The Next-to-the-Last Supper

Title: The Next-to-the-Last Supper

Bible Book: John 12 : 1-11

Author: Mark Adams

Subject: Stewardship; Service



1 - Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

2 - Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him.

3 - Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4 - But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected,

5 - “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

6 - He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

7 - “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial.

8 - You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.”

9 - Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of Him but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.

10 - So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well,

11 - for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in Him.

As I’ve told you before, when I was a kid growing up in Dover, Delaware, our summer vacations almost always included trips to visit our extended family. My mom grew up in Florence, Alabama and my dad in Tomnolen, each summer - usually in the month of August - we’d load the family station wagon and head south for a week or two with each side of the family. Our first stop was always Florence and shortly after we arrived most if not all of my mom’s six siblings and their families would join us at grand-mom’s house for a big meal. I say BIG - because that’s what it was. There would always be a BIG crowd made up of 26 grandchildren from seven sets of parents and we always had a BIG time. The dining room table would be full of all kinds of food...meats, vegetables, salads, biscuits, cornbread....and several gallons of sweet tea. There would also be a table for deserts...pies, cakes, get the idea. We’d all grab paper plates, load up, and sit all over the house and porch sharing food - and better yet - precious fellowship with family members we only saw once a year. The meal would go on and on as our stomachs emptied and we then refilled plates and moved to different parts of the house to talk with different family members...sharing everything that had happened since we last saw each other. Of course a week or so later, when we arrived in Tomnolen, we’d enjoy the same kind of meal with dad and his four siblings and their families - except since Grandad farmed...the menu often included freshly churned butter...and milk straight from the cow. Whenever I walk through mom’s house as I did last week and see the old family pictures - well, I love re-playing the memory of those meals. Those were wonderful times...golden times. I’m sure that during the past few weeks many of you enjoyed similar

This morning as we continue our study of John’s gospel, we come to his record of an especially memorable meal - what I like to think of as the “next-to-the-last” supper...because the next meal the Gospel writers tell us about is the Passover meal that Jesus and His followers shared on the night of His betrayal and arrest. Well, this next-to-the-last supper occurred not in an upper room but in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper.

And...before we get into our study of this special meal I want to make sure you note that as we begin the 12th chapter of John’s gospel...we come to a very important TRANSITION in Jesus’ earthly ministry. We come to that final week that led to the cross.

At this point, like his fellow Gospel writers, John slows the pace of his narrative. To show you what I mean, look back with me at the last 11 chapters. If you recall our study thus far you know that up until this point John has covered THREE YEARS of Jesus’ ministry. In the next 8 chapters he’ll focus on just this ONE FINAL WEEK...and in his last 2 he’ll tell us about the resurrection and some of the things that happened during those 40 days prior to Jesus’ ascension.

The other gospel writers do basically the same thing. They slow down the speed of their accounts as they get to the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection. Because of this one early Christian commentator described the Gospels as “...chronicles of Jesus’ final WEEK with increasingly longer INTRODUCTIONS.”

I also want you to note that this was a very dangerous time for Jesus and His followers because Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus settled things for the Jewish religious leaders. They decided Jesus had become far too popular and had to be eliminated. Listen to John 11:47ff where a member of the Sanhedrin says: “Here is this Man performing many miraculous signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and then the Romans will come and take away both out place and our nation.” At this point in their scheming Caiaphas, the high priest, unknowingly gave a very accurate prophecy. He said, “It is better for one Man to die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” And - of course that is what Jesus was about to do. He was about to die for the people - all people. In any case, from then on the Jewish religious leaders plotted in earnest to take Jesus’ life. Our text for this morning tells us that Lazarus was a marked man as well. His witness was just too powerful - for “the good of the people” he had to be silenced. I point this out so that you can see that having this meal - this next-to-the-last supper - was a very brave thing for Jesus’ followers to do. You see the Sanhedrin had given an order that if anyone knew where Jesus was, they should report it to the authorities. To fail to do so would make them more or less accessories to His crime. Still Christ’ friends held this supper and held it OPENLY.

They were prompted to do so out of their love of Jesus. They wanted to honor Him for His ministry. In fact, it seems to have been organized around sort of a “thank you” meal...a time to thank Jesus for what He had done for Lazarus - and so many others.

Now - I don’t want you to confuse this meal with the one we read about in Luke 7. It’s easy to do that because Luke tells of a similar story - but it’s not the same. If you read and compare the accounts you’ll see what I mean.

For example, Luke tells of a time a former harlot anointed Jesus’ feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Well, Lazarus’ sister, Mary, who did the anointing here in John’s account was not a harlot. She was known as a virtuous woman.

And if you read Matthew’s account you see that another difference is that, unlike the harlot, Mary anointed our Lord’s feet AND head.

Plus, Luke’s meal happened in the north - in Galilee. This one happened in the south - in Judea.

And finally Luke’s was in the home of Simon the PHARISEE. This one was held in the home of Simon the LEPER. So - two different “Simons” and two different meals.

That leads me point out that - when you think about it - what better place to hold this meal in honor of a wanted Man? After all, Simon was a leper - who, according to Mark’s account had been healed by Jesus. This would be a great place to “hide” such a gathering because there is no way any of the Scribes of Pharisees would come looking here. Simon’s former leprosy would have made them too worried about their ceremonial cleanliness. To come near this house would leave them ceremonially unclean for a long time.

I’m reminded of Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place. If you’ve read it then you know that Corrie and her family were locked in a Nazi concentration camp because they had helped many of the Jews escape. In that camp life was more horrible than you can imagine. Corrie tells of the dormitories they lived in. They were filthy and filled with lice. She tells of the misery the lice caused. But then, she praised God because she realized that the lice were a blessing. You see, because of the lice the Nazi guards would not come inside the dorms. That left Corrie and her friends free to have Bible studies right there in the open. Similarly, because of Simon’s former disease - Jesus had safety from His pursuers that night.

Now - can you imagine the stories that were told around that table? Simon says, “You guys cannot imagine what it was like. I saw the scabs fall off my hand! My fingers grew back in place. I reached up and my eyebrows were there. I was healed.” Then Lazarus interrupted saying, “Simon that was nothing. I mean that must have been great but, hey, I DIED. I was gone four days! I went to Paradise. I saw the biggies: Abraham Moses, David...But I will tell you the most amazing thing I saw was when I came back and walked out of that tomb. Peter’s eyes were that big around.” Simon counters, “Hey! I was made hole!” Lazarus replies, “But I was in a HOLE!”...and so on.

Curt Clolinger does a skit in which he says that not just Simon and Lazarus - but several “use-to-be’s” came to this memorable meal. And when he says “use-to-be” he was referring to people who used to be one thing but were saved from their past and given great potential through the power of God. For example, he said that at this next-to-the-last supper was Mary Magdalene who used to be a harlot, Matthew Levi who used to be a tax collector, and Bartimeaus who used to be blind.

By the way - as Christians - forgiven and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb - we are all “used-to-be’s!” In Romans 6 Paul says, “Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:16-18)

Well, can you imagine the conversations that went on in that room!? Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall as each of these “use-to-be’s” tried to one-up one another with their stories of what Jesus had done for them?! And - as they did all this competitive testimony sharing, I think Jesus sat there quietly, smiling - enjoying every word. I say this because in Psalm 22:3 it says that God inhabits our praise. He loves to be in places where people praise Him for Who He is and what He does.

Now - with all these use-to-be’s present at this next-to-the-last supper - there is a lot we could zero in on in this text...but this morning I want to focus on two people that are mentioned specifically: Mary and Martha because I think we can learn a thing or two from these siblings. So - what does the example they set at this memorable meal teach us?

(1) I want us to begin by looking at MARTHA because she teaches us the importance of SERVICE.

I think we should START here because if it weren’t for Martha - if it weren’t for her SERVING...well, I don’t think this next-to-the-last supper would have taken place. And - that’s the way it is with acts of service. They are vitally important yet - we tend to take the wonderful people who do them for granted. Can you think of people in your family - people in this church - whose consistent acts of service often go unnoticed? We must be very careful not to take these people for granted. The things they do - and the selfless way they do them - are indeed vitally important.

But - back to the text. Like everyone else Martha was a guest in Simon’s house but I’m sure she was in charge of the meal. In my mind, she had been up late the night before, getting things ready so at earliest dawn she could fire the ovens. All day the AROMA of a celebration meal had wafted through the rooms of Simon’s house. After all, nothing was too good for Jesus. Nothing was too good for the Man Who brought her dead brother out of that tomb! So, I think Martha had used her best recipes, and when the meats and breads and casseroles were all done she loved bringing course after course to Jesus and His men. They loved it too. She was doing her thing, and everybody was happy.

Now...Luke tells us of another time when Martha served. Remember? Remember the time she became upset that her sister Mary had left her with all the serving and spent her time at Jesus’ feet? Remember when Jesus lovingly rebuked Martha for her attitude? What an embarrassing time that had been for both sisters! Well at this dinner things were different. Even though Mary - who had no doubt been helping serve the meal - even though she had once again wandered back to the feet of Jesus, Martha seemed at peace. What had happened? Circumstances had not changed. But Martha had. She had understood Jesus’ teaching. He did not tell her to become a “Mary” - which is good or they probably would have all starved. No - she had understood His insistence that Mary had chosen “what is better” did not mean that serving in the kitchen and at the table was bad. She understood that Jesus was saying her harried, depressed, unhappy, blaming attitude had to change and it did. So that’s what was different. And, with her changed attitude, Martha’s gift to Jesus - that of lovingly preparing and serving this meal - was literally just as fragrant an offering as Mary’s.

Martha’s example reminds us that, when done in the right attitude, service, ministry...helping can be a vitally important thing. In fact, good works done in a Christlike attitude can point people to we must never underestimate their value.

Doug Nichols served as a volunteer missionary in India in 1967. While there he became ill and was forced to spend several months recuperating in a government-run hospital. Doug didn’t speak the Indian language so he tried to pass out gospel tracts printed in the local dialect to doctors, nurses and fellow patients. But all snubbed him and refused to take a tract. One night not too long before Nichols was released from the hospital, he was awakened by groaning from an old man who was in the bed across the aisle. The next morning his sense of smell told him why the man had been groaning. He had needed to go to the bathroom but was too weak to do so. The stench in the ward was awful. Other patients yelled insults at the old man. Angry nurses moved him roughly from side to side as they cleaned up the mess. One nurse even slapped the poor old man and he just curled up into a ball and wept. Well, the next night the man’s groaning again woke Nichols. He noticed the him trying to stand and walk to the bathroom but he was so weak he would collapse on the bed. So Nichols got out of his own bed and put his arms under the little old man and picked him up. Listen to Nichol’s own words about this incident: “He was very light due to old age and advanced TB. I carried him to the washroom, which was just a filthy, small room with a hole in the floor. I stood behind him with my arms under his armpits as he took care of himself. Then after he finished, I picked him up, carried him back to his bed. As I laid him down, he kissed me on the cheek, smiled, and said something I didn’t understand.” The next morning another patient in the ward woke Nichols and handed him a steaming cup of tea. The patient motioned with his hands that he wanted one of Nichols’ gospel tracts. As the day went on other patients came and asked for the same booklets about the gospel that Doug had tried to circulate before. Nurses, doctors, interns...everyone wanted the literature. A few days later an evangelist who spoke the language visited Nichols and discovered that several had put their trust in Christ as Savior as a result of reading his tracts.

Okay, what did it take to reach these people for Christ? It wasn’t the ability to speak their language and persuade them to make this decision. It wasn’t some amazingly generous costly gift. No - it was the simple, compassionate act of ministering to an old man by helping him to the bathroom. That act of service, that “good work” led people to God. Giving enough effort to meet this old man’s physical need made it possible to satisfy the spiritual needs of many people.

Well, Martha’s act of service didn’t get the kind of “spotlight attention” that her sister’s action did that night but, as I said, it made this memorable meal possible. Because of Martha it became a meal...that has pointed people to Jesus for thousands of years.

Never underestimate the POWER of selflessly serving others.

(2) Next let’s look at Mary. MARY shows us the power of SACRIFICE.

Let me describe the scene we read about earlier. The house is full, the meal is being served and cleaned up. Martha is hard at work doing her thing but Mary is back at her house, in her room rummaging through her hope chest. She knows exactly what she’s looking for. She comes back to the house, enters the dining room and quietly weaves her way around the dinner table to position herself at Jesus’ feet....that place where we always find Mary.

Perhaps inspired by something she had heard another woman do early on in Jesus’ ministry, she quietly worked open the top of the vial...a vial that had probably been sealed from her birth. When she get’s it open she doesn’t pour out a little - you know...just enough to give a sweet savor...nor does she carefully measure out just enough to cover the feet and head of Jesus.

NO - SHE POURS OUT THE WHOLE THING. She pours so much on Jesus’ feet that she needs to mop up some of it - with her hair. Now - with that image in mind, let’s consider all the aspects of Mary’s sacrifice.

First, in doing this, she took the place of a slave - kneeling to wash Jesus’ feet - symbolizing the giving of her life to our Lord.

She also undid her hair - further humbling herself by laying what Paul refers to in 1st Corinthians as “a woman’s glory” at Jesus’ feet.

And then there’s the perfume - NARD. It was incredibly expensive - worth almost an entire year’s wages.

The Greek historian Herodotus listed it among gifts sent by Cambyses to the king of Ethiopia. So, this perfume must have been Mary’s most precious possession. It was her treasure kept for her dowry, so in giving it to our Lord she reduced her prospects for a favorable marriage. It was a lavish - sacrificial gift!

Well, John says that the wonderful fragrance fogged the room. Imagine the stunned silence of the group until Judas speaks up. And I have to say - it seems like whenever something wonderful happens the adversary makes sure there is always a complainer present...a critic...a “debbie-downer.” Well, that’s Judas - he ignores the beauty of what Mary did and complains about her extravagance, saying the perfume could be sold and the proceeds given to the poor.

But Jesus - God in the flesh - knew Judas’ true thoughts, and He defended Mary’s sacrifice. Look at verses 7 and 8. Jesus said “Leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.”

Now - WHY did Mary do this? She did this because she understood what no one else in the room did - that Jesus had come to die for our sins. She knew He was about to give His life on the cross for us...and she was the only one who knew. Jesus had tried to tell the others over and over again but they hadn’t paid attention. They hadn’t listened. For example, hours before on the way to Jerusalem He had told the disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the Law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34) But the disciples had not listened as we’ll see in our study of their conversation with Jesus in the Upper Room and from their despondent, almost unbelieving reaction to His crucifixion. Only Mary understood. She had for some time. And she broke her perfume over our Lord in order to show Him that she did understand. She knew what He was about to do for her and for us.

Well - how did she understand what the disciples failed to grasp? The answer is seen in her being so often in the place where we find her in this the feet of Jesus. She’s always there...worshiping and listening to Him teach...hanging on His every word. You know, I think many of us don’t know what we should know about the Christian faith because we don’t sit at Jesus’ feet. We don’t study His Word and let Him teach us. We don’t slow down enough to let His Spirit guide us into all truth. As a result we are what Paul refers to as “spiritual infants” - “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching...and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14)

Matthew’s account tells us that Jesus said something else about Mary’s action. He said, “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.” And it HAS been told. Even today we remember and are inspired by Mary’s sacrifice. And - speaking of that, I can’t help but compare Mary’s ACTION to Judas’ REACTION. I mean for thousands of years parents have thought of this woman an other Godly women who had the same name and named their daughters “Mary,” but no parent would call a son “Judas.” His very name is listed in the dictionary as a synonym for treachery and greed. I think these two are seen in contrast in Proverbs 10:7 where it says, “The memory of the just is blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot.” Ecclesiastes 7:1 says, “A good name is better than precious ointment” and Mary had both. Well, let me ask: Who are you like? Mary or Lazarus? Do you yearn to give sacrificially because of Jesus....or do you tend to criticize that kind of extravagance?

The point I want to emphasize is that SACRIFICES given in Jesus’ name are powerful. We are inspired - we are moved to deeper commitment...whenever we read testimonies of Christ-followers who obey Romans 12:1 and, “ view of God’s mercy, offer their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” Who can tell how many Christians down through the centuries have been inspired by Mary’s action to sacrifice for Jesus?

In fact, when I think of Mary - I think of people like Amy Carmichael...who as a young Irishwoman working in England in the late 1800’s decided to answer God’s call to the mission field. Twice rejected for medical reason, she eventually found a mission agency willing to put her on a ship and send her to India. She arrived with a tropical fever and a temperature of 105. Some missionaries who met her believed she wouldn’t last six months. But Amy recovered and never went home. The young missionary soon discovered that the way to reach the Indian people was not through preaching but through sacrifice. She wrote, “If the ultimate, the hardest, cannot be asked of me, if my fellows hesitate to ask it and turn to someone else, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” So she reached out to the poorest, youngest, and most despised among them, especially the babies and children given to the Hindu temples who were forced to serve as slaves....and were tortured if they were caught trying to escape. She said, “There were days when the sky turned black for me because of what I heard and knew was true. Sometimes it was as if I saw the Lord Jesus Christ kneeling alone, as He knelt long ago under the olive trees. And the only thing that one who cared could do was to go softly and kneel down beside Him, so that He would not be alone in His sorrow over the little children.”

Amy not only felt sorrow for the children, but she was spurred to action. She rescued them, built a home, and recruited a staff to care for them. The ministry became known as Dohnavur Fellowship, and the children called its headmistress, “Amma” - the Tamil word for “mother.”

To those who profited from the enslavement practices, she was known as, “the white woman who steals children.” Amy Carmichael’s mission trip ended 55 years later, when she died at the age of 83. During that time she rescued over 1,000 abused, abandoned, and enslaved children. And though her stories, prayers, and devotions filled 35 books back in Britain, not once did she return to hear the praises of her friends and supporters. To Amy anything that called attention to herself stole attention from the God she served. In fact, in 1919, her name was published in a British honors list. When she found out about I, she wrote back to England asking to have her name removed. It troubled her to “...have an experience so different from His Who was despised and rejected - not kindly honored.” Ironically, the woman who wanted no honor other than that of being Christ’s servant became famous nonetheless, as tens of thousands of readers in Britain and America were moved by her writings. Her example of sacrificial love has encouraged countless numbers of Christians to follow her to the mission field. That’s the power of sacrifice. It moves us. It challenges us to costly commitment. It makes us believe that with Jesus’ help we can make a difference.


Mary gave her most valued possession. Yours might be different. It may be a comfortable home, a successful self-image, a bank account, a pension, a family, or a dozen other things. But whatever it is, the question holds. Could you...would you..give it for Jesus? Is there a way you could employ it to serve Him or just to show your love for Him? Would you POUR out your life for Jesus? As Mary did?

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