Mary Anoints Jesus: John 12:1-8 Youth Bible Lesson on Gifts of Great Value

Our youth ministry Bible lesson on John 12:1-8 is a perfect way to teach your youth group about the gifts of great value. This fun and engaging lesson will help kids learn more about Mary anointing Jesus with costly perfume, and why it was such an important act. They’ll also discuss what this passage teaches us about giving and receiving gifts. With our helpful discussion questions and activities, your youth group will gain a better understanding of this Bible passage and its impact on their lives.

Gifts of Great Value… Youth Group Discussion and Bible Lesson on John 12:1-8

Youth Ministry Focus: This lesson focuses on the importance of Jesus as a priceless and valuable treasure. Knowing what He did and does for us in His death and resurrection, we should want to offer ourselves to Him with our time, talents, and devotion. At the same time, Jesus loves us and thinks that we are worthy of His ultimate sacrifice: death for our sins. Teens will review what it means to consider something valuable and will discuss how to make Jesus the most valuable thing in life.

Bible Passage: John 12:1-8

Target Audience: Middle school and high school students

Materials Needed: Pictures of expensive items, perfume or scented oils, cotton balls, Bibles

Note for Teachers: For further Bible study, compare the Biblical references to holy anointing oil. If working with middle school students or preteens, compare this kids Sunday School lesson on John 12:1-8.

Youth Group Games to Introduce the Lesson

Lesson Opening: To encourage conversation and kick off the lesson, consider some ice-breaker style game activities or illustrations. Depending on audience and timing, you might choose one of the following:

  • Perfume Sniff Test: what’s that smell? Soak several cotton balls in fragrant liquids such as perfume, vanilla, or lemon juice. Have students smell the cotton balls to try discerning what the aroma is. You may even think about adding a little fun perfume history trivia. People have used scented oils throughout history, in ancient times for various reasons (including embalming and covering the stench of unwashed body odor!). These days, perfumes can be outrageously expensive, depending on what they are made out of.
  • Anointing Accounts: Anointing takes place several times in the Bible. Usually it was meant to signal a new king or show signs of protection. In this case, Jesus is anointed for burial. Look at other Scripture references to anointing. A few include 1 Samuel 16:13, Psalm 89:20, Mark 6:13, and Exodus 30:22-33.
  • Valuable items debate: Display items or pictures of items at various costs. Have students guess how much items are worth. Invite them to think about what they would buy if suddenly equipped with great wealth. What do people value most? If time allows, discuss some possessions or priorities of extremely wealthy people.
  • “Everything’s Alright”… if appropriate, have students watch or listen to this scene acted out in the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”, as told by the song “Everything’s Alright.” Disclaimer: in the play, the song portrays Mary Magdalene as the oil pourer. Wrong Mary, but still a fun dramatization!

Transition into the Scripture study component and discuss how Jesus is a treasure of immense value. In this story, we will see someone give Him a costly gift. It might have seemed wasteful to those around her, but Jesus knew it was special.

Ask: What is the most expensive or meaningful gift that you have given someone?

When it comes to giving gifts, it’s often said that it’s the thought that counts. But what about when the gift is of great value? In Mary Anoints Jesus: John 12:1-8, we see an example of a gift given with great love and thoughtfulness.

In this lesson, we’ll explore what it means to give a gift of great value. We’ll also learn about the cost of discipleship and how Jesus’ death and resurrection offer us the ultimate gift of salvation.

This lesson is perfect for youth groups who are looking to deepen their understanding of the meaning of Easter. It’s also a great opportunity to discuss the importance of thoughtful giving.

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Mary Anoints Jesus: Youth Ministry Lesson on John 12:1-8

This story is found in all four Gospels, and there is some debate over whether all accounts point to the same event, or some are slightly different. For the purposes of this lesson, the focus will be on the actions of Mary (sister of Lazarus and Martha) at Bethany. This took place, most likely, directly before the events of Holy Week. This story is one that can be acted out with individual roles or experienced together by trying some of the motions or actions as verses are read. It is relatively short but includes poignant elements.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. -John 12:1-2

Set up or remind students of context here. Lazarus was the man that Jesus brought back to life. His sisters were Mary and Martha. If you have discussed this story previously (Lazarus or the Martha/Mary dynamics), it might be worth pointing out that there are similar trends here. Once again, Martha is busy serving. Mary is going to do something else!

Ask: What do you have to do when guests come over to your house? Are there responsibilities your have to help parents get ready for visitors?

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. -John 12:3

What in the world is happening here? Explain a bit: Mary poured a pound of expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus. Most of us, if using perfume, would definitely not pour it on someone’s feet! There is something significant going on in this act, though. For one thing, Mary was demonstrating how important Jesus was to her. She was also, in a way, anointing Him, preparing Him for something incredible (kingship and, ultimately, death). However, not everyone was happy about this…

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.  -John 12:4-6

Mary was immediately criticized for what she did. The jar of perfume was worth almost a year’s wages, and she poured it right on the feet of Jesus! Judas was angry and accused her of being wasteful…although really he would rather have kept the money for himself! Mary knew that nothing was too good for her Lord. She might not have understood it at the time, but her actions were readying Him to sacrifice Himself.

Ask: What would you describe as a waste of money or resources? Do you think some people consider it wasteful to give to the church? Do your parents encourage you to tithe?

Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”  -John 12:7-8

Jesus defended Mary. He rebuked those who were angry with her, emphasizing that she had truly cherished Him. You see, Jesus loves it when we bring gifts to Him. Of course, we don’t have to do this. He doesn’t need us as some sort of ego boost or support system. But He loves us! He wants us to be near Him just because He values us. Whatever we have to offer, He will cherish and use in remarkable ways. We need to recognize and appreciate how amazing Jesus is, and honor Him with our whole lives!

Follow-Up Suggestions for Teenagers

  • Encourage teens to contemplate their own lives and make a list of the gifts that God has given them. How can they use God-given talents and gifts to honor the Lord?
  • Discuss what things are most valuable to students. What do they tend to spend the most time, money, or energy on? Talk about how we can all work to make Jesus the most important part of life.  

Pray: Say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for His gift of Jesus. Ask for help to honor Christ and to serve Him with our gifts and lives.

Bible Story in the NLT: Mary Anoints Jesus at Bethany

John 12:1-8 NLT  Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead.  (2)  A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him.  (3)  Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.  (4)  But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said,  (5)  “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.”  (6)  Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.  (7)  Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.  (8)  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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