Savouring Christ – Luke 10:38-42
I want you to think back to just a few minutes ago – to the moment you walked into the service this morning. What were you thinking about? What were you meditating upon? What was foremost in your thoughts? Perhaps you are here this morning and you are worried about something, or someone. A bank statement, or a close friend. Perhaps you were thinking about what you’re having for lunch, who you’re sharing it with. Perhaps you were even thinking unkindly about somebody else.
It’s funny how crowded our minds become, isn’t it? The real reason we’re here this morning is Jesus Christ. If you’re a visitor here this morning, like I am, I can assure that our chief design in this time is simply to consider Jesus. We worship Him, and we love and desire Him. And so as we come to the Bible, the reason we’re doing so is to help us love Him more.
It is my usual practice to take a passage of scripture and move through it, making observations as we go, and then to seek to apply it’s main lesson to our lives. That isn’t going to be any different this morning. We’re going to be looking at this text under three headings. Number 1, Sitting. Number 2, Seething. And Number 3, Savouring.
So, let’s set the scene. The Lord Jesus and His Disciples have been traveling around, proclaiming the Gospel, healing the sick and casting out demons. They find their way on their travels to Bethany. Bethany is about 2 miles outside of Jerusalem, and at Bethany live three siblings – Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
Jesus makes a number of visits here throughout the course of His ministry, the most notable of course being the occasion in John 11 when he brings back His friend Lazarus from the dead, in order to display the Glory of God to those present.
Jesus has probably sent word ahead that he was coming, and his hostess Martha has been a busy-bee. We read in verse 38 that Martha welcomes Jesus into her house. It may be that Martha is oldest of the Siblings, and therefore has a kind of matriarchal, motherly role amongst them. Regardless, she is certainly the designated hostess for this particular visit.
So picture the scene – she learns that Jesus and His disciples are coming to see them. Although the disciples aren’t directly mentioned in the text, their presence in implied in verse 38 when we read that “They went on their way”, the plural revealing that the group is present. So Martha, a probably unmarried woman is set about preparing a meal for at least 14, and perhaps 15 people if her brother Lazarus shows up.
15 People is a lot to cater for by modern standards in somebody’s home, but it’s even more so back then. Mary and Martha would probably have been dependent upon their brother Lazarus to live, there is no mention made in the Gospels of either of the women having husbands, or of their parents being there to. For a small, probably four sibling-family unit to afford a meal for 15 would have been quite a stretch.
And as Martha is still busy about her preparations, the guests arrive. Horrible feeling that isn’t it. Women, you know of what I speak, I’m sure. It seems to me that most people seeking to give hospitality, also go to great length to make it appear effortless. Terrible business for your guests to discover you actually have to prepare the found, rather than simply, praying it down from heaven.
So the guests arrive. Martha and Mary have both been busy at work, preparing the meal. And Mary leaves the room to go and sit down and listen to Jesus.
Verses 38, 39 and 40 set up this contrast between Martha and Mary. Martha is the busybody her mind is “distracted” we read, with much serving. Mary, on the other hand, has left Martha at it to go and listen to their guest’s doctrine! Can you imagine! Whilst there are cakes to be iced, and tea to be made, and pasta to strain, Mary just leaves her sister to it!
Let’s be honest – our initial assessment if we saw such thing would be that Mary is lazy. Surely diligent Martha is the godly one here, and Mary is the lazy child of an ungrateful philistine?
But all may not be as it seems.
Mary comes into the room and simply sits beside the feet of our Lord Jesus, to listen to Him teach, and to what He has to say. NKJV is right to translate it ‘word’, that’s the most literal rendering, and the use of the term here may mean that it was specifically Jesus’ spiritual conversation that she was listening to. It doesn’t just mean she went in for a chat – she was listening to Jesus teach.
Mary had refrained from a good thing, to do a better thing. That is why all is not as it seems. But Martha, of course, has not grasped this. This leads to our second point of consideration.
Martha sees what Mary is up to, and she is very much annoyed. She clearly becomes embittered that Mary has left her alone to cope with the preparation of this piéce de resistance.
And Martha storms and starts complaining. Big time. And she’s complaining to Jesus. Now, let’s understand this. What is it Martha’s heart that has led to this outburst? What is it that makes her so upset? Is it merely a desire to provide a good meal? Because good meals in the first century didn’t have to be lavish that you were still preparing it when the guests arrived – and besides, Jesus and His disciples live on the hospitality of others, all the time. They haven’t come here expecting a 5 course display of Martha’s culinary prowess, nor to be doted upon from a sense of pride and greatness. Jesus Christ is, do not forget, perfectly humble. Had he not been fed, he would not have complained. But Martha is trying to impress. Isn’t that what she’s doing? Isn’t this busyness and distractedness really about her, rather than Jesus? Isn’t it really about her keeping up appearances as a good hostess? Isn’t this really about pride?
And that of course leads to her outburst at Mary. Mary is damaging Martha’s chances of impressing Jesus. Martha is living to hear Jesus say, “That was a great meal, thank you.” And without Mary’s help, the process is slowed, and perhaps even lessened in quality. 15 is still a lot to cater for.
And she charges in, and literally in the Greek says something more like, “Jesus, tell her to get a grip and help me!”
What an unkind thing to say in her sister’s presence. Don’t forget that her sister is still sitting at Jesus feet. She hears this. And that is very unkind, very hurtful.
Martha’s pride, has led to anger, which has led to her sinning against Jesus (by complaining to Him) and against Mary, (by complaining about her in her presence).
It all sounds far too familiar, doesn’t it? I have lost count of the times when, in my pride and desire to impress, I have become angry when my desires are crossed. Doesn’t James say, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:1-2). James makes it clear that the real root behind conflicts and fights, complaining, bitterness and anger is our own desires. Our desires for things like approval, influence, value, happiness, and so on, some of them legitimate and some not – when these desires are crossed and thwarted, especially by others, we are provoked to sin against them.
You can see it in children. One child is playing with a toy. Their sibling, sees the toy. The battle commences. The sibling takes the toy that the other child is using when their not looking. Their desire for the toy, led them to steal. The other child kicks up such a stink that their toy is gone that their parents fear letters from the Environmental health department about noise pollution! The child’s desire to keep the toy indefinitely, led them not to share, and to become angry when this desire was thwarted.
It’s certainly not exclusive to children, is it? How often have you and I silently become embittered when somebody else is praised for what they have done, and what we have done goes unnoticed? That’s so revealing, when that happens, isn’t it? It reveals that really, our heart wasn’t serving because it is good and proper and loving to serve – we were serving so that others would praise us, and approve of us.
And such things are a forsaking of the Gospel. The Gospel tells that in Christ, we have been accepted already by God – what more approval do we need? We have been told in the Gospel that Jesus Christ has died to reconcile us to God – what more acceptable do we require? We have been set free from the law of sin and death which leads us to value praise, and therefore ourselves, more than Christ, His glory, and obedience to Him.
And that’s Martha’s problem.
The Lord Jesus diagnoses her perfectly. “Martha, Martha.” He says, “You are troubled and anxious about many things.” He sees her heart of fear, and of worry, which are pride. She is afraid her dinner won’t be just perfect – which can be proud. She is worried that it won’t be ready promptly – again, proudly trying to maintain a faultless visage of culinary perfection. I wonder how many godly wives have been guilty of this transgression?
The Master makes it clear that her priorities are wrong. He says, “one thing is needful.” One this is necessary. One thing ought to have been in your mind when the Son of God Himself walked into your house this afternoon – and it should not have been what sandwiches you were going to make for Him.
The Lord Jesus refuses to make Mary join back in. It is Martha who needs to change, not Mary. That is an unexpected diagnosis to our human minds, isn’t it? Martha is the diligent one, and Mary the lazy, chatty one. But Jesus isn’t looking on the outward appearance, like we are. Jesus is looking on the heart. And He sees that Mary made a conscious choice between serving Him food, and listening to Him, “Mary has chosen the good part”.
And she made the right choice.
How confusing to our evangelical ears! You’re telling me listening to Jesus, and sitting at His feet, is better than evangelism? Yes! You’re telling me that having my mind be filled with what Jesus says is more important than feeding the poor? Yes! Yes, Yes, Yes, that’s exactly what I am saying, that’s exactly what Jesus is saying.
Worship is the foundation of life. All humans worship something, or someone. And we have been given life and joy and worship for the One True and Living God. Let us not become distracted from Him!
I’m not at all saying that we should not serve Christ – that would be a terrible misunderstanding of the implications of this passage of Scripture. But I am saying that those things do not take presidence over love for Him, and listening, and humbly savouring Him.
I have a question. When it says that Martha was distracted with much serving, what was she distracted from?
She was distracted from Jesus. Mary had realized that she had far more need of Jesus’ words, than He had need of her cups of tea. And Martha had not. Martha is almost trying to prove herself to Jesus, rather than come to Him and listen to Him.
The applications for our lives here are myriad and obvious, so let me draw out just a few for you to take home and think about.
Firstly, is the chief design of your Christian life, to worship Jesus? And if it is not, that makes your Christian service very hollow indeed. Jesus is not interested in your sitting in church on Sunday, if you don’t love Him. Jesus is unconcerned about how many Christian books you read, if by them you are learning nothing more of His beauty, of His glory, of His Majesty and Love. I even say riskily, that Jesus would rather you be filled with worship and love for Him, than read the Bible a hundred times a year, and be void of all affection for Him. Of course, the truth is, we see Christ in the Bible, and so love Him through what it reveals, but you catch my point I trust. Outward service, if not coupled with inward love, can very quickly become proud and spiritually very dangerous for our souls.
Secondly, what is it that’s distracting you, from Him? The Word for distracted means most literally, “pulled in every direction”. Friends, there are many things in this world to pull your soul in their direction. But the one thing needful, is to be pulled by the Spirit in Christ’s direction. Spend some time this afternoon reflecting quietly, “what is it that distracts me from the Saviour?” I exhort you – whatever lessens or weakens your sense of God, is in some way distracting you from. The answer might not always be to stop doing that thing – sometimes, just a day at work distracts me from God, but the answer isn’t to quit my job, it’s to work for the Lord, and not for man – but find out for yourself how you must address whatever is coming between you, and sitting at the Master’s feet.
Thirdly and finally, spend much time in the Bible. The Bible isn’t a list of magic spells, and reading it at a certain time in a certain way doesn’t ensure that the day will go well. It’s not that a chapter a day keeps the devil away. It’s that if you want to sit at the Master’s feet, you must imitate Mary. She sat there to listen to His Word.
The Topsy-turvey thing about the Gospel, is that it is a ceasing from striving. It is a refraining from trying, and a resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ. It’s not about you and what you can do – it’s about all that He is and has done for you. And as you simply behold Him – as you simply marvel at the beauty and perfection of His person and work, you will be changed. You will simply be transformed from one degree of glory to another.
David Brainerd, the famous missionary to the American Indians, proclaimed this truth throughout his ministry. He said, “I never got away from Jesus and Him crucified in my preaching. I found that once these people were gripped by the great evangelical meaning of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, I did not have to give them many instructions about changing their behavior.”
And that my friends, is why we have great need of Christianity, and no need of churchianity.