This verse reveals again how strange this chapter is if we consider only the literal meaning. Just think about it, reader. Two sisters have lost their brother; one goes and has a long talk with Jesus about the situation; then returns "secretly" and tells the younger it's O.K. now for her to go see the Lord for He "calleth for thee".
Considering the story in only its plain content just doesn't add up. I don't believe this is the way it
would ordinarily work out. And even if it did, I doubt that anyone attempting to describe the
details later would write it in any such way as John did here. But remember, John was under the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit when he recorded the Lazarus-Martha-and-Mary' story. And he
wrote exactly what the Holy Spirit directed him to (as, of course, is true of all Scripture). I'm
convinced that the reason there is the rather strange inclusion of seemingly-insignificant data (like
Martha going "secretly" to Mary) is to transmit double truths to us in plain writing style. When
evaluated with this concept in mind, the passage comes to life, fantastically.
FROM MARTHA TO MARY
I entitled this chapter CHANGING OF THE GUARD with something specific in mind. You have probably seen the changing of the guard that takes place in front of the Buckingham Palace in London, home of the royal family. It is a beautiful ceremony to watch. So methodical. So precise. So intentional. So formal. So Martha-like. So British. And yet, so God-like, when you really think about it. To me, this switching of the guard pictures the work of the Church in England as it began to be shared by the Church in America.
England is a small country in size, covering an area less than the size of the state of Georgia. But,
along with the United Kingdom (Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), the first great industrial
civilization was built. During this same period the Church was developing in England, and
frankly, was the behind-the-scenes reason for the governmental, economic, military, and other
While our first English Bible came from there, and the universal Church owes much thanks for it, the Church of England is ornate, sophisticated, polished and business-like. (Take a look at the great churches and cathedrals that still remain and you'll see what I mean.) However, as the empire spread, going alongside were the missionaries and the Gospel message. Were the messages and the messengers perfect? Indeed not. But the world today would be in much worse shape if the British influence, particularly that of the Church, had never occurred. Millions of saints from throughout the world will go into eternity with God and his angels because of the blessings that fell on them, as a direct result of the anointing that has been upon Great Britain. We can criticize her shortcomings, but nevertheless, she has been one of the primary "witnesses" in the earth for over 12 1/2 centuries.
There is another beautiful nutshell-picture which contrasts the Church as it has existed in England
and America. And once again, note who were used to personify the two nations:
"Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village; and a certain woman, named Martha, received him into her house."
"And she had a sister, called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word."
"But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her, therefore, that she help me."
"And Jesus answered, and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things."
"But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."
Oh, how I love this passage. Even the plain message, conveyed by the real event that took place, is a spectacular illustration of Jesus' intimate way of dealing with individual differences among people. But the God-given allegory is even more spectacular, for it speaks broadly of the nature of the spiritual differences that have been characteristic of the Church of England and the Church in America.
Note the perfect historical agreement. Martha received Jesus first into her "house". England
"invited" Jesus to stay with her, commencing most notably with the first translation of any portion
of the Bible into English in the eighth century. Then, England (Martha) began to "serve" others in
the house; and she got so busy and distracted doing it (empire building, etc.), that she tended to
neglect the more important aspect of her mandate---serving the Lord in humility.
Next, we can clearly see in the above natural situation, that Luke so carefully described, what happened historically. As the other "witness", comprised of believers all over Europe, began to feel the call to go to America to establish and fulfill the work of God there, England was displeased with this, expressed in the above passage by Martha saying "...Lord, dost thou not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Bid her, therefore, that she help me." Martha had become frustrated. She was busy in the kitchen (picturing England paying too much attention to natural things and keeping the Church too structured). This is indicated by Jesus' admonition when he said "Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things". When Jesus would call people's name twice, it often inferred double-mindedness on the part of the person being addressed(2).
(John Wycliffe was considered a heretic by the Roman Church and its pope for his outspokenness against the wrong beliefs and practices in that hierarchy. But the fact is, John Wycliffe represents the best of the "Martha" witness, his influence lasting even till this day in a Bible-translating organization that bears his name.)
Historically, of course, the conflict between England and America came to a head with the
Revolutionary War. Mary (America), represented by the original thirteen colonies set up in the
American continent, had to remind Martha (England) that she was her own person. I believe
Martha (the person) had so-dominated her sister, that she had a hard time seeing Mary as an
individual with rights, privileges and her own destiny. The same was true of England, initially,
relative to America. This tendency is often seen in an over-powering, older brother or sister and
John astutely used the phenomenon to illustrate the same tendency in one nation toward another.
Martha had to be shown that Mary was not only a separate person from her, but actually had
chosen a better place in the houseat Jesus' feet. England has had a hard time learning this. But
today, in her severely-apostate condition, the results of Martha's wrong choices are clearly evident
as seen in the reduction of her once-held, world-wide influence.
"...MARY HAS CHOSEN THAT GOOD PART..."
What does this mean? Well, in the case of the two sisters, we recall that Mary's tendency was to desire to be around Jesus. Wherever He was, and whatever He was doing, Mary wanted to be in on it. And the place she put herself was, typically, at His feet.
We have a parallel situation in the case of the national Mary. (By the way, isn't it interesting that
we have a state named Maryland. And I'm persuaded this does not allude to Mary, the mother of
Jesus, but rather, in the realm of God's sovereign control of thingsMary, the sister of Lazarus.) I
must include here something that struck me profoundly when I discovered it a few years ago.
There is a poem called "The New Colossus" inscribed on a tablet in the pedestal of the Statue of
Liberty. It reads:
"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles, From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips, "Give me your tired, your poor,
our huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Even though written more from a humanistic than a spiritual perspective, when I first read this, it really impressed me as a statement which reflects the best of the heart-of-America. But then I noticed something even more impressive than the poem itself, something that may very well reflect the Hand of God in it. The poem was written by Emma LAZARUS!
Now I suspect many of you are thinking, "Well, that's quite a coincidence." But, dear reader, isn't it amazing that so many of these coincidences keep popping up as we go through this study?
But more than America's traditional, philanthropic spirit has been the different way the Church here has performed her part in the Great Commission. Now it goes without saying that there are many variations among Christians in the USA, reflected by a myriad of denominations, but I'm speaking more of the general attitude within the American Church as compared to the Church elsewhere in the world. Historically, and to some extent even still true, the Church in America has been less ornate, less ecclesiastical, less committed to possessions, etc., than has typically been the case in Europe, including Mary's sister, Martha.
Mary's approach to the Gospel, and its dissemination through evangelization, has been fantastically extravagant, yet more simple than has been true of our counterparts in the rest of the world, especially Great Britain. Our way has been more like this: Find a spiritually-malnourished people, feed them, clothe them, preach the Gospel to them, get them saved, help establish their own church and leave them to grow and mature as God sovereignly prospers them using their own God-given resources.
Now, for sure, there have been variations on what I just said. No Church, the American or otherwise, has ever been perfect. Expecting that there could be found perfection anywhere in this earthother than the person, Jesus of Nazareth---is what leads many to reject such ideas as I'm trying to promulgate here. But no one can deny that, typically, the USA has not gone into nations with the purpose of that nation becoming a part of ours. (There are a few exceptions to this, of course, and the outcome has been, I believe, to our disadvantage in every case.) On the whole, we have not and do not see ourselves as the ultimate authority in the earth, either politically, economically or ecclesiastically, as was true during much of the British Empire days.
I'm not trying to diminish the good done by Great Britain, even though she, like Martha, sometimes mishandled her gift. John presents Martha as the more proud and bossy of the two sisters, and being more involved in busy-ness than Mary. In Martha's favor though, we must remember that God pictures His Kingdom ornately and with great beauty. [Read Rev. 21 and 22.] But the tendency in England, I think, has been to overextend her role, presuming more authority than that given her, and so-doing, sometimes missed the higher mark. This resulted in some abuses that wouldn't have occurred had she been a bit more obedient and servant-like. I believe that is what Jesus was alluding to when He said Mary had "chosen that good part", while Martha was "troubled and anxious about many things".
Jesus also said that because Mary had chosen the better thing, it "shall not be taken away from
her". This promise answers adequately, for me, why America still stands today. We are
surrounded by evils of all kinds, both in and outside the Church but, remarkably, America has not
yet received what many preachers are saying is our just duejudgment. Don't misunderstand me,
I'm convinced America will fall. My book, The Two Witnesses, describes this in detail. But as
long as there is any life in the Church within America that reflects the Mary character, the
testimony deep inside our national, God-given, spiritual soul will continue to go forth. [I believe
there is at least one great revival and evangelistic outreach remaining in the Church in America.]
"As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him."
Remember where we are now. Martha was first to go to Jesus. In the prophetic sense, this referred to the anointing and mandate being given first to Great Britain. Then Martha, in verse 28, came and told Mary that Jesus was calling for her now. Prophetically, this refers to the commencement of the anointing and Gospel proclamation which would begin in America, which started from our very inception.
Notice that Mary "arose quickly" and "came unto Him". This is a beautiful metaphor of the USA. Our work here in this country has been very quickly accomplished, relatively speaking, when compared to the whole Christian era. As stated earlier, I believe God placed His Hand on this continent in the eighth century, the same century that England began her Christian mission. But it didn't get under way until 1492, actually not greatly until the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower in 1620. There were 102 passengers, along with 40 Pilgrims led by William Bradford, who set up an agreement, a contract, that established just and equal laws for all members of their new community. Where did these ideas come from? The Holy Bible. And because their ideas were based on the Bible, they never doubted that their experiment would work. It has worked, surely all will agree, better than any other in the history of mankind.
Therefore, we're only looking at a little over three centuries that the better part of the Great Commission has been in the hands of American Christianity. Like the Scripture said, "As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto Him."
[Is the image coming together for you as we connect the dots? If it is not quite clear yet, just
keep reading. It should become visible to you somewhere along the line.]
"Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him."
Isn't it interesting that we keep seeing these phrases which refer, mysteriously, to Jesus'
whereabouts? Like when He was in the "same place" with His disciples (vs. 6), and now "that
place" where Martha met Him. Typically, Bible authors were very careful to make clear
identifications about such things. Why the mystery, John? Well, as you might have guessed, I
believe he conveyed precisely what the Holy Spirit directed him to say and the purpose was to
leave us with a metaphor to resolve.
In verse 6, we've already discussed that the "two days still in the same place where he was" (i.e., heaven) referred to the 2,000 year period from Jesus' first advent until His second. In verse 30, above, "that place", I believe, refers to something similar but must be interpreted slightly different.
"That place" where "Martha met him", in the spiritual sense, refers to Jesus' presence with Great Britain. Jesus is no less with every saved individual than He was literally with Martha in "that place". He's is in my "place"; Jesus is in your "place" (if you are born again). Where is that place? In our hearts. How does this occur? This too is somewhat of a mystery, but, in this age, when Jesus is physically absent, the person of the Holy Spirit accomplishes it.
In John 17, we find Jesus' beautiful prayer for His saints. Suggestion: read the whole chapter.
Here, let me quote two verses to illustrate a point:
"Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, ["that place"] that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me; for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world."
"And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them."
Jesus being with Martha in a certain (mysterious) "place" is another one of the keys which unlocks the incredible historical picture of the Church as it has existed in a specific nation. Just as Jesus was with a particular woman prior to the raising of Lazarus, so He has been with a particular nation which He chose from the "foundation of the world".
England was the first national "disciple" Jesus walked and talked with in mighty and special ways during the Christian age. It will finalize when Jesus will raise up the whole nation of Israel at the end of this present era. And, as we have already seen, we are already approaching Lazarus' tomb now; it was Great Britain which was involved in the re-establishment of Israel back into their homeland, starting with the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
Jesus will be with Martha the exact amount of time He wants to be with her in "that place", accomplishing with and through her precisely what God wants to accomplish. It's an of-God, sovereign thing in which we can take no pride, my British and American friends. We have merely had the privilege of walking and talking with Jesus as He has opened the Scriptures to us, just like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The image gets clearer ahead as the changing of the guard moves on to Mary.