Speaker : John Johnstone
This is the last Sunday of the year. That makes it an ideal time for us to ask ourselves: ‘How has my relationship with Jesus been in 2021?’ How am I getting on as a disciple of Jesus? In order to answer this properly, we need to know what Jesus’ priorities for us are. Then we need to ask, are Jesus’ priorities my priorities? So, I’m glad that in God’s providence, we’ve arrived at the end of Luke chapter 10, because in this short conversation in Martha’s home, Jesus tells us that ‘only one thing is needed’ (verse 42), and although it isn’t explicitly defined, clearly, Jesus is referring to sitting at his feet, listening to him.
A massive and crucial part of being a true disciple of Jesus is listening to his voice, and doing what he says. I’m sure we all know the main way we do this is with our Bibles open, especially in church, but also in family worship at home, and private worship in our own. Perhaps you’ve heard this a million times and want to switch off your brain. Please don’t switch off.
A recent survey from ‘Premier Christian News’ reported that:
9% of practising Christians said they read the Bible every day,
13% a few times a week,
13% every week,
17% said they read it a few times a year.
This means that around 51% of practising Christians read it less than once a month.
The statistics tell us that, although Jesus says our greatest priority must be listening to him, the majority of Christians aren’t doing that. This is a fact. And as a result, Christians remain spiritual infants, and know little of the power of God in their lives. This is a really serious problem. One pastor said that the vast majority of pastoral problems he comes across stem from Christians not reading their Bibles day by day. If you are in the wrong end these statistics, I hope this passage will positively encourage you to make a fresh start in the New Year.
It’s not all doom and gloom. An even fresher survey found that people have been reading the Bible more during the pandemic: The biggest rise was among 25 to 34-year-olds, where more than half (53 per cent) were reading the Bible ‘more often.’ Some of you have shared with me that you have been reading the Bible more as a result of the pandemic. That can only be a good thing.
If we’re honest, many of us, including me, can relate more to Martha in this story. We get so distracted by all kinds of things in our lives, and the thing which matter most, being in fellowship with Jesus through his Word, gets squeezed out, and we are impoverished spiritually as a result.
1. Mary’s wise choice
What a privilege for Mary and Martha, to have Jesus coming to stay with them. What an opportunity to learn directly from the Saviour’s own mouth. Mary takes full advantage of this opportunity, in stark contrast to her anxious sister. It would have been easy for Mary to get sucked in to all that Martha was doing, and to have missed out. But she makes a wise choice.
I love picturing Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, drinking in every word. This is a picture of a disciple sitting at the feet of their master, or rabbi, in humility and dependence. As an aside, in those days, rabbis would not allow women to sit at their feet. Jesus goes against this cultural norm, emphasising that men and women both have the same need to sit at his feet. They are equal in his sight. Jesus delights in teaching both men and women.
Here’s a basic question, are we taking full advantage of the spiritual opportunities we have to listen to Jesus in the Bible? Have we been regular in church? We’ve had over 100 opportunities to worship together and hear the Lord’s Word preached. This is sitting at his feet. Have we attended, and if so, did we do so prayerfully, and with humble hearts, longing to be changed by God’s Word? Have we put into practice what we have learned?
We’ve had opportunities to gather for fellowship on zoom at the prayer meeting. We’ve had opportunities to read the Word on our own and as a family. Again, do we take full advantage?
Let’s use our imaginations and picture ourselves sitting at Jesus’ feet, with our Bibles open every day in 2022. Let’s be inspired by Mary, resolving to be like her. Make it a daily practice to pray, ‘Lord, teach me, because I need that so much’.
Listening to Jesus is a strong theme in Luke’s gospel.
A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ (Luke 9:5)
He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’ (Luke 8:21)
‘As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.’ (Luke 6:47-49)
Do you want to be a fruitful Christian in 2022? ‘But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.’ (Luke 8:15) Then you need to be listening to Jesus. Do we want to grow in faith in 2022? ‘Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.’ (Romans 10:17)
Donald Whitney: “Regardless of how busy we become with all things Christian, we must remember that the most transforming practice available to us is the disciplined intake of Scripture.”
Perhaps we feel convicted by Mary’s example. There’s no point in feeling guilty if nothing changes. Pray about these things and ask the Lord that you relish, and treasure the time you spend with him, and grow in your value of it. With God’s help, make a fresh start. If you spend 15 minutes reading the Bible each day, you can read the whole Bible in a year. With 5 minutes of daily reading, it will take 3 years to complete. How much TV do we watch each day? More than 5 minutes?
Think positively about these things. There are no short-cuts to spiritual maturity – you must sit at Jesus’ feet with your Bibles open. Why not plan a new Bible reading plan?
If we’re not listening to Jesus’ voice, whose voice or voices are we listening to the most? Those on Netflix or those of our friends? If we choose Jesus’ voice, what we receive will not be taken away from us (verse 42). It will have not just positive consequences but eternal consequences.
2. Martha’s poor choice
We shouldn’t be too harsh with Martha. After all, she is the woman who asserted one of the most spectacular statements of faith in all of Scripture, ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’ (John 11:27)
However, we must learn from her mistake on this occasion. She’s so caught up with preparing food for Jesus that she becomes anxious and distracted with what is really important. Don’t we all know what that’s like? Maybe that was you yesterday, fretting about food, presents and hospitality, but and being so distracted that you forgot about the place of Jesus in Christmas, and didn’t really celebrate his birth much at all. It’s so easy to do. We can all relate to Martha.
And it is fascinating that it wasn’t as if she was doing something wrong, in and of itself. In fact, she was trying to provide a lovely meal for Jesus. What an example of the truth that the good can be the enemy of the best. Perhaps you are so caught up with good things, such as work and family, church service, and looking after others, but these things have taken over, and you’ve missed the one thing which is necessary.
I can picture a day in my own life where I fail to sit at Jesus feet. The alarm clock goes off, and there begins a conveyor belt of tasks which seem to be never-ending. We see our Bibles beside our bed or the app on our phone, and think, ‘I’ll do it later’. Before we know it, it’s the end of the day, we feel exhausted, and we’ve not listened to anything Jesus is saying.
As disciples of Jesus, we must not only give to him, but take time to receive from him. This takes wisdom and discipline. You might think: ‘Well, I serve Jesus by helping the poor, and witnessing to him at work’. That is good! But are you taking time to receive from him at church and at home?
There is nothing more important than communion with Jesus, and this requires effort on our part. Laziness can be the enemy here too, if we are honest. When was the last time you turned off your phone, and sat just listening? Is Christianity more about what we can do for Jesus or what he can do for us? ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5)
What happens when like Martha we get anxious about secondary things? Well, we often start to get frustrated with others, thinking that what we are doing is all-important, and they are too selfish to help. We begin to judge others. Martha is clearly raging at her sister and even accuses Jesus of not caring! She has lost perspective.
We need to be careful that when we serve in the church, we can get so caught up in our own particular patch that we begin to resent others and even judge them. They should be helping me! We can even get frustrated at the Lord. Again, this shows how critical it is to enjoy time at Jesus feet, as only then will we serve him with joy.
I was struck by the words of Kent Hughes this week: “Martha did not realise that at this critical time in Jesus’ life, he would have preferred her company over her service – and that he regarded her fellowship with him as more important than serving him a meal.”
Am I, like Martha, missing what matters most, just spending time with Jesus? ‘The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.’ (Luke 8:14)
Friends, as we approach the New Year, let’s not be distracted by life’s worries, and riches and pleasures. Let’s not be so consumed by work and youtube and facebook and Netflix and snapchat and twitter and TV and football and clothes and furniture and even what we’re doing to serve Jesus, so that we miss out on what is best.
Do you agree with this statement: ‘Often, when life gets busy, the first thing to go is time spent with the Lord’? I agree with it. Let’s look ahead now. What are we going to do to be more like Mary?