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Mary and Martha: A Study in Grace

Bible Characters

Mary and Martha: A Study in Grace

Bob Yandian

As they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went to him and said, Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me. But the Lord answered her, Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion that will not be taken from her (Luke 10:38-42).

Grace and Works

This is the first of many occasions Jesus would visit Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. There could be no two different approaches to the presence of Jesus than these two sisters.  One served the Lord and the other sat at Jesus' feet to hear His words.  On the surface, one action is no better than the other.  There is a time for everyone to sit at Jesus' feet and listen to His word and a time for everyone to serve. But, knowing when to do which is part of our Christian maturity.

The problem arose when Martha, the one serving the meal, became upset at Mary because she was sitting at Jesus feet and not helping her serve.  Jesus told her that Mary saw the importance of the moment and chose to sit, learn and listen to the teaching of Jesus. Mary had chosen the better portion. Mary represented the grace approach to serving the Lord, and Martha the legalistic means of self-works, waiting to be noticed and appreciated. It always seems like the legalistic one looks down on and opposes the grace believer. 

Trials Come to Everyone 

When their brother Lazarus died, both sisters were hit equally hard by the tragedy. Both blamed Jesus for being late and not caring that their brother died. Jesus' loyalty and love for the family was challenged in public. We know the story, Jesus seemed to have arrived late, Lazarus had already been dead for four days, yet Jesus still raised him from the dead. The result was that many who were scoffers believed in Jesus when they saw the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:41-45). 

The issue is not the coming of trials and difficulties, but how we handle them.  We see two sisters, one grace oriented and one wrapped up in works, facing the same problem and dealing with it the same, blaming Jesus.  But how did the two sisters handle the resulting miracle Jesus performed?

 The Party

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.  But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus. (John 12:1-11).  

Jesus is invited to a party at the home of Mary and Martha to celebrate the return of Lazarus back to life. A great crowd assembled to visit with their formerly dead friend and question him about what he experienced on the other side of death. Although Jesus was present, He was not the most popular person there. That was reserved for Lazarus. A revealing insight is given into the attitudes of Mary and Martha.

Some Things Never Change 

Martha served food again and Mary worshiped at Jesus feet (John 12:2,3). It seems Martha stubbornly refused to obey the words of Jesus when he had told her before the death of Lazarus that Mary had chosen the better part by sitting at His feet.  Then being proven wrong at the death of Lazarus was still more than she wanted to admit.  She trudged on anyway in her lifestyle of serving others, probably looking again for recognition.

The Same but Different

Mary, on the other hand, had grown through the whole ordeal.  Although she failed at the tragedy of Lazarus' death, opposition and heartache had not produced defeat, but a whole new appreciation for Jesus. This time, instead of sitting at Jesus feet to learn, she was now at His feet in worship.  She broke a very costly container of spikenard over Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. Her actions shook up the entire house. She had poured a perfume that cost almost a year’s wages over Jesus' feet. It seems like grace oriented believers go through the same problems as all believers, even unbelievers, but grow through the whole ordeal.  So, it was with Mary.

The crowd came to see a novelty, Lazarus who once was dead, was now alive.  Martha came to serve the crowd and feel better about herself.  But, Mary came to worship Jesus, give her best and pour out her increased love on the One who would give His life for her.  She worshiped Him in anticipation of His death, burial and resurrection (John 12:7). Which one of the three are you?

© 2019 Bob Yandian Ministries. All Rights Reserved.