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7. Devoted Women Identified by Faithfulness: Mary & Martha

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Time: Jesus' Second and Third Year of Ministry, ~AD 28-29


After two years of ministering in Galilee, Jesus returned to Judea and Perea, territories near Jerusalem, to minister there. In Jerusalem, He healed a man by the Pool of Siloam and told a parable about Himself as the Good Shepherd who would give His life for His sheep. Somewhere in Judea, He answered the question, "Who is my neighbor?" with a parable about a good-hearted Samaritan who helped a fellow traveler. After that, He went to Bethany (see map in “New Testament Insights”).

Bethany was a small village on the southeastern slopes of the Mount of Olives about two miles east of Jerusalem on the Jericho Road. It still exists today. Martha, Mary, Lazarus and "Simon the leper" lived there. The Mount of Olives, from which Jesus could see the Holy City, is a two-mile rise with three peaks. The modern road from Jericho to Jerusalem still passes along its southern slopes. Rising about 100 feet above Jerusalem, it gives an unforgettable view of the city, which is to the west.

A burial cave could have been a natural cave or a tomb or vault cut into the rock. A large round stone was often rolled across the entrance of such a tomb after burial. Upon death, the body was sealed inside the tomb. After the flesh had decayed and only the skeleton remained, the bones were placed in a box called an ossuary. This small box was then placed on a shelf that had been carved out of the tomb wall. In this way, a whole family could be buried in the same tomb.

Because of the warm climate in Palestine, burial usually took place the same day as death. But before the funeral, the body was prepared for burial. Rarely did the immediate family become involved in preparing the body for burial. Friends and other family members took the body and washed it, and clipped the hair and nails. Strips of linen were then wrapped around the body. Spices (hyssop, rose oil, and rose water) were placed between these strips. Then, a linen napkin was placed over the face, and the body was laid on an open bier. Then it was carried to the tomb.

Day One Study

Gasp! The Creator of the Universe Is Coming to Dinner!

1. Read Luke 10:38-42. What was Martha's initial attitude upon receiving Jesus and His companions?

[For more information on Hospitality in Jesus' time, see Lesson Two.]

2. As manager of the home, what might have been Martha's initial emotions and thoughts at this time? Consider what is involved in hosting that sized crowd.

3. How does her attitude change as time progresses? What became her focus? What does she do?

From the Greek: The Greek word translated distracted in Luke 10:40 means “drawn around” as with anxiety, distracted in mind and in looks. Martha came to Jesus, literally “stepped up to and burst in or upon” Jesus.

4. Toward whom was Martha’s anger directed? Do you think Mary was being lazy? Where was Mary’s focus? Explain your answer.

5. Discuss Jesus’ response to Martha. What was Jesus trying to teach her? In other words, what was HIS focus?

6. Living Out His Love: How might you respond in a similar situation as Martha found herself if you let your emotions guide you? How should you respond?

7. Living Out His Love: Read the following article.

Planning Neglect Leaves Time for God!!

In her book, "A Practical Guide to Prayer," Dorothy Haskins tells about a noted concert violinist who was asked the secret of her mastery of the instrument. The woman answered the question with two words, "PLANNED NEGLECT."

Then she explained, "There were many things that used to demand my time. When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted and did whatever seemed necessary. When I finished my work, I turned to my violin practice. That system prevented me from accomplishing what I should on the violin. So I reversed things. I deliberately planned to neglect everything else until my practice period was complete. And that program of planned neglect is the secret of my success."

This same principle can be helpful as we plan our lives: quiet time with the Lord, time with our family, professional development, time with our spouse, a hobby. There are many good things we can choose to do with our day.

Unless we discipline ourselves and make a deliberate effort, good things will keep us from those life concerns that are top priority. The tyranny of the urgent robs us of spending time with God in meditation and prayer, time with our spouse our children and just time by ourselves. We squeeze these ultimate relationships into the "leftover" moments in our day, when we are rushed or exhausted.

In Ephesians 5:15-17, Paul calls on us to use our time wisely. "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." Jesus urges us in the Sermon on the Mount to put God first. "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). 

Take some time to look at your day. Ask yourself some questions, "What are the important things in my life?  What one thing contributes more to the quality of my life than all the other concerns?  What is my number one ability, and how am I developing it?  Where does my husband/wife/children/friends/walk with God/recreation fit into my day?"

The "laser-lane" lifestyle of the [city] is full of the urgent. We need to reflect on our value system and determine what "PLANNED NEGLECT" we need to practice in order to keep the ultimate relationships in priority positions in our lives. (Mike Danchak, Dallas Morning News)

How would “Planning Neglect” in your life help you have a focused time on God?

Day Two Study

8. Read John 11:1-16. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was ill, yet they did not ask Him to come to Bethany though they probably expected it (John 11:21,32). Knowing the need, what did Jesus decide to do?

9. Two days later, Jesus makes an announcement. The loose translation of verses 6-10 is, "We're burning daylight. Let's go!" Why did Jesus wait two days to now be in such a hurry?

10. Read John 11:17-37. What emotions were Mary and Martha experiencing? How did each deal with her emotions?

11. Notice that Mary and Martha both have the same response in verse 21 (Martha) and 32 (Mary), except that Martha went a step further. Knowing women, what does Martha really want Jesus to do, even though she doesn’t specifically say so?

12. Read John 11:21-27 again. How does Martha’s answer reveal that she had also been listening to Jesus’ teaching?

Think About It: Martha’s confession of faith is similar to Peter’s in Matthew 16:16. In fact, Martha’s is even more amazing because she makes hers with her brother dead now for four days, already in the grave. Her response to Jesus’ question, “Do you believe this?” is a firm, “Yes, Lord.” The emphasis in the Greek is that this is her firm and settled faith.

13. Read John 11:33-35. When Jesus saw Mary and the people surrounding her weeping, how did He respond?

From the Greek: The Greek verb translated “deeply moved” can be translated either “groaned” or “angered.” It seems to connote anger or sternness. It is used only 5 times in the New Testament, each time of the Lord’s words or feelings (Matthew 9:30; Mark 1:43; 14:5; John 11:33,38). Why was Jesus angry? The best explanation is that Jesus was angry at the tyranny of Satan who had brought sorrow and death to people through sin. Also, Jesus was troubled (literally “stirred” or “agitated,” like the pool water in John 5:7. This disturbance was due to His conflict with sin, death, & Satan. (Walvoord and Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, p. 314)

14. Read John 11:38-48. What did Jesus plan to do to meet the sisters’ needs and heal their hurts?  Describe the scene as though you were watching it alongside Martha and Mary.

15. Discuss, in particular, Martha’s objection and Jesus’ response to her in vv. 39-40. Do you think He knows her pretty well by now? [It’s okay to picture Jesus smiling as He greets Lazarus.]

16. John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible, yet it conveys to us so much about the love of Jesus. Jesus wept, shed tears. He identified with us as humans so much that He could express deep human sympathy from His heart with Martha and Mary. Read Hebrews 4:15. What confidence do you have that He understands your needs?

17. Living Out His Love: Jesus understood the personalities and behavioral tendencies of both Mary and Martha. He understands yours as well, quirks and all. Think about your tendencies to control a situation or not, how quickly you shed tears or not, how you speak before you think. He knows you well and still loves you dearly. He hurts when you hurt and rejoices when you rejoice. He knows how to respond to your needs, which will be personally applied and different from how He responds to your “sister’s” needs. Are you okay with that? Or, are you still telling Him how He should do things, telling Him how He should be God? Reread John 11:39-40. If Martha insisted on having her own way, what would she have missed? Apply Jesus’ answer to Martha to your own expectations from Him. How will you let Him lead you?   

Day Three Study

18. Read John 11:1-44. What was Jesus' mission in this situation, and how did He accomplish it?

19. Read John 11:45-57 and 12:9-11. Not everyone was so pleased to hear about Lazarus being restored from the dead. Discuss what happens in these verses and how it affects Jesus' ministry.

After the raising of Lazarus, Jesus then made His departure. But, after a short stay in Ephraim, he returned to Bethany. The last week before Jesus' crucifixion had come. On Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly, riding on a donkey. On Monday, He pronounced a curse on a barren fig tree and drove out the merchants and moneychangers from the temple. On Tuesday, He answered a question about paying taxes to Caesar and pointed out a widow giving her small coins in the temple. That evening, He taught His disciples on the Mount of Olives. Then He went to a dinner with His friends in Bethany, at the home of Simon whose life had also been changed. Four people whose lives are undeniably touched and changed by Jesus gratefully honored Him…

20. Read John 12:1-18; Matthew 26:6-13; and Mark 14:1-11. Jesus and His disciples are now dining at the home of Simon the Leper. Lazarus is there as well as Martha and Mary. How did each of the sisters show their gratitude to Jesus for giving life back to their brother?

  • Martha—
  • Mary—

Historical Insight: What is spikenard? Nard comes from the Himalayan Mountains and other high altitude places in northern India. Cheaper varieties come from other countries. It is a fragrant ointment made from the shaggy roots and lower stems of an Indian plant. It is used to anoint royalty. According to one historian, it was very expensive. It was imported in sealed alabaster boxes or flasks that were opened only on special occasions. Also, anointing was normally done on the head. Mary apparently anointed both Jesus’ head and feet.

21. As you learned in Lesson Two, this perfume might have represented to Mary her inheritance, her dowry or a lifetime of savings. It was likely her most precious possession. And, respectable women did not unbind their hair in public. Therefore, what does her "gift" indicate about her character, her intuition, and her love?

Think About It: Mary perceived with her delicate woman’s intuition what the apostles failed to understand though repeatedly and plainly told to them by Jesus.

22. Jesus accepted Mary’s act of worship. The disciples did not. Discuss their response to Mary’s worship and sacrifice. [Note what is revealed about Judas.]

23. Jesus was not afraid of the controversy surrounding this incident. Compile Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ objections using all three accounts from John, Matthew and Mark. 

24. Read Mark 14:8 again. What do you think Jesus meant by saying, “she did what she could” in Mark 14:8 (literally, "what she had she did")?

25. Living Out His Love: Jesus said that Mary did what she as a woman in her culture with her resources could do for Him. He called that “a beautiful thing to Me.” As a woman in your life circumstances, in what ways could Jesus say, “she did what she could” about you when it comes to showing gratitude to Him? How does your heart show gratitude to Him? Feel free to respond in any creative means you choose to use—prose, poetry, song, art, prayer.

Day Four Study

25. Jesus and His disciples often stayed in Bethany when they were near Jerusalem (see Matthew 21:17 and Mark 11:11,12), probably with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They knew the joy of Jesus' private company. What does this tell you about Jesus' needs for friendship and His relationship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus?

Think About It: If the perfect Son of God needed friends, how much more do we need them!! Lazarus and Simon, both men healed by Jesus, gave a dinner in His honor at a time when the Pharisees were hunting Him like an animal. Jesus knew his friends' home was a place of welcome, protection, rest and provision.

26. How did Martha and Mary blossom in the presence of Jesus over time? What changed? What stayed the same? What showed that they listened to His teaching?

27. Living Out His Love: God created Mary and Martha with different personalities. Both could serve Him, love Him, and worship Him in different ways—all equally as valuable. That is the same for us as women. Isn't that wonderful? We don't have to be alike to be able to love and serve Him. This is how it is in the Body of Christ. Have you been made to feel guilty for being more of a “doer” than a “feeler?” Look at Romans 12:6-8 for a list of some spiritual gifts. Some are “doer” gifts (teaching, leadership, administration); some are “feeler” gifts (mercy, helps). The Holy Spirit through Paul says that all are needed in the local church. What spiritual gift(s) do you think has been given to you by the Holy Spirit? How are you using your gift to help others get to know Jesus or to grow in their faith if already Christians?

Related Topics: Character Study, Love, Women

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