The story of Mary and Martha in the Bible is a true tale of two sisters who passionately loved Jesus.
I have frequently studied both of these women throughout the past few years and each time I study the story of Mary and Martha I learn something new!
At the time of this writing about the story of Mary and Martha, I am also teaching Bible lessons about Mary of Bethany to 12-year-olds in our local school.
Oh my goodness I have some scripture treasure to share with you about the time when Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus and she poured very expensive perfume all over His feet!
But I am getting ahead of our life-transforming story of Mary and Martha. Keep reading to discover the lessons we learn from Mary and Martha in the Bible.
The Story of Mary and Martha in the Bible
How did Jesus know Mary and Martha?
Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus lived together in Bethany, which is a small town in Judea just two miles from Jerusalem, on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives.
It is thought that they may have been wealthy and lived in a large home – big enough to accommodate Jesus and His disciples.
We read the story of Mary and Martha multiple times in the Gospels and we will take a more detailed look at these scriptures below.
The Gospel of John reveals how close a friendship Jesus had with Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus.
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:5 ESV.
Jesus did not favor man over woman or woman over a man. The culture at this time was for the women to serve at home and the men were the ones that were expected to learn from the Rabbi.
We will be discussing the familiar dialogue that Martha had with Jesus when she asked Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help her serve instead of sitting at Jesus’ feet hanging on to every single word that He spoke.
We will also be studying the story of Mary and Martha where Mary poured very expensive perfume over the feet of Jesus.
Can you imagine being in the presence of Jesus and being so comfortable with Him that you can tell Jesus to reprimand a sister or to be at ease to sit at the feet of Jesus and not just pour perfume over His feet but to dry them with your hair?
The story of Mary and Martha, and Lazarus does indeed show us that they had a glorious friendship with Jesus!
Lessons from the Story of Mary and Martha
In the story of Mary and Martha, we learn that Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet.
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.
What stood out to you when you first read this scripture about the story of Mary and Martha?
I get giddy every time I read these Bible verses!
Can you imagine speaking to Jesus like that about your sister?
Take note that scripture states that Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet. This is the posture usually taken by men who wish to learn from the Rabbi.
It was the culture at this time for the men to sit at the feet of the Rabbi to learn and it was unusual for a woman to be invited to do that too.
Lessons from Martha in The Bible
What can we learn from Martha in the Bible?
So we have Martha rushing about preparing a meal for her guests (which takes a lot of effort and time) and where was her sister Mary?
Mary was eagerly sitting at the feet of Jesus listening and learning all that He was teaching.
Well, poor Martha just got very frustrated. Maybe she was feeling a little overwhelmed by the work that needed to be done to take care of her guests or maybe she was frustrated at not being able to take the time to sit and listen to the words of Jesus.
I know that I would want to be preparing a fantastic meal for Jesus but I would also want to be sitting at His feet gleaning all that He had to teach me.
In another portion of scripture further down in this post, we will find out how Martha’s faith grew great and expectant in Jesus when He comes to her home after Lazarus dies.
4 Lessons We Learn from Martha
In the story of Mary and Martha, here are four lessons we learn from Martha.
1. Go straight to Jesus with your problem.
When Martha demanded that Jesus tell her sister to come and help her, He said,
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”
I wonder if Martha was embarrassed by what Jesus said to her. Did she realize that she was missing out by being too busy serving instead of using that time to sit and listen to Jesus?
I wonder if you and I sometimes get our priorities wrong and get too busy serving when we need to sit still in God’s presence and be instructed by Him?
2. Come boldly and confidently in the Lord’s presence.
Did you notice that Martha was very comfortable confronting Jesus with her problem?
Martha is so comfortable and confident in Jesus’ presence that she can say to Him exactly how she feels and doesn’t have to hide her frustration.
We need to learn from Martha. We can cultivate a relationship with Jesus that is so solid and intimate that we can boldly come into the throne of grace of God’s presence anytime and all the time without fear and wanting to hide from Him.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
3. Seek God’s peace.
Martha learns that very important ‘one thing’ that Jesus wants for all of us. Jesus teaches Martha that the most important thing in life is to seek His presence.
We need to have a close and intimate relationship with Him.
When we get that ‘one thing’ right then everything else will fall into place.
When we seek God first we gain God’s grace and wisdom for the task before us. And most importantly we will have God’s peace in the middle of whatever busy season that we are in.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work”.
4. Activate your faith muscle just like Martha
In another portion of scripture, after Lazarus dies, we see Martha express an extraordinary amount of faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
In Luke chapter 11 we read about Mary and Martha sending urgent word to Jesus that Lazarus was very sick. Jesus delayed coming to see them and Lazarus died.
“Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake, I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Jesus had a plan – a good plan. It was an unexpected plan that caused much delight and much controversy all at the same time!
The religious leaders were not happy that Jesus was gaining so much attention and they did not recognize Him as the Son of God.
Let’s read how the drama unfolds:
“Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.
So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Wow! What a statement of faith from Martha!
We see Martha running to meet Jesus as soon as she hears that He is near.
Maybe she was complaining a little bit that Jesus had not come straight away (verse 21) but look at what she said in verse 22, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Martha’s faith is shining for all of us to see.
Do you know how the story of Lazarus ends?
“Then Jesus deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
It seems that Martha’s faith may have wavered for a moment in verse 39 but Jesus reassures her and her brother is brought back to life!
Did you notice the transformation in Martha?
When we first met Martha she was busy preparing her home and food for her guests. This was a noble thing to do but for that exact time in her life, it was more important to be sitting at the feet of Jesus and to be refreshed in His presence.
Martha did the right thing in coming straight to Jesus to present all her problems to Him and to look to Him to give the perfect answer to her problem. But the answer that she received was not the one she was expecting.
Jesus told Martha ‘the one thing’ that was most important was to sit in His presence.
We now catch up with Martha when Jesus comes to resurrect Lazarus and we see the transformation in Martha. She is full of expectant faith.
Are you full of expectant faith, that God will work His miracles in your life?
Martha wasn’t perfect but she obviously worked hard in pursuing the presence of Jesus and now we see how her faith muscle grew!
We don’t have to be perfect either. We just need to cultivate a heart that desires to beat louder and stronger for Jesus. We need to seek His presence above everything else and enjoy His sweet fellowship.
Then you and I will be ready and refreshed to do the work that God has called and created us to do.
Lessons from Mary in the Bible
What can we learn from Mary in the Bible?
We have already discussed how Martha was very good at taking care of her household and guests. Martha did what was expected of her culture at that time. It was Mary who stepped outside of the cultural expectations.
Mary was not supposed to be sitting at the feet of Jesus with the men. She would have been expected to be helping Martha with the preparation of food in the kitchen.
Women of that time were kept very busy. They would have been busy grinding grain for bread, then mixing, kneading, and baking it. Then they would also be responsible for drawing water for all the day’s requirements.
They would also be busy mending and washing clothes and all the other daily chores that contribute to a thriving family.
I am so thankful for all the modern-day conveniences that we have!
The point is that women were extremely busy and the tasks could easily become overwhelming.
Where do we find Mary when her household is very busy with very important guests?
Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening very carefully to everything that He teaches.
Please take note that Jesus does respect the work that needs to be done in the household and He does encourage us to serve others.
But the most important thing to do is the ‘one thing‘ that Mary did and that is to seek the presence of Jesus.
2 Lessons We Learn from Mary
In the story of Mary and Martha here are two lessons we learn from Mary.
1. Seek God’s presence first.
The first important lesson to learn from the story of Mary and Marta is to seek God’s presence and to listen well as He speaks to us.
Mary wasn’t concerned that she was breaking the cultural rules of her time. She was bold in making sure that she had a place to sit and listen to Jesus, just like the men were doing.
The fact that Mary dared to break this cultural role in society shows that she was very hungry to hear all that Jesus was teaching. Also, take heed of the fact that Jesus defended Mary when Martha complained that she was not helping her.
Jesus actually said that Mary had chosen the right thing. Jesus longs for you and me to take time throughout our busy daily lives to sit at His feet and soak in His presence.
So join me in being hungry for the Lord’s presence and seeking Him first.
2. Be totally devoted to Jesus and listen for Him to speak to you.
When Mary sat at Jesus’ feet she obviously was devoted to Him and listened to His words carefully.
How do I know this to be true?
We read in John 12:1-8,
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus, therefore, came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at the table.
Mary, therefore, took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair.
The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and had charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor, you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
I mentioned earlier that I had some scripture treasure to share with you about Mary.
Here it is: It’s all about a very expensive bottle of perfume!
It is thought that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were independently wealthy. This may account for the fact that Mary had a very expensive bottle of perfume that was worth a year’s wages. This perfume was made of pure nard, a fragrance imported from India. The nard was kept in an Alabaster jar which was a form of marble.
Alabaster jars were intricately crafted and sealed so that to open the jar, the owner would have to break it, and the perfumes or oils would have to be used immediately.
This meant that Mary could only use this very expensive nard once. Mary was wise and she had listened carefully to all that Jesus had been teaching.
Jesus was not popular with the religious leaders at this time. They actually were plotting to kill Jesus. Jesus had been preparing the disciples for His imminent arrest and crucifixion but they hadn’t quite grasped that this would happen soon.
But then we have Mary who had been listening to all that Jesus had been teaching and in an act of devotion, she ministered to Jesus by pouring out this expensive nard all over His feet.
In these Ancient times, nard or Spikenard was used in preparing a body for burial. This very expensive nard was usually reserved for the burial of Kings and the upper classes. So it was very fitting to be used to anoint the feet of the King of Kings!
So you can see that Mary loved, trusted, and believed every word that Jesus spoke and that was how she was able to take the opportunity to bless the Lord.
The answer is surprisingly simple. God just wants us to spend time in His presence. After all, that is why Jesus went to the cross.
Due to our sin, we could not enter the Holy Presence of God and so God made a way for us. He bridged the gap between our sin and His holiness through the death of His Son, Jesus on the cross.
We just have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died, paying the price for our sin, and rose again three days later.
Are you a Mary or a Martha?
That is actually an unfair question to ask.
I believe the story of Mary and Martha teaches us that we need to be both a Mary and a Martha. We need to keep our priorities in the right order.
No matter how busy our lives are, we need to seek God first in everything that we do and then get busy with the million and one tasks that need urgent attention.
When you seek God’s presence, you become refreshed and when you are listening to His voice you will receive His battle plan for your day.
The beauty of practicing the presence of God is that you can do it all the time throughout your day. It is wise to set apart a specific time in your day to read and study scripture and pray but you can consciously chat with God and invite Him into everything that you do.
I hope you have enjoyed learning these lessons from the story of Mary and Martha. I know that these two awesome women have left their imprint on my life!
Karen O’Reilly is the creator and designer of Scriptural Grace which offers products, bible studies, and bible reading plans.