Having a close friend is great. But it’s even better to have a friendly family where you can relax and talk together about problems and concerns. The Lord Jesus had such a family where He could retreat from the pressures of His extraordinary ministry – the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. These three siblings were most likely among the Lord’s 120 true disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15). He trusted them and enjoyed their hospitality and friendship. They lived in Bethany, less than two miles from Jerusalem. Their parents are not mentioned, so we presume they were no longer living, and that these three were older and not married. One account says that Martha opened her home to the Lord (Lk. 10:38-42), implying that she was the older sister and matriarch in the home.
Luke 10 gives us a glimpse of life in that home, with Jesus as the guest. Martha had invited the Lord to visit and was making preparations for a meal. We see her as the elder sister who was well organized and wanted to have everything done right. The twelve disciples were probably also there for lunch so it wasn’t just a snack, but more like a complete meal for hungry men.
Busy and frustrated because Mary wasn’t helping, Martha complained: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself. Tell her to help me!” The Lord’s response surprised her and is remembered as a contrast of diligent service and worshipful devotion: “Martha, Martha … you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Lk. 10:41-42).
There was nothing wrong with Martha being occupied with the meal – someone had to do it. There are many chores we take for granted that are necessary for the well-being of family and visitors as well. Martha was an organizer with a servant’s heart, and that was commendable. Marthas are necessary today in every local church. Hospitality is an important ministry and every family should show hospitality to guests. A welcoming home can be rewarding as we minister to the needs of others. But hospitality also requires work which should be wilingly shared by other members of the family.
Paul commended many people whose homes he visited, and who helped him in many ways (Rom. 16:3-16). John commended Gaius as one who practiced hospitality, not only by having visiting believers in his home, but also by helping them practically on their journeys (3 Jn. 5-8). Paul also praised Gaius, whose hospitality was a blessing to him and the whole church (Rom. 16:23).
There are many jobs to be done in a local church and there are usually just a few people willing to take up those responsibilities. Some think that the only worthwhile ministry is preaching or pastoral work. They think the many other things that need done are there for anyone else but themselves. However, just as every person in the family should do his or her part to make the family happy and productive, the same applies to the church family as we realize that each member is important to doing a part for the good of the whole (Eph. 4:15-16).
We sometimes condemn Martha for her busyness and concern, but we shouldn’t be too critical – the work had to be done by someone. Her attitude and the criticism of her sister were the problem. Martha needed to stop being anxious about serving and keep her focus on the Lord who would benefit from her activity. Luke described her as “distracted” (Lk. 10:40). The purpose for her service had been lost in the busyness of the moment. Perhaps Martha should have stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the visit and listen to her Lord.
We can get into the same mind-set as Martha. While we love the Lord and want to serve Him, we can become so absorbed in what we are doing that we complain that others are not helping. We lose our focus and forget that the work is the Lord’s and we are doing it for Him. When this happens we miss out on what is most important, and our times of fellowship at the Lord’s feet become just a devotional exercise as we hurriedly go through the motions each day. We get distracted by thoughts of what needs to be done and end up not enjoying the Lord or getting much out of our Bible reading and prayer time. The result is fruitless service. If we offer hospitality in our home or the church, we need to have the diligence of Martha, but keep our priorities straight so that what we do will be in His power and for His glory.
Some may think that Mary was lazy, or indifferent to the physical needs of her visitors. But this wasn’t the case. Her occupation with her Lord resulted in fruitful blessing as we see her later as a worshiper, pouring out her costly perfume on the Lord’s feet (Jn. 12:1-3). Mary’s most prized possession was worth a year’s wages (Jn. 12:5). She gave her very best in an act of worship. The Lord commended her for this act of love while Judas, the betrayer, called it a “waste.” His excuse was that it could be used to help the poor (Mk. 14:4-5).
Jesus said that Mary had chosen what was better – spending time at His feet, listening to Him and worshiping. Do we take time daily to be in His presence? If we never read His Word we’ll never really get to know Him. Jesus told His countrymen, “These are the Scriptures that testify about Me” (Jn. 5:39).
As we read Scripture our devotion to the Lord will be strengthened so that our worship will be more meaningful and fragrant, filling not only our hearts, but also ascending to God’s throne room. “The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb … they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy … with Your blood You purchased men for God’” (Rev. 5:8-9). Worship and praise are a fragrant perfume to God.
All families have had trials, and this family was no different. Martha and Mary sent an urgent message about their brother Lazarus to Jesus: “Lord, the one you love is sick” (Jn. 11:3). While it appeared serious to the sisters, Jesus told His disciples that the sickness would not end in death, that it would all be for God’s glory (Jn. 11:1-44). Jesus loved this family, but rather than rushing to heal His friend he waited two more days before going to Bethany.
The Lord again made a startling statement: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (Jn. 11:11). The disciples misunderstood His meaning, thinking that Lazarus was in the process of getting better. So Jesus clarified: “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe” (Jn. 11:14). When Jesus got to Bethany he met Martha who said: “Lord… if You had been here my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask” (Jn. 11:21-22). Martha had faith as well as insight.
When the Lord told her that Lazarus would rise again, she thought of the future when the just would be raised to stand before God. Then Jesus spoke those words so often spoken at funerals: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha’s response showed that she knew who Jesus really was: “Yes, Lord … I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (Jn. 11:27).
With these words in mind, Martha returned home and went with Mary to the tomb of Lazarus where Jesus wept with them. Scripture tells us that, as our Great High Priest, Jesus understands when we grieve, and He intercedes for us in the presence of God (Heb. 4:14-16; 7:24-26). His power was manifested as He called Lazarus out of the tomb. And Lazarus, wrapped in the grave clothes, came forth to the joy of those Jesus dearly loved.
The experiences of this family can teach us much about our Lord:
- He does answer our prayers in His time and in His way (Jn. 11:6).
- He is teaching us that there is life after death (2 Cor. 5:8).
- He has a purpose for allowing trials in our lives (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-7).
- He is the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25; 14:1-4).
- He has taken the sting out of death (1 Cor. 15:55-58).
- He loves our worship and desires us to sit at His feet (Lk. 10:39-42).
- He is as interested in our lives as He was in this family’s (Jn. 17:14-20).
In many ways this family was much like yours and mine. Because of this we can find hope and comfort as we respond to the Lord’s presence in our family.
By Ian Taylor
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org