Theme: Mary’s Importance in John’s Gospel
In this week’s lessons, we learn about Mary’s love for Jesus, and see that our own love for and service of the Lord needs to be self-sacrificing as well.
Scripture: John 12:1-11
Let me introduce this story of Jesus and Mary of Bethany by calling attention to the fact that this is the third of four important women who are introduced to us in the Gospel. There are other women of course, but there are four women whose stories are told at some length, a couple of which we have already looked at. We looked at the woman of Samaria, found in John 4. Though she was a Samaritan and therefore looked down upon by Jews, she was nevertheless favored by Jesus, and was greatly blessed spiritually and became a great witness to Jesus Christ.
Then you have the woman taken in adultery, in John 11. This is another one of those beautiful stories, and in this one is seen particularly the compassion of Jesus, as he spares a woman’s life and ministers to her, forbearing to condemn her, but at the same time challenging her to go and sin no more. Another story that deals with a woman, which we will get to, is with Mary Magdalene, when she becomes the first person to witness Jesus after his resurrection.
So you have these three stories having to do with women, including the one we are going to look at this week from John 12. It’s significant that back in this day, when men had positions of leadership and women were not all that highly regarded, particularly in Judaism, that John the Evangelist would tell so much about them and record their stories.
Now, secondly, by way of introduction, I want you to see that this woman, Mary, appears at a very significant point in the Gospel, really a key point in the Gospel. You recall I was giving an outline of it earlier and I said that it’s an easy book to outline. It has a prologue that introduces Jesus as the Logos, or the Word, and it has an epilogue in which Jesus commissions the disciples to further service. But if you take off that prologue and the epilogue, the main body of the letter falls into two parts. Some of the commentators describe it as the “Book of the Signs,” and that is what occupies chapters 1 through 11. And then there is the “Book of the Passion,” and that is what occupies chapters 12 through 20.
As soon as you have that division in your mind, you see that this story occurs right at the beginning of the second section. I think moreover that John calls special attention to this because when he begins in verse 1 by giving us a time element of six days before the Passover, he’s obviously introducing the last and climactic week of Jesus’ ministry before his crucifixion.
No other Gospel divides up the events quite this way. But John does and he calls special attention to it. If you turn back to the first chapter and look at it carefully, you can trace a number of days making up this important first week, beginning with verse 19, where John the Baptist is introduced. During this week John the Baptist identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God” and “the Son of God.” A little further on in verse 35, you read that the next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and one of them goes and tells his brother they have found the Messiah. Then in verse 43, the next day was spent traveling to Galilee. All this happens in chapter 1, with Jesus’ miracle of the changing of the water into wine apparently coming at that same time.
Now, beginning in chapter 12, we have a final week, and John introduces it by speaking of these six days before the Passover. This would have been a Friday night, with the next day of course being a Sabbath, on which they rested. The day following that was a Sunday, which we know as Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem. There were events that filled up all the days of this significant week, including the cleansing of the temple and Jesus’ teaching on the Mount of Olives, in which he referred to the future destruction of Jerusalem, and his coming again at the end of the age.
And then you have the events toward the end of the week that we know very well: the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, and finally the resurrection. Now, the reason I point that out is to say that this story about Mary of Bethany occupies the same position at the beginning of the “Book of the Passion” as John the Baptist occupies at the beginning of the “Book of the Signs.” John the Baptist was sent to identify Jesus Christ as the one whom God had sent into the world to save people from their sins. You recall when we studied that how he’s introduced. He came to point out the light of the world. The world was blind, and until John the Baptist said, “Behold the light,” the world was ignorant that the light was there. John the Baptist pointed Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Again, throughout this first section of John’s Gospel, chapters 1-11, we learn a great deal about who Jesus really is.
What other stories involving women are found in John’s Gospel, and what do we learn from each one?
How do some commentators outline the Gospel of John, and what does the first part show?
For Further Study: To learn more about Jesus through another encounter he once had, download and listen for free to Richard Phillips’ message, “Jesus and the Fisherman.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)