When we believe, our sins are washed away, and the Spirit of God baptizes us into the spiritual organism of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). The life of God flows into each of us connected to Him by faith.
The Call to Take Up Our Cross
This thought of Jesus being the seed that brings new life to everyone that receives Him is the predominant analogy John is seeking to convey, but in a similar sense, all those who are in Christ Jesus must also die to themselves so that Christ may live in them and through them. As a seed or kernel of wheat is planted into the ground, the seed must crack open its shell and die to itself so that the life that is within, Christ in us, may be given to others.
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Corinthians 4:10).
As Christians, while we hold on to our self-life and live our lives only for our happiness and comfort, we will, at best, be minimally fruitful for Christ. For this life to be modeled and passed on to a younger generation, it requires the voluntary taking up of our cross so that the life of Jesus may be manifested through us. You cannot take up the cross for your family or spouse. We must decide the degree to which we would like to bear fruit in our lives. Those of you who have a spouse and even children must determine, along with them, the degree of sacrifice you wish to make with your life. Before I married my wife, Sandy, I sat down with her and told her the things I wanted to do. We agreed on the kind of life we have lived since our wedding in 1980. I promised her hardship and difficulty, but I also promised her my love and faithfulness. The call to take up the cross and be fruitful for Christ's sake is not easy, but it is what we are called to do as disciples of the Lord Jesus. He clarified this for us in the Gospel of Mark:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Mark 8:34).
The cross Jesus calls His Church to take up is a call to die to self. On this topic, writer Grant Osborne says:
Taking up the cross was a very specific metaphor; when the Romans made Jesus or anyone else bear their cross to the place of execution, they were giving them a message: “You are already dead!” To take up the cross is to count your self-life dead to the things of this world. That person will “keep (his life) for eternity” (John 12:25). The disciples must become like their master; death is the path to life.
Coming back to our passage in the Book of John, Jesus carried on His thoughts by saying to his disciples:
25Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (John 12:25).
When we see and follow the example of Christ, it will lead us to triumph over the world system and the satanic and demonic forces against which our Lord Jesus and His followers are warring. Jesus gives us a different way of living; better yet, He gives us His power to live it. It is in His nature to give, and He imparts His heart to us.
When Jesus surrendered His body, He left behind children of light. Now, He is glorified, just as the Father had said. We, His children of light, will share in His glory and suffering while we are here. Some have a heavier weight of suffering but will also have a heavier weight of glory.
As we conclude our study today, can I challenge you to find ways to express your love and devotion to the Lord for His sacrificial, substitutionary death for you?
Prayer: Father, I pray that, as children of light, You would help us to shine in the darkness. Give us the attitude of Christ so that we can glorify You in all that we do. Amen!
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