The Word Made Fresh

1Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2They hosted a dinner for him; Martha served, and Lazarus was at the table with him along with others. 3Mary had some expensive perfume made of pure nard. She put some on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the perfume’s fragrance. 4But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who was going to betray him, said, 5“Why couldn’t this perfume have been sold? It might bring a year’s wages, and the money could be given to the poor.” 6He kept their treasury and used to steal from it; he was a thief who didn’t really care about the poor.

7Jesus answered him, “Let her be. She bought the perfume for the day of my burial. 8The poor will always be with you, but you won’t always have me.”

9A large group of the Jews heard that Jesus was there and they came, not only to see Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the man he had raised from the dead. 10That was why the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus, too, 11because Lazarus was the reason so many Jews were turning away from them and believing in Jesus.

12The next day the huge crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13They gathered branches of palm trees and went out to meet him. They shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!”

14Jesus found a donkey’s colt and rode on it, for it had been written, 15“Daughter of Zion, don’t be afraid. See, your king is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt.”

16His disciples didn’t understand all of this at first, but when Jesus was exalted they remembered the things that had been written about him and the things that had been done to him.

17The people who had been with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead kept talking about it, 18and that was why such a crowd had gone to meet him. 19The Pharisees said to each other, “We can’t do anything; look how the whole world has gone after him!”

20There were some Greeks among the crowds that had come to worship at the festival. 21They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and told him, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22Philip told Andrew about them, and he and Andrew then went to Jesus and told him about the Greeks.

23Jesus said to them, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24I’m telling you the truth; unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will always be just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it will produce much fruit. 25Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will have life for eternity. 26Whoever is my servant must follow me so that wherever I am my servant will be there with me, and the Father will honor the one who serves me. 27But now my soul is troubled. Can I ask my Father to save me from what lies ahead? No, this is the reason I have come, and I pray, 28‘Father, glorify your name!’”

When he said this, a voice was heard coming from heaven, saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd of people around him heard the voice and said it must be thunder, but others exclaimed, “An angel said that to him!”

30But Jesus told them, “The voice said this to you, not to me. 31The time has come for this world’s judgment, and the ruler of this world will be forced out. 32As for me, I’m going to be lifted from the earth and everyone will be drawn to me.” 33He said this to indicate how he would be put to death.

34The crowd answered, “We are told in the law that the Messiah will live forever. What do you mean when you say the Son of Man will be lifted up?”

35Jesus said, “The light is with you for a little while longer, so walk in the light while you have it, and the darkness won’t overtake you. If you try to walk in the darkness, you won’t know where you’re going. 36Believe in the light while you have it, and you will become children of the light.” When he had said this he left there, and hid from them.

37Even though he had done so many miracles in their presence, they didn’t believe in him, 38and thus lived out the word given by Isaiah the prophet, who wrote, “Lord, who has believed us, and to whom has your might been revealed?” 39That is why they couldn’t believe, and also because Isaiah had said, 40“God has blinded them and hardened their hearts so that they can’t see with their eyes or understand with their hearts; if they could, I would heal them.” 41Isaiah had said this because he foresaw the glory of the Messiah. 42Still, a lot of the people believed in Jesus, including many of the authorities, but they didn’t say so publicly because of the Pharisees, and they were afraid they would be ejected from the synagogue. 43They wanted to be accepted by others more than they wanted to be accepted by God.

44Then Jesus called out loudly, “Whoever believes in me doesn’t believe in me, but rather in the One who sent me. 45And whoever sees me sees the One who sent me. 46I have come to bring light into the world so that those who believe in me don’t have to stay in darkness. 47I’m not here to judge anyone who hears my words and refuses to obey them. I didn’t come to judge the world. I came to save the world. 48Those who reject me and refuse to believe what I say have a judge. On the last day the word I have spoken will be their judge 49because I haven’t spoken on my own, but rather for the Father who sent me and has commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50I know that what the Father commands leads to life eternal. What I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”


1-8: You may want to compare this story with the one at Luke 7:36-49 where a similar event is reported. In Luke the incident takes place in the home of an unnamed Pharisee, the woman is not named, and Jesus makes no mention of her ointment being a burial spice. There is another similar story in Mark 14 which is said to have taken place in Bethany, but at the home of Simon the leper, not Lazarus. Despite these differences the three stories are remarkably similar. Here we are again at the home of Lazarus, and once again Martha is doing the serving. Mary anoints Jesus with pure nard, an aromatic spice derived from the spikenard plant. The main point of the story in this case is the reaction of Judas Iscariot who wonders aloud why Mary couldn’t have just given Jesus the nard so they could sell it to help the poor, with Judas taking a liberal share. Jesus says that the nard had been purchased for his burial.

9-11: People begin to show up in Bethany when the news gets out that Jesus is there, and the chief priests add Lazarus to their hit list.

12-19: When the news circulates that Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem a crowd of admirers gather to meet and greet him and hail him as the King of the Jews. All four gospels report this event, but in the others the disciples take on a more involved role and Jesus has prearranged for the donkey to be available. Here, however, the reception is entirely spontaneous, and the donkey seems to be grabbed on the spur of the moment. The Pharisees are more and more alarmed at his growing popularity.

20-26: The appearance of some Greeks (probably meaning Greeks who have been converted to Judaism) prompts Jesus to announce that his time has come; an announcement that I am certain brought mixed reactions from the crowd. Verse 24 is said to be the central verse of the gospel, and in that position represents the primary message John wants to convey — a message of death and resurrection.

27-36: Keep in mind that Jesus has a crowd around him through this whole chapter. When he speaks of his troubled soul and submits to God’s will there is a sound which most of the people think is thunder, perhaps in the distance. Some of them, however, think an angel has spoken. Jesus has never said openly that he is the Messiah. The crowd, however, is becoming more and more intent on knowing if he is the Messiah, and ask “Who is this Son of Man?” even though Jesus has not mentioned the Son of Man to them. Jesus continues to avoid their inquiries, and instead of responding directly, changes metaphors and tells them how important it is to follow the light. Before they can press him, he leaves and hides from them.

37-43: John now enters his own commentary on the events that have transpired to this point, quoting Isaiah 53:1 and paraphrasing Isaiah 6:10. John believes that there were leaders in Jerusalem who would have followed Jesus but for their fear of the Pharisees. The Pharisees apparently have the authority to exclude individuals from the synagogues.

44-50: John has Jesus giving an outline of his basic teaching about himself. These verses are spoken without context, probably because John intends them to be addressed to his readers. In a nutshell, Jesus says 1) believing in him is the same as believing in the one who sent him; 2) seeing him is the same as seeing the one who sent him; 3) he has come to give light to those who live in darkness; 4) he came to save, not to judge; 5) nevertheless, unbelievers will be judged on the basis of whether or not they believe in his word; 6) the word he speaks comes from the Father; and 7) the word the Father has told him to speak is the word of eternal life.


Most of us are very much like the crowd that thronged around Jesus in this chapter. We are fascinated by Jesus. We want to believe, and we do believe, but how can we be sure our belief is well-founded? Certainty comes with faithfulness. Live as if Christ is alive in you, and gradually Christ will indeed be a living presence in your life.