Archive for June, 2018

A Note About the Holy Spirit and Women:

In his Gospel, Luke wrote stories that especially show us how Jesus considered women as His disciples with the same privileges as men. Luke often told his stories in pairs of women and men with the women coming off looking a bit more positive. When the men in the stories come off looking rather negative, it is because Luke is deliberately trying to destroy the ungodly stereotypes that existed at the time of the New Testament. Luke is trying to even out the playing field for female followers of Christ.

An example of this is the pairing of Zacharias and Mary at the beginning of his Gospel. Both Zacharias and Mary are approached by angels. Zacharias doubts the angel when he is promised that his aging wife Elizabeth will conceive and bear their son, John the Baptist. God punished Zacharias for his lack of faith by causing Zacharias to lose his ability to speak. Should Zacharias, a priest responsible for teaching people about God, not have remembered Sarah, Rebekah, and Hannah from the Scriptures? Zacharias should have known that nothing is impossible for God.

Mary, on the other hand responded to her angel with, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” As we saw in a previous lesson, Mary’s song, the Magnificat, shows that she knew how many great things God had done for His people. Luke demonstrates that women have strong faith.

In the book of Acts, Luke makes evident that the Holy Spirit commissions women to service in His kingdom as well as men. In his history of the early church, Luke shows how men and women work together in the kingdom of God taking the Gospel message of forgiveness and peace with God to the lost. The Holy Spirit fell on all believers at Pentecost, men and women. Women were gifted equally to serve in the church. Women as well as men were persecuted for the sake of the Gospel.

We will share two stories in the coming weeks demonstrating how women were called to serve in the kingdom. First we will look at a story from Luke’s Gospel – Anna the prophetess. Our second story is from the book of Acts and is also about women with the gift of prophecy – the daughters of Philip.


Anna –  the first New Testament Prophet

Please turn with me to Luke 2:36-38:

 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

 Many people wonder why so few people in Israel recognized Jesus as the Messiah when He was born. They had been watching for Him. Daniel the prophet had practically set the date. The Jewish leaders had been studying the prophecies and were anticipating the arrival of the Savior. When John the Baptist began his ministry, the Scriptures tell us that the people were “in a state of expectation” and wondered whether or not John himself was the coming Messiah. (Luke 3:15). The fact is that the people were looking for their Messiah.

So, why did they not recognize Jesus as the Messiah? It is because they were looking for powerful military leader or a mighty politician who would become a conquering king. They expected Him to arrive with great fanfare amid loudly proclaiming throngs of people.

But, He was born in a stable. So, among the Israelites, only humble people like shepherds, and Mary and Joseph, and Simeon and Anna recognized Him.  Of course, the very wealthy Magi that we read of in Matthew’s Gospel recognized Him. But they were foreigners and Gentiles, and God gave them a special revelation. Otherwise, only very lowly people knew that this baby Who was born in Bethlehem was the Lord Jesus.

God had given the shepherds the witness of the angels. Mary and Joseph had also been told what was happening by angels.

The Holy Spirit caused Simeon and Anna to recognize that the baby that Mary and Joseph brought to the temple for His circumcision was indeed the One Who would bring salvation to all peoples, even Gentiles.

When he received Jesus, Simeon blessed the baby and his parents. While he was doing this, Anna came by “at that very moment” and began giving thanks to God.

We have only these three verses about Anna in the Bible, yet they tell us a lot about her.

Anna was a prophetess. In the Old Testament we see three other women who were referred to as prophetesses. What is significant here, is that Anna is standing as a prophetess during the time of the transition between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. This devout servant of God is the one to whom God trusted the revelation concerning the coming of His Son.

It is striking that Luke makes sure to record that one of the two witnesses to the birth and validation of the Messiah was a woman. Jewish law required that there be two witnesses to validate a claim. In those days, women were not allowed to be witnesses. But, God had blessed this woman and called her to be a testimony to His Son.

Another thing we know about Anna is that she must have been an unusually faithful believer. She came from the tribe of Asher. That tribe was part of the Northern Kingdom. The northern ten tribes had become apostate over the years. They even had built their own temples and changed the Old Testament to suit their new laws. They had their own priesthood and they had intermingled with the surrounding pagans and offered corrupt sacrifices. So, at some point, God must have dealt graciously with Anna and her family to move them to the Southern Kingdom where they could worship at the true temple in Jerusalem.

Truly, Anna had an amazing faith. She believed the Old Testament promises. She took the Scriptures seriously. She knew in her heart that Messiah was coming and was probably praying that it would happen soon.

We are told that Anna was a widow, and very aged. Widows had a very tough time in Israel. They were virtually guaranteed a life of poverty. So Anna must have been living just on charity or perhaps very frugally on the remnants of her family’s inheritance. Either way, she led a chaste and sober life, praying and fasting day and night.

Luke tells us that Anna “never left the temple.” (Luke 2:37) Apparently she lived right on the temple grounds. There were apartments in the outer courts, sometimes used as temporary housing for priests who were doing their annual service. Perhaps Anna was permitted to live there because of her lifetime of faithfulness and her steadfast devotion to the Lord. The people had also recognized her spiritual gifts and observed how she had been using them in the Lord’s service.

God graciously answered her prayer that the salvation of God’s people would come. When she was walking in the temple and overheard “at that very moment” Simeon blessing the child, she knew at once that the baby in Simeon’s arms was the promised Messiah. She began praising God. She did not stop there. Her message for the rest of her life would be that the Messiah has come! She thus became one of the first witnesses for Christ!

We really don’t know what became of Anna after this. She probably did not live long enough to see Jesus during His ministry. But we can be sure that this elderly, dignified, quiet, devoted woman proclaimed Christ for as long as she lived.

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Mary, the mother of Jesus

Mary was truly remarkable. Sovereignly chosen by God to bear the Christ child, from among all of the women who had ever been born, she was the one who brought our Redeemer, the Messiah into the world. Mary was an ordinary human being, but she had great faith, courage, and piety. She proved her faith with obedience, her courage with humility, and her piety with thoughtfulness, prayer, and submission.

A few weeks ago, in Part 1 we told about Mary’s early life – her encounter with the angel Gabriel and her betrothal. Mary visited with her cousin Elizabeth, who was also miraculously pregnant with John the Baptizer. We then took some time out – in Part 2 –  to examine more closely Mary’s song of praise to God, often called the Magnificat. Mary’s song is one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. It reminds us of the Psalms and many other songs in the Old Testament. Mary is the first theologian in the New Testament, blending dozens of Old Testament Scriptures into a few verses to praise, honor, and testify to God’s plan of redemption.

This week let us pick up the story from Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months then returned home. When it was very nearly the time for Jesus to be born, Mary went with Joseph to Bethlehem. Women did not usually travel during the advanced stages of their pregnancies. Was she aware of the prophecy that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem? We don’t know. We do know that angels spoke to Joseph as well. Perhaps the angel directed Joseph to take Mary with him even though her presence was probably not needed at the registration. We know that whatever came her way, Mary responded in obedience and with great courage.

Even upon arriving in Bethlehem Mary could have wondered if she did the right thing when she and Joseph found that there was no room for them at the inn. Still she humbly obeyed. It would not have been easy to give birth in a stable. Mary trusted God. Though barely out of childbed, she graciously entertained visitors – rugged shepherds who came by to rejoice in the birth of Jesus. All of these things she pondered in her heart.

When Jesus was eight days old, Mary and Joseph took Him to Jerusalem to be circumcised. Simeon gave praise to God for allowing him to see the Savior before he died. He also prophesied that Jesus would be a “light of revelation to the Gentiles.”

Simeon also gently told Mary that, “this child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34, 35) Mary was amazed at these words, but continued to ponder all of these things in her heart – something Luke would mention many times in his Gospel. Anna, a prophetess in the temple also praised God for the Savior. Mary was truly a thoughtful, pious woman.

About two months after Jesus’ birth, Mary went to the temple for her purification as also required. Mary is a faithful example of an obedient follower of God.

A short time later, when Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus, Mary courageously fled to Egypt with Joseph though Egypt was a land traditionally an enemy of the Israelites. Then returning home to Nazareth she and Joseph raised Jesus as a normal boy even though Mary knew that He was the Son of God.

Though Mary’s firstborn Son was special she led a typical life as a mother in a small village in Galilee. There is no evidence that she treated Jesus any differently than her other children. Mary would have fixed meals, washed robes, and schooled Jesus as a small boy. The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus did anything other than what ordinary human boys do when He was young.

There is only one incident in Jesus’ childhood mentioned in the Gospels. (Luke 2:41-51) On this occasion Jesus astounded the leaders in the temple with His knowledge of the Scriptures and His wisdom in understanding and applying them to life. Of course Jesus is also God, but on this occasion He showed His attention to learning and His devotion to studying about His Father as a human child. We mustn’t forget that in Jesus’ day a twelve-year old had already had many years of training in the Torah. Mary would have helped Jesus with His Scripture memory and study even as Christian parents do today.

Jesus returned to Nazareth after this incident with His parents and was subject to them in all things. This means He was not only a good student, but He was a good Son. All during the years that Mary raised Jesus she would have been wondering just what it would mean that Jesus was the Messiah. What was He going to do?

So Mary enjoyed a normal family life with her children raising them the way all good mothers did in those times. At some point Joseph died. Mary did not remarry when Joseph died, but depended on her sons, especially her firstborn, Jesus, to help care for the family.

Mary would then be raising her children as a widow. Being the oldest Son, Jesus would have taken over the position of head of the family. He would have assumed the duty of seeing to it that His mother was protected as well as His sisters and brothers. These were all the normal duties of any son in those times. Jesus continued to care for her until the day that He began His public ministry.

Jesus made His identity as God’s Son public at His baptism. Was Mary present at Jesus’ baptism? The Scriptures do not say, but this was an important event in the life of a Jew; perhaps she was present. If Mary was there, then she saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and heard God’s voice from heaven. These things would have reminded her of that time over 26 years ago when the angel appeared to her and announced who her Son would be. She would have recalled Simeon’s words to her and also Anna’s prophecy. The things that she had been pondering in her heart would begin to make sense. As would be true for all of Jesus’ disciples however, it would take time for the mission of the Messiah to become clear.

On the way back home to Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and some of His brothers or friends stopped in Cana for a wedding. At this wedding in Cana we see the first opportunity to witness the change in the way Jesus related to His mother.

The story is well known. At the feast the wine ran out. This was a major embarrassment not only for the bridegroom but also for the steward who was in charge of the wedding feast.

Most readers comment on Jesus’ response to His mother, but I would like to back up first for a minute and ask, “Why did Mary even ask Him?” Did she realize that He could work miracles? He hadn’t done a miracle yet. And what kind of miracle was she asking for? Most of Jesus’ miracles would be about doing really important things like healing people or even raising people from the dead. Why was Mary asking Jesus to help with a less than a life or health-threatening situation? Why did Jesus go ahead and do this miracle as the first one of His public ministry?

In light of this, Jesus’ answer to Mary makes more sense. It was very kind and considerate. His response has always seemed harsh to people, “Woman, (note: not “mother”) why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) At first it seems like Jesus is giving His mother the brush off. We should remember two things.

First, Mary is now in a slightly different relationship with Jesus. Just like any young man who leaves home, Jesus holds His mother in great respect but must make His own decisions.

Secondly, Jesus knows what His life is to be. Remember, at the temple when He was twelve years old He told His parents that He must be about His Father’s business. What did Jesus think of making His first public miracle one of seemingly small importance? He could have told His mother that it was just too bad about the wine but His Father doesn’t want Him doing such trifling works.

Instead somehow Jesus indicates to Mary that He will help. Mary tells the servants to do what Jesus instructs them. In this way, Mary shows that she understands that her Son now has the authority. She is telling Him, “Yes, You are now to go out on Your Father’s business. I will return to Nazareth and You will go and do the work that Your Father has given You.”

As always, Mary had pondered all of the things that were told to her about her Son. Now she is beginning to see the reality of Jesus’ deity. Now she is beginning to understand what the predictions about her Son were all about. There would still be a long way to go as Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth would begin to unfold.

As Jesus’ ministry progressed people began to oppose Him more and more. Once after Jesus cast a demon out of a man the Pharisees accused Him, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” (Matthew 12:24). These Israelites thought that Jesus was evil or insane. The rulers began to plot Jesus’ death.

It was right at this time that Mary and some of Jesus’ brothers and sisters came to see Him. Mary must have been wondering how things were going for Jesus. As a mother, was Mary worried about the anger and hostility that was clearly being shown by the Jewish leaders?

When someone told Jesus that His mother and brothers were waiting outside to see Him, He responded, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:48) Some have said that Jesus’ response was being disrespectful to His mother. No, Jesus was not slighting them but trying to make a point. He immediately answered His own question by saying, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” as He pointed to His disciples.

As Mary listened to Jesus explain that, “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) she would have understood that Jesus was referring to more than just His physical family. Mary returned home with the assurance that she had a double relationship with Jesus, physical and spiritual. Jesus was her Son and her Savior.

We don’t hear about Mary again until we meet her standing at the cross when her beloved Son was put to death. There she was standing with other women, and John the disciple. What pain and anguish must have been in her heart as she beheld the cruel and painful death of her Son.

Here again, we see how considerate Jesus is of His mother. Though He has the weight of the sins of the world to bear, He takes time out to provide for Mary. He puts her in the care of John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” John took Mary into his own household. Jesus shows that though He said that His family now includes all believers, Mary still held a special place in His heart. Though Jesus’ time on earth was growing short, He spent some of it doing His last duty as a human son by thoughtfully caring for His mother.

Mary returned home with John and waited for events to unfold. Was she as surprised as all of the other disciples when on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came and told Peter and the others that the tomb was empty? It is very likely that no one understood the full extent of Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth until His resurrection. But what joy must have filled her heart when she heard the good news!

This is not the end of Mary’s story. We know that she was waiting in an upper room in Jerusalem along with the eleven apostles and over 100 other disciples after Jesus ascended into heaven. (Acts 1:14) The believers would be filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. They would then all go out to proclaim the Gospel of the good news that Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that people could receive forgiveness for their sins and be at peace with God.

Mary would surely have been a willing and dedicated follower of Christ her Son proclaiming the good news to everyone. We know that she lived for at least a few more years because of the details of her life in Luke’s Gospel. Only Mary herself could have recounted such intimate details to Luke.


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