Date: March 17, 2019 Transcript:
It is the social event of the year! No, I am not talking about last Sunday’s “Another Enchanted Evening.” I just learned that Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, the two most successful Christian music artists of this generation, are coming to my house for dinner tomorrow evening. (Just so there is no confusion, I am making up this illustration…..It is fictional.)
When she heard Amy and Michael were coming for dinner, my wife Nancy said, “Oh, my goodness! There is so much we need to do during the next thirty hours! We will have to go to the grocery store and buy ingredients for the best meal I can make. And we better get some of that non-alcoholic wine. And tomorrow morning, we will have to get up real early so we can clean every room in the house, scrub the bathroom, dust the furniture and maybe do some touch-up painting on that one wall.”
I respond, “Well, that sounds fine, dear. You go ahead and do all those things. But, I think I am just going to sit in the recliner and have Alexa play all the Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith songs there are. That will be my way of preparing for tomorrow evening’s dinner. I am just going to appreciate their music.”
Folks, if that would happen, Nancy would probably say or at least think, “I can’t believe what a lazy man you are!” And she might even say or think some things after that! If you found out about my behavior, most of you would say, “What a bum! Maybe it is time to start looking for a new pastor.” And frankly, I think you would be right. But, remember, folks, this is a fictional illustration. What is the point?
Well, this morning our journey through the gospel of Luke brings us to Luke 10:38-42 (page 869). Here we read about what, at least on the surface, seems to be a similar scenario. In this case, Jesus is the guest of honor. However, it is a story with a surprising hero (heroine) and a story which has some very important lessons for us today. Let’s pause and pray that the Lord would open our minds and hearts to hear His word this morning.
Luke 10:38 – While they were traveling, he entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.
This verse is a little puzzling because in John’s gospel (chapters 11-12), we learn Martha lives in the village of Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem. Yet, earlier in this chapter, it appears Jesus is in Galilee in northern Israel, quite a distance from Bethany.
Now, Luke does not claim to give a chronological record of Jesus’ ministry. This event may have occurred many months after the previous paragraph. Yet, it is still hard to know where it fits in the timeline.
This is probably Jesus’ first visit to Martha’s home. In John 11, which describes the end of Jesus’ ministry, he has obviously become a very good friend of this family. Anyway, Jesus is going to Martha’s (and Mary’s) house for dinner.
Luke 10:39 – She (Martha) had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what he said.
Other versions say “listening to his message.”
As Jesus arrives at the house, perhaps before he even gets inside, Mary is out there just sitting, listening and hanging onto every word Jesus says. No, that is not quite the same as sitting in the recliner listening to musical recordings, but during this time Martha is hard at work, getting dinner ready. And she gets a little upset that her sister is not helping her.
Luke 10:40 – But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to help me.”
Now, imagine for a moment that you have never heard this story before. What would you expect Jesus to say at this point? I would expect maybe something like this: “Now, Martha, calm down. You don’t have to make a big fuss over feeding me.” “But, Mary, your sister is right. There will be plenty of time to talk later. Why don’t you go and help her get the meal ready.” But…
Luke 10:41 – The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.”
As most people would be if Jesus was coming to their house for dinner.
Luke 10:42a – “…but one thing is necessary.”
Or as the NIV reads:
Luke 10:42a NIV – “few things are necessary, really only one.”
Life may not be as complicated as we think.
Luke 10:42b – “Mary has made the right choice (literally, has chosen the better portion), and it will not be taken from her.”
Mary has her priorities in order. It is not the meal, but Jesus, that really matters. Mary’s desire to have her mind enlightened, her heart warmed and her soul filled by Jesus’ words is far better, far more important and far more honoring to the Lord than Martha’s desire to put a nice meal on the table.
Folks, maybe if Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith were coming to our house for dinner tomorrow night, the Lord would say, “Dan, don’t be so lazy. Get out of that recliner and help your wife get the work done!”
However, I have a feeling that if Jesus was going to be our dinner guest tomorrow evening, he might say something like this: “Just go pick up some pizza from Domino’s tomorrow night. I want both you and Nancy to spend your time tomorrow preparing for my visit by spending some time just reading your Bibles and praying. I want you to prepare your souls so that you are ready to receive because I will be ministering to you.” That might be what he would say.
OK, friends, this is a fascinating story. Some of you may still find it a little hard to swallow that Jesus would commend Mary. As Americans, we tend to be very pragmatic, very practical. We are seldom impressed by great thoughts or theories. We want to see things get done. That is the bottom line. We like productivity. It is not easy for us to see Mary as the hero of the story.
Let’s highlight what I believe are two important lessons from this text:
#1 Who we are is more important than what we do.
In other words, what we are doing with our hands is not as important as what is in our hearts.
Now, this is a different emphasis than last week when we explored the parable of The Good Samaritan. There we saw that it is not enough to just talk about love or have loving feelings. We need to act and put our love into practice. That is true.
Frankly, Jesus probably doesn’t want Mary to just sit at his feet and listen to him for the rest of her life. As her love for Jesus grows, she will want to go out and do some things. Yet, having a heart full of love for Jesus is where it all starts.
And apparently, that is Martha’s problem. She is busy. She is working hard. Yet, apparently, her busyness doesn’t flow out of a love for Jesus. Oh, I’m sure Martha likes Jesus. Yet, her hard work is a result of mixed motives.
Part of what she was doing was trying to impress Jesus. She was probably looking forward to hearing Jesus say, “Oh, Martha, you are such a wonderful cook and such a marvelous hostess.” But that didn’t happen. Instead, she gets scolded because she forgets that what she does with her hands is not as important as what is in her heart. It is more important to be holy than to be busy.
There are three implications from this truth we should keep in mind:
1st – We can’t impress God with our busyness or our hard work.
Some people think, “Hey, if I do a lot of volunteer work – if I get really involved in the community and in the church, then God will be really pleased with me!” No, friends, it doesn’t work that way. We can never impress God. We can never earn his favor.
What most pleases the Lord is not anything we give to him, but rather what we receive from him. Those who rely not on their own goodness or accomplishments, but rather on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, trusting in him as Savior and Lord, those are the people who are pleasing to God. Remember…
Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of what you have done, so that no one may boast.
Once we have experienced God’s grace, we then respond. Out of gratitude for what God has done for us, our love for him grows. Out of that love, actions flow. Out of that love, we may agree to teach the Third Grade Sunday School Class or take a neighbor to an appointment in Duluth or volunteer with the Food Shelf. When we do things out of love for the Lord, then he is pleased with our activity. When we do things to try to impress the Lord or other people, then the Lord is not pleased with that activity.
2nd – We must not judge other people on the basis of how busy they are or are not.
The Lord is not impressed with busyness, but often we are. Especially in the church, we tend to value those who seem to be working hard in ministry. Now, let me say, there are many people in this room who pour time, energy and money into the work of CBC. I believe the reason most of you do this is because you love God and desire to see him glorified in this community and around the world. That is pleasing to the Lord. I find this so encouraging and consider serving as the pastor of this church to be a huge privilege!
Yet, I know there are folks – in other churches, of course, but maybe here as well – who are very active in their congregation and keep busy doing many things at church, but really don’t seem to be motivated by a love for God. Why do they do what they do? Various reasons.
Maybe they are trying to impress other people. Maybe they want to feel better about themselves. Maybe they want to hear the words, “Great job!” or see their name in the bulletin after “Special Thanks To.” Oh folks, I wish we would always have good motives for things we do, but that is not how it is.
Jesus (Matthew 6) warns us about people who practice religion to win the praise of others. He says those folks have received their reward in full. They have gotten praise from other people, but they will never get any praise from God. Not everyone who is busy appearing to serve the Lord is really pleasing the Lord.
The other side of this coin is that we also need to be careful we don’t negatively judge those who are not as busy as we maybe think they should be. Do you ever find yourself feeling frustrated with people who don’t seem to be carrying their weight or doing their share of the work?
As a pastor, that thought has entered my mind…on occasion. I need to remember and we all need to remember that it doesn’t really matter if people are doing what I expect them to do or living up to my expectations. What is important is whether someone is doing what the Lord expects him/her to do.
And if God wants someone to spend time sitting in an Adult Sunday School Class rather than teaching a Third Grade Sunday School Class, that is what that person should be doing – even if I want them to teach the class.
Now, of course, sometimes the Lord uses pastors to help people know what he wants them to do. The point is, we all need to be careful not to assume that being busy is what God expects from everyone.
3rd – We need to remember not to judge ourselves on the basis of how busy we are.
Back in 1979, Tim Hansel wrote a best-selling book entitled, When I Relax, I Feel Guilty. I suspect there are at least a few people in this room who get kind of uncomfortable if they are not busy. Oh, some of us may be a little too good at “relaxing.” Yet, many Christians in our culture have a tendency to be “workaholics.” Not only does that keep them from “relaxing,” but it keeps them from doing what Mary did.
For some of us, just sitting and listening to Jesus would make us feel we were not accomplishing enough, not getting anything done. Many of us would think, “I have so much I need to do that I don’t have time to sit and listen to Jesus.”
“Oh, Pastor Dan, don’t be silly! If Jesus came here, I would drop everything and just spend my time with him.” Maybe. Yet, every day we each have an opportunity to be with Jesus by spending time reading the Bible and praying.
This is sometimes called a “Quiet Time” or “Devotional Time” or “Devo.” Friend, if you spend thirty minutes tomorrow morning reading your Bible and praying, you may not feel you are accomplishing a whole lot, but I suspect that will be a very good use of your time. If I am too busy to spend time each day reading the Bible and praying, it seems I am just too busy!
An important aspect of listening to Jesus is not only reading God’s Word, but taking time to meditate on what the Bible says and pondering what that means for our lives.
One of the big problems in 21st century society is that we are so busy – so busy doing things, so busy consuming all sorts of media – that we really don’t take time to think, don’t take time to ponder truth and its significance.
We were talking about this in our Monday night Men’s Bible Study a couple of weeks ago. One point I emphasized is that a person doesn’t need to have a college degree or a high I.Q. to be a good thinker.
Now, those with a lot of education or intelligence are called to use those gifts in a way that will honor the Lord and benefit others. If you are in that category, you need to be doing that.
My point, however, is someone with a high school diploma and an average I.Q. can be a very good thinker – especially if his/her thinking is shaped by the truth God reveals to us through the Bible and especially if he/she takes time to ponder those truths.
Being a person who loves what is true, right and good is more important than always being busy. Because who we are is more important than what we do.
#2 When choosing our priorities, we need to make the right choice.
Luke 10:41b-42 – “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice and it will not be taken away from her.”
Worried and upset about many things. Friends, that is often the story of our lives. We get so busy with so many things – work, family activities, family gatherings, home improvement projects, hobbies, sporting events, vacations and church activities. The list can go on and on. And along with that busyness comes plenty of anxiety and yes, plenty of troubles.
Yet, Jesus’ words are still true. There is only one thing that really matters. Trusting and following him…wherever he leads. Or, we could put it this way, as Jesus said:
Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”
Friends, this doesn’t mean that your job, family, hobbies, etc. won’t or shouldn’t be part of your life. In almost all cases, they will and should be. But, if seeking God’s kingdom, if trusting and following the Lord Jesus is your priority, then everything else in life is seen from a new perspective and takes on new meaning.
Rather than the purpose of these things being to make our own lives more fun or convenient, they all become opportunities for us to glorify God by honoring him and serving others.
Friends, does your life seem busy and complicated? If so, I think you have a lot of company. That is becoming the norm for many today, but it has been that way for a long time.
That was Martha’s life. However, this type of life puts us on a path that can do great harm to our souls. And no matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we work, the satisfaction and joy for which we long are often elusive.
The reality is the “Marthas” of the world are on a dead-end path. Squeezing more into the schedule, working harder and smarter on every project, trying to accumulate all sorts of different experiences and pleasures in the end still leave us empty.
Friends, we need to be like Mary and make the right choice. Making the Lord Jesus the focus of our lives, trusting in him, seeking to serve him…that is the path leading to a solid and lasting joy, to eternal joy. In the end, those who like Mary make the right choice of focusing on Jesus will have zero regrets.
Friends, the obvious question for each of us today is this:
Are you like Martha, very busy and worried and upset about many things?
Or are you like Mary – you have made the right choice and you are focusing life on the Lord Jesus.
If you are like Mary, that is great! Praise God! If you are like Martha, it is time to make a change. If you are not sure how to do that, please talk to me or Pastor Mark.
Yet, I suspect many of us, maybe most of us are kind of between – sometimes like Mary and sometimes like Martha. You are a Christian, a believer in Jesus Christ. You want your life to be focused on Jesus, but all too often you find yourself too busy, and worried and upset about many things.
How do we keep from falling into that “Martha-trap”? How do we stay focused on Jesus? Well, I’m not really sure. I wish I had an answer that would enable us to always be like Mary.
But, I do know this: If we are to stay out of the “Martha-trap,” we need to do two things:
#1 We need to pray and seek God’s help. On our own, we will almost surely slide into a busy life, where our soul is in frequent turmoil.
#2 We pretty much need to make a daily decision to keep our priorities straight and focus on the Lord Jesus. It is very natural for us to be like Martha. By God’s grace, we need to very intentionally choose to be like Mary and focus on the Lord Jesus.
May the Lord help us make that choice today and in all the days ahead!