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Sermon Manuscript: John 12:1-8: Mary and Judas Contrasted and Compared

Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 15:7–11

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:7–11, ESV)

New Testament Reading: John 12:1-8

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.’” (John 12:1–8, ESV)

Introduction 

The thing that I want you to notice in the text before us today is that a contrast is made between two figures. Two people take center stage in this story: one is good, the other bad; one is a child of the light, the other a child of darkness. One’s name is Mary, the other Judas. Mary is to be commended, her ways imitated. Judas is to be condemned, his ways forsaken.

This story plays an important role in John’s Gospel. I think it is interesting to note that all four Gospels – Matthew, Mark Luke, and John – contain a story about a woman anointing Jesus with costly perfume. The story found in Luke 7:36–38 is very much unlike the one found in Mathew, Mark, and John. Though there are some similarities, a close comparison of Luke’s story with the other three make it abundantly clear that Luke is telling of a different incident.

But when we compare Matthew 26:6–13 and Mark 14:3–9 with John 12:1-8 it becomes clear that these three have the same event in mind. They are all telling of the story of the anointing of Jesus by Mary, the sister of Lazarus, within a week of the crucifixion of Christ.

The similarities between Matthew, Mark, and John’s account of the story are clear enough. I’m more interested in how they are different. Notice five things;

One, Matthew and Mark place this event after Jesus’ triumphal entry, into Jerusalem, whereas John says it happened just before it. Remember though, that it was not uncommon for the Gospel writers (especially Matthew and Mark) to organize their material according to theme, and not chronologically. That is the case here. Notice that John explicitly says that this anointing of Jesus happened “six days before the passover”, and a day before the triumphal entry (that is, a day according the Jewish way of marking the beginning and end of days). Matthew and Mark do not introduce their story with a specific chronological marker. They simply say, “Now when Jesus was at Bethany…”, and  they continue from there. John presents the actual chronology; Matthew and Mark are organized thematically when it comes to the story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus.

Secondly, notice that Matthew and Mark provide us with more information concerning where this anointing happened. John tells us that it happened at Bethany. But Matthew and Mark are more specific, telling us that it happened in the home of “Simon the leper.” We do not know who this man was. Simon was a very common name in Jesus’ day. We do know that this man had leprosy at one point, for that was his nickname – Simon the leper. Whether he recovered naturally or was cured by Jesus, we don’t know. At any rate, he was the host. It seems that this was a celebration which involved a great many from the village of Bethany. They were without a doubt giving honor to Jesus. Certainly this celebration had a lot to do with what had happened just a few weeks earlier with the raising of Lazarus from the grave. Lazarus, we are told, was “reclining at table” with Jesus. Ponder that for moment! Think of the power of that testimony!

Thirdly, it is interesting that Matthew and Mark do not mention Mary by name. In their telling of the story Mary is simply referred to as “a woman”. She remains anonymous in Matthew and Mark.

Someone asked me last week why it is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not contain the story of the raising of Lazarus. You would thinking that all four Gospels would tell the story given the power of it, and the significant role it plays in John’s Gospel. Why would they pass on telling the story? Many have wondered about this, and we can only speculate. But it should be acknowledged that there are good reasons to not tell a story, even if it is a good one. One possible reason to refrain is to guard against distracting from another more important point being made. I would imaging that Lazarus was rather famous after all of this. I would imagine that people looked in upon him with much curiosity – will he age? Will he die again? What was it like, Lazarus? You can imagine how interested people must have been in him and his two sisters. Perhaps Matthew, Mark, and Luke, having been written much earlier than John – much more close to the event itself – decided to downplay the story of the raising of Lazarus so as to highlight in a more pronounced way the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was of much greater significance in the end. It is possible that by the time John wrote things had settled down for Lazarus and his sisters. Or perhaps they had passed. Or maybe John felt compelled to record it in writing, knowing that the other Gospel writers had omitted it.

Here we see evidence of this way of thinking in Matthew and Mark. They are telling the same story as John concerning the anointing of Jesus, but they decide to let Mary remain anonymous, calling her “a woman” instead of by her name.

Fourthly, note that Matthew and Mark tell us that the woman anointed Jesus’ head, whereas as John tells us that she used her hair to anoint his feet. Some see this as a blatant contradiction. In fact it is not a contradiction, but a paradox (our Jr. high youth know the difference between a contradiction and a paradox, don’t you?). A paradox is something that at first appears to be contradiction, but proves not to be upon closer examination. It is true that Matthew and Mark tell us that the woman anointed Jesus’ head, but afterwards Jesus says that, “In pouring this ointment on my body, [the woman] has done it to prepare me for burial.” (Matthew 26:12, ESV) This pound of costly ointment was evidently used to anoint Jesus head to toe. Matthew and Mark emphasized the anointing of Jesus’ head, whereas John emphasized the fact that Mary used her hair to anoint his feet.

Now let’s stop for a moment, lest you begin to think that I am doing nothing more than preparing you for a game of Bible trivia. Why did Matthew and Mark emphasize the anointing of Jesus’ head, and John the anointing of his feet? That is the question. Think of this – to anoint the head is a symbol of power and honor, and that is what Matthew and Mark were desiring to communicate – Jesus is King! But John was desiring to emphasize something else. The image of Mary, the friend of Jesus, bowing at his feet and using her precious hair to catch the excess oil so that all it might serve her master, is an incredibly moving image of humble, extravagant, and authentic worship. That is the image that John wanted to highlight because it supported the theme that he was developing in his Gospel.

Turn over a page to John chapter 13. What does the heading say above that chapter? Mine says, “Jesus washes the disciples feet.” Do you see the trajectory of John’s Gospel? Do you understand the point that he is making? Be like Mary! Mimic her! Fall humbly before Jesus in worship! Serve him, and serve others. Forsake the love of the world and the pride of life.

This leads to the fifth and last observation concerning the difference between Matthew and Mark, when compared to John. Matthew and Mark do not single out Judas, whereas John does. In Matthew and Mark it is the disciples in general who are said to be indignant about the pouring out of such a costly perfume. John speaks more specifically though, revealing that it was Judas in particular who complained.

All of these observations are important, but especially the last three, for it is Mary and Judas who John introduces in order to contrast the one against the other. One is good, the other bad; one is a child of the light, the other a child of darkness. Mary is to be commended, her ways imitated. Judas is to be condemned, his ways forsaken.

Having considered Mary’s example, let us worship the Lord in humility, being fully aware of his significance, and without reservation. 

So let us consider Mary for moment. [SLIDE] And having considered her example let us be moved to worship the Lord in humility, being fully aware of his significance, and without reservation.

Humility

That Mary approached Jesus in a spirit of humility is hard to miss. She fell at his feet; she anointed his feet. She took the position of a humble servant. More than that, she used her own hair to anoint the feet of Jesus. She was completely invested in this act – completely involved.

Her humble act certainly sprung from a sense of gratitude. She was clearly grateful for what Jesus had done. Many were grateful. Many from the town of Bethany were involved in throwing this party for Jesus. Lazarus was grateful as he reclined at table with Jesus.

Notice that Mary’s sister Martha was there too. She expressed her humble gratitude in a way that was consistent with her character – she served Jesus. We know from Luke 10 that Martha was bent in that direction. She enjoyed serving. She was a doer. Mary, on the other hand, was more bent towards relationships. In Luke 10 Mary is the one who sat at the feet of Jesus while Martha worked. Here Mary anoints the feet of Jesus while Martha serves. Serving is good. Being a doer is good. But in both stories Mary is commended for choosing the better thing. In Luke 10 Jesus explicitly says that she choose the better thing; here it is implied by the fact that here act of humble adoration takes center stage in the story. The meaning is this: it is good to serve Jesus, but we ought not to neglect knowing him and worshipping him. Serve him, yes! But not to the neglect of worship.

Our gratitude for what Christ has done for us ought to lead us to humble adoration. It is true that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but he has done something even greater for us. He has given us eternal life.

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:4–6, ESV)

How could we not fall before our Savior with in spirit of humility considering all that he has done for us?

Also, I’m sure that Mary bowed before Jesus in humility because she was more aware than ever of her smallness before him. That Jesus was great – that Jesus was the Christ – she had long confessed. But her understanding of what that meant was undoubtably altered when she saw Jesus call her brother out of the grave. Her thoughts towards him increased. Certainly she had spent the few weeks that had passed between the raising the anointing pondering the greatness of her friend. She prepared for his arrival. She thought of what she should do. And when he came, her heart was humble before his greatness.

You say, but Pastor, I have pride in my heart. I could never fall before Christ in the way that Mary did. I could never bring myself to worship in such a public and self-effacing way. Brothers and sisters, humility is cultivated within the heart – pride is driven out – when we think of God, and the Christ whom he sent, as we ought to think of him. Humility grows with our hearts when our thoughts concerning God are high and true. And once we have begun to think of God as we ought, it is then that we are adequately prepared to begin to think of ourselves. For it is only in the light of his glory that we are able to accurately assess our own worth. Mary had seen the glory of God demonstrated before her very eyes in the raising of her brother. She was more aware of her smallness before Jesus then ever before. Her heart was prepared to worship in a spirit of utter humility.

Fully aware of the significance of Jesus

Notice also that Mary seems to be fully aware – or at least more aware than others – concerning the significance of Jesus, and the importance of the moment. Why did she anoint Jesus? She anointed him in preparation for his death. When Jesus rebuked Judas he said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” (John 12:7, ESV) This is a notoriously difficult phrase to translate, but it seems to mean, Judas, do not take this moment away from her. She has done this in preparation for my death. Let her keep it. Let her do what she has done. Do not hinder her.

Jesus commends Mary for her act. He verified that it was indeed good that Mary understood the significance of the moment. She knew that his death was near. She was attuned to the purposes of God.

The Gospel of John has been preparing us for this moment. We were told from the beginning that Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. Christ consistently alluded to the fact that he came to die – he was sent by the Father to suffer and die, to pay for the sins of his sheep. But up to this point, his hour had not yet come (2:4). There was still daylight, and so Jesus still walked in the open, fulfilling his public ministry (12:35). But notice that chapter 12 records the last of Jesus’ public ministry. From chapter 13 onward Jesus will speak mainly to his disciples. And look ahead to 12:23. It is after some of the greeks seek Jesus that he utters the words, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Mary understand this while others (some or all of the disciples) seem to be oblivious to it. She understood that Jesus came to die. She understood that suffering was in his future. She seemed to be very much aware of the significance of Jesus, and the mission that he came to accomplish.

Without reservation

Notice, lastly, that Mary worshipped without reservation.

The ointment that she used to anoint Jesus for burial was of great value. Verse 3 tells us that, “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus…” (John 12:3, ESV) Judas estimated that the value of the ointment was 300 denarii, which was the equivalent of a years wage for a common worker. That’s a great deal of money!

It may be that Mary and Martha were wealthy and could afford such a thing. It may be that this ointment was a family heirloom that Mary chose to use for this occasion. We simply do not know. But what is clear is that Mary worshipped Christ without reservation. She was fully invested. She spared no expense. She knew the significance of the man and the moment, and she poured herself out before the Lord.

The result was that Christ was adequately honored, he was prepared for burial ahead of time, and the whole house was filled with the fragrance – others were blessed by the extravagance of her worship.

Brothers and sisters, Mary is to be commended, her ways imitated. Let us worship the Lord in humility, being fully aware of his significance, and without reservation.

Having considered Judas’ failure, let us forsake our love for the things of this world, set our eyes upon Christ’s eternal kingdom, and confess Jesus as Lord.

Let us now take a moment to consider Judas.  And having considered Judas’ failure let us forsake our love for the things of this world, set our eyes upon Christ’s eternal kingdom, and confess Jesus as Lord.

John tells us that it was Judas who complained, saying, “‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:5–6, ESV)

Judas is contrasted with Mary. While Mary is consumed with the desire to worship, Judas is consumed with a desire for things of this world.

Judas was one of the twelve disciples, but John’s Gospel makes it clear that he was corrupt from the beginning. He was a disciple of Christ, but not from the heart. He belonged to Christ externally, but not inwardly. He appeared to be a follower of Christ, but he was a false disciple – a temporary believer.

The other disciples did not know this at the time, but Jesus did. In John 6:70 Jesus says, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” In the upper room Jesus will identify his betrayer. All of this is revealed to us so that we might understand that Jesus did not loose any whom the Father had given him. Judas never belonged to Christ. Judas never believed. He was a member of the band of disciples outwardly, but not inwardly. He was a devil.

John, as he wrote is Gospel decades after the death and resurrection of Christ, remembered the comment that Judas made concerning Mary. His comment probably sounded reasonable and altruistic at the time. “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” Some of the other disciples were probably thinking the same thing! And perhaps we too would have had the same thought if we were there! A years salary poured out in one moment! Couldn’t this have been put to better use? 

But consider these two things:

One, this circumstance was utterly unique. Mary was anointing the Christ for burial. That would happen only once in the history of the world. The utterly unique moment called for an extravagant act.

That being said, notice this principle: the churches care for the poor is to take place within the context of, and under the umbrella of, the extravagant worship of Jesus. I am not saying that we ought to spend a great deal of money in our worship of Jesus. I’m simply pointing out that Mary’s act of extravagant worship was declared to be good by Jesus. There is a tendency within the modern church to emphasize mercy ministry so much so, and in such a way,  that the proper worship of God takes back seat. Should the church be concerned for the poor? Absolutely! But we are to do so while giving priority to proper worship. Our mission is make disciples. We are proclaim the gospel, plant churches, appoint Elders and Deacons, and administer the sacraments, teaching all that Christ commanded. And we are to care for the poor as we worship God in the way that he has prescribed. Worship seems to be given the priority here in this passage. Jesus alludes to Deuteronomy  15, saying “the poor you will always have with you.” The implication is that we are to care for the poor, but that the extravagant worship of Jesus should not take a back seat to it.

I appreciate the way that D.A. Carson makes the point in his commentary, saying, “If self-righteous piety sometimes snuffs out genuine compassion, it must also be admitted, with shame, that social activism, even that which meets real needs, sometimes masks a spirit that knows nothing of worship and adoration.”

We should admit that Judas’ concern is understandable. We ought to be good stewards of what God has given us. That that was a part of the ethos of the apostles is clear from this passage. But the circumstances made this act appropriate.

Furthermore we should not that John, putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and seeing with the clarity of hindsight, clarifies that Judas was not really concerned for the poor. He was more concerned with building up the bank account so that he might steal from it.

Notice that Mary was humble. She was aware of the significance of the Christ and the nature of his kingdom – she knew that the way forward involved suffering and death. She was therefore extravagant in her worship. Judas, on the other hand, was worldly. He was in love with the world, obsessed with the things of this earth, obsessed with money. This will prove true when he betrays the Lord for a measly 30 pieces of silver!

Do you see the role that Judas plays in the narrative? John is saying, don’t be that guy! 

Jesus feed thousands in the wilderness with physical bread and fish. They followed him until he instead that they turn their attention from the physical bread to feasting upon the spiritual bread, who is the Christ. Those who were in love with the things of this earth turned back.

The Jewish leaders claimed that it would be best for the people if one man die instead of the whole nation suffer. But in fact they were concerned about their place and their position. They loved this world and the things of this world so much so that they were blind to the things of God which were being demonstrated right before their eyes.

And Judas would betray Jesus because his heart was consumed with love for the things of this earth. When he realized that Jesus wasn’t interested in establishing an earthly kingdom, and making the disciple powerful and rich, he would abandon ship, seeking his fame and fortune in another place.

Christian, do you see how the love of money leads to destruction? Paul warned Timothy saying, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10, ESV) The writer to the Hebrews warns, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV)

We wonder, how could Judas do such a horrific thing in betraying Jesus?  The answer is that he never loved him from the heart. He was in love with the things of this world from the beginning. His desire was to have power in this world. He did not see the significance of Christ’s eternal kingdom, therefore, never did he have Christ as Lord. May it never be said of us.

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, do you see that the contrast that is to exist between the way of the Christian and the way of the worldly man? Look at Mary and look at Judas. See that Judas had his eyes fixed upon this world, and he could not bring himself to worship the Christ. But notice that Mary had her eyes fixed upon the glory of God. She, by contrast, could not help but worship humbly, in gratitude, and without reservation. Let us mimic her.

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