Here is a message I gave at Alexandra Gardens Aged Care in Donvale, on 15th of October 2011.
On Luke 10:38-42 (and also read Luke 12:22-34)
Lets ask a question. What is important to us? What consumes our thinking? What do you pray for? What things run through your mind on a daily basis? If I were to speak to someone who saw you on a daily basis, what would they say is important to you? Would they say the same as you would?
To answer these questions let’s look at the passage. The passage we are looking at involves two of Jesus friends, Mary and Martha, and Jesus has things to say to or about them. So I’ll look at what he says about each of them. First Martha and then Mary.
So let’s look at what the passage says. So, what do we notice when we read this passage? “... Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Martha wasn’t sitting at Jesus feet – she was distracted by other things. Other things had taken up her concentration.
Now Jesus was a special guest today at Martha’s house, so she probably wanted to do something special – something special for him. We can guess the preparations were going on for some time.
Now Martha can’t stand it any longer – she is now the only one doing anything while Mary sits at Jesus feet. So she comes to Jesus and complains, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
What does Jesus say? Does he say, “Well Mary - Martha has a big important job, you shouldn’t sit here idly – get up and go help her?” No - he responds to Martha, he finds that Martha is in the wrong. And he addresses her – tenderly mind you.
The first things he says is “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”
So what does Jesus see as the problem?
The first part of the problem is she is worried and upset about many things – but only one thing is needed. It seems lesser, unnecessary things – and many of them - were taking up concentration. She was anxious and troubled about these.
I think the point is to not be consumed by secondary things, as Martha was.
Don’t get consumed by secondary things, things which aren’t necessary in themselves. Don’t think these are the most important things.
The passage says, “Martha was distracted,” and Jesus said to her, “... you are worried and upset about many things, but only on things is needed”
To come closer to Martha – she was actually serving. Surely service, serving people is a good thing. Well I think the problem is that she was consumed by the service, but didn’t have the right priorities.
For us there are many things which can distract us and consume us.
There could be bad things – but we are usually fooled by good things – they can distract us and consume or energies and worrying.
Maybe it’s the daily things of life – like what we are going to eat – Jesus addressed this on another occasion when he said “do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear”.
Also think of the many good things God gives us: money, jobs, houses, a great country, music, good books. I could go on. And it’s good we thank God for all these good things. But they shouldn’t be the number one thing in our lives, they shouldn’t consume us.
It’s not the size of our church, house, bank balance that is important. Jesus wants us and our devotion; he wants us to love him first. If that is right, then the other stuff will follow.
Yes, other things are important. Our Christian service is important. The hospitality we show others. The money we give to those in need. Yes, those are important. But if we haven’t got the main things right, then there is no point worrying about the other things.
It’s when these things take over, sit in first place, when our efforts and longings and sweat are consumed for these things, when these things distract us and determine our behaviour, and our emotions – that’s when it becomes a problem – they can become idols.
But there are even better things, like our families, our children, grand children, our friends, church – these are very good gifts of God, and are important for us. But when these take first place, when we do everything for these, when are emotions are taken by these – God is no longer our all in all. He has become an important second in our life – but no longer in the rightful place. That’s when good things become idols.
We can even think of Christian service. Surely serving is good, serving is what we are meant to do, isn’t it? That’s what we find Martha doing – serving, providing hospitality. The problem is our own service and ministry to others can become on idol – we love serving more than we love the one we are serving. We concentrate on doing rather than the one we serve. God does want us to serve him – but he wants us to want him first - to trust him and love him, to have him as the centre and be the motivation for our service.
This leads to our second person and our second point: so what should we doing instead of being consumed by these things like Martha?
Well I think we need to look now at Mary. The passage says Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said”. Jesus then says, “... but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better (or the good part)”.
I think this “one thing” is what Mary was doing. It seems she had her priorities straight. She had this opportunity with Jesus and she took it. Martha was distracted from what was important. We need to put first things first. Jesus says “Mary has chosen what is better”.
Now let’s look closely at what Mary was doing. It seems she had been helping Martha, but when Jesus arrived she left Martha to attend to Jesus. As Martha said “she has left me to do the work by myself”. Of course this is proper for a host to do – to wait on their guests.
But something more happens. The guest being Jesus – I mean - how can you actually serve him? What can you give him that he doesn’t have already? Mary ends up sitting there listening to Jesus. I mean wouldn’t you? Such an opportunity to devote yourself to Jesus, and listen to his words, his words of life. It might be easy for some, to leave duties and sit there, but not for Martha, and maybe not for many of us. Other things can distract us – we might not have the “luxury” to do it – so we think.
And then again Jesus addresses the issue “One thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better – or the good part”. Mary has got the right priorities. She has Jesus and his words first. The passage doesn’t explicitly say what the one thing is, but the context shows us it is Mary’s devotion to Jesus which is the example to us.
The Bible speaks to this issue in a number of ways.
Think also about what Jesus said at another time: “Do not worry about what you will eat or wear”, but on the contrary, “Seek first his Kingdom.” Do not worry like Martha did, we need to put Jesus at the centre – not the details of our daily lives, like food.
Also, there is Jesus teaching on the wise and foolish builders. The wise builder builds upon the rock, and the foolish builder builds upon the sand. The wise builder gets the foundations right. If the foundations aren’t right the house is doomed. It the foundations are not sound it doesn’t matter what are the walls. Our concern for the walls, for other things, follows on from getting the foundations in place.
If Jesus and his words are our foundation, then the house we build, our lives will be firm. We need to build our lives upon Jesus, with Jesus as our foundation.
So, just as Jesus said, “Mary had chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her”.
What does it look like to put Jesus first – to be fully devoted to him and his words? What does it look like?
Well, everything in our lives should be thought through. Why am I doing this - how does it glorify God? What does it achieve? We also need to think through how we do things to? Is the manner we do something glorify to God, or does it bring shame.
Sometimes how we do things is more important than what we do. Do we grumble, and complain, or are we joyful witnesses to Jesus, as we do things? The way we live can show who our Lord is. When Martha prepared the food, was she doing it gladly, in service of her Lord, knowing who she was serving was what was important, not the details of the meal, or was she fussing and frustrated, afraid that things wouldn’t turn out. How we do things matters!
How else can our devotion to Jesus be seen? Well it might tell in our prayer life. How much do we pray – and how big a part of our life is it, or is it just a last resort, or a mere thing done out of habit? How much we pray can be a sign of how important Jesus is to us, of what our real priorities are.
But we shouldn’t just think about quantity as if that is really what Jesus is after. We can think about what we pray for. Are our prayers tied to Jesus glory, and his kingdom, or is it just about our needs. Don’t get me wrong, we do need to bring our needs to Jesus, but is that all we pray about? Or do we seek to praise Jesus and pray for the growth of the gospel - his kingdom. Also what is the manner we approach prayer? Is coming to Jesus in prayer a real joy for us, a real delight?
I should say that I am as much speaking to myself as you here. I need reminding, I need rebuking of where my first love should be, and also how my prayer life should reflect it.
How else can we see devotion to Jesus? Well how we treat the Bible is a good sign. Do we treasure God’s words? Are they our source of comfort, guidance, joy? How important are they to us? Do we meditate on them? Have we committed them to memory? There are lots of questions I could ask – but I think you get the idea. If Jesus is important then his words to us are important.
One other we can think about area – how do we love and serve other people. What do we want for our family and friends? Do we want them to know God? Do we want them to know the joy of serving Jesus? Is their progress in the Christian life important to us? This is another area I need to work on to.
So, to recap, we have talked about not putting secondary things first, and making sure we are devoted to Jesus – that he is first.
But how do we make this actually happen in practice? How do we get this right in our lives?
Do we need to just try harder? Does it require just more effort? I think trying is probably the wrong way and leads in the wrong direction. Trying harder doesn’t solve this issue.
I think we need to ask God to help us, for him to help us to see where we are going wrong, where our priorities need changing. We need to ask him to change our hearts, to make sure he is in first place. He needs to do the work in us, to create in us a love which conquers all, which consumes us. So we are taken up with him and his glory, with Jesus and his Kingdom. Well this is something we need to pray about, to ask his strength – for him to work by his spirit to change us. Change us from the centre. In prayer we need to give our lives to God. As Christians we need to redo this and not forget our first love.
To ask the main question: Is there anything we couldn’t give up for Jesus? Is there something more important that we couldn’t do without? Is Jesus first, or is something else there. We need to take Jesus now – make him first. He needs to be our first love.
For one day everything else will fade away. But will we have Jesus? Jesus will be supreme – Jesus and his new creation and his new people. If, on that day we have Jesus – then we will have all we need, we will have everything. And Jesus will fill us with happiness and everlasting joy, and give us all good things as well – an eternal family, eternal worship of him, a new Heaven and Earth where we will live, with Jesus at the centre.
Put Jesus first!