If we had as much written about every week of the Savior's life as we do about the last week of His life, we’d fill the Library of Congress with just those books. So this week, the week before Easter, I'm going to recount what we know about each day.
Six days before Passover, on the day before the Triumphal entry (which is today), Jesus arrived in Bethany at the home of the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He often stayed with them and his great love for them was made evident when He raised Lazarus from the dead probably a couple months before this time. (See John 11:43.) When He arrived a supper was made for him, and as we know, Martha was chief caretaker at that event. It is easy to imagine her bustling around making sure everyone is comfortable and has enough to eat. She must have been the consummate hostess. But while Martha showed her love for the Savior by taking care of His physical needs, Mary expressed her love by taking a pound of ointment of spikenard, which we are told was “very costly” and anointed Jesus’ feet. The word spikenard in Hebrew is nard and means “light.” In Greek the word for spikenard means “pure and genuine.”
The amount of ointment is amazing. Think of a pound of butter. No wonder John tells us that the house was filled with the beautiful scent of the ointment. In a day when the stink of unwashed bodies, rotting food, waste, and debris constantly accosted people, the fact that this sweet scent filled the air must have been unforgettable. But instead of enjoying the aroma Judas Iscariot, was displeased. “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (John 8:5), he asked. A pence was a day’s wages for the common working man, which makes Judas’ concern understandable if one is only looking at the materiality of the event.
But the Savior responds, “Let her alone; against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (John 12:7-8). And Mark reports that he says,“For verily she has come beforehand to anoint my body to the burying. She has done what she could: and this which she has done unto me shall be had in remembrance in generations to come, wheresoever my gospel shall be preached; Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, what she hath done shall be spoken of also for a memorial of her” (JST Mark 14:8-9).
The Savior’s words indicate that Mary knew what was coming. She knows He is going to die and is anointing Him in preparation for that death, but besides the anointing we are told that Mary wiped his feet with her hair. The reverence, the awe, the love of that gesture sink deep into my heart. This is an event filled with significant symbolic meaning. In great reverence she anoints the Light of Life with spikenard (a symbol of light) and wipes the ointment onto His feet with her hair (anciently a symbol of life). In doing so, she is symbolically proclaiming that He will die, but His death will give light and life to you and me.
Word spread quickly that Jesus was in the area and large groups of people began to assemble. John tells us that they came not only to see Jesus but to see Lazarus, the man who had been dead and buried but raised from the tomb. Despite why they came, once they had seen Jesus many went away believing in Him, and marveling at the things He had done. This irritated the Chief Priests so much they counseled together how they might put both Jesus and Lazarus to death and thus end all this talk of miracles and messiahs.
As the Chief Priests went about their devious plotting, Jesus walked over the mountain into Bethphage and the Mount of Olives, and from there he sent two disciples into the nearby village to bring back an ass that no one had ever sat upon. He told them that as soon as they entered the village they would see the colt tied by a door. Jesus warned them that as they loosed the colt, they would be asked, “Why do ye this?” and they were to simply answer, “The Lord hath need of him.” Upon hearing this, the man would readily agree to send the colt with them.
The disciples did as Jesus commanded and everything happened exactly as He told them it would.
The interesting thing about this account is that Jesus knew exactly where the colt would be found and even the words that would be spoken. Looking back on this experience after the crucifixion, the disciples could not help but understand that this was part of the plan that would bring about His death. He knew, when He asked them to go for the colt, what lay ahead for Him.
But there is more to learn from this account. An ass had specific symbolism that is important here. Horses were used by soldiers for warfare, but asses and mules were gentler animals and thus symbols of royalty. While history often shows us kings who are selfish and proud, the intent has always been that a king should be someone who loves, protects, and cares for his people. Thus by His choice to ride an ass, Jesus proclaims to all who have eyes to see that He has come not as a warrior who will save them from Roman bondage, but as a King who will save them from the bondage of sin. And just as the colt had never been ridden before, this type of King had never been known before.