Jesus Defends Those Who Are Obedient To Him – John 11:55-57 & 12:1-8

Jesus Defends Those Who Are Obedient To Him

Today we will be finishing up John chapter 11 and moving on to the beginning of John 12. So if you would, please turn with me to John chapter 11 and we will start by reading verse 55 through 57.

John 11:55-57 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

55 Now the Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before the Passover. 56 They were looking for Jesus and asking one another as they stood in the temple: “What do you think? He won’t come to the festival, will he?” 57 The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should report it so that they could arrest him.

Here we read about Jesus’ next move. Was he or was he not heading to the Passover feast. You see the purpose of the Passover was to remember when God killed the firstborn sons of the people of Egypt before leading them out of the land. As a Jew, before you went to partake in the Passover, you were to cleanse yourself of sin at the temple. When the people went to cleanse themselves before this particular Passover, they were looking for Jesus, probably thinking He too needed to cleanse himself. They were even asking each other about if Jesus would come to the Passover without being cleansed. That would be a terrible thing in their eyes. When I first read through this passage, I didn’t catch this at all. I was thinking this was just a couple of connecting verses but I was wrong.

The Chief priests and Pharisees noticed Jesus’ absence as well and gave orders that if anyone saw Jesus, he should tell them so they could arrest him. They were probably thinking, how dare Jesus come to the Passover without the cleansing of sin. They were looking at Jesus as just a man and not the son of man spoken of by Daniel. If Jesus was just a man, I could see how the priests and Pharisees would be upset and try to arrest him. This passage shows that they probably had a right, from a human perspective, to be upset about Jesus. I guess the thing to look out for is when the Pharisees are upset, there is probably a reason based on the letter of the law.

Here I want to give you a little history about the Shabbats or Sabbath’s leading up to the Passover: There are three types of Shabbats or Sabbath’s before the Passover

  1. The first one is called Shabbat Parshat Parah which takes place two weeks before the month of Nisan. Taken from Numbers 19:1-22, this portion of the Torah explains the ancient purification process involving the sacrifice of the Parah Adumah, the now extinct Red Cow.

    The Parah Adumah, which had to be completely red and never been used for work, was used in a ritual purification process when someone became impure through contact with a dead body. As a result, the person would be unable to bring the Passover sacrifice until he became ritually pure again.

  2. The Shabbat before the month of Nissan is called Shabbat HaChodesh. Taken from Exodus 12:1-20, it tells of the commandments of the Passover sacrifice and the preparations for the Exodus from Egypt.
    Like a trumpet announcing the arrival of the King, each succeeding Shabbat raises the Jewish People’s anticipation of the arrival of Passover, the anniversary of their national birth.
  3. Finally, we have the Shabbat before Passover. This is called Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Sabbath. This Shabbat refers to the great day of the final redemption (Mal. 3:23).

    Even before the history of the exodus from Egypt is retold, they also look to the future and the final exodus from their current exile which was to be heralded by the prophet Elijah.

    Before the Jews left Egypt, they were commanded to take a lamb and sacrifice it four days later after this Shabbat. This took place on Shabbat and it is this Shabbat that they honor by remembering the Jews faith in Yahweh.

Remember that this was all taking place about 6 days before the Passover and Jesus had not gone to cleanse himself, this added to people’s hate for Jesus. Here is where we pick up. The amazing thing is that the stories leading up Jesus’ death and resurrection all coincide with the Passover and its importance. I will not cover that now, but if you are interested in Jesus’ deliberate fulfillment of prophecy during this time, go check out the Passover timeline on Google sometime. So let’s continue in chapter 12 verse 1

John 12:1-8 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

The Anointing at Bethany

12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’s feet, and wiped his feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray him), said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it.

Jesus answered, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of my burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

We are 6 days before the Passover and Jesus is having dinner at Simon the Lepers house and Lazarus was also there. We know that this is Simon from Matthew’s and Mark’s account of this same story. Let’s go ahead and turn to Matthew 26:6-13 and read that account

Matthew 26:6-13 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

The Anointing at Bethany

While Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper,[aa woman approached him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume. She poured it on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw it, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This might have been sold for a great deal and given to the poor.”

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a noble thing for me. 11 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me. 12 By pouring this perfume on my body, she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

Now finally let’s go to Mark’s gospel and read his account.

Mark 14:3-9 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

The Anointing at Bethany

While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head. But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me. You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

Here we have

  1. Lazarus – Who was just raised to life in the previous chapter. He was formally dead and now alive.
  2. Martha – the one who was serving again.
  3. Mary Magdalene – Formerly demon possessed, considered dead by the law, now made alive.
  4. Judas – the one who would betray Jesus
  5. Simon – Formerly a leper, considered dead according to Jewish culture, and now alive.
  6. There seems to be more disciples there but they are not named.

Dead and now Alive

  1. Lazarus
  2. Simon the Leper
  3. Mary Magdalene


  1. Judas


  1. Jesus

In Jewish culture, it was a common practice to go barefoot inside people’s homes. Because they didn’t want to track dirt all over the house, they would wash their feet when they came into the house. When you had guests, it was the duty of the host to wash the feet of the guest. Now here we have a picture of Mary coming to anoint Jesus’ feet with nard, which is very concentrated perfume. At times the hosts would put drops of oil in the water to make the feet smell better, but this act of Mary was not part of the washing of the feet. Mary was doing something deeper. Mary was preparing Jesus for His burial to come in just a few days. This leads us to ask some questions about what is going on.

Price of the Nard

I’ve looked at a few different sources and the price of the Nard that Mary poured out on Jesus was anywhere from 20 to 30 thousand dollars. At that time, it was around a full year’s wages. I wonder how she came by something of that value. It was probably the most valuable thing that she had and yet, she used it for Jesus.

Wiped feet with hair

Mary took this Nard and entered into the house in front of everyone and proceeded to anoint Jesus’ feet with the pure nard. Next she wiped his feet with her hair. With wiping His feet with her hair she could have been doing this because of few things

  1. She could have tried not to waste any of the nard on the floor. Hair does a great job of holding in oil and she apparently knew that.
  2. She could have wanted to be close enough to Jesus to touch him and this was one way to do that. She knew that Jesus had the power to heal. She might have needed relief from emotional distress or might have just wanted to be close to Jesus in general.
  3. She could have wanted to humble herself to show her servant’s heart to the one who would give everything for her.

House was filled with Aroma

After she had finished wiping Jesus’ feet, the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the nard. My wife and I sell oils and just one single drop can fill a room with its aroma. This nard, possibly Spikenard, which by the way smells absolutely disgusting, ended up filling the whole entire house with the smell. With this, John could be pointing out the sacrifice of Christ as an amazing aroma that goes out to all the world just like the aroma of the nard filled the house.

Judas Accuses

Then here comes Judas, the one who will betray Jesus. Judas starts off by belittling Mary for wasting such fine nard on Jesus. Hold on a sec. Wasting…it is apparent that Judas does not know who Jesus really is. If he only knew how important Jesus was he would have seen this not as a waste but as a wonderful gift to the savior of the world. But to give him the benefit of the doubt. Judas was looking at the financial side things and did want anything to be wasted.

Jesus Defends Mary

Then finally, Jesus turns to Judas and/or the disciples and speaks. He reveals to them that she is doing this to prepare Him for burial. This was probably a shock to them but they should have seen it coming. Just a little while before this, Jesus told his disciples that the son of man must suffer and die and it looks like this is the beginning. When Jesus told them the first time, they did not understand what he meant by it. This was another hint concerning what was about to take place. Not only did Jesus give the proper perspective to what was going on, but He also defended Mary for her sacrifice. Mary probably didn’t know the importance of what she was doing, but she was being obedient and honoring Jesus Christ. But even though it seemed this way I started to ask questions about this section such as:

  1. Did Mary discover the mystery of Jesus’ burial before any of the disciples?
  2. Was she prompted by the Holy Spirit to do this?
  3. Since the Holy Spirit wasn’t living inside of people at the time, would it have to have been an outside influence of the Spirit?
  4. Did she really know the full extent of what she was doing?

I honestly don’t know if I have an answer to these questions. I don’t think the passages actually say either way. What I do know is that no matter if she knew or didn’t, she was being obedient in her love to Jesus. Jesus knew this and even went as far to reprimand His disciples when they said something against what she was doing. But Jesus used this moment to reveal the purpose of why He came in the first place. Jesus was about to make His way to cross to become the greatest sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

I think in the same way that Jesus defended Mary’s obedience, Jesus also does that for our obedience. It takes courage to obey the Spirit in our day to day life. The moment we start obeying God is the moment that we are hit with all types of fears and doubts of what might happen. Many of them are present in this story. I am pretty sure that Mary had thoughts about how she could give such a pricey gift to Jesus and still afford to live. She probably was fearful that the people around her wouldn’t understand what she was doing. She might of even thought that people would stop loving her because of her actions, but she laid all that down in true devotion and obedience to Christ. I want to point out three ways that we can have true devotion and obedience like Mary did.

True Devotion and Obedience

  1. Fear God vs Man – 1 Sam. 12:24 – “Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.”
    1. Mary feared God more than man. She walked forward in what she knew the Holy Spirit was asking her to do and was commended by Jesus for her obedience. Unlike Judas who feared what people might say if they heard that someone who was following Jesus wasted so much money just to wash Jesus’ feet. You see the fear of man is a snare. It holds us back from truly living our lives in obedience to God. Every day we are tested to see if we will fear God or fear man.
  2. Honor God vs Man – Proverbs 3:9 – “Honor the LORD from your wealth And from the first of all your produce;”
    1. Mary gave up a full year’s wages to honor the Lord. It was this act of selflessness that moved the heart of Jesus to defend her. Unlike Judas who later on in the story would sell our Jesus for 30 pieces of Silver. Mary gave more than money, she gave herself completely to honoring Christ. Also, I don’t think this verse is specifically about money either. Our wealth is much greater than just money. It is our time, our energy and our money. The very breath that we breathe is given to us by God, who are we going to honor first with it, God or Man.
  3. Love God First vs Man First – Deuteronomy 6:5 – “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
    1. Mary loved Jesus more than herself. She showed this by doing something that seemed to everyone else a disgraceful act but was an act of love towards her savior. Judas, on the other hand, would give up Jesus’ life and love himself above Jesus. In the end, Judas ended up losing his life. That’s the struggle we face as well. Are we going to give up our lives and truly follow Jesus and the love he has for us or are we going to seek after the love of others? This world is coming to an end one day. These pleasures that we have are here one moment and then gone the next. Are we going to continue in them or will we enter the fullness of Jesus’ love for us and be satisfied with Him and nothing else.

Just like Jesus defended Mary before people, Jesus stands before God in defense of those who trust and believe in Him. Jesus Christ is called an advocate for those who believe and trust that He defines what is true. If you aren’t familiar with that phrase, an advocate pleads with God, the true judge, that those who trust that Jesus is the only way to eternal life are now considered right before the judge. They are no longer guilty of the things they have done wrong. Jesus forgives them of every wrongdoing they have ever done. He then says I took their punishment when I died on the cross. The sin they had committed called for their blood but Jesus gave his blood in their place. So the question is, are we going to give ourselves completely to Jesus in devotion and obedience, or are we going to give ourselves to people who will, in the end, offer nothing but death? Jesus offers us life, eternal life. He offers us forgiveness. He offers us a restored relationship with the Father. Let us not forget his sacrifice.

The Gospel of John - So That We Might Believe

Michael TuckAuthor posts

I am the Associate Pastor and Bacon's Castle Baptist Church. I have a wonderful wife and 4 amazing little girls. I love spending time with my family and friends. You will probably find me with a cup of coffee in my hands.

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