Well, John 11 was about those that stinketh, so this seemed like a good title.
John 12 is the turning point from active public ministry to the Cross. This is six days before the Crucifixion, and leads into the Triumphal Entry. I preached on this back in April, 2012, and the link is here if you want that outline. (The audios are here: morning and evening if you just want to listen.)
This is another of those chapters that are remarkably rich. You have the anointing of Jesus for burial, the Triumphal Entry, a story about Greeks seeking Jesus, and the clear statement by Jesus that His death was imminent. I’m personally persuaded John should have twice as many chapters for the content, it’s far too easy to miss things in the current arrangement.
I would simply, today, contrast for you the people, especially the rulers, in John 12:42 with Mary in John 12:3. We have much to learn from these two verses that almost summarize the point of this chapter.
First, we have Mary. Despite opposition by one of the Apostles, she pours her life’s savings out as an offering for Jesus. That’s really the only viable explanation here: throughout her life, Mary has gathered enough to purchase this box of perfume, or she was given it at some point, but it’s effectively priceless. The cost reflects that it’s worth a year’s work, and typically those who could were not likely to be wasteful of their work.
She pours out this offering, recognizing the truth: Jesus will soon be dead and buried. At this point, the Resurrection is not quite expected by anyone, so she is doing what she knows—prepare the body and hope for that day at the end of days.
The opposition? First, Judas. Keep in mind that only Jesus is aware of Judas’ betrayal at this point. To Mary, this is an argument from Jesus’ inner circle of friends and followers. Additionally, she now risks the wrath of the religious leadership at large: remember, Rome has tried to kill Jesus before (Herod the Great?) and the Jewish leaders are out to squelch any further of this Jesus stuff.
Mary, at this point, has nothing but Jesus. And He is all she needs.
Then you have the unnamed “rulers” in John 12:42. These are afraid of the cost of following the Messiah. After all, the synagogue is not just the center of religion in Israel of the time, it’s the center of community. It’s the center of resistance to those blasted Romans, too. Even if that resistance is only cultural and linguistic, rather than military.
For those, there are so many additional things they want. Cultural approval, friendships, business opportunities, whatever else is available, these people cannot give it up.
What’s it going to be?
Jesus, and let the rest fall where it does?
Today’s Nerd Note: Don’t overlook the strange behavior of the religious leaders in John 12:10-11. Let’s kill Lazarus? Really?
If you are so angry about God’s work that you would kill someone to cover it up, that’s a problem.