There are two beautiful stories in our chapter today, both of them about the Lord sitting at the table-or reclining; for in those days they did not sit at the table in chairs, but reclined on low couches around the table. The first story is of a supper that they made for the Lord in Bethany, the little village on the Mount of Olives, where the Lord often stayed and where two sisters and their brother lived whom He loved. Do you remember their names, and anything about them? We hear of them again in this story, for Martha served at the supper, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with the Lord, and Mary - the story is about her and what she did.
Mary came behind the Lord as He reclined at the table, bringing an alabaster box or jar of ointment of spikenard, very precious; she broke the jar and poured the ointment on His head and feet, and wiped His feet with her hair. Alabaster is a white stone like marble. The little jar may have had a slender neck which Mary broke, or it may be that she broke the seal that held the lid. The ointment was made of olive oil made sweet with the blossoms of nard, which grew in India or Arabia. As Mary poured out the ointment and wiped the Lord's feet the house was filled with the sweet odor. It was a very precious gift that Mary made; some of those at the table said that it was too precious, that it was wasteful; but Mary did it because she loved the Lord. To Him it was a token of her love, and He was glad to have her do it. It is like a sweet odor in the house when any kind, loving thing is done; some may say it is wasteful, not worth while, but it is precious to the Lord. Let me read verses 6-13.
The other supper that we learn about was in Jerusalem. The Lord sent two of the disciples, Peter and John, from Bethany to make ready; for it was the time when all the people in Jerusalem, and many who had come from other places for the purpose, kept the Passover. He told the two disciples how they would find the house, by following a man who carried a pitcher or jar of water, and how the keeper of the house would show them a large upper room furnished. It all happened as the Lord told them, and they made things ready - the lamb, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, the preserve of fruits, and the wine. In the evening the Lord came with the other disciples, and He gathered them about Him at the table.
(If possible show Leonardo da Vinci's picture of the Last Supper.) If you count the men at the table with the Lord, you will find that there are twelve. They are the twelve apostles. They are troubled and are earnestly talking about something; they are asking, "Lord, is it I?" For the Lord had told them that one of them would betray Him. It was Judas, for he had already gone to the chief priests and agreed to deliver the Lord up to them, and they had promised him thirty pieces of silver. The Lord knew it all; nothing is ever hidden from Him; and when Judas asked, "Is it I?" the Lord answered, "Thou hast said," which meant that it was he. After that, Judas left the table and went out, and it was night.
As they sat there about the table with the Lord, in the large upper room on the Passover night, the Lord showed them how to keep His Holy Supper. He blessed the bread and the wine, calling them His flesh and blood, and gave them to the disciples; and He told them to keep the Holy Supper in remembrance of Him. This is the Holy Supper that we keep in church when the bread and wine are passed, and these words of the Lord are read. It is the holiest act of worship.
Joyful Psalms were sung at the close of the Passover: "O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good; because His mercy endureth forever." (Psalm 118:1) These no doubt were the "hymn" that the disciples sang before they went out with the Lord to the Mount of Olives. And there in the large upper room, and as they went through the street and out at the city gate, the Lord spoke to them wonderfully tender words that John has written for us in his Gospel: "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27) Let me read you the story as Matthew tells it to us, another of the disciples who was there. (Matthew 26:17-35)
The first verses of our chapter tell of the plotting of the priests to take the Lord (verses 1-5), and later we learn how Judas, one of the Lord's disciples, went to them and agreed to betray the Lord to them for money. (Verses 14-16) Right in the midst of this account of hatred and unfaithfulness is set a beautiful story of love for the Lord. Now at the end of His life on earth the hatred of evil men grew more bitter, and the love of those who loved Him grew more tender. The two were coming daily into sharper contrast.
You will wish to read the story of the supper in Bethany, in all three of the Gospels where it is told. (Matthew 26: 6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:2-11.) In Luke 7:36-50 there is another account, something like this, but it is enough different to make it plain that it refers to a different anointing.
From the account in John it seems that the supper was made for the Lord in Bethany on His arrival six days before the Passover. It was perhaps on the evening before the Palm Sunday. You will wish to recall what we know of Mary and Martha and Lazarus: the visit to their home when Martha served and Mary sat at the Lord's feet (Luke 10:38-42), and the Lord's raising Lazarus from death. (John 11:1-46) Notice in John 11: 2 how the sister of Lazarus is described as "that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment." In the days when the Gospel was written it was for this act that she was known, reminding us of the Lord's saying in Matthew 26:13.
In learning of the Passover and the Last Supper, you will wish to read the account in all the Gospels. (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-39; John 13) The account of sending the disciples to prepare is very brief in Matthew, and is more full in Mark and Luke. John omits mention of the jar of water, but tells of the washing of the disciples' feet at the table. John also does not mention the giving of the bread and wine, but gives, as it were, instead those wonderful words of love in chapters 14 to 17. You see that the feast began as the Jewish Passover, and that the Lord taught the disciples to keep the Holy Supper, which should take the place of the Passover in the Christian Church.
Can you tell me about the Passover: when it was first kept, and how it was kept each year? What was the important dish on the Passover table? What are the two things used in the Holy Supper? Both feasts represented the strengthening of men's souls with new life from the Lord. You can see that the Holy Supper represents the giving us of His own life, when the Lord calls the bread and wine His flesh and blood. The Psalms that were usually sung at the close of the Passover feast were Psalms 115 to 118. They are glad songs of rejoicing.
But there was a note of sadness in this last feast with the Lord. It was the treachery of Judas, and the searching it out. So there must always be self-examination, a questioning, "Lord, is it I?" and repentance in preparation for new life from the Lord; and this should always be a part of the keeping of the Holy Supper.
Now we see the Lord and the disciples leaving the upper room and passing out across the Kidron. It was near midnight, but the Passover moon was shining. The Lord was warning the disciples that they would be scattered and would deny Him, and they were promising to be faithful.
1. What was the Passover? When was it kept and where? In memory of what? What does the name mean?
2. Where was Bethany? Who lived there who loved the Lord? What sign of love did Mary show? Find another place in the Bible where ointment is a type of love.
3. Where did the Lord keep the Last Supper with the disciples? How did they find the place?
4. What two things did the Lord bless and give to them at the table?
The scenes of the two suppers are in mind; we can study a few particulars.
The loving reception of the Lord in Bethany, the village outside Jerusalem, represents His reception in simple Gentile hearts. Lazarus especially represents the simple Gentile character, like the beggar Lazarus in the parable (Luke 16:19-31), and the two sisters are the love for the Lord that belongs to such a state: Martha a more external, strenuous love; Mary a more internal, peaceful love. This love is represented by the precious ointment.
You can mention many places in the Word, where oil is a type of love. The sweet spices used to make ointments fragrant represent the humility and gratitude and other sweet thoughts which blend with love and make it delightful. (A. 9474) What is love for? Not to save up for our own enjoyment, nor to use in any selfish way, but to pour out in kindness and service to one another and to the Lord. Mary's action was very expressive of generous, self-forgetful love.
The remonstrance of some, especially of Judas, at what Mary did was from a selfish spirit that gives grudgingly and looks even in acts of kindness and service for selfish gain. With Judas the giving to the poor was only a pretense. There is in the Lord's words about Mary a beautiful suggestion that in truly loving the Lord we find eternal life; by this act she would be herself remembered. (E. 375; A. 3016)
The Passover and Last Supper with the Lord represent in a special and perfect way union with Him by the reception of His goodness and truth into our lives. These are especially represented by the bread and wine. First notice how much the Gospels tell us of the necessary preparation for this union - the following of the jar of water, and the washing of the disciples' feet by the Lord. These both teach the duty of repentance. And the large upper room: it represents no common state, no low, natural state, but one elevated as much as possible into spiritual light and freedom. (T. 722; A. 3147,10243)
Yet even here a deep selfishness intrudes, which by the Lord's help must be searched out. Judas stands for this self-love, for the desire to make gain of holy things which is more subtle and contemptible than open opposition. It is the betrayal by a friend, which is so touchingly spoken of in the Psalms. (Psalm 41:9; 55:12, 13) The acceptance of holy things from the Lord in this spirit of the hypocrite and traitor is represented by Judas' dipping with the Lord in the dish and receiving the morsel from His hand. Let us not judge Judas as a man; the after story would seem to show that he repented of his wrongs; but let us take the lesson to ourselves and ask, "Lord, is it I?" In what ways am I betraying the Lord, making selfish use of His good and holy gifts? (A. 4751; E. 433)