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Anointed for Burial.
One cannot enter upon the study of the portion of the Gospel that now opens before us without feeling that he is entering upon the most tender, solemn and sacred portion of the sacred story. This journey to Jerusalem is the last journey, is the Lord's last appeal to that untoward generation, is the history of the Lamb consciously going to the altar of sacrifice, the innocent and holy condemned one seeking his doom. A little later Paul went to Jerusalem “knowing that bonds and imprisonment awaited him;” but now the Lord goes knowing that he is certainly going the cross.
The account of the feast at Bethany is given by Matthew, chapter XXVI and Mark, chapter XIV. These accounts, although differing somewhat in details, no doubt describe the same occurrence that John narrates in the present passage. The anointing described by Luke in chapter VII, is regarded by all the commentators as a different affair which occurred in Galilee at the house of a Pharisee named Simon. The only serious apparent discrepancy between the accounts of John and the earlier writers is that they seem to locate the feast at Bethany two days before the passover. It should be kept in mind, however, that neither Matthew nor Luke adhere to the chronological order of Christ's ministry, nor do they assert that the feast took place two days before the passover. That date is assigned to a meeting of the Sanhedrim held to devise means to seize the Savior by craft, and at this meeting an opportunity presents itself in the offer of one of the apostles to betray his Master by leading a band of armed men to his resting place at night. Then these evangelists naturally go back to give an account of the feast at Bethany where the disappointment of Judas developed his purpose to sell his Lord. This account they throw in as an episode, and then return to the plot of the Sanhedrim and the treachery of Judas. It is but just to admit that some judicious scholars hold that Matthew and Mark give the real date of the feast, and insist that John declares the time when Christ came to Bethany, but not the time of the feast. The attention John usually gives to the order of events, his language, and the probabilities are opposed to this view. (Joh 12:1)
1. Then Jesus six days before the passover. The passover meal was the beginning of the feast of unleavened bread, which lasted for seven days. The whole paschal week was termed the feast of unleavened bread; the passover was, strictly speaking, the 15th of Nisan, “the great day of the feast.” Jesus reached Bethany on Friday, rested the Sabbath day or Saturday, and the feast took place on Saturday evening, after the Sabbath ended. Bethany. A village about two miles east of Jerusalem (John 11:18), being on the other 186side of the Mount of Olives. It was the home of Mary and Martha, where Christ was wont to visit when in Jerusalem (Luke 10:38–41; Matt. 21:17; Mark 11:11, 12). It was the scene of the resurrection of Lazarus (John, chap. 11), and of Christ's own ascension (Luke 24:50). It is not mentioned in the Old Testament.—Abbott.
Then is rendered by the Revision more correctly “therefore.” It marks a close connection with what precedes, and especially with 11:55, which speaks of the approaching passover and the gathering multitudes. We have seen the Lord retiring for a season from the vicinity of Jerusalem, out of the immediate presence of the rulers who had now officially decided upon his death, and secluding himself in the quiet retreat of Ephraim in order to wait for this very passover. As he had been present at two preceding feasts, and as Jerusalem has been the principal seat of his ministry for about six months, it is not strange that the great topic of conversation among the pilgrims was whether he would come to the passover. Would the well-known purpose of the Sanhedrim keep him away? “Therefore, he came six days before the passover,” though fully apprised of their designs, and conscious that they would be carried out at that very time. Nor was there any concealment about his coming. As we learn from the other Gospels, he crossed the Jordan from Ephraim and joined in Perea, the immense crowds who were hastening to Jerusalem, moved through Jericho in a kind of triumphal procession, with vast multitudes thronging his steps, and moving with them to Bethany, parted from them, not to seek seclusion, but to attend a public feast. The time for all concealment was now past, and in the scenes at Jericho, the feast at Bethany, the kingly march into Jerusalem, the second cleansing of the temple and the final appeal to Jerusalem recorded in Matthew XXI., he not only seemed to seek publicity, but to invite the malice of his enemies to do its worst. (Joh 12:2)
2. There they made him a supper; and Martha served. It is not said at whose house the feast took place, only that it was at Bethany, that Martha served, that Lazarus was one of those at the table, and that Mary was there. Matthew and Mark say that it took place at the house of “Simon the leper.” Of him we know nothing and all is conjecture. He may have been the father of the three, or the husband of Martha, or some other relative. He may have been dead and Martha his widow. Christ may have healed him of his leprosy. The only thing certain is that the feast was at his house; the Bethany family were there, and Martha was active in providing the feast. The feast may have been made by the citizens of Bethany in his honor, in gratitude for the wonderful miracle that he had restored one of their townsmen to life. “They” has no antecedent expressed and is as likely to refer to the people as any one else. In that case there is no need for supposing any relationship to the Bethany family. Martha, in accordance with all that we have learned of her active, practical nature, would be busy “serving;” Mary would naturally be forgetful of all else but her beloved Lord. We are told that a favorite time with the Jews for a feast was the evening after the Sabbath day had passed. 187 (Joh 12:3)
3. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly. Spikenard, from which the ointment was, made, was an aromatic herb of the valerian family. It was imported from an early age from Arabia, India, and the Far East. It was the costliest anointing oil of antiquity, and was sold throughout the Roman Empire, where it fetched a price that put it beyond any but the wealthy. Mary had bought a vase or flask of it containing twelve ounces. And anointed the feet of Jesus. We learn from the other accounts some additional facts. The ointment was contained in an alabaster vase which she broke. It was all for Christ. Nothing was kept back. She anointed first his head, and then his feet. She came up behind as he reclined at table and poured it on his head, and then stooped down to his feet. It must be borne in mind that the Jews did not sit but reclined at table with their feet extended behind. The anointing of the head was also a distinction which was conferred upon the guest of honor (Luke 7:46),—not only among the Jews, but generally in the East, and among the ancients. In connection with the anointing of the head, was the washing of the feet with water. Thus it was an elevation of the custom to the highest point of honor when the head and the feet were alike anointed with oil. Wiped his feet with her hair. The same is said of “a woman that was a sinner” (Luke 7:37). That occurrence took place in Galilee and is a different incident. That woman washed his feet with her tears of sorrow; those of Mary were tears of gratitude. The house was filled with the odor. The ointments were very fragrant. Perhaps the rich perfume was the first intimation to many of what had been done. Service to Christ is full of fragrance to all within reach of its influence. (Joh 12:4)
4. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot. Matthew (26:8) states that “the disciples” had indignation; Mark reports that “some had indignation;” John (12:4), as knowing who had whispered the first word of blame, fixes the uncharitable judgment on “Judas Iscariot, Simon's son.” The narrow, covetous soul of the traitor could see nothing in the lavish gift but a “waste.” His indignation, partly real, partly affected, was perhaps honestly shared by some of his fellow-disciples. His own soul was too narrow and sordid to rejoice over the honor done the Savior. (Joh 12:5)
5. Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence? About $45. A penny here is the denarius, a Roman silver coin worth 15 to 17 cents. The wretch, who is just going to sell the only Son of God for 30 pence (pieces of silver), values at 300 a little ointment, perfume, and vapor.—Quesnel. As the penny, or denarius, was the price of a day's labor then, and would buy as much as a dollar now, the whole sum would be equivalent to $300 now, a sum large enough to arouse the greed of Judas. So costly a treasure shows that the Bethany family possessed 188considerable wealth. Given to the poor. He cared nothing for the poor. This was only a pretext. Those who are the best friends of Christ will do most for the poor. (Joh 12:6)
6. Because he had the bag. Judas was treasurer of the little company. They must have had a meagre purse; and it was too much for him to see all this money thrown away on the mere sentiment of love, when it might have gone into their treasury, from which he could steal it, for he was a thief. But he concealed his true motive, and gained the really good disciples over to his side by pleading the love of the poor. He was the type of all those treasurers, cashiers, etc., who steal trust funds. (Joh 12:7)
7. Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. Their indignation was roused against the poor, shrinking Mary as if she had robbed them. No doubt Judas felt as if he had been robbed. Then Christ interposed with authority and silenced them, adding a commendation, saying, “She has anticipated the hour of my decease; anointing my body before death, and thus preparing it for burial.” It is worthy of note that this was all the anointing which our Lord's body received from the hand of Mary or her female friends, inasmuch as he had risen before they reached the sepulchre with their spices. It was, therefore, in verity, an anointing beforehand, although she was not aware of the full import of her act of love. (Joh 12:8)
8. For the poor always ye have with you. You will have plenty of opportunities to aid them; and the more they did for their Master, the more they would do for the poor, for the poor are left in his stead, and through them will be expressed the increased love of the Master. It is the want of love, not of money, that allows any poor to suffer; so that all gifts to Christ which increase our love will increase the gifts to the poor. (Joh 12:9)
9. Much people of the Jews therefore know that he was there. The language indicates that he tarried there for several days, from Friday till Sunday, and throngs came to see him. He was not seeking privacy now. (Joh 12:10) (Joh 12:11)
10, 11. The chief priests consulted . . . . . put Lazarus to death. Lazarus was 189a living testimonial to the divine power of Christ and they desired to get him out of the way. (Joh 12:12)
12. On the next day. This was Sunday, often called Palm Sunday, because on this day the multitude took the branches of palm trees. Much people that were come to the feast. Josephus says that from two to three millions attended a passover. All the Gospels give an account of this entry into Jerusalem and all ought to be read. See Matt. 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–11, and Luke 19:29–44. (Joh 12:13)
13. Took branches of palm trees, and went out to meet him. They carpeted the Savior's pathway with their garments and the gigantic leaves of the palm tree. The “branches of palm trees” are not strictly, branches at all, but the enormous leaves, twelve to sixteen feet long, which spring from the top of the tall, straight trunk. A few palm trees are still to be seen in Jerusalem. Combining the four accounts, we get the following features: Some took off their outer garments, the burnoose, and bound it on the colt as a kind of saddle; others cast their garments in the way, a mark of honor to a king (2 Kings 9:13); others climbed the trees, cut down the branches, and strewed them in the way (Matt. 21:8); others gathered leaves and twigs and rushes. This procession was made up largely of Galileans; but the reputation of Christ, increased by the resurrection of Lazarus, had preceded him, and many came out from the city to swell the acclamations and increase the enthusiasm. Hosanna. A Greek modification of the Hebrew words, “Save now, I beseech thee,” in Ps. 118:25, the next verse of which formed part of their song, “Blessed,” etc. It is used as an expression of praise, like hallelujah. That cometh in the name of the Lord. The words are taken in part from Ps. 118:25, 26, a hymn which belonged to the great hallelujah chanted at the end of the Paschal Supper and the Feast of Tabernacles. The people were accustomed to apply it to the Messiah.—Godet. Christ came in the name of the Lord, because sent and appointed by the Lord,—his ambassador, proclaiming the message of the Lord. (Joh 12:14)
14. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon. This was Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the people expected him to become king at once. The outside of this triumph was very mean. He rode upon an ass's colt, which made no figure. This colt was borrowed. Christ went upon the water in a borrowed boat, ate the Passover in a borrowed chamber, was buried in a borrowed sepulchre, and here rode on a borrowed ass. He had no rich trappings, but only the garments of others.—Matthew Henry. (Joh 12:15)
15. Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh. Each of the four evangelists 190goes back to the prophecy (Zech. 9:9) as fulfilled in this remarkable event,—the only known instance in which Jesus ever rode upon any animal.—Cowles. Hitherto he had entered the holy city on foot: this day he would enter as David and judges of Israel were wont,—riding on the specially Jewish ass.—Geikie. (Joh 12:16)
16. These things understood not his disciples at first. There was much connected with his ministry that never became clear until he had suffered and risen. Then in the clear light of the Holy Spirit all was like a sunbeam.
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