August 3, 2014
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and he stopped at a tiny town called Bethany which was less than two miles from there. Remember, He and the disciples had no place to lay their heads so they depended on the hospitality of others. This particular family of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, […]
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and he stopped at a tiny town called Bethany which was less than two miles from there. Remember, He and the disciples had no place to lay their heads so they depended on the hospitality of others. This particular family of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were very dear to Him. We know from John 11:5 that He loved this family, so he stopped by often. Visits from the Lord are tokens of his love as we’re told in John 14:23. It was an expensive venture to entertain the Lord Jesus because where He went, His disciples went. But that didn’t matter to this family. First of all, Lazarus was quite well to do, and well known in the Jewish community, John 11:19, but more importantly, they knew that time cannot be better spent than in the service of Christ. And they also knew that at this particular time, it was a very dangerous thing to be associated with Him, being so close to Jerusalem where He had many enemies. Yet they were not ashamed to be seen with Him and attending to Him. Though there were many that rejected Him and would never even think of entertaining Him, here was one family that would welcome Him. Look around us today. Even though Christ is spoken against everywhere you look, yet there is a remnant to whom He is dear, and who are dear to Him. What a blessing for us to be part of that remnant!
I think it’s important to understand that this was a comparison between Mary and Martha, not a contrast; a comparison between the choice that was good but not the best, and the choice that was “the good one.” The Pulpit Commentary notes that it wasn’t a contrast between the absolutely bad and the positively good; it was a comparison between the good that was insufficient and the good that sufficed. You see, there are those who choose the positively bad and live an ungodly life which Christ condemns. But here, He is condemning an entirely different matter; the pursuit of those things which are good only up to a certain point and beyond that are powerless. Christ was comparing a woman who was absorbed with doing a good thing, but a thing that was inferior to what her sister was doing. In other words, there are many good things a person may be doing, but they do not constitute “The good thing,” and therefore they will eventually disappear and disappoint because they are not the Bread of Life and the Water of Life. They don’t satisfy and they don’t last. The point being that there is one thing so surpassingly excellent, that Christ calls it “The one good thing,” the thing that “shall not be taken away.” To Mary, this was the divine truth as it came to her in the Person and Words of the Lord Jesus Christ. We also, may receive the divine truth as we receive it in our hearts and abide in Him. This is the way we gain forgiveness, friendship, purity, usefulness and a hope in which we will not be ashamed. This, brothers and sisters, is the good thing, the precious and invaluable thing which can never be lost. There is no power on earth which can touch it or harm it. Disease will not waste it, fire will not consume it, force will not crush it, fraud will not steal it, time will not render it useless, death will not destroy it, and the grave will not hold it! All earthly good things will be washed away by the incoming tide; but no wave will reach this good thing even in the mightiest storm! This is the thing to choose. We can all choose it because God is opening His hand to offer it. The choice is ours to make.
Pay attention to the series of events here and the attention that Mary gave to the Words of Christ. Evidently, as soon as He entered the house, even before any preparations were made for Him and His disciples, he started preaching the gospel. Not knowing when she’d ever have an opportunity like this again, Mary sat at the Lord’s feet as He spoke, which shows the close attention that she was giving to His Word, just like scholars sat at the feet of their teachers. Paul was said to be brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. By sitting at Christ’s feet, Mary was resolved to abide in His Word. Her mind was composed and she was determined to soak up every single Word; not just catch a word now and then like Martha would while making preparations in the kitchen. But by sitting at His feet, she shows a readiness to receive His Word, and a submission to be guided by it. Think about this for a moment; if we sit at His feet now, soon we will sit with Him on His throne.
Notice now, what Martha was doing. She was taking care of the domestic affairs, providing for the entertainment of Christ and His disciples. Remember, this was a well-to-do family, yet to her credit, Martha didn’t see it as beneath herself to serve 13 homeless people that were on a mission. Evidently, this was Martha’s specialty and she excelled in it. Her heart was in it and there’s nothing wrong with that, except when the Maker of your heart is right before your eyes. Martha was into organizing grandiose entertainment in great quantities and great quality, done in great exactness. Do you know anyone like that? Someone who is a master host or hostess and makes it a big production every single time. These people are given the gift of serving and that’s a wonderful gift to have. I know a man who loves to do that in his church. He’ll be the first one in, setting everything up, and the last to leave, cleaning everything up. The only problem is that quite often, he misses the Word of God in the process, rarely taking the time to sit at the feet of Christ and be fed the Word of God.
The point here is that it doesn’t become a disciple of Christ to be enamored with these things. Martha was distracted by it. Whatever situations that our Sovereign God puts upon us; we must not become encumbered by them. To take proper responsibility for them is good, but to be completely engulfed by them is sin and foolishness. Martha heard the clang of the dishes but missed the voice of God! Now, what Martha was doing was important, let’s not undermine that. The work won’t get done by itself. But our Lord Jesus values affection over service. Service, although necessary and important, may sometimes be tainted with pride and self-importance. Spending time at the feet of Christ is the most important thing of all, “the good part which will not be taken away,” as the Lord went on to say. Charles Erdman writes: “While the Master does appreciate all that we undertake for Him, He knows that our first need is to sit at His feet and learn His will; thenin our chores, we’ll be calm, peaceful, and kind, and our service will at last, attain the perfect state of that of Mary’s, when she poured the ointment upon Jesus’ feet, the perfume that still fills the world.”
Before you’re too tough on Martha, I just want to ask you a question. Picture this: You’re in your home and 13 people come to visit unexpectedly. You know these people and you want to be hospitable to them. But it’s just you and that big ole’ kitchen. Your sister is in the house, but not in the kitchen with you. Your thoughts are what? That’s what I figured. Here’s the problem: Worldly business becomes a snare to us when it hinders us from serving God and getting nourished by His Word. Here comes the complaint that Martha launched against her sister Mary for not helping her attend to business. The Greek words used here may be translated, “but suddenly coming up.” Out of nowhere Martha bursts forward and we see what may have been an outburst in jealousy from this loving busy matron of the household. “Why is Mary doing nothing? Lord, don’t You care that my sister left me alone to do all these chores? Tell her to help me.” Martha’s concern for worldly activities actually led her, like many today, to belittle time spent in worshipping God when it’s at the expense of time spent in physically accomplishing tasks. These people justify themselves in their worldliness and judge others by how little time they attend to physical tasks. They are ready to condemn those that spend the majority of their time in the pursuit of God as if they neglected the important stuff, the only stuff that matters in their opinion. While Martha is about her business of caring, she must have Mary and Christ and everyone else caring too, or she will let it be known in no uncertain terms that she’s upset about it! It’s worthy to take note that those who do the most complaining are quite often in the wrong. We must therefore be careful when we think that Christ should be backing us up on any of our unjust and groundless quarrels. The cares which He casts upon us, we may cheerfully cast upon Him, but not those which we are responsible for ourselves. He is the patron of the poor and injured, but not of the loud and trouble-makers.
Note Christ’s answer to Martha. She appealed to Him and He gives judgment against her. “Martha, Martha…” There are several instances in the Bible of the Lord Jesus repeating a nameand in each case it seems to be accompanied by a sort of pitying love: “Simon, Simon….Saul, Saul…., and now Martha, Martha. “You are troubled and worried about many things but only one thing is necessary.” He corrected her even though He was a guest in her house. Her fault was her over-zealous demeanor to entertain Him and she expected Jesus to justify her attitude in it, yet He publicly corrected her instead. We must understand this, as many as Christ loves, He rebukes and chastens. Even those that are dear to Him, if anything is out of line in them, they will be sure to hear about it. “Nevertheless I have something against thee.” Martha was deeply entangled in the worries of life and those that are entangled to such a degree are not easily untangled. These are the ones that we must call out to again and again. The Lord wasn’t pleased that her desire was to wait upon Him with such a broad array of delicacies and entertainment. He wasn’t there to be entertained. He wanted her undivided attention because He was the one who was going to do the feeding. It would come from every Word out of the mouth of God. “Just put down any old food Martha and that’ll be fine because I now give you food to sustain you eternally. This is the only chance you’ll get to have such a meal Martha, don’t miss it now just to put out a display of hors d’oeuvres!”
If we’re honest with ourselves, we all probably have a bit of Martha in us; some a lot more than others. It’s not uncommon even for believers to be troubled about many things in this world. And that is very disturbing to Christ. The one thing that is absolutely necessary is found where Mary made her choice – sitting at Christ’s feet to hear His Word. Many things troubled Martha and that didn’t have to be the case. All she needed to do was to apply herself to just one thing. The world has divided the human heart but Christ gives us a new one! The work and chores we have in everyday life are good in their proper season; but now Martha had something much more important to do and therefore it needed to be done first and foremost. She actually expected the Lord Jesus to blame Mary for not doing as she did, but He blamed her for not doing as Mary did! The day will soon come when Martha will wish that she sat where Mary did! Christ tells her, “Mary has chosen what is good.”
Notice that Mary said nothing in her defense. Martha already brought the matter up to the Master and to Him she will defer and abide by His ruling. She made the right choice and gave herself up to the guidance of Christ, and He justified Mary against her sister’s complaints. She chose to be with Christ and to take her part with Him; she chose the better way of honoring Him and pleasing Him, by receiving His Word into her heart. Those who make this good choice will not only have what they chose, but will have their choice commended on that great day. Remember that no matter how often we’re condemned by men for our relationship with the Lord, He will uphold our cause. We will do well to remember that today and not condemn the zeal anyone displays for their Lord, lest we set Christ against us, and let us never be discouraged if we ourselves are silenced for it, because we have Christ for us.
Martha allowed herself to get distracted by her chores. And the irony of this serves as warning for all of us. How easy it is to be so busy serving Jesus that we have no time to spend with Jesus! We could be out doing His work every single day but never sitting at His feet to listen to what He has to say. You see, this is all about priorities. Spending time with Jesus takes priority even over loving service. And the warning is clear, unless we give our relationship with Christ priority; the loving service we now provide may turn us into nothing more than practitioners of sterile religion. It’s almost as if Jesus were saying to her, “The feast that you’re preparing is good in its way. Your intentions are kind. But this day salvation has come to your house. There’s no need of all these dishes, all this cooking and preparing. One dish would have been fine! But there is need of your acceptance of the gift of God. If you knew that gift and who it is that speaks to you, you would feel that the one thing needed is to ask life from Him, to learn what life is from Him, and to receive the gift of eternal life.”
This story is one of the shortest yet most interesting in the entire Bible because we all tend to relate to either Martha or Mary’s situation. Please don’t make the mistake of only seeing Martha as an example of the worldy view. It was Martha who received Jesus and His disciples into the house and it was Martha who provided for His comfort. If she’s hustling and busy, it’s because this is the sign of her devotion to Him. And nowhere does Jesus say, that in her anxiety about many things, she’s lost the one thing needed, and that she had no share in the good thing which could not be taken away. He would have said nothing at all if she hadn’t lashed out at Mary. He is defending Mary against the temporary attack of Martha, and in doing so, he cautions Martha against the dangers of her many activities. Jesus loved both Martha and Mary, so we must understand that each has a purpose in the communion of the saints and we can see what this purpose is and where each is fulfilled in the other. Martha represents the believer who will take any amount of pains to serve and is eager to do so. All honor given to those who have the readiness to serve. Such people have a lot of self-denial. You’ll find them working away even when there might be many excuses for resting. We should thank God for those workers of the Lord. Because of them, the quiet and thoughtful are able to think and write. Your Mary’s could not sit at Jesus’ feet unless the Martha’s were going about the house.
But the Mary’s have their place too. Busy people tend to underrate them. These busy people tend to exhibit something of Martha’s impatience, “We’re left to do everything and these dreamers don’t help!” But it is Mary who sees into the truth of Jesus’ sacrifice. While Martha is making a feast, Mary perceives that the hour has come and gets the alabaster box of ointment which she has kept for this hour. Jesus said, “What she has done will be spoken of as a memorial to her until the end of days.” Martha is the worker but Mary is the seer. So therefore, the conclusion is this: Let the Martha’s and the Mary’s abide together in peace in serving the Lord Jesus Christ. The world must have both. The Church of Christ must have both. Let each person determine which of the two sides is predominant in their gifting and to seek the balance provided by the other, that the two halves may be one whole. Whoever is more like Martha should cultivate the Mary in them that is missing. Unless she makes time to sit at Jesus feet once in a while, her serving will have no value. You see, it’s not enough to get everything right for the Lord; the most important thing is to be right with the Lord! The one who is more like Mary should understand that she must work as well as enjoy quiet time with the Lord Jesus. She must not eat and drink all the good stuff. The sitting at Jesus’ feet must be accompanied with the understanding of following in His footsteps. The true disciple is found when there is a balance between both. Let me give you perfect Biblical examples. From the Martha side, it was modeled by Paul, who labored more than any of the other apostles, yet all the while he also sat at Jesus’ feet. From the Mary side, it was modeled by the beloved John, who even though he spent time at Jesus’ bosom, was also named the Son of thunder. It all boils down to this: Love must first see as Mary did; then in a sweeter and more wholesome spirit, work as Martha did.
We don’t know for sure what happened to Martha in that kitchen, perhaps some pots fell on the floor, maybe something boiled over while she was busy with something else, and she came out of the kitchen and said something that she wouldn’t have under other circumstances. The Lord Jesus was gentle with her, all things considered. How many of us are Martha’s? Are you at that frustrated and confused point of your life where you don’t know which way to turn? Do yourself a favor and sit down at Jesus’ feet. Look in His Word and whatever it is that’s overwhelming you, housework, your job, relationships, whatever it is, He will help you in that matter. Just take time to sit at Jesus’ feet. Mary chose the best part. I hope and pray that you do the same.