Pastor David B. Curtis


What's Essential

Luke 10:38-42

Delivered 12/23/2012

The editor of a well known London newspaper sent a letter of inquiry to one hundred important men asking them one question: "Suppose you were sent to prison for three years and could only take three books with you. Which three would you choose? Please state them in order of their importance." Out of those replies, ninety eight put the Bible first on their lists.

That kind of surprises me. I'm not really sure why all those people would want the Bible with them in prison, unless they saw it as some kind of lucky rabbit's foot to help them out of their troubles. I find that though most Christians have several Bibles, they don't spend much time reading them. Bible study is not something that 21st century American believers really devote themselves to. Unlike us, the believers in the early church placed a high priority on the study of God's Word:

So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:41-42 NASB

"Continually devoting" is from the Greek word proskartereo, which means: "to be earnest toward, to be constantly diligent, to adhere closely, to be devoted to." They diligently observed two things: the Apostles' Doctrine, which was the New Testament Scripture; and fellowship, which consisted of breaking of bread and prayer.

What percentage of Christians that you know would you say are devoted to Scripture? I would dare say that most of the things that Christians believe about God they have heard from others and not discovered themselves from the Word of God.

My goal this morning is to challenge you, to encourage you, to set aside a time each day to spend in the Word of God. I really believe that this is one of the most important things that I preach on. Nothing is more important to your spiritual life than spending time in the living Word of Yahweh.

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. I am reading from the Complete Jewish Bible:

On their way Yeshua and his talmidim came to a village where a woman named Marta welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Miryam who also sat at the Lord's feet and heard what he had to say. 40 But Marta was busy with all the work to be done; so, going up to him, she said, "Sir, don't you care that my sister has been leaving me to do all the work by myself?" 41 However, the Lord answered her, "Marta, Marta, you are fretting and worrying about so many things! 42 But there is only one thing that is essential. Miryam has chosen the right thing, and it won't be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42 CJB

It was John Eleazar who observed:

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

Every Gospel writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had to pick and choose from many incidents and sayings in Yeshua's 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?

Now, the context for this story was that Yeshua had set His face to go to Jerusalem in order to die on the cross of Calvary for the sins of the elect. 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:

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

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 this point, though from the Forth Gospel we know it is Bethany, just east of Jerusalem. It was the village where the beloved disciple Lazarus lived, and toward the end of His ministry, Yeshua stayed there during the Passover that ended in His crucifixion. The Forth Gospel acquaints us with the family members in two incidents: the Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) and Yeshua's anointing at Bethany by Mary (John 12:1-8).

Martha and Mary along with their brother Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, were dear friends of Yeshua. Our text says, "Martha welcomed Him into her home"--notice that it is, "her house"--it seems that the house belonged to Martha, and she appears to be the older sister. So you can imagine how Martha wanted everything perfect when Yeshua came to visit!

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

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 Yeshua's feet listening. "Sitting at His feet" is a Hebraism for "discipleship":

"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. I was a zealot for God, as all of you are today. Acts 22:3 CJB

The NASB simply says, "educated under Gamaliel." And the KJV says, "brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel." Paul was educated or "trained at the feet" of Gamaliel. We also see this idea in:

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

This is reminiscent of the Jewish saying in the Talmud ( 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 Yeshua would encourage Mary to listen to Him as He taught in the house was, in itself, kind of 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 [inordinate indulgence in sexual activity]."

In the first century world the role of female 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 Yeshua have women talmidim? The Bible never says that He had a woman talmidim, but it does say that seven different women "sat at His feet." I think that Yeshua, unlike many rabbis of His day, had female talmidim.

Let me show you something interesting in Scripture about one of Yeshua's female disciples. King Herod was a very wicked man, and probably one of the richest men of his day. He made all his money from 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. That still happens today, ever heard of "sensa"; just sprinkle it on your food and you'll lose weight? Sure you will! The Jews wouldn't buy it, balsam not sensa, 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.

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... Luke 8:1-3 NASB

Joanna, the wife of Chuza, was one of Yeshua's 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. Luke 8:3 NASB

The Bible says that Joanna, who was a talmidim, was giving money to support her Rabbi Yeshua. 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 the spice balsam that was believed to be an aphrodisiac. This corrupt king, who is making a fortune off these rich pagan people, is using some of that to fund the ministry of the Rabbi Yeshua through the wife of Chuza.

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." Luke 10:40 NASB

Remember what we saw in verse 38, this is Martha's home. Mary is probably living with Martha in her home. Our verse says, "Martha was distracted with all her preparations." I want to point out two things here. First, hospitality was a huge deal in this culture. The Jews had a list of six things to commend a man in the life to come. Does anybody know what was the first thing on that list? It was hospitality! Hospitality is: "loving strangers." We don't usually think of hospitality as one of the top ten commands, but the Jews saw it as number one. Where did the Jew get the idea that hospitality was so important? They got this idea from the Bible!

'When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 'The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 NASB

Israel was told to love strangers as they loved themselves. The word "strangers" doesn't necessarily mean that they are strange, it normally applied to travelers and aliens, people we don't know. If they were to love strangers, they certainly were to love each other:

Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 1 Peter 4:9 NASB

So Martha is working hard to be hospitable to Yeshua. Biblically, she is doing what the Lord told His people to do. She is being hospitable.

The second thing I want to point out is the context, do you know what the context of this story is? What immediately precedes it? It comes after, and it is paired with the story of the Good Samaritan. That story was about loving service. So Martha must have felt justified in coming to Yeshua with her complaint because she was being hospitable and was demonstrating loving service, and so she says;"Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me."--she can't stand it any longer. She comes to where Yeshua is and seems to interrupt the conversation He is having. She doesn't rebuke her sister in front of Yeshua; she almost seems to be rebuking Yeshua 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 Yeshua, "Tell her to help me!" Her frustration seems to have taken over. Can you ladies relate?

So in light of the Jewish importance of hospitality and in light of the fact of Yeshua's teaching on humble service, she must have expected Him to rebuke Mary:

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

The verb translated "worried" is Greek merimnao, which means: "have anxiety, be anxious, be (unduly) concerned." This verb is the same one used by Yeshua in the Gospels, " not worry about your life." What is forbidden in the Gospels and also in Philippians 4 is anxious care for one's self and one's own interest. Over and over Paul uses merimnao to tell the believers that he doesn't want them to be anxious. Listen, believers, what we are forbidden to do in our own lives, be anxious, we are commanded to do for others:

so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 1 Corinthians 12:25 NASB

This verse states our Christian responsibility for other believers, using this identical verb, merimnao, translated here as "care." Christian love is seen in being anxious, deeply concerned, for others. It's amazing how often we see this reversed. We find ourselves guilty of anxiety over our own interest to the exclusion of the well being of others. This is where Martha is.

The verb translated "bothered" is Greek thorubazo, which means: "be troubled or distracted." Martha is feeling like what she is dong is right, she is being hospitable, she is lovingly serving, but she is also worrying and distracted over her sister's behavior:

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." Luke 10:42 NASB

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). The question we need to answer is: What did Yeshua 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 Yeshua to make. After all, Mary is shirking her responsibilities to help her sister prepare the meal. In Yeshua's 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 Yeshua's 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."

Suppose Martha had also explained to Mary how she would love to sit at the feet of Yeshua, but instead of doing that, she thought it was important to deny herself for the sake of the others. Martha was a woman who was knowledgeable about the Scriptures. When her brother had died, Yeshua came and said to Martha, "Your brother will rise again":

Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." John 11:24 NASB

And then she says:

She said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world." John 11:27 NASB

So Martha was not a spiritual slouch. She knew her theology, but had chosen to serve at the moment. Mary would have certainly appeared to be in the wrong. Yet we see that Yeshua found fault with Martha and not with Mary.

It is really remarkable that Yeshua DOESN'T encourage Mary to help Martha. This isn't the first time that Yeshua 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 Yeshua replied, "Let the dead bury their own dead" (Luke 9:59-60). Another wanted to say good-bye to his family. Yeshua 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 My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it." (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 Yeshua 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. Yeshua 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 Yeshua and learning His ways is more important than anything else she can choose. And no one can rip this precious spiritual food away from her.

Listening to what Yeshua 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 Yeshua seeks above all else is that you spend time with Him, "sitting at His feet," as it were. That needs to come first; before all these other things.

Yeshua is not necessarily suggesting anything is wrong with the love that motivates Martha's service. Her service is a good thing. Indeed, from the rest of Yeshua's teaching, we would conclude that a willingness to serve is one aspect of what is essential. But serving is not the MOST ESSENTIAL thing.

It would have been very instructive to observe the teaching of Yeshua to which Mary was listening. What did He talk about? Was He teaching the principles for finding a godly husband? The principles of righteous hospitality? God's principles for how to prosper materially? Or how to sustain one's health? Anyone familiar with the Gospels knows how unlikely this is, but many are not that familiar with the Gospels because they don't read their Bibles on a regular basis. Far more likely, Yeshua was explaining all the ways in which the history of the Jews and the prophetic predictions contained in the Scriptures pointed to Him as the promised Messiah of Israel. As He did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Yeshua was most likely explaining the Scriptures. He was engaged in hard-core exegesis including the examination of history, genealogy, theology, and all sorts of potentially dry academic stuff. And Yeshua tells us, Mary has chosen the one thing that is truly ESSENTIAL.

As we see this story in its context in Luke's Gospel, it comes immediately after and it is paired with the story of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan is following the second great commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." But Mary is following the first great commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind." And we cannot love our neighbor without loving Yahweh first.

It is a danger, even for those of us who love Christ, that we not become so concerned with doing things for Him that we begin to neglect hearing Him and remembering what He has done for us. Never allow your service for Christ to crowd out your worship of Him! The moment our works become more important to us than our worship, we have turned true spiritual priorities on their heads.

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 Yeshua the 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 Yeshua, 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 Yeshua's feet when we personally read and meditate on the Word of God. Notice what Paul told the Colossians:

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. Colossians 3:16 NASB

"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you"--the word of Christ--Christou can be either the subjective genitive (the word delivered by Christ) or the objective genitive (the word about Christ). I think we can take it both ways; we should let the word delivered by Christ and the word about Christ richly dwell in us.

"Dwell"--is from the present active imperative of enoikeo, and means: "to live in," or "to be at home." Paul calls upon believers to let the Word take up residence and be at home in their lives. This Greek word is used 5 times in the New Testament. If we look at its uses, we can get a better understanding of what it means:

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Yeshua from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Yeshua from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells [enoikeo] you. Romans 8:11 NASB

So the Holy Spirit indwells believers, and the Word of Christ is to indwell us in the same manner:

Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL [en-oy-keh'-o] IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 2 Corinthians 6:16 NASB

God dwells with all believers. So this word is used of God dwelling in believers, faith dwelling in believers, and the Word of God dwelling in believers.

The word "dwell" literally means: "to keep house." We should live in the Word of God like we live in our homes. We are familiar with our home where all the closets are, where we have items stored. We must thoroughly acquaint ourselves with the Word. The Word should become so familiar to us that we know it like we know our homes. The idea is to let the Word of God dwell inside and live at home in our lives. The Word of God needs to inhabit us. This is more than just an occasional reading of the Bible.

Paul adds that the Word is to "richly" dwell in us. The Word "richly" is another infrequent word occurring just four times in the New Testament. "Richly" is from and old adverb plousios, which has the twofold meaning of quantity and degree; it means: "abundantly, applying it and using it in all its teaching, but also using it constantly, at all times and in all circumstances."

The truths of Scripture should permeate every aspect of the believer's life and govern every thought, word, and deed. Charles Spurgeon writes:

If other forms of knowledge are useful, they are like the planets; but the knowledge of God as revealed in Christ Jesus is as the sun. Let this always be the center of your system of knowledge, and let all the rest that you know move in subordination and subjection to that first and best form of knowledge....if you find a professing Christian indifferent to his Bible, you may be sure that the very dust upon its cover will rise up in judgment against him...My dear friends, I should like you so to read the Bible that everybody in the Bible should seem to be a friend of yours. I should like you to feel as if you had talked with Abraham, and conversed with David. I can truly say that there is hardly anybody in the world that I know so well as I know David. But do find your choicest friends in the Scripture...Take the whole company of Bible saints home to your heart, let them live inside your soul. . Let old Noah come in with his ark, if he likes; and let Daniel come in with his lions' den, if he pleases; and all the rest of the godly men and women of the olden time, take them all into your very nature, and be on familiar terms with them; but, most of all, be specially intimate with him of whom they all speak, namely, Jesus Christ your blessed Lord and Master.

Believers, we need more than a casual acquaintance with the Bible. God's word is to dwell in us abundantly--it is to saturate us. It must become part of our very being, transforming the way we think and act. To use an illustration from the area of computer technology, it must be the program always running that controls everything else. Everything depends on it.

The Word of Christ is to abundantly dwell in us, because it is the only source of truth we have about God:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 2 Timothy 3:16 NASB

Paul is saying to Timothy that the Bible comes from Yahweh. He is its ultimate author. The Bible provides information that is not available anywhere else. The Bible is divine self-disclosure. In it the mind of God is revealed on many matters. With a knowledge of Scripture, we do not have to rely on secondhand information or bare speculation to learn who God is and what He values. In the Bible, God reveals Himself:

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 NASB

We love God by living in obedience to Him. How can we possibly do this if we don't spend time in the Bible to know what obedience is?

John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States, said, "For years I have read my Bible through once a year. I read It every morning, as the very best way to begin the day."

Woodrow Wilson said, "I am sorry for the men who do not read the Bible every day. I wonder why they deprive themselves of the strength and of the pleasure."

He is our Creator and Redeemer. If we are going to live a life of purpose, we must know who He is and what He expects from us. The only place that we can get that information is from the Word of God.

The Christian community is a starving, illiterate people. Believers are living lives of frustration and discontentment. The only cure is for God's people to spend time with their Lord. After all God has done for you, is it too much to ask that you spend time with Him listening to His voice?

Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path. Psalms 119:105 NASB

The word of God directs us in our work and way, and a dark place, indeed, the world would be without it.

Professor and Rabbi Shmuel Safrai, who was professor emeritus of Jewish History of the Mishnaic and Talmudic Period at the Hebrew University, writes this:

The Scriptures were known almost by heart by everyone. From quite early in the Second Temple Period, one could hardly find a little boy in the street who didn't know the Scriptures. According to Jerome (342-420 A.D.) who lived in Bethlehem and learned Hebrew from local Jewish residents in order to translate the Scriptures into Latin [producing the Vulgate Bible]: "There doesn't exist any Jewish child who doesn't know by heart the history from Adam to Zerubbabel [i.e., from the beginning to the end of the Bible]." Perhaps this was a bit of an exaggeration on Jerome's part, but in most cases his reports have proved reliable. ("Safrai," lecture on June 5, 1985)

To the Jews the Scriptures were a sacred treasure that they gave their life to. What is wrong with the "true Jews"? Why do we spend so little time in God's Word?

So let me ask you, believer, Are you willing to commit yourself to read through the entire Bible in 2013? In spite of all our religious activities, for many of us the Bible is a side issue. But Yeshua said it was the "one essential thing." We will never know real joy if we only have a one minute God (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 Yeshua--we are all called to be His disciples!

We have a great reading program on the Berean web site, and there are many reading programs out there. Find one and make a commitment to read through the Bible at least once this year. If you do commit to read through the Bible, tell someone else your plan and ask them to hold you accountable, preferably not your spouse, they are too lenient, find someone that will be hard on you.

I received a letter last week that said in part, "I wanted to tell you that you inspired me this year, and for the first time in 56 years, I have read the whole Bible, and you are correct, it changed my life," Steve. That blesses me more than anything when someone tells me that I encouraged them to read their Bible. I just don't think that there is anything more important to our spiritual walk then "sitting at the feet of Yeshua" reading His word, listening to Him speak, watching Him act. Stop making excuses and just do it!

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