Meet Martha, a Friend of Jesus

Luke 10:38-41, NCV

“While Jesus and his followers were traveling, Jesus went into a town. A woman named Martha let Jesus stay at her house. 39 Martha had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him teach. 40 But Martha was busy with all the work to be done. She went in and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me.”

41 “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. 

42 Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

My name is Martha and I’m a friend of Jesus. My home was one of His favorite places to stay–a refuge for Him whose life was so busy. I joyfully opened my house for Him and His disciples. When Jesus came I went all out, I wanted the best for them and that meant there were always things to do. Is that really a bad thing?

The kitchen was verging on bedlam–lamb, cucumbers, figs, and so on. Roasting and slicing, I had bread in the oven. All of this was requiring constant attention, and I remember not being able to keep up.

I wanted things to be perfect for Jesus.

I took occasional peeks at He who was teaching in my living room. I just brought in some bowls of figs and raisins as an appetizer and found my sister Mary sitting with the men listening to Jesus and asking questions. It was that which started to get a little ticked off.

I was getting irritated.

There was so much to do and I realized I had to have her help. And the more I thought of Mary the more frustrated I got. I suspect she didn’t understand the work that need to be done. I suppose her priorities were messed up–she simply didn’t understand her role as a hostess, and to sit with the men like she was doing was wrong.

Mary didn’t understand her place.

I admit I was having issues with my sister. I had brought out another bowl of figs and that’s when I gently interrupted the Lord’s teaching. I wanted Him to tell Mary that her place was with me in the kitchen. He could correct her and I knew she would listen. “Tell her to help me.”

Instead, it was Jesus who corrected me. I still remember Jesus’ words. I wasn’t expecting this.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.”

Was I really that transparent? He understood, but rather than encouraging me I had become another lesson to everyone present. I realize now that the real issue was with my attitude, and not the work. Yes, I was bothered and upset and I know that it’s those things that were the problem.

Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

I suddenly knew that He was right. Jesus was in my home, and all I did was get angry. I thought my work would please Him and after all, wasn’t that important? Didn’t He “deserve” my best efforts?

My younger sister Mary was being praised. She was my example and now I was being gently rebuked. I realized that all I was doing, all my work, was not what Jesus wanted from me. The problem was my own heart—-it wasn’t Mary, it was me!

I had taken my eyes off of Jesus and was immersed in my service to Him.

I had become critical and resentful of Mary, and I had forgotten that my place was at Jesus’ feet, listening and learning. That’s what Jesus wanted from me, and somehow I had forgotten that. The work could wait, my real place was with Jesus.

Martha’s frustration is typical of those who diligently serve with good intent, but forget to also sit at Jesus’ feet. “The Martha spirit says, if the work is done, is not that all? The Mary spirit asks whether Jesus is well pleased or not? All must be done in his name and by his Spirit, or nothing is done.”

C.H. Spurgeon

The Blessing of the Children

Luke 18:15-17, KJV

15 And they brought unto Him also infants, that He would touch them; but when His disciples saw it, they rebuked them.

16 But Jesus called them unto Him and said, “Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God.

17 Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”

We were wrong (like usual it seems). I guess that we were trying to maximize Jesus’ ministry. We meant well, but He needed organization. That was our “ministry.” We simply felt that Jesus’ time was our concern, and as His disciples we wanted Him to connect with those who really mattered.

The parents were bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus.

“It was the custom for mothers to bring their children to some distinguished Rabbi on the first birthday that he might bless them.”

William Barclay

Jesus made it clear that these children needed to be the focus of our ministry. Our efforts were not to be centered on adults, rather it was misguided thinking that we direct Jesus’ work to be focused and redirected. These little ones were in the way.

Up to now, Jesus’ work was for adults. There were lepers, demon-possessed, paralyzed, tax-collectors all waiting for His ministry. Somehow we overlooked the needs of little children. Again, we were wrong, misguided, and ignorant of the walk of the true believer.

And sure enough, Jesus explained what we were missing. Children were to become our focus. They were the ones who we were to emulate and esteem. The radical thing to us was understanding that these ‘little ones’ were that significant. This was a powerful jolt.

“Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”

Luke 18:16-17, The Message

This was astounding! It was nothing less than another radical thought from our Teacher. Accepting this wasn’t easy, but Jesus was crystal clear. We dare not think otherwise, but to believe this was against all we thought we understood.

Jesus understood that childlikeness was the only way we could enter His Kingdom.

Trust me on this–we believed otherwise. Up to now, we assumed that maturity meant sophistication. It was all about right thinking and good theology that God was looking for. We assumed that being simple wasn’t quite what Jesus wanted from us. Rather we believed the opposite.

Children were now to be our examples. Their simpleness was to be our guide–it was the Kingdom of God’s doorway into true discipleship.

“Part of the exquisite beauty of salvation is its simplicity. Any man, woman, or child can come to Christ with absolutely nothing to offer Him but simple faith-just as they are. Salvation requires nothing more than childlike faith-believing that Jesus Christ died for my sins and accepting His gift of Salvation.”

Beth Moore

When Jesus Cleansed the Temple

John 2:14-17, NCV

 “In the Temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves. He saw others sitting at tables, exchanging different kinds of money. 15 Jesus made a whip out of cords and forced all of them, both the sheep and cattle, to leave the Temple. He turned over the tables and scattered the money of those who were exchanging it. 16 Then he said to those who were selling pigeons, “Take these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place for buying and selling!”

17 When this happened, the followers remembered what was written in the Scriptures: “My strong love for your Temple completely controls me.”

He used a whip. The text tells us that Jesus carefully took cords and braided a whip. What can I say? I’m amazed at His reaction to what He saw going down in the Temple. What Jesus saw grieved His heart so intensely that there wasn’t anything else He could do.

There seem to be three distinct whips I think we need to consider.

  • The one Jesus carefully braided to “cleanse the Temple.”
  • The one used on Jesus’ back as part of our atonement. (Isaiah 53:4-6).
  • The one that believers experience in the ways God disciplines us as His children.

All three are critical to see and know. Each carry a significance to this teaching. All three carry their own “pain.” The Temple becomes “pure.” His pain becomes our salvation. And I get discipline to become “holy.”

There are times when Jesus uses the whip on me! Not a leather one mind you, but a braided cord of discipline. What He saw taking place in the marketplace of “me” (my temple) brings Jesus grief and sorrow. I am the temple of the Holy Spirit, and He fully intends to make me pure inside. Hebrews 12 tells me what to expect as a son.

“For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.”

Hebrews 12:7-8, (in context)

It’s best to remember that Jesus was beaten almost to death for my sin. So whips often happen when the Will of God happens. It’s His way of cleansing through the effort of the Holy Spirit. I believe that certain “things” will only take place when the whip is cracked.

Think about this for a moment.

But he was wounded for the wrong we did;
    he was crushed for the evil we did.
The punishment, which made us well, was given to him,
    and we are healed because of his wounds.

Isaiah 53:5, (context. 4-7)

Yes a whip carefully used is needful, and it brings pain. But the three can show us spiritual realities. It’s through each that we see God doing His work. I should warn you–this is not a “prosperity” gospel. There’s not “a blab it and grab it” theology. Just reading Hebrews 11 and 12 should alert you to what’s real.

Meet the Widow, and Her Simple Pennies

Mark 12:41-44

41-44 Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”

It wasn’t much but it’s all I had. Some would laugh, most would scorn–but truthfully, I really wasn’t giving my money, I was giving my heart. That’s all, just my little tiny heart.

When my husband died, I was left with very little. What I did have I hid in a hole in the wall, but I was concerned, money was going out and nothing was coming in. Often I sat on my stool and stared at that hole, and often I was pretty frightened. There is nothing to live on. What was I going to do?

Please understand. No one was going to help me.

I got up one morning to pull out the leather sack, all that was there were two pennies. That’s it. Two very small pennies, and that’s all I had to live on! I knew that this day would come, but it seemed to come so soon. I shook with fear at what life was going to bring next.

————————–

Jesus sat watching the crowd in the Temple with the twelve. Occasionally there was a procession: trumpets blowing and bright banners waving. Another rich man announced to everyone that he was coming to contribute to the Temple. There were six stone receptacles placed in strategic spots, where people could tithe as the Law required of every Jew.

Jesus was watching all of this.

Suddenly an old woman came to give, and there were no trumpets, no fanfare. She simply came to give what she had–two very small copper pennies. Just two pennies. Most would laugh I suppose. After all, the rich were dropping in thousands of silver.

It was funny, but Jesus turned to His disciples. They sat and listened carefully to what He had to say:

“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.”

They gasped as they struggled to understand the Teacher. It seemed idiotic, but Jesus often said many outrageous things. You could see their minds working to grip this. It made absolutely zero sense.

“They all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

The twelve were dumbfounded.

———————-

When I gave, I gave my heart. I had nothing, but you know, a strange peace came over me. I rejoiced to do this, to give to God and His work. Yes, I now had nothing–nothing but the grace and care of God. Maybe I was a fool. Maybe I was stark raving mad. But I knew what I wanted to do. When I threw in my two pennies, I threw myself into the heart and care of God.

What was going to happen next? I really don’t know, but we will find out, won’t we?

“Don’t be afraid, you tiny flock! Your Father plans to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give the money away. Get yourselves purses that never grow old, inexhaustible treasure in Heaven, where no thief can ever reach it, or moth ruin it. For wherever your treasure is, you may be certain that your heart will be there too!”

Luke 12:33, Phillips

Art: Coin Week; verses used are from The Message, a translation of Eugene Peterson

Little Christs

Luke 9:1-6, Amplified

Now Jesus called together the twelve [disciples] and gave them [the right to exercise] power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. Then He sent them out [on a brief journey] to preach the kingdom of God and to perform healing. 

And He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey [that might encumber you]—neither a walking stick, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two [b]tunics apiece. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city [to go to another]. And as for all those who do not welcome you, when you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet [breaking all ties with them] as a testimony against them [that they rejected My message].” 

So they began going from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing the sick everywhere.

Jesus called the twelve of us together that day for a reason–He wanted us to start doing His work, which, I admit wasn’t really in my thinking. But this was His plan, and He knew exactly what He was doing. I didn’t feel remotely competent, and the thought of doing what Jesus did seemed a bit sacrilegious. I was very intimidated.

But now I can see that was what He intended all along, to push us into the supernatural–preaching, healing, and exorcising demons. He wanted us to touch people, to meet the needs of the desperate, and by doing so, extend the kingdom of God.

We were all skeptical, obviously. We weren’t Jesus, not by a long shot, and we had no right or ability to do miracles. On our own, I we were still fishermen and tax collectors. And honestly, what Jesus was asking (or commanding?) was for us to leave what we felt was comfortable and to step into His sandals. He wanted us to be just like Him.

He gave us His authority and power–it was His to give.

I suppose that this was the key to it all. We had witnessed fantastic miracles, stunning things that pretty much undid us. Jesus repeatedly defied the laws of nature—with just a word. And we’re His disciples, so I suppose that meant we needed to step out and touch people just like He taught. I guess that was Jesus’ plan for us all along. We just thought it wouldn’t happened this quick.

So the power and authority was given and we became “little Christs.”

Two by two we went in different directions to discover for ourselves what would happen. The needs we encountered were substantial. The world was a needy place that made its home in the pain and darkness of the demonized and the desperate. It seemed overwhelming. I think we all felt weak and very inadequate.

It’s funny, but we suddenly saw all these people through His eyes–it’s like we never had seen them before. We were now cloaked in Jesus’ very own power. When we laid hands on people astonishing miracles began to happen. All at once there were needs all around us. And the people kept coming.

I began to understand what it really meant to love people. We had left the relative safety of learners and had now became doers. I suppose we realized that there was an incredible difference between the two. We were all astonished by what we saw, at that moment we had few doubts about what was happening inside of us.

It changed us like nothing else could!

Being made into “little Christs” made perfect sense. We saw fantastic miracles and dramatic victories over dark demons. The things we had seen Jesus do were now the things we were doing! Suddenly everything came together and we understood many of the words that He had tried to drill into our thick skulls.

From village to village we went–we stayed with whoever wanted us. The needs we saw were staggering, from sunrise to sunset people came. Wherever we turned there seemed to be somebody else, but Jesus’ own authority was always present, it never diminished or weakened. It was like a bubbling spring that never once ran dry.

I suppose what happened inside me was just as much a miracle as we had seen Him do for others. I was astonished–up to now I never realized how exciting it was to follow the Lord Jesus. What a joy to see the face of a man or woman who was set free. It was such a thrill to touch a little boy’s dead eyes and suddenly realize that he could see!

So this is what it honestly means to be His disciple!

“Truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

John 14:12

A Question: Am I Like Peter?

To follow Him can be really hard. There doesn’t seem to be any contingency plans for any who are looking to escape such a drastic call. Jesus either is, or He isn’t our Lord. “Do you also want to leave?” This is a question that will be asked to every disciple–sometimes once, and sometimes repeatedly.

There are these crystalline moments when I must make a decision. Will I take up my cross and go with Him? There doesn’t seem to be any room in Jesus’ band for ‘almost’ disciples. That scares me sometimes.

Today’s cross is waiting for me. I’m afraid at times that I won’t be able to take the next step as a true follower. Am I just fooling myself?

All of heaven seems to stand on tiptoe to see what I’m going to do next.

Who am I really?

Being obedient to Jesus is far from easy. We must have His Spirit.

“After this, many of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance:

“Do you also want to leave?”

“Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69, The Message

Image from Wikipedia, verses are from The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson.

Those Strange Christians

I was thinking about this today.

Do you have any idea how ridiculous unbelievers must see us? Just imagine for a minute that you’re on the outside of faith looking in.

———————

They get very solemn as they slowly take the bread and wine. They say that when they sing it’s to God Himself. Some get loud raising hands in surrender to Him. Some will even dance in the worship of someone who’s invisible. How bizarre is that?

They call a man who died a long time ago, Lord and Master.

They gather to read from a special and “magical” book, that they say speaks to them. They talk about being a living a life separated to Him. They truly think that others need to join them in this silly group. They regard each other as brothers and sisters and they serve each other.

They tell us that Jesus is God in human flesh, who was put to death on a cross is now alive. They also believe that His blood saves them from their “sin.” These very odd ones think this man is going to return and rule the world, physically bring the Kingdom of God to this planet.

How very odd of them. How very strange these Christians are.

—————————

There exists a letter written to Diogenes, who is known as the Cynic. It was written around 130 AD. This letter itself is fairly extensive. I suggest that you read it in its entirety. It describes the faith and beliefs of the Christian to a man who really has no idea about them but wants to understand–here is a small portion of this epistle. Remember that this is one of the very first observations of our Faith:

“They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory.” 

Meet the Pharisee. Meet the Tax Collector

Luke 18:10-14

 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. 11 The proud Pharisee ‘prayed’ this prayer: ‘Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, 12 I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn.’

13 “But the corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat upon his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored.”

The Pharisee:

I had it all together. I had shaped myself to be the ultimate Pharisee–the Pharisees of the Pharisees. I understood the Law; I could quote whole books, forward and backward. I fasted twice a week, tithed everything, right down to my herbs and spices. I had it all together.

I made sure everyone saw my commitment.

I strenuously kept God’s Law. I was consumed by understanding it, I tried to grasp all its nuances and complexity. The 10 commandments were emblazoned on all that I did. I wanted everyone to know that I was one of “the pure ones,” for that was the meaning behind the word Pharisee. I knew that I was pure.

I went to the Temple every day to pray, I stood holy and set apart, standing before a real and holy God. I was always the truest example to the people of Israel. I always stood when I prayed, for I was completely committed to doing all that the Law demanded of me.

One day I saw a wicked man in God’s holy temple. I had to thank God that we were total opposites. He was a tax collector and an evil person. I really was nothing like him. I rejoiced that I had become a true example of a righteous man.

I knew I was righteous, and certainly not at all like that sinful tax collector.

———————-

The Tax Collector:

I didn’t have it all together. I understood this and was horrified that I had become so evil. I came to the Temple, driven by my guilt and shame–no one had to tell me this, for I knew my sin and I was deeply ashamed.

Why I came, I don’t know. I honestly didn’t belong here, and I kept a distance from the front. I guess that’s where I belonged. On the fringes before the Holy One. It seemed now that I was drawn to this place, and I’m still not sure why I came that day.

I knew that I breathed evil and had become evil.

I fell to my knees, and I begged God to forgive me. I saw the Pharisee standing in the presence of God, but I knew I wasn’t at all like him. He was righteous and I knew I was not. Oh, how I wanted God to forgive me for all the sins I had committed.

I must tell you that my spirit was in agony.

“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted. The meek and lowly are fortunate! for the whole wide world belongs to them.

Matthew 5:3-5, LB

Jesus clearly told us who was truly forgiven that day. When we think we have it all together, we’re deceiving ourselves.

Let’s not pretend otherwise, okay.

Art: Eugene Burnand, 1850-1924, litho; Scripture used here is from the Living Bible.