Lifeway Explore the Bible: John 12:1-11, “Why Wasn’t This Sold?”

(A brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders, of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of John 12:1-11, for Sunday, March 5, 2023 with the title: “Why Wasn’t This Sold?”

A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:

There are a couple of ways you could introduce this week’s lesson, depending on what fits best for your particular class:

— ONE way is by mentioning the revival that’s been going on at Asbury KY — it’s been in the news and on Twitter and Facebook, so a lot of people will be familiar with it — and also with some of the criticism that has been made about it. 

Some leaders have said that it is not a genuine revival since it does not focus on preaching, but is rather mostly just worship and prayer; or they aren’t playing the right kind of music in their services, etc.

Then you could say: today we are going to look at John 12, and another instance of how someone’s gift/service to God was criticized.

— OR you could begin by looking at this quote from Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (the father of President Teddy Roosevelt). Maybe start class with this on the board:

“I always believe in showing affection by DOING what will please the one we love, not by TALKING.” (David McCullough, Mornings on Horseback, p. 31).   Then ask your group:

??? What do you think about that quote???

(I think I know what he means: that showing love with actions is important — but I might conclude that BOTH are actually good; that both doing and talking can be different expressions of love.)

Then you could say: today we are going to look at a couple of different ways of showing love to the LORD, from John Chapter 12. 


In John 1-11 we studied the first part of Jesus’ ministry on earth, built around the 7 miracles or signs, and the 7 “I AM” statements.

Now we come to John 12, which focuses on the last days of Jesus on earth: His death, resurrection, and last appearances and instructions to His disciples. Last week we looked at the resurrection of Lazarus, perhaps Jesus’ greatest miracle on earth — but it also set the Pharisees on a determined course to kill Him: 11:50 Caiaphas the high priest said it was expedient for one man to die for the people. So everything now points to the cross — which of course was God’s ultimate plan.

We start this week’s lesson in John 12, where Jesus comes again to Bethany, and dines with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

(You could potentially spend a lot of time talking about: is this the SAME event as the one in Luke 7, or is this in the family’s house or at Simon’s; I personally wouldn’t focus on those details as much as I would the spiritual lessons that are involved here, how we show our love to the Lord, and so on.)


I.    Different Love Gifts to the Lord :1-3

II.   Criticism of the Love Gifts  :4-8

III.  Identifying With Jesus  :9-11

I. The Differing Gifts

I might read :2-3 (or have someone read them) and ask: 

??? What ways of showing love to Jesus do you see in these verses???

(:2 “Martha was serving” This is what Martha DOES, isn’t it! Luke 10:38-42 is the familiar story where Martha is busy about all the preparations for the meal, and Mary just sits at Jesus’ feet. (You might be ready to read this story.)  Serving is what Martha does! We might put it, “Martha was being Martha!”

Is that a bad thing??? Not necessarily. We should use our gifts to serve the Lord. Her gift was obviously service. There are other ways to worship/serve Jesus, as we shall see. But Martha was using hers here.  (Also IF this was not Mary & Martha’s home, but Simon’s, it says something that Martha was serving, even though it wasn’t HER home! Serving was her “love language.”

You might even look at :2, where it says that “Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with (Jesus).” In those days, they did’t sit in chairs around at a dining table like we do, but they reclined on their sides to eat. That is what Lazarus was doing: he was reclining to eat with Jesus. Is this a way of showing love too? Spending quality time eating with someone? I think it is!

Then :3 Mary took the costly perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped it with her hair. This is a very remarkable way to show love for Jesus; more “exotic” than Martha’s or Lazarus’, and very touching.

— It was a very costly sacrifice: Judas said 300 denarii (a year’s wages, as we shall see)

— Using her hair to dry it was a violation of “common social mores”

But as we see in :7, Jesus said “Leave her alone.” He accepted the gift she gave Him.

So ONE thing I would point out from this passage, is the contrasting ways the family showed their loved to Jesus:

— one by the way she served

— one with the time/fellowship he shared

— another by the way she gave

So there are a number of different ways of showing love.

If you didn’t use the Theodore Roosevelt Sr. quote in the introduction, you could use it in this section: “I always believe in showing affection by DOING what will please the one we love, not by TALKING.” (David McCullough, Mornings on Horseback, p. 31)

(Discussion could include how, yes, “doing” can show love — but WORDS can show love as well. It’s not necessarily either/or.  The Lord doesn’t want JUST our words if they are not from the heart, or are not backed up by deeds. But surely our words CAN show Him love!

??? What are some ways we can show the Lord love by our words???

(Saying “I love you Lord.” SINGING “I Love you Lord”! Praise Psalms. Thanksgiving, etc. There are a LOT of Biblical ways to show Him love by our words. Just make sure they’re backed up by our heart, and our actions.)

You could mention author Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages.” In the book, Chapman suggests 5 different means of showing love: 1) spending quality time, 2) giving gifts, 3) through physical touch, 4) acts of service, and 5) words of affirmation. Chapman says that if you care for someone, you should try to see which of these conveys love best to them. 

In light of that, you could talk about: 

??? What is YOUR favorite way(s) of showing love to people??? or the best way to demonstrate love to someone you know. 

It can be helpful to know what YOUR love language is; and also especially what the people you want to show LOVE to, love language is.  YOU might want to show love one way, but it would be more effective to show it the way they are more receptive to. 

(Cheryl has a theory that we ALL need ALL of them, but we tend to think we need most the one we are not getting as much …)

But the point I would make is: just as there are different ways of showing our love to people; there are some different ways to show our love for GOD as well. We see them in today’s passage in John 12, as Jesus has dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

One question I might ask in this section is:

??? How do you think that YOU personally best show your love to God??? 

(To me, in my daily worship time: singing, Psalms. By being excited to praise Him with his word. By obeying Him in hard things.  You/your group can share how YOU do ….)

We have a lady in our church (Deb Peterson) who said that she told the Lord: when I retire, I want to spend my full time serving You. And she DOES! She is like having another full-time staff member in the church. And she does it just for love for the Lord. I think she is definitely a “Martha” in a good way; of showing her love for God in her service.)

But we can see here in John 12, there is more than one way to express our love for the Lord. The important thing is that we DO show it! Love WILL express itself; we need to make sure we express our love to the Lord.  

II.  Criticism of the Gift

:4 begins “BUT …”. Reading the story, you might think, “Oh how nice; what a great gift from Mary” “BUT,” it says! BUT! There is always somebody who doesn’t like how someone else is serving Jesus.

Judas said in :5 this was a waste; it could have been sold for “three hundred denarii” and given to the poor.

A “denarius” was about one day’s wage for a common working man. In Matthew 20:2, in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, the landowner agrees with the laborers for a denarius for the day. So 300 denarii was pretty much a YEAR’S WAGES for a working person! Mary poured out a YEAR’S SALARY on Jesus in this act! It was indeed extravagant. 

Someone has well said: “No good deed will go unpunished.”

It does often seem that no matter what good thing you try to do, someone will criticize it. We see that here in John 12.

You might share about some similar criticisms of one’s love or service for the Lord: 

— If you didn’t talk about the Asbury Revival in KY the past couple of weeks, you might do it here. One article I read indicated that many of the students were hurt by the criticism many leveled on the “revival,” because it wasn’t going the way these critics thought it should. 

— +x David & Michal in II Samuel 6 in the OT. David was dancing with all his might before the Lord, as the Ark of the Covenant was coming back to Jerusalem. And David’s wife Michal criticized David: “How the King distinguished himself today.” David was worshiping God with all his heart – but she criticized it. 

??? WHY do you think people might criticize the gifts/worship of others???

(Probably several possible motivations:

— :6 “Now he said this, NOT because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.”

One point I plan to make: sometimes in movie portrayals of the gospel, they’ll paint Judas as someone who really had a good heart and loved Jesus, but was trying to “force his hand” by giving Him over to the Jews. But this passage shows us otherwise: Judas did NOT have a good heart; he was a thief. He did NOT have a good motivation.

But Judas offers us some application here: OFTEN TIMES when there is criticism of someone else’s worship, or ministry, there is something else behind it:

— a personal sin, like Judas had here. 

— a personal dislike/affront: they just don’t like the person; or they had done something to offend them.

But also: does everyone who ever criticizes a ministry always have a bad motivation???  (Not necessarily. I think sometimes there can be a genuine concern: Is this Biblical?? Surely there is a legitimate place to question if something is Biblical or not, or if it is the wisest course or not — if it is done from a good conscience and a pure motivation.)

There are a LOT of points of application here for churches today; you apply this passage as God leads you. But I think one of the lessons here is: be careful about criticizing other people’s worship or ministry. 

Paul wrote in Romans 14:4 “Who are you to judge the servant of another?” GOD is the One who will judge everything that is said or done. And HE knows HEARTS, motives, etc, which we CAN’T. So we’d best leave that to Him. Don’t judge the servant of another. 

But JESUS affirmed her worship: :7 “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.”

And He added in :8, “You always have the poor with you.”

??? What do you think He meant by that???

(You can ALWAYS give something to the poor, but you can’t always minister to Me personally like this.

ALSO: there might be an element of: You can always criticize EVERY gift, and say “Shouldn’t you have done something else with it?” You can always second-guess, and it can keep you from doing ANYTHING!

??? IS there a legitimate place to talk about STEWARDSHIP in regard to what we do with our gifts/money??? I think so. Would it be better to spend $10,000 on a stained glass window, or send a missionary to a foreign country for 6 months with that same money?  I think there IS a place to wrestle with these decisions, IF we are doing it with pure motives.

But this passage also shows us that there is a place to give an extravagant gift for Jesus, and that He loves it when we do. 

As always, the HEART is the key: was the heart of the GIVER right? Was the heart of JUDAS right? Obviously here in John 12, Mary’s heart was right, and Judas’ was NOT. Whatever position we take, we need to make sure our heart is right with God in it.  

III. Identifying With Jesus

:9 = “they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead.”

When God does something in our life, people will want to see it. And it will influence them when we do.

But we see TWO DIFFERENT RESPONSES to Lazarus here:

— :10 “the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also”

— :11 “because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.”

If we follow Jesus, there will always be some who believe, and some who oppose us. It has always been that way, and always will be that way.  We see all through John: “there arose again a division among them because of Him.” 

But we must not be afraid of identifying with Jesus.  

??? You might ask your group here: “Lazarus was identified with Jesus; What are some ways that WE can identify with Jesus TODAY?”

(— We identify with Him in BAPTISM & confession of our faith

— By sharing OUR testimony with others, like we talked about a couple of weeks ago

— By witnessing to others. 

— By the way we live our life.

You/your group can share others)

??? You might also ask your group: “Have you/someone you know, ever been reacted to negatively, like Lazarus was, because you identified with Jesus?”

(— I’ve had a door slammed in my face; had people criticize me in the paper when I wrote that Jesus was the only way to God; had some threatening moments in India on some mission trips … not much in all compared to the NT apostles, and what others are suffering worldwide.
You/your group can share any experiences you may have had.)

But the point is, we need to be ready to suffer negative consequences for the Lord. 

This passage shows us we need to ready to show Jesus our love the best ways we can; we should avoid criticizing others for the way they show Him their love; and we should be ready to suffer for identifying with Him, if we need to.

— If you’ll put your email in the “Subscribe” box on the home page here on blog, Word Press will automatically send you next week’s lesson and you won’t have to search for it.

— And if you write something in the Comments below, I’ll be sure to pray for your and your group by name this week.

Per my licensing agreement with Lifeway:

– These weekly lessons are based on content from Explore the Bible Adult Resources. The presentation is my own and has not been reviewed by Lifeway.

– Lifeway resources are available at:  and:

– If you have questions about Explore the Bible resources you may send emails to

About Shawn Thomas

My blog,, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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19 Responses to Lifeway Explore the Bible: John 12:1-11, “Why Wasn’t This Sold?”

  1. youngblt says:

    Thank you for this lesson, is it ok for me to use some of this information for my Sunday School Class?

  2. bella20016 says:

    I don’t see a box where you can subscribe to get the lesson.

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      Sorry for the difficulty! If you look at the page on my blog, under my picture on the top right, there is a blank where you can type in terms to search for in my articles. Underneath that is a section in bold print that says: “Follow blog via email.” Underneath that is another blank. If you will put your email in that blank and click the “Follow” button, you will automatically be sent next week’s lesson to your email. I hope that helps! I will be praying for you this weekend!

  3. Leslie Booth says:

    I am SO thrilled to have found this and thank you for your insights and helps for teaching my adult ladies class!

  4. Ben Johnston says:

    Thank you for your overviews and insights. These overviews have been very helpful to me in preparing my lessons for teaching the adult mens class. We are currently without a pastor at Northside Baptist Church in Texas City. Please pray for our pastor search committee that they would be united in their selection. Also pray for our church body to be united and stand together and that our church would select the right man, God’s man, one who walks with Him. Thank you so very much. God Bless you and your ministry.

  5. Jerry Hughes says:

    this Sunday I have been ask to stand in for my Sunday School Teacher. Thanks, thanks Very helpful

  6. Jerry Johnson says:

    Thank you so much! I had been studying for several days and was really getting “lost in the weeds” trying to resolve all of the differences between this passage and Luke 7. I was getting so involved with studying, I was missing the point of the lesson. When I read your commentary, it gave me a whole fresh perspective. It helped me focus on the spiritual message of the lesson- focusing on making our worship of Jesus real and genuine. Thank you for your help. I’m now really excited about teaching Sunday!
    Jerry Johnson

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      I’m so thankful, Jerry, thank you for letting me know that it was helpful to you. I do want teachers to be excited about teaching! I am praying for you and your group this morning!

  7. Loretta Ann Billingsley says:

    This Sunday I teach my Sunday School class of Adults of Men and Women. Love the insights and views that you bring out. I’m always going through your views on lessons when I teach. I’ve had people thank me for such a wonderful lesson. So Thank you for your assistance.
    Loretta Billingsley

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      I am so glad to hear that good report, Loretta. Thank you so much for sharing that with me. And know that I am praying for you and your group this morning — I pray that you will have another wonderful lesson time!

  8. Linda Howard says:

    Loved going deeper into the lesson via your “overview”.

  9. Lance Howell says:

    Looking forward to more lessons

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