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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Dishes and Prayer

Luke 10:38 - 11:13

Lesson audio

(The reader will note that combining the two instances given in sequence is somewhat arbitrary. They are believed to have happened in that order, but there is no specific cause and effect chain between the two.)

Mary and Martha

Luk 10:38-42 NIV As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. (39) She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. (40) But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" (41) "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, (42) but only one thing is needed.[6] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Background

In these days of liberated women, Martha’s complaint about Mary seems somewhat strange. We must therefore understand the times before we can understand the passage.

First, understand the duty of hospitality. Jesus was a “somebody.” If he chose to come to your home, your first reaction would be one of welcome, for such a choice brings honor and credit to your home.[1] More than that, you would never think of asking him to go elsewhere, as hospitality was considered a sacred duty. Indeed, Abraham entertained angels without knowing who they were. That account would have been drummed into young girls as showing the importance of hospitality even to complete strangers. Besides, travelers from other places brought you the latest news – or gossip.

We must also take note of the fact that the home belongs to Martha – an unusual circumstance. Most likely she obtained it on her husband’s death, the couple being childless. She has taken in her sister (presumably younger) and brother, Mary and Lazarus. This would imply they are orphans with little to no inheritance. This places an extra burden on Martha, as she is now a recognized head of household – and a woman. Society would be watching her to see that she fulfilled all her duties.

Indeed, she has the burden of duties beyond the role of women in general. At this time, women would have normally been excluded from a rabbi’s lesson for a number of reasons. The most basic is that mingling men and women in that time often produced pregnancy before marriage. If a woman wanted to know what the rabbi said, she could ask her husband or other male relative. In particular, Mary is shown as sitting closest to Christ[2] and is most particularly out of place.

Mary and Martha compared

Martha is described by three words:

  • Distracted – the word in the original can be translated “pulled away.” She’s being pulled away from the center of life by the things on the periphery. How often are we distracted by the cares of this life and thus pulled away from our Lord? (As we shall see, this is a reason we have a devotional life.)
  • Worried – how often our Lord commands us not to worry! It seems to consist of thinking about everything that can go wrong. (Remember: Murphy’s law says “anything that can go wrong…” not “everything …”
  • Upset – the word in the original could very well be used to describe the feeling you get when your nap falls victim to your neighbor’s leaf blower. It implies someone in a commotion.

Mary would be seen, however, as the one with the problem.

  • She’d be viewed as lazy. She chose not to help.
  • She’d be viewed as rebellious. It’s Martha’s house; likely enough she asked Mary for help and was turned down. (I suspect Mary was the cute one – must have been some history in this).
  • She’d be seen as taking a man’s place. She is closest to Jesus; good manners would have her elsewhere. Even if invited to stay, she should have sat (or more likely stood; teachers sat) in the back of the room. This would give the men their proper place.

All this is the world’s way at that time. Everything Martha wanted would have been seen as good. But the good is the enemy of the best.

The devotional life

There are dying denominations in America. They are dying because they are performing good works. For that? No, for neglecting the devotional life within. They have rejected the Scripture; thus they have rejected the Christ therein revealed. They have the form of godliness but deny the power thereof. They have no real devotional life.

Devotional life – why is it important?

  • First, because it is supreme. Like Mary in this instance, the devotional life puts our eyes upon Jesus. He is Lord; therefore we are dealing with that which is supreme in all things.
  • It is a hidden life which shows in our outward lives.[3] If we lack this, the absence will be clear also.

But by itself the devotional life is useless – for faith without works is dead. How then are we to conduct our devotional lives so that our works reflect our faith?

Prayer – in outline

Luk 11:1-4 NIV Jesus' Teaching on Prayer

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." (2) He said to them, "When you pray, say:

" 'Father,[1]

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.[2] (3) Give us each day our daily bread. (4) Forgive us our sins,

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.[3]

And lead us not into temptation.[4]' "

We may conveniently take this outline in three pieces: God, ourselves and others. Prayer is the core of the devotional life. It seems surprising at first that we need to be taught how to pray, but it is so.

God

We must commit ourselves to three things about God:

  • First, that he is our Father. That implies his right to command us, for we are his children. It implies that we are to treat each other as brothers and sisters, for all other Christians are his children as well. And it implies that we are to behave as a family should – treating each other in love, welcoming new members likewise.
  • Next, we are to “hallow” (keep holy) his name. I am particular about the misuse of my name, considering it an insult. How much more, then, is the misuse of God’s name an insult to him? If we call him “Father” and “Lord,” should we then insult him by misusing his name?
  • Finally, we are to pray (and work) that his kingdom will come. There is work to be done, and we are to do it. We are not just to idle, but work and pray for the coming of the kingdom – both in the church and in Christ’s return (even so, Lord Jesus, come).
Ourselves
  • First, we are to ask for our daily bread. Note that we are to ask for the necessities; the Mercedes might not be as welcome a prayer. We are to ask for them daily, so that we may show our confidence that he will provide. Finally, we should remember that we are asking – not commanding. It helps to know who’s in charge.
  • Next, we are to ask forgiveness. This implies the acknowledgement of our faults and sins (tough enough). It also implies that we accept that he can forgive.
  • Finally, we are to ask for the chicken’s way out – lead us not into temptation. By this we acknowledge that in our own strength we cannot resist such temptation as we will encounter; rather we must be kept from it. We don’t allow first graders to play with a Tommy gun.
Others
  • Note, please, this prayer assumes that we forgive others. It’s a statement, not a question.
  • There’s a good reason for that: we are offered forgiveness only on the condition that we forgive others.
  • But perhaps you missed this one: how else can the “others” see the forgiveness of God unless they see the forgiveness of you?

Practical Persistence

Luk 11:5-13 NIV Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, (6) because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' (7) "Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' (8) I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness[5] he will get up and give him as much as he needs. (9) "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (10) For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (11) "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[6] a fish, will give him a snake instead? (12) Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? (13) If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

The duty of persistence

It sometimes comes as a surprise to the Christian that we are told to be persistent in prayer. It seems irrational; did we really think that God didn’t hear us the first time? I submit that this persistence is required for instructional purposes:

  • It teaches us the persistence of God. If we, being sinners, can be so persistent, how much more persistent will our heavenly Father be?
  • It teaches us the “long view.” If we know we are going to need persistence, it is fairly obvious that we should be prepared to wait for the things we ask for.
  • It teaches us to consider our words – for we will be repeating them, a lot. Sometimes this teaches us that we should have thought before we spoke.
Ask, seek and knock
  • Why does Christ tell us to ask? First, it’s good manners. More important, it reminds us of the one of whom we are asking. Politeness counts, especially when asking things of the Almighty.
  • Why does Christ tell us to seek? We need to make efforts on our own; prayer is not an excuse for laziness. Besides, God rewards those who seek him.[4]
  • And if you’re going to all that trouble, when you get to the end, knock.

That last is important. I discovered the principle when my daughter (then in the 7th grade) had a boy bicycle over to join her for a bike ride to a comic book store. 7th grade boys are not the most socially graceful of souls; he arrived, stood on the porch (but didn’t wring the bell), and concluded that my daughter had already left. Since none of us had seen him arrive or leave, he was soon presumed missing. All this could have been avoided if he had simply knocked.

The gift of the Holy Spirit

The most valuable gift you can give is – yourself. I live across the street from a magnet high school – students travel up to forty miles to attend this school. The parking lot is full of old Mercedes (Daddy gets the new one), and the school is full of students whose parents are too busy to do anything but buy the affection of their children. The children are left to raise themselves, and a poor job they make of it.

If this is so for the sinners, how much more true is it that the most valuable gift God can give you is – Himself. He has done this – twice. First at the Cross, then in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we do not see the value of the gift God gives to the persistent.

Indeed, our prayers are the province of the Holy Spirit, who brings them before the Father – in effect translating them from our poor phrasings and immaturity into the fullness of what the Father requires. It is the secret of the full and complete prayer life.


[1] Consider your reaction to, say, Billy Graham visiting your home. How much more our Lord!

[2] The point is clear in the Greek, I’m told.

[3] Matthew 10:27

[4] Hebrews 11:6

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