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Archive for July, 2018

A Note About Jesus and Women

I have seen the Lord!

 So said Mary Magdalene to the disciples after she ran to tell them about the empty tomb. It was resurrection day and Jesus had appeared to Mary. She was the first of all of His followers to see Him. Later that evening Jesus would appear to a gathering of the disciples who would also rejoice that He was alive.

After Jesus suffered, died, and rose again “he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke abut the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Jesus would then tell His followers, men and women, to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. They would be empowered to go and preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

In this study we will share the stories of women who interacted with the Lord. All of these women could exclaim with Mary Magdalene, I have seen the Lord!” Unfortunately, in many pulpits in America, the stories of women are neglected. Jesus not only interacted with many women, but that He also modeled the way that society should treat women.

Jesus did not try to change the culture by preaching about gender issues. Jesus simply modeled the way as He went about treating women like equal human beings. He shocked His disciples on many occasions, but He expected them to learn from Him. He expected them to see that in His kingdom women as well as men were to serve. He did not hand out specific job descriptions; He meant for women to follow Him in whatever way they were called.

 

Mary of Magdala – Apostle to the Apostles

There is probably no woman in the Bible that has been as misunderstood as Mary of Magdala, also called Mary Magdalene. The church has often portrayed her as the sinner who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. But that text in Luke’s Gospel does not name the woman, and it is not likely that the woman spoken of there is Mary. Others have thought that she is the woman taken in adultery in John’s Gospel. Again, there is no reason to suppose that. We really are not told much about Mary’s former life. We should be careful and see just what the Bible does say about her.

Apart from Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary of Magdala is mentioned more than any other woman in the Gospels. All four Gospel writers portray Mary as one of Jesus’ most faithful followers. As an eye witness to the important events of Jesus’s death and resurrection, it is crucial that we study about her. Let’s begin by turning to Luke 8:1-3 where we will find Jesus traveling about with the Twelve and some women followers.

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

The apostle Luke first mentions Mary when he tells us about the women who were following Jesus and the disciples ministering to their needs. These women were not only above reproach but were committed followers of Jesus. They shared in all of the hardships of traveling disciples. There was nothing immoral suggested about the women followers. We can be sure that Jesus and his disciples would not do anything that would ruin their reputations. Actually, the only problem was that in that culture it was unthinkable for women to be in training as disciples. But Jesus broke the mold of the Jewish culture when He encouraged women to be his disciples.

Jesus’ enemies were always looking for ways to accuse Him. But no one could ever make accusations against the Lord for the way He treated women. Jesus thought that it was important for women to be disciples and learn from Him. He was kind and cared for them. One of these women was Mary Magdalene. We are only told that Jesus cast seven demons out of her. Once Jesus freed Mary from the demons her life was changed forever. She was no longer in bondage to them; she was free, and as a very grateful woman she chose to follow Jesus and minister to Him for the rest of her life.

The subject of demon possession seems very foreign to our modern ears. We do not really understand it in our day, especially in our culture. There are other places in the world, such as Haiti, where people fool around with demons, but to most of us they just don’t seem real.

For people in the area of Magdala in the first century, demons were very real. Magdala was a fishing village near Capernaum on the shore of Galilee. Apparently this area was a hotbed of demonic activity. Jesus had already exorcised a number of demons in that region. This was the home-town of Mary of Magdala.

Though it seems unbelievable to us, there really are fallen spirit creatures called demons that indwell afflicted individuals. We have several stories in the Bible where these demons even talk through the lips of the possessed person. Jesus confronted many demons and healed many people from them.

Notice that Jesus “healed” them. Scripture portrays demon possession as an affliction. While sin may have played a part in the demon possession, none of the demoniacs in the Bible is explicitly associated with immoral behavior. These men and women were seen as tormented, unwilling people suffering wretched indignities at the hand of evil spirits. They were miserable, forlorn, heartsick, and pitiable creatures. Often the demoniacs were insane. Most of them had various illnesses. They were shunned by society and so they were ill-nourished and very poor.

This was the life of Mary of Magdala when Jesus found her. Her demonic possession must have been very severe; she had seven demons. So, after her deliverance Mary had the strongest of reasons to love and follow the Savior. Jesus had saved her from much torment and misery. He rescued her from illness that probably would have led to an early death.

It is important to note here that no demon-possessed person in the Bible went to Jesus for help. Someone usually pointed them out to Jesus or He simple approached them Himself in His travels. The demon-possessed were often very defiant and usually asked Jesus to leave them alone. Mary no doubt would have been disabled by the evil demons to seek Jesus.

This is another beautiful part of Mary’s story. She didn’t have to seek Jesus; He sought her. Jesus drew her out of her darkness into the light. Some people, like the apostle Paul, don’t ask for Jesus in their lives, but Jesus chooses them. This should be an encouragement to us. Jesus looks past the sin and misery of our lives to what we can become. And Mary became a leader among women.

Since the Bible portrays those who were possessed as afflicted with disgusting symptoms of illness, we have no reason to believe that Mary was involved in any immoral behavior either before or after she met Jesus. No one would have wanted to come near her, let alone have intimate contact with her.

Again, Jesus showed His compassion and mercy. Just as He was willing to minister to those with leprosy or other untouchable diseases, He was willing to heal Mary. What a transformation! No wonder Mary became a faithful, grateful follower all the days of her life. Her love for Jesus and her gratitude for her healing enabled her to devote her life, along with some other women, to wholeheartedly serving Jesus. Luke tells us that she voluntarily used her own means to do this.

When Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified, Mary followed Him, and stayed near to Him right to the bitter end. We know that she was at the cross with other women. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25) We know that most of the other disciples had scattered, but the women, including Mary stayed close by. For the account of Jesus’s crucifixion and death turn to Matthew 27:45-56.

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud vice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to same him.”

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

… When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

It must have been agonizing for Mary to watch the death of her beloved Lord. There was a mob there, screaming and shouting hatred at Christ. But she did not shrink away. In fairness to the men who had scattered, they were probably in greater peril than the women. The Romans may not have considered the women a threat. Still the Gospel writers did not hesitate to tell the true story of the disciples’ abandonment of Jesus. They were also willing to give the women full credit for their courage to remain at the cross.

Mary stayed close to Jesus to the end. Her thoughts and emotions are not recorded for us. But when Joseph of Arimathea was given permission to bury Jesus, she followed him to see the tomb where Joseph took Him and how His body was laid. She went home and prepared some spices and perfumes, and then rested, because it was the Sabbath.

In our next post, we will continue with one of the most beautiful stories in the Scriptures – when Jesus took time to show Mary His special love for her after His resurrection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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. In our last post we saw how Anna was the first prophetess in the New Testament.

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. Women joined men in taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

“For by one Spirit we were all (men and women) baptized into one body” (I Corinthians 12:13).

PROPHETESSES Miriam Deborah Huldah Elizabeth Anna Daughters of Philip

The Spirit gives the gifts as He wills; one of those gifts is the gift of prophecy. The apostle Paul said, “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (I Corinthians 14:1). So women also receive the highest of the gifts.

This week’s story is from the book of Actsand is also about four women with the gift of prophecy – the daughters of Philip.

 

 

Let’s see how this came about. Turn to Acts 21:7-9:

We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

Luke the evangelist includes the stories of many women in his Gospel and in the book of Acts. In this story Luke makes a special mention of women, even though at first glance it seems so unnecessary to the story. But Luke has wider purposes in all of his narratives. He packs a lot of truth in each one.

In this part of the book of Acts, Paul is on his way to Jerusalem. Paul has taken the Gospel to many cities and preached many times about Jesus and salvation to both Jew and Gentile. He hopes to go to Rome some day.

Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, He told the disciples that they would take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). The remotest part of the known earth at that time was Rome. Paul would eventually get there. God would take him to Rome in an unexpected way. Paul would be arrested and tried unfairly. He would ask as a Roman citizen to present his case to Caesar. The Roman officials would send him to Rome as he requested. You can read all about this in the last 10 chapters of the book of Acts.

On the way to Jerusalem, a prophet named Agabus told Paul that he would be arrested and he begged Paul not to go there. Agabus gave his prophesy at the home of Philip the evangelist. Luke tells us that Philip had four virgin daughters who were living with him who also prophesied. We are not told exactly what they prophesied, or even if they also cautioned Paul about going to Jerusalem. We only know that Luke thought it was important to mention them.

Let’s give a little background to the story. Philip is said to have been “one of the seven”. This means that he was one of the original deacons that we read about in Acts 6. At that time there was a problem in the new young church. The Gentile widows were not given the same amount of care as the Jewish widows and some were complaining. The leaders of the church came up with a solution – men of good reputation, wise, and honest would be chosen to take care of the widows. These men were the first deacons, and Philip was one of them. We know then that he was a good disciple and must have had some leadership ability to have been chosen for such a responsibility.

Philip was also given credit for helping to start the evangelistic effort in Samaria. As Philip spoke to the citizens of Samaria many came to believe and “So there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8).

As usual in Luke’s writings, though we are not told much, we can infer a lot. Luke has a way of really telling so much more if we read all of the Gospels and Acts. Other examples of women that Luke has included in his writings are Anna, another prophetess, and Mary the mother of John Mark. You must also pay attention to every word that Luke uses; each word is a description of a large portrait.

So there are some things we can deduce about Philip’s daughters thanks to Dr. Luke’s careful research and gifted writing.

If you had read Acts 2:17-18 for example, you would have learned that Peter told his Jewish hearers that a prophesy in Joel had just been fulfilled at Pentecost. Quoting from Joel 2:28, 29, Peter said:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

When you read the passage about Philip’s daughters you will recall that Peter said this, and will see that Luke is assuring you that indeed it came to pass that “daughters shall prophecy”.

An interesting fact to note is that these women are already second-generation Christians. Their father was a devout, well-known disciple and he must have been a godly father too. These girls desired to worship and serve God as their father did.
Why did Luke make a point to mention that these girls were virgins? There is much speculation, but perhaps Luke wanted to show that God might call women to other tasks besides the traditional ones of marriage and motherhood. We do not know that these young women didn’t get married later. On the other hand, like Paul and other male disciples, they might have chosen to remain single in order to devote their lives to serving God.

We don’t know how many children Philip had, but these four daughters were following the Lord using the gifts that the Holy Spirit had given them.

In its most basic meaning prophecy is giving the Word of God. In the Old Testament times, the prophets (including women like Huldah) heard from God and delivered the message to the Israelites and sometimes to the nations around Israel. These prophecies were not only God’s current teachings but they also contained predictions about the future. The prophets reminded the Israelites that there were blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience.

In the transition time for the new Church that we read about in the book of Acts, there are some predictions, such as the one by Agabus who warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Many of the references about prophecy are to prophecies that have been fulfilled. For example, all through Luke’s Gospel we read that the coming of Jesus was in fulfillment of God’s promises to save His people. The apostles and other writers spent much time showing how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies.

Prophecy today is still seen as “giving the Word of God”. Today’s prophets are those who can take the Word of God and teach it clearly to others. Women as well as men can tell God’s people, as did the prophets of old, that there are blessings for obeying God and there will be big trouble if they don’t.

Philip’s daughters were at the very least encouraging the Church with their wisdom from God’s Word. These women were examples given to us by Luke that there were some changes in the new religion known as “the way”. Christian disciples will be made up of men and women. Women will be allowed to do many things that they were denied in Judaism. When the Holy Spirit came He gave gifts, including prophesy, to men and women. The Gospel will transform lives – religiously and socially. Women will no longer be second-class citizens. They will do their part in the life of the Church.

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