Martha Character Study – Bible Study On Martha
Key Passages: Luke 10:38-42, John 11:1-44
Meaning of name: Lady
Ancestry and family life: Martha apparently lived with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus. They were a Jewish family who were friends and followers of Jesus.
When and where she lived: Martha lived in the town of Bethany, which means “house of welcome” or “house of figs.” Bethany was a small town located at the foot of the Mt. of Olives about 3 kilometers (1.7 miles) east of Jerusalem. The town was a suburb of the capital city and as such proved to be an important place of rest for Jesus just outside the chaotic crowds of Jerusalem. Jesus stayed there, probably with Martha and her family, during the last week of His life. On the day of His triumphal entry, He departed from Bethany.
Being only 3 kilometers from the city, it would have been a pleasant 20 or 30 minute stroll.
Luke 10:38-42 – Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 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.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
1. Distracted from the best by the good –
Martha is a very interesting character. She had a very unique and special opportunity to serve as a hostess for Jesus. On several occasions (including probably Jesus’ last week), she and her family opened her home to Jesus. Of all the people who have ever lived, Martha is one of the few who could visit with Jesus face to face and interact with Him in a personal setting as a friend. What a privilege!
But as has been said, “with great privilege comes great responsibility!” Martha had a heavy sense of responsibility at having Jesus over. She wanted to be hospitable. She wanted to be a good host. Martha seems to have wanted everything to be perfect for Jesus. Perhaps she was making Him a special dish. Or perhaps she wanted His room clean and tidy so that He could have a comfortable rest. It is an admirable goal.
But the text says that she was “distracted by all her preparations.” What was she distracted from? She was distracted from spending time with Jesus. Jesus clearly told her that Mary had made the better choice. Mary decided to simply put aside all the work and the worry and focus on listening to Jesus. Martha was thinking, “lazy!” But Jesus commended her. He clearly did not care about having the perfect dinner, the exactly correct seasoning, or a room that was spotless. Jesus wanted to have time with them, the people, His people.
And this was far more important than whatever Martha was readying. Martha had the opportunity of a lifetime. Perhaps decades from now she would surely think back to this very day. People may even ask her, “What was it like to have the Savior in your house?” And Martha might answer, “I don’t really know. I was busy trying to get a stain out of a cloth.”
It was not a wrong thing that she was doing. But it did distract her from something far more valuable.
Reflect: What are some good things that might distract you from something better?
2. Easily stressed and worried –
Jesus could see that Martha was stressed out. And Martha’s worry overflowed to all of those present. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered by so many things.”
Repeating her name twice was a gentle admonition. Martha was a worry-wart.
Reflect: What kinds of things do you worry about when you have guests over?
Here are some of the things Martha may have been worried about:
- Buying just the right ingredients for preparing the meal.
- Getting a good deal on those ingredients.
- Using those ingredients in just the right proportion.
- Cooking dishes that Jesus would like.
- Cooking and baking things for just the right amount of time.
- The air flow and temperature of the house.
- Having enough water on hand for washing up and making sure that water was cool.
- Getting bugs out of the house.
- Keeping the neighbor kids who were over quiet so that people could hear Jesus.
- Making sure there was enough oil for the lamps that evening.
- Cleaning and tidying the house.
The list goes on and on. In fact, these types of lists are endless. There are an endless number of things that you can worry about. Many of the things that people worry about will never happen.
Reflect: What is the underlying cause of stress and worry?
Worry can be cause by a lack of faith. Or it can be caused by placing undue importance on non-essential matters.
3. Bossy to Jesus –
Martha was stewing about the fact that she had to do all the work. She grew more and more flustered. And finally she had it. So she told Jesus, “Tell her [Mary] to help me.” Martha was taken over by her emotions. And she temporarily lost her mind. Jesus is the Son of the God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And here she was bossing Him around, commanding Him to command her sister to help.
It was inappropriate to talk to Jesus in this way. But stress and frustration often causes people to speak without thinking.
In fact, many people treat God like this. They view God as their personal servant or wish-granter. And they expect that God should give them what they want and when they want it. Instead of humbly submitting their petition, they mistakenly demand God to intervene on their behalf. They, like Martha, forget who they are talking to.
Let us think about our petitions carefully and humbly submit them to God as His subjects, not His boss.
1. Hospitable –
Martha’s weakness appears to be that she is “too hospitable.” If you are going to have a weakness, that is a pretty good one to have! David was an adulterer. Moses was a murderer. Peter was a liar. And Martha was too hospitable.
Certainly in this case Martha did not choose the most important thing, being with Jesus. But this does not negate the fact that she was a very dedicated hostess. Neither does it mean that we should not pay attention to details and make our guests feel comfortable. We, for example, do not have Jesus visit our houses so do not face the same choice that she did.
1 Peter 4:9 – Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Romans 12:13 – Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Hospitality should be sincere and from the heart. It is not about putting on a show or impressing people.
Reflect: How would you define hospitality? What are the qualities that a good host needs?
2. Servant –
Martha was not looking to have Jesus serve her. One translation says that Martha was “distracted by serving.” Here you can see Martha’s heart. She wanted to make things nice for others. Looking for ways to serve is a good quality.
There are very few people in the world who will be so intent on serving that they are distracted by it.
Reflect: In a church or a family there is a lot of work to do. Take for example a person who serves at church so much they are always busy and don’t have much time to sit at Jesus’ feet. He says, “I am serving like Martha so that others can be free of distractions to focus on the Lord.” What would you say to this person?
3. Faith –
John 11:17-27 – So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 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.”
When Lazarus got sick, Martha and Mary sent a letter informing Jesus with an implied request that Jesus come and heal Lazarus.
Martha clearly believed in Jesus’ ability to heal. She said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha also believed in the last resurrection. And she made a powerful profession of faith, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
Many thought Jesus was a prophet. Others thought He was a good man. Martha is one of the few true followers of Jesus at that time who believed that He was in fact the Messiah. In the end, that is by far the most important thing about Martha. And its especially powerful that she still expressed belief in Jesus even in the wake of her brother’s untimely death. She had some weaknesses. She had some strengths. But she believed in Jesus.
His grace was sufficient to cover over every defect. His grace was sufficient to forgive every sin. And as we see in the passage, Jesus made a powerful statement to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” This is one of seven “I am” statements Jesus made about Himself. And He made it personally to Martha. If she believed in Jesus (as she did), she could would have this life.
From Romans 6:23 we know that the wages of sin is death. This death doesn’t only refer to physical death, but it also refers to spiritual death. Spiritual death is separation from God and is punished by an eternity in hell. This is terrible news for humans. By our own efforts we cannot escape this fate. But Jesus promises hope!
We don’t have to be doomed to separation from God and punishment! We don’t have to go through life as a slave of sin! By believing in Jesus we can have a new life, here in this earth and after we die.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.”
Jesus promises a resurrection in our spiritual lives. He will wash away our sins and give us a new, joyful life in Him. But that’s not all! Even though our body will die, that is not the end for us. It is the beginning of a new and wonderful life in the very presence of Jesus. These are some amazing promises.
But once again Jesus proved they are true. Shortly after he said “I am the resurrection and the life” he raised a man from the dead. Even more incredible, He himself raised from the dead, proving He has the power over death and the power to give us this life.
Important acts and events:
1. Recipient of Jesus’ statement “I am the resurrection and the life.” – In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes seven famous “I am” claims. Some of these were told to the crowds or the disciples. But along with the Samaritan woman, Martha is the only one to personally the object of one of these statements.
2. Witness of Lazarus being arose from the dead – Martha was an eye-witness of many of Jesus’ amazing deeds and teachings. One of the most amazing was the raising of her brother Lazarus from the dead. Martha noted that he had been in the grave already for four days when Jesus commanded for the tomb to be opened.
Lessons from her life:
1. Don’t allow anything to distract you from being with Jesus – We all face many distractions, things which vie for our attention and pull our focus away from Christ. Let’s face it. The world today has far more distractions than what Martha faced. And most of those distractions are both more alluring and worse than he distraction (serving.)
Reflect: What are some things which may distract you from having quality time with Jesus in devotions and prayer each day?
Here are a few of the distractions that we often face:
- Social media
- Cell phone
The list could go on and on. Anything and everything could be a distraction. Sometimes distractions are sinful (greed, laziness, lust). Other times they are a part of life. If you have children, you will know that it can be hard to get quiet time free of distractions. You may just settle in for devotions when your kid comes in to tell you a joke or ask for help with a project.
But we must make a way. Spending quality time with Jesus each day is critical. It is not enough to listen to a sermon or an audio Bible while you are focusing on another task. Martha could have overheard Jesus talking, but her heart was not in it. We need a time when we are dedicated fully to meditating on God and His word. During those times we must put aside all distractions, all worries, all stress, and indeed all thoughts of our tasks that day.
There are far more “Marthas” than there are “Marys” in the world today. Ask someone, “how are you” and the odds are good they will answer, “busy.” Life is busy. A million things vie for our attention. And these spectacles are invading our homes and lives in a way they never did before. They are a click away, a glace away. Unending distractions are right there in our our phones waiting to be discovered. It is a big business!
Ad companies spend huge amounts of money to get your eyes. Movie companies make movies just to get your eyes. But it goes far beyond that. Social media is all about eyes. How many likes did the post get? How many people viewed the video clip? Has it gone viral?
And companies promote ever manner of either diversions or “necessary” pursuits such as: athletics, thrills, travel, and education. These are all competing for your eyes and your time, which means money.
Even Jesus had to get away from it all (in a world with many fewer distractions) to pray. How much more do we need to put aside distractions and find times to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him. It is not enough to have Jesus in our house like Martha did while we are busy and fretting about other things. We must give Him all our attention.
Because you see, Jesus is the greatest spectacle of all! Martha put her attention to the meal. But the real meal was right before her eyes and she missed it. The story of Jesus is the greatest ever told. He actually delivers on all the promises that these paid peddlers of promises fail to fulfill.
Hebrews 12:2 – Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Application: What do you need to do to ensure that you have quality time with Jesus each day?
2. Do not distract anyone else from being with Jesus –
Martha was not only distracted from being with Jesus herself, but her flustered attitude and demand of Mary to help her was distracting others as well. Mary was in the right place with the right attitude, but Martha’s focus on unimportant things threatened that.
We need to be very careful that we do not become a stumbling block to others in this area. For example, one practical way to apply this is for spouses to take turns watching the kids while their partner spends time with the Lord. There will be a temptation to feel resentment if you are working or facing challenges with the kids while your spouse is “just sitting there.” But remember that what they are doing is important and will bear fruit in your marriage and in the family. Support and encourage them instead of nagging.
3. Do not allow trivial things to cause stress and worry –
Do not major on the minors. Much stress and worry is caused by focusing on things that are either not at all important or completely outside of one’s control. Martha is so famous for worrying that a phrase was invented, “Don’t be a Martha.” It means that you should not worry so much.
You can probably think and remember events in your life that should have been happy, which were ruined or spoiled by excessive worrying. Worrying can wreck the mood of a family, bringing disharmony, grumpiness, complaining, and bad attitudes. And it doesn’t help.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:27, “And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life?”
Are you a worrier? When you feel that worry is starting to overcome you, just pull back and quiet yourself down. Spend some quality time with Jesus. And follow the command in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Life is short. Don’t spend it worrying!
4. God may not ask others to do the same thing as what you are doing –
Maybe God has called you to serve in a specific area. Good! Do your best! But that doesn’t mean God wants everyone else to join you. We are part of a team. And each member has their own gifting and calling. Do not push others to do what you are doing, but instead be understanding that God uses each person in different ways.
5. God’s timing is not our timing and God’s ways are not our ways –
Martha and Mary sent a letter to Jesus, expecting that He would come right away to heal Lazarus. But He didn’t. And Lazarus died. They couldn’t understand why Jesus allowed to happen. And you can almost detect blame in their words, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
How could Jesus allow this to happen? How could He not come right away when they needed Him?
The answer is that God’s timing is not our timing. God had a bigger and better plan. He was going to do something amazing which they did not understand or expect. Of course we know that He raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was proving the incredible statement, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He was giving one more powerful evidence that He was the Son of God, an evidence that is still speaking to people today.
Like Martha, we often don’t understand why God does things. We don’t understand why He delays in answering our prayers. But we must trust that He has a plan. And His plan is better than ours.
Reflect: Share about a time when you have experienced this truth in your life. Perhaps it was a delayed answer to prayer or a trial which you did not understand. What did you learn from this experience?
Mordecai and Haman
Joseph step-father of Jesus
John the Baptist
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