One Thing is Necessary (Luke 10:38-42)
Topic: Luke Passage: Luke 10:38–10:42
One Thing is Necessary
(One Lord: No One Like You)
January 3rd, 2015
I. Needs in the New Year
I'm sure you've thought about the fact that, aside from human measurements of time, January 1st is in reality absolutely indistinguishable from December 31st. But that shouldn't stop us from taking an annual, cultural milestone and using it as an opportunity for reflection.
So if we do that (as I'm sure many of you have already done), what would you say you really really need in 2016? If you could change, if you could adopt, if you could strengthen, if you could choose only one thing, what is the one thing that is necessary in this new year?
I know you've heard many suggestions already about what you NEED to do differently: finances, fitness, time management. But for many of us, faith is at the top of the list. Maybe you're hoping the new year will mean a renewed commitment to prayer or Bible reading. For others, you're hoping the new year might bring that opportunity to get more involved with God’s people through service or being part of a smaller fellowship group.
But as we come to God's word this morning, I think most of you would agree that we NEED to ask Him about our NEEDS; about what is necessary. And wonderfully, God has an answer! Let's listen to His answer by turning to Luke 10:38-42. Let’s look at this story together.
II. The Passage: "But One Thing is Necessary " (10:38-42)
As we dive into this passage, you may notice Luke has just finished retelling the well known parable of the Good Samaritan in verses 25 through 37. And he goes on to write this (v. 38):
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Now, aside from Jesus, the main character in this story is a woman named Martha. Martha and her sister Mary are mentioned explicitly here in Luke 10, and also in the Gospel of John, in chapters 11 and 12. John tells us that these sisters also had a brother named Lazarus. This is the Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead, most likely after this episode from Luke takes place. We also know from both Gospels that Martha and her sister lived in the village of Bethany, which was about two miles to the east of Jerusalem. But let's take a closer look at this passage and make sure we understand exactly what’s going on here.
A. Martha’s Hospitality (v. 38)
Look again with me at verse 38 and what we learn there about Martha's hospitality.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.
We have no idea if Martha knew Jesus previously, or if after hearing him teach, she urged Him to come to her home for a meal. But her hospitality is certainly something to be commended.
Put yourself for a minute in Martha's shoes (or sandals). Would you spontaneously invite Jesus over to your home? If so, how would you show him hospitality? How would you prepare your home? What would you serve in terms of food? What would you do? You can just imagine everything that might be going through Martha's mind as the words come off her lips, “Jesus...come to my house for dinner!”
B. Martha’s Burden (vs. 39, 40a)
Well, look again at what we read in verses 39 and the first part of 40 about what was going on at the house once Martha's hospitality was being enjoyed.
And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving.
We've got to remember that Martha was not simply inviting Jesus into her home. She was also inviting the disciples who travelled with Him. Can you imagine the work that needed to be done to host and feed all those people? But remember, Luke tells us at the beginning of verse 39 that Martha, “had a sister called Mary”. Well that's perfect. Now Martha can have some help playing hostess. But wait. Where is Mary?
Oh, she's sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha is running around trying to take care of all her guests. As one commentator put it, “The dinner wasn't the only thing boiling in the kitchen” (C. J. Mahaney). Yep. Martha must have been getting worn down and fed up, all at the same time.
C. Martha’s Rebuke (v. 40b)
In fact, we read about the meltdown in the rest of verse 40. Luke writes: And she went up to him [Martha went up to Jesus] and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
Martha's frustration reaches its limit. She's had enough. Not only is Mary not doing what she should be doing, that is, helping her sister care for these honored guests, but Jesus, this fantastic rabbi, is not saying a word. Surely Jesus can see Martha running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Surely Jesus can see how much work there is to do.
Surely Jesus, like every other rabbi, is not going to let a woman sit much longer at his feet, in the position and posture of a disciple, especially while there is ‘woman’s work’ to be done. But Jesus is doing nothing. He just continues to teach. Can't He see what's going on here!
Now, make now mistake. Martha's words here are a rebuke of Jesus. “Do you not care”? But it's more than a rebuke, isn't it? It's accusation and advice. “Jesus, why don't you use your teacher-ly authority and instruct my sister to get up and give me a hand.” Martha's words betray the fact she really doesn't know know the man she's rebuking.
D. Martha’s Lesson (vs. 41, 42)
But look at how Jesus responds to her, listen to the lesson he has for her in verses 41 and 42: “But the Lord answered her, 'How dare you speak to the Son of God with that tone and with that kind of...” No, no...wait...that's what we might expect. But look again at what Luke writes:
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
With love, with grace, Jesus absorbs all of the anger and frustration that Martha is projecting and he responds to her gently, and clearly. She is troubled about “many things”: the house, the food, the drinks, where to put all the sandals, getting all the feet washed, clearing enough place to sit, and last but not least, why her dear, sweet sister is not pulling her weight in this situation.
Martha is troubled about many things. But Jesus tells her, “only one thing is really necessary”.
Now before Martha has time to speculate about what “one thing” He's talking about, Jesus goes on. The “one thing” that is necessary, according to Jesus, is the “one thing” to which Mary has already attended. Jesus is telling Martha, “Martha, don't try to take your sister away from the one thing that matters most.”
III. Living at His Feet
Now, what I think we have to see here is that this story is not about people who are busybodies, or work-aholics; it's not about people who are sometimes called 'Marthas'.
We need to be clear about the fact that what Martha was doing in that house was not wrong. In fact, it was a wonderful thing. Martha was showing Jesus and his followers hospitality. She wanted to care for them. She wanted to bless them. Her invitation and her hospitality were expressions of honor.
In the same way, the ultimate problem was not Martha's frustration with her sister, or the way Martha spoke to Jesus. Those were both problems, but not THE problem. Those were only symptoms. You see, Jesus' correction of Martha was not a rebuke of godly hospitality, but a reminder of godly priorities.
For Martha, the only thing that was “necessary” was that her guests be shown the proper kind of hospitality. When she was not able to make that happen to the extent she believed was appropriate, the sniper rifle of “blame” began to find its targets: Mary [bang]...Jesus [bang]!
So what does Jesus have to do? He has to correct her understanding of what's really necessary. But what does that mean for you?
As we begin this new year, fitness and finances are not unimportant topics. But faith is even more important. And as we think about our faith, there are a lot of things to be done, right? A lot of things that could be done, right? Absolutely. Show of hands: who here wants to serve God more faithfully and more effectively in 2016?
Well, like Martha's service, that's a wonderful desire. And our service is important. I'm pretty sure Jesus and his disciples were happy to be in a home where they were fed and cared for.
But only “one thing is necessary”.
The one thing you really need this year, that I really need this year, is...to sit at the feet of Jesus. That's it. That's it.
Like Martha, we can get so caught up in serving Jesus, so caught up that we forget to sit. To just sit. I think Martha reminds us that, when it comes to our faith, we naturally gravitate to serving rather than sitting, to giving rather than first receiving, to doing for Jesus rather than delighting in Jesus.
To be sure, Jesus was not giving Mary a “get out of serving for life” card here. Serving has to be done. There are things that have get done. But Jesus must correct us when we put the laboring before the listening, when we put the deeds before the devotion, when we put anything before the listening and devotion. ...But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion
This year, when it comes to your faith, what is really, really necessary? Is it “to sit feet of Jesus”? Is that how you would have summed it up? Or are Jesus' words to Martha, words that must have stung as he spoke them, are they stinging you this morning? They sting me all the time. I so often want to define my devotion through Martha-ish deeds rather than Mary-esque devotion.
But what does it mean to “sit at the feet of Jesus”? How can 2016 be a year in which you are sitting regularly at the feet of Jesus? I think we can say three things about being at the feet of Jesus.
A. His Feet: A Place of Submission
First, sitting, living, being at the feet of Jesus is being in a place of submission. The posture and position of Mary here is very clearly one of submission. Bosses don't sit at the feet of their employees. Teachers don't sit at the feet of their students. Generals don't sit at the feet of their soldiers.
No, to sit at a person's feet is a physical way to express that you recognize who they are. And who is Jesus? He is God in human flesh. He is incomparable.
So very simply, to sit at his feet in submission means to always put Jesus in first place. It means every day there is a very deliberate handing over of the reigns. The wheel, the controls are handed over to Jesus. He is calling the shots, not you, not me. Have you done that? Are you doing that, every day?
B. His Feet: A Place of Learning
And what 'shots' is He calling? Well, Mary was doing more in verse 39 than just sitting. Her legs might have been at rest, but her ears were working overtime. Luke says she was sitting “at the Lord’s feet and listen[ing] to his teaching.”
You see, being at the feet of Jesus is being in a place of learning. Kneeling and listening always go together in the Bible. Our submission to God is seen through our obedience to the word of God. While Mary heard the actual voice of Jesus, we have the incredible ability to hear Jesus through the stereo of God's word and God's Spirit.
When you sit down with God's word, with the Bible, do think of that whole practice in terms of student sitting at a desk with a textbook? Or maybe you picture a monk sitting in the darkness, reading by candlelight, with chanting voices humming in the background.
Brothers and sisters, as you open God's word this week, even as you have God's word open right now, please let Mary's experience be your guide. When you open God's word as a disciple of Jesus, you are taking your seat on the floor at the feet of Jesus. It is His face that you are looking into, His voice you are listening to, His guidance you are seeking.
In Colossians 2, Paul talks about “the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (2:2b, 3) To sit at the feet of Jesus is to sit beside a well whose depth cannot be measured and whose supply can never be exhausted. I love the way C.S. Lewis described this in his book “Prince Caspian” when he described little Lucy's reunion with Aslan the lion:
“Welcome child,” he said. “Aslan,” said Lucy, “your bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
As we grow in our faith, Jesus will seem even bigger, even more glorious than we first believed.
C. His Feet: A Place of Closeness
Finally, sitting, living, being at the feet of Jesus is being in a place of closeness. The picture that Luke paints for us here is not only one of instruction, but of intimacy. As Mary and the disciples sat at Jesus' feet, their proximity to him and posture before him tells us something about the privileged position he granted them.
He didn't simply want them to receive his instruction. He wanted them to receive Himself. He wanted them to know His word in order to know Him. The Apostle Paul recognized the “one thing” that is “necessary” when he wrote this:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ... that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death... (Philippians 3:7, 8, 10)
Is that your desire this morning? To know Jesus in that way? To live for His will, by His power, bearing His cross, rejoicing in His name?
Just look at Martha and Mary. Do you see the difference? Do you want that difference? Martha was distracted, angry, frustrated, and anxious. But Mary is at peace. She is at rest at the feet of Jesus. It is feasting!
To sit at the feet of Jesus is not be in a formal, sterile, academic setting. It is to be in a relationship of love and grace. The great English theologian John Owen wrote: We are never nearer Christ than when we find ourselves lost in a holy amazement at His unspeakable love.
And remember where that unspeakable love came into perfect focus: on the cross where Jesus died. The cross not only gives us the reason we should long to be close to Jesus, but it also gives us the desire and ability to draw close. It changes our hearts. Without the transformation made possible by the suffering and victory of Jesus, we would never choose the “good portion”. It is only by God's grace that Mary did. The same must be true for us.
None of us deserves to be at His feet. It is a place of grace. But because of His unfathomable love, He longs for us to be in that place. Doesn't that encourage you?
Brothers and sisters, what if every single person in this room, every single person who calls this church their church, were to live each day at the feet of Jesus? What would that look like? Is that happening now? Or like Martha, are we running around for Jesus, but not running after Jesus? Are we serving without sitting? Do we want 2016 to be different? To be better?
When Jesus described Mary's choice as the “good portion”, maybe he had Psalm 73 in mind:
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. May those very words be said of us this year.
Let's ask God to put us there and keep us there by His grace. Let's pray.
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