One of the most famous allegories in history is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. An “allegory” is where some character or symbol represents something else. In Pilgrim’s Progress (which is perhaps a rather “thin” allegory) the main character of Bunyan’s novel is named “Christian,” and he meets a man named “Evangelist” who points him to the way, where he has to enter through a narrow gate to the right road to the Celestial City. Along the way he meets with characters like Mr. Worldly Wise Man, and the Giant Despair, among others. You can see the analogy, as I said it is not a deeply hidden one: the character “Christian” represents all of us on our journey through the Christian life, and the Celestial City is heaven, and so on. Pilgrim’s Progress for many years was the second most-read book in all of the world behind the Bible. Its characters and scenes used to be referred to in public speeches and media, because everyone knew them. Now, of course, Pilgrim’s Progress has gone “out of vogue” with our modern age, and most people have no idea who “Mr. Worldly Wise Man” is, if you mention him, or any of the other characters, which is a shame. If you have never read Pilgrim’s Progress, you should get a copy and read it.
We find what I believe is another very apt analogy of the Christian life here in Luke 10:38-42, in what is for many of us the very familiar episode of Mary & Martha. Right off the top, let me make this clear: this episode is a REAL event. There really were two sisters by the names of Mary & Martha, and what is described here really happened in history. It is a historical fact. But also I believe that what happened in this very real event is also symbolic of what happens in our lives as Christians, and can serve, in a way, like Pilgrim’s Progress, as an allegory, or picture, of the Christian life.
What happens here in this story?
I. It Shows Us That The First Step With Jesus Is To Invite Him In.
The Bible says here in Luke 10:38 that as Jesus and His disciples “were traveling along, He entered a village and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.”
So Jesus was traveling with His disciples and they came to this town (we find out in the Book of John that the town they lived in was Bethany, because John tells us more about Martha and her family — her brother Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus). So the town was Bethany, a “suburb” if you would, just a mile east just of Jerusalem on the road to Jericho. Jesus and His disciples were doing what they typically did, which was to travel to a place, and see if there was what they called a “person of peace” there: in other words, someone who would receive their message and take them in, and let them stay with them. If they would, they would stay and preach and teach in that place, until it was time to move on. So when Jesus came to Bethany, Martha heard His preaching, and decided to ask Him to her home — and He stayed with her and Martha and Lazarus (although Lazarus is not mentioned in this passage) in their house. It’s interesting to me that it is called “HER” home — evidently somehow it was Martha’s, not Mary’s or Lazarus’; it was “hers.” But the important thing for us, is that she asked Jesus in. That was the single most momentous and life-changing act of her whole life, they day she decided to ask Jesus into her home. She and her family would never be the same again! The rest is history! She could always look back and say, “I’m SO glad I listened to the message of Jesus, and asked Him to come into my house that day! It was right there, right then, that my life was changed.”
And you can easily see how what she did that day, is an allegory, or a picture, of what happens to a person who is saved, right? What Martha did that day is what every Christian person does: we ask Jesus into our “home,” into our heart. We hear the gospel being preached or taught, just like Jesus and His disciples did that day; we realize that we are sinners, who need His message; we believe that Jesus died on the cross as our Savior, and we ask Him to save US. And He comes INTO our lives, just like He came into Martha’s home that day. As we saw last week, this is a very PERSONAL thing. You have to do it for yourself. No one else can do that for you.
In the 1800’s, President Andrew Jackson’s little baby niece was being baptized. As part of the ceremony, a sponsor (godfather and godmother) states that they will renounce the devil and all his works “on behalf of the child.” Well as they started the ceremony the baby started crying, and the only one who could get her to settle down was President Jackson himself, who was VERY protective and loving towards his baby niece, as he had no children of his own. So he swept her up in his long arms, and the pastor began the service with the Lord’s Prayer. Then, addressing the baby’s godparents, the minister asked, ‘Dost thou, in the name of this child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?” But the godparents didn’t have a chance to answer. President Jackson, who so loved that baby, couldn’t help himself, and immediately responded: “I do, sir, I renounce them all!” Those who were there said that everyone smiled at Jackson’s zeal — “no little girl ever had a more sincere protector speak for her at such a moment.” (Jon Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, p. 118)
Well, I think that was very noble and kind of Andrew Jackson, to try to do that for this little baby girl that he loved. God bless his sentiment. But the truth is, the churches that have this practice are off target spiritually. No one can make that decision to renounce the devil and serve God, for you. You have to do it for yourself.
As we saw last week, you personally have to realize that YOU have sinned against God, believe that Jesus died on the cross for YOU, and ask Him to save YOU, and come into YOUR life. When you ask Him to do that, the Bible says He does send His Holy Spirit into your life, and He “seals” you as belonging to Him, and convicts you of sin (this is why Christian people often feel worse about their sins than lost people do; because they have the Holy Spirit inside convicting them!; and He helps you to understand His word (again, this is why the Bible doesn’t make sense to lost people — they don’t have the Holy Spirit inside to help them understand it!); and He takes His word and applies it to your life, and slowly changes you. And He gives you a desire to worship God, and to love God, and He gives you that conviction inside that God is your “Abba Father” and that you are His child. He is IN YOUR LIFE. He is not just a “feeling” (which confuses a lot of people); He is not “goosebumps” necessarily or anything like that. But He is IN YOU through His Holy Spirit. You need to make sure He IS in you. Romans 8:9 says: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
So you are saved when YOU personally have invited Jesus into your heart, just like Martha invited Him into her home that day. What Martha did with Jesus that day is a great picture — an allegory — of what we must ALL do, in order to be saved. You must ask Jesus in to the “home” of your heart! That’s how you get saved. But what we need to see next is that it doesn’t stop there. The allegory continues with what happens next:
II. It Shows Us That After We Invite Jesus In We Are Still A Work In Progress!
As I said, when Martha invited Jesus into her home, it was the most important day of her life. She was now on the right track with the Lord. He was staying in her home. Someone might consider that the end of the story, right? It’s a happy ending! But it WASN’T — because it WASN’T the end of the story — it was just the beginning. Jesus was now “in Martha’s life,” “in her home,” but that didn’t mean that everything was as it should be yet, as this passage goes on to show us:
Martha had “welcomed Jesus into her home” — great! But what happened next? The Bible says in :39+ that Martha “had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me’” — and so on to the rest of the story.
What happened here? This was no immediate “happy ending” to Jesus coming in. What was the matter? Jesus was in her life! Things should be great, right? But the problem with that thought is, that everything in her life did NOT change immediately, just because Jesus was in her home. Martha still had a lot of bad habits, and attitudes, that she had to “un-learn” even after Jesus came in.
JESUS was in her home! That’s great! But that didn’t mean that she was changed immediately in every area of her life. She still had some real challenges to overcome. (We’re going to look at some of these things in some depth in the weeks to come, but for now, let me mention just a few of them:
— She didn’t have her priorities right.
— She was “distracted with all her preparations,” that literally means, “dragged around with much service.” She thought that “busy-ness” was the most important thing she should about.
— She hadn’t learned yet to just sit at Jesus’ feet and worship Him and listen to His word. (We’re going to look at the importance of that next week, Lord willing)
— She also had some real issues with her attitudes towards other people, and even towards Jesus Himself: think about it: she was trying to tell JESUS what to do here! (“Tell her to help me.” That’s pretty strong isn’t it; telling Jesus what to do?! — but it also sounds just like a cook, doesn’t it? Bossing everybody in the kitchen around!).
But the bottom line was: just because Jesus was now “in her home,” didn’t mean that the story was over, and that she just lived “happily ever after.” No, the story had just BEGUN. She still had a lot of things to learn, and a lot of changes to make. She’d made the first and most important step — inviting Jesus in. But she still had a long way to go.
And that’s a good allegory of OUR lives as Christians too. The day we asked Jesus in to our heart was the most important day of our lives. It was life-changing. We went from hell to heaven that day. BUT, just like Martha, that doesn’t mean it is the “end of the story.” It’s not just “and they lived happily ever after” just because you asked Jesus to be your Savior. Asking Him in, is just the beginning.
St. Augustine is considered one of THE most influential Christian theologians in all of history. In Peter Brown’s biography of this great man, he points out how in Augustine’s own autobiography, he spends the first 7 or 8 chapters describing his early life, and his rebellion against the Lord, whom his godly mother Monica worshiped, and the ungodly philosophies and practices that he followed as a young man. But finally in response to his mother’s fervent prayers, Augustine gets saved — we’ll look more at his testimony another time, because it is a marvelous story. But what applies to us here today is that Brown says that many people in Augustine’s day would have ended his biography with Chapter 9, when he gets dramatically saved. He says that is how people of his days liked to end their stories: with a clear, dramatic ending — “and then he lived happily ever after” with the Lord. But Brown says that Augustine purposefully did NOT end it that way — because he knew that real life was not like that; it was NOT just “happily ever after” — even after you get saved. He said he did not want to “delude his readers into believing that they could so easily cast off their past identity.” There were a lot of habits that still needed changing; a lot of thoughts and attitudes that needed to be “reprogrammed” in his mind; a whole lifetime of things that needed to be “redone” in him. He said it was just like Lazarus in John 11. Lazarus had been dead for four days, and in a MOMENT he had been awakened from the dead by the voice of Jesus — but that wasn’t the end of the story. He STILL had to “come forth” from the grave; he was still wrapped up in the grave clothes which had to be removed. Lazarus had a new life from Jesus — but there were still a number of things which remained to be done in his life.
And that is exactly how it is for every one of us as Christians:
— Just like Lazarus, even when Jesus has given us new life, we still have a lot of “grave clothes” that have to be changed.
— just like Martha, even though Jesus is “in our home,” we still have a lot of “issues” to deal with. We still have a lot of old, bad habits, that don’t necessarily just “go away” the moment we come to Christ. (Now SOME things do immediately change. I’ve known people who lost their desire for alcohol or cigarettes or drugs the moment they were saved. But not every Christian has that experience. Some have to wrestle with these things, and learn to walk with God daily and depend on Him to overcome them.) And even if SOME things change the moment we are saved, not everything does, for ANYONE. NO ONE is immediately perfect the moment they are saved. When we are saved Jesus says we are “born again” — which means that we have a new life, but we are also now “babies” in Christ, and we have to learn, and grow into maturity. And maturity does not happen all at once, for anyone. It is a long, slow process of being taught, and learning new thoughts, using new words, and developing new habits.
— Like Martha, we need to “un-learn” the habit of filling up our lives with “busy-ness” and thinking that “keeping busy” with a multitude of things is what life is all about.
— Like Martha, we need to learn that the most important thing in our lives now that we’ve come to Christ, is to sit at Jesus’ feet every day and worship Him, and hear His word and learn from Him and about Him, and sing to Him. Just be at His feet. (We are going to look at that some more in depth next week, Lord willing.)
— Like Martha we need to deal with our “worries & bothers.” Jesus told her, “You are worried and bothered about so many things.” How many of us might Jesus say this VERY same thing to? “YOU are worried and bothered about so many things”! And we need to learn to stop that, before our worries kill us, or ruin our lives.
— Also like Martha we need to learn to have right perspectives and attitudes towards other people. It is not all about US. Our tendency is to want to point out what OTHER people are doing or not doing, and we want the Lord to fix THEM — whereas Jesus wants us to focus on letting Him fix US! That’s a HUGE difference, isn’t it?
— And like Martha, some of us need to learn to “give up control.” She evidently RAN that house — it was “her” house, after all! — and she was used to having things HER WAY! But she had a new “boss” now — SHE wasn’t in charge of her life any more; JESUS was her Lord now. And she needed to learn to listen to HIM, and do what HE wanted her to do.
And we need to learn the same thing. See, salvation isn’t just a matter of “asking Jesus in” to our life — just like the story here didn’t end with Martha asking Jesus into her home. We need to learn that if Jesus really is our Savior and God, then He is also our LORD, and our life is no longer about doing what WE want to do; we are not “in charge” any more. HE is the Lord. HE is “in charge.” And now the rest of our lives are to be spent in following Him — not only “sitting at His feet,” but also then getting up to do what HE wants us to do. And that’s hard. And that’s a process, and it takes time for us to learn and implement and make new habits. But that is what the Christian life is all about.
The question is: is that what YOUR life is about? See, there’s a kind of person — it’s very common in America; probably millions of people here — who have “signed up” to join a church and consider themselves to be “Christians” because they go to church an hour a week. But it doesn’t really have an impact on their life every day.
And then there’s the kind of person who is like Martha: who really has “asked Jesus” into their heart and home. It doesn’t mean they’re perfect. No, in fact like Martha they are FAR from perfect. Like her they have all kinds of words and habits and attitudes and relationships that they are still working on. BUT THE THING THAT DISTINGUISHES THE REAL CHRISTIAN FROM THE ONE WHO IS NOT, PERHAPS MORE THAN ANY OTHER THING — IS THAT THEY ARE INDEED WORKING ON THESE THINGS! They are not content to just stay like they are. Because Jesus is really IN them; and He’s not content with the house just as it is. He loves you like you are; but because He really loves you, He is not going to leave you like you are.
It’s like our house we live in here in Angleton. We love our house. Some of you know the story of it — and have actually HELPED us with it. When we were first coming to Angleton in view of a call, we had looked online at some houses that we were interested in, but the housing market was moving so quickly that by the time we drove down here, the top 4 houses on our list had already been sold!
So we found this one, and Pamela Brooks took us into it, and the moment we stepped into it, it was like “Ugh!” — it was so old and outdated and smelly; it had a metal cage on the front porch that made it look like a prison; it had ugly wallpaper in the entryway, and old cream-colored carpet all through — even in the bathroom!
But we could also see that it had a lot of potential. It was configured just the way we wanted: it had a big living area so we could have groups of church members over; an amazing kitchen, and a front room that we could turn into an office for me. And so we chose this one, and we moved in, and we LOVE it! But we didn’t leave it like it was. We have put a lot into it: we took those bars off the front porch; we put new ceramic tile on the floors, Cheryl took down the wall paper and textured and painted, and so much more. We LOVE it; we love our neighborhood, and we love our house. But even yet, it still has a long way to go. We still have the bathrooms to do, and more. It is still very much a “work in progress.”
And what we need to see is, that’s how the Lord is with US, too. He “picked us out” and wanted us to be His, and when He saved us, He moved in. And He loves us, even now as we are, He loves us. But He loves us too much to leave us like we are. He’s got a lot of “projects” He’s working on in us still. Every day is part of that “remodeling” process He’s performing in us:
— Each day we get up, and read His word, and see what “project” He wants to work on us next:
— is it getting to know and worship Him better?
— is it something we need to stop doing?
— or is it an attitude we have about something?
— or is it the way we are treating somebody?
There’s always something that needs working on in us— and there always will be until the day we die. We need to understand that, and be patient, both with ourselves, and with others. We are ALL a “work in progress.”
It’s just like the allegory that the story of Martha provides for us here. Even when we’ve invited Jesus into our “home,” we still have a long way to go. The important thing, is to make sure that you HAVE asked Him in — and that once He IS in, that you really ARE working with Him on what needs to be done!
Let’s bow our heads together, and talk to Him about what He wants to do in us …
— Is Jesus in your life? Have you ever come to a time, when like Martha, you “asked Him in”? If not, why don’t you that right now?
— And if you would say He IS in your life; what is He working on, in you? Are you working together with Him on it, every day? Ask Him again right now, what He wants to do in YOU. And ask Him to help you with it — to spend time with Him every day, and work on these things with Him …
Ask Him to speak to you over the next 4 or so weeks as we look into this passage, about some specific things He wants to do in YOUR life.
(And maybe ask Him if there’s someone you need to invite to church, or to watch these services, so He can work in them too …)
Talk with the Lord about these things …