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The One Thing You Really Need This Year (Luke 10 38-42) 1-3-10

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The One Thing You Really Need This Year
Luke 10:38-42
January 3rd, 2010
Way of Grace Church

I. Needs in the New Year

I have not doubt that you have already given some thought to or have been exposed to suggestions for what you really, really need to do in this new year.

Sure there is the usual talk related to finances and fitness. But for followers of Jesus Christ, oftentimes, the beginning of a new year, even though arbitrary in some sense, is nevertheless a time to think about growing in your faith.

For some, a new year means a renewed commitment to prayer or adopting a new Bible reading plan. For others, the new year might be an opportunity to get more involved with God’s people through service or being part of a smaller Bible study. Still others of you are thinking about the opportunities this new year might bring in regard to those friends or family members or coworkers who do not know the love and grace of Jesus.

As a shepherd of God’s people, I have tried to take advantage of this opportunity in years past and speak to all of you about what God might have for this church family in the coming year; to challenge us as God’s people with a renewed vision for the incredible life He calls us to and the incredible work He equips for as believers in Jesus.

And over the course of the past few weeks, I have been thinking about and praying about what I might share with you this morning, this first Sunday of the New Year.

Well, the passage that God kept putting on my heart is Luke 10:38-42. Let’s look at this story together.

II. The Passage: "But One Thing is Necessary " (10:38-42)

Luke has just finished recording the well known parable of the Good Samaritan in verses 25 through 37. He goes on to write this:

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.”

The first thing we need to do is take a closer look at this passage and make sure we understand exactly what’s going on here.

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 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.

A. Martha’s Hospitality (v. 38)

Look first with me at verse 38 again 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.

Listen to how pastor C.J. Mahaney set this story up:

“The story opens with Jesus and his disciples journeying through the town of Bethany, just two miles east of Jerusalem. It’s here, as Luke describes it, that “a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” Now Luke doesn’t say, but I’m assuming that Martha opened her home to the disciples as well. Which means she had a minimum of 13 extra place settings to worry about. And it’s unlikely that she had an advance schedule of Jesus’ itinerary.”

Can imagine the work that need to be done. But 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 Mahaney puts it a little later in his comments, “The dinner wasn't the only thing boiling in the kitchen”.

Yeah, Martha must have been getting worn down and fed up, all at the same time.

C. Martha’s Rebuke (v. 40b)

The meltdown takes place 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 (remember how important hospitality is, and still is, in middle eastern culture), 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, you've got two strikes already. If you don't want strike out, then you better use your teacher-ly authority and instruct my sister to get on her feet and give me a hand.”

Do you think Martha really knows the man she's rebuking? The man she's advising?

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 like 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, but 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 maybe Martha is thinking at that point, “only one thing? Is Jesus saying he's not really that hungry and that he just wants a snack? Or maybe they're all just thirsty, and I'm laying the hospitality on a little thick.”

But Jesus goes on. The one thing that is necessary, according to Jesus, is the one thing that Mary has already attended to. By sitting at Jesus' feet Mary has chosen the “good portion”. Jesus is telling Martha, “Martha, don't try to take your sister away from the one thing that matters most.”

III. What Martha Did Not Understand

Now, what I think we have to see here is that this story is not about people who are busybodies, or about being anxious, 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 real problem was not Martha's frustration with her sisters, or the way that Martha spoke to Jesus. Those were both problems, but not THE problem. Those were only symptoms, consequences.

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 that she believed was appropriate, the sniper rifle of “blame” began to find its targets: Mary...Jesus.

But Jesus has to correct her understanding of what's really necessary. This year, when it comes to your faith, what is really, really necessary? What is the one thing you really need this year?

I think that 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.

As we begin this new year, as we think about our walk with Christ, as we think about our life together as His people, there are a lot of things to be done. Absolutely. A lot of things.

I could talk this morning about getting involved with our Growth Groups, or about ways to serve within the church, or about making a greater impact in our community with the love and truth of Jesus, or about our new partnership vision that we’ll be unveiling in the next couple of months, or about loving one another, growing in community, a new bible reading plan, or becoming more of a praying church...and the list could go on.

And like Martha's service, those are all wonderful things. Good things. Things that are useful, and effective, and helpful, and significant, and appropriate. 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. 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.

Of course we fall into all sorts of other traps, snares of defining our needs according to this world, according to our sinful desires. “If only…if only I had this…if only things were different.”

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

IV. Living at His Feet

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?

When I mentioned at the outset that God kept bringing me back to this passage, I failed to mention the sting I felt as I considered my own life, my own tendency to just serve, and not sit.

But what does it mean to “sit at the feet of Jesus”? What does it look like, for you and for me, what does it look like to live “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. I love the way the Scottish theologian James Stewart described the incomparable Son of God:

He was the meekest and lowliest of all the sons of men, yet he spoke of coming on the clouds of heaven with the glory of God. He was so austere that evil spirits and demons cried out in terror at his coming, yet he was so genial and winsome and approachable that the children loved to play with him, and the little ones nestled in his arms. His presence at the innocent gaiety of a village wedding was like the presence of sunshine. No one was half so compassionate to sinners, yet no one ever spoke such red hot scorching words about sin. A bruised reed he would not break, his whole life was love, yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees how they ever expected to escape the damnation of hell. He was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions, yet for sheer stark realism He has all of our stark realists soundly beaten. He was a servant of all, washing the disciples feet, yet masterfully He strode into the temple, and the hucksters and moneychangers fell over one another to get away from the mad rush and the fire they saw blazing in His eyes. He saved others, yet at the last Himself He did not save. There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts which confronts us in the gospels. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality.

Brothers and sisters, that is the One to whom we must submit. And what does that mean today, and every other day this year. 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 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. Paul says in I Corinthians 2:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

And that Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus.

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 a better image to describe how you think of it is 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.

And may we never think that we've “been there and done that”. May we never believe that somehow we don't need to sit because we've already learned what we need to learn; that now we just need to serve.”

In Colossians 2, Paul talks about “the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 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 can not 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. 8 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...10 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?

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.

V. Conclusion

This year, when it comes to your faith, what is really, really necessary?

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 are we frustrated, are we getting “distracted” (v. 40) and “anxious” (v. 41) and “troubled” (v. 41). Are we running around for Jesus, but not running after Jesus? Are we sitting before we serve?

When Jesus described Mary's choice as the “good portion”, maybe had the psalms in mind.

The psalmist wrote in Psalm 73: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

“Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

We need to encourage each other with these things, don't we? We need to encourage one another and ask one another, “Are you living at his feet? Have you been sitting at His feet?”

Let's ask God to put us there and keep us there by His grace. Let's pray.

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