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Only One Thing - Luke 10:38-42

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

(This is the gist of yesterday's sermon in our church parking lot, which is now uploaded on our church youtube channel, which you can find by going to: and clicking on "sermons" and then scroll down and click on "more on youtube").

INTRODUCTION - - One of the things I love about the four gospel accounts of the life and ministry and teachings of our risen Lord is that often when a crucial command or principle or doctrine is presented, it will be illustrated or clarified by a story. Principles and commands are great, and we should be ever more familiar with all of them in scripture. But stories sometimes help us get out of the cerebral, and more into the practical. Stories help us see where the rubber meets the road – so to speak.

Last Sunday Joshua preached from Luke 10:25-37, wherein we are introduced to the timeless commandment, sometimes referred to as the greatest commandment, “You Shall Love The Lord Your God With All your Heart, And With All Your Soul, And With All Your Strength, And With All Your Mind; And Your Neighbor As Yourself.” That latter command is then followed by a story to help us understand in greater depth what it means to “Love our Neighbor as Ourselves.”

After Jesus told that story – usually referred to as “The Good Samaritan”, Luke then tells us a story to help us better understand and obey the first part of the greatest commandment having to do with our relationship with God. That story is found in vs. 38-42, and once you turn there, I would like to read it to you. Luke 10:38-42

This short story is a huge gift to anyone who wants to grow in their love for and devotion to our wonderful Lord and Savior. Let’s read it together: vs. 38-42

Unlike the story of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus evidently made up to drive home how to love one’s neighbor, this story really happened. Let’s take a closer look at it together.

I. Martha, Hospitality & Housework

What should we think and how should we feel about this lady named Martha? Before we begin to criticize and look down our nose at Martha, please note that she is the one who welcomed Jesus into her home. Martha shared this home with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus – all three unmarried as far as we can tell. Martha apparently knew that God didn’t just give man the brains and instinct to build homes for their families so that their families could have a safe place to grow their family; He also intended for these homes to be a place of gracious hospitality to those on the outside. People on the outside of our families often need the overflow of love from our families to lighten the burdens and loads they are carrying.

The call to all believers to be hospitable to others is huge in the New Testament – especially as we see the end drawing near, and all the chaos and stress that will come with that. Peter speaks to that in I Peter 4:7-9 where he explains: “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”

When it comes to the willingness and obedience to exercise hospitality, which always requires a level of death to self, Martha gets a high five in my opinion!

I want to also say regarding Martha that very likely if it wasn’t for her the dishes would still be in the sink and the dirty clothes would still be dirty laying in a pile somewhere. She saw the value of a clean and orderly house and she should not be ostracized for that. The point of this passage is not to put down housework, order or cleanliness; and it certainly is not a passage that a husband should use as a club with his wife when she is desperately trying to get some help with all the household chores.

II. Martha - Distracted, worried and bothered

Jesus appreciated Martha’s gracious invitation to enter her home. But He fairly quickly noticed three things about Martha’s character as she prepared to serve Him. First He noticed she was distracted. Look at vs. 40. “But Martha was distracted with all her preparations..” Literally it should read “Martha was distracted with much service.” It was appropriate for Martha to provide some water or maybe wine and a snack – perhaps some goat cheese and nuts. But Martha knew Jesus was not just any old guest, and thus she was putting on the dog as they say in the South.

Jesus Christ – the risen Son of God – our great Savior and Lover -wants to enjoy fellowship with us in our homes. He wants to share His heart with us; and He wants us to bear our hearts to Him. But one of the things that prevents that from happening is we often bite off more than we can chew in a given day with pressing but lesser things. Service is good and appropriate. “Much service” is harmful especially when it is self generated. And one of the ways we know when we have bitten off more than we can or should chew is when we get resentful that others are not joining us in the chew!

It wasn’t Mary’s idea to put on a huge smorgasboard of a meal for Him; but she was being blamed by Martha as if it was their decision together.

“Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” The issue is not that the Lord did not care. I believe He had a very tender spot in His huge heart for Martha – partly based on how many times Jesus visited them during His 3 plus years of ministry before His crucifixion. He cared, but He knew the solution for Martha was not dragging Mary into her self induced stress. Rather it was helping Martha get in touch with her self induced stress, so that she could repent and get cleansed of it.

Listen to His tender response to her in vs. 41, “But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha you are worried and bothered about so many things;…” (when someone’s name is repeated like this it is often a way of showing tenderness and concern),

Perhaps Martha was the oldest of the three siblings. Perhaps she thus felt more responsibility for the house and for them than the other two did. Perhaps their parents died early. For whatever reasons Martha had a deep seated problem with worrying and fretting, that led her to get frustrated and resentful with others who didn’t share her sense of urgency and responsibility.

Jesus knew commanding Mary to run to Martha’s aid would not at all get to the root of Martha’s issues.

In Martha’s mind, all kinds of things needed urgent attention. But Jesus tried to help her see, “Only one thing is necessary”; and Mary wisely chose that one thing.

What is that one thing? Vs. 39, “She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.”

III. Being a one thing believer

So how was Mary wired so different? How was Mary able to ignore legitimate cleaning and preparation issues in their house, and how was she able to ignore other societal pressures and expectations, so that she could hear and heed every word that came from Jesus’s mouth?

Well let me share a few suggestions:

A. First I’m guessing Mary was already a God lover and a God pursuer – very likely helped greatly by her love of the Psalms – so that when Jesus began to preach and teach and minister in or near her town, she had a prepared heart to worship and seek Him.

- I’m guessing because she had cultivated a practice of meditating in the Psalms - - when she was feeling her sister Martha’s stress - David’s words in Psalm 27 were helping her stay in the moment - “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek; That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord And to meditate in His temple.” Now if you have studied King David’s life, you know he asked for far more than that. But this was his primary prayer and his primary pursuit – knowing and loving and experiencing the Lord in all His glory and majesty, which required the discipline of ignoring lesser but louder pressures.

- Perhaps as the pressure began to build to give in to Martha’s demands and expectations, and to join her in the kitchen to lessen the tension in the home, David’s warning in Psalm 32 might have kicked in, “…let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.” Mary knew houses had to be kept, and drinks and eats had to be prepared, but she also knew that opportunities to fellowship with the Lord in a focused way are precious and must not be lost or misused. Jesus wasn’t omnipresent then, like He is now. This was her time; and come hell or high water – she was not going to allow lesser demands to rob her of it, no matter how loud those lesser demands were screaming at her. “Let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found. Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach Him.” Most Christians would agree the greatest commandment and thus our greatest priority in life is to seek God with our whole hearts and to love Him with all that we have; but few Christians have learned to ignore the “flood of great waters” or the screaming demands and distractions of life; and thus we often miss those precious opportunities to sit at His feet.

- Jesus said of Mary that she “has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Every day you and I have choices to respond to His drawing and His wooing; every day we have choices to give in to the distractions and the diversions from intimacy with Him – or not.

The Holy Spirit led Luke to insert this incident with Jesus, Martha and Mary in his gospel account so that every time in life we are reminded of the greatest commandment, we will also be reminded of the practices and mindsets that are required to enable us to obey this greatest commandment. Practices and mindsets that Mary had cultivated, Martha sadly had not.

But lest you feel the weight of pulling this off is solely on your shoulders – I want to remind you of what God often reminds us of in both the Old and New Testaments. And that is that God is the One who initiated our relationship with Him; and He is the one who sustains it. He knew left to our own devices we would choose to worship the creation rather than the Creator as the apostle Paul spoke of in Romans 1. He knew that left to our own devices each of us would go astray and turn to our own way as the prophet Isaiah spoke of in Isaiah 53. He knew that even though He would prove to be utterly faithful as our Father and the sustainer and protector of our relationship, we would often prove faithless.

So even after all of our unfaithfulness, and our giving into the distractions and diversions of life – He invites us and woos us back with promises like Jeremiah 3:22 “Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness.”

My sense early on this past week in preparing for this sermon is that our amazing loving Father wants to do a significant healing work this morning. He is still very much after that bride who will be the sole possession and glory of His Son. Scripture is very clear that Jesus didn’t just die so that our sins could be forgiven; but that He also died so that our wandering, distractable, divided hearts could be healed.

The apostle Peter knew the pain and grief of having such a heart. In his latter years he said this of our Savior’s glorious work on the cross. “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” I Peter 2:24,25 If you go back and study that second chapter of Peter’s first epistle you will not find anything in that chapter that would make us think he is primarily speaking of physical healing here. Now our wonderful Savior loves to heal our sicknesses, diseases and injuries. But in this chapter He is after something much more insidious - and that is our wounded and wandering hearts. There is a fleshly or sinful tendency or compulsion in our hearts to put other things or people or projects before our pursuit of fellowship and intimacy with the Lord that must be cleansed and healed for us to have the freedom in our spirits to seek and love Him as He is so worthy to be loved.

So I’d like to take some time now to pray for His healing work in our hearts.

Prayer time.

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