FOOD FOR THOUGHT
This week’s theme is devotion to God’s word.
The call to worship Psalm contrasts lying, evil plotting, and devouring spirits, with one who puts their trust in the love of God.
- Psalm 52:1-7,8-9 Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The goodness of God endures continually. 2 Your tongue devises destruction, Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. 3 You love evil more than good, Lying rather than speaking righteousness. Selah
4 You love all devouring words, You deceitful tongue. 5 God shall likewise destroy you forever; He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place, And uproot you from the land of the living. Selah 6 The righteous also shall see and fear, And shall laugh at him, saying, 7 “Here is the man who did not make God his strength, But trusted in the abundance of his riches, And strengthened himself in his [b]wickedness.” 8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. 9 I will praise You forever, Because You have done it; And in the presence of Your saints I will wait on Your name, for it [c]is good.
The Old Testament reading from Amos speaks of accusations from the prophet against Israel that will amount to a coming time of famine of God’s word.
- Amos 8:1-12 Thus the Lord God showed me: Behold, a basket of summer fruit. 2 And He said, “Amos, what do you see?” So I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me: “The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore. 3 And the songs of the temple Shall be wailing in that day,” Says the Lord God — “Many dead bodies everywhere, They shall be thrown out in silence.” 4 Hear this, you who [a]swallow up the needy, And make the poor of the land fail, 5 Saying: “When will the New Moon be past, That we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, That we may [b]trade wheat? Making the ephah small and the shekel large, Falsifying the scales by deceit, 6 That we may buy the poor for silver, And the needy for a pair of sandals — Even sell the bad wheat?” 7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their works. 8 Shall the land not tremble for this, And everyone mourn who dwells in it? All of it shall swell like [c]the River, Heave and subside Like the River of Egypt. 9 “And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord God, “That I will make the sun go down at noon, And I will darken the earth in [d]broad daylight; 10 I will turn your feasts into mourning, And all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist, And baldness on every head; I will make it like mourning for an only son, And its end like a bitter day. 11 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord. 12 They shall wander from sea to sea, And from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, But shall not find it.
The text from the Epistles comes from Colossians, beginning with a hymn about Christ’s role in creation and his relationship with God, and ending with some implications of his reconciling work.
- Colossians 1:15-18,19-20,21-23,24-28 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or [a]principalities or [b]powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
- 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
- 21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight — 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
- 24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the [c]stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, 26 the [d]mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. 27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: [e]which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.
The Gospel reading from Luke has Jesus commending Mary for paying attention to his words, while gently corrected Martha for being distracted by her task.
- Luke 10:38-42 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at [a]Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
- 41 And [b]Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…”
Your name may not be Martha, but who can’t relate to those words? Are we not often “worried and distracted by many things”? These are the words spoken by Jesus to a woman who by all accounts seems to be doing exactly what everyone would expect her to be doing. According to all the cultural norms of her time, she has checked all the boxes for hospitality. So why is she being rebuffed by Jesus?
To answer that question, it will be helpful to consider another story alongside this one: The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke wrote both stories to comprise a section that began with an expert in the law asking Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The expert wants a scorecard to use to justify himself. He is given one: to love God and love neighbor. This is followed by the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which we see a priest and Levite failing to love a neighbor. The one who showed true hospitality was a Samaritan, from a group the Jews looked down on with contempt. Jesus provided a twist to the story the law expert wasn’t expecting. This was covered in last week’s sermon.
Today we come to our passage of the two sisters, Martha and Mary. Mary is at Jesus’ feet listening to his words, and Martha is too busy with her tasks to pay attention to him. Jesus tells Martha that she demonstrates a failure to seek the greater things. Both stories can be seen as a failure of hospitality, a failure to love God, and a failure to love neighbor.
But wait, how can that be with Martha? After all, the passage begins with:
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. (Luke 10:38 NRSV)
How is she being inhospitable to Jesus? Do you have that question when you read this story? If not, let’s walk in her shoes a little in that “certain village” where she lived.
- First, Martha clearly welcomed Jesus and his disciples into her home. Surely that’s one point for hospitality for our scorecard! We are not told explicitly in the text, but we do know that Martha is not just hosting Jesus alone. He seems to come with some of his disciples, too. That’s potentially a lot of guests! Let’s give Martha another point for going the extra mile.
- Second, the “certain village” Martha lived in was in a culture that had placed high expectations on hospitality. And for women particularly in that culture, Martha was in complete compliance with all that was expected of her. She was busy doing the tasks that would qualify her as a good host. According to this scorecard, it is hard to cast Martha as being inhospitable to Jesus.
Let’s go one step further! How are Jesus and Mary doing on the hospitality scorecard? The next verse gives us a picture.
She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. (Luke 10:39 NRSV)
Mary, who was probably the younger sister, who is living in the same house, is breaking all the rules. She should be helping her sister with the chores. Instead, she is just sitting at Jesus’ feet listening. And since Jesus is a rabbi, she gets another demerit for taking a position reserved only for men in that culture. How dare she sit at a rabbi’s feet as if she were a disciple? Shouldn’t Mary be the one in need of reprimand?
And on that note, what about Jesus himself? He is allowing Mary to sit there and break all these cultural rules Martha is working so hard to obey. What’s more, Jesus ends up rebuking Martha, who is his host. Proper rules of hospitality would never allow a guest to rebuke his host. It seems Jesus too does not score well.
So, what is going on here? Why is Luke telling this story in this way? His purpose comes into view when we look at the broader context of this section. Jesus had been preaching and teaching about the kingdom and the radical obedience it brings. In the preceding chapters, for example, the story of Jesus’ transfiguration demonstrates that something radically new has taken place. This means being his disciple would have radical implications. In the follow-up story of the Good Samaritan, we see a radical new obedience to the well-known law of loving God and neighbor which breaks and resists cultural, ethnic, and religious barriers. With the arrival of Jesus and the kingdom he brings, you can expect the unexpected. And that is what is going on in our story with Martha and Mary. Cultural expectations are not scorecards to measure one’s own “hospitality” or “love” to God and neighbor. Being a disciple of Jesus is far more radical than checking off the right boxes.
So, Martha and Mary start in the right place. They do show hospitality to Jesus by having him into their home. But it is after that we begin to see Martha struggling to receive Jesus on his terms. The problem emerges in verse 40.
But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10:40 NRSV)
Martha is distracted. We are told explicitly what is distracting her, namely, “her many tasks.” The words Luke uses to describe this do not leave room for interpreting Martha’s distraction as a neurotic obsession. She’s not being a workaholic here. It is stated as an objective fact that there are simply many tasks to be done. Her situation is real, it’s not all in her head. There is also no indication of indictment on Martha for poor time management or any other fault for being in this predicament. Luke is not inviting us to blame Martha for having more on her plate than she can handle alone. Maybe the best question to ask here is, “What is Martha being distracted from?” That’s key!
The answer to that question becomes obvious when Jesus commends Mary for listening at his feet. As important as all the tasks are in the name of hospitality, they are secondary to the primary task any host should have towards a guest. And that is simply to pay attention to the guest. Mary is paying attention to Jesus while Martha is distracted. She is not paying attention to Jesus or to his words. Notice the language of Martha when she comes to him in her frustration. She refers to herself four times in two sentences: my, me, myself, me. Martha is distracted by Martha. And in her distraction, she has ceased to be hospitable even by cultural norms. A host would never tell their guest to settle a family dispute. That was a faux pas! This is what happens when secondary things become primary. We not only fail in the primary, but we eventually fail in the secondary as well. And when this happens, much is lost.
Martha has not only lost sight of her role as host, but she has lost sight of who is in her house. Martha knows who Jesus is, but in her distraction, she asks, “Lord, do you not care….” Do you see what has happened? Martha has been so distracted by focusing on herself that she has forgotten who Jesus is. If there is anyone in the house who cares about Martha, we can be sure that it is Jesus. Martha has also conditioned her hospitality to Jesus by her own terms. She expects Jesus to conform to the cultural norms that she is pursuing. Martha wants Jesus to put Mary in her place, the place that Martha is currently inhabiting. Instead of being a disciple of Jesus, she has put herself in the place of a rabbi. She is expecting Jesus to answer to her, and for Mary to follow suit. In her self-focus she has failed in both loving God (Jesus) and her neighbor (Mary). And with that, Luke has made his point. The kingdom Jesus brings is a radical reorientation from self onto Jesus, who enables us to love others. We can’t rely on cultural scorecards to justify our selfishness. Check all the boxes you want; if Jesus is ignored, it amounts to nothing!
But Jesus doesn’t leave us turned in on ourselves. He cares for us too much for that. Look how he gently responds to Martha:
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NRSV)
Jesus calls her by name twice. Maybe this is his way of letting her know that he is more aware of her than she is. Our self-focus does not put us in a better position of knowing ourselves. Jesus knows and sees us far better than we ever can. Here is another unexpected expectation Jesus brings in his kingdom: the more we pay attention to Jesus, the more we will come to know ourselves. His words are true and are the only reliable source of truth about who we are, no matter how countercultural that may sound in our world.
After gently addressing her by name twice, he doesn’t gloss over where she is and how she is responding. Grace doesn’t ignore our selfishness by patting us on the back and telling us we are wonderful and amazing just the way we are. No, grace will deal with all that does not align to who we are becoming in Jesus. Grace doesn’t settle, thank God! In Martha’s case, Jesus tells her that she is “worried and distracted.” Other translations say she is “anxious and troubled.”
- The first word, worried or anxious, in the Greek is used to convey the entanglements of life in the world. It’s the same word used when Jesus tells us not to “worry” in Luke 22.
- The second word, distracted or troubled, in the Greek is a very colorful expression that roughly means “you are putting yourself in an uproar.”
This is not a pretty picture Jesus has reflected back to Martha. Essentially, she is so entangled with trying to comply with the culture instead of following Jesus that she is disrupting the entire house. She’s making a fool of herself. This can’t be easy for Martha to hear but hear it she must if she is going to escape her self-imposed distractions. It won’t be easy for us to hear either, but we can trust that listening to Jesus’ words is a path into life, not away from it.
The Body of Christ in every culture since its inception must hear these words. We are called to listen to Jesus and to follow him. The culture around us does not dictate our focus. When we let it, we create chaos and division in the house of God. But Jesus doesn’t just tell us what is out of place. He goes on to tell Martha, and us today, the great secret that slices through all the distractions that divide and distort our attention—“There is need of only one thing.”
That can be a breath of fresh air if we have ears to hear it. Just one thing! That certainly simplifies things, does it not? Well, yes and no! It’s simple in that it is just one thing. But it is complex when we understand that the one thing is a real, dynamic, and personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. But like Jesus says about Mary, she “has chosen the better part.”
The text is not telling us we can ignore all the tasks that are thrust upon us. At some point Martha, with the help of Mary, will need to tackle the tasks that come from hosting Jesus and his disciples. But those tasks are secondary, not the “better part.”
This text leaves us with one final thought. Not only does Jesus tell Martha that “Mary has chosen the better part” but he makes it clear that it “will not be taken away from her.” How comforting to know that as we give our attention to Jesus, we can rest assured that he will never comply with the demands of others to take us away. He will never tell us that we need to start listening to some other voice other than his. He is still the Word of Life and he will always be speaking to us. We follow him and him alone. That can also be encouraging when we are tugged by so many competing tasks for our attention. Jesus is not going anywhere. When we turn to him, even if we have been distracted or have made a fool of ourselves, we can trust that Jesus will still be there.
When our lives get hectic and full, we can take comfort that Jesus really does care, and he is not condemning us when we can’t get it all done. He comes to us and gives himself to us. The “one thing needed” is to pay attention to him, to listen to him, and to remain at his feet. Everything else is secondary. When we sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his words, we can have peace in knowing we are right where we are supposed to be. If saying yes to Jesus means saying no to the expectations of culture and others, so be it. As we pay attention to the “guest” we can also rest in how he is working with others. We don’t have to fear when others are not conforming to our ways of thinking and doing. Jesus cares for them too. As we go to be hospitable in our world we first sit and listen to Jesus who speaks his words of life to us. In this, we find ourselves participating in the eternal life that we have inherited in Jesus – a life of loving God and loving neighbor.
Section 11: The Gospel
11.1 What is the gospel?
- The gospel is the good news of the kingdom of God and salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. To preach the gospel is to proclaim the fulfillment of God’s purposes through the sending of the eternal Son of God in the power of the Holy Spirit to break into our fallen world, overthrow its evil, and transform and redeem all who were captive to sin and evil’s power and eternal consequences.
11.2 What are the central events of the gospel?
- The central events of the gospel are about Jesus: his birth, life, ministry, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Through these events in the life of Jesus, God’s kingdom has broken into our time and space to bring about our salvation.
- 1 Cor. 15:1-4 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
- 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
- Romans 5:15 But the free gift is not like the [a]offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.
- John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the [a]right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
- 1 John 5:11-12 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has [a]life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
11.3 Is the forgiveness declared in the gospel extended only after repentance?
- No. The gospel is the astonishing good news that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God’s forgiveness of us is unconditional, and it is given before our confession of sin and repentance. Freed by the Holy Spirit in response to the Word of God, repentance is how we receive the forgiveness that has already been freely given to us on the basis of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. To refuse to repent is thus to refuse God’s gift of forgiveness.
- Colossians 3:13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
- Mark 11:25
- Colossians 2:13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
- Matthew 18:21-22
- Hebrews 12:14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:
Exploring Acts 2:38
11.4 How should we respond to the gospel?
- With repentance and faith. The Son of God was sent by the Father to assume our human nature to himself and to rescue and transform it in himself. This was done to reconcile us to God so that we might become his beloved adopted children. Jesus Christ came, lived and died for our sins and has made us his own before and apart from our believing in him. He has bound us to himself by his love in such a way that he will never let us go. Therefore, the Lord calls on all humans to repent and believe in him as Lord and Savior.
- Rom. 10:9-10 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
- Acts 16:31 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
11.5 If sin is so evil, how can God forgive it?
- God forgives our sins because he has the grace and power to overcome them and set things right. In forgiving our sins, God is not overlooking or ignoring evil. God is opposed to sin and evil and always will be. God judges what is sinful and evil and condemns it. By forgiving us, God rescues us from the dominion and eternal consequences of sin, making all things new, including our human nature.
11.6 How does God make human nature new?
- Our problem as humans is not merely that we sin, but that, by nature, we are sinners. We have a corrupt, fallen nature that is inclined toward sin, often not able to resist temptation to sin. That is the bad news. But the good news is that God has remade human nature in and through the eternal Son of God who, in becoming human, took upon himself our corrupt human nature and healed it on our behalf.
- 2 Cor. 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
- Heb. 2:17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
11.7 What part does the Holy Spirit have in this renewal?
- Because Jesus renewed human nature, the Holy Spirit is able to minister to us as individuals on the basis of Christ’s finished work, uniting us to Jesus with his perfected human nature in a spiritual union.
- Through this union, the Holy Spirit imparts to us a continuous sharing in Jesus’ love and life so that we are transformed, little by little, into the image of God found in Jesus.
- 2 Cor. 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as [a]by the Spirit of the Lord.
11.8 How can anyone resist the Holy Spirit’s bringing about this transformation?
- No one can entirely resist the Holy Spirit. In the end the Holy Spirit will make clear and evident to all the truth and reality that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all. In the end, all will either willingly or unwillingly admit the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
- However, Scripture warns of the real danger of willfully rejecting, and thus blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Apparently, some will do this, even after being convicted of the Holy Spirit’s undeniable witness that Jesus is Lord and Savior and there is no other. Exactly how this rejection is possible we are not told. We are simply warned of its possibility, which we are to take seriously lest we resist the Holy Spirit, presume upon God’s grace and minimize the many directives in Scripture to accept, receive and respond positively in repentance and faith to the proclamation of the grace of God in Jesus Christ that comes to us by his Word and Spirit.
- Mark 3:29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”—
- Rom. 14:11 For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.”
Teaching Notes: The Gospel
There are multiple ways to summarize the essential message and meaning of the gospel. The one in We Believe is based on The GCI Statement of Beliefs quoted above. Here is another similar statement:
The gospel is the message concerning the rule and reign of God’s incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, to bring clear judgement upon all evil, condemning it forever and atoning for the sins of all humanity through his life of faithful obedience culminating in his death on the cross. The gospel is the declaration of the victory of God in Jesus Christ to undo all sinful alienation between God and humanity and to reconcile the world to himself.
Key to understanding the gospel is understanding the Person and work of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, and the nature of the kingdom of God that he inaugurated and will bring to fullness — so refer back to those sections for the details.
Here are GCI articles on the topic of the gospel:
- Believing the Gospel
- Here’s Good News for Everyone (a gospel tract)
- The Gospel Really is Good News
- Good News for Ordinary People
- The Kingdom of God