Posts Tagged 'Lazarus'

Panic Podcast: Interesting Women in the Bible – Mary and Martha

It’s another glorious summer day here in Virginia, and in our study today, I want to look at not one, but two really interesting women who were as different as black is from white, but who both loved Jesus and served Him in their own way.


Just Say Yes, Part 4

Faith may be defined as saying “yes” to Jesus.

Most of us are familiar with the old nighttime prayer said by children, written by Joseph Addison in The Spectator, dated March 8, 1711:

When I lay me down to Sleep,
I recommend my self to His care;
when I awake, I give my self up to His Direction,

Now, if that sounds the slightest bit off, you’re probably thinking of the version that would appear a little later in The New England Primer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

That’s not a bad prayer if you mean it when you pray it. Otherwise it’s collection of words that are easily said because they are easily memorized.

But I prefer the words of Gerhardt Tersteegan. Not sure who he is? You’re in good company. Tersteegan was born was born in Moers, Germany in 1697. As a young man, he was a very successful merchant, but gave it all up to move into an isolated cottage to search for God.

In 1727 a revival took place and Tersteegan’s time of solitude took a new direction as people from all over began coming to him for spiritual guidance. Before long he was giving personal counsel from morning to night. The numbers seeking his guidance grew to the point that he was forced to move out of his small, isolated cottage and into a large house that suited his ministry. Thousands came to Tersteegen for spiritual counsel, many traveling great distances and sometimes waiting for hours in order to hear his words for a few minutes. One of his teachings was glommed onto by Kierkegaard, who popularized it and it’s simply this: Christians are simultaneously great and small, rich and poor at the same time because they are in a relationship with God. Our greatness, our wealth, our wisdom, our righteousness comes from Him.

In 1731 he published his first collection of hymns, The Spiritual Flower Garden. These hymns were so popular that they were sung at weddings, social gatherings, and even spoken as greetings. Here are some lines from one of his classic hymns, “Thou Sweet Beloved Will of God”:

Upon God’s will I lay me down,
As child upon its mother’s breast;
No silken couch, nor softest bed,
Could ever give me such deep rest.

Thy wonderful grand will, my God,
With triumph now I make it mine;
And faith shall cry a joyous Yes
To every dear command of Thine.

And that pretty much sums up the idea of saying “yes” to Jesus; “yes” to God’s will. You can’t go wrong when you say “yes” the Lord.

Previously, we looked at the blind men, followers of Jesus, who said “yes” to God’s mercy (Matthew 9:28); the disciples said “yes” to the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 13:51); and the foreign woman said “yes” to being a dog! In other words, she said “yes” to Jesus’ estimation of her: she was a Gentile – one who needed Him and was in desperate of what only He could do for her (Matthew 15:27).

The fourth person who said “yes” to Jesus was a hard-working woman whose name was Martha:

Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27 | NIV84)

That’s something you and I would have no trouble saying. It’s obvious, after all. Jesus Christ IS the Son of God. We all know that. But Martha didn’t. She didn’t have 2,000 years of Christian culture to fall back on. She didn’t have hymns and sermons to remember and she didn’t have the Bible to read or K-LOVE playing in the background to constantly remind her that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. She came this conclusion all on her own. And she came to this conclusion after the worst week of her life: Her brother had just died.

The death of Lazarus, John 11:1 – 16

We all know about Lazarus. Every kid who ever went to Sunday School knows the old, old joke: “Jesus called out: Lazarus, come forth! Well, he came fifth and lost the job.” That was James Joyce’s paraphrase of the story. It’s funny but not at all accurate in the case of the Biblical Lazarus. He did come forth, but he came forth a winner; he came forth alive after being dead for days.

This has been described as the greatest miracle of Jesus’ life and career and it illustrates perfectly what our Lord Himself said in the previous chapter:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 | NIV84)

The story is found only in John; none of the other Gospels records it. In fact, Lazarus, who was apparently a good friend of our Lord’s, isn’t even mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. Of course, Jesus raised other people from the dead during His earthly ministry: Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son, but here the stakes were high.

Having heard about the dire circumstances of Lazarus, Jesus’ reaction was, to say the least, curious indeed:

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John 11:5, 6 | NIV84)

Lazarus is what Alfred Hitchcock might have referred to as “the McGuffin” in the story. He’s totally passive; the only reason he’s mentioned is because he was sick and died! His sad end was merely an excuse for Jesus to teach an important lesson, which had nothing to do with Lazarus, but everything to do with Jesus and the two sisters, Mary and Martha. It’s all about them.

The dreadful sickness of Lazarus is really the condition of every single human being without God. The sickness of the human race is sin and everybody is afflicted with it.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23 | NIV84)

Every human being without God is dying, and there is no hope for them.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in a Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 | NIV84)

Some people with tender hearts have real difficulty with what seems to be a paradox. If Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus so much, why did He not rush off to see him? We are people who are mired in sentimentality, but our Lord was not. Everything Jesus did and said were designed to teach people something. One scholar noted this and remarked:

Because the Lord loved the family He went at the exact moment when His visit would be most fruitful, and not just when He was invited.

God’s timing is always perfect. When we pray about something, we expect God to hop to it and answer it, post-haste! But that’s not how He works. God knows the beginning from the end and He knows what you don’t. For example, in this story, Jesus knew this:

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4 | NIV84)

But of course, Lazarus did die, didn’t he? So what was our Lord getting at? Simply this: Jesus knew the death of His friend was merely temporary for He knew what God would do. Second, Lazarus was sick and would die temporarily to glorify God. And, lastly, the cure administered by Jesus would result in the people seeing God in action, giving Him the glory.

Another tidbit about this incident, and it’s only noted here in John’s Gospel, is this:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place c and our nation.” (John 11:47, 48 | NIV84)

The raising of Lazarus was a catalyst for the occasion of Jesus’ trial and death. There’s a big picture we never see. We may have our needs and offer up our prayers – as we ought – but there is a much bigger picture that we can’t see, but that God sees.

Saying “yes” when you don’t want to

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. (John 11:17 | NIV84)

Jesus finally got there, but by all appearances He was too late. His friend was long dead and Martha was not happy, but she still had faith.

Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:21, 22 | NIV)

Martha had faith – even though Lazarus had died, she knew that he would rise again at the resurrection. That’s the equivalent of saying, on the occasion of a loved one’s passing, “I know I’ll see him in heaven.” It’s one of those sentimental elements of faith we bring up at the right time, but we otherwise don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s not real to us most of the time. But to Jesus, all elements of our faith are important. For Martha, her faith exceeded her grasp. In other words, she knew the words – she knew the right thing to say – but it wasn’t real to her. In a few days, she’d stop thinking about Lazarus like that and accept the fact that he’s gone.

Jesus, though, wouldn’t let this go, though. And that’s the whole point of the story.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25, 26 | NIV84)

Jesus needed to make Martha’s faith real. She needed to know that she was in the presence of the Resurrection. Martha thought the resurrection was an event that would happen at some time in the future; an event at which everybody would be passive participants; that the Lord would do the work of bringing us all back. But the resurrection is not just an event. The Resurrection is also a Person, and He was standing right beside her. It is impossible for death to prevail in His presence. This is not a doctrine or an idea or a hope. It is a personal reality. Anybody, Lazarus included, who has faith in Jesus Christ, is living eternally already. He may pass through something called “physical death” but it is impossible for him to die eternally because of Jesus Christ. As Godet wrote,

Jesus means: In me the dead lives, and the living does not die.

The question Jesus put to Martha penetrated to the heart of the matter. Like so many others, she may not have grasped the total meaning of what Jesus had just said, but she accepted Him. She confessed that Jesus is the Christ.

Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27 | NIV84)

So while we give Martha credit for giving the right answer, Mary and the others weren’t quite there yet, as evidenced by what happened at the tomb:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. (John 11:32, 33 | NIV84)

Jesus wasn’t upset that Lazarus was dead. He shuddered and was full of grief and even anger because of what He saw: All of Lazarus’ friends and Mary, weeping and full of sadness and sorrow and grieving for no good reason. He was standing face-to-face with people who had no hope because of unbelief. Jesus didn’t cry because He loved Lazarus so much. He knew Lazarus was on his way out of the tomb, alive. He cried because of what unbelief had done to these people.

Unbelief is what kills hope and robs faith of its power. Lazarus fared well. He left that tomb alive. His sisters and his friends realized who Jesus was. For Martha, all it took was a simple confession of faith and saying “yes” to Jesus.

Lazarus: The Man Who Came Back For Dinner

Karloff wasn't the first.  Lazarus was!

Karloff wasn’t the first. Lazarus was!


John 11, 12


Lazarus is another bit player in Scripture.  Most of us know the one thing Lazarus was famous for:  he came back to life at the Lord’s command.  Still, he is a bit player, albeit an important one for some important reasons.

A quick reconnaissance of John’s Gospel shows us how it is laid out.  In the first 10 chapters, we see Jesus moving and preaching, revealing Himself to more and more people on a large scale. His ministry began at the wedding feast in Cana and spread out from there.  Chapter 11 is different; this time Jesus is not preaching to crowds of listeners, instead, we see the beginnings of His private ministry to specific individuals.   Those individuals included Lazarus and his two sisters.

Not a whole lot is said about Lazarus, hence his “bit player” status.  But he is vitally important because what happened to him answered a burning question:  Is Jesus more powerful than death?  If Jesus really was the Messiah—the Son of God—as He claimed to be, then He must be!  The Lazarus incident proves that Jesus Christ does indeed hold the power of life and death.

It also proves that our Lord is interested in individuals, not just in groups of people, like Israel.  Is Jesus concerned about you personally?  Does He know about your problems?  You bet He does!  And what He did for Lazarus and his sisters proves that, too.

The Hebrew form of Lazarus is Eliezer, meaning “God my helper.”  He was aptly named, considering how he was helped by God!   We can learn a lot about ourselves and how we have been “helped” spiritually by taking a look at this man who came back, Lazarus.

1.  Sickness

Do you remember Mary, who poured the costly perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair? Well, her brother Lazarus, who lived in Bethany with Mary and her sister Martha, was sick.  So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Sir, your good friend is very, very sick.”  (John 11:1—3  TLB)

The characters of this drama are introduced to us quickly in these verses.  By the time this Gospel was written, around 90 AD, Mary seemed to be fairly well-known and her name is linked to her home town of Bethany.  She was known for anointing the feet of Jesus with some precious perfume.  Doing anything meaningful for Jesus always carries lasting value.

For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God.  (Ecclesiastes 9:1a  NKJV)

Lazarus, we are told was very sick.  He was loved by the Lord, yet eaten up with sickness.  Lazarus is the perfect picture of the sin-sick man; loved by God, yet eaten up with sin—the whole reason Jesus came in the first place!

He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.  (Psalm 107:20 NKJV)

Sickness is a double-edged sword as far as the believer is concerned.  There is a corner of Christianity that teaches God makes people sick.  Then there is the rest of Christianity that recognizes no evil thing comes from God.  But, God does allow sickness for a very specific purpose:

But when Jesus heard about it he said, “The purpose of his illness is not death, but for the glory of God. I, the Son of God, will receive glory from this situation.”  (John 11:4  TLB)

Everything, even very bad things, happen for a purpose, and God may be glorified even in our sickness and distress, especially if we behave in a Godly manner.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  (Romans 8:28  NKJV)

Jesus knew something Lazarus and his sisters did not know:  this sickness was not going to kill Lazarus.  Death would not be the final result of this sickness, but rather the final result would be the glorification of God.

2.  Death

In spite of what Jesus just said, that Lazarus’ sickness would not be the cause of his death, Lazarus did, in fact, die.

Then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”  (John 11:14a  TLB)

So, did this death catch Jesus by surprise?  Not at all!  Remember, this sickness’ purpose was NOT to take Lazarus home, but to glorify God.  Had Jesus been present during Lazarus’ decline, everybody would have expected Jesus to heal him.  Now, the healing of a sick person is a miracle, to be sure, and it can be a faith-strengthening event (especially for the one healed!), but how much more powerful is raising a dead man to life?

Sickness in no way means that God does not love you.  Or that you have displeased Him in some way.  You can’t look at a person’s circumstances and declare whether or not God loves that person.

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.  (1 Corinthians 4:5  NKJV)

In other words, you can’t always trust what you see.  To onlookers, it may have looked like Jesus didn’t really care that Lazarus was sick.  Yet we know how the depth of Christ’s affection for not only Lazarus but also for his sisters.

3.  Life and liberty

And Lazarus came—bound up in the gravecloth, his face muffled in a head swath. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”  (John 11:44  TLB)

The life-giving power of Christ could only have been manifested in the case of a dead person.  A skeptic could claim a healing was really just the body healing itself.  But only God can return life to a corpse.  This is why things happened this way; there could be no question that Jesus was who and what He claimed He was.

Jesus Christ came into the world to do for sinners spiritually what He did for Lazarus physically.

The thief ’s purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.  (John 10:10  TLB)

Jesus Christ came to give spiritual life to spiritual corpses!  That would be you, if you aren’t born again.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 6:23  TLB)

Life is the free gift of God!  And that life, which comes from Jesus Christ, is more than just life, it’s abundant life—life to the fullest!  Tired of the everyday way of living?  Try the life that Jesus offers.

Lazarus was physically dead and bound up tightly in his graveclothes, but when life returned to him, he was also set free—he experienced liberty.  This is also part of the abundant life:  liberty in Christ.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1  NIV’11)

When Jesus gives you new life, He sets your free from sin.  You are no longer its slave.

So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free…  (John 8:36  TLB)

4.  Fellowship

A banquet was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus sat at the table with him.  (John 12:2  TLB)

Christians have such free access to the presence of Christ that we often take Him for granted.  Here, in the shadow of the Cross, we see Jesus at a dinner party given in His honor.  Lazarus was right there with Him.  He had been dead, but now he was alive and enjoying fellowship with the One who gave him life.  Jesus had said this:

“I am the one who raises the dead and gives them life again. Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies like anyone else, shall live again.”   (John 11:25  TLB)

Lazarus experienced first-hand the truth of this verse in the physical sense, and it is the privilege of all redeemed sinners to experience its spiritual truth.  Once we were dead in our sins—we had NO fellowship with God because we were, for all intents and purposes, dead to Him.  But now, filled with new life from Him, we are able to enjoy blessed fellowship with Christ all the time!  We are alive to Him and He is alive to us.

Lazarus ate with Jesus.  Every time we pray and read the Word and even fellowship with other believers, we are also having fellowship with Jesus!   We may not be eating a meal with Him—yet—but we are fellowshipping with Him nonetheless.

5.  Testimony

Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus too, for it was because of him that many of the Jewish leaders had deserted and believed in Jesus as their Messiah.  (John 12:10, 11  TLB)

These priests were ruthless.  In order to kill Jesus, they would have to kill Lazarus too.  He had become an offense and threat to them.  These chief priests were Saducees, and since they did not believe in the resurrection, they were obligated to get rid of any evidence that was contrary to their teachings, and that meant Lazarus.

Such is the testimony of any believer!  A true believer is an offense and a threat to Satan and his work among sinners.  Think about Lazarus; everybody in Bethany knew he had died, many of them had witnessed his resurrection, and even more of them had seen him walking around town, the picture of health.  What God did for Lazarus was UNDENIABLE.

A Christian who is living his life to glorify God will have the same effect on sinners as Lazarus did—

it was because of him that many of the Jewish leaders had deserted and believed in Jesus as their Messiah.

Never discount the influence of Christ’s risen life in us!  What did Jesus say?

And when I am lifted up on the cross, I will draw everyone to me.”  (John 12:32  TLB)

Jesus isn’t on the Cross anymore, but He is in you, and if you are living for Him, people will be drawn to Christ in you.

Yes, Lazarus is an important bit player in Scripture.  He is a practical illustration of what Jesus does for each and every individual who comes to Him for salvation:  He resurrects them spiritually.  Lazarus’ new life is also an example to us.  Many sinners came to know Jesus because Lazarus lived his new life out in the open, for all to see.  Are you living your new life in Jesus like that?

Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father.  (Matthew 5:15  TLB)



Luke 10:38—42

In Luke 8:1—3, Dr. Luke lists some of the women who accompanied Jesus and His disciples on their travels:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

In the story before us, we read about another woman who would become one of Jesus’ followers.  What makes this story interesting is that while a man entering into discipleship was a common occurrence in the Gospels, this is the only time we read of an account about a woman who enters into discipleship.   Luke demonstrates that not only is the Gospel no respecter of persons, but Jesus Christ transcended the petty prejudices of His day.

1.  A serene scene, verses 38, 39

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

Jesus and “The Twelve” were traveling and eventually came to an unnamed village.  We may conclude with some certainty that the name of the village was Bethany, for this was obviously the Martha and Mary John wrote about in his Gospel (John 11:1ff).  We also know that Lazarus, the man whom Jesus raised from dead, was their brother.  Jesus had a very close and warm relationship with this family, so visiting them would not have been unusual.  Some speculate that this incident took place while Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of the Dedication during the December preceding His passion.

Most of the time when these sisters are mentioned, Martha is named first then Mary.  This oft-repeated order has led some scholars to believe that Martha was the older sister.  This may well be the case, with Lazarus the youngest of the siblings.

Martha is Aramaic and means “lady.”  Some scholars believe that Martha was the “chosen lady” to whom John wrote his second letter.  She received their good friend, Jesus, and His friends, into her home, suggesting that either Martha was married or, more likely, was a widow, with whom her younger siblings lived.

Her sister, Mary, who as was mentioned, was most certainly younger and therefore subordinate to Martha.  Mary is pictured “at the Lord’s feet.”  Martha may have been the oldest, but it was Mary who assumed the place of “disciple” when Jesus came to visit.  It was highly unusual for a woman of the first century to be accepted as a disciple.  This was a scene of serenity and tranquility:  Mary listening to the words of Jesus.

What was peaceful to one sister was positively stressful to the other!

2.  Irritable outburst, verse 40

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Poor Martha!  Many of us can empathize with her to be sure.  Luke tells us that she was “distracted by all the preparations.”  The Greek word is periespato, which suggests that her attention was drawn away by the perceived seriousness of her duties.   We need to remember that there were some 16 people in the house at this time:

Jesus and Lazarus
Mary and Martha
Peter and Andrew, James and John,
Philip and Bartholomew,
Matthew and Thomas,
James the Less and Judas the Greater,
Simon the Zealot and Judas (the traitor).

No wonder Martha was all stressed out!  She had to make sure everybody had enough to eat and drink and were made comfortable.  To make matters worse, it seemed to her like she was doing all the work while everybody else was just sitting there, listening to Jesus!  At least her sister, Mary, should have helped out.

At last, the lady of the house “came to” Jesus.  The Greek behind this phrase indicates a sudden cessation of her feverish activity—she was at the end of her rope, throwing her hands up in despair, disgust, and perhaps anger.

Notice who she addressed: Jesus, whom she called “Lord.”  In her anger, she lashes out at Jesus, basically blaming Him for keeping her sister, Mary, from helping out.  It seems that Mary had been helping out; the phrase “has left” can mean “taken away from,” suggesting that as far as Martha was concerned it was Jesus’ fault because He had “taken away” Mary from her.

3.  A calm voice of reason, verses 41, 42

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Given Martha’s attitude, it is remarkable that Jesus did not mildly upbraid her for it.  Instead, the Lord shows concern for Martha’s anxiety.  Some commentators have suggested that the repetition of her name shows that Jesus was markedly disapproving of her.  However, given His special relationship with the family, it seems more likely He was offering comfort.  Jesus was and remains the great Searcher of hearts, and He knew that Martha was inwardly worried and outwardly distressed.   He also knew what concerned her:  many different things.  Yes, here was an expression of love and concern; Martha was all torn up for no reason, and this bothered our Lord.

Exactly what Jesus meant to convey to the older sister is difficult to ascertain because of some textual problems with these two verses, but especially verse 42.  There are several ways to interpret Jesus’ words; among them:

“Few things are needed…”
“One thing is needed…”
“Few things are needed—or only one…”

To what was Jesus referring?  Believe it or not, some scholars think Jesus was telling Martha that only “one dish was needed.”  Their idea seems to be that Jesus was simply being practical; that He was basically telling Martha that she was going overboard with the preparations.

It seems unlikely to me that Jesus was would take this immensely teachable moment and turn it into a lesson on hospitality!  No, it seems more probable that Jesus is saying to Martha that she is overly disturbed about far too many things that are not that important to Him.

Contrasting the “many things” with the “few” or the “one,” Jesus seemed to be pointing out that Martha’s “many things” were really “many material things” which, though they may have seemed of great import at the time, were really not all that important in comparison to Mary’s “one thing,” which was of spiritual nature and of eternal significance.

Jesus chose His words carefully for He did not condemn Martha in any way.  It was not that Martha was wrong in choosing to see to the material needs of her company; it was that she placed too great an emphasis on the incidental at the expense of the eternal.  Mary was becoming a disciple of Jesus’ and as a disciple her pursuits were slightly different than those of Martha’s.  For a disciple, the Word of the Lord has first claim on their time.  For a disciple, an attitude of learning and obedience takes precedent over anything else in life.

Jesus had come into this home as an invited guest, and Martha as the hostess was feverishly doing what a hostess should do in ensuring her guests were well fed and comfortable in every way.  But to Jesus, and apparently to Mary, what Martha thought was so important wasn’t that important at all.  Our Lord was not primarily concerned with being welcomed with open arms and a table full of food and drink but with open hearts and an opportunity to spread His table for them.

When Jesus says “Mary has chosen what is better,” is He telling Martha that her sister is a better person than she?  Not at all.  Nor is Jesus implying that it is better to sit around and let other people do all the work than to do the work yourself.  It was better for Mary—on this particular day—to sit and learn at His feet as a disciple would do.  In other words, this was the right thing for Mary to do; this was her moment to learn something from her Lord.

If we take this incident in its context within the chapter, perhaps its meaning becomes ever clearer.  In the preceding parable, the parable of the good Samaritan, we learn about priorities within the Christian life—loving both God and our neighbor, whomever that neighbor may be, and doing what is best for them.  In this story, Martha has learned to give priority to God’s Word even above loving service.  While it is true that there are many important human needs all around us—like the poor man in the parable of the good Samaritan, and it is vital to engage in good works in Christ’s Name–what is “most needed” is far more important than both of these things.

Did Martha get the point?  We are not told, however we do read this in John 11:5—

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

Notice that it is Martha who is mentioned by name, not Mary.  And also, two of the most profound confessions of faith were spoken by none other than Martha!

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”   (John 11:21, 22)

“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”  (John 11:27)

Yes indeed; Martha got the point!  She discovered the importance of “the one thing”  needed.  Have you?

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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