In the small village of Bethany not far from Jerusalem on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives lived Martha, Mary and Lazarus, close personal friends of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus had a great love for and a close relationship with them, and no doubt had known Martha, her sister and brother for many years and had shared many happy occasions together with them. Christ’s sisters may well have had warm friendships with Martha and Mary as well, being around the same age. One could imagine Jesus having many enjoyable meals together and fellowshipping with Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
On one such occasion we read of in the Gospel of Luke chapter 10:38–42, Martha and Mary showed warm hospitality by inviting Christ along with some of His disciples to their home to share a meal together. In the time of Christ, the food was simple but wholesome and nourishing. A meal could have consisted of bread—usually wheat or barley bread—and lentil stew seasoned with herbs. It might be served with cheese made from sheep or goat’s milk, olives and onions. Fruits including fresh figs and melon were a staple item of diet. Fish was plentiful, but on this special occasion Martha and Mary may well have served lamb or beef.
They would have taken great care in preparing and presenting Christ with a delicious and nourishing meal. There was great excitement and anticipation in welcoming Jesus, their dear Friend whom they greatly admired and loved. They deeply appreciated the opportunity of having the Messiah to their home.
Worried and troubled about many things
During the preparation and serving of the food, Martha, wanting everything to be just right, became so distracted with every little detail, and so anxious at being left alone to serve Christ and the other guests that she approached Jesus and requested Him to ask Mary to help her (Luke 10:40, NKJV throughout). Jesus in response to Martha’s request for help said “Martha, Martha you are worried and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). Christ showed tenderness and concern in the repetition of Martha’s name. Jesus went on to say, “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).
Christ appreciated Martha’s attitude of being willing to serve, but Mary recognized that it was very important to be listening to the words and teaching of Christ, her Lord and Master. It was Christ’s desire that Martha would follow Mary’s example of being attentive to His teaching. Yes, the food had to be prepared, but it was a matter of priority. At that time, the spiritual food (Christ’s words) took precedence over the physical food. For the people of God, learning God’s Truth and Ways is paramount and everything else is secondary.
A second account regarding Martha and Mary occurs in John’s Gospel chapter 11:1–44. Lazarus was very ill so Martha and Mary sent a message to Jesus, asking Him to come and heal their brother. Jesus received their message, but delayed His coming for two days. During this time Lazarus died of his sickness and was buried. The sisters were distraught with grief at the death of their beloved brother (v. 19).
When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Martha met Him and expressed great sorrow at the loss of Lazarus and said to Christ “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know whatsoever You ask of God, God will give You” (vv 21–22). Martha knew that her brother Lazarus would live again. She understood about the truth of the resurrection and believed that he would rise again at the last day (v. 24).
Sorrow turned to joy and gladness
After speaking with Jesus, Martha called Mary who ran to Jesus weeping and in great sorrow. Christ seeing the sadness and sorrow of Mary and of the Jews who came with her, was deeply moved by the outpouring of grief (v. 33). John records in verse 35 that “Jesus wept”. The Jews could see the deep love that Jesus had for Lazarus (v. 36). Christ came to the tomb where Lazarus was buried. We read that Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father I thank You that You have heard Me, I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me. Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” (vv 41–43). Lazarus rose from the tomb and was restored to physical life once again. Just imagine the immense thankfulness and great rejoicing by Martha, Mary, their family and friends. Tears of sadness were probably replaced by tears of joy and happiness as they embraced Lazarus and each other. What a truly wonderful demonstration of God’s awesome, miraculous power witnessed by Martha and Mary and all those who were present.
The third event in the life of Martha and Mary that is recorded in the Bible occurred just prior to the Passover. Christ, along with some of His disciples on this occasion, were invited to the home of Simon the leper who lived in Bethany. Martha, Mary and Lazarus were also present at the dinner. Lazarus was given a special place of honor at the table beside Christ. Undoubtedly for Jesus it was a time of great heaviness of heart knowing that His death was imminent.
During the evening Mary arose from dinner and “took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (John 12:3). Judas Iscariot, who was present, objected strongly to Mary’s act of love and service towards Christ, claiming that it was a waste of money, “not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it” (John 12:6).
Christ had to strongly rebuke the disciples and Judas for their critical and harsh attitude towards Mary’s act of service and devotion (Mark 14:6–7, John 12:7). Jesus went on to explain to them “She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial” (Mark 14:8). Mary believed Jesus, although not fully understanding what it meant when He said that He was coming to Jerusalem and would face death. Christ made this very important statement regarding Mary’s act of service to Him by saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Matt.26:13). What a tremendous example of love, service and devotion Mary displayed towards Jesus Christ!
A loving relationship to be emulated
Some of the most remarkable examples in the Bible of the Messiah’s heartfelt connection to His followers were shown in these accounts that involve sisters Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus. When given the opportunity to develop a true friendship with Jesus Christ, they wholeheartedly grasped it, as shown in their kindness, thoughtfulness, hospitality and adoration towards Him. That they had a deep love and respect for their devoted Friend, the Saviour of all mankind, was evident in their actions. We should emulate their shining examples in our own relationship with Christ.
Martha devoted herself to serving Jesus and His disciples—she was a diligent worker. Jesus had to lovingly admonish her to get her priorities right. Martha no doubt took Christ’s instructions to heart and applied His words and learned to put the more important things first in her life. Mary was a young woman with profound faith, who believed what Christ said. She exhibited deep love and commitment to her great Teacher and the words He taught. And we know that Jesus loved Martha and Mary, as well as their brother Lazarus (John 11:5).
Mary and Martha join with many other faithful women of the Bible who tirelessly dedicated their lives in steadfast love and service to the Great God, the Creator of the entire Universe. What a tremendous example to all!