"Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His Word. 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.' And Jesus answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.'" Luke 10:38-42
It was at the end of the rainy season and the beginning of Summer, in Bethany, a village 3km East of the Temple in Jerusalem, on the East slope of the Mount of Olives. It was the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (John 11:1).
Martha welcomed the Lord Jesus and His followers into her home in Bethany. This was not the Lord's first visit to Bethany, nor to Martha's home. As a gracious hostess, Martha welcomed the Lord and arranged comfortable seats for the Lord and His disciples, bringing them refreshing drinks and washing their feet from the dust and dirt of the paths they had trod. Other inhabitants of Bethany crowded around to hear more of the teachings and parables of the Lord.
Learning from the Lord
At first both Martha and Mary were sitting at the Lord's feet. Soon, however, Martha would have felt the burden of her duty as the hostess to provide for all these guests. Doubtless she would have made a mental inventory of everything she had in the pantry, planned out her menu and began a check list of all the tasks that needed to be done.
The Call of Duty
Then she would have glanced around the room to see the best route through the crowd so that she could escape, without being disruptive. The call of duty must have pressed heavily upon her and one can imagine that once in the kitchen, she would have been energised and exhilarated by the opportunity to show her love in action for the Lord Jesus Christ. She was determined to prepare the best possible meal and evidently she busied herself in a whirlwind of activity, probably preparing beans and lentils, onion and garlic, grinding grain, mixing bread for baking, preparing figs and pomegranates, perhaps roasting a lamb on a spit and preparing wine for all the guests. However, somewhere her enthusiastic labour of love derailed into frustration and anger.
Perhaps she realised that she was running out of time and could not realistically complete all the preparations in time. The labour of love became a frustrating burden. The harder she worked, the more frustrated she became. Her frustrations began to focus on her younger sister, Mary. It was really Mary's fault. If Mary had been there to help her, she could have been finished already. It is bad enough having so much to do. It is worse when someone we think should be helping us with the load lets us down. Mary was not pulling her weight!
At some point, this annoyance developed into irritation and then frustration and anger. It was all so unfair! In Luke 10:40, we read that Martha complained to the Lord Jesus: "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me!"
Do You Not Care?
Perhaps Martha had already tried to signal Mary. Perhaps Mary had already ignored her signals, or shrugged off Martha's attempts to gain her attention and nudge her to take up her duties in the kitchen. Now, Martha expresses her frustrations directly to the Lord, actually accusing him of not caring about her! "Lord, do You not care…?"' Martha was sure that, if the Lord really cared, He would tell Mary to get up and come and help her!
Love in Action
Martha was sure that if the Lord really cared, He would demonstrate His love by lightening her workload. Actually, the Lord did lighten her workload, but not in the way that she anticipated.
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."
Attitude is Everything
It was not the work that Martha was doing that was the problem, it was her attitude. What she had intended as a labour of love had now become a frustrating burden, to the extent that she had publically humiliated her sister and interrupted the teachings of the Lord, effectively accusing Him of not caring
When Blessing Becomes a Burden
Instead of blessing the Lord and His followers with gracious hospitality, Martha had now created a scene, which doubtless spoiled the atmosphere and soured the situation. The Lord did not rebuke the work she was doing, but her lack of balance. This report on our Lord's visit to Martha and Mary's house in Bethany comes immediately after the teaching of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The Greatest Commandment
A lawyer tried to trap the Lord by asking what He had to do to inherit Eternal life. The Lord responded by asking him: "What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?" The lawyer responded with the Great Commandment from Deuteronomy 6: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself."The Lord commended His answer and said: "You have answered rightly, do this and you will live."
Who is My Neighbour?
The lawyer could have left it at that, but "wanting to justify himself", he asked Jesus: "And who is my neighbour?" Then the Lord answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.' So which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?" The lawyer had to admit: "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:25-37)
True Love Shows Itself in Action
The Bible makes it clear that love is not mere words and talk. True love shows itself in action. That was surely what Martha had intended to do, to show her love through service. She was seeking to meet the needs of the Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples. In many ways, Martha was being a Good Samaritan. She was seeking to love the Lord with all her heart, with all her soul, with all her strength and with all her mind and her neighbour as herself.
Loss of Balance and Perspective
However, she had allowed her labour of love to be derailed into a burden of frustration. The Lord did not rebuke her for making preparations. As the hostess in the home it was her duty to see that her guests were cared for. However, she had tried to impress with an elaborate meal of too many dishes.
Man Does Not Live on Bread Alone
When our Lord was tempted by satan in the wilderness, He responded:
"…It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"
Our Lord did not say that man does not live on bread at all. He said that man does not live on bread alone. We are more than bodies. We are body, mind and spirit. We do need bread. However, we need to feed our minds and souls with the Word of God too.
The order of the Great Commandment is to love God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength and then our neighbour as ourselves. God first.
"Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you."
A Matter of Priorities
Mary had gotten her priorities right, she was first feeding her mind and soul with the Word of God. Imagine what a tremendous privilege and opportunity it was to have the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, visiting their home. What an opportunity! Yes, it was an opportunity to express love in action by service. But the first priority was to hear the Word of God. Our Lord was teaching and Martha, who had begun by sitting at Jesus feet, had soon slipped out to busy herself with preparations of an elaborate meal.
Our Walk is Even More Important Than Our Work
Our Lord was actually making a play on words, which is a bit lost in the English. What the Lord effectively said is: you have been busy preparing many dishes, but Mary has chosen the best dish. It was a matter of priorities and attitude. Food preparation was necessary, but perhaps less, more simply prepared, would have been more appropriate that day to allow Martha to continue sitting with Mary and learning from the Lord on that special day when the Lord visited her home.
Diligence and Devotion
Martha comes across as practical, competent, down to earth, hard-working and diligent in her duties. We certainly need more Marthas in the Church! Martha's work is good and necessary, but Mary's attitude of hunger for the Word of God, openness to the Lord's teaching, is essential. The reality is that as followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to cultivate both the Martha and the Mary in each of us. Our walk with the Lord is even more important than our work for the Lord.
Count Your Blessings
You have probably heard the chorus: "Count your many blessings, name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done…" I have heard a better one that that: "Count your many blessings, name then two by two, count your many blessings, name then four by four, count your blessings, name them by the score and it will surprise you, but there are millions more!"
Count Your Obligations
The best variation I have heard is: "Count your obligations, name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord wants done!" We need hardworking, diligent, work ethic, Marthas in church and society. We need those who will put love in action, be Good Samaritans, go and do likewise. We are saved to serve.
However, we need to be careful that we are serving in the right attitude and we need to get our priorities right. First we need to sit at the Lord's feet, hear from Him, learn from Him, before we can get busy for the Lord. Listening to the Word of God and learning from the Word of God is essential before service for God and His Kingdom. It is the Word of God that inspires and equips us for our service for God and to others.
Feeding Mind and Spirit
What our Lord Jesus Christ wanted on that day was not an elaborate meal of many courses, but the attention of Martha herself. The one dish she could not prepare in her kitchen, was her relationship with God. She needed to allow Him to feed her mind and soul with His teachings before she could effectively prepare her labour of love in the kitchen, with the right attitude.
Lightening Our Load
Martha wanted the Lord to lighten her load that day. He did lighten her load, but not in the way that she thought it should be done. We need to hear from God. When man listens, God speaks. Mary chose to invest time into her primary relationship, sitting at the feet of Jesus learning. She chose not to be distracted by anything else.
Mary and Martha Are Sisters
Martha must become a Mary and Mary must be a Martha, both are sisters. We need devotion and dedication, worship and work ethic, love for God and love for our neighbour.
Called to Mozambique
I learned this lesson on my first cross-border Mission to Mozambique. During my two years National Service in the military, I had run a daily Bible study and Prayer meeting. We frequently had all night prayer chains, when we prayed through Operation World for countries all over the world. I had become particularly burdened for Mozambique. Operation World informed me that Mozambique was the least Evangelised country in the Southern Hemisphere, with less than one Bible for every thousand church-goers. Nobody under the age of 18 was allowed in a church. It was a Marxist-Leninist country, officially atheistic. The conviction grew that God was calling me to deliver Bibles to the persecuted Church in Mozambique.
To Mozambique with Love
When I was discharged from the Army, I invested all my savings into acquiring the Bibles, New Testaments, Gospels and 16mm copy of the Jesus film to load on my off-road motorbike and head across the border in Mozambique. It was incredible how God provided, guided and protected me
Yet, I was quite shaken when I met the suffering Christians in Mozambique. After delivering all that had been sacrificially provided, our host informed me that he needed to report our visit to the local commissar! I was stunned. I had expected to meet Richard and Sabrina Wurmbrands in Mozambique! I had something of a romanticised view of the persecuted church and was quite shocked to meet such small minded and selfish individuals who were willing to report us to the local communist commissar!
When Your Best is Not Enough
By God's grace, the Commissar was away at a communist convention and I remember thinking that we must be out of town before he returned! Next, our host, quite insistently, demanded my watch, boots and towel! I did not have another pair of boots, or watch or towel. In fact, I did not even have R10 left in the whole world. Everything had been invested into this cross-border Mission to serve the suffering. To say that I was disillusioned would be an understatement.
Do You Love Me?
The next morning in my Quiet Time, I was reading John 21: "Peter, do you love Me?...feed My lambs… Peter do you love Me? ...tend My sheep… Peter do you love Me? ...feed My sheep." (John 21:15-17). God spoke to me through that passage.
Why Have You Come?
Why was I in Mozambique? Was it not for the Lord? Yes, the people I had come to serve were not what I had hoped. They had disappointed me.
"…what is that to you? You follow Me."
In The Light of Eternity
I love the Lord. I am in Missions because He first loved me. Christ died for me. He has called me to serve Him. I am serving Christ. It is for His sake. I must seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.
That perspective revolutionised my life. I would not allow people to disappoint and disillusion me again. I am serving them, but I am doing it for the Lord. As unto God.
"And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ."
As Unto the Lord
Without that perspective, that may have been my last Mission across the border. However, since then I have made many more than 100 Missions across enemy lines into communist and Muslim countries to serve the persecuted Church, out of love for our Lord Jesus Christ and in gratitude for His grace, mercy and Salvation.
Looking Unto Jesus
When we keep balanced we keep our focus on seeking first God's Kingdom, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus in Whom our Faith depends from beginning to end (Hebrews 12:1-2), we will find that God enables us to do what needs to be done - with joy, satisfaction and fulfilment.
The Crisis of Lazarus
In John 11, we read another report of the sisters Martha and Mary:
"Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, 'Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.' When Jesus heard that, He said, 'This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.' Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, 'Let us go to Judea again.' The disciples said to Him, 'Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You and are You going there again?' Jesus answered, 'Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.' These things He said and after that He said to them, our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.' Then His disciples said, 'Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.' However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.' Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, 'Let us also go, that we may die with Him.'"
A Call for Help
Lazarus was sick. His sisters Martha and Mary turned at once to their friend, Jesus, hoping that He would come quickly and heal their brother before it was too late. Knowing that the Lord loved their family, they expected Him to set out immediately for Bethlehem, to do what He could to spare them anxiety and grief.
An Unexpected Delay
Yet, the Lord did not respond in the way that the sisters had hoped. Instead of leaving at once for Bethany, He stayed where He was for two more days. We do not want to believe that God would allow anything painful to come into our lives. However, God's love does not guarantee us shelter from difficult and traumatic experiences.
Noah and his family were not protected from the Flood, but in the Flood. The children of Israel had to pass through the Red Sea. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were protected, not from the fiery furnace, but in the fiery furnace. Daniel experienced God's protection in the Lion's Den.
The Disillusion of Bereavement
Sometimes painful experiences are essential for our spiritual growth. The Lord's delay left Mary and Martha suspended between hope and fear. They suffered the anguish of watching their beloved brother sink into death. They experienced the agony of seeing Lazarus die and then they had to prepare his body for burial. The Lord had not come in time and now they were experiencing the disillusion of bereavement.
Purged, Purified and Prepared
Yet the Lord Jesus was deliberately delaying. He was completely in control of the situation. Jesus knew that Mary and Martha would not know Him as the Resurrection and the Life if Lazarus had not died. David would not have known God as his Rock and Fortress, had he not been hunted by king Saul in the Mountains of En Gedi. The Hebrews would not have known God as their Deliverer had they not been slaves in Egypt. Our painful experiences can purge us, purify us and prepare us for more powerful and productive service.
The Resurrection and the Life
"So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Now Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha said to Him, 'I know that he will rise again in the Resurrection at the Last Day.' Jesus said to her, 'I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?' She said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'
When our Lord finally arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Many had come from Jerusalem to Bethany to comfort Martha and Mary in the loss of their brother. His body had been anointed with spices and ointments and wrapped in linen garments, the women had led the funeral procession to the tomb. As long as the dead body was in the house, the family was forbidden to prepare food, to eat or drink, or to study. As soon as the body was carried out, all furniture was turned upside down and mourners had to sit on the ground. Deep mourning was to last 7 days, during which no one could wash, anoint themselves, put on shoes, or engage in any study or business. 30 days of lighter mourning followed the week of heavy mourning.
He Will Rise Again
It was in the middle of this period of deep mourning that the Lord entered the village. Violating the conventions of the time, Martha went out to meet him, while Mary stayed in the house. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Yet, Martha could add: "But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." The Lord responded that: "Your brother will rise again." Martha responded: "I know that he will rise again in the Resurrection at the Last Day."
Life and Eternity
Jesus said to her: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" Martha answered: "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world." Martha knew the truth. She had the doctrine of the Resurrection right. In this she had a far stronger spiritual base than the Sadducees, the religious leaders of that time who actually denied the Resurrection. But she did not find enough comfort in that future event. The Lord then turned her understanding of the Resurrection as a future event into a present reality: "I am the Resurrection and the Life.
Death is not the End
Death is not the end of life, but the door into the eternal. It is wrong to call this world the land of the living. It is more accurate to recognise that we are at this moment in the land of the dying. Heaven is the land of the living!
Do You Believe?
After this great statement, the Lord Jesus challenged Martha directly: "Do you believe this?" Personal Faith is essential. We cannot have a second hand Faith. God does not have grandchildren. It cannot depend upon the Faith of your parents or grandparents. Do you believe? Martha's response was wholehearted:
"Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world."
So it is clear that Martha had grown spiritually since that earlier episode recorded in Luke 10.
If You Had Been Here My Brother Would Not Have Died
"And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, 'The Teacher has come and is calling for you.' As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, 'She is going to the tomb to weep there.' Then, when Mary came where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.'"
The Grief of Mary
Mary came out and fell down at His feet, saying:
"Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
At this time of grief, it seems that Martha's faith is the stronger. Mary, the one who previously had looked so much more spiritual, now seems so overwhelmed by her grief and sorrow that she could not say anything more than, "Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
"Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to Him, 'Lord, come and see.' Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, 'See how He loved him!' And some of them said, 'Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?'"
The Grief of Jesus
When the Lord saw her weeping, he groaned in the spirit and was troubled… Jesus wept (John 11:33-35). Again in verse 38, we read that the Lord groaned in Himself, that He shuddered with indignation. He was deeply moved. Here the Lord is face to face with the effects of the Fall. Death, misery, broken hearts and sorrow. The Lord came into the world to deliver us from the curse of death and eternal condemnation. He had come to earth to die, in our place, to take upon Himself all the guilt and shame of sin. The Lord wept. Then He acted. He spoke four times.
Take Away the Stone
"Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, 'Take away the stone.' Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, 'Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.' Jesus said to her, 'Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?' Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.
Remove the Stone
First the Lord spoke to the mourners: "Take away the stone." God works with an economy of Divine power. He requires us to do everything that we can before He will do what only He can. We cannot expect God to act until we have done everything that we can humanly do. When we have done all that we can, then we can trust God to do what we cannot. Martha protested: "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her: "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the Glory of God?"
Lazarus Come Forth
"And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, 'Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.' Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth!' And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Loose him and let him go.'"
That They May Believe
The second time Jesus spoke, it was to God the Father: "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me and I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by, I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me."
The Power of His Word
The third time Jesus spoke, He commanded Lazarus: "Lazarus, come forth!" The man who had been dead stumbled out of the tomb, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen and a towel around his face. Here we see the power of the Word of God, bringing life to the dead.
Lazarus is Alive!
The fourth time Jesus spoke, it was to the astonished audience: "Loose him and let him go." The shocked bystanders needed to touch Lazarus and see for themselves that this was no ghost. He had actually bodily risen from the dead and was alive again!
The Conspiracy to Kill Christ
"Then may of the Jews who had come to Mary and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a Council and said, 'What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.' And one of them, Caiaphas, being High Priest that year, said to them, 'You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people and not that the whole nation should perish.' Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death."
Some Believed – Others Plotted to Kill Him
We read that many of those who had come to comfort Martha and Mary believed in Jesus. But some of the Jews went to the pharisees and told them all the things that Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and pharisees gathered a Council and began to plot to kill Jesus.
In Glastonbury, Somerset, England, there is the tomb of Lazarus. The local people there tell us that Joseph of Arimathea brought Mary, Martha and Lazarus to England to establish the Church there, where Lazarus enjoyed another 40 years of life and service on this earth, before he went to be with the Lord.
You Can Trust the Lord
As Jesus said: "He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live." Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the Judgement (Hebrews 9:27). We may not understand God's will, but we can trust it. We can trust His perfect timing. We can trust God in our most difficult experiences. Attitude is everything. Balance is needed, even when we do not understand, we can trust God.
Are you both a Martha in your work ethic and a Mary in your devotion to Christ? Martha and Mary are sisters. They must work together. We need to be serving God with our head, heart and hands. Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and putting feet to our Faith. We are saved to serve. "Go and do likewise."
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74
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