Everyone in Jerusalem was preparing for the Passover Feast. Pilgrims from all over Israel would begin to stream into the city. Jews and converts to Judaism from distant lands would travel to the City of David for the annual celebration. They came to purify themselves according to the Old Testament customs given by the Most High God Himself to Moses. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of setting up camp, buying provisions, visiting with family and going to the Temple, everyone was keeping an eye out for Jesus. Passover was only six days away.
Would the radical young preacher show up?
The Pharisees and the chief priests were well aware of the whispers. How it enraged them! But in the secret places of their high counsel, they were scheming and preparing for the coming of Jesus. They were making plans to seize Him. They knew it wouldn’t work to arrest Him in front of the crowds. He was far too popular, and He was too quick-witted. He always seemed to outsmart them and twist their own arguments around. They weren’t about to risk having to answer any of His questions in front of the people. They had to find some way to get a hold of Jesus when the crowds were not around. Once He was arrested and tried, it would be too late. The common people would have to accept the facts and let the Sanhedrin give Jesus His due punishment.
And so the orders went out. If anyone learned where Jesus was, they were to report it immediately to the religious leaders.
Meanwhile, Jesus and His disciples were in Bethany, just a few miles up the road from the City of David. This was the town of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It was here that just a few days before, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. On the day of this particular story, they were in the home of Simon the leper…though he probably hadn’t remained a leper long after meeting Jesus. The rag-tag band of the devoted friends of Christ were sharing a meal together. Lazarus was there with them, reclining at the table, alive and well. Imagine the conversations they had.
At some point during the meal, Lazarus’ sister Mary came into the room with an alabaster vial in her hand. It was filled with a pound of nard, which is a very expensive perfume. It was probably given to Mary as part of her dowry. She was meant to give it to her husband as a treasure for her marriage. Mary had found her treasure in Christ. She broke open the vial and began to anoint Jesus’ head. Imagine the quieting of the room with this beautiful motion. Imagine as the wonderful scent filled the air. Mary moved to Jesus’ feet, pouring the perfume out, bowing low on her knees to wipe them with her hair. Imagine her sweet humility as she came to her Lord with her whole devotion. She was pouring out the finest gift she could offer to the One who held her heart.
In the midst of this beautiful moment, some of the disciples grew indignant. Judas Iscariot grumbled, “‘Why this waste? Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii, and given to poor people?’”
Wow. That tells us the high value of Mary’s gift! Three hundred denarii would pay a laborer for a whole year. But Judas was not truly concerned for the poor. He was the disciple in charge of the moneybox, and he was stealing from it. He was reacting against her out of his own greed.
The disciples listened to Judas. He made sense. What about the poor? How could Mary be so frivolous? They began to scold her, but Jesus put it to a stop. “‘Why are you bothering this woman?’” He said:
“‘She has done a beautiful thing to Me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me. When she poured this perfume on My body, she anointed My body beforehand for the burial. She has done what she could. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’”
Matthew 26:10-13 and Mark 14:8
Wow. What a tender, loving Lord, so full of appreciation for her sacrifice. Though He is the Lord of all Creation, her offering mattered and she was honored. And the amazing thing is, we can look back now and see that His prophecy has come true. The story of Mary’s great devotion is recorded in three of the Gospels. It has been told all over the world for two thousand years. What a sorrowful and sacred privilege to be chosen to anoint the Savior in preparation for the day when He would offer up His life.
Did the words of Jesus about His coming death strike Mary in the heart? Did His followers start to understand what was coming?
Meanwhile, the word went out that Jesus was in Bethany, and that He had just raised a man from the dead. This wasn’t the first time Jesus had performed such an amazing miracle, but this time, the man had been buried for several days. It was an impossible miracle, but so many people were there as eyewitnesses, it could not be denied.
Multitudes upon multitudes of people who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover began to make the journey to the little town of Bethany, just to get a glimpse of Jesus and Lazarus. Many who went to see Lazarus went away believing in Christ.
When the news got back to the chief priests, they called a counsel. As they discussed the new situation, they realized that Lazarus was living proof of a magnificent miracle. And there was no way they could disprove it. Too many people were there and saw it with their own eyes.
It is interesting that this didn’t make the religious leaders pause for a moment. Did they really want to kill a man that had raised someone from the dead? Did they want to mess with someone who showed such unimaginable power? What else could Jesus possibly do to convince them that He was the Messiah?
The religious leaders could have allowed this remarkable story to reconsider their plans. They could have rejoiced that one of Abraham’s children had been spared an earthly death. They could have totally and completely repented and declared that Jesus was the Messiah on the very steps of the Temple. But they didn’t. The religious leaders were too enflamed with their jealousy to be wise. This Jesus needed to die, and so did His friend.