“7 But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.’ ” John 12:7-8
At a special dinner for Jesus among His close friends, we are learning how to honor only Him (John 12:1-8). So far we have learned the following ways to honor only Jesus:
– Serve Christ out of thanksgiving for what He has done (John 12:1-2a).
– Spend time with Christ out of joy for His gift of salvation (John 12:2b).
– Sacrifice for Christ out of love for Him (John 12:3).
The final way to honor only Jesus in this passage is to SHOW SENSITIVITY TO WHAT BLESSES JESUS ALONE (John 12:4-8). In contrast to Mary, John characterizes Judas in three ways. “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said…” (John 12:4). First, his surname “Iscariot.” The name “Iscariot” is taken to refer to his origin, “from Kerioth.” 1 This could mean his father, “Simon” Iscariot (6:71; 12:4), is either from Judah (Joshua 15:25) or Moab (Jeremiah 48:24). Judas then, would be the only one of the twelve disciples who was not from Galilee.
Second, Judas was “one of His disciples.” He belonged to Jesus’ inner circle of companions for the last three years. Many unbelieving disciples had already withdrawn from following Jesus (John 6:66), but Judas, an unbelieving disciple (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12), chose to stay with Christ. Why did He remain with the Lord Jesus?
This leads to the third characteristic of Judas. He remained with Christ so he could “betray” the Lord. He stuck around so he could deliver Jesus into the hands of His enemies. Mary was devoted to Jesus, but Judas despised Him. Mary loved Jesus, but Judas seems to loathe Him.
“Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Judas thought this anointing was a terrible waste of money – a year’s wages for a working man. Judas may have sounded compassionate toward the poor, but he was not. His criticism of Mary infected some of the other disciples according to Matthew and Mark’s account. Matthew’s writes, “But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste?’ ”(Matthew 26:8)? Those who seek to bless Jesus alone are often “misunderstood and criticized; but that is what usually happens when somebody gives his or her best to the Lord.” 2
If you give your best to Jesus, you will be criticized and many times the loudest criticism will come from other believers who think they are only using common sense in how the Lord’s resources are spent. When the Lord called our family to serve Him in the Philippines, we had some believers and unbelieving family members question our sanity. Some said our time and talents could be used better by the Lord in the USA. In their minds, we “wasted” our lives for Jesus in the Philippines!
At this point Judas does not sound like a bad guy, does he? “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (John 12:6). John informs us that Judas was not being honest. He did not really care about the poor. He only cared for himself. He had been appointed treasurer of the disciples which may mean he had some accounting ability. But he was pilfering what was put in the money box and carrying it away for himself. He was a thief motivated by greed. He wanted to make money from his association with Jesus. He desired the perfume to make money for himself. When he could not get the perfume, he soon went to the chief priests and offered to betray Christ if they paid him thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16).
Some people pretend to be Christians or even disciples of Jesus to obtain money or power for themselves. But they only have their own benefit in mind. They are not sensitive to what would bless Jesus or others around Him.
“But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.’ ” (John 12:7). Jesus defended Mary’s act of love and devotion, “Let her alone!” He would have nothing to do with criticism brought against Mary. Anointing was usually for some festivity or celebration. But Jesus says she kept it for His burial which was just a few days away. Mary had entered into the mind of Christ more fully than the others. She knew His death was coming since He had already taught them about His suffering and eventual death many times before. Rather than wait until after He dies, she uses the perfume now when He can still enjoy it! This was a time for Jesus to relax before His sufferings and death. Mary understood this and she wanted to refresh her weary Lord and Savior.
Mary’s actions remind us that it is better to show our appreciation for someone before he or she dies rather than afterward. “Flowers at a funeral are nice, but flowers before the funeral are even better.” 3 Is there someone in your life that the Lord may be impressing you to contact before his or her life is over? What would you regret more? Expressing your love for him or her before or after they die?
“For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” (John 12:8). Jesus is saying, “You will always have opportunity to minister to the poor, but your opportunity to minister to Me here on earth is limited. I’m going to die soon.” The word “Me” is emphatic. The sentence literally reads, “Me, however, you do not always have”(Ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε). Unless Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself, Who was due the same honor as God His Father (John 5:23), this statement would be an expression of extreme arrogance. But these are not the words of a mere man or prophet, these in essence, are the words of God!
Christ’s comment about always having the poor was not an endorsement of poverty or an encouragement to do nothing about poverty. He is simply saying that there will “always” be opportunities to serve the poor, but their opportunity to serve Him here on earth was rapidly fading. Now was the opportunity for special service to the Lord Jesus. Now was the time to do something that would benefit Him and Him alone. Christ welcomed Mary’s gracious display of love and devotion.
In Matthew and Mark Jesus even said her gracious act would become a perpetual memorial of honor whenever the gospel is preached. What a contrast between Mary and Judas. Mary offered her best to Jesus in sacrificial love; Judas was interested in Jesus only as a ladder for his selfish ambitions.
Mary saw her time with the Lord prior to His death as an opportunity for special service to Him. She was sensitive to what He needed, to what would bless Him. When she anointed the Lord, it did not benefit the others or herself, it benefited Jesus and Him alone.
What made Mary so sensitive to the Lord? We are told back in Luke 10:39, “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” If we would learn to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word, we would probably become more sensitive to what would bless our Lord Jesus and Him alone. Perhaps we would also give more to our Lord as Mary did.
Christian author and speaker, J. Vernon McGee, observed in this passage that Lazarus, Mary, and Martha represent three essentials in the church today, respectively: “new life in Christ, worship and adoration, and service.” 4 If churches would focus on these three areas, think of how much the fragrance of Christ would fill our lives and communities!?!
How can we serve Jesus now in a way that serves Him alone? Spend time alone with the Lord Jesus and serve Him alone. Just you and the Lord alone. No one else there to benefit from what you give Him at that time. As You meet with Jesus, give Him…
– Your complete honesty. When you really love somebody you don’t just want to spend time with them. You want to talk with them. If you want a deeper relationship with someone, you need to be completely honest with them about your faults and your feelings. Christ is not looking for perfection, but He does insist on complete honesty. What do you talk to God about if you want to draw close to Him? Anything that you would talk to your best friend about. Your hopes… fears… dreams… anxieties… things you are embarrassed about… things you are proud of… things you are ashamed of… your goals… your ambitions… your hurts… your cares… every part of your life – you come to God and you talk to God about it. The Bible says in Psalm 116:1-2: “I love the Lord because He hears me and answers my prayer, because He bends down and listens. I will pray as long as I have breath.” If you don’t feel close to God and some of you don’t… some of you have been believers for quite a long time and you honestly have lost your spark. Your Christian life has become routine, dull, and lifeless. There is no real joy and spark any more. There is a simple remedy for that. Start talking to God again. Choose to be completely honest with Him.
– Your listening ear as you read the Bible. Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone. We all want to be understood. We all want to be listened to. When you listen to someone, you are saying, “You matter to me.” When I listen to my wife or my children, I am saying, “I value what you have to say. You are important to me.” When I don’t listen to somebody I’m basically saying, “You are not important to me.” One of the ways you express love to someone and draw close to them is by listening to them. The same is true with Jesus. Every time you listen to Christ you are saying, “Jesus, You matter to me. You are important to me.” If you want to learn to pray effectively, you must learn to listen to God through His Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). The more time you spend in Christ’s word, the more your thoughts become His thoughts. God made you with two ears and one mouth for a reason: so you will do twice as much listening as talking. So as God speaks to you through His written Word you will have more confidence when you pray because you know what you are praying is according to God’s will. Your heart will be filled with joy as He answers your prayers which are in line with His will.
– Your submission. The Bible says, “7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8a). Many years ago when my children were very small, I would come home from work and they would run to the door with their hands lifted high saying, “Daddy… Daddy!” By lifting their hands, what were they saying to me? “Take me, Daddy. I’m yours. I trust You.” By lifting their hands they were surrendering themselves to me and my control. They were not trying to manipulate me or control me. They were letting go and letting me take them into my hands. Your heavenly Father wants to do the same with you. He is waiting to draw near to you and hold you in His everlasting arms of love, but you must take that first step and surrender to Him. Give up your agenda and yield to His. When we worship God, lifting our hands to Him is an expression of surrender. We are saying, “I am Yours, Father God. Take my life and use it as You please.” It is time to surrender to the God of all grace. You cannot draw near to Christ without surrendering to Him.
– Your adoration and praise. Reach out to the Lord in prayer and praise Him and thank Him. Tell Him how much you love Him. Bow your heart before Him and worship Him. Surrender to Jesus all that You have. Mary gave sacrificially to the Lord because He raised her brother from the dead. But Jesus has raised us from spiritual death and given us eternal life (John 11:25-26; Ephesians 2:4-9)! Praise Him for that! Let Him know how grateful you are! Give Him what is most precious to you. He will never forget it.
You are as close to Jesus as you choose to be. Do you really want it more than anything else? Is it worth giving up other things and developing the habits and skills required? Start asking God to give you a passion for Him. Jeremiah 29:13 (MSG) says, “When you get serious about finding Me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for giving me a beautiful picture of what true worship looks like through Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Her love and devotion for You were displayed when she gave to You what was most precious to her. Unlike Judas, who loathed You and thought only of himself, Mary loved You and was sensitive to what would bless You as the time of Your crucifixion rapidly approached. Like Mary, I want to be still and sit at Your feet to hear Your voice of truth so I can become more sensitive to what would bless You and You alone. For me to hear You more clearly, I must lay aside anything that would keep me from hearing Your voice, including my own selfishness, deceit, envy, hypocrisy, evil speaking, and malice (I Peter 2:1). What would You say to me at this time, Lord Jesus? I am listening. In Your name I pray. Amen.
1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979),pp. 380-381.
2. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), 1:339.
3. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition,pg. 232.
4. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983, 4:444.