Grace For The Journey
In our passage today we will be looking at Luke recounting for us an incident from the year 29 A. D. Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, and they stop for a visit in the suburban town of Bethany, just 2 miles southeast of Jerusalem.
Some time back I read about why animal trainers carry a stool when they go into a cage of lions. Have you ever noticed this? Especially the traditional lion tamer, he has a whip and a pistol holstered at his side, but he also carries a stool when entering the lion cage and that stool is the most important tool to the lion tamer. He holds the stool by the back and thrusts the legs toward the face of the lion. What happens is that the lion tries to focus on all four legs at once. In the attempt to focus on all four legs, a kind of paralysis overwhelms the lion, and the lion becomes weak and disabled because its attention is divided and fragmented.
There is a real sense in which that happens to many people today. There are so many things thrust at us. Each day we face a number of choices, options, problems, and challenges. We have places to go and people to see, especially in our western world where we have all the modern conveniences of speed and technology to hurry us on from one appointment to the other. Our time is divided between these appointments. We rush from here to there, rushing off to work, rushing off to play, rushing kids and grandkids from one thing to another, rushing to the grocery store, rushing to the post office, and rushing to church. We may feel, at times, a bit like a lion staring at a four-legged stool that is spinning around in front of our faces, trying to focus in on one thing at a time, but being overwhelmed by what seems to be a thousand things vying for our attention.
This morning’s passage is a call to stop the madness and consider what is the most important thing to our existence. This passage we will study today is a prescription to save us from this unhealthy malady. Dr. Luke will help us administer something of a “self-examination” this morning. I want to walk back through this small paragraph and encourage you to take this self-examination with me.
First . . .
1) Examine Your Desire For Jesus – Verses 38-39.
In these verses we read here about two sisters, Mary and Martha. The Bible tells us they lived together in Bethany along with their brother, Lazarus. You will remember Lazarus as the one Jesus Christ raised from the dead. Jesus went to the tomb where Lazarus had been dead for four days and cried out, “Lazarus, come forth!” and Lazarus did come forth, miraculously raised from the dead.
Martha appears to be the older sister. Her name in Aramaic means “mistress” and so she is likely is in charge of the house. She does most of the housework. She is always busy, always working. Mary, on the other hand, seems to be the quieter, introspective, and contemplative type. Usually when we read this passage, we tend to compare and contrast the two sisters, casting Mary in the better light. We tend to look up to Mary and look down upon Martha. But before we come down too hard upon Martha, I want you to notice something wonderful about her.
Did you catch it back in the latter part of verse 38? What does the Bible say that Martha did? The Bible says that Martha, “welcomed (or, received) Him into her house.” Martha had a desire to be with Jesus. Martha welcomed Him into her house. This is a time long before cell phones, emails, and text messages. Jesus did not pull out his iPhone and text, “omw; on-my-way.” He just dropped in unexpectedly, just stopped by while He was in town. No time to clean house. Jesus is here.
I wonder whether Jesus would be welcome in your house this morning? What if Jesus stopped by this afternoon? What “cleaning up” would you wish you had done before He came? What things in your home would you wish you had cleaned up? What things in your life would you wish you had cleaned up? Is He welcome in your house today?
Martha had a desire for Jesus. But so did Mary. Look where she is found in verse 39, “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” Mary is found at the Master’s feet. This is the position of a student before the teacher. It was virtually unheard of for a woman to sit at the feet of a rabbi, but Mary knows that this particular Jewish rabbi is more than a Jewish rabbi.
Incidentally, it is a remarkable thing that every time we read about Mary in the Bible she seems to be found at the Master’s feet. There is this passage here, where she sits at His feet listening to Him. In John 11:32, before Lazarus is raised, she is found at His feet crying and calling out to Him. Then in John 12:3 she is found again at the feet of Jesus, anointing Him and preparing Him for burial. Every time we read of Mary we find her at the Lord’s feet. She had a desire to be with Jesus, a desire be at His feet where she “heard His word.” That word there at the end of verse 39, “Heard,” is in the imperfect tense which means it is an action that is incomplete. The action never ends. It is continuous action. This phrase conveys the idea of continual listening. A better translation here would be, “Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and continually listened to Jesus; she hung on His every word.”
Context helps us understand the depth of her desire for Jesus Christ. Remember the context? Back in verse 25 an expert in the law tested Jesus by asking, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus helps the young man consider the great commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” The man wanted to justify himself so he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” and you will remember that the Lord responds by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.
If the Good Samaritan is an example
Of loving one’s neighbor as oneself,
Then Mary is an example of loving
The Lord our God with all our
Heart, soul, mind, and strength.
She had a desire for Jesus.
Do you have a desire to be with Jesus? Do you regard Jesus as your most important need? He is not something to be “tacked on” to our already packed schedule. It is not that we “work Him in” to our routine, carefully scheduling time with Jesus around our already scheduled lives. He IS our life. It is not, “Well, I have got this going on this week and I have got to rush the kids here and there and I have got this social engagement and that business deal, I believe I can work in Jesus right around here.” Work Him in?
We sit at the Lord’s feet every time we gather together. We come together in big group – corporate worship – and small group – Bible Study – every week because we have a desire to be with Jesus. We sit at His feet publicly, gathering together in corporate worship, hearing the Word of God preached. We gather together weekly in a big group and we gather together weekly in a small group, too. Every Christian who has a desire to be with Jesus desires to be in a big group and a small group where he or she can study, share, and learn among a smaller group of friends. If worship and Bible Study school reflect our sitting at the Lord’s feet publicly, then our personal daily devotion reflects our sitting at the Lord’s feet privately. We must take time privately to get alone somewhere and read God’s Word every day. We must be with Jesus as Mary was with Jesus, listening as she listened, hanging on His every Word. Read the Bible every day.
Why? What is the motivation for our being with Jesus? Why does a true Christian have a real desire to be with Jesus? Why does the true Christian worship every Sunday – not just Christmas and Easter – but every Sunday, weekly, in big group and small group? Why does the true Christian not fill his schedule with umpteen activities that crowd out his life and keep him and his family from weekly worship and Bible Study attendance? Why does the true Christian open the Bible and read a chapter or more a day every day? Why? Out of legalistic compulsion, a sense of slavish duty, driven by guilt? No. Because the pastor said we’re to do this? No. Why?
The true Christian looks to the cross for his motivation. He never forgets what happened there at Calvary’s cross. We must humble ourselves and remember that none of us gets into heaven by our deeds of kindness or by giving our money to the poor. We are all sinners, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and by the deeds of the law shall no one be justified (Romans 3:20). God says that all of our good deeds are to Him like filthy rags in His sight (Isaiah 64:6). We humble ourselves, remembering that God came to us in the Person of Jesus Christ that we could be saved. He came as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). God came to us, we who were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) to save us from the penalty of our sin. Through the power of the Gospel God opens up our blind eyes so that we may believe in Christ and be saved. We did nothing to deserve it and still do nothing to deserve it. If we are saved, we are saved by grace, through faith, in Christ alone. God delivers us from hell. God grants us eternal life in heaven. It does not come automatically. It comes only when we repent from our sin and accept Christ Jesus alone as Savior. When we believe in Christ, God makes Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is our motivation for sitting at Jesus’ feet every week.
The reason some of us are not motivated to sit at Jesus’ feet weekly through public worship and daily through private worship is, quite frankly, because we believe we had something to do with our salvation. We were worthy of it. We earned it. God needed us. Only when we realize our goodness is tainted with sin, only when we believe the Bible’s teaching that none of us was worthy, none of us could please Him, only when God opens up our blind eyes will we ever be motivated rightly to sit at the Lord’s feet publicly every week and privately every day.
Examine your desire for Jesus. Are you truly saved? Are you, in the words of Jesus in John 3, “born again?” If so, you will want to sit at the Lord’s feet, loving Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You will sit at the Lord’s feet at every opportunity, hanging on His every Word. Examine your desire for Jesus.
Secondly . . .
2) Examine Your Distraction From Jesus – Verses 40-41.
Verse 40 tells us, “But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.’” Do you see what happened to Martha? She had a desire to be with Jesus, but she soon became “dragged about” with much serving. So while she had a desire for Jesus, she had now become distracted from Jesus.
We can see her working there in the kitchen, Mary probably helping her at first. Martha throws the roast in the oven and sends Mary out to set the table. But Mary does not make it back in. Martha glances out into the living room and sees Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. She goes back to her work. She is working hard, scurrying about, wiping her hands on her apron, sweat on her brow, and her hair beginning to frizz. The microwave is beeping, the tea pot is whistling, the oven timer is buzzing. All she can think about is her sister Mary in the other room, no longer helping, but just sitting there with Jesus.
Martha soon begins acting the way spouses act when they argue. She begins to place things down on the kitchen counter with a little more force now, placing things down so they make a noise that can be heard in the other room. She shuts the cabinets now with a little more force. Finally, Martha can take it no longer. She bursts out into the living room and cries out, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell here to help me!”
Ever feel that way? You try to do all you can. You work as hard as you can. You live as best you can. You do, do, do, do, and it just seems like life meanly trudges on. Finally, you cry out like Martha, “Lord, don’t You care?!” Look at Jesus’ reply in verse 41, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.” Hear the tender compassion in His voice: “Martha, Martha.” One translation reads, “My dear Martha” (NLT). He cares for her. But there is also a mild rebuke there: “you are worried and troubled about many things.” The Greek word for “worried” conveys the idea of being divided. It’s the same word found in Matthew 6 where Jesus says to not worry about your food, clothing, your life. That is, do not allow yourself to “be divided” by all those concerns. Rather, seek first the kingdom of God. Seek just one thing, and all these others will be added unto you. Know your greatest need. Sit at the feet of Jesus. Do not be distracted.
I want you to examine your distraction from Jesus this morning. What distracts you from the Lord? Good things can distract us from Jesus, things that in and of themselves are not bad. Martha illustrates the danger of living a performance-driven life. Martha illustrates the danger of seeking approval and acceptance before God based on our works. We will never be more acceptable to God than we are in Christ Jesus. We do not earn God’s approval and acceptance by our works before becoming a Christian or after becoming a Christian. We are accepted by God not on the basis of our personal performance, but on the basis of the infinitely perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Beware of living a performance-driven life.
The Christian life is not so much about
Achievement for Christ, but surrender to Christ.
Examine your desire for Jesus. Examine your distraction from Jesus.
Finally, the Bible teaches . . .
3) Examine Your Devotion To Jesus – Verse 42.
Hear the words of Jesus in verse 42, as He mildly rebukes those of us who are the “Marthas” of today, “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Jesus says, “One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part.” The picture is this: Martha is preparing a meal. And there are all sorts of dishes; all different types and portions of wonderful things from which to choose. Jesus says Mary has chosen the best “plate” there is. There are many things she could have chosen, but she chose the best thing there in that dining room. She chose to sit at the feet of Jesus. The things that seemed so important to Martha will one day be gone. Those things that clamored for her attention, all those things will one day expire. But the choice Mary made – and everything inextricably bound up with that choice – Jesus says, will not be taken away from her. She made the right choice. She is devoted to Jesus.
Examine your devotion to Jesus. Are you truly devoted to Him? Is that reflected in the way you live your life? If you’re really devoted to someone, you find a way to be with him.
Alvin Straight was 73-year-old man who lived in Laurens, Iowa. He had an older brother, Henry, who was 80-years-old and lived to the east, 240 miles east in Blue River, Wisconsin. Alvin’s brother suffered a stroke one summer and Alvin desperately wanted to go see him, but he had a transportation problem. He did not have a driver’s license because his eyesight was poor and he apparently had an aversion to taking a plane, train, or bus. But Alvin did not let that stop him. He loved his brother, was devoted to his brother, and was determined to be with his brother. Alvin Straight did something so unusual that they made a movie about him, a movie called “The Straight Story.” Alvin Straight went down to the local hardware store and picked up a few items for his six-week journey and then went back to his house and put his items into a trailer and then slowly boarded his 1966 John Deere riding lawn mower and, at a top speed of 5 miles per hour, drove 240 miles from Laurens, Iowa to Blue River, Wisconsin.
When you are devoted to someone, you find a way to be with them.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”