Archive for August, 2018

A Note About Jesus and Women

There were six Mary’s in the New Testament – Mary of Nazareth (Jesus’ mother), Mary of Magdala, Mary of Bethany, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, Mary the mother of John Mark, and Mary of Rome. Of these, Jesus knew and interacted with the first four. We don’t know how much interaction He had with Mary the mother of two of His apostles, James (sometimes called the “lesser”) and Joseph. It is likely that this Mary is the same as Mary of Clopas who was at the cross when Jesus died.  But like the other mothers, Mary of Clopas must have occasionally been on hand to minister to her sons’ needs along with the female followers of Christ who saw to the feeding, clothing, and maybe even shelter for Jesus and the whole group of disciples.

The Rabbi’s in Jesus’ day did not teach women. In fact, many said that men should not speak with a woman, especially in the market place. But Jesus did not isolate Himself from women; in fact, He sought them out. Jesus taught women openly. He encouraged them as disciples and even depended on them for His sustenance. He allowed women to be His primary witnesses to key events in His life.

In the last few lessons we have been looking at the stories of the encounters that Jesus had with women. The most important woman to Him, humanly speaking, was His mother Mary. In the last two lessons, we saw Jesus’ great love and compassion for the helpless as he healed Mary of Magdala by casting seven demons out of her. Jesus also showed His great love for Mary of Magdala by taking time to comfort her after His resurrection.

In this lesson we will look at the story of Mary of Bethany. Her story is of a woman who bravely broke with Jewish tradition and became a disciple of Jesus.


Mary of Bethany – Encourager

Turn now to Luke 10:38-42:

 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

 We learn about Mary from the three occasions when she and Martha are with Jesus. In the account we just read in Luke’s gospel, Martha and Mary have received Jesus and his disciples in their home for a meal.

In John’s Gospel we will meet Mary and Martha again at the tomb of their younger brother, Lazarus. Jesus would raise His friend from the dead. Then in the third story, at the home of Simon the leper where everyone was probably celebrating the resurrection of Lazarus, Martha is again serving. On this occasion, Mary anointed Jesus’ head with a very costly oil. Jesus said that Mary was preparing him beforehand for his burial.

We don’t often think about the Lord Jesus’ private life. So much of his life was spent preaching and healing. He gave himself totally to his task. But we know that as a human being he could grow tired. Several times he took the disciples off to a quiet place to relax. Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). He was warning his disciples that they would be traveling a lot. They would have no permanent home. That did not mean that there would never be a place for them to lodge.

Somewhere along the way Jesus had met Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. The sisters and brother became believers and good friends. Whenever Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem he knew he could stay with this family, since Bethany was only a couple of miles from Jerusalem.

On one occasion, Jesus stopped at the home of Martha and Mary. We do not know how many disciples were with him. There could easily have been twenty or more. There would have been the twelve apostles and other followers including some from the company of women that followed Jesus. Was Mary Magdalene there? How about Joanna or Susanna? If we remember from Luke, chapter 8 that many of Jesus’ disciples were women, it should not surprise us to find that Mary decided to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen while he spoke.

In Jewish culture to “sit at someone’s feet” meant that you were learning from him. You were a student and the master was training you to follow in his ways. This was a wonderful opportunity for Mary, not to be missed. She eagerly drank in Jesus’ every word. Mary comprehended everything the Lord said, in some ways even better than the other disciples.

Mary’s initiative in taking such a position at Jesus’ feet and learning was actually shocking for most Jewish men, surely for the disciples. Rabbis did not have female disciples. Girls were not allowed to receive a formal education. Indeed, one Jewish teacher, R. Eleizer is quoted as saying, “They shall burn the teachings of Torah rather than convey them to women.” Clearly, our Lord desired for women as well as men to study and learn.

Martha was understandably upset that her sister did not help her. After all, it was her home too and as hostess Mary had certain responsibilities. Perhaps Martha could see that there was no getting Mary to do her job on her own. Martha appealed to Jesus to tell Mary to help her; she knew that Mary would obey Jesus.

But Jesus said that Mary had chosen what is better. And indeed, it was the most important thing. I’m sure Jesus and his disciples appreciated Martha’s hospitality, but her busy-ness was not more important than spending time with the Master.

The next time we meet up with Mary in the bible, it is a very sad occasion. Turn to John, chapter 11 and we will read portions of the story beginning with verse 1.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. … So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Jesus explained to his disciples that Lazarus was dead and that they should go to him. Continuing with verse 17:

 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

We are not sure why Mary stayed at home. Perhaps her grief was just too much to bear. In the meantime, Jesus comforted Martha with the assurance that her brother would rise from the dead. Martha proclaimed her faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

Picking up at verse 28:

After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 

Mary and the Jews who came with her were all weeping. Jesus had compassion with them and he wept too.

Jesus told men to roll away the stone from the mouth of the grave. Lazarus had been dead for four days, but Jesus, knew that these circumstances would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the Messiah bringing glory to God. Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”. Lazarus came out. What joy the sisters must have felt to have their brother returned to them. The Jews who had come to visit Mary were witnesses to what Jesus had done and many came to believe in him.

Mary and Martha believed in the resurrection of the dead. Surely Mary would recall these events after Jesus died. As Jesus’ disciple Mary had not only sat at his feet while he taught, but now she was a witness to his mighty deeds.

There is much more to the story of Mary of  Bethany. Next time we will see how God gifted Mary with discernment and wisdom. Mary will be present at another important occasion in the life of Jesus – His anointing for burial. Mary was truly a gifted disciple of the Lord Jesus.












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Review from Part 1:

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 Part 1 of our story of Mary of Magdala, we left Mary as she was preparing spices and perfumes to take to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea where she had seen the men lay the body of Jesus. She did not return to the tomb then because it was the Sabbath. She waited until morning of the first day of the week.

Now let’s turn to one of the most beautiful stories in the Scriptures. This story is about the love of Jesus for His children. When Jesus rose from the dead He could have gone into Jerusalem and appeared to the apostles immediately. Instead He remained by the tomb until Mary came. Mary, this woman who had gone from the brink of hell to the heights of rapturous joy of knowing Jesus. Mary went to the tomb but she did not find Jesus. She did not understand where Jesus was.

Turn to John 20:1-3 and witness the love and compassion of the Savior, Jesus.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Let’s pause here for a moment. We have more details from the other Gospels about who went to the tomb on the first day of the week. From Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels we know that several women including Mary Magdalene went to the tomb very early in the morning. The stone was already rolled away and an angel told them that Jesus was risen. They remembered what Jesus had said and believed. They ran back to tell the disciples, but the disciples “did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (Luke 24:11) Peter and John went to look, but only found the strips of linen cloth inside the tomb. John says that he “saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.” (John 20:8,9)

Mary, who loved her Savior so much, just couldn’t stay away. She went back to the tomb hoping to find Jesus. Continue in John 20:11-18:

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Mary had the privilege of being the very first witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus gave her a very special honor. She was the first person to see Him after He rose from the dead. Others had heard the announcement from angels, but Mary had the special honor to be the first to see and speak to Jesus Himself. “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he dad driven seven demons.”(Mark 16:9)

Then Jesus commissioned Mary to be the first to proclaim His resurrection. When Mary announced Jesus’ resurrection to the other disciples she became the first preacher of the Good News. It is ironic that in a day when women were not listened to that Jesus chose to appear to them first. Because Mary proclaimed the resurrection first, she has been called the Apostle to the Apostles.

This was a special tribute paid to a faithful disciple. No one can ever share that honor with her or take it away from her. As women, we can and should try to imitate Mary in her deep love and commitment for Christ. Mary’s story assures us that Jesus treated women equally with men. The late Dorothy Sayers put it very well in her essay, “Are Women Human?” when she said:

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man … A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized … who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female … Nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything [inferior] about woman’s nature.

 Mary may have had a regrettable past, but Jesus gave her a wonderful future. Early church historians inform us that Mary continued her life as a leader among the disciples. This should be an encouragement to all women, and men, today that Jesus loves us and wants us to follow Him with all of our hearts, souls, strength, and minds. We can put the past behind us and like Mary and the apostle Paul, “know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. …..(and) press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. … forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to  what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:10-14).

Mary was laid hold of by Christ and gave her all for Him. Mary pressed on for Jesus. What a good example for us as we strive to follow the Lord Jesus.


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