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John 12

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

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Verses 1-11

Mary Anointing Her Lord

John 12:1-11


We are now coming to the close of the life of our Master presenting the third of three Bible scenes centering around Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It is the story of Mary breaking the alabaster box upon the feet of her Lord.

The first verse says, "Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom He raised from the dead."

We wish, by way of introduction, to briefly state the events of the six memorable days preceding the resurrection of our Lord. The sixth day before the passover the Lord approached Jerusalem from Jericho. It is quite likely that he spent the night with Zacchaeus. Afterward he went toward Jerusalem to Bethphage, and from there to Jerusalem to cleanse the temple. With that act accomplished He returned to Bethany, and, no doubt, to the house of Martha. The next day was the fifth day before the passover, and it was the weekly sabbath. The Lord spent the day in Bethany, and after sunset the first of three suppers was served. On the fourth day before the passover the Lord made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem from Bethany. It was then that He wept over the city. Afterward He entered the temple, and then returned, doubtless, to Bethany. On the third day before the passover the Lord once more went to Jerusalem cursing the fig tree. It was on this day that certain Greeks came to Him. From Jerusalem He went out of the city, probably to Bethany. The second day before the passover, as He was going to Jerusalem, the disciples asked Him about the fig tree. While in the city He taught in parables. You remember that He said, "After two days was the feast of the passover." It was on this day that the Lord went to Bethany and to the house of Simon, the leper, where another supper was served to Him.

The day before the passover was called the day of preparation. We believe that it was our Tuesday. The Last Supper was observed, and the Lord washed the disciples' feet. He then announced His betrayer. He spoke of the new covenant as He established what is known as the Lord's Supper. On that occasion Peter's denials were foretold, the Lord gave His last discourse to the disciples. He prayed the remarkable prayer of John 17:1-26 . They entered into the Garden of Gethsemane. He was apprehended and carried before Annas and Caiaphas, and in the morning before Pilate. After this, of course, follows the tragic crucifixion itself. This general outline we have taken from the appendix of the "Companion Bible." Generally speaking, it is accurate.

The astounding thing in all this is that the Lord Jesus knew every detail of those last six days before they ran their weird course. He not only knew, but He foretold much of what was about to happen. Let us now, as we enter the study of Christ in the home of Martha and Mary; and as we follow the anointing of Christ with the precious spikenard let us remember that it was only six days before the passover, and before our Lord was crucified. With what throbbings of heart did Christ sit that day at the table.

I. A HAPPY HOUR (John 12:2 )

Here is the way our verse reads: "There they made Him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with Him."

1. A supper. There is something about a supper, or a meal, around the table which is always memorable. There seems to be a peculiar fellowship and unity of hearts, on such an occasion.

2. A supper with wondrous guests. This supper was peculiarly striking because of the presence of two outstanding characters. The Lord was there, and the fact of His presence meant everything to Martha, to her sister, and to Lazarus. We wonder if Christ is with us around our tables: the silent, but nevertheless the sure listener to every conversation. If He is with us at supper, we should recognize Him.

Lazarus was, also, there. This was a notable fact because it was he who had been raised from the dead, after he had lain four days in the grave. There is, no doubt, about this supper, much that made it an occasion of great joy. We have called it a happy supper, and it was. In spite of the fact that the Lord was soon to be crucified, it was joyous.

3. A supper with Martha serving. She was once more on the job as she was in our previous chapter. This time, however, there is nothing of her serving in a cumbered way; nor does it say that she was worrying about anything. She served uncomplainingly. Taken as a whole, the supper in Bethany was one never-to-be-forgotten. How wonderful it all was. Jesus was there the One who had raised Lazarus. Lazarus was there, the one who had been raised. We are quite sure that the outstanding theme of the hour centered around these two facts. All were happy because Lazarus was alive and well.

II. A WONDROUS GIFT (John 12:3 )

The text reads, "Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment."

1. A gift of love. Whatever may be said of Mary's service that night, it was prompted primarily by an undying love for Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In this love there was nothing of the physical, the temperamental, or the human, to mar its beauty. It was the same love that has carried all of us into our service and our worship, Mary loved, and, therefore, she gave. Any gift or any service apart from a pure love and devotion is absolutely foreign to reward by the Lord.

2. A gift of value. We know not just how much of sacrifice and of saving the purchase of this pound of ointment had cost Mary. We do know that it was very costly. We know, also, that our Lord loves our best. Have we anything too good to lay at His feet? Is there in our life ought of value which we would withhold from Him?

Miss Havergal beautifully put it this way:

"Take my silver and my gold,

Not a mite would I withhold."

Let us say, "Lord, I am Thine, and all that I have is Thine."

3. A gift of prodigality. Mary gave her gift by spilling it upon the Lord. She broke the box and poured out its contents upon her Master's feet. Seeing it run in every direction in profligate bounty, she quickly wiped it up with her hair. Would that we all might give with this hilarious abandonment with which she gave.


1. It fills the earth below with its fragrance. Here is the way the last clause reads: "And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment." The perfume must have been delightful, because it was an exceedingly rare and costly nard. However, that perfume filled far more than the room in which it was spilled. Mary's deed has gone the world over. Is this not true of everything that really counts? So much of this earth lasts but a day and is gone, but the life of a believer in his deeds of love and mercy sweep the world with blessings which never die.

2. It fills the Heaven above with joy. We do not say it "filled," although it did fill Heaven at that time, but its fragrance still fills, it is still known in the glory. The deeds of saints upon earth, their sacrifices, and their works of faith and love not only outshine the stars, but they shine through into the realms of Heaven itself. We mean that God knows, and the angels know, that which is going on among men. It is in Heaven that the records of our deeds are written down. It is in Heaven that we will see the full, fruition of what we have done down here.

There is a passage in the Revelation where the saints are described "as a bride arrayed in white raiment." That the raiment is the righteous acts of the saints. To us, it is passing wonderful that we will be allowed to wear our deeds, our service, our preaching, and all which we have done in His Name. Let us be careful, therefore, that our spikenard is the very best.

"There is a legend of a poor boy, the son of a widow, who had gathered in the wood a dish of strawberries. Returning home, a venerable man startled him by calling out, 'My lad, let me have your full dish and you take my empty one.' Pity for the old man's weakness and helplessness overcame the boy's reluctance to part with his berries, and he made the exchange and then went to work to fill the empty dish. Having accomplished this, he returned with it to his mother, to whom he told the story of his adventure. 'Ah, happy are we, my child,' she exclaimed; 'the dish is pure gold.' If you give God the contents of your dish, the dish itself will be turned into the gold of Heaven."


Some one suggested that there is always "a fly in the ointment." No matter how praiseworthy a servant there will be a critic some unappreciable soul, some one to condemn either the motive of the deed, or the deed itself.

1. A betrayer's criticism. How strikingly the Scripture reads: "One of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray Him." It was he who found fault with Mary. It was he who criticized her. Is it not true that there is always, everywhere, some Judas ready to spill out his spleen of resentment against those who display their love and fidelity to Christ? Why should one who stood ready to betray the Lord, say anything against the beautiful, humble, contrite Mary? It was not the kettle calling the pot black, but it was the kettle calling the lily, black.

2. A thief's criticism. Not only was Judas a betrayer, but he was a thief. Besides he carried the money bag, and therefore bemoaned the fact that the fifty dollars (in our money) for which the ointment might have been sold, did not fall into his hands. We wonder if back of much of our criticism there may not lie some sinister Satan-prompted spirit.

Criticisms which are genuine are constructive. Satan is an accuser of the saints. His accusations are made not to benefit, but to destroy. You can always judge the value of a criticism by the spirit of the one who makes it.

3. The criticism of a heartless hypocrite. Judas affected a love for the poor which he did not possess. Christ said that he cared not for the poor. When criticisms are made in order to feather our own nest, and upon false grounds, they are always the work of a hypocrite.


Our text gives Christ's reply to the criticism of Judas. The Lord said, "Let her alone: against the day of My burying hath she kept this."

1. Christ shields His own. He said, "Let her alone." We remember how Satan wanted to attack Job, and he complained to God that He had put a hedge around His servant so that he could not press his attack. Does not God always do this? It is unnecessary for saints to avenge themselves when they are criticized. The Lord will undertake for them. Jesus immediately shielded the timid, shrinking Mary. Sometimes criticisms nearly break our hearts. They bend us down. Then let us listen to our Lord. He is bidding us to hide beneath the shield of His strength.

2. Christ understands His own. Of Mary, Christ said, "Against the day of My burying hath she kept this." Judas had no insight whatsoever into the motive of Mary's anointing. He thought only of the great waste, and of his own personal loss. Jesus Christ saw in what Mary did the pulsing spirit of her promptings. That night at the supper there was much of joy as we have suggested, but the one who had been accustomed to sit at Jesus' feet and hear His words saw what, perhaps, none other saw: sorrow lying deep in the heart of the Lord. She had heard from His own lips of His approaching death. Therefore, with a heart weeping, and almost breaking in sympathy, and thinking of the anguish which awaited her Lord, she slipped away and brought the box of spikenard. She broke it over the. feet of her Master.


"The poor always ye have with you; but Me ye have not always." There are two things which lie before every life. There is first the general run of events; secondly, the hour of crisis. The possibility and opportunity which comes but once this is expressed in our verse.

1. "The poor always ye have with you." This brings to mind the common, everyday happenings. The sun rises, and the sun sets. The routine tasks of life must not be neglected. These we have always.

2. "Me ye have not always." Suppose Mary had let this opportunity slip by. It might not have come again. It was just six days before the passover, and His death.

We remember as Jesus was going to Jericho, before this event, that Blind Bartimeus began to cry out, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me." Had Bartimeus let that opportunity slip, he would never have had another, for the simple reason that that day was the last day that Christ ever went from Jericho to Jerusalem. Opportunities which pass but once must be taken as they pass.

Let us not forget that we must redeem the time. We must buy up our privileges.

It was at that hour that Christ needed this mark of affection and devotion, not only of the home in Bethany, but of this special anointing, by one member of that home.

May God grant that no opportunity of giving Him joy, may slip by us unpossessed.

VII. A VIEW OF THE CROWD (John 12:9-10 )

1. The quest of the multitude. Our key verses tell us that "much people of the Jews therefore knew that He was there," and they came, too. They came, however, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus whom Christ had raised from the dead. They came out of curiosity. They came because some notable thing had happened, and they wanted to see. The whole countryside was filled with the story of Lazarus, and the multitude wanted to know whether it was real, and genuine. They wanted to be sure that Lazarus was actually there. The result was that many came and believed.

They not only believed, but they joined in taking branches of palm trees, as Jesus went forth to Jerusalem crying out, "Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the Name of the Lord."

2. The quest of the priests and rulers. While the people were praising and believing, the chief priests were consulting how they might put Jesus, and Lazarus, also, to death. They had come for the purpose of seeking to slay the Saviour, the Lord. They decided that they should, also, kill Lazarus.

Just here, there was a wonderful touch of the mercy of our Lord, because He shielded Lazarus and delivered him from the wrath of the mob. Not on this day, but on a later day, as the people came to take Jesus, did this happen.

Mark 14:51 says, "And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked." This is commonly believed to have been none other than our Lazarus.

God still shields others while He Himself goes forth as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb.


Mary's gift of nard was far different than that of this story:

"God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7 ). In Herefordshire there was one very rich man in my parish, who had a sudden paralytic stroke when I was away from home for a holiday. He was a common, ignorant farmer, and had come into eighty thousand pounds through the death of a brother. He had told me that he did not care for his brother's money, because he had as much as he wanted before, and yet he had not given more than sixpence a year for charity. As soon as I returned home I went down to see him, and he said, "The Lord has stricken me, and I am afraid I may die. I have sent for you at once that I may do what I suppose is right before God; I want to go to Heaven, and I want you to take a hundred pounds for the poor," I looked him straight in the face, and said, "Do you think you are going to buy your soul's way to glory by a dirty hundred pounds? Give your money where you like; I will not touch it!" That was rather strong; but, blessed be God, the man lived seven years, and was a very different man before he died.

H. W. Webb-Peploe.

Verses 20-32

The Hour Is Come

John 12:20-32


We read in our opening verses that the Greeks who had come up to the feast desired to see Jesus. They told Philip, Philip told Andrew, and then Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.

We wonder what prompted the Greeks? Was it that they had seen an evident growing rejection of Christ by the Jewish leaders, and therefore certain of the Greeks wanted to proffer to the Lord their hospitality and homage? It would seem that such was the case by the reply of the Lord to the Greeks. Let us study the response of the Master.


What was the hour to which He referred? It was that hour toward which all prophecy of Old Testament writings looked; it was that hour for the which He had been born; it was that hour that marked His atoning Calvary work.

It was of the same hour that Christ spoke in His upper room prayer, just before He went out to Gethsemane, when He said "Father, the hour is come, glorify Thy Son." It was the hour of which Christ spoke to Judas, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness."

It was the hour of which we read, "When Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end."

Christ could not turn to the Greeks because His hour had come, the hour that He, by the way of the Cross, should be glorified and go to the Father.


What a blessed way to look at His sufferings. He saw in Calvary all of the agonies which were so soon to be laid upon Him, but He saw more than the agonies. He looked through the sighs and the sorrows to the joy and the glory. Christ placed a value on His Calvary anguish that He summed up in one word, "Glorified."

What is the song that the angelic hosts and all of the redeemed will sing in Heaven? It is this, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive * * glory."

Christ humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross, that He might be exceedingly exalted and be given a name that is above every name that, at the Name Jesus, every knee should bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus is Christ to the glory of the Father.


The Lord Jesus said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." The small grain of wheat might demur and cry out against being placed in its cold, damp grave. But there is only one way for a grain of wheat to become fruitful, and that is the way of death. Christ was not ignorant of the bitterness of the "cup" which He was about to drink; He was not unaware of the weight of woe that He was about to bear; He was not blind to the sacrificial death that He must suffer, but Christ looked beyond all of this to the "fruit" that His death would bring to fruition.


Christ plainly stated that he who would save his life, would lose it. When a child of God refuses to take up his cross to follow Christ in the Via Dolorosa, he thinks that he is saving his life. Not so. The grain of wheat finds its life in its losing; and loses its life, in its saving. If any man would serve the Lord, he must follow Him. We may not bear the cross and die a vicarious death, a propitiatory death as He died; yet we may go with Him outside the camp, and bear His reproach. We may take upon us His shame and spittings We may be hated as He was hated, and be isolated as He was isolated.


It is marvelous to us how Christ stood just at the verge of His dying and weighed well the words He would pray to the Father, before He made His plea. He said, "And what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour?" He immediately answered His own query with a negation. I cannot pray thus, because "for this hour, came I into the world."

Setting aside as impossible the plea to be spared from the Cross, and to slip away with the Greeks, as utterly impossible, Christ did say "Father, glorify Thy Name." Immediately from out the blue came the voice of the Father, saying, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again,"

What is this! The Father glorified in the Cross of the Son? Even so. He had been glorified already in the life of the Son, He would now be glorified in His death. Matchless truth, worthy of prolonged meditation!


The Cross stands before us as a place of victory and not of defeat. Satan, perhaps, thought as Christ hung on the Cross that he was a victor over the Son of God. He brought against Him every power of earth and hell that he could master, and to the eyes who watched Christ die, it seemed as though the Almighty Son was forsaken of God and defeated. Far from it. His death was the flinging back of the door of life. He died and in His dying, as He hung alone, surrounded by the enemy and shrouded by a darkness that fell like a pall upon Him, He met Satan and vanquished him. He made a display of Satan's powers as they clustered about His dying form. Principalities and powers satanic were hovering round, as He gave His victorious cry, "It is finished." Openly He threw them back, openly He cast them out. Satan had bruised His heel, but He had bruised Satan's head.

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on John 12". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/john-12.html.
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