Jesus Came to Bethany

Spikenard plants


Isaiah 43:16-21

Philippians 3:4b-14

John 12:1-8

Psalm 126

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, the village of Lazarus whom he had raised from the deadPhillips This is the first verse of chapter 12 of John. If you read 11:1-44, you will find the account of Lazarus coming back to life.

It is strange that John is the only Gospel writer to record what was the most profound miracle of his ministry. Because those opposed to Christianity believe this fact to be a powerful argument against the church, we need to consider it a moment.

The key is in understanding that John wrote an account of the Son of God. He did not deny that Jesus was human, but he stressed the Sonship. For John, Jesus fulfilled the promise of the Temple. In a sense, Jesus became the Temple. He drove out those who defiled it. He became the perfect lamb that would save us from death. He became the High Priest who could stand before God and vouch for each of us. The other Gospels concerned themselves with other aspects of the Jesus ministry.

John also saw this as a key point to explain why the decision was made to execute Jesus.

Back to today’s text. Six days before Passover would have been two days before Jesus entered the city on what we call Palm Sunday. Jesus arrived on Friday, 8 Nisan, the first month of the Jewish year (late March). A meal was prepared that afternoon but served after sunset, that is, on Saturday, 9 Nisan, the Sabbath. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was on the first day of the week, Sunday, 10 Nisan. On that day, most lambs were examined by the priests to determine if they were worthy of being Passover lambs. Jesus entered as the God-supplied Passover Lamb to be examined—and rejected.

Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with himNIV We do not know if the Lazarus’ household was wealthy or poor. If poor, the men likely reclined on pillows in a small courtyard, and the food was set on the ground by their heads. The men would have formed a close circle so that they could reach most of the food without having to pass all of it. They had neither plates nor utensils, but scooped up food with torn pieces of flatbread, much as you can still see in the Middle East. The women ate together in the house after serving the men.

Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was filled with the scent of the ointmentNJB The Greek word translated as pound is litra, a Roman pound. It was about 2/3 of a modern pound. Still, 11 ounces of pure nard cost several months wages. It grew only in the Himalayas and took about a year to reach Jerusalem by camel caravan. Mary and Martha may have purchased it for the burial of Lazarus. If so, it was more like 9 or 10 ounces.

Keep the culture in mind here. Men did not allow women to touch them in public, which this was in their context. Lazarus would have seen to the foot-washing of all the male guests. It may be that Jesus was related to Lazarus’ family, but that did not allow such a display with other guests present.

Why did Mary do something so outrageous? We do not know what was running through Mary’s mind, but she was no doubt euphoric that her brother was alive. For her, this may have been a thank-you. Jesus saw it, and John later saw it, as preparing Jesus for burial.

Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? MSG That is a common argument in church circles. “We don’t need a new building. We should give it to the poor.” What we mean, often without knowing it, is that we don’t want to have to pay for the new building, or the poor either. We want to keep the money in our purses.

There are times when the question is legitimate. Do we need a $10,000 stain-glass window? Yes, if it is for a $10 million cathedral. No, if we never give anything as a church to help people in need. Is it for the glory of God or the glory of the congregation?

Whatever Mary intended, the nard was for the glory of God.

But Jesus replied to this outburst, “Let her alone, let her keep this for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always—you will not always have me!” Phillips What is most important here is that Jesus is focused on the upcoming week. Seven days from this moment Jesus will be in the grave. “Yes, we are to help the poor, but I am about to die for you. Let Mary anoint me for that saving act.” I don’t think we should try to build anything else from the comment—except perhaps, “I have no problem with women disciples.”


Read my earlier comments on this theme here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Oh God, My God

Image by MAMADOU TRAORE from Pixabay


Exodus 3:1-15

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Luke 13:1-9

Psalm 63:1-8

Many Christians and many non-Christians have difficulty reconciling the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New. The story of the capture and subjugation of the “land of milk and honey,” is bloody and brutal. That story also supported the Europeans in the invasion of the Americas—kill those who will not submit.

We don’t have enough time or space to look at the many questionable passages here, but we have part of the answer in the reading from Exodus. As Moses approached the burning bush, God said, Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy groundESV

In this account, the holy ground is at Horeb, also called the mountain of God. As we read through the Bible, we come to realize that holy ground is wherever God interacts with His people. The true meaning, then, is that all ground is holy because God is everywhere.

We can learn about God’s actions in ancient times by a careful look at Horeb. While you can visit Horeb today, to do so will require visiting several mountains that claim to be the mountain of God. It is somewhere in the Sinai, which is much larger than Israel itself. Horeb may refer to a range of mountains of which Mount Sinai is one.

That is fine. We know God is everywhere, so why have tour buses lined up around one place, where hawkers are selling genuine photos of God, autographed?

The first message of this reading is that God is here. Wherever I am, He is here.

Verse 4 gives us another lesson in the form of two names for God. When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bushESV

The first name used is Lord, in Hebrew, Yehwah, or the Tetragrammaton. It is יהוה in Hebrew and is considered the name God allows humans to know, though not His true name. His true name has never been revealed to us. By the First Century, speaking the name was allowed only to priests in the Temple. When the name appears in a reading, Jews, then and today, substitute another name—generally Adonai, or HaShem (The Name). Yehwah is used 5,410 times in the Old Testament.

The name translated as God, in this case, is Elohim. El is a generic name for a god in Hebrew. Elohim is used for the One True God in the Bible. Elohim is the name used in verse 6. I am the Elohim of your father, the Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Isaac, and the Elohim of JacobESV But we also see El used alone to mean the One True God. El is the name used by David in Psalm 63—Oh El, You are my El.

Lest we get hung up on one name, the Bible has dozens of names for God. The name to use is the one that best fits a situation. [Sidelight: Jehovah comes into English from German scholars. In German, the yh sound is best matched with j. The y in German is nothing like it is in English. So, in English, the name should be pronounced Yehovah which is the way Germans pronounce it.]

Verse 9 reads, And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress themESV There are a couple of things to consider here.

First, God knows what is happening to the Hebrews. He chose them before they were a people when He called Abram to follow Him. God planned for Abram to have 12 great-grandsons and for them to wind up in powerful Egypt. The descendants spent centuries there, knowing little of their past. Eventually, they were forced into slavery.

We do not know the extent of their slavery. In the preceding chapters of Exodus, we read that slavery was designed to exhaust the men so that they would not father so many children.  Failing that, Pharaoh ordered all male babies to be killed. This is the reason for the account in Matthew of Herod ordering the deaths of all male children under age two and of the escape of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus into Egypt. Egyptians saved Jesus as they saved Moses.

Point two. The Hebrews were not the only people on earth who were harshly treated, yet they were the only ones rescued by God. It was not because they were faithful to God, nor was it because of the faithful midwives of chapter 1.

God chose the Hebrews centuries before they became Hebrews. Over many centuries, God gave the people lessons about his power; culminating at first in the Exodus, then in the kingship of
David, and finally in Jesus.

We must never forget that God chose us, not that we chose Him. Our only choice is to accept God, or not.


Read my earlier comments on this theme here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence