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These are the readings for Monday of Holy Week.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases in bold mine):

John 12:1-11

12:1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

12:3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,

12:5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”

12:6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

12:7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.

12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

12:9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

12:10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,

12:11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Today’s reading features the contrast of two polar opposites: Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and Judas, the betrayer and thief.

Lazarus and his sisters gave a dinner to honour Jesus, particularly because Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead (verses 1, 2).

John MacArthur points out that this was the last Sabbath under the Old Covenant:

By the way, this is the last legitimate Sabbath.  This is the final Sabbath in the Old Covenant because on Friday, Jesus will die and ratify the New Covenant The Old Covenant will fade away.  The New Covenant being ratified is in place, and there’s no more authorized official Sabbaths.  So the church immediately gathers itself on Sunday when He was raised from the dead, and continued to do that every Sunday up until this very Sunday today. 

John tells us that Martha served (verse 2). In an earlier visit to the house where Lazarus and his sisters lived, Jesus criticised Martha when she asked Him to ask Mary to help her with food preparations. Yet, she is still serving.

MacArthur rightly says that we are sometimes too critical of Martha:

I need to rescue Martha a little bit because Martha gets bad press.  That comes out of the account in Luke 10.  On another occasion, when our Lord was traveling, He came to Bethany and came to the village and Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister called Mary who was seated at the Lord’s feet listening to the Word.  Martha was distracted with all her preparations.  She came up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?  Then tell her to help me.” 

She’s a little obsessed with this serving stuff.  The Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha – ” and if you’re named Martha, you have heard that many, many times.  “You are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is really necessary, and Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”  Let me tell you something.  The truth that Mary is listening to is forever The meal and the stuff in the kitchen, that has a short shelf lifeSo instruction, divine truth, worship is a priority.

Based upon that experience, and you can go back to John 12.  We sort of degrade Martha a little bit, and I think we need to lift her back up She served and service is regarded nobly in scripture, very noblyIn fact, the word “serving” there is the word diakone  from which we get the word “deacon” and servers in the church were a very important part of the life of the church People were first appointed in the sixth chapter of Acts There are references all through the book of Acts to people who served.  Paul in Romans 16 talks about all the people who served, men and women who served his ministry and the ministry of those associated with him So we don’t want to belittle this service that Martha rendered

There is a bone of contention as to whether this dinner actually took place at the home of Lazarus and his sisters. MacArthur said that it took place at the home of Simon, a healed leper. Only Jesus could have healed him, by the way.

However, Matthew Henry says there were two different dinners, one at Simon’s and this one at Lazarus’s:

It is queried whether this was the same with that which is recorded, Matthew 24:6, &c., in the house of Simon. Most commentators think it was for the substance of the story and many of the circumstances agree but that comes in after what was said two days before the passover, whereas this was done six days before nor is it likely that Martha should serve in any house but her own and therefore I incline with Dr. Lightfoot to think them different: that in Matthew on the third day of the passover week, but this the seventh day of the week before, being the Jewish sabbath, the night before he rode in triumph into Jerusalem that in the house of Simon this of Lazarus. These two being the most public and solemn entertainments given him in Bethany, Mary probably graced them both with this token of her respect and what she left of her ointment this first time, when she spent but a pound of it (John 12:3), she used that second time, when she poured it all out, Mark 14:3.

Mary was moved enough by the occasion to anoint the feet of Jesus with a costly and powerful perfume — nard — and wipe them with her hair (verse 3).

I would like to think this was part of Mary’s spontaneous, emotional make up as a person. It is interesting that she undid her hair in order to wipe our Lord’s feet, because no respectable woman at that time let her hair down, so to speak, in front of men other than her husband.

MacArthur discusses Mary’s action and tells us more about nard, which was often used in burials. It came from the Himalayas, which proves that trade routes to the East were in place at that time:

I don’t really think this is something calculated, premeditatedThis is the heart of Mary bursting, “And she took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard.”  That’s a lot of pure perfume, pure fragrant oil.  The term is “myron” which is a term for oil Nard was a very rare herb grown in the high pasture lands of China, Tibet, and IndiaIt wouldn’t find its way into a home in Bethany unless it had been carried there by camels from India, from China, far, far, far awayBecause it came so far, because it was so pure, it was very valuable, very valuable.  In fact, its value was known by the man who always thought only about the price of things: Judas.  He named the price in verse 5 as 300 denarii.  A denarius is a day’s wage.  That’s 300 days of work.  That’s essentially a year’s work if you take some days off out.  Very expensive. 

In Matthew 26:7 we read that it was in an alabaster jar Alabaster is a white translucent stone that would be carved out to contain this nard.  Probably, that’s how it was shipped and delivered and kept.  Now, why would people have this?  Well, for one use and we’ll see more about that in a minute, this kind of fragrant oil was used at a funeral.  Since there was no embalming, to somehow lower the impact of the stench of a decaying body, fragrant oils were placed on the body You remember Joseph of Arimathea.  Nicodemus did that to the body of Christ.  They anointed His body with spices and things like that at His own burial. 

This is a very valuable thing to the family They’ve got some of their estate in this very valuable oil in this alabaster jar Maybe it was to be used for the funeral of family members.  It hadn’t been used for Lazarus’s funeral, so that maybe open to question, but families did use perfume like this for purposes like that.  It could also be used just for the ladies to enjoy the fragrance and the home to enjoy the fragrance

Here are the Gospel differences in describing this event. There was also a similar episode with a fallen woman:

According to Mark 14:3, she smashes the alabaster jar and opens it Matthew and Mark tell us it went on His head and here we find in John that it went all the way down to His feet Then she loosened her hair, which was a radical thing for a woman to do in the presence of men, and used her hair to wipe His feet.  Foot washing at a meal was part of the meal because people had sandals, and there was no pavement …

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this on behalf of Jesus Go back to Luke 7.  It had happened before earlier in His ministry, not in Bethany, but in Galilee.  Not in the house of Simon the leper, but in the house of a Pharisee Not by a believing woman whom Jesus knew, but by a prostitute He didn’t know Luke 7:37, “There was a woman in the city who was a sinner and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisees’ house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume standing behind Him at His feet weeping.  She began to wet His feet with her tears, kept wiping them with the hair of her head and kissing His feet and anointing them with perfume Now, when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.’”

That would be the most frightening things imaginable for a self-righteous Pharisee to imagine himself to be touched by a prostitute He wouldn’t survive that because Pharisees as legalists were highly seducible, even by a touch.  But the touch of a most sinful woman, couldn’t diminish the pure, holiness of Christ Instead of it making Him unholy, He could make her holy Apparently, this was a lavish way for people to express overwhelming love and affection

Judas, the betrayer, piped up and asked why the perfume wasn’t sold with the proceeds going to the poor (verses 4, 5).

John, sometimes called the apostle of love, was always pointed in his descriptions of Judas, and one of these is in verse 6. John was quick to tell us that Judas was a thief. According to John, Judas didn’t care at all about the poor, but, as he was the one in charge of donations given to Jesus and the apostles, he also dipped into those funds from time to time for himself.

Both of our commentators have much to say about the covetous nature of the betrayer.

MacArthur begins with another description of Judas from John 6, Christ’s own words, in fact:

The scene is tortured by the intrusion of a man identified by Jesus back in chapter 6 as a devil.  Verse 70, chapter 6, “One of you is a devil,” and He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, “For he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.”  Always one of the twelve, one of the disciples who was going to betray Him.  That is his epitaph, and it was his epitaph before he died.  That’s how he was identified: greed, ambition, worldliness, self-interest, owned his heart, driving him now to a frenzy, a frenzy.

He cast his lot in thinking he would be wealthy.  He cast his lot in thinking he would be elevated to some position of power and authority, and it began to become clear to him pretty early I think that this thing wasn’t going the direction he wanted it to go While everyone else was growing to love Christ more, he was growing to hate Him more He labored in difficulty.  There was resistance.  There was rejection.  He was left with nothing but the basest necessities of life.  From day to day, it was merely survival.  The idea of a kingdom was becoming ridiculous to him.  Everything was going wrong, but he has to keep up the hypocrisy so he says in verse 5, “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and given to poor people?”  It sounds so noble, but John tells us in verse 6, “He said this not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.” 

When the thing began to go the direction he didn’t think it should go, he began embezzling the money, the little money they had to sustain them He wanted the money and all the money he could get He was ready now to get out, whatever was going to be the end of this thing for Jesus.  Jesus had said He was going to die.  They were going to take His life.  He can see the hostility, the animosity.  He knows the end is coming.  He knows He’s not going to be able to be in the position he is to get the money that’s in the box very much longer.  He wants as much as he can get.  By the way, this is sadMatthew 26:8 says the other disciples chimed in on this Yeah, why wasn’t that sold and the money given to the poor?  Stirred up by Judas to join the protest.  It actually says the disciples protested.

He had a lot of influence That’s why he had the money box because everybody what?  Trusted him.  I will say this, true honor to Jesus Christ, a place where true honor is offered to Jesus Christ will always bring out the hostility of those who belong to Satan If you honor Jesus Christ, those who belong to Satan will be hostile This is a devil.  It actually says Thursday night of this week coming, the devil himself entered into him He was not just a devil, but the devil himself entered into Judas

Henry has a lengthy analysis of Judas’s greed and devilishness:

The pretence with which he covered his dislike (John 12:5): Why was not this ointment, since it was designed for a pious use, sold for three hundred pence” (8l. 10s. of our money), “and given to the poor? (1.) Here is a foul iniquity gilded over with a specious and plausible pretence, for Satan transforms himself into an angel of light. (2.) Here is worldly wisdom passing a censure upon pious zeal, as guilty of imprudence and mismanagement. Those who value themselves upon their secular policy, and undervalue others for their serious piety, have more in them of the spirit of Judas than they would be thought to have. (3.) Here is charity to the poor made a colour for opposing a piece of piety to Christ, and secretly made a cloak for covetousness. Many excuse themselves from laying out in charity under pretence of laying up for charity: whereas, if the clouds be full of rain, they will empty themselves. Judas asked, Why was it not given to the poor? To which it is easy to answer, Because it was better bestowed upon the Lord Jesus. Note, We must not conclude that those do no acceptable piece of service who do not do it in our way, and just as we would have them as if every thing must be adjudged imprudent and unfit which does not take its measures from us and our sentiments. Proud men think all ill-advised who do not advise with them.

Also:

(2.) It did come from a principle of covetousness. The truth of the matter was, this ointment being designed for his Master, he would rather have had it in money, to be put in the common stock with which he was entrusted, and then he knew what to do with it. Observe,

[1.] Judas was treasurer of Christ’s household, whence some think he was called Iscariot, the bag-bearer. First, See what estate Jesus and his disciples had to live upon. It was but little they had neither farms nor merchandise, neither barns nor storehouses, only a bag or, as some think the word signifies, a box, or coffer, wherein they kept just enough for their subsistence, giving the overplus, if any were, to the poor this they carried about with them, wherever they went. Omnia mea mecum porto–I carry all my property about me. This bag was supplied by the contributions of good people, and the Master and his disciples had all in common let this lessen our esteem of worldly wealth, and deaden us to the punctilios of state and ceremony, and reconcile us to a mean and despicable way of living, if this be our lot, that it was our Master’s lot for our sakes he became poor. Secondly, See who was the steward of the little they had it was Judas, he was purse-bearer. It was his office to receive and pay, and we do not find that he gave any account what markets he made. He was appointed to this office, either, 1. Because he was the least and lowest of all the disciples it was not Peter nor John that was made steward (though it was a place of trust and profit), but Judas, the meanest of them. Note, Secular employments, as they are a digression, so they are a degradation to a minister of the gospel see 1 Corinthians 6:4. The prime-ministers of state in Christ’s kingdom refused to be concerned in the revenue, Acts 6:2. 2. Because he was desirous of the place. He loved in his heart to be fingering money, and therefore had the moneybag committed to him, either, (1.) As a kindness, to please him, and thereby oblige him to be true to his Master. Subjects are sometimes disaffected to the government because disappointed of their preferment but Judas had no cause to complain of this the bag he chose, and the bag he had. Or, (2.) In judgment upon him, to punish him for his secret wickedness that was put into his hands which would be a snare and trap to him. Note, Strong inclinations to sin within are often justly punished with strong temptations to sin without. We have little reason to be fond of the bag, or proud of it, for at the best we are but stewards of it and it was Judas, one of an ill character, and born to be hanged (pardon the expression), that was steward of the bag. The prosperity of fools destroys them.

[2.] Being trusted with the bag, he was a thief, that is, he had a thievish disposition. The reigning love of money is heart-theft as much as anger and revenge are heart-murder. Or perhaps he had been really guilty of embezzling his Master’s stores, and converting to his own use what was given to the public stock. And some conjecture that he was now contriving to fill his pockets, and then run away and leave his Master, having heard him speak so much of troubles approaching, to which he could by no means reconcile himself. Note, Those to whom the management and disposal of public money is committed have need to be governed by steady principles of justice and honesty, that no blot cleave to their hands for though some make a jest of cheating the government, or the church, or the country, if cheating be thieving, and, communities being more considerable than particular persons, if robbing them be the greater sin, the guilt of theft and the portion of thieves will be found no jesting matter. Judas, who had betrayed his trust, soon after betrayed his Master.

Jesus rebuked Judas, telling him to leave Mary alone because she was keeping the nard for His burial (verse 7). He also pointed out that the poor would always be among them but that He would not (verse 8).

MacArthur interprets this as follows:

It’s right to take care of the poor It’s right to care for them, but not now, not now.  I’m here.  You don’t always have Me I don’t want to spiritualize that.  I just want to say that in life there are priorities.  There is temporal relief, and there is eternal worship, and you better know the difference

MacArthur compares Judas’s sinful words in denying an honour bestowed on our Lord with the price he received for betraying Him:

His first words ever spoken are in verse 5.  These are the first words in the Scripture from the lips of Judas: “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and given to poor people?”  Do you want to know his last words?  Matthew 27, “I have betrayed innocent blood.”  That’s Judas.  For 300 denarii, he would rob Jesus of the gift of Mary’s love.  Later, he would sell Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  Three hundred denarii, that’s about a year’s wages; 30 pieces of silver, 4 months.  The perfume was worth 3 times to him what he sold Jesus for

Several years ago, someone commented here to say that Judas wasn’t really bad, only misunderstood, largely because of the bad press he got in the New Testament! No. There is no rationalisation of Judas. He was a bad man, and he committed suicide after Jesus was condemned on Good Friday. Judas was a tortured soul, a man given over to judgement in life and in death (Matthew 27:3-5):

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus[a] was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.

Acts 1:15-19 has a different version of his death:

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong[d] he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

MacArthur sums up Mary and Judas:

Bitter, greedy, murderous, betraying hatred is juxtaposed against this lavish love that is memorialized permanently.  Mary: overflowing extravagant, sacrificial loveJudas: bitter, greedy, murderous, betraying hate, extreme.

Not surprisingly, people flocked to the house of Lazarus to see him and to see Jesus (verse 9). Not everyone came in faith. Some came out of curiosity.

The Jewish leaders wanted to put Lazarus to death — along with Jesus — to stop him evangelising. Because of his resurrection, many Jews were becoming followers of Jesus (verse 11). That must have really rankled.

The Jewish hierarchy — the notionally holiest men in the entire Jewish population — could not deny that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, so they wanted to kill the evidence, then probably deny it ever happened. They were so wilfully blind and, because of that, so sinful. How sick and perverse. God passed judgement on them with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. To date, it has never been rebuilt.

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