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Sex, Identity, and Scripture

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Last week, Josh Collier preached for the congregation here about the challenges facing young people and their parents.  He described the typical progression from churchgoing child to atheist:  teenager has questions, gets fluff instead of strong Biblical answers to those questions, and looks for answers from YouTube skeptics instead.

I have to be honest, brethren.  That sermon convicted me.  It made me want to be sure that I, personally, was a preacher who tackled tough questions head-on instead of spouting feel-good claptrap from the pulpit. 

In particular, Josh mentioned that many teens have questions about gender and sexual identity.  I think Clay did a great job of laying out an entire philosophy of Biblical sexuality during his sermon series late last year, but this morning, I want to zero in specifically on those questions.  Our society has all kinds of things to say about sexuality that are completely at odds with what Christians have traditionally believed.  What does the Bible say about these things?  Over the next several minutes, let’s consider sex, identity, and Scripture.

I think this discussion must begin, though, with an exploration of LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR.  Paul lays out what this means in Romans 13:8-10.  Here, we learn that as Christians, we are responsible for treating those around us in a consistently loving way.  With respect to our subject this morning, it means several things.

The first of these is that love means respecting others’ choices.  God has given all of us the gift of free will, and as part of that, we have the freedom to make the wrong decision.  Those around us are entitled to their choices, even when, and especially when, we don’t agree with them. 

Being a Christian means that we don’t try to coerce others into doing what we think is right.  It means that we don’t harass, bully, insult, or belittle them.  It means that we always speak of them respectfully, even in our conversations with one another.  It means, in fact, that we treat them with the same kindness and consideration we hope they would extend to us.  All this is true whoever the other might be.

However, love doesn’t mean approving of others’ choices.  This is one of the big lies that the world tells.  They try to get us to believe that loving someone means endorsing their behavior, and if we aren’t willing to endorse their behavior, we don’t actually love them.  In fact, says the world, we hate them.

I reject that, and I reject it emphatically.  The Scriptures tell us that love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, and if I love someone, and I see them being unrighteous, how could I rejoice in that?  How can I pat someone I love on the back and tell them they’re doing right when I know that their feet are set on the path to hell?  That’s not love.  It’s selfishness and deceit.

The flip side of this is that love speaks unwelcome truths.  This doesn’t mean that all of us have to march down the street telling passersby that they’re going to hell.  It does mean, though, that we must remain steadfast in proclaiming Biblical principles that others find offensive.  It also means that when those we love are entangled in sin, we must have the courage to speak up.  All of this is universally true too.

Now that we’ve reminded ourselves of our duty to treat everyone in a godly way, let’s consider the Bible’s teachings on GENDER IDENTITY.  Our analysis here should begin with the words of the Lord in Matthew 19:1-4.  The question of transgender, of course, is not one that had arisen 2000 years ago, but the principles that Jesus lays out here tell us which way we need to go. 

He reveals that male and female are not social constructs.  Instead, they exist because God created them male and female.  Gender is a biological fact.  If you were to test my DNA right now, you would find that I have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome.  If you were to test my wife, you would find that she has two X chromosomes.  This is because God intended for me to be male and for her to be female.

Everybody knows that biological gender is a fact and, if pressed, will acknowledge it.  However, many in our society will insist that one’s feelings about maleness or femaleness are more important than that biological fact.  From a Biblical perspective, this doesn’t make sense. 

Instead, we must regard our DNA as God’s decree about who we are.  Because we are created as male and female, God expects us to conduct ourselves according to His laws for male and female.  If we do otherwise, we are deceiving ourselves about our true nature, and our conduct does not honor Him.

Some attempt to rebut this argument by pointing to genetic exceptions.  There is some extremely small percentage of people out there whose DNA has become mutated so that it is not obvious whether they are male or female.  I acknowledge that these exceptions exist.  Unlike Adam and Eve, none of us have perfect DNA, and no one has had perfect DNA for millennia.  Mutations are part of living in this fallen world.

However, we should not allow this extremely rare biological ambiguity to justify uncertainty about God’s will in cases where no ambiguity exists.  The vast majority of trans people are unambiguously male or female in a biological sense.  Their problem is not confusion.  It is unwillingness to submit, and we must consider them accordingly.

Finally, let’s examine the subject of SEXUALITY.  Again, the words of Jesus are extremely relevant here, this time in Matthew 19:5-6.  As Clay observed several months ago, this passage lays out the God-approved pattern for sexuality.  Godly sex involves the joining of husband and wife.  Anything that is not husband and wife coming together is not godly intimacy.  This involves various forms of heterosexual immorality, but it also includes the practice of homosexuality.  Those who practice any of these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Notice, though, what it is that is outside of God’s will.  Today, the issue of sexual practice has become confused with identity, so that people who never have been intimate with anyone will describe themselves as gay.  In the Bible, though, “homosexual” is not some kind of global human identity.  Instead, the Bible is entirely concerned with temptation and whether we give in to it.

It is not a sin to be tempted.  Jesus Himself was tempted.  If there is some Christian who is tempted to homosexual acts throughout their life, but they resist that temptation, they are righteous in God’s eyes.  Admittedly, those who are inclined only to their own gender must be celibate, but that’s no more than we expect from any unmarried Christian.  Only husband and wife have the right to be intimate.

Being tempted is not a sin, but giving in to temptation is.  When we repent, we can find God’s forgiveness, but if we don’t repent, we never will be right with Him.  Our society today endorses all sorts of sins, but in the end, we know that God will judge the sexually immoral.

Voting and the Christian

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Some of the topics that the brethren here ask me to preach on are fairly innocuous; others are downright radioactive!  So it is with this morning’s subject:  how it is that Christians should vote.  Obviously, 2020 is an election year, so voting is on everyone’s mind, and it is probably true that the outcome of the presidential election, especially, will have a significant effect on the country’s direction for the next four years.

In reaction to this significance, brethren have taken a variety of extreme stands.  For instance, I know Christians who believe that unless you vote, and unless you vote in a certain way, you are sinning.  At the other extreme, David Lipscomb and a number of other brethren in the 19th century believed it was a sin for Christians to vote or participate in government at all.  These are some pretty strong views, but what does the Scripture actually teach?  This morning, let’s consider the connection between voting and the Christian.

In this regard, the first thing that we must do is to HONOR THE CONSCIENCE.  Here, consider Romans 14:1-4.  On its face, this passage is about how Christians should handle disagreements over eating meat.  However, the principles that Paul sets out here govern our interactions in any matter of individual judgment.  Anytime the Bible doesn’t spell out clearly what we should do, Romans 14 tells us how to handle it.

Though this is not obvious to many Christians, voting is just such a matter of individual judgment.  Here’s why.  Unlike the Old Testament and the Qur’an, both of which have much to say about good government, the New Testament is a moral code meant for Christians and churches, not nations.  When we try to turn it into a code for nations, which it was not meant to be, we end up using our judgment to pick and choose which parts apply.

Now to this, some might say, “That’s not true!  When I’m in the voting booth, I vote the Bible and the whole Bible!”  That might be our self-perception, but it’s not really what we’re doing.  Let me give you an example.  I think all of us here this morning are agreed that adultery is a sin, and it’s very important for all of us to avoid adultery. 

However, for few of us does that carry over into politics.  We don’t make their position on adultery a litmus test for candidates.  Indeed, we even may be willing to vote for candidates who have committed and are still committing adultery.  We have used our judgment to decide that something that is very important to us religiously is not important to us politically. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think that’s a problem.  It’s impossible for us to vote without making these kinds of judgments, and I think that God gives us the freedom to vote as long as we do so according to our conscience and best judgment.

We must acknowledge, though, that we are following our conscience and our judgment, and therefore must not judge or despise brethren whose conscience leads them to vote differently.  I recognize that there are brethren who are passionately committed to Candidate X and cannot understand why another Christian might vote for Candidate Y instead.  However, our passion does not give us the right to condemn another’s conscience.  Even if we think their choice is terrible, we must respect their right to make it.

Second, when it comes to electoral matters, we must SPEAK WISELY.  Consider Paul’s admonition in Colossians 4:4-5.  Even though this is specifically about outsiders, it surely applies to the way that we speak to one another as well. 

In particular, there are three elements of wise speech that I want us to consider.  The first of these is that wise speech is truthful speech.  Sad to say, there are many Christians who are not careful with the truth when politics is involved.  I think the problems come when we do get too attached to candidates and parties.  We become so passionately convinced that our candidate is the best ever and the other candidate is the worst ever that we become willing to believe every slander that is made against them.  We’ll see some meme on Facebook and click “Share” because it feels true to us even though a little digging would reveal that it came straight from a Russian robot!  Brethren, repeating slander is slander too, and it’s a sin.  We have to be careful!

Second, we must speak graciously to speak wisely.  This too is the result of misplaced zeal for politics.  We become dead sure that we are right, right, right, and anybody who disagrees with us is wrong, wrong, wrong!  It becomes our goal, especially on social media, to shove the truth down the throats of the folks on the other side.  Well, guess what?  That’s contentiousness, and contentiousness is a sin too!  Over the past several years, I’ve seen far too many cases of brethren who aren’t friends anymore and won’t even speak to each other because of political disagreement.  Make no mistake:  that’s tragic and wrong.

Third, we speak wisely when we remember our true goal.  We are called to be Christians first and political partisans second, and nothing we say as political partisans ever should interfere with our work as Christians.  Offending people with the truth of Christ is one thing.  Offending people over politics is quite another!  Here’s a good litmus test:  If somebody from the other political party read what we have to say about politics on Facebook, would they still want to go to church with us?  If the answer is “No”, we have gone too far.

Indeed, the last thing that I want to encourage us to do this morning is to PUT THE GOSPEL FIRST.  Look at Paul’s great statement of faith in Romans 1:16.  It is the gospel that is the power of God to salvation, and only the gospel.  Politics and voting never can be.

This has implications first of all for our congregation.  Let me be clear.  This is not a Republican church.  This is not a Democrat church.  This is a church that belongs to Christ.  In the work of this church, we are wholly devoted to Him, and that means that we have neither time nor attention to spare for dabbling in politics.  It also means that regardless of how they voted, all who seek the Lord are welcome here.

Second, no matter how attached to our political causes we may be, we must acknowledge that politics can’t save souls.  Only people who are willing servants of Jesus will inherit eternal life, and no government, no matter how powerful, can make the unwilling become willing.  Through the threat of punishment, the government can change actions, but it can’t change hearts.  Only the gospel can do that, one heart at a time.

I’d be the first to admit that our country has a lot of problems.  Indeed, we live in a world with a lot of problems.  Given those problems, I understand why so many look to politics as a savior.  In reality, though, the only Savior is Jesus Christ.  If we want to change the world, we do that by proclaiming Him, first, last, and always.

This is why, for so many, social media represents a giant missed opportunity.  They’ll share all these memes and get in all these political arguments, but when it comes to the gospel, they have little to nothing to say.  Brethren, is that right?  Let us never put our hope in voting, politics, or the government.  Let’s put it in Christ where it belongs.

"Raised in the Church" or Disciple of Jesus?

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Tonight’s sermon is yet another sermon-request sermon, and in this case, I was asked to preach on the difference between someone who attends services because they were "raised in the church" and someone who is here because they are a disciple of Jesus.  This is a relevant subject to many of us because it touches on the two-edged nature of having been brought up by godly parents.

On the one hand, godly parents are a great gift.  I myself benefited immeasurably because both of my parents were devoted Christians and raised me accordingly.  However, with that gift, there comes a trap, the trap of free-riding on our parents’ faith and never developing a faith of our own.  If all we do is show up here because Momma and Daddy did, but we never truly commit our hearts to the Lord, we’re no better off than if we spent our Sunday mornings watching Captain Kangaroo!  Lest we ourselves fall into this trap, let’s consider this evening the difference between someone who is raised in the church and someone who is a disciple of Jesus.

I see three primary differences here, and the first is that someone who is merely raised in the church honors the traditions of the church, but a disciple of Jesus honors His word.  Consider what Jesus has to say about the dangers of tradition in Matthew 15:7-9. 

We often use this verse to wag our fingers at all those tradition-following denominations, but this can be just as big a problem within the Lord’s church.  When people go to churches of Christ but don’t know the word of Christ, the practices of their church basically become their Bible.  What they see becomes their standard of right and wrong.

This is problematic because it elevates human tradition to the level of God’s word, which is exactly what Jesus is criticizing in Matthew 15.  Like every church under heaven, the Jackson Heights church has human traditions.  However, if we don’t know the Scriptures, we won’t be able to distinguish between the things we do out of tradition and the things we do because they are commanded. 

Let me give you an example.  Several years ago, a preacher friend of mine happened to be waiting on the Lord’s table during the second serving, and afterward, when he offered another opportunity to contribute to the Lord’s work, he prayed before passing the plate.  After services were over, an older sister came up to him and ripped him up one side and down the other.  She said that her late husband had been a deacon and an elder in the church, and never had she seen anyone do anything as disgraceful as praying before the collection on Sunday night!

Now, is there anything unscriptural about offering such a prayer?  Of course not!  However, because the traditions of her church had become this sister’s Bible, when he violated those traditions, she reacted as strongly as if he had violated the word. 

Brethren, that attitude is the fountainhead of apostasy!  All of us are responsible for knowing why we do what we do, and being able to distinguish between God’s commandment and human tradition.  There’s only one way to get there—by returning to the word again and again until we understand the commandments of the Lord for ourselves.

Second, where someone who is merely raised in the church will be content with staying the same spiritually, a true disciple will seek to grow in Christ.  Consider the Hebrews writer’s critique of the failure to grow in Hebrews 5:11-14.  Of course, there are all too many Christians who were not raised in the church who fail to grow anyway, but spiritual immaturity is certainly one of the hallmarks of the generational Christian.

Again, the basic problem here is making the church and not the word our standard.  After all, when do all of us see the most Christians?  It’s during our Sunday morning assembly.  Thus, if you’re getting your information about Christianity from the practice of the church, you will conclude that the thing that you do in order to be a Christian is to come to church on Sunday morning.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think coming to church on Sunday morning is great!  I know there are younger Christians here who are fighting hard to make regular church attendance part of their routine, and I applaud that. 

Yes, being a disciple of Jesus involves coming to church, but it does not consist of coming to church.  And yet, to all appearances, there are lots of Christians who think that discipleship is about churchgoing.  There they are, year after year, decade after decade, filling a pew, but they never do anything, and they never seem bothered by their inaction.  They are the thorny ground in the parable of the sower, and we know how Jesus feels about Christians who never bear fruit!

This evening, then, let’s each of us pause to take inventory of ourselves.  Let’s each of us cast our mind back 10 years and remember the kind of Christian we were then.  If you haven’t been a Christian for 10 years, remember who you were when you obeyed the gospel.  Then, compare the old you to the current you.  Has there been a change?  For that matter, has the change been good?

Are you, for instance, better about reading the Bible regularly than you were 10 years ago?  Do you pray more frequently?  Do you spend more of your time in serving others?  Are you more willing to share your faith with outsiders?  Do you contribute more generously than you used to?

There are many other possible questions, but they all make the same point.  If we are not changing for good, we are not growing, and if we aren’t growing, we aren’t faithful disciples of Jesus. 

Finally, those who are raised in the church seek to please others, but the disciple seeks to please God.  Look at Paul’s question in Galatians 1:10.  Indeed, we can say that if we primarily are seeking to please others, we are not disciples of Christ, whether we are in this building or not.

Often, this has to do with our relationship with our families.  Many of us have had the frustrating experience of teaching someone the gospel, pointing out the truth about baptism, and having them say in reply, “I can’t believe that, because if it’s true, then Grandma went to hell.”  They are more loyal to their families than they are to God and His word. 

Sadly, there are all too many church-of-Christ attendees who come out of family loyalty too.  They belong to the Lord’s church because Grandpa did, but if Grandpa had belonged to a denomination, that’s where they would be.

Arguably even worse are those who attend services to keep peace in the family.  They have no faith of their own, but they come because it’s easier than falling away would be.  I saw a particularly tragic example of this in Illinois.  A brother returned to the Lord after decades out of duty, and he came back with such zeal that he brought his family with him.  They filled a whole pew! 

However, some years after that, he died, and after the funeral was over, I don’t believe I ever saw any of them again.  They weren’t following God.  They were following Daddy.  They were following Grandpa.

Brethren, ain’t nobody going to get to heaven by following their family!  It’s not enough for Jesus to be Mama’s Savior and Daddy’s Savior.  He has to be our Savior.  We have to love Him ourselves, with all of our heart, and all of our mind, and all of our strength.  We have to love Him so much that we are willing to abandon our earthly family.  Only then are we truly His disciples.

During Withdrawal

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Sometimes, I get the same sermon request from multiple sources.  Such is the case with this evening’s sermon, on withdrawal.  Not only has one of the members here asked that I address the subject from the pulpit, but the elders want me to do so as part of the congregation’s practice of teaching on it regularly.

This is, of course, not anybody’s favorite topic in the Bible.  None of us like to think about any of the members here being so intent on sinning that they force us to formally separate ourselves from them.  However, none of us are devil-proof, and bitter experience has shown all of us that time and again, he entices Christians to leave Christ behind.  Not because we want to, but because we have to, let’s spend some time this evening considering how we should behave during withdrawal.

First, we must REMEMBER THE STAKES.  Here, consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5:4-7.  This is part of his discussion of how the Corinthian church should handle the man who has taken his father’s wife.  Obviously, this situation is a little different than ours.  Paul is an apostle, and he is wielding his apostolic authority to tell the Corinthians, “You must withdraw from this sinful man.”  Nobody can do that today.

However, the reasons why Paul has taken this action remain valid.  First, he shows us that withdrawal is important for the sake of the soul of the sinner.  These people by their practice of sin already have severed their relationship with God.  When the congregation withdraws from them, that severing of relationship is a visible sign of the invisible disaster that has occurred.  It’s one last desperate effort to get them to realize the seriousness of their plight.  If we withdraw from someone as a matter of bureaucratic correctness rather than as a way to get them to repent, we’re doing it wrong.

Second, withdrawal is important for the sake of the church.  This is what Paul is getting at in vs. 6-7.  Sometimes in Scripture, leaven is used metaphorically of something that’s good.  That’s not true here.  Instead, when Paul is talking about leaven, he is talking about the corrupting influence of a sinner who is allowed to remain as part of the congregation.  It is sad but true that once a congregation accepts one sin, it soon will accept every sin and become no different from the world.  Ultimately, then, we practice withdrawal not only for the sake of the sinner, but for our own sakes as well.

Next, we must FOLLOW THE PROCESS.  Jesus sets it out for us in Matthew 18:15-17.  Sometimes, I think we read this process as having three steps.  Really, there are four.  Step One is confronting the erring brother with his sin.  Step Two is involving others, typically the elders, in the process.  Step Three is bringing the brother’s sin before the church.  Step Four is regarding this brother as no longer part of our fellowship.  Of course, if the brother in sin repents at any point of this process, we rejoice and don’t follow it to its conclusion.

The first thing that I want to observe about this is that all the steps of this process must be followed in order.  Too much of the time, Christians want to skip Step One and go straight to Step Two.  They know their brother is in sin, but they don’t want to talk with him about it because those conversations are unpleasant.  Instead, they want to take the problem to the elders and dump it in their laps. 

Brethren, that’s wrong.  We have a God-given responsibility to go to our brother ourselves.  Only when we have that conversation and they don’t listen to us should we go to the elders.

Second, we must honor its results.  Once a Christian has been withdrawn from, things can’t be the same between us.  They can’t continue to have a role in our assemblies.  They can’t even be people we socialize with and have a good time with.  Obviously, there are exceptions here due to family relationships, and I’ve discussed those things before, but that does not overshadow the general rule.  Withdrawal has to mean a significant change in relationship.

During the withdrawal process, though, we must TRUST THE ELDERS.  Consider, for instance, the admonition of Hebrews 13:17.  I’m well aware that second-guessing the elders is one of the favorite hobbies of many Christians.  Indeed, I have noticed that the difficult decisions that face elders often seem simple and straightforward to those who are not actually called on to make them.  I think that’s generally problematic, but it’s especially problematic when it comes to erring Christians.

This is true for two reasons.  First, we owe the elders deference because of their position.  There is no such thing as a perfect elder, and ours are no exception.  However, they are the ones who have been selected by God to lead our congregation, which means that it’s God’s judgment that they are better suited to make those hard decisions than any of the rest of us are. 

This means that we should consider our own judgment with skepticism.  If we think the elders should be doing something different with a Christian who is in sin, we might be right about that, but probably, we aren’t.  If brethren were as quick to question their own wisdom as they are to question the wisdom of the elders, the elders’ job would be a whole lot easier!

Second, it’s often the case that the elders know more about the situation than we do.  Brethren will often get upset about the perceived unfairness of the elders withdrawing from one in six weeks while continuing to work with another for a year.  In my experience, that’s not because the elders are being whimsical.  It’s because they are addressing different situations differently, often on the basis of information that the congregation does not and should not know.  If the puzzle doesn’t make sense to us, that’s probably because we don’t have all the pieces!

Finally, we must SPEAK TRUTH IN LOVE.  Look at Ephesians 4:15.  There are three elements to this idea, and all three must be present for us to please God.  First, we have to speak.  Second, our words have to be the truth.  Third, they must be loving.  If we leave any of those things out, if we leave out speaking, truth, or love, we aren’t doing Ephesians 4:15 right.

This is challenging.  It’s easy to say nothing to a brother who is sinning or even has been withdrawn from.  It’s easy to make polite small talk that ignores the elephant in the room.  For that matter, it’s easy to self-righteously blast the sinner without recognizing that we are directing our scorn at a real human being who fears and hurts and suffers like we do.

However, disciples of Christ aren’t called to do easy.  We’re called to do hard.  Jesus spent His whole ministry speaking truth in love with justice and compassion.  He expects us to learn how to do so from Him.  We shouldn’t expect to be good at this the first time we try it.  Like so many other spiritual disciplines, this is a skill we develop with practice.  However, the more we grow in our experience and especially our love, the better at it we will become.

Mary, Martha, and Jesus

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

One night last year, Lauren and I were driving home from a gospel meeting, and she asked me, “Am I allowed to request sermon topics too?”  As all husbands know, there is only one possible answer to that question, and so here I am this morning, preaching a sermon on two of the most famous sisters in the Bible, Mary and Martha.

I think this is worth our time for two reasons.  First, as we learned last week, our theme for the year is “Living for Jesus”, so it’s appropriate to consider the way two women lived for Jesus 2000 years ago. 

Second, I think that Martha is in some need of character rehabilitation.  She tends to get a bad rap from Bible teachers.  There’s even a book out there called Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.  However, when we look at what the Scriptures actually reveal about her and her sister, a different picture emerges.  Let’s turn our attention, then, to the interaction among Mary, Martha, and Jesus.

There are three stories in the New Testament about these two women, and the first of these is about MARTHA’S COMPLAINT.  Let’s read it, in Luke 10:38-42.  This is certainly the story that people think of first when they think about Mary and Martha.  In fact, for many brethren, it’s the only story they think of. 

The first thing this story shows us is that Mary is kind of an odd duck.  Today, we think nothing of a woman sitting and listening to a Bible teacher, but 2000 years ago, that simply was not done.  By sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary is not only declaring herself His disciple.  She’s halfway to declaring herself to be a man. 

The lesson here, I think, is that it’s OK to be a weird disciple of Jesus.  Some people have an easy time fitting into the conventions of society, and they can be wonderful Christians.  Others very much march to the beat of their own drummer, and they can be wonderful Christians too!  Being godly is a whole lot more important than being conventional.

Second, notice that Jesus rebukes Martha not for serving, but for criticizing Mary.  When Martha is bustling around serving while Mary listens, Jesus is perfectly fine with that.  It’s only when Martha complains that Jesus defends Mary. 

In life, some people are Marys.  They’re not so great at adulting, but they’ll sit and listen to Jesus all day long.  Others are Marthas.  They’re the ones who make sure that all the Marys are fed, clothed, and pointed in the right direction. 

It’s OK to be a Mary.  The church needs Marys.  However, the church needs Marthas too, and just like Martha doesn’t get to insist that Mary needs to become like her, neither should we insist that Martha needs to become like Mary!

The second of our three Mary-and-Martha stories is THE RESURRECTION OF LAZARUS.  It’s funny that we associate this story with Lazarus, but from beginning to end of it, he doesn’t say a word.  It’s Mary and Martha who do the bulk of the talking.  Let’s read about their part of the story in John 11:17-35. 

The first thing I see here is that in life, everybody gets their chance to shine.  In this story, the one who impresses is not Mary.  When Jesus arrives, she doesn’t go to greet Him, which is rude.  When Martha summons her to Jesus, she storms out of the house, goes to Jesus, accuses Him of being responsible for her brother’s death, and then collapses in hysterics at His feet.  Everything she does radiates mad and upset.

Not so with Martha.  Despite her reputation as the one who cares more about housekeeping than God, she is the one who actually has a meaningful conversation with Jesus.  In v. 21-22, even though she too holds Jesus responsible for Lazarus’ death, she expresses her conviction that He can make it right.  Jesus tells her and not Mary that He is the resurrection and the life.  She, not Mary, triumphantly concludes the conversation by expressing her faith in Jesus’ divinity and power.  I daresay that if we didn’t have the book of Luke, our narrative about Mary and Martha would be very different.

Second, though, let’s pay attention to the way that Jesus deals with Mary’s emotional outburst.  He’s not angry or condemnatory.  He’s compassionate.  Even though He knows what is going to happen in five minutes, when she weeps, He weeps along with her.

From this, we see once again that we don’t have to hide from God.  Sometimes, we feel like we have to put on our church faces when we pray, and that’s exactly the opposite of the truth.  If there is anybody we can be shockingly honest with, it’s God!  He’s big enough to handle our anger, our upset, our rage.  The problems come when we think we have to hide those things from Him (as if we could!) and end up turning from Him.

Our third story is the story of JESUS’ ANOINTING FOR BURIAL.  Let’s look it, in John 12:1-8.  By now, we should know what to expect.  Martha is doing Martha things, and Mary is doing Mary things. 

If, after our visit to Luke 10, we still had any doubt about whether Jesus was OK with Martha serving, this should dispel it.  She’s not plopped down in the floor next to Mary.  She’s bustling around making sure everything is in order, just like she was before. 

That’s perfectly fine.  Indeed, it’s always right for a disciple to tend to the needs of others, whether they’re male or female.  In the very next chapter, Jesus Himself is going to perform a humble act of service to teach His disciples a lesson.  In the Lord’s body, the people who paint the auditorium are just as important as the people who preach sermons in it, and we must never forget that.

Also, notice Jesus once again sticking up for Mary.  Once again, this is a strange thing she has done.  The only thing like it that we see in the gospels is the sinful woman in Luke 7 wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair as a sign of her repentance. 

This is also a very expensive thing for Mary to do.  In our terms, this is about a $50,000 perfume job!  However, whether Mary knows it or not, this is also the right thing for her to do.  She comes nearer to the meaning of the moment than any of Jesus’ other disciples do. 

As a result, when Judas condemns her, Jesus defends her.  In fact, He defends her so strongly that Judas gets offended at Jesus’ rebuke and ends up betraying Him to the chief priests.  I think Martha’s motives were a lot better than Judas’s, who only wanted his cut of the 300 denarii, but Jesus is willing to protect Mary from Marthas and Judases alike.

I think that all of us find ourselves rolling our eyes at our brethren occasionally, but we must remember that the quirkiest Christian in the assembly is someone whom Jesus loves and values.  We all take some bearing with, and some of us take a lot of bearing with!  However, God put us all here for a reason, and just like Mary did, each of us has something unique to offer.   

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