A Sermon on Mary and Martha
I preached this yesterday:
38 ¶ Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word.
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42 but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
This passages completely subverts the attitude of people in this society and in the world. Society values men and women of action. People say ‘actions speak louder than words.’ People value men and women who ‘get things done.’
The temptation for the preacher is too excuse Martha in this story. Many would instinctively feel that she was the sensible person in this story, busying herself with the tasks that needed to be done. However, to take this line is to make out that we know better than the Lord Jesus. Our Lord knew that Martha was doing more than she needed to do. She was going overboard.
In the King James Bible the Lord says ‘Martha, thou art careful about many things.’ There may be things that it is right to be careful about. But Martha was troubling herself with more than was necessary. She was preparing too many dishes, trying to get everything perfect. A lot of women who host dinner parties make the mistake of preparing more elaborate food than they can prepare in the available time. And that frequently spoils the evening.
There are a number of very bad ways to preach this passage.
One mistake in preaching this passage is too emphasise the difference between the personality of Mary and the personality of Martha. Mary is spiritual and deep, Martha is sensible and practical. The preacher then tells us that the Church needs both Marys and Marthas and they are all just as valuable. While there is a certain amount of truth in this approach; for the Holy Spirit does give different gifts to Christians and uses different personalities, this misses the main point in this story. Whatever the differences between Mary’s personality and Martha’s; it was their behaviour that was the issue. Martha’s behaviour and attitude was wrong, Mary’s behaviour and attitude was right and to be praised.
Another bad way of preaching this passage is too make it all about justification by faith. Martha is thus portrayed as working for her salvation and Mary is seen as having faith. Justification is certainly by faith. Any attempt to compromise the glorious truth of justification by faith must be rejected. As we shall see, this passage does touch on that issue, but to preach this passage that way is a distortion.
The reason for this is that Martha was a true woman of faith. We read in John chapter 11 that Martha was convinced of the resurrection of the dead. We also read that she confessed that Jesus was the Christ. We often hear of Peter’s confession of Christ, but I think Martha’s is even more wonderful. You will please forgive me if I divert from Luke to bring it up here.
Our Lord says to Martha:
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Jesus asks Martha a yes or no question. He asks Martha to affirm a fact. Do you realise that the difference between heaven and hell comes down to a yes or no to this question? Jesus asked Martha whether she believed that He could give her everlasting life. Did she believe that if she trusted in Him she would never die? She answers:
27"Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."
Martha affirmed Jesus’s claim to be the Christ. Believing that Jesus is the Christ is simply to take Jesus at His word. To trust that he will give you everlasting life. If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, if you take him at his word, if you answer yes to his question, you will never die.
Have you come to that point of trusting in Jesus Christ? Are you certain of being raised from the dead to everlasting life?
But we must return to Luke.
We read in this passage that Martha received Jesus into her house. I would like to say a word to Christians about how they use their houses. Do you know that your house is a gift from God? We are responsible to Him for how we use all the gifts that He gives us. There are so many ways in which you can use your house to serve your God. You can host prayer meetings and Bible study meetings. You can provide accomodation for visiting speakers. I don’t think there is an university or college here in Upton, otherwise I would have said that you can provide lodgings for a Christian student. How about inviting single people for Sunday lunch after church? Do you know, for single people, Sunday afternoons can be a really lonely time. Have you thought about inviting a single person to join you for Sunday lunch? It is not only in church that we can serve God. We cannot put too high a premium on hospitality.
However, in seeking to show hospitality, let us beware of pride. Seeking to show off our cooking or how nice our houses are. That is not a right motive for hospitality. And I think we can see that in Martha in this story. Instead of keeping things simple and just offering a few dishes, she was trying to prepare a feast. She wanted the Lord Jesus to remember her for her cooking and for her skills in preparation. She was getting caught up in the things of this world.
This world is passing away. This world is coming to a close. We read in the second epistle of Peter that the world is going to be burned or purified. It is going to be transformed. The Christian looks to a new heavens and a new earth. Seeking glory in this world. Delighting in the things of this society which are passing away is folly.
Only things that are eternal will remain. Mary was looking at eternal things. She saw that Jesus was the Son of God and wanted to hear His words to seek more of Him. Martha was getting caught up in the things of this world that were passing away.
One sin leads to another. Martha had shown her pride and she soon showed her anger. She lost her temper and complained to the Lord.
"Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
Loosing your temper is no light matter. The Lord Jesus said that if in you are angry with your brother without a cause, you have committed murder in your heart. Martha was angry with her sister for no good reason.
Martha was a believer and yet she sinned. Christians are not perfect. In every Christian there is that Martha that wants to judge others and complain about unfairness when there is no unfairness. Christians are not perfect.
Maybe you have been hurt by Christians who have said or done things that were wrong. Don’t let that keep you from seeking Christ. Yes, Christians blow it. They need forgiveness just as much as anyone else. The difference is that they have found forgiveness for their sins. They know that they have an advocate in heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ.
It says in the firt epistle of John chapter 1:
8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Have you found forgiveness for your sin? That forgiveness can be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. He can purify you from all unrighteousness.
Notice how the Lord answers Martha. He addresses her by name:
We can almost hear the tenderness in His lovely voice. Martha had sinned. Martha had blown it and disappointed her master. Yet He loved her. Despite her failing, the Lord still loved Martha. For the love of Christ for sinners is great indeed. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 5, verse 8:
8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
It was His love for sinners that took the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross. There He demonstrated His love for the lost by bearing in Himself the penalty for the sins of the world. By His sacrifice He made it possible for you and I to be reconciled unto God. To have peace and find acceptance in Him.
Have you come to know the love of Christ for sinners? Have you looked to Christ and received His free gift of redemption?
The Lord told Martha that one thing was needful and Mary had chosen it. What is that thing that Mary had chosen?
Was it listening to preaching? Is that the one thing needful? We certainly do need to listen to preaching. Attending to the Word of God is vital. However, there is more to the Christian life that simply listening to sermons.
No, the one thing that was needful, that thing that Mary had chosen was Jesus Christ Himself. She had chosen to sit at His feet and Hear Him. She had chosen to seek more of His presence and a greater knowledge of Him.
There was an Anglican theologian, WH Griffith Thomas, who wrote a book entitled ‘Christianity is Christ.’ This is absolutely true. The Christian religion is not about things that Christians do, it is not about the churches that Christians join. Christianity is 100% about a person, the man Jesus Christ in whom manhood and deity are united.
Some people say a Christian is a person who follows Christ. That is part of the truth, but only part. I would say Christianity is not so much about following Christ as knowing Christ.
From the start to the finish, the Christian life is about knowing Christ.
The Christian life begins with trust in Christ for the gift of eternal life. We have seen how Martha exercised faith in Christ. She recognised that He was resurrection and the life, the guarantor of eternal life to those who believe. For Jesus is life, He possesses it and gives it to those who put their trust in Him.
Possessing eternal life means that one will certainly live forever. But eternal life also has a dynamic character. For our Lord said:
3Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Eternal life involves knowing God and knowing Him through Christ. As the Christian experiences more of the life of Christ, the more she comes to know of God.
The Christian life is a new kind of life. When one believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, one is born again. The Christian possesses a new nature one that is patterned after Christ. The apostle Paul was able to say:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The Christian is a completely new person modelled after Christ.
The more the Christian grows in the knowledge of Christ, the more she is able to live as He would. She becomes more Christ-like.
As for the future, the Christian will know Christ and be with Him forever. It says in 1 Thessalonians that when Christ comes ‘so shall we ever be with the Lord.’
The delights of heaven will be incredible, but the greatest of all of them is to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. If you have been invited to a friend’s house for dinner, you look forward to going. You may look forward to the food, but more likely, you are looking forward most to seeing your friend. You look forward to being with that person who you admire and who’s company you enjoy. The Christian can look forward to being with the perfect man, the greatest man in history.
In the future, this man Jesus Christ is going to establish His perfect rule and government over the universe. Everything in heaven and earth will be put under His authority. But He will not rule alone. Those Christians who have faithfully served Him will be given a share in reigning with Him. They will constitute a celestial aristocracy, a new heavenly government. They are exalted to the highest position through Christ.
Thus, to know Christ is a most wonderful thing indeed. To say that knowing Christ is life-transforming is an understatement.
Do you know this man Jesus Christ? Have you chosen that better part?
You can know all of the blessings found in Christ if you would only turn to Him. If you would believe on Him and trust Him to give you everlasting life, then He shall indeed. Like Martha, you will have that certainty that you will never die.
For our Lord said of Mary in this story that the best part that she had chosen would never be taken from her. Once you are in Christ, you are in Him forever. It is an everlasting salvation. You can have eternal life.
Choose the best part. Choose the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe on Him and you can enjoy Him forever.