In these verses we have,
I. The kind visit our Lord Jesus paid to his friends at Bethany, John 12:1. He came up out of the country, six days before the passover, and took up at Bethany, a town which, according to the computation of our metropolis, lay so near Jerusalem as to be within the bills of mortality. He lodged here with his friend Lazarus, whom he had lately raised from the dead. His coming to Bethany now may be considered,
1. As a preface to the passover he intended to celebrate, to which reference is made in assigning the date of his coming: Six days before the passover. Devout men set time apart before, to prepare themselves for that solemnity, and thus it became our Lord Jesus to fulfil all righteousness. Thus he has set us an example of solemn self-sequestration, before the solemnities of the gospel passover; let us hear the voice crying, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
2. As a voluntary exposing of himself to the fury of his enemies; now that his hour was at hand he came within their reach, and freely offered himself to them, though he had shown them how easily he could evade all their snares. Note, (1.) Our Lord Jesus was voluntary in his sufferings; his life was not forced from him, but resigned: Lo, I come. As the strength of his persecutors could not overpower him, so their subtlety could not surprise him, but he died because he would. (2.) As there is a time when we are allowed to shift for our own preservation, so there is a time when we are called to hazard our lives in the cause of God, as St. Paul, when he went bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem.
3. As an instance of his kindness to his friends at Bethany, whom he loved, and from whom he was shortly to be taken away. This was a farewell visit; he came to take leave of them, and to leave with them words of comfort against the day of trial that was approaching. Note, Though Christ depart for a time from his people, he will give them intimations that he departs in love, and not in anger. Bethany is here described to be the town where Lazarus was, whom he raised from the dead. The miracle wrought here put a new honour upon the place, and made it remarkable. Christ came hither to observe what improvement was made of this miracle; for where Christ works wonders, and shows signal favours, he looks after them, to see whether the intention of them be answered. Where he has sown plentifully, he observes whether it comes up again.
II. The kind entertainment which his friends there gave him: They made him a supper (John 12:2), a great supper, a feast. It is queried whether this was the same with that which is recorded, Matt. 24:6; in the house of Simon. Most commentators think it was; for the substance of the story and many of the circumstances agree; but that comes in after what was said two days before the passover, whereas this was done six days before; nor is it likely that Martha should serve in any house but her own; and therefore I incline with Dr. Lightfoot to think them different: that in Matthew on the third day of the passover week, but this the seventh day of the week before, being the Jewish sabbath, the night before he rode in triumph into Jerusalem; that in the house of Simon; this of Lazarus. These two being the most public and solemn entertainments given him in Bethany, Mary probably graced them both with this token of her respect; and what she left of her ointment this first time, when she spent but a pound of it (John 12:3), she used that second time, when she poured it all out, Mark 14:3. Let us see the account of this entertainment. 1. They made him a supper; for with them, ordinarily, supper was the best meal. This they did in token of their respect and gratitude, for a feast is made for friendship; and that they might have an opportunity of free and pleasant conversation with him, for a feast is made for fellowship. Perhaps it is in allusion to this and the like entertainments given to Christ in the days of his flesh that he promises, to such as open the door of their hearts to him, that he will sup with them, Rev. 3:20. 2. Martha served; she herself waited at table, in token of her great respect to the Master. Though a person of some quality, she did not think it below her to serve, when Christ sat at meat; nor should we think it a dishonour or disparagement to us to stoop to any service whereby Christ may be honoured. Christ had formerly reproved Martha for being troubled with much serving. But she did not therefore leave off serving, as some, who, when they are reproved for one extreme, peevishly run into another; no, still she served; not as then at a distance, but within hearing of Christ’s gracious words, reckoning those happy who, as the queen of Sheba said concerning Solomon’s servants, stood continually before him, to hear his wisdom; better be a waiter at Christ’s table than a guest at the table of a prince. 3. Lazarus was one of those that sat at meat. It proved the truth of his resurrection, as it did of Christ’s, that there were those who did eat and drink with him, Acts 10:41. Lazarus did not retire into a wilderness after his resurrection, as if, when he had made a visit to the other world, he must ever after be a hermit in this; no, he conversed familiarly with people, as others did. He sat at meat, as a monument of the miracle Christ had wrought. Those whom Christ has raised up to a spiritual life are made to sit together with him. See Eph. 2:5, 6.
III. The particular respect which Mary showed him, above the rest, in anointing his feet with sweet ointment, John 12:3. She had a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, which probably she had by her for her own use; but the death and resurrection of her brother had quite weaned her from the use of all such things, and with this she anointed the feet of Jesus, and, as a further token of her reverence for him and negligence of herself, she wiped them with her hair, and this was taken notice of by all that were present, for the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. See Prov. 27:16.
1. Doubtless she intended this as a token of her love to Christ, who had given real tokens of his love to her and her family; and thus she studies what she shall render. Now by this her love to Christ appears to have been, (1.) A generous love; so far from sparing necessary charges in his service, she is as ingenious to create an occasion of expense in religion as most are to avoid it. If she had any thing more valuable than another, that must be brought out for the honour of Christ. Note, Those who love Christ truly love him so much better than this world as to be willing to lay out the best they have for him. (2.) A condescending love; she not only bestowed her ointment upon Christ, but with her own hands poured it upon him, which she might have ordered one of her servants to have done; nay, she did not, as usual, anoint his head with it, but his feet. True love, as it does not spare charges, so it does not spare pains, in honouring Christ. Considering what Christ has done and suffered for us, we are very ungrateful if we think any service too hard to do, or too mean to stoop to, whereby he may really be glorified. (3.) A believing love; there was faith working by this love, faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed, who, being both priest and king, was anointed as Aaron and David were. Note, God’s Anointed should be our Anointed. Has God poured on him the oil of gladness above his fellows? Let us pour on him the ointment of our best affections above all competitors. By consenting to Christ as our king, we must comply with God’s designs, appointing him our head whom he has appointed, Hos. 1:11.
2. The filling of the house with the pleasant odour of the ointment may intimate to us, (1.) That those who entertain Christ in their hearts and houses bring a sweet odour into them; Christ’s presence brings with it an ointment and perfume which rejoice the heart. (2.) Honours done to Christ are comforts to all his friends and followers; they are to God and good men an offering of a sweet-smelling savour.
IV. Judas’s dislike of Mary’s compliment, or token of her respect to Christ, John 12:4, 5, where observe,
1. The person that carped at it was Judas, one of his disciples; not one of their nature, but only one of their number. It is possible for the worst of men to lurk under the disguise of the best profession; and there are many who pretend to stand in relation to Christ who really have no kindness for him. Judas was an apostle, a preacher of the gospel, and yet one that discouraged and checked this instance of pious affection and devotion. Note, It is sad to see the life of religion and holy zeal frowned upon and discountenanced by such as are bound by their office to assist and encourage it. But this was he that should betray Christ. Note, Coldness of love to Christ, and a secret contempt of serious piety, when they appear in professors of religion, are sad presages of a final apostasy. Hypocrites, by less instances of worldliness, discover themselves to be ready for a compliance with greater temptations.
2. The pretence with which he covered his dislike (John 12:5): “Why was not this ointment, since it was designed for a pious use, sold for three hundred pence” (8l. 10s. of our money), “and given to the poor?” (1.) Here is a foul iniquity gilded over with a specious and plausible pretence, for Satan transforms himself into an angel of light. (2.) Here is worldly wisdom passing a censure upon pious zeal, as guilty of imprudence and mismanagement. Those who value themselves upon their secular policy, and undervalue others for their serious piety, have more in them of the spirit of Judas than they would be thought to have. (3.) Here is charity to the poor made a colour for opposing a piece of piety to Christ, and secretly made a cloak for covetousness. Many excuse themselves from laying out in charity under pretence of laying up for charity: whereas, if the clouds be full of rain, they will empty themselves. Judas asked, Why was it not given to the poor? To which it is easy to answer, Because it was better bestowed upon the Lord Jesus. Note, We must not conclude that those do no acceptable piece of service who do not do it in our way, and just as we would have them; as if every thing must be adjudged imprudent and unfit which does not take its measures from us and our sentiments. Proud men think all ill-advised who do not advise with them.
3. The detection and discovery of Judas’s hypocrisy herein, John 12:6. Here is the evangelist’s remark upon it, by the direction of him who searches the heart: This he said, not that he cared for the poor, as he pretended, but because he was a thief, and had the bag.
(1.) It did not come from a principle of charity: Not that he cared for the poor. He had no compassion towards them, no concern for them: what were the poor to him any further than he might serve his own ends by being overseer of the poor? Thus some warmly contend for the power of the church, as others for its purity, when perhaps it may be said, Not that they care for the church; it is all one to them whether its true interest sink or swim, but under the pretence of this they are advancing themselves. Simeon and Levi pretended zeal for circumcision, not that they cared for the seal of the covenant, any more than Jehu for the Lord of hosts, when he said, Come see my zeal.
(2.) It did come from a principle of covetousness. The truth of the matter was, this ointment being designed for his Master, he would rather have had it in money, to be put in the common stock with which he was entrusted, and then he knew what to do with it. Observe,
[1.] Judas was treasurer of Christ’s household, whence some think he was called Iscariot, the bag-bearer. First, See what estate Jesus and his disciples had to live upon. It was but little; they had neither farms nor merchandise, neither barns nor storehouses, only a bag; or, as some think the word signifies, a box, or coffer, wherein they kept just enough for their subsistence, giving the overplus, if any were, to the poor; this they carried about with them, wherever they went. Omnia mea mecum porto—I carry all my property about me. This bag was supplied by the contributions of good people, and the Master and his disciples had all in common; let this lessen our esteem of worldly wealth, and deaden us to the punctilios of state and ceremony, and reconcile us to a mean and despicable way of living, if this be our lot, that it was our Master’s lot; for our sakes he became poor. Secondly, See who was the steward of the little they had; it was Judas, he was purse-bearer. It was his office to receive and pay, and we do not find that he gave any account what markets he made. He was appointed to this office, either, 1. Because he was the least and lowest of all the disciples; it was not Peter nor John that was made steward (though it was a place of trust and profit), but Judas, the meanest of them. Note, Secular employments, as they are a digression, so they are a degradation to a minister of the gospel; see 1 Cor. 6:4. The prime-ministers of state in Christ’s kingdom refused to be concerned in the revenue, Acts 6:2. 2. Because he was desirous of the place. He loved in his heart to be fingering money, and therefore had the moneybag committed to him, either, (1.) As a kindness, to please him, and thereby oblige him to be true to his Master. Subjects are sometimes disaffected to the government because disappointed of their preferment; but Judas had no cause to complain of this; the bag he chose, and the bag he had. Or, (2.) In judgment upon him, to punish him for his secret wickedness; that was put into his hands which would be a snare and trap to him. Note, Strong inclinations to sin within are often justly punished with strong temptations to sin without. We have little reason to be fond of the bag, or proud of it, for at the best we are but stewards of it; and it was Judas, one of an ill character, and born to be hanged (pardon the expression), that was steward of the bag. The prosperity of fools destroys them.
[2.] Being trusted with the bag, he was a thief, that is, he had a thievish disposition. The reigning love of money is heart-theft as much as anger and revenge are heart-murder. Or perhaps he had been really guilty of embezzling his Master’s stores, and converting to his own use what was given to the public stock. And some conjecture that he was now contriving to fill his pockets, and then run away and leave his Master, having heard him speak so much of troubles approaching, to which he could by no means reconcile himself. Note, Those to whom the management and disposal of public money is committed have need to be governed by steady principles of justice and honesty, that no blot cleave to their hands; for though some make a jest of cheating the government, or the church, or the country, if cheating be thieving, and, communities being more considerable than particular persons, if robbing them be the greater sin, the guilt of theft and the portion of thieves will be found no jesting matter. Judas, who had betrayed his trust, soon after betrayed his Master.
V. Christ’s justification of what Mary did (John 12:7, 8): Let her alone. Hereby he intimated his acceptance of her kindness (though he was perfectly mortified to all the delights of sense, yet, as it was a token of her goodwill, he signified himself well-pleased with it), and his care that she should not be molested in it: Pardon her, so it may be read; “excuse her this once, if it be an error it is an error of her love.” Note, Christ would not have those censured nor discouraged who sincerely design to please him, though in their honest endeavours there be not all the discretion that may be, Rom. 14:3. Though we would not do as they do, yet let them alone. For Mary’s justification,
1. Christ puts a favourable construction upon what she did, which those that condemned it were not aware of: Against the day of my burying she has kept this. Or, She has reserved this for the day of my embalming; so Dr. Hammond. “You do not grudge the ointment used for the embalming of your dead friends, nor say that it should be sold, and given to the poor. Now this anointing either was so intended, or at least may be so interpreted; for the day of my burying is now at hand, and she has anointed a body that is already as good as dead.” Note, (1.) Our Lord Jesus thought much and often of his own death and burial; it would be good for us to do so too. (2.) Providence does often so open a door of opportunity to good Christians, and the Spirit of grace does so open their hearts, that the expressions of their pious zeal prove to be more seasonable, and more beautiful, than any foresight of their own could make them. (3.) The grace of Christ puts kind comments upon the pious words and actions of good people, and not only makes the best of what is amiss, but makes the most of what is good.
2. He gives a sufficient answer to Judas’s objection, John 12:8. (1.) It is so ordered in the kingdom of Providence that the poor we have always with us, some or other that are proper objects of charity (Deut. 15:11); such there will be as long as there are in this lapsed state of mankind so much folly and so much affliction. (2.) It is so ordered in the kingdom of grace that the church should not always have the bodily presence of Jesus Christ: “Me you have not always, but only nor for a little time.” Note, We need wisdom, when two duties come in competition, to know which to give the preference to, which must be determined by the circumstances. Opportunities are to be improved, and those opportunities first and most vigorously which are likely to be of the shortest continuance, and which we see most speedily hastening away. That good duty which may be done at any time ought to give way to that which cannot be done but just now.
VI. The public notice which was taken of our Lord Jesus here at this supper in Bethany (John 12:9): Much people of the Jews knew that he was there, for he was the talk of the town, and they came flocking thither; the more because he had lately absconded, and now broke out as the sun from behind a dark cloud. 1. They came to see Jesus, whose name was very much magnified, and made considerable by the late miracle he had wrought in raising Lazarus. They came, not to hear him, but to gratify their curiosity with a sight of him here at Bethany, fearing he would not appear publicly, as he used to do, this passover. They came, not to seize him, or inform against him, though the government had prosecuted him to an outlawry, but to see him and show him respect. Note, There are some in whose affections Christ will have an interest, in spite of all the attempts of his enemies to misrepresent him. It being known where Christ was, multitudes came to him. Note, Where the king is there is the court; where Christ is there will the gathering of the people be, Luke 17:37. 2. They came to see Lazarus and Christ together, which was a very inviting sight. Some came for the confirmation of their faith in Christ, to have the story perhaps from Lazarus’s own mouth. Others came only for the gratifying of their curiosity, that they might say they had seen a man who had been dead and buried, and yet lived again; so that Lazarus served for a show, these holy-days, to those who, like the Athenians, spent their time in telling and hearing new things. Perhaps some came to put curious questions to Lazarus about the state of the dead, to ask what news from the other world; we ourselves have sometimes said, it may be, We would have gone a great way for one hour’s discourse with Lazarus. But if any came on this errand it is probable that Lazarus was silent, and gave them no account of his voyage; at least, the scripture is silent, and gives us no account of it; and we must not covet to be wise above what is written. But our Lord Jesus was present, who was a much fitter person for them to apply to than Lazarus; for if we hear not Moses and the prophets, Christ and the apostles, if we heed not what they tell us concerning another world, neither should we be persuaded though Lazarus rose from the dead. We have a more sure word of prophecy.
VII. The indignation of the chief priests at the growing interest of our Lord Jesus, and their plot to crush it (John 12:10, 11): They consulted (or decreed) how they might put Lazarus also to death, because that by reason of him (of what was done to him, not of any thing he said or did) many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus. Here observe,
1. How vain and unsuccessful their attempts against Christ had hitherto been. They had done all they could to alienate the people from him, and exasperate them against him, and yet many of the Jews, their neighbours, their creatures, their admirers, were so overcome by the convincing evidence of Christ’s miracles that they went away from the interest and party of the priests, went off from obedience to their tyranny, and believed on Jesus; and it was by reason of Lazarus; his resurrection put life into their faith, and convinced them that this Jesus was undoubtedly the Messiah, and had life in himself, and power to give life. This miracle confirmed them in the belief of his other miracles, which they had heard he wrought in Galilee: what was impossible to him that could raise the dead?
2. How absurd and unreasonable this day’s vote was—that Lazarus must be put to death. This is an instance of the most brutish rage that could be; they were like a wild bull in a net, full of fury, and laying about them without any consideration. It was a sign that they neither feared God nor regarded man. For, (1.) If they had feared God, they would not have done such an act of defiance to him. God will have Lazarus to live by miracle, and they will have him to die by malice. They cry, Away with such a fellow, it is not fit he should live, when God had so lately sent him back to the earth, declaring it highly fit he should live; what was this but walking contrary to God? They would put Lazarus to death, and challenge almighty power to raise him again, as if they could contend with God, and try titles with the King of kings. Who has the keys of death and the grave, he or they? O caeca malitia! Christus qui suscitare potuit mortuum, non possit occisum.—Blind malice, to suppose that Christ, who could raise one that had died a natural death, could not raise one that had been slain!--Augustine in loc. Lazarus is singled out to be the object of their special hatred, because God has distinguished him by the tokens of his peculiar love, as if they had made a league offensive and defensive with death and hell, and resolved to be severe upon all deserters. One would think that they should rather have consulted how they might have joined in friendship with Lazarus and his family, and by their mediation have reconciled themselves to this Jesus whom they had persecuted; but the god of this world had blinded their minds. (2.) If they had regarded man, they would not have done such an act of injustice to Lazarus, an innocent man, to whose charge they could not pretend to lay any crime. What bands are strong enough to hold those who can so easily break through the most sacred ties of common justice, and violate the maxims which even nature itself teaches? But the support of their own tyranny and superstition was thought sufficient, as in the church of Rome, not only to justify, but to consecrate the greatest villanies, and make them meritorious.