Like Martha, Like Mary

Two sisters. Two very different personalities. Still, they were one in heart for and toward Jesus. They were like this along with their brother Lazarus.

These women of the Scriptures are Mary and Martha, whose home at Bethany served as a rest stop for the Savior and His disciples. At the close of Luke 10, we see the sisters in their places – one at Jesus’ feet, the other in the kitchen.

Mary sat and listened. Martha was seemingly in frenzy. It is likely that she was making ready a meal for the crowd of visitors. She may not have seen them coming, and so she scrambled to make a presentable feast as she was wont to do with her given-ness to hospitality.

The Lord loved each of these women just as they were. He appreciated their portions. He welcomed the exercise of their gifts and blessed them in the reality of their identities. He filled them full of Himself and so they could serve as they were equipped to serve.

This passage in Luke 10 offers something of a temptation for preachers. Here, in this short vignette, many find a serious contrast in the reactions to the moment.

I have heard many a message on how much distraction took Martha away. Point of full disclosure here: I can be a lot like Martha. Check that, I am so much like Martha my words tend to lean toward her defense.

Real Encouragement

Jesus encouraged Martha. Do not fail to see this in the words that He spoke to her.

Encouragement involves correction. The Lord could have left Martha wallowing in her ways. To encourage people means that we may need to exhort and reprove, rebuke and challenge as well as comfort and console.

The Lord did not dismiss or despise Martha’s issue. He reminded her about what’s best.

In this instance, Martha operated in the strength of her natural temperament. Her frustration turned to agitation, and she gave herself over to a fit of over-communication. “… Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40).

Jesus chided her with gentleness. This wasn’t a tear down, tongue-lashing in any way. He did bid her to be better in the moment and to hear what He had to say to all who were about Him.

“Martha, Martha, you are cumbered about by many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, and it won’t be taken from her.”

Yay, Mary. Boo, Martha. It’s easy to fall into this manner of thinking.

How dare Martha do this? She spoiled the anointing of His presence. I know that this is how some see Martha because I have heard some talks that emphasize this. She gets tarred as a busy body unable to get out of her own way to listen Jesus.

Such opinions are more than wrong. They display an ignorance of the other account that involves Martha and Mary and Lazarus. I happen to think that there were times when Mary also had to stand against her natural disposition and go beyond her comfort zone.

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the Martha story is found in John 11 and 12.

In these chapters, we learn more of Lazarus. He’s one the closest friends of Jesus. They may have met in their youth.

Lazarus falls ill, so sick that he’s close to death. Jesus got a message about him. And He sat still. Bethany was not far, less than a half-day’s walk from where the disciples were staying at the time.

My thinking is that Martha was the one who alerted Jesus to the state of her brother. See Luke 10 again. She possessed no qualms about going to Jesus about being overtaxed in her serving. She confronted him at that dinner party, so why wouldn’t she get His attention regarding Lazarus on his deathbed?

If you read John 11, you see that Jesus waited more than four days – enough time for Lazarus to die, be wrapped in burial clothes, and laid away in a tomb. Only after these things happened did Jesus get moving: “… Lazarus had died, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let’s go to him.” 

When Jesus got close to Bethany, Martha hustled to meet Him. She again had no reservations. She let Him know her trouble: “…Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

The exchange continued and in it we should recognize just how much Martha had listened to the teaching of her Savior. This woman knew the Truth.

Jesus spoke this promise to Martha: “Your brother will rise from the dead.”

Martha understood Bible doctrine. A resurrection of the dead was to come. This she knew and said so to the Lord. He took the opportunity to guide Martha into a deeper revelation of His Person. He would tell her something fresh; something that even the Apostles had not yet been told.

He took the opportunity to guide Martha into a deeper revelation of His Person. He would tell her something fresh; something that even the Apostles had not yet been told. Click To Tweet

Look at the remarkable lesson the Son gave to this sister: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have come to believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, and He who comes into the world.”

Martha believed, but she still needed a bit of help with her unbelief. This would happen after Jesus was shown the tomb in which Lazarus’ body had been laid.

Jesus wept in sorrow as Mary showed up at His feet in grief. He groaned in agony and anger over what death did to the ones He loved.

Once at the tomb, Jesus demanded the stone be taken away, and Martha protested. Why? Because this was Day 4 since the man’s death and the decay and the strong odor associated with it would be most intense.

“Lord, there will be a big stink,” Martha said. Fastidious Martha may have worried a bit about the embarrassment of it all.

Jesus answered her and said, “Believe and you will see the glory of God.” He then called out to Lazarus and set off a great celebration. The brother was alive again.

Final Words

In John 12, we read of Jesus as He made perhaps His final visit to the table of this home in Bethany. Within a week, the Son would be crucified. He loved this family so much. He purposed to be with them as the Passover approached. Coming was the Passover to end all Passovers, for the Lamb of God would be slain to take away the sin of the world.

There was a crowd hanging about Jesus and pushing their way into the house that day. Some came to see the man who was dead and was now alive. Lazarus, through no work of his own, had attained celebrity status. His reinvigorated existence even made him a public enemy among the leaders of the ruling Jewish counsel. He was targeted for assassination because of how his life spoke of the power of Jesus.

Martha was back in her element. And so Jesus was allowed to enjoy a meal with friends.

“They made Him a supper; and Martha served. … (John 12:2).

This is the final word about this woman. She served her Lord and Savior.

What we must remember about Martha is that she was always herself. Her walk with God was according to her design. It was a gift to her and with this gift she blessed the Savior and many others.

Catch this please: Martha had a firm, mature childlikeness about her. She was unafraid to ask Jesus anything. Unhindered by what others may have thought about her, she cast any and every care she had upon Him. Big problems, little problems, Jesus heard about them all.

And I think this is the manner of faith that He wants from every one of us.

Be like Mary. Be like Martha.

Yes, sit at the feet of Jesus. Hear Him and believe Him. Work with all your might in service of Him and His Body.

This is a most holy way of living for it is whole. Balanced and blessed, let us always be about the ministry of the Gospel with grace and truth.

Steve Andrulonis
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