Pastor David B. Curtis


One Thing is Necessary!

Luke 10:38-42

Delivered 12/31/2006

I'd like to challenge you this morning to set aside a time each day to hear what this Bible has to say. Spending time each day with this Book is as essential to our lives as having good food and proper exercise. Many of us are exercising in some way to improve our bodies. Some of us are taking classes to improve our minds. Yet, we seem to neglect the most critical part of our lives, our spiritual lives. Thus, I want to challenge you to either begin a regimen of spending time delving into the Word of life, or to increase the time that you are reading.

To challenge us in the area of spending time with God I'd like for us to look at a very familiar story found only in Luke's Gospel, the story of two sisters:

Luke 10:38-42 (NASB) Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord's word, seated at His feet. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him, and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

It was the Apostle John who observed:

John 21:25 (NASB) And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written.

Every Gospel writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had to pick and choose from many incidents and sayings in Jesus' life and decide just what to include and what to exclude. Luke is no exception. So when Luke decides to include six or seven sentences about a couple of sisters named Mary and Martha, we need to ask: Why? What point is Luke trying to pass on to his readers? As we examine this passage, let's keep the question before us: What are we supposed to learn from this?

Now, the context for this story was that Jesus had set His face to go to Jerusalem in order to die on the cross of Calvary for the sins of mankind. This was a heavy burden on His heart as He waited on the Lord God for direction and the right timing. In Luke's account we are now some six months away from the final Passover feast:

Luke 10:38 (NASB) Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.

This was a stop on His itinerant teaching ministry. Luke doesn't tell us the name of the village, since it isn't important to his point, though from John's Gospel we know it is Bethany, just east of Jerusalem. It was the village where Jesus' friend Lazarus lived, and toward the end of His ministry, Jesus stayed there during the Passover that ended in His crucifixion. John acquaints us with the family members in two incidents: the Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) and Jesus' Anointing at Bethany by Mary (John 12:1-8).

Martha and Mary, along with their brother Lazarus, were dear friends of Jesus who lived in Bethany. You can imagine how Martha wanted everything perfect when Jesus came to visit!

Luke 10:39 (NASB) And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord's word, seated at His feet.

Now we meet Mary, named after Moses' famous sister Miriam. While Martha is bustling about the house getting ready for dinner, Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet listening. "Sitting at His feet" is a Hebraism for "discipleship."

Acts 22:3 (NASB) "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today.

The Jewish New Testament reads, "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city and trained at the feet of Gamli'el in every detail of the Torah of our forefathers."

Luke 8:35 (NASB) And the people went out to see what had happened; and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they became frightened.

This is reminiscent of the Jewish saying in m. `Abot 1:4: "Let your house be a meeting house for the Sages and sit amidst the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst."

That Jesus would encourage Mary to listen to Him as He taught in the house was, in itself, radical. Many Rabbis actively discouraged women from learning. The Mishnah includes some pretty cynical thoughts about women: "May the words of the Torah be burned, they should not be handed over to women." Rabbi Eliezer (c. A.D. 90) said, "If a man gives his daughter a knowledge of the Law,it is as though he taught her lechery."

In the first century world the role of woman disciples was a very heated debate. When women were menstruating they were unclean, and they could not be in a public gathering; this would hinder their being with a Rabbi 24/7. So most Rabbis did not have female talmidim, but Hillel, who was considered a real radical, did. Did Jesus have women talmidim? The Bible never says that He had a woman talmidim, but it does say that 7 different woman "sat at His feet." I think that Jesus, unlike many Rabbis of His day, had female talmidim.

Let me show you something interesting in Scripture about one of Jesus' female disciples. King Herod was a very wicked man, probably one of the richest men of his day. He made all his money from Viagra. It was a spice called balsam that was believed to be an aphrodisiac. It supposedly aroused you sexually. They discovered some recently and found out that it did absolutely nothing. In that day a thimble full was worth more than a million dollars. Herod owned every single Camphora tree in the world, so he was the only one who could produce it. Strebo said, "One drop of balsam behind a woman's ear turns a man wild with lust at a hundred paces." So people were paying a fortune to buy this stuff that did absolutely nothing. The Jews wouldn't buy it, so it was sold to mostly Roman and Greek people. Josephus tells us that the man in charge of the balsam production was a man named Chuza.

Luke 8:1-3 (NASB) And it came about soon afterwards, that He began going about from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God; and the twelve were with Him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward...

Joanna, the wife of Chuza, was one of Jesus' followers. Now listen to the end of verse 3:

...and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.

The Bible says that Joanna was giving money to Jesus. Where did Joanna get her money? From Chuza! Where did Chuza get his money? From Herod. Where did Herod get his money? From the sale of Viagra! This corrupt King, who is making a fortune off these rich pagan people, is using that to fund the ministry of the Rabbi Jesus through the wife of Chuza. Jesus' ministry was being funded through the sale of balsam.

Luke 10:40 (NASB) But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him, and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me."

Finally, Martha can stand it no longer. She comes to where Jesus is and seems to interrupt the conversation He is having. She doesn't rebuke her sister in front of Jesus; she almost seems to be rebuking Jesus Himself for not caring, for not having ordered Mary to go and help her sister an hour before. She doesn't ask Mary to help her. She commands Jesus, "Tell her to help me!" Her anger and frustration have taken over.

Luke 10:41 (NASB) But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things;

The verb translated "worried" is Greek merimnao, which means: "have anxiety, be anxious, be (unduly) concerned." The verb translated "bothered" is Greek thorubazo, which means: "be troubled or distracted," from the root thorubos: "a noise, tumult, uproar." Martha is feeling like she has more to do than she can do herself.

Luke 10:42 (NASB) but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

This is one of the passages in the New Testament where there are a number of textual variants. One of the variant readings is: "But one thing is needful" (KJV). Our question is: What did Jesus mean by "one thing"? Is He referring to the one spiritual goal, or to a single dish rather than multiple dishes that Martha may have been preparing in order to show special honor to her guest?

When you think about it, that response is the one you wouldn't really expect Jesus to make. After all, Mary is shirking her responsibilities to help her sister prepare the meal. In Jesus' culture (and most others), fixing meals is considered part of a woman's responsibility. And a woman being taught the Torah was frowned upon. I am sure that Jesus' disciples would have expected Him to side with Martha here, and say something like: "Mary, your sister has a lot on her hands. Why don't you get up and help her? It would mean a great deal to her."

It is really remarkable that Jesus DOESN'T encourage Mary to help Martha. This isn't the first time that Jesus has cut across His culture's expectations about familial responsibility in order to make a point that will be remembered: A would-be disciple said he needed to bury his father first, and Jesus replied, "Let the dead bury their own dead" (Luke 9:59-60). Another wanted to say good-bye to his family. Jesus talked about the importance of putting one's hand to the plow and not looking back (Luke 9:61-62). His mother and brothers came to see him, but he told the crowds, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice" (Luke 8:21). Later He promises blessing to those who have "left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:29-30).

Why does Jesus say such off-the-wall things? Because He is teaching. He is seeking to make an indelible, memorable imprint upon the minds of His disciples. His followers had been raised to think of one's responsibilities to family as preeminent. Jesus puts a person's allegiance to following Him higher than any other human responsibility.

Even though it cuts across the grain of societal expectations, even though it means neglecting her regular duties, Mary has correctly discerned that listening to Jesus and learning His ways is more important than anything ­ anything else she can choose. And no one can rip this precious spiritual food away from her.

Listening to what Jesus is teaching is the highest way to show Him honor, and preferable to any human way we seek to honor Him. The one thing that Jesus seeks above all else is that you spend time listening to Him, "sitting at His feet," as it were. That needs to come first; before all these other things.

The Bible has much to say about the priority of the Word of God in the life of the Christian and in the life of the church. It is not, as some would say, that we "worship the Bible," but rather that because we worship the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, we fellowship with Him and find sustenance from Him through His Word. By emphasizing the Word of God in the life of the Christian, I do not mean to say that we sit at the feet of Jesus like Mary did by sitting through a sermon. Sitting at the feet of our Lord, learning from His word, may be furthered by the insight of teachers, but ultimately we sit at Jesus' feet when we personally read and meditate on the Word of God.

Most Christians spend little, if any, time reading the Bible. The sad fact is many of us, even in the church, are Biblically illiterate. Why is it that while we say such great things about the Bible, we do so little with it? One possible explanation is that we don't believe what we say about it. If this Bible is just another book, it has no special claim on our time and attention. It may, then, be important historically, because so many people have believed it. We might need to know something about the Bible to understand our western culture. Yet, if this is not God's Word, then we can leave it in the library alongside many other books. Do you really believe this is a special book inspired by God's Holy Spirit? Do you believe that what the Bible says, "God says"? Believing the Bible is not some blind leap of faith. The evidence that this Bible was written by God is overwhelming to anyone who is willing to look into it.

Unlike the average book, the bible was written over 1600 years; on three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe; and in three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. It was written by 40 different authors ­ all from radically different backgrounds: fishermen, philosophers, peasants, kings, scholars, tax collectors, poets, and statesmen. It's divided into 66 smaller books. Yet, there is a continuity and consistency of one common theme woven through its pages.

A remarkable example of this divine inspiration can be glimpsed in Genesis, Chapter 5 where we have the genealogy of Adam through Noah. This is one of those chapters which we often tend to skim over quickly as we pass through Genesis; it's simply a genealogy from Adam to Noah. But let's examine this chapter more closely. In our Bible we read the Hebrew names. What do these names mean in English?

The meaning of proper names can be a difficult pursuit since a direct translation is often not readily available. Even a conventional Hebrew lexicon can prove disappointing. A study of the original roots, however, can yield some fascinating insights:

Adam ­ means: "man". As the first man, that seems straight forward enough.

Seth ­ Adam's son was named Seth, which means: "appointed."

Genesis 4:25 (NASB) And Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, "God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel; for Cain killed him."

Enosh ­ Seth's son was called Enosh, which means: "mortal, frail, or miserable."It is from the root anash: "to be incurable, used of a wound, grief, woe, sickness, or wickedness."

Kenan ­ Enosh's son was named Kenan, which can mean: "sorrow, dirge, or elegy (The precise denotation is somewhat elusive; some study aids unfortunately presume that Kenan is synonymous with Cainan.)

Mahalalel ­ Kenan's son was Mahalalel, which means: "blessed or praise," and "El," the name for God. Thus, Mahalalel means: "the Blessed God". Often Hebrew names include El, the name of God, as Dan-i-el: "God is my Judge", etc.

Jared ­ Mahalalel's son was named Jared, from the verb yaradh, meaning: "shall come down."

Enoch ­ Jared's son was named Enoch, which means: "teaching, or commencement". He was the first of four generations of preachers. In fact, the earliest recorded prophecy was by Enoch, which amazingly enough deals with the Second Coming of Christ:

Jude 1:14-15 (NASB) And about these also Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, 15 to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him."

Methuselah ­ Enoch was the father of Methuselah. Methuselah comes from muth, a root that means: "death," and from shalach, which means: "to bring, or to send forth." The name Methuselah means: "his death shall bring." Apparently, Enoch received the prophecy of the Great Flood and was told that as long as his son was alive, the judgment of the flood would be withheld. The year that Methuselah died, the flood came.

Lamech ­ Methuselah's son was named Lamech, a root still evident today in our own English word "lament or lamentation." Lamech suggests despairing.

Noah ­ Lamech, of course, is the father of Noah, which is derived from nacham: "to bring relief or comfort," as Lamech himself explains in:

Genesis 5:29 (NASB) Now he called his name Noah, saying, "This one shall give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the LORD has cursed."

Now let's put it all together: Man (Adam) (is) ­ appointed (Seth) ­ mortal (Enosh)sorrow (Kenan) (but) ­ the Blessed God (Mahalalel) ­ shall come down (Jared )­ teaching (Enoch)(that) ­ His death shall bring (Methuselah) (the) ­ despairing (Lamech )­ rest (Noah). Here's the Gospel hidden within a genealogy in Genesis! The Bible is an integrated message system, the product of supernatural engineering. Every number, every place, name, every detail, every jot, and tittle is there for our learning, our discovery, and our amazement. Truly, our God is an awesome God.

Another example of this would be Matthew's genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, Chapter 1:1-17. In these 17 verses, in the Greek, the number of words is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that begin with a vowel is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words beginning with a constant is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that occur more than once is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that occur only once is evenly divisible by 7. The number of nouns is evenly divisible by 7. The number of proper names is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words beginning with each letter of the alphabet is evenly divisible by 7. If you add up the value of all the letters, it is evenly divisible by 7. You try to write one sentence where any of that is true. You can't do it. Matthew is saying: Jesus came from God!

Believers, the more you study this Bible, the more you will be convinced that God wrote it, and the more you will want to study it.

The Bible can be verified as the Word of God in many different ways. Scientifically, the Bible is amazingly accurate. Historically, the Bible gives stories of wars, locations of ancient cities, the existence of lost civilizations, and many other things that were once thought to be historically inaccurate. As archaeologists uncover the ruins of the Middle East, the Bible is being verified as accurate. I think that one of the greatest proofs of the inspiration of Bible is fulfilled prophecy. God said certain things would happen, and they happened. No other book in the world contains the kind of specific prophecies found all throughout the pages of the Bible. There is no comparison, for example, between the Oracles of Nostradamus and the First Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ. The prophecies of the First Testament are often so obvious that many secular scholars have unsuccessfully attempted to assign later dates to some of these prophecies to make it appear that the prophecies were made up after the events. That's how stunning some of this is.

There are over 300 prophecies that were literally fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. What are the chances that so many prophecies could all come true in the life of one man? Peter Stoner, in his book, Science Speaks, says, "... the probability that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled just eight of the prophecies is 1 in 1017. That's 1 with 17 zeros after it."

In order to comprehend this, imagine taking 1017 silver dollars and laying them on the face of the state of Texas. They will cover the entire state two feet deep. Then mark one of the silver dollars and somehow stir the whole pile thoroughly all over the state. Put on a blindfold, travel as far as you wish, and on the first try pick up the marked silver dollar. The chance of that happening is the same as the chance of eight messianic prophecies coming true in any one man.

And remember, that's just for eight of the 300 that have been fulfilled. And that's why one researcher writes, "God designed fulfilled prophecy to be an open demonstration of the divine origin of the scriptures."

Another proof of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures is the abundant collection of ancient Bible manuscripts we have. These ancient Bible manuscripts verify that the content of the Bible HAS NOT been changed down through the centuries.

Let me put it another way. In universities, it's not uncommon to be asked to read Homer's Iliad (800 B.C.) or Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars (50 B.C.). Homer's Iliad is the most famous book of ancient Greece, and nobody denies its authenticity, because we have over 640 ancient copies; the oldest was copied 2,200 years after the original. And nobody doubts the authenticity of Caesar's Gallic Wars, because we have at least 10 ancient copies; the oldest was copied about 1,000 years after the original. 640 copies of the Iliad and 10 copies of the Gallic Wars.

What about the New Testament? There are over 5,500 existing ancient manuscripts of the New Testament. These ancient hand-copies have been studied and examined over and over again with "a fine tooth comb," and they verify that the books of the New Testament are authentic documents; they have not changed down through the years. Ancient New Testament manuscripts have been found in Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, and their content is virtually identical, no matter where they were found.

What about the First Testament? I'm sure you've heard about the Dead Sea Scrolls, which refer to over 800 ancient scrolls discovered in 11 different caves near the Dead Sea from 1947 to 1956. The Dead Sea Scrolls date back to at least 100 B.C., and they contain fragments from every book of the Old Testament except Esther. Scholars have examined those fragments and found them to be virtually identical with our standard Hebrew Bible.

Believers, there is more evidence for the authenticity of the 66 books of the Bible than there is for any other book from the ancient world. So again I ask you, Do you believe that what the Bible says, "God says"? If you do, then shouldn't you be spending more time hearing the voice of God?

Do you understand that reading the Bible is an act of worship? We are not just opening the Word selfishly to find what we can discover for ourselves, we are giving honor to God as revealed in His Son in the flesh. The Bible is the grand story of salvation in Jesus, promised and fulfilled. When we, as Christians, ignore the Word of Christ, we dishonor Christ.

John 5:39 (NASB) "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me;
Colossians 3:16 (NASB) Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Notice that it doesn't say, "Know Scripture." It says, "Let Scripture dwell in you." The word "dwell" is from the Greek word enoikeo, which means: "to inhabit one and influence him." Scripture is to be the dominate influence on your thinking. When we, as Christians, ignore the Word of Christ, we dishonor Christ. But when we spend time in it, we worship and honor Him.

In God's Word there is a direct connection between time spent in His Word and blessing:

Joshua 1:8 (NASB) "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.
Psalms 1:1-3 (NASB) How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.

The prosperity talked about here is what the Psalmist calls "blessedness." This is the heart condition the whole world is looking for. You see, "blessedness," Biblically defined, is that almost indescribable, but very real, "inner sense of well being." It's an inner feeling of security and contentment, and a positive outlook on life. It's to experience an unusual level of joy. "Blessedness" is a calm assurance of self-worth. It's the vitality of spirit that comes when you know deep down that all is well between you and God. It is what many would call happiness!

In these two texts the Hebrew word for "meditate" is hagah. Hagah means: "emit a sound, murmur, mutter, speak in an undertone." For the Hebrews, meditation was not silent. Several texts clearly support this contention that meditation was normally verbal, that is, expressed in spoken words:

Psalms 49:3 (NASB) My mouth will speak wisdom; And the meditation of my heart will be understanding.

The Hebrew parallelism indicates that what is spoken with the mouth is the same as "meditation."

Psalms 19:14 (NASB) Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.

Here "words of my mouth" parallels "meditation of my heart." This idea is further seen in the words of Joshua:

Joshua 1:8 (NASB) "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

In this context "meditate" is defined by the command, "The Law shall not depart from your mouth." This negative way of speaking implies a strong positive.

These passages give insight into what meditation involves. Meditation is the outward verbalizing of one's thoughts before God, of the poring over His teaching and works. It means to articulate thoughts of worship, wonder, and praise. I think that we also see implied in Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2 that the Scriptures were not primarily written to be read silently.

When we spend time in the Bible, we not only worship God, but we actually appropriate God's grace.The Bible is a means of appropriating God's grace­His enabling power:

Acts 20:32 (NASB) "And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

The reference here is to the ongoing use of Scripture in our daily lives to build us up in the Christian faith. Paul calls it, "the word of His grace," the word through which we come to understand and appropriate God's grace in our daily lives.

The close connection between God and the Word of His grace is illustrated in:

Romans 15:4-5 (NASB) For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus;

Verse 4 tells us that we receive perseverance and encouragement from the Scripture. Yet verse 5 says God gives perseverance and encouragement. Perseverance and encouragement are provisions of God's grace to help in time of need. He usually provides these provisions through His Word.

If we are to appropriate the grace of God, then, we must regularly expose ourselves directly to the Word of God. We don't earn God's blessing by reading His Word. But a regular intake of God's Word is necessary to sustain a healthy spiritual life and to appropriate His grace.

So let me ask you, believer, Are you willing to commit yourself to read through the entire Bible in 2007? In spite of all our religious activities, for many of us the Bible is a side issue. But Jesus said it was the "one necessary thing." We will never know real joy if we only have a one minute God, one minute devotions, one minute prayers, and only attend one hour worship services on Sunday morning. Christians must be people of the Book. We must spend time sitting at the feet of Jesus ­ we are all called to be His disciples!

Media #357a

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322