Sermon on John 12:1-19, preached on Sunday, 31 March 2019.
Bible Readings: (OT) Zechariah 9:9-17 / (NT) John 12:1-19
I. The Saviour’s focus at Bethany
II. The Jews’ plot against the Saviour
III. Following the Saviour’s focus
What we’ve read from Jn. 12 this morning is about how all people at Bethany and Jerusalem have completely missed the Lord. Although they were with the Lord, beheld Him with their eyes, listened to His voice, even ate with Him together from the same table, all face and gaze at the opposite direction to that of Jesus. It seems like a special effected scene in a movie as Jesus alone moves forward whereas all in the surrounding crowd chatter and murmur, fading away as a blurry background. No one sees what the Lord sees; no one hears what Jesus says; no one turns his/her eyes around to see what Jesus points out. Jesus goes forward, fixing His eyes on one thing, yet no one cares, and they all try to drag Jesus to a completely opposite direction – so, it seems to be a total disaster and because of that, this passage in Jn. 12 makes us all grievous.
I say this as a very uncomfortable and grievous situation because the same could easily happen to any of us and, in fact, has happened to all of us in many occasions, if not always, in our faith-life. Seeing the problem of the Jews around Jesus in Jn. 12:1-9, I find that the same problem around us of the 21st century NT Christianity. So, I want you to find out this problem together with me, and examine yourselves. Yet, most importantly, I want you to look at the Lord Jesus Christ and find out what His eyes were fixed upon. Then, be reminded of His immeasurable mercy and abundant grace toward you through which you’re saved!
So, let us follow the apostle John as this twelfth chapter of his recording of Jesus’ redemption ministry leads us.
I. THE SAVIOUR’S FOCUS AT BETHANY
First of all, we’re led to a town called Bethany which was about 3 or 4 kms east of Jerusalem. It was a renowned town by now added to its original reputation Jesus recent miracle of raising Lazarus from death. Our Lord was on the way to Jerusalem to attend the Passover, a major and important Jewish feast, and He stopped at this town. People who welcomed Him prepared a dinner for Him, so Jesus was having a meal time with His beloved ones. As you read from vs. 2 and following, it was a pleasant and cheerful occasion as their memory of Lazarus’ rising from death was still vivid. Don’t you think that it would’ve been a delightful dinner, much better in its atmosphere than a wedding banquet? I believe it was one of the biggest, if not the best, and buoyant meals Jesus had. Having the Lord in a place of honour and Lazarus next to Him, people’s hearts were merry and so was the food. The famous Martha who loved serving others was busy once again serving Jesus and all the guests. You could easily picture her in your mind who served assiduously with big welcoming smile on her face.
In the midst of this jubilant meal, Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, stood up and went away. Soon, she came back with a beautiful and expensive looking white alabaster jar. And she broke its neck and poured pure nard oil upon Jesus’ feet and possibly on His head as well, as other Gospels such as Mt. 26:13 and Mk. 14:9 tell us. It was an expensive perfume, probably costed about a year’s wage for an average wage earner. To most Jews of Jesus’ time, it must’ve been a fortune. Mary poured it upon Jesus’ head and feet and anointed Him; especially His feet, Mary wiped them with her hair.
Let me point out to you how this shocked everyone there, not necessarily in a negative way, but more likely in the opposite way. Firstly, it was truly an expensive perfume, and no one would use such a precious oil. Secondly, Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, and no free woman would render such an elevated homage to a man, possibly not even to her own husband. And thirdly, to the eyes of all guests around that dinner table, Mary’s anointing Jesus could’ve been viewed as the highest form of expressing her joy in honour of the Lord. You think about that. She had received back her once-dead brother. Seeing her anointing Jesus, they could’ve thought, ‘Oh, see how exceedingly happy she is!’ Surely, this would’ve escalated the already buoyant atmosphere. Moreover, her act of wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair could’ve been seen as Mary’s deep appreciation to Jesus in regard to Lazarus, her brother.
Yet, regarding her act of pouring such an expensive perfume, one person specifically wasn’t happy at all. One of Jesus disciples, Judas Iscariot, blamed her, saying, ‘Why didn’t you spend this for the poor?’ The apostle John tells us that Judas Iscariot said that not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief and sad to see money being wasted and an opportunity to help himself disappeared.
Now you know how a happy and exuberant occasion it was to all guests of that dinner. Yet, I want you to think about Jesus the Lord in this meal. Other than His reclining at the table according to the Jewish custom of having a meal, we don’t read from vs. 1-6 anything of the Lord’s thoughts or feelings. What was in His mind as He was having a meal with His beloved followers?
Surprisingly, His mind was on the coming of His hour and His imminent death! Surely, Jesus was thinking about that, preparing Himself for that redeeming death for the mankind. Hear what He says in v. 7, having taken that beautiful scent and hearing Judas’ ill comment, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial”! Mt. 26:12 adds a better light to what Jesus meant, saying this: “In pouring this ointment on My body, she has done it to prepare Me for burial.” Our Lord’s mind was on the coming of the hour and HIS imminent DEATH! Everyone was happy. In addition, their already delighted hearts were escalated with that fragrance of perfume. Yet, the Lord Jesus’ mind was fixed on His death, and through it, His work of pardoning the sins of those around Him and all God’s elect including you and me! Those people around Him, including Lazarus, Martha and Mary alongside the disciples, altogether missed the Lord’s concern, His ultimate zeal and desire for His beloved.
I wonder whether we often, if not always, miss the same while being steeped in pleasures of our own life in this world. I wonder whether we miss our Lord’s desire and concern for His own people and the world as we enjoy our peaceful church-life and family-life in a protected Christian world. Moreover, our Lord declares to us through His death that He freed us from the curse of sin and death, so, we’re dead to sin and alive in the Son. He, therefore, invites us to walk with Him daily, looking at and sharing His aim together with Him, thus, receiving His abundant heavenly blessings. Yet, we aren’t really interested in either listening to Him or lifting our eyes to see what He is up to. We miss it altogether, being too busy with having fun in this world. He declares that we’re His ambassadors in this world; we’re called to be the salt and the light of this world, thus, to live and reflect Jesus and glorify the Father through the Son. But, I guess that’s not the first or second item on many Christian’s wish-list or to-do-list. We’re laughing and enjoying our meal, while missing our Saviour’s focus completely.
This thought makes me startled first and, then, embarrassed. I believe it would be the same with you who truly love the Lord and enjoy His presence in your life. It seems that there’s so little in our thoughts, words and deeds that might make our Lord pleased. We don’t really seem to concern what Jesus concerns; we don’t really care what He cares for. We miss our Saviour’s heart and do whatever our heart delights with.
But, our gracious Saviour amazes us again with His marvellous mercy! He receives us as we are, calling us His beloved. On what basis do I say this? Based on His words we read from v. 7, He says, “Leave [Mary] alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.” Jesus means that He knows how we’re unconcerned with His heart’s desire, how much we’re occupied with our own pleasures like Mary at that dinner table. She didn’t really intend to prepare for the Saviour’s death and burial. But He sees Mary’s anointing Him as her participation in the Lord’s kingdom work. Her simple submission to Him the Saviour and Lord, her giving an attention to Jesus she loves and listening to His voice, Jesus receives it delightfully! Although you fall sometimes, stagger at another time, or even backslide occasionally, your Saviour and Lord receives you and carefully carries you with Him in His kingdom work. And He delights in you and me! How marvellous this is! How gracious He is!
So, He said, borrowing the words from Mt. 26:13, about Mary’s anointing Him, “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” He means not only Mary, but you and me in our participation in His kingdom work, in His work of saving the lost and bringing all God’s elect into His eternal feast!
So, a challenge for us all, that is, we ought to align our eyesight with our gracious and loving Lord, we should follow and grasp what He sees, and listen to what He speaks, and do as He enables us and carries us with Him. He’ll receive this as a great delight in His heart.
II. THE JEW’S PLOT AGAINST THE SAVIOUR
The next point the apostle John leads you and me to is how Jesus guides us in His powerful and sovereign hand. we’re led to see what the Jewish leaders wanted to do and what the sovereign Lord achieved with their ill intention. As you remember, the Jewish leaders plotted to kill Lazarus alongside Jesus.
But let me ask you this question again – what do you think would Jesus have in His heart, especially about this criminal plot? I believe that He laughed at it. Never leaving His eyes off from His redeeming death on the cross, I believe that Jesus laughed at the Jews’ conspiracy. Could they ever touch even a hair of Jesus, the Lord and King? Could they put Lazarus to death against the will of Jesus? Never! Jesus has all authority over all things and, by that authority, He was going to lay His own life for saving the sinners, like you and me. Yet, He had full authority to take it up again. None can ever harm Him, nor can anyone harm His own. So Jesus must’ve laughed at the Jews’ scam.
Moreover, there’s another reason for us to believe that Jesus laughed at them. That is, they plotted to kill Jesus according to their own cause. But the result was the opposite; the Jews were used to fulfil what the Lord Jesus had planned to achieve. They assisted the Lord in that sense, and quickened the coming of the Lord’s kingdom for the benefit of Christ’s church. They conspired against the Lord and His beloved, but the result was completely opposite. The Lord’s saving grace was poured upon His own people.
Likewise, the enemies of God and Christ always seek to harm the Lord and all in His Church. But never have they been successful. The world’s history proves it. Even what happens in our generation, like the gender issues which seem to trouble us, and Islamic expansion and its radical terrorism that shake the world for over a couple or longer decades by now, will never succeed in putting the Lord’s church to death. Who knows what else might rise after these evil schemes and continue troubling Christians and the Lord’s church in the world. But the result will always be the same – the enemy of Christ will never change anything of the Lord, nor harm anyone in His beloved church! So, in this sense, Jesus laughs and scorns at them! See how brief this section is with little explanation of their plan. The world and its prince in the air have no power at all; their authority is a ‘fake’ authority; Satan’s attacks against us are nothing but ‘fake’ threats, because Jesus is the Lord and King who holds and exercises full and complete authority!
Understanding this is truly important because it strengthens us believers and deepens our joy in walking with the Lord. Understanding this is truly urgent as well because the deeper our joy in Jesus becomes, the more cunning and fake the enemy’s attacks will be to our eyes.
III. FOLLOWING THE SAVIOUR’S FOCUS
Now, we turn to the third point, that is, ‘following the Saviour’s focus.’ He finally enters into Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish nation, where He would accomplish His age-old plan for redeeming the world. People say that it was a ‘triumphal’ entry. Palm branches and people’s cloaks were spread on His path and waved by the crowd. They all cried and said, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” It’s a direct quote from Zech. 9, our first Bible reading for today. They welcomed Jesus as the King of Israel, as the Messiah foretold long ago by God’s messengers. Every word spoken by Zechariah as recorded in Zech. 9:9-17 especially was fulfilled in this entry of Jesus. What an extraordinary entry this was! The whole city and all pilgrims from everywhere in Israel welcomed Him, the Lord. Has there been any other occasion that might be compared to the welcoming cheers and hurrahs for Jesus on this day? No, it was surely a triumphal entry.
But, again, those welcoming crowd missed the point, missed the Lord’s zeal. Zech. 9:9 explains what this entry of the long-waited Messiah meant, saying, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He.” V. 10 adds more light, saying, “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and He shall speak peace to the nations; His rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” God spoke and declared Jesus’ office of Saviour King of the world who would defeat His enemy and rescue His people, His being the Prince of peace who would declare peace to all and through whom all who believe would be saved. In His rescue work, there will be no distinction but whoever repents and believe in Him will be saved. Jews and Gentiles without distinction will be saved, so will be male and female, slave and free. All may come and be members of one another in God’s household through faith in Jesus.
But those welcoming crowd in Jerusalem in Jn. 12 missed this message. They waved palm branches to Jesus, thinking that He would recover their Jewish ethnic earthly kingdom again, not Israel as Jesus’ kingdom composed of all true believers from every nation and tribe and tongue. They welcomed Him, thinking that His righteousness was like that of human rulers or princes, missing completely how His righteousness would revive the fallen humanity.
Likewise, still people in the world miss the true Lord and Saviour; they welcome Him with wrong and false causes. Some greet Him, seeking worldly material gains; some others cheer for Jesus, regarding Him as a mere yet ‘holier’ teacher, rather than God-Man, the second Person in the Godhead to whom all must bow and give the due glory and honour and worship. Still some others praise Him as the Saviour and Lord, but their life doesn’t match with their praises, their commitment to Him is so watered down that they say Jesus is King, but in their life, He seems to be in competition against many authorities of this world. A clear problem even many Bible-believing Christians face is their selective obedience to the Jesus and His command.
We must welcome Him, knowing His will; we must come to Him and worship Him and listen to Him and follow Him as He teaches us in His word. His church must seek to grow and carry out Jesus’ kingdom work in the way He set for guidance. We cannot welcome Him in the way those crowd in Jerusalem of Jn. 12 did.
In so doing, you and I and all who truly and biblically welcome the Lord will hear and see that this world and the enemy of Christ’s church say, repeating what the Jewish leaders once said, that is, “Look, the world has gone after Him [Jesus]”! You and I and all who belong to our Saviour and Lord will hear this cry on the day we sit together with the Lord Jesus in His judgment seat! Until then, let us continue focusing on our Lord’s concern and interest; let us remain firm and rejoice in the Lord’s powerful hand; and welcome Him in His way, that is, according to His word. ***