Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Sisters: Martha and Mary

I have four sisters. We are very close, have many of the same convictions and opinions, and there are times when we even have our own "language". Older sisters are bossy and little sisters are tattle tales, but the most important thing that my sisters and I have in common is that we love the Lord with all our hearts. And whether it is a biological sister or a woman that just "feels" like your sister, when you have that love for Christ in common, girl you got something there.

My favorite sisters in the Bible are Martha and Mary. I love their different personalities, their contrast and contradictions and I love how open and honest they are presented to us in Luke 10 and in John 11.

We are first introduced to this family in Luke 10. Since Martha is mentioned first she is believed to be the oldest. They lived with their brother Lazarus in the small village of Bethany. Bethany was about 2 miles southeast of the Temple's eastern gate and in the gospels of Luke and John we are told that Jesus enjoyed spending time in their home when He was in Judea. Matthew 8:20 tells us that Jesus had no earthly home and when He visited Bethany, He made Himself at home in the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.

Martha and Mary are a fascinating pair. I'm sure if we had known them personally we could see the family similarities, but from what we read in scripture, they could not have been more different, except in one thing;
they both loved Jesus. He was the focus of their earthly existence and in John 11:5 Jesus' feelings for them are very clear: "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus."

We aren't given the backstory on how this family became so dearly loved by Jesus. Did they hear Him teach and became believers early in His ministry? As all devout Jewish families of their time, they were looking for the Messiah. Their hearts were already tender, waiting patiently for God to fulfill His promise so it certainly is reasonable to believe that when they heard the truth they knew it and they believed He was the long awaited Messiah. But for all we don't know about how they met and became so close, we do know that in their home Jesus could relax and enjoy the hospitality they so readily offered Him.

In Luke10:40, Martha is the perfect hostess. Excellent cook, spotless housekeeper, warm, friendly and very welcoming to those who came to her door. The feminine translation of her name in Aramic means "Lord." It was the perfect name for her because she definitely was the lord of her home! Don't you know when she said, "Lazarus, fill that wood box and bring in another bucket of water" Lazarus was quick to get it done. And when she said, "Mary, go milk the cow and bring in the eggs" she did it without a word of complaint.

On this particular visit, as Jesus is sitting and talking with Lazarus, His disciples, and maybe some of the other men from the neighborhood, where was Mary? She was there, too. The only woman in the room. She didn't care that it was considered bad manners and inappropriate, she was focused on one thing and that one thing was every word that came from Jesus' mouth. And another very significant thing happened in that room; Jesus did not ask Mary to leave as a Jewish Rabbi would have done, and for the first time, a woman was allowed to be a part of a men's Bible study.

In Luke 10:40, what was Martha doing?
But look at v 41: Jesus knew Martha's heart and He knew that Mary wasn't the real problem;
Jesus said, "Martha you are anxious about something and you're troubled about a whole lot more than how much work Mary is putting into this meal."

Do you do that sometimes? I do. I get upset at someone for some minor thing because I'm really concerned about something else that's going on and I make a big deal out of something that isn't a big at all. Jesus said, "Leave Mary alone. She has chosen to do the most important thing, and what she is doing she will never loose."

Look at v 42: Mary chose the "good part" and weeks later she chose the "good part" again.
Jesus and the disciples had been invited to a supper at the home of Simon the Leper. A person with leprosy would not have been able to be at a dinner party much less host one in his home. The Bible tells us that lepers were considered ceremonially unclean and they were banished from public places and gatherings. So according to Luke 6:19, Simon was one of the lepers Jesus had healed.

Simon was a wealthy man and we know this by the size of the dinner guest list. He was probably an unmarried man because Martha was there acting as hostess. Many Bible scholars believe she was what we would call a professional caterer. Simon may have been a close friend of the family and Martha had volunteered to serve at his dinner party. John 12:2 tells us that Lazarus was also present and it was a group of Jesus' closest friends who had come together to express their gratitude for what He had done for them. But many of them had come to see Lazarus. After all, who wouldn't want to see the man who had been dead for 4 days and at Jesus' command had come forth from the grave. So Lazarus is there, seated with the other men, Martha is busy serving the delicious meal she has prepared, and once again, Mary walks into a room of Jewish men, probably discussing the Law and the prophets and look at what she did, John 12:3: she took a pound of ointment of very costly perfume and she anointed Jesus' feet. After His feet had been bathed in this sweet smelling substance, she took down her hair (another taboo for Jewish women of that time) and dried His feet with her hair. Some complained, especially Judas, but Jesus commanded that they leave her alone.

Martha was the one who put on the apron, tied her hair back in a bun, put her hands in the bread dough, and went to work serving everyone in the house. But.. there was a problem with her servant heart; she had become too self-focused, self-absorbed and she was in a "religious trap." Martha turned her attention from Jesus and began watching Mary with a critical eye. But Mary was so consumed with the words Jesus was saying that she was oblivious to the good smells coming from the kitchen or the subtle hints from Martha that she needed some help. Mary had a love for Christ that allowed her to worship Him with complete abandonment.

Ladies, it is just the natural instinct of women to want to "do" rather than to "be". It is so easy to get caught up in ministry and forget that faith and worship must always take priority over the work. And for this reason we have a tendency to feel a little sorry for Martha. She worked hard to prepare delicious meals, created a warm and inviting home for her guests, and was known for her hospitality. She really knew what it meant to serve, (do) but she, too knew what it meant to "be". Lets go back to Lazarus' tomb.

In John 11, Lazarus had become very sick and Jesus was a 2 day journey from Bethany. When He received word that Lazarus was sick, He stayed 2 more days, then it took Him 2 additional days to get there and by the time He arrived, Lazarus had been in the grave 4 days.

As Jesus approached the grave, someone ran and told the grieving sisters that Jesus was asking to see them. Mary stayed in the house, sobbing, completely broken over the death of her brother. But not Martha! Look at v 20; as soon as she knew Jesus was near she left Mary in the house crying and she ran to meet Him. And please get this ladies, this is so good, this is so powerful, this is so needed for us today; v 21, Martha said to Jesus, "Lord if You had been here my brother would not have died. (V 22) But I know that even now, whatever You will ask God for, God will give it to You."

For me this is the most extravagant expression of faith I have ever read in the Bible. There is nothing more final than death, but Martha knew that even death was not final if Jesus said it was not was final. V 43, Jesus went to the grave, called out Lazarus' name in a loud voice, and he came waddling out of that tomb, still wrapped in the grave clothes.

Ladies, Martha knew the truth of Luke 1:37; Nothing is impossible with God.

I love Mary's devotion and I love Martha's fighting spirit. Many, many times I have been consumed with a need so great that it seemed impossible, even for God, and I have prayed Martha's prayer;
"Jesus, if You will ask God I know He will give it to You."

Charles Stanley said this about that verse: "God isn't after your time, or your talents, or your bank account. He desires YOU. He already owns the world and everything  in it. So the only thing you have that He wants is your heart."

There are things in ministry we need to "do". But Jesus just wants us to "be".

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