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An Encounter with the Priority Maker of Our Lives (Luke 10:38-42)

Intro

The story is told about a couple going on vacation, standing in line waiting to check their bags at the airline counter.

The husband said to the wife, “I wish we had brought the piano.” The wife said, “Why? We’ve got sixteen bags already!” The husband said, “Yes, I know– but the tickets are on the piano!”

It is frustrating when primary things become secondary. I can understand that couple. Sometimes we forget the priorities of our life among the secondary things. Do you feel like sometimes you are carrying 16 different things and after a while you are so focused on making sure the 16 things are taken care of (all of which are never done well anyway), the one most important thing, the primary thing, is neglected? We can be taking care of our house, but not building a home. We can be living with our spouse, but not cultivating a marriage. I can serve faithfully at church, but not truly be serving the Lord. I can sing Christian songs and not really be worshipping. It can also be hard to distinguish between opportunities and distractions. Some of us do not know how to say no and find ourselves pulled in every direction like strings on a puppet, eventually tearing ourselves into pieces. We end up discouraged, often exhausted and at times paralyzed.

In the midst of this, we go to church or read the Bible or hear a song which tugs at our heart to know and love God. For a second you say, “Ah, that’s what I want!” You may even sincerely pray a prayer or shed a tear. But then, the moment your phone rings or you get home and the computer or television gets turned on and off you go again.

Let’s look at another encounter. We need help to put our priorities in order. This is Encounter 6 and it is found inLuke 10:38-42. The title of the message is “An Encounter with the Priority Maker of our Lives.”

How do we make our devotion to Jesus our priority?

Our first thought for today is:

I.   Practice His Presence (Luke 10:38-39). 

The story takes place in Luke 10:38 with Jesus and His disciples on the move and arriving at the village of Bethany. Bethany, just two miles east of Jerusalem,[1]is left out here by Luke, but in other places, we know that was where Mary, Martha and the same town their brother Lazarus lived (John 11:11812:1). Jesus seems to love hanging out at this home! He is there again in John 12:1. I am not sure of any other “home” in Scripture is given that much prominence by Jesus. He was loved there. He was recognized as Lord there (Martha calls Him Lord in Luke 10:40). Blessed are the homes in which Jesus is welcomed!

I remember for years growing up in New York, we had a little sign in my home growing up which said, “Jesus is the head of this home.” But He wasn’t. We kicked him out all those years until the day we finally welcomed Him when my family received Jesus as Savior and Lord. He turned our home from a small hell into a small Heaven. Blessed be the homes which welcome Jesus! And such is this home. The world received Him not, but when He shows up at this home, they welcome Him with open arms.

Jesus had recently sent out the 70 disciples for ministry (Luke 10:1) and God had used them in mighty ways (Luke 10:17-20). We are not sure if the 70 are with Him here (probably not), but most likely the disciples are still with Him. Interestingly, Jesus just talked about in the previous verses, of the Good Samaritan and the need to serve others with compassion (Luke 10:29-37). In other words, this is the proper way to deal with our horizontal relationships. But look at Luke 11:1-13. The text right after ours deals with the vertical relationship of prayer. Our passage then, right in the middle, will deal with how to balance the horizontal and the vertical relationships. Compassion is important and so is prayer, but all is lost if you do not keep your priorities straight.

So these thirteen men arrive at this home in Bethany. Imagine 13 men showing up at your door? How would you feel? In Luke 10:38, a woman named Martha is mentioned as the owner of this home. We do not know if this was because she was perhaps a widow or if it is because she was the older sister or both. Nevertheless, she opens the door and is so excited to see Jesus. The word used for “welcome” means “to accept the presence of a person with friendliness—‘to welcome, to receive, to accept, to have as a guest.”[2]

“Mary! Mary! Come quick! It’s Jesus!” Mary comes over and smiles with joy because Jesus had come to their home! Immediately, they begin to take care of them. Martha brings over some fresh water. Martha loves to serve. She’s energetic and always first to get to the kitchen to roll up her sleeves and get things moving. She is the last to leave until every dish is washed and put away. She runs the household well. She is the first to wake and get to the market to haggle the best prices. You might even notice fruit that she sets out is always fresh and sweet. She rarely has a dinner that is overcooked. She is the perfect hostess and for her, there is always something to do. Joanna Weaver describes Martha well when she says, “What a woman! She opens her home to a band of thirteen hungry men, possibly more. What a hostess! She doesn’t whip up an impromptu casserole of Kraft macaroni and cheese and Ballpark franks as I’ve been known to do on occasion. Not her! She is the original Martha Stewart, the New Testament’s Proverbs 31 woman, and Israel’s answer to Betty Crocker. Or at least that’s the way I imagine her. She’s the Queen of the Kitchen—and the rest of the house as well.”[3]

Now perhaps Mary is a different personality. We are not completely sure, but if you ask Mary to choose between a broom or a book, she probably will choose the book. She gets up a little later than her sister. Sometimes she goes to the market, but more often than not, she likes to avoid all the noise and battering over prices. Martha has things to do, but Mary has thoughts to think. She is a good listener and asks few, but very thoughtful questions. We say this because she rarely talks in the Gospels. The only time we see her talking is when Jesus shows up at her brother’s grave and she says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” (John 11:32).

Now here Mary is quick to take Jesus’ sandals and washes his feet. This is customary if you walked into a home. It would be rude if you did not do that. As Mary does that, Martha runs to the kitchen to get a meal ready. Jesus and His disciples are going to Jerusalem and nothing but the best for Jesus! She thinks. Jesus begins speaking to Mary about the recent ministry and the Kingdom. As she finishes washing His feet, she lays aside the basin of water and the washrag, but continues to sit there at His feet, just captivated.

To be a woman and sit at a Rabbi’s feet was unheard of. Jesus is always breaking the mold man has placed. Her posture represents her heart. Humble. Teachable. She is a disciple soaking in every word that comes forth from the Lord’s lips. When the text says, she “listened,” the idea is that she is continually listening. She cannot get enough.

Interestingly, Warren Wiersbe notes that every time we see Mary of Bethany in the Gospels, she is always sitting at His feet and there is also a certain smell.  “She sat at His feet and listened to His Word (Luke 10:39), fell at His feet and shared her woe (John 11:32), and came to His feet and poured out her worship (John 12:3). It is interesting to note that in each of these instances, there is some kind of fragrance: in Luke 10, it is food; in John 11, it is death (John 11:39); and in John 12, it is perfume.”[4]

Jesus does not always get this kind of welcome. Remember he went to the house of a Pharisee and he did not even bother to give him even a handshake, so to speak, when Jesus came (Luke 7:36-50). But He is always so thrilled to have, as we saw Peter give Him his boat (Luke 5:3) or a welcome from two sisters to their home. Mary and Martha invited Jesus into their home. Inviting someone over to your house was a huge deal. When you do that, you are telling that person that he/she is allowed into the most intimate place of your lives.

Do you want to make your devotion to Christ a priority in your life? Learn to practice His presence.

Illus: Jacqueline was an elderly woman who lived to take care of her daughter, who was wheelchair bound. When her daughter died, Jacqueline not only lost her purpose for living, she lost her living companion. Her cottage in the country seemed as empty as an eggshell. Occasionally a friend would call or a note would arrive, but most of her time was spent in oppressive, ongoing solitude. Her health didn’t allow her to circulate very much, and her best friends were now all in heaven.

One day Jacqueline’s Bible opened to Philippians 4:5 and four words struck her forcibly: “The Lord is near.” If so,thought Jacqueline, I should be more aware of it. “Lord,” she said, “I’m going to pretend you’re here all the time. No, forgive me for using that word; there is no pretending to be done. I’m going to use my God-given imagination to visualize how very present You really are. Help me ever remind myself of the reality of Your nearness.”

That evening as she retired, she said, “I’m going on to bed now, Lord. Will You please watch over me as I sleep.” The next morning on awakening, she said, “Good morning, Lord. This is the day You have made.” Sitting down with her hot tea, she read through the book of Philippians again, underlining verse 5, then she prayed aloud for a very long time. At noon, she said, “Now, Lord, let’s watch the news on television, so you can show me things in this world I can pray for.” Jacqueline and the Lord watched the news together, then she prayed for flood victims in the Delta, a newly-installed president in an African country, and for a man sentenced to life imprisonment.

At supper, she bowed her head and thanked the Lord for her food, but she didn’t feel her prayers were traveling up to heaven. She felt instead she was talking to someone sitting across the table from her. Gradually her attitude was transformed. The loneliness lessened, her joy increased, her fears diminished, and she never afterwards felt she was alone in the house. Jacqueline was learning how to abide in the Presence.[5]

Today Jesus is consistently knocking at our heart and pulling at our heartstrings to let Him into all the areas of our heart. The more I invite His presence into my life the more I seem to be able to manage my priorities. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The context there is fruitfulness. If I am to bear lasting fruit for Him, I need Him and I cannot bear anything that lasts without Him. We never say a tree produces fruit right? We say a tree bears fruit! You never see a tree straining and struggling to produce fruit. It happens as the tree just consistently abides under the sunlight and has its roots dug deep into the ground. Like Jacqueline, the more we learn to abide in His presence, the more we can manage our priorities right.

I am encouraged to see David and Peggy start their days in the dentist office in prayer. How about you? Do you invite the Lord to come to school with you? How about to study with you? How about to drive with you? How about to sit with you as you browse on the computer and watch tv? If you invite people over, it is good to pray over the food, but it I also think it is a great habit to end any time with people in prayer. You do not need to be a pastor to do that! Be practicing His presence!

Brother Lawrence, a monk (1614-1691), who lived most of his life scrubbing pans in a kitchen and later fixing sandals wrote a wonderful little book called “Practicing the Presence of God.” That is a great title for a man who is only known for that! I will die a happy man if that is all I am known for!

Mary and Martha invited Jesus into their home. This was a good way to get the priorities straight. They are enjoying His presence. Here is another way to make sure our devotion to Jesus is our priority:

II.  Labor in love (Luke 10:40-41).

We pick up the story again in Luke 10:40. Martha is frantic. Luke says she was “distracted” a word meaning “to be pulled or dragged away.”[6] Have you ever felt like you were being pulled in so many directions? I can imagine Martha. She is stirring a bowl in one hand and cracking eggs with another making sure nothing is spilled. “Jesus is here and I need to get the best for Him. Something that will last Him and the guys all the way to Jerusalem,” she thinks to herself again and again. She begins to empty the cupboards, taking out the best utensils and plates. But then it occurs to her, “What if Jesus stays the night? Are the sheets clean? Are the towels folded?” So she runs to check on that and then she it hits her. “Where’s Mary?” She peeks over and sees Mary sitting there. This was the same position she had left her in before she went to the kitchen!

Those of you who had siblings, have you ever gotten so angry you are doing all the work and chores around the house while your brother or sister is watching television or talking on the phone? Or perhaps you were the one sitting around? You can kind of sense some sibling tension going on here.

The pot on the stove was not the only thing boiling that day. Martha is fuming. I can just picture her kneading the dough and imagining it was Mary! “I’m glad someone is having fun,” she grunts as she works at the dough vigorously. “She thinks she’s a guest. We could have gotten this done in half the time if she was here!” Another fist goes into the dough. “Why is He letting her sit there like that? How am I going to feed this army of men?” You can see the sweat forming under her chin and on her forehead. She wipes it away with the back of her hand.

“Little sweet sister Mary,” she mumbles as she clenches her teeth. “I could sit down too for a while. That would be nice! All I do around her is cook, clean and sweep, sweep, sweep!” She reaches for a pan and it falls. “Enough is enough!” Off she goes storming out of the kitchen.

Everybody get out of the way. Somebody’s about to get it! This is because if Martha ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy! She stomps right up to the boy’s club (plus Mary) and interrupts. Look at Luke 10:40. Her words are sharp and it is cutting at two people like a machete. First, the Lord. She says, “Don’t you care?” Wow! What an indictment. She has really lost it!

Second to Mary, to whom I am sure she is avoiding all eye contact with as she says “Tell my sister…” Notice she does not mention her name at all. She is accusing Jesus of not caring and she is accusing Mary of laziness and insensitivity. Notice this demanding spirit that comes out of her, “Tell her to help me!” Imagine the room at this point. Everyone is quiet and feeling very awkward I bet! Mary has her face down, flushed with embarrassment. Jesus looks up at Martha and sees her hair (and her heart) beginning to unravel and flour on her cheeks.

This is not a surprising statement from Martha, because once distraction fills our lives and we start to feel like we are being dragged away with a ball and a chain, discouragement, a demanding spirit and doubt are always right behind. But we may have all felt the loneliness, the frustration, the left-out-ness and resentment she experienced in the kitchen that Bethany afternoon—doing all that work for others when no one seems to notice and no one sees to care.[7]

We must be careful here. Some have criticized and unfairly put down Martha saying we must be a worshipper like Mary and not a worker like Martha. I do not think that is what is going on here. We need Marthas in our life. If there were no Marthas, nothing would ever get done! I think both loved the Lord. The Lord would want us to imitate Mary in our worship and Martha in our work. Blessed are the balanced!

Jesus tells us what the real issue is in Luke 10:41. He answers, “Martha, Martha…” Be careful when the Lord has to say your name twice! Actually, He is very tender and affectionate here. He is corrective, but He is also consoling. He brings the point gently home. Do you wish Jesus said here, “So sorry Martha—terribly insensitive of us. Come on, Mary! Come on, guys, let’s all pitch in and give Martha a hand”?[8] No, that would be a band-aid to the real problem, which was in her heart.

Jesus says the issue is not Martha in the kitchen. The issue is Martha’s heart in the kitchen. Her attitude was like milk left out on the counter that has turned from sweet to sour. In an effort to do service for the Lord, she lost connection with the Lord. She became burdened, worked up and distracted over a lot of things. As she worked for the Lord, her work became more important than the Lord Himself. The issue was about priorities. Laboring for Jesus means nothing if it is done in love.

Once you become distracted and obsessed with your work for the Lord, it can be self-centered. The issue for Martha was that Mary abandoned her. Wait a minute Martha? Was this meal…this whole event… about you or was it for Jesus? I am so thankful Jesus does not say, “Martha, why can’t you be more like your sister Mary?” This is because Martha can never Mary and Mary can never be Martha. This is like switching their individual yokes (like what we talked about last week).

But regardless of their personality and granted it does seem easier for a personality like Mary to be quiet and sit at the feet of Jesus, Jesus will tell us that we are all invited to choose what is ultimately important. But sometimes the devil  will use our service for God to keep us away and distracted from relationship with God. As Vance Havner says, “The devil will let a preacher prepare a sermon if it will keep him from preparing himself.”[9] Distraction can come easily.

Illus: In a day when so many things and people vie for our attention, we can experience a paralysis of personal energy. John Maxwell explains this “frozen feeling” that can easily overwhelm us:

“William H. Hinson tells us why animal trainers carry a stool when they go into a cage of lions. They have their whips, of course, and their pistols are at their sides. But invariably they also carry a stool. Hinson says it is the most important tool of the trainer. He holds the stool by the back and thrusts the legs toward the face of the wild animal. Those who know maintain that the animal tries to focus on all four legs at once. In the attempt to focus on all four, a kind of paralysis overwhelms the animal, and it becomes tame, weak, and disabled because its attention is fragmented.”[10]

Be careful the Enemy does not turn you away from the Lord as you are serving the Lord. Notice he did not take Martha out of the kitchen. He simply got her to focus on herself and what she deserved. The devil will not take you away from ministry. Instead, he will disillusion you in ministry. He will make you look at co–workers who do not appreciate you or who leaves you to work alone or pastors you feel are overworking you or congregation members who are not supportive of you.

Mary could have very well done the same thing. She could have dragged Jesus into the kitchen and said to Him, “Tell my sister to stop trying to impress everybody all the time and being so busy constantly to slow down and sit.” For Jesus, more important than the type of service is the heart behind the service. As Max Lucado says, “God is more pleased with the quiet attention of a sincere servant than the noisy service of a sour one.”[11]

Let us labor in love. As we practice His presence, the natural overflow is laboring in love. Be careful about the little things which will seek you to pull you away. Many things can keep you away from the main thing, which we will talk about in a second. Many of you are serving the Lord in some capacity in ministry. It would be wise for you to be praying before, during and after, “Lord, make me a closer follower and better lover of you as I serve you here.” May our work for Christ never replace or worship of Him.

How do we keep our devotion to Jesus as the priority of our lives? Practice His presence, labor in love and the last thing is:

III.  Choose the best over the better (Luke 10:42)

Jesus says in Luke 10:42 that “one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” What He is saying is that, “Martha, a microwave dinner would be fine. You are struggling over bread that perishes. Mary is feasting on bread that will fill her soul and not be taken away from her.” What is cooking in the kitchen will be gone in minutes, Martha, but what is being prepared here will go on forever!

We do not know if Martha got it or not. Later in John 12, we find her serving again, but nothing is mentioned of any attitude problems there, except the disciples who were criticizing Mary’s extravagant “waste” of perfume on Jesus’ (John 12:1-8). But here when Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the good portion,” He means she has chosen that which fills her soul. What fills your soul? What quenches the thirst of your heart?

But the question is left to us. Are our priorities skewed? The one thing necessary is to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His Word. Let us never miss opportunities to hear the Word of God whether it is on your own or on Sundays. Even if you go on vacation and its Sunday, you are never on vacation from God. Find a Bible-believing church in the area and attend. Only a fool would exchange a bottle of water for a piece of gold when you are dying of thirst in a desert.

Notice Mary has “chosen” the good part. It is a choice she made. Sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to His Word will not happen automatically. In fact, it will often be the last thing of many things that will come at you to crowd it out. It is not a one time choice either. You will have to continually choose Him, day in and day out. Lots of good things, seemingly better things, but the best thing is always to be at Jesus’ feet. This is why as my old professor used to say, “Never say you have to spend time with God, but always say you have to invest time with Him.”

Being on facebook is good, but being in His book is best. Talking with friends is good, but talking to the Savior is best. I like what C.S. Lewis says, “When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased…The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”[12]

Conclusion

Pastor Wayne Corderio from Hawaii, shares a great illustration about the relationship with Christ being the most important thing:

Some time ago some wonderful people in our church gave Anna, my wife, and me a dinner certificate to a nice restaurant for $100. We thought, Wow, a hundred bucks. Let’s go for it. We found a free evening. We dressed up. I took a bath, used deodorant and cologne—the whole thing. I even washed and waxed my car, because we wanted to take it through the valet, and I didn’t want my Ford Pinto to look bad. The night came, and we were excited.

We went to this ritzy restaurant and walked in. They gave us a nice, candlelit table overlooking a lagoon adjacent to a moonlit bay there in Hawaii. Oh, it was nice. And we thought, for a hundred bucks for just the two of us, we could eat high on the hog. So we ordered the most expensive thing there. It was wonderful.

When the bill came, I said, “Honey, why don’t you give me the certificate.” She said, “I don’t have the certificate. I thought you brought it.” I said, “You have to have it. You’re supposed to have it. You’re the wife!”

She said, “I don’t have it.” And I thought, We are in deep yogurt. Here we are. We look rich, we act rich, we even smell rich. But if we don’t have that certificate, it invalidates everything.

There are times in our lives when we can look holy, we can act holy, we can smell holy. But without a relationship with the Lord, we’ve forgotten something. It’s relationship that validates everything else.”[13]

Here are some questions to think about. Do you have a list of unnecessary things that you neglect the one thing? Think about all that is going on in your life. When is the last time you had the one thing…when you sat at His feet and listened to His Word? Have you been walking right past the living room into the kitchen, busy doing things for Him and ignored His company? Do we neglect the one necessary thing for a thousand unnecessary things?

Is Jesus whispering your name, possibly even twice, today, to get your attention? He gently rebukes us and tells us to allow Him to put His arms around us and cut off the strings that attach us to “many things” and then invite us to come to His feet and find the one thing that is necessary.
—-

[1]Hendriksen, WIlliam and Simon J. Kistemaker, vol. 11, New Testament Commentary : Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001), 597.

[2] Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene Albert Nida, /Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., 1:452 (New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989).

[3] Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.(Colorado Springs:Waterbrook Press, 2002), 3.

[4]Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition CommentaryLuke 10:38  (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989).

[5]Morgan, Robert J. Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed., 379 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000).

[6]Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., 804 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

[7]Weaver, 14.

[8]Ibid., 15.

[9] On This Rock I Stand. Christianity Today, Vol. 30 no. 14.;preachingtoday.com accessed 20 March 2009.

[10]Maxwell, John; Developing the Leader within You, (Thomas Nelson, 1993), p. 31; submitted by Eugene A. Maddox to preachingtoday.com.

[11]Lucado, Max.  He Still Moves Stones (Nashville: Word Pub.,1999).

[12]Quoted in Water, Mark. The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, 828 (Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd, 2000).

[13]”A Personal Relationship,” Preaching Today audio no. 225 accessed 21 March 2009 from preachingtoday.com.

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