Sunday School Lesson for November 24, 2002
Background Passage: John 12:1-50
Jesus Anointed At Bethany (12:1-11)
John records that this unusual event occurred in the town of “Bethany,” some “six days” prior to the observance of “Passover.” There, at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6), a “dinner was given in Jesus’ honor.” Also in attendance with Jesus and His disciples were Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—the one whom Jesus had just raised from the dead. Some have observed that since it was not proper in this culture for women and men to recline together in public, this must have been a male-only dinner with the women acting as servants. Counting Jesus, the twelve, Lazarus and Simon, there were at least fifteen men present.
Suddenly, without any announcement, Mary began to bathe the feet of Jesus with “a pint of pure nard.” This substance was an aromatic herb grown in the high altitudes of the Himalayas between Tibet and India and was, therefore, an “expensive perfume.” Once the substance had been “poured” upon the feet of Jesus, Mary began to wipe the Lord’s feet with the very hair of her head. Note that Matthew and Mark observe that the nard was contained in an alabaster jar which Mary broke and began to pour over the Lord’s entire body beginning with His head. Obviously, there was enough perfume to cover the Lord’s head, neck, shoulders, and His feet.
As Mary performed this humble service to her Lord, Judas Iscariot, the very one “who was later to betray” Jesus, began to object to her actions. He demanded to know why such an expensive perfume was not sold and “the money given to the poor?” Being very observant and quite knowledgeable about such things, Judas had quickly calculated that the perfume was worth some three hundred denarii—an amount equivalent to the wages an ordinary laborer would earn over three hundred days—just about “a year’s wages.” In verse 6, John notes that Judas, the “keeper of the money bag,” really had no concern at all for the poor. To the contrary, he was really nothing but “a thief” and was clearly motivated by selfish reasons—“he used to help himself to what was put into [the money bag].”
In response to the self-serving objections of Judas, Jesus commanded that Mary be left alone. He explained that she, perhaps quite unknowingly, was simply taking advantage of her only opportunity to prepare His body “for the day of . . . burial.” The urgency of the moment in light of Jesus’ impending betrayal and death is set forth in the words of verse 8. While “the poor” will always be present (cf. Duet. 15:11), Jesus would not always dwell among men.
During the course of the party, “a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there” at the home of Simon. They had received news of the raising of Lazarus from the dead and came to see for themselves both the man who was raised and the man who raised him. However, the “chief priests” used this opportunity to confirm their plot to do away with Jesus and “to kill Lazarus as well” (v. 10). The reason for this was their extreme jealousy over the fact that “many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him” (v. 11).
Jesus Speaks of His Death (12:31-32)
These verses appear in the context of a Christ’s short discourse on his impending death as the atoning sacrifice for sin. According to Jesus, this was the “very reason” for which He came to earth and the principle means by which the Father’s name would be glorified (v. 27). In verse 31, Jesus announced that the time had come for two significant events:
· First, Jesus declared, the time for “judgment on this world” had come. As we have noted earlier, the “world” for John typically signifies humanity in its rebellion against God and His kingdom. Thus, in the crucifixion event, God would display His perfect holiness and His judgment upon humanity’s disobedience and sin. The seriousness of the world’s rebellion is displayed in the fact that only the death of God’s own Son could provide for forgiveness and restoration.
· Secondly, Jesus announced that at this time “the prince of this world will be driven out.” This is a clear and unmistakable reference to Satan who is often referred to in this way (see Jn. 14:30, 16;11; Lk. 4:6; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2, 6:12). That Satan will be “driven out” indicates his utter defeat by God, which is soon to be ratified in the cross and resurrection. While the cross may appear to be the victory of Satan and the defeat of Jesus, in reality it represents the utter destruction of the kingdom of darkness and the “outbreaking power of the kingdom of God” [Carson, 443].
· In verse 32 Jesus speaks explicitly of the cross and its victorious power over the kingdom of darkness and mankind’s sin. When Christ is “lifted up” on the cross, He will “draw all men” unto Himself. This “drawing” of men from every tribe and tongue will provide the irrefutable evidence that Satan has lost his power over the nations. That is, as the saving power of Christ is made manifest through the salvation of “all men”—people from all corners of the world—Satan’s power to “steal, kill, and destroy” is systematically removed (10:10).
Major Themes for Reflection and Application
One: The spirit and magnitude of sacrifice. Think about the extravagance of Mary’s gift to Jesus. How does this episode inform and challenge us regarding our degree of sacrifice to God and the kingdom of our Lord?
Two: The reality of discouragement from within. Judas’ response to the actions of Mary serve to remind us that there will always be those within the ranks of God’s people who discourage us from serving Christ fully. Thus, we must not only be aware of opposition from outside the church, but also from within the ranks of professing believers.
Three: The exaltation of Christ as the only means of salvation. How is Christ “lifted up” today? How is the drawing of men carried out now? Think about how Christ is “lifted up” in the preaching and teaching of His word. What does this say about the ultimate aim or purpose of all teaching and preaching?
Four: The universality of God’s saving purposes. What does the fact that Christ will draw “all men” to Himself imply? Is this a legitimate proof-text for universalism, or is there another truth in view?