The Essential and the insistent

When Jesus spoke you listened. Jesus didn’t draw people to him because he was physically imposing, like Saul. Nor did he draw people because he told them what they wanted to hear, like the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day. He was earnest and kind, forthright and compassionate, full of truth and full of love. He was the master teacher, mentor, debater, defender, and friend.

As the Word made flesh, God incarnate, Jesus demanded your attention, not because he was loud, obnoxious, or insistent, but because his words were essential. He did not speak to hear himself, nor did he waste his breath speaking that which was superfluous (see Matthew 12:36, 37).

As we look back upon the ministry of Jesus, we should be captivated by the brevity of it. God is eternal. He created man as a temporal, mortal being. His plan to help man achieve immortality was gradually revealed over four millennia. Then, when the moment was perfect (Galatians 4:4), he pierced time and wrapped his everlasting spirit with flesh and blood. The pure Word walked around on this sin soaked soil for about one-third of a century.

His active ministry was extremely brief. In three and a half years, Jesus wasted not one moment, not one breath, not one opportunity. How tragic it is that so many wasted their few opportunities with Jesus.

One who almost wasted a precious opportunity with Jesus was Martha. A resident of Bethany, Martha was the sister of Mary and Lazarus (John 11:1, 21). Jesus visited the home of Martha who welcomed him and worked hard to serve him and his disciples (Luke 10:38, 40).

Martha’s sister, Mary, sat at the Word’s feet, and attended to his words. Martha wanted everything to be perfect for the Lord, she attended to serving. But the text tells us she was distracted with much serving (Luke 10:40). She approached the Lord and made her frustrations known, Mary had left her to serve alone. Martha thought Jesus should tell Mary to help.

But Jesus knew these precious moments were limited. He told Martha that she was “anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:41, 42). Rather than have Mary get up, the implication is that Jesus would have Martha sit down.

Service is a good thing. Just prior to this account in Luke, Jesus illustrates loving your neighbor with the parable of a kind Samaritan. Martha should not be disparaged because she wanted to serve. But there are times when the good can become the enemy of the better.

There are many things which call to us loudly, urgently, insistently. Some of them are good things which need to be managed or maintained. Others are yet more distractions, shiny and shallow.

Yet the essential tasks are rarely loud, urgent, or insistent. God’s word sits on our shelves, and is stored on our phones and tablets. If we don’t sit at God’s feet for a day or a week or a month, no alarms sound.

How wonderful it is to read of Martha’s faith in Jesus. When Lazarus died, she met Jesus and told him that if Jesus had been there, her brother would not have died (John 11:21). She knew that the Father would provide anything Jesus requested (John 11:22). She recognized the truth of the resurrection (John 11:24). And confessed the nature of Jesus the Messiah (John 11:27).

Six days before Jesus was betrayed, he once again visited the home of Martha. Here we see Martha again serving, but without controversy. It seems to me that she had learned to manage the good without neglecting the better.

Do not allow the insistent to overshadow the essential. Do not allow the good to eclipse the better. We only have but a short time to listen to our Lord. Do not neglect it.

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