In Luke 10, Jesus declared to Martha that her sister Mary had chosen “that good part, which shall not be taken away from her”. In his sermon last weekend, Lin Junxian urged the church to choose “that good part” —to listen to Jesus, surrender to Him and demonstrate her love and devotion to Him.
“One of the most powerful things we can do as believers, regardless of the season we are in, is to worship God. During the difficult seasons in our lives, if there is anything that the devil wants to steal from us, it is our worship,” revealed Lin Junxian, associate pastor of City Harvest Church as he opened his message last weekend (Jun 27 and 28), encouraging the congregation not to lose sight of the heart of worship.
Pastor Junxian started his sermon with Luke 10:38-42, where Jesus visited the home of sisters Martha and Mary. While Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him, her sister Martha was busy preparing the refreshments. Feeling frustrated that she was doing everything herself, Martha came to Jesus and complained, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:41-42)
MARY VS MARTHA: WORSHIP VS WORKS?
Pastor Junxian pointed out that throughout Scripture, Mary could always be found sitting at the feet of Jesus. First in Luke 10:39, where she sat, listening to Jesus. When Mary was grieving over the death of her brother Lazarus, she fell at Jesus’ feet in surrender (Jn 11:32). Finally in John 12:3, she honoured Jesus by anointing Him with expensive oil and wiping His feet with her hair.
“What does it mean to be at the feet of Jesus? The act of falling at, or being at a person’s feet, has special significance. To be at the feet of Jesus represents an act of worship—the believer is giving Him the honour reserved only for God.” Throughout the Gospels, Pastor Junxian noted, those who had a revelation of the identity of Jesus could not help but fall at His feet, such as the Samaritan leper, Jairus and the woman with an issue of blood.
While not many details are given about Mary of Bethany, it is evident that she was a worshiper of God and she was convinced of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Hence, all she wanted to do was to please Him.
“The pleasing of God is the heart of worship,” Pastor Junxian said, quoting theologian RC Sproul. “Mary was the one who wasn’t shy to show her passionate devotion to Jesus, even when others around her criticised her for it.”
In contrast to her sister, “Martha was described as one who was distracted with much serving,” Pastor Junxian explained. “Distracted” in Greek is translated as being drawn away or over-occupied, driven about mentally or in distress. Rather than being drawn towards Jesus, Martha was drawn away by her own need to serve. This was a form of self-absorption that distracted her from the fact that the Son of God was sitting in her house, wanting to fellowship with her.
It is not difficult to empathise with the thoughts running through Martha’s head, the pastor acknowledged. Many of us share the same thinking: “If I don’t do this, who will?” “Why aren’t the rest doing something to help?”
Some Bible commentaries suggest that the reason Martha wanted to provide good hospitality to Jesus was that showing good hospitality was a measure of a woman’s identity at that time.
“Martha wanted to show that she was good enough for Jesus,” Pastor Junxian explained. “But she forgot that Jesus came for her, not for her hospitality or service.”
THE NEED FOR SILENCE AND SOLITUDE WITH GOD
The main conflict in this story was not between Mary and Martha. Rather, it was a tug of war within each of their hearts to choose between their own agenda and Jesus. Jesus concluded that Mary had chosen the good part because he did not agree with Martha’s perception of her problem. In fact, He rebuked her and told her to stop busying herself and to join Him.
Applying this to the church, Pastor Junxian pointed out that many believers face this same conflict. In the attempt to meet all the demands of work and ministry, it is possible for a Christian to end up ignoring Jesus.
Pastor Junxian shared with the congregation that he found himself justifying why making room for silence and solitude with God was a difficult thing to do. He would tell himself, “I’m sure God understands, right? I don’t have a lot of time and after all, I’m doing His work, I’m serving Him.” He soon grew in frustration at work and lost the joy of serving God.
“I took a hard look at myself and realised that, unknowingly, I was becoming like Martha,” he said candidly. “I had made my own agenda more important than God. Ministry work was outgrowing my devotion to Jesus.”
He reminded the church that God is their Creator and He knows the human heart. “Our human tendency is to strive out of our own human ability, for our own identity and value—not just in life, but also in front of Him,” Pastor Junxian pointed out.
While it is heartening that many Christians are passionately living out their calling and mission daily, an overly active lifestyle does have a downside. “Many of us know what it is like to live lives in a frenzy going from day to day feeling exhausted and unfulfilled. We suffer the after-effects of an overly active life,” he elaborated. “We pride ourselves in maximising our time, leaving very little room for anything else, including paying attention to our spiritual life.”
When believers build their own identity and value through their work, they begin to justify to God their “need” to be busy. They “simply have no time” for silence and solitude in the presence of Jesus. Pastor Junxian urged the congregation to come before God in honest vulnerability and reflect on the hard and heart questions: “When we are at work, where is God in our work?”
He encouraged the congregation to give their time to think deeply and to examine their heart and motives. “To see who we really are, to know the truth regarding our situation, and to allow God to lead us back on the right track,” he explained.
Proverbs 3:5 (MSG) reads, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track.”
Ultimately, the story of Martha and Mary is not a contrast but an illustration of the tug of war within the hearts of believers. “At the start of the story, Jesus sets out as the Seeker seeking Mary and Martha out. But yet, by the end of the chapter, Jesus is the one waiting for Martha to seek Him,” Pastor Junxian observed.
The story ends abruptly without revealing Martha’s actions after Jesus’ rebuke. Whether Luke intended to leave it like that or not, Martha was left to choose as Jesus patiently continued to wait for her to draw near to Him.
When Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet, she did three things: to listen to Jesus, to surrender to Him and to demonstrate her love and devotion to Him. Jesus said that Mary has chosen “the good part, ” which means portion or reward. The psalmist David wrote in Psalms 73:26, “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” In closing, Pastor Junxian beckoned the congregation to come to Jesus in surrender, to turn away from their busyness to sit at the feet of Jesus in simple worship once again.