Faithlife Sermons

Ministry of the Christian believer. Worshiping the Lord with a Martha attitude and Mary heart.

Luke  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  38:36
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What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your personal life?
What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your work life?
“If you know these things would make such a significant difference, why are you not doing them now?”
It is because of priorities.
Right now you have placed a priority on attending church.
Let’s direct those questions toward our walk with God: “What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your walk with God?”
If you know this would make such a significant difference,
Did you do it this week?
why or why not?
Our passage this morning brings us the story of Jesus and two sisters facing a struggle that is common to all of us.
Business is an affliction that our age struggles with.
Life has accelerated to dizzying speeds and in reality none of us can really keep up.
Look at all the life skills books, and life coaches on shelves and advertised.
Teaching you about simplifying your life,
about finding the calm in the midst of the storm, about finding the art of living in the battle of business.
The battle really has to do with the tyranny of the urgent verses what is really the most important thing in life.
The urgent pushes out the important; the good crowds out the best; and the bad replaces the good.
These two sisters display this for us clearly as they meet Jesus here in this passage.
Martha is not meant to be a symbol of and active life while Mary a symbol of a contemplative life though.
To read the text in this manner would be to put Martha down unfairly and deify or exalt Mary, making her the prime example of a holy life.
Portraying the monk like life as the perfect life, when that is not the case.
What is in question here is the timing in moment.
Luke, Vol. 1—That You May Know the Truth Chapter 49: Choosing the Better

The story of Mary and Martha is actually about the necessity of the priority of the Word of God in a life of active service for the Master.

This story helps us as Christian believers to understand and set our priorities.
In the middle of all of life’s duties and necessities there is one thing that must have the priority.
We must remember that in our crazy busy lives, we are first and foremost called to be worshippers of The Lord.
Luke 10:38–42 ESV
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
If you read back to Luke chapter 1, we see Luke’s purpose in writing this gospel.
Luke 1:3 ESV
3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
This section is most certainly orderly in the fact.
Luke seems to put it here both to contrast it with the preceding incident and to elaborate upon part of it.
In that story, a lawyer challenged Jesus by putting a test question to Him.
In this story, Martha welcomed Jesus into her home.
There’s a big difference between challenging someone and welcoming Him.
Luke wants us to ask ourselves, “Do I put Jesus to the test or do I welcome Him into my life?”
In the first story, the lawyer cites the two great commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor, but the emphasis,
through the parable of the Good Samaritan, is on love for our neighbor.
In this story, we see an example of what it means to love God, as Mary sits at Jesus’ feet.
If we only had the story of the Good Samaritan, we might allow service for God to take precedence over devotion to God.
We pick up in verse 38, Jesus and his disciples are on the move once again.
Jesus face is towards Jerusalem and the cross.
He knows His mission and is set upon it.
Jesus enters a village, which by Luke’s account is unknown.
John tells us though that Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus lived in Bethany.
The location of Bethany was about 2 miles outside of Jerusalem.
Martha welcomes Jesus into her house.
This culturally would have been common practice.
Hospitality was an important act in Jesus day.
Jesus and the disciples regularly depended upon the hospitality of friends as they traveled.
When we view Martha, she is the quintessential homemaker.
The ultimate hostess.
I think of her as the definition of southern hospitality.
She saw Jesus approaching and likely thought to herself, The Master is here!
They need a good dinner.
Martha had a gift for hospitality and exercised it.
This would have been an event where she welcomed Jesus in as an honored guest.
Offering him the best seat in the house.
Guys, we don’t get the same feeling about this, but ladies you, I am sure many of you can feel the pressure.
Any woman who has ever welcomed a guest into her home knows all the things that needed to be done:
cleaning, buying, chopping, cooking and baking, and when everything was said and done the clean up at the end.
Everything had to be just right.
Martha wanted everything to be just right for Jesus and the disciples so they didn’t have to worry about anything while they were with her.
Her desire was to take care of them so they could care for others.
We would classify her as trending towards being a workaholic, her strength being her weakness.
She is a doer.
She seems to be a detail person, a perfectionist; and it seems that her love language is works of service,
she likes to give and receive love through service.
She values the efficiency in a well-run event as a measurement of its success.
Then we have Mary.
Luke 10:39 ESV
39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.
An apparent direct contrast to Martha.
To begin with, what Mary was doing was outside of the cultural norm.

Judaism did not forbid women to be instructed in the Torah (Ned. 35b.; SBT, p107n.), but it was unheard of for a rabbi to allow a woman to sit at his feet. Later rabbinic tradition includes quotations such as: “May the words of the Torah be burned, they should not be handed over to women”

and “The man who teaches his daughter the Torah teaches her extravagance”

Jesus, by this story, clearly rejects this unbiblical attitude.
Jesus had a perspective on woman that treated them as equals,
as made in the image of God, as valuable and worthy of service,
That women were capable of learning, serving and being His disciples.
Jesus loves and cares for women equally as he does men.
The difficulty arrives in verse 40.
Luke 10:40 ESV
40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
Martha is bustling around like a busy bee, buzzing around the house trying to make sure everything is perfect.
All while Mary sits and listens to Jesus.

Mary’s posture expressed a desire to learn. Here is the point that is so crucial to understanding what this story is all about: Mary was listening intently to the Word of God through the lips of Jesus. She was an intense learner.

As Mary sat and intently listened though, Martha was becoming frustrated.
The word for distracted here means to be pulled away from a reference point.

to have one’s attention directed from one thing to another

What Luke wants us to see through this story is that Martha desperately wanted to hear Jesus herself,
to be at his feet like Mary, but she was pulled away by her duties.
Busy with preparations, she caught bits and pieces of Jesus’ words, and she was drawn to hear more.
But the burden of the meal kept pulling her back to the task.
She told herself that true devotion is practical and that she must put her duty before her desires.
So this good woman, one of Jesus’ most devoted and perceptive disciples (think of how she reacts to Jesus when her brother died), this excellent woman smoldered.
She was angry at Mary for being so selfish, and she was also mad at Jesus for allowing it to go on.
You might picture it this way, every time she passed through the room giving a death stare at Mary.
Letting out pained sighs as she prepared the table.
Loudly banging pots in the kitchen trying to get her attention.
Until she finally could not take it anymore and went to Jesus.

Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

By this point Martha’s attitude was more than unattractive; it was ugly.
She had stopped serving and started scolding.
She interrupted Jesus and interfered with her sister’s relationship with her Savior.
If she could, Martha would even usurp the place of God in Christ by telling Jesus what to do.
Martha sinned in several ways which reveal the way our own sinful hearts work when we are under pressure.
Her sins are revealed in her loaded question, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
Martha interrupts Jesus ministry to get Him to attend to her perceived needs.
Jesus is obviously teaching, Mary is sitting there listening.
Instead of respecting the moment that Jesus is ministering to others,
she needs Jesus to act to alleviate her immediate need.
She needs Jesus to act immediately to rebuke Mary and get her to alleviate her burdens.
Martha in her anger, in her intense focus on how her sister has wronged her has made her insensitive to the moment and she bulldozes Christ’s ministry.
Secondly, we see that she accuses Jesus, ‘Lord, do you not care?’
Questions are never innocent; they can be filled with malice, accusation, ignorance.
They are always coming from somewhere.
This is a rhetorical and a loaded question.
The question is set up in such a way that the only way Jesus can agree that He cares is if He does what Martha demands, gets her sister to help her.
This false dilemma betrays the fact the Martha cannot see how Mary is doing anything good, that Mary is wrong in this situation not herself.
When we are in situations plagued by business.
Due to work, family needs, trials of some sort.
Our pain, perceived or otherwise, real or drummed up, blinds us and we no longer objectively assess the situation.
This leads us to even insinuate that God, who cannot sin, has somehow sinned because I am in pain.
If He does not stop my pain, He must not care.
Jesus answer refuses to be caught in the false dilemma, He steps back and helps Martha to see that she has the wrong priorities.
His care becomes evident in His loving rebuke.
As she is focused on the fact that she alone is working,
she is not rejoicing in the fact that Mary is being benefitted,
Martha’s sole focus was on the on the false belief that she had to work alone while Mary got to sit and listen.
She is not rejoicing with those who are rejoicing but building up resentment in believing that all the work has been left to her.
She is counting her losses not others gains, this is a typical perspective we have when we are thinking selfishly.
Jesus response to her though is kind, but direct.
Luke 10:41–42 ESV
41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
The repetition of her name shows the emotional nature of this situation.
Repetition is a sign of intimacy.
Jesus speaks lovingly to Martha.
This gains her attention, then Jesus puts His finger on the problem.
The problem is not a thoughtless sister.
The problem is not that there are too many guests to attend to herself.
The problem is not that she has thoughtless guests who don’t care and she is the only good person in the room.
The primary problem is her own heart and the idols in it.
Anxiety and trouble over many things, these are the symptoms of a heart problem in Martha.
She prides herself on her hospitality and now as her sisters drops the ball she looks bad as her carefully laid plans fall apart.
Success, looking good, being in control, smooth operations, these please her and are her priorities.
Anxiety is found in the heart for many different reasons, in her case it was because of the idols of her heart.
You know you have an idol if when it is not served it makes you mad, bad, sad or glad.
Martha is mad at the sinless Savior,
is being bad in her treatment of her sister and her accusations,
sad in the self-pity on display,
She would be glad when things go according to her plan not when they are going according to God’s will.
She is most happy when her priorities are served not Christ’s.
She is troubled over many things instead of focusing on the one thing that is necessary.
Being in relationship with Christ, learning from Christ, being served by Christ is of the utmost importance.
We must not be too hard on Martha, what we want is to serve like Martha with the heart of Mary.
Mary’s sitting is way we should start but Martha’s service is how we should end.
We must rest in the gospel, rest in Christ, allow Him to serve us through His word
We do this today by taking in doctrine and teaching and the word.
But then this should lead us to grateful and happy service of others.
If we go to serve others without feeding deeply upon Christ and His grace then we will be grudging givers and selfish servers.
Our goal must be then to serve like Martha with the heart of Mary.
I am not sure how you have heard this section of scripture being preached on in the past,
but I have heard sermons like this: spending time with Jesus is more important than serving Jesus, so make sure you have your quiet time every day.
That is an important message, but it is not the primary meaning of this text.
There are two main ways in which I think these verses apply.
If this is Mary and Martha’s first meeting with Jesus, it is possible that they are not yet believers and followers of Christ.
They may have opened their homes because of His reputation and are not yet formally disciples.
If that is the case then Mary choosing to put everything else aside to sit at Jesus feet as His disciple would be the equivalent of conversion, her getting saved.
She is answering the call of discipleship which calls us to put Christ before everything else.
If this is the case,
then the contrast is between Martha a typical religious Jew who is trying to please and earn righteousness through her doing;
and Mary who stops doing to become Jesus disciple.
There may be someone here today who is like Mary.
Maybe you have come to church to please God, to show how good you are trying to be,
but you have not stopped everything and sat at Jesus feet to become His disciple.
If that is you here today then hear what Jesus says,
‘one thing is necessary,’
that one thing is to come to Christ who accepts all, the one who calls the weary and heavy laden to Himself, become His disciple.
Turn aside from the wearying work of your works righteousness or your enslavement to sin and submit yourself to Him.
He alone can grant you rest for your soul.
There is a lesson as well though for those who are already believers.
This may have been a return visit for Jesus.
If these sisters are already believers then the lesson is about the priority of sitting under Jesus teaching and being served by Him.
In this story we see the great paradox of the gospel, it is more important and necessary that God serve us than we serve Him.
Self-righteousness and self-reliance, which deny what we are in sin,
that we are defiled and having no resources of our own,
thinks that serving God is the number one priority.
It is not!
Because of our sinfulness and our neediness salvation begins not with us serving God but with God serving us.
The Christian life proceeds upon the same basis, once you are saved you have to constantly be served by Christ before you are able to serve others or Him.
Many learn this lesson in salvation for justification (right standing with God) but then forget it for sanctification (growing in relationship with God).
People today create an contrast between word and Spirit,
between gathering as a church and daily Christian living,
between hearing and doing.
Jesus prioritizing sitting at His feet under His teaching as the one essential thing puts all of those ideas to bed.
‘Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’
The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, we are sanctified by truth His word is truth.
God serves His people through the means of grace, through the preaching of His word.
It is good to serve the Lord, we are saved for good deeds after all.
But we cannot serve others unless we have first been served by God through His word.
We need to have the Bible as a constant in our lives so that God by His Spirit can renew and transform us through it,
purify and direct us by it,
educate and encourage with it.
Going to church on the Lord’s Day, on the day of rest, this is but one day when God through His word serves us as we sit as His feet.
What are we doing with the other 6?
This is necessary if we are to go into the world and be effective in our love of neighbor.
In a world that is so busy many have decided that church, fellowship, those things where God meets us to serve us,
that these are the things we must do away with.
No, we need them now more than ever.
This passage is not a call to live the life of a monk.
This passage is a call to action rooted in God’s Word.
We must hear the Word by actually listening when it is preached and by reading it for ourselves, hearing Christ’s voice and doing his bidding.
Billy Graham once told a story about the Word-centeredness of his father-in-law, Dr. Nelson Bell.
When Bell served as the single doctor for a 400-bed hospital in China, he made it a point
to rise every morning at four-thirty and spend two to three hours in Bible reading. He didn’t use that time to read commentaries or write; he didn’t do his correspondence or any of his other work. He just read the Scriptures every morning, and he was a walking Bible encyclopedia. People wondered at the holiness and the greatness in his life.
Nelson Bell was an astounding activist whose life was shaped and empowered by “one thing”—the Word of God.
Do you need to get up and spend two to three hours every day reading your Bible?
No, but can you give it 5, 10, 15 minutes?
The question is, in your heart are you holding to that which is “better,”
the integrating center that gives vision and purpose to all your serving?
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