Message: Servants Saturated in Our Saviour | Scripture: Luke 10:38-42 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Growing up my father was always a stalwart example of service to me and my siblings. But there was a period in his life where I remember him being so busy that whenever someone asked him to do one more thing, even if he said he’d do it, he would mutter under his breath, “I’m too busy for this, I’m too busy for this, I’m too busy for this.” In fact, one season, he became so busy that he ended up making a mistake and jeopardizing everything he had worked so hard to build in his church. So great was the weight placed upon his shoulders that we all wondered whether or not he should continue in ministry.
What I learned from that mistake is that an overabundance of service without a preceding sufficiency in Jesus—without sufficient rest in him—will always result in misery, and my father, just like each of us in this room, is not an exception to that rule. And this is what serves as the motivation behind my sermon this morning. I’m speaking, particularly, to fathers, husbands, and men not only because of the occasion, but because in some way or another the buck will stop with you whether it be in your homes, in your relationships, or in your church. You, men, have the distinct responsibility to show your people Jesus and to lead them in wonder and amazement of him more than any other obligation in your life.
And how are you to do that? Well, for this one positive proposition, I have three negative statements to support it, and it’s to these statements that we’ll now turn starting with our first: fathers, show them Jesus and lead them to wonder by not letting yourself be deceived by your own self-perception.
1) Don’t Be Deceived by Self-Perception
Follow along as I read to you from Luke 10:38-39. TWoL: Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. May God bless the reading of his Word.
Luke 10 might rightly be summarized as the chapter on service as the disciples of God’s kingdom, and it’s an appropriate theme because at the end of Luke 9, Jesus turns his face from his Galilean ministry, and he heads towards Jerusalem. All the events between Luke 9:51 until 19:27 are meant to be read under the looming shadow of the cross. Jesus has come to die as the Saviour of the world, but he intends to show us, first, what it means for us to follow him, and why he is worthy to be followed.
Thus, Luke frames this particular event as if Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem even though it takes place in Martha’s house, which we’re told in John 12, is in Bethany. Bethany is in Jerusalem. So, what our author is doing isn’t recording this story chronologically, he’s taken this particular event out of its place in history and put it here to make a theological point. A point that is pivotal to the message of this part of his gospel.
And what is that theological point? It’s to warn us that in our perceived service for Jesus, it is wholly possible to lose Jesus. Just look at verses 38 and 39. Here, we’re given a snapshot of two characters: Martha and Mary. On the one hand, it looks like Martha is the standout disciple. She welcomes Jesus and his followers into her home, and we’re not to take this fact lightly. There is no reference to Martha’s husband or benefactor. Her brother, Lazarus, may have been living with her, but he’s either near death or has just been resurrected by Jesus, which means he’s likely not supporting much. This is Martha’s house—a woman’s house, and for her to take in guests of any number, let alone Jesus and his many followers, would have been a very difficult thing for her to do practically and financially.
What this picture shows us is not only how Martha serves as a surprising host, and how Christ desires to include women as an integral part of his kingdom, but also how she does what so many have and will refuse to do. In this tenth chapter, alone, Luke records how some will reject Jesus by rejecting his disciples as he sends them out. Then we’re given the parable of the Good Samaritan right before this story, which is a parable about how even those whom ought to have shown mercy to the beaten Jewish man, people who were supposed to be the most moral and reliable Jews, ignore him. In fact, it’s the lowly, unexpected Samaritan traveler, an enemy to the Jews, who displays mercy, who takes on the burden of caring for him, and who puts him up in the inn at great cost to himself.
So, as we come to verse 38, it seems like Martha personifies the lowly, unexpected Samaritan traveler displaying mercy, taking on the burden, and putting up guests at great cost to herself. Her service as a lone houseowner, as a poor disciple of Christ, as a woman outshines all those who have and who will reject Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem. And we’re to note this. Martha starts out very well.
In contrast to Martha, we’re given a glimpse at another character, Martha’s sister, Mary. What is Mary doing? She’s not welcoming people in. She’s not offering them a drink from their weary travels. No, we’re told she’s sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to him teach.
Growing up, my parents would always put on a huge meal on special occasions. My dad would cook all day, my mom would bake, they’d do all the setup and clean-up—everything that needed to be done, they did. But when I got old enough, my grandma, who would come to these meals, would see all that my parents were doing, and she’d look at me sternly and say, “stop being irresponsible. Get up and help your parents. You’re doing too little.”
This is what Mary looked like not only to Martha but to all of her guests, and the text seems to imply that she didn’t care. More than that, she was sitting close to Jesus, so she wasn’t just neglectful of her duties, she was acting scandalously. That she, a woman, might, in that age, in the middle east, draw near to a man who was not her husband in such an intimate and desperate way. It would have been right in that culture for Martha to feel shame in how Mary was acting, and Mary should have known better.
But we know the truth, don’t we? We learn through the rest of this passage that Martha’s welcome isn’t from a place of genuine self-sacrifice nor desire to serve. It comes from a desire to keep up appearances. It comes from a heart of legalism where she does what she does only to help herself feel better and to promote her image to others. One might even argue that when Jesus enters into her home, she doesn’t even truly see him. Her eyes are on herself, and there’s a warning here for us not to be deceived by the temptation to serve others when serving others is really a means for us to serve ourselves. Such service renders no honour to God, and what’s more is that it’s exhausting, it’s filled with pride, it is never generous or sacrificial, but is always judgmental.
And we need to hear this church, because you know when you’ve walked into a legalistic cult that cares more about its form than its function—more about its look than its sacrifice—more about its position than its posture. A legalistic church is a church that judges its members, its children, its families before they take the time to get to know them as Christ knows us. It’s filled with a joyless people rather than a “this is Jesus’ house, and he’s here to dwell with us” kind-of-people. It’s the kind of church that can never show anyone who Jesus truly is because they themselves possess no wonder for what he’s done for them.
Church, fathers, men, let’s not be that kind of people. Let’s be the people who turn from sinfully looking inward to those who look outward. And as we do so, see, first, Jesus who’s come to us, and who calls unexpected sinners to do an unexpected holy task. Yet before we do so, before we follow our Saviour to Jersualem, he beckons us to sit and fellowship with him, to take in his words, and to rest in the gift of himself. Stop serving long enough to perceive Jesus more than you perceive yourself, and then, only after you’ve sat in amazement of who he is, let the overflow of your Saviour’s love for you lead you to serve your families, your friends, and your church. Show them Jesus, more than you show them yourself, and lead them to wonder.
2) Don’t Be Distracted by Self-Perfection
Follow along as I read to you from Luke 10:40. TWoL: But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” May God bless the reading of his Word.
Now, in the Greek, verse 40 reveals something to us not stated in the English. The verb “distracted” is reflexive, which means it refers back to the subject. We often use the reflexive like this, “He startled himself,” or “he was startled by himself.” And we can do the same thing here. The verse reads, “Martha was distracted with much serving,” but we can reword it as, “Martha was distracting herself with much serving.”
This is quite important because it shows not only her busyness but the heart of her busyness. She intentionally fills her life with things to do so that she might not have to listen to and sit at the feet of Jesus like Mary does. And the funny thing is that we all do this ourselves. How many of us on a regular basis make up a task for us to do in order to avoid what we should be doing.
In fact, perhaps some of us do it here. I don’t want to truly listen to a sermon, so I’m going to schedule another kind of service in the church, or maybe even in our gathering itself, so that I don’t have to actually pay attention. Or I don’t want to deal with that difficult person in my congregation, so I’m going to mask my desire to neglect him or her by talking and looking busy with someone else that I like. Or in our homes, maybe some of us say in our hearts, “I don’t really want to pray and lead devotions with my family, so I’m going to make it seem like my wife and my kids just don’t understand how much I’ve got on my plate.”
And you know what’s truly terrible about this? We allow ourselves to avoid condemnation by distracting ourselves with our own perfection. We make ourselves the victim. We overindulge in our minds and our hearts the idea that we’re the neglected ones, that we deserve the recognition, and the mantra of our lives becomes, “as I have served, so too shall you serve me.” Just look at all the first-person pronouns in the second part of verse 40, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
What I want you to notice, even more than the self-centeredness of Martha, is how that self-centredness creates in her a cowardice while also alienating the person whom she’s supposed to love. Instead of confronting Mary herself as a sister, she goes to Jesus—like a kindergarten child tattling on a bully. There’s no affection in her language. Mary might as well have been the devil. Her words sound like this, “Hey Jesus, look at that sister of mine who doesn’t care about me? Make her care.”
Isn’t this what the world does when it thinks of God? Isn’t this how legalists and Pharisees act in the Bible? In their delusion of their own perfection, in their cowardice, in their self-centeredness, and in their alienation of others, they not only think of themselves more highly than others, but they think, in their entitlement, that they can make demands upon God to do what best serves them. They think that they deserve his attention, affirmation, and admiration, while everyone else deserves less.
I’ve already made reference to how Luke includes this story right after the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is a parable, ultimately, about how we are called to serve and give our lives for our enemies. So, it’s very rational for you to finish hearing that story and assume that the right attitude is to serve more and more. If the Samaritan’s service is good, then isn’t much serving even better? And Luke tells us this story, which is out of place chronologically, in order to answer that question with a resounding, “No!”
The point of our service isn’t mere or more service because that only creates a prideful rule-keeper. No, the point of our service—the point of our sacrifice—is to magnify for ourselves and others our supreme joy and worth—a joy and worth not found in all that we do, but in all that was done for us. It is not about how much we are serving, it’s about who we are serving. And at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves, as we ask Martha, who are you serving? Are you serving Jesus, or are you serving yourself? Are you loving others, or do you only care if others love you?
The irony in all of this is that as we and Martha distract ourselves with our own sense of perfection and pride, we miss out on that thing that is truly perfect and satisfying. Do you think that in all of her service that Martha is happy? It ought to have been her greatest delight to give of herself in service to Christ, his followers, and her sister. But Martha destroys her own joy. She makes herself miserable, and she ruins any chance to hear about the kind of happy, blessed life that Jesus comes to offer people like her.
This is what pride and perfectionism bring about. This is how sin kills us and leads us to hell, which is precisely why John Owen once said, “be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” Don’t let sin kill you. Kill the sin. Kill the entitled, distracted self. Look upon Jesus and see, instead, that he died for you, and that by doing so, he enables you to truly look upon him as you lead others to do the same. Don’t miss the wonder by trying to make yourself wonderful. Leave that to him as we turn to our third point . . .
3) Don’t Be Distraught by Self-Negation
Follow along as I read Luke 10:41-42 to you. TWoL: 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, which will not be taken away from her.” May God bless the reading of his Word.
It’s in verses 41-42 where our story comes full circle because they reveal to us that Martha stands judged in her service while Mary stands commended in her perceived apathy. Now, I’m not telling anyone to be indifferent to their responsibilities. We are all given tasks in this life to do, and we have to do them. But like I’ve said, there’s a difference between service that honours ourselves and service that honours the Lord.
And it’s when we do things for others and for Jesus, it’s when we take the time, first, to rest at his feet and to hear his life-giving words to us that we ought not become distraught with the result of forgetting or negating ourselves. Because it’s not only about emptying yourself of yourself but of being filled with the wonder and splendour of something far greater. It’s because in negating ourselves to sit at Jesus’ feet, we receive the good portion—the portion that Mary was going to receive at any cost no matter what anyone thought of her.
What is the good portion? Listen to Jesus’ words, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” Note, first, that whenever you hear repetition in the Bible, there’s something emphatic going on, and when that repetition involves names, it’s usually to convey deep emotion and tender affection like when David says, “Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom,” or when the Lord says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Yet, throughout the Bible, only one woman is spoken to this way: “Martha, Martha.” And what is Jesus trying to tell her with every emotion and tender affection? He’s telling her that she’s paying attention to all the wrong things and missing that which is most important. What is it that she’s missing?
I imagine that night both Martha and Mary, as they go to their rooms before they sleep, they walk up to their desks, and on that desk lies their respective diaries. Now, Martha opens her diary, and she begins to write, “Dear Diary, you’ll never believe the kind of day that I’ve just had. Jesus and all his people came and cramped up my home. They paid no attention to me. I slaved away for them, and what’s worse is that my own sister betrayed me and didn’t lift a finger. I deserve better.” But then, in the room next to her, Mary is sitting at her desk, thinking of how to put her day into words, and as she does so, she touches her pen to the page, and all she can write is, “Dear Diary, today I sat at the feet of Jesus.”
What’s the one thing that Martha was missing? What is the good portion? Why is this story here when chronologically it belongs somewhere else? It’s because as we move from the parable of the Good Samaritan, we might be tempted to think that we can be that Samaritan—that our service and our lives are worthy of praise because in our minds, we make the sacrifice, and we become the saviour. But Luke places this particular story here to make it explicit: Jesus is the Good Samaritan who has come to give himself up and to save you from yourself, and Martha, Martha, you’re missing it.
Jesus has come to love her, to die for her upon a cross, to take her sinful pride, perfection, and self-deceiving perception upon his own shoulders, to suffer the weight of her punishable guilt, to save her from all of it, and to bring her into everlasting fellowship with himself, and all she has to do to receive it, is to slow down, to sit at his feet, and to receive the life of his Word.
He is speaking here to her anxious heart and troubled soul. And he is speaking to us in the same way today. We were made for this. He saved us from sin, yes, but we were made to sit at his feet, to deny our need for our own self-importance, and to do so in acknowledgment that unless he serves us first, unless he saves us, all of our service is for nothing.
And the question is, especially to you fathers, husbands, and men, who is the Saviour of your family, of your friends, and of your church? Is it you? Doing ministry is a glorious thing. Serving your families is a glorious thing, but have you lost sight and become distracted by focusing too much on who you are instead of whose you are? Because at the end of the day, we are not our own. We belong to Jesus, and our task is to know him in any way and every way possible—to sit at his feet—not only to grow in personal holiness but so that others might see him through us.
I hope that every day you are determined in your service to love him more than the glory or praise that you think you deserve. Don’t be like the fathers, husbands, and men of the world who work all day and go home with a chest full of pride for everything they’ve done while neglecting their wives and their children—failing to talk with them, to play with them, to pray with them, to let them sit at your feet as you lead them. Men, be the model of servant leadership that Christ has been for you. Go, regularly, to Jesus and show him to those whom he’s called you to love as he, himself, loves you, calls you, and fills you with his own majesty and wonder.