Today we are on week 18 of our conversation through the book of John. John is deliberately walking us towards his objective--an objective of belief:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
Last week we came to the fold or midway point in John’s letter, a turning point in Jesus' ministry.
Prior to John 11, it was a period of years: Jesus’ life and time with His disciples, His interaction with religious authorities, His teaching and miracles. John is not trying to share every Jesus story but is intentionally building a picture.
And now, from John 11 to the end of the book, it is just days in Jesus’ life. From Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead to His own death and resurrection is half the letter but just a matter of days.
The theme of a Y in the road is continuing to develop. Many people flocked to Jesus, but not necessarily because they “got it.” They came because He raised a dead man to life (many wanted to see Lazarus), because He did other miracles (food, healings), because He was an impressive teacher who stood out from the other religious authorities, because He loved people (listening, helping, and caring), and because many people thought he was a revolutionary and were excited about it--they wanted a political revolutionary to lead against Rome.
But on the other side of the Y in the road, many saw Jesus as a danger. He was disrupting the power balance between the Jews and the Romans, which was going to lead to the Romans taking away the temple and squashing the nation. They wanted to see Jesus killed: better for Jesus to die than for all of us to die.
Last week we wrestled with the complexity of disappointments that were happening in the story and, in turn, our potential disappointments--and not just any disappointment, but our disappointments in Jesus (God).
In the story of Lazarus, several people were disappointed: Lazarus, because he died; the disciples, because they were going back to Jerusalem to probably be killed; Mary and Martha because Jesus was late; and the religious authorities because Jesus was disrupting the power balance with the Romans. There was disappointment because of limited understanding and because of skewed expectionations.
We ended with these questions that can walk us away from disappointment in God towards John’s objective: What is the outcome of believing Jesus came to fix everything? What is the outcome of believing that Jesus came so that we may have relationship with God? What are the differences?
Today we turn the page to John 12 and we are back at Lazarus’ house. Before we get to the text today, let me ask you a fascinating question. It will walk us towards processing the text today. Think about people that have stood out in human history: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, Aristotle, Muhammad Ali, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Billy Graham, Martin Luther, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vincent van Gogh, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney...
How does a person become a standout in human history?
The surface answer is, do something great and you will become a standout in human history. Sure, but what happened before people did those great things in order to lead to them doing great things? What sets someone up to do something great? What sets someone up to be a standout?
Are there any commonalities, whether external influences or situational influences, or maybe supernatural influences?
How do people become standouts in human history? What are some commonalities?
There are endless things that set someone up to be set apart: courage, adversity, opportunity, luck, character, wealth, education, intellect, desperation… But I am going to try to add another layer of complexity.
We put 20 people on the list above, not in any specific order. I promise that those are not the 20 most stand-out people in human history. If we worked on it as a group for 10 minutes, I bet we could come up with 100 standouts in human history. If we worked on it for longer, we may be able to come up with hundreds or maybe even 1000.
With the list I have, with the list we could potentially come up with, I am going to be so bold to say that there is a universal commonality of all of these people. Do you see it?
It is probably too obvious to see.
Of the thousands of people we could come up with--they all have had people that didn’t like them. They had people that didn’t support them. They all had people that didn’t like what they did. They all had people that didn’t believe in them and were opposed to them.
Why would people who are seen by many as great be opposed and/or even hated by others?
This brings us to Jesus. We could ask the same questions we just processed.
How did Jesus become a standout in human history?
Why were or why are people opposed to Jesus?
These are fascinating questions, but let’s go to the deep end of the pool with a more complex question. Actions rarely just happen; they are generally nudged by motivations. Motives might be noble or selfish, thought-out or reactionary, emotional or rational… What about the motive to be for or opposed to Jesus?
What was/is motivating people to be “for” Jesus and what was/is motivating others to be “opposed” to Jesus?
In John 12, so many things are happening. Today we just bring the first 11 verses to the surface. As I share the story, remember what we have already processed today: what makes someone a standout; why some will see a standout as a hero and others will be opposed; and the motives of being for and/or opposed.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then 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.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He 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.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. (John 12:1-11)
Compare and contrast the different motivations for connecting and/or relating with Jesus: Martha, Mary, Judas and the crowd.
With all that we have talked about, in the midst of this, Mary is anointing Jesus. In Luke’s sharing of this story, Jesus commends Mary’s actions after Martha was complaining that Mary was not helping with the hosting duties.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
What was Mary doing? Anointing Jesus. Anointing would have been a powerful hyperlink to the readers of John. They would have heard it through the filter of all the other anointing moments in Old Testament history:
Exodus 29:1-7 We see the priests being anointed, and in that anointing there is an empowering.
Leviticus 16:29-34 Priests are anointed so they can offer atoning sacrifices for people’s sins.
1 Samuel 10:1-2 Saul is anointed as king.
1 Samuel 16:1-13 David is Anointed as future king.
1 Samuel 24:1-13 David keeps reverence of the anointed King Saul while others pressured him to kill King Saul.
Isaiah 61:1-3 Jesus quoted Isaiah in Luke 4 and said it was now fulfilled.
Mary anointed Jesus. Anointing declares that Jesus is set apart by God. It is an act of faith. It is something that is done out of recognition of what has already been accomplished. Anointing is something that is done out of hope for the future, in anticipation of what is to come. It is a public declaration, a statement of importance and of being set apart.
I think this portion of John 12 can be a moment where the focus can be that we shouldn’t be Martha, or the crowd--and for sure, not Judas! There is validity in that, but what am I supposed to be?
Part of our discussion in preparation was finding the new cultural parallels to anointing. It is difficult to find a direct parallel in our culture. But anointing is these things:
It is a faith declaration. Not just a declaration of what has been done, but of what will be done. It is costly. There’s a physical and emotional cost, and even a financial cost. It is visible. It is private and internal, but it’s also external and communal.
Maybe an absolute parallel is not possible, but motivation is parallel. Here’s a final processing moment: What motivates a faith declaration in Jesus? What motivates sacrifice in relationship with Jesus? What motivates a visible declaration of faith in Jesus?
I have one more thing to put out there before we talk through this. As Jesus is anointed--Paul saw it--we are anointed.
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
Mary anointed Jesus.
Jesus anoints us.
So let's dive into these questions. These questions don’t have “I” in them, but I want you to encourage you to work “I” into them.
What motivates a faith declaration in Jesus?
What motivates sacrifice in relationship with Jesus?
What motivates a visible declaration of faith in Jesus?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read John 12:1-11.
- If you had a year's wages to spend on friends, what would you do and why?
- Who do you identify with most in the story--Mary, Martha, Judas, or the crowd? Why?
- How do you demonstrate that Jesus is set apart in your life?
- What is something that is costly in your relationship with Christ?
- How are you focused, confused, challenged and/or encouraged by this scripture?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Exodus 39
- Exodus 40
- John 1
- John 2
- John 3
- John 4