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Archive for the ‘Biblical Women’ Category

“Mary, She Did Know!”

 Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

 

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God.

 Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?

 The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

 Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?
That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am

 Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?

Mary did you know?

 

 “Mary, Did You Know?”is a popular and thoughtful Christmas carol sung by many artists today. The lyrics are by Mark Lowry (1984) and the music was composed by Buddy Greene (1991). I found many renditions of the song on YouTube. I chose to link to this one that is sung beautifully by Mary J. Blige. I hope you enjoy the song.  I would like to answer the question, “Mary, did you know?” with an answer – “Yes, Mary did know”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_k63Oec7LY

Yes, Mary knew. Maybe she did not know the details of her Son’s life, such as walking on water, but Mary did know that her baby boy, Jesus was the Savior of the world, that he came to “save our sons and daughters” and “make you new.”

How do we know that Mary knew?

When the angel came to see Mary, she knew Who God was and what He had promised and was ready to obey God.

 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her (Luke 1:34-38).

Mary joyfully and willingly submitted to God’s plan for her to bear the Savior. We find out how much more Mary knew when she visited her cousin Elizabeth and proclaimed her praise for God in her song, known popularly as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

Many scholars have portrayed Mary as an ignorant peasant girl with little understanding of the Scriptures. But Mary’s song of praise reveals that she had studied the Scriptures. We can see from Mary’s words that she grew up in a godly family. Listening to and reciting or singing the Scriptures was a big part of her every-day life. Girls did not go to the synagogue as boys did, but that doesn’t mean that Mary, who loved God with all of her heart would not have loved to hear the stories of God’s mighty works and would have lifted her heart in songs of praise to Him.

Did Mary know that Jesus would come to save sons and daughters and give them new life? Yes, Mary said in the Magnificat, “My heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation” (Luke 1:47). Mary learned about salvation from many places in the Scriptures including Psalm 9:14; 13:5; 35:9; 48:11; 68:3; 97:1; 149:2, and Isaiah 61:10, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord; My soul will exult in my God.”

Mary could anticipate that Jesus would do many miracles. She knew from the Scriptures that Jesus would bring restoration and healing such as sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. The song writer wonders if Mary knew that her sleeping child was the great I AM. Yes, Mary knew that as God, Jesus is the great I AM, even as He would affirm later “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58).

 Did Mary know that when she kissed her baby boy, she kissed the face of God? Yes, she did. Mary knew that Jesus is God and her“baby boy is Lord of all creation” and that her baby boy“would one day rule the nations.”


Mary’s faith is an example to us. She proved her faith by responding with humble obedience. Her cousin Elizabeth confirmed this when she said, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord” (Luke 1:45). Mary knew that the child she carried was the Savior that everyone had been waiting for. Jesus is the promised king, the promised son of David.

A blessed Christmas to all!!

 

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A Note About the Holy Spirit and Women:

The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost on the whole church, men and women. Peter makes it clear when he quotes from the prophet Joel that men and women will prophesy or speak the word of God.

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. (Acts 2:17,18)

 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, not is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).

Every believer no matter their ethnic background, economic condition, or gender has the privilege of serving in God’s kingdom. The Holy Spirit has distributed gifts, or abilities, on all believers for the building up of Christ’s church. These gifts are not for personal aggrandizement but for service. In the last few months we have witnessed this truth in God’s Word through the stories of women that God called and gifted for service.

In our last lesson we looked at the lives of some women who were House Church Leaders – Mary, the mother of John Mark, Lydia, and Nympha and Chloe. In this next and last lesson in our series, we will continue with some of Paul’s helpers – Junia, Euodia, Syntyche, and several other lesser known women – Mary of Rome, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Rufus’ mother, Julia, and Nereus’ sister.

 

Paul’s Helpers in Romans 16.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.  Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.  (Romans 16:1-16)

 

In the sixteenth chapter of the book of Romans there are nine women listed – Phoebe, Prisca (Priscilla), Mary, Junias, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Rufus’ mother, Julia, and Nereus’ sister.

This passage, written by the apostle Paul, indicates that there were women involved in many facets of ministry in the early Church. The letter to the Roman Christians was written around 57 AD. Though Paul doesn’t give exact details of all of the women’s service, we know from the terms that he uses about them that he was receiving substantial assistance from them. The women were of help to Paul in practical ways and it seems that women were also instrumental in spreading the Gospel. When did Paul meet these women? He visited the churches many times. At each church Paul would have met the men and women who worked hard for their fellow believers and for the Lord.

We know the most about Priscilla because there are many references to her and her husband Aquila in the book of Acts. We know a few things about Phoebe – for instance that she was from Cenchrea. We know that Paul had been in Cenchrea before this with Priscilla and Aquila. Perhaps that is when he first met Phoebe. We do not know very much about the other women named in Romans, but it is important that Paul did not want to leave them out when he was asking the Roman believers to give them credit for their work.

There are still some things that strike us about the mention of these women in Paul’s epistle. Remember this is only 57 AD. Jesus left the earth only about twenty years before this. The Holy Spirit came to be the Helper only about twenty years before this as well. Yet, look at how large some of the churches are. Notice that they are already made up of Jews and Gentiles. Notice that the Christians have been treating each other as brothers and sisters – family – in Christ. The believers learned quickly what life in the New Covenant was to be like. This community of believers is so different from the Jewish or pagan groups.

Even more striking might be that the apostle Paul does not hesitate to call all of these men and women “brethren” or “co-workers”. Paul was humble and led those under his care the way Christ would have. Christ said that those who would be greatest should be the least. He admonished the disciples to have a servant’s heart and not be like the Jewish rulers who lorded their leadership over the people.

We do not know what types of leadership responsibilities or how far the authority of the female co-workers of Paul went. The main goal of everyone was to spread the Gospel. Every day they encountered people who were dying in their sins. Every day they used whatever gifts the Holy Spirit had given them to take the Gospel to the lost, work in their local churches, and give aid to the poor and destitute like Christ did. There is no “male or female” in privilege of being a Christian (Galatians 3:28). All are called to serve.

There must have been many, many women who served in the Church, but Paul mentions a few specially in Romans 16.

“Mary, who labored for us” was one such woman (Rom. 16:6). It is interesting that Mary is the only one with a Jewish name. What was her labor for the Lord? We are not told specifically but it is believed by scholars that she was an evangelist. How wonderful that as a Jewess she is worshipping with so many Gentile Christians in Rome. This is more evidence of how early the love of Christ for all the nations began to be felt.

Some scholars also believe that Persis was a female. If so, she was also an evangelist and these women used their influence and means to make the Gospel known.

One woman in the book of Romans is referred to as “apostle” – that is Junias, the wife of Andronicus. This term is the most hotly debated in the Church today. The apostle Paul refers to Junias as an “apostle”. This is a high honor for a man or a woman. Why did Paul refer to Junias as “outstanding among the apostles?” (Rom. 16:7).

Andronicus and Junias were a married couple and are described as Paul’s kinsmen and fellow prisoners. Paul also said that they were “in Christ before me” (Romans 16:7) . This may indicate that Junias and Andronicus had become Christians some years before Paul did. Apparently at one time the couple was arrested at the same time as Paul and were in prison with him. Junias’ faithfulness to Christ was demonstrated in her willingness to suffer imprisonment and possible execution for her witness. Paul commends this but even more, he indicates her role in church planting along with her husband.

Why does Paul call Junias an apostle? Perhaps Paul was using the term “apostle” in a general way as a “missionary”.  When Paul lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit in I Corinthians 12 and Ephesian 4, apostles are listed among them. Since the point Paul makes is that the Spirit gives many gifts as He wishes to all believers, apostleship is given as a gift to many believers. This includes men and women. Apostleship as a gift ranks highly in God’s church. Perhaps this is because those who have this gift are doing the very important work of taking the Gospel to the lost. They are missionaries. The most important thing is that Junias was faithful to her calling. Paul makes it very clear that Junias was “outstanding among the apostles”. Whatever this means, Junias spread the Gospel, Jesus became known as Savior to many, and God was greatly glorified through her ministry.  We will meet many in Heaven who will point to Junias as their witness for Christ. We should be encouraged by her example and strive to win others for Christ with the zeal of Junias.

All of these godly women used their personal gifts, financial means, and influence to serve the Lord with gladness because they had experienced the joy of salvation. Paul commends them for their dedication and service. These words should be an encouragement to all Christian women today as they labor in whatever calling they received from the Lord.

As we have seen in the Gospels and the book of Acts, men and women were to work side by side in the new community of faith. Jesus started it. The apostles continued it. Paul assures us that men and women would be equal partners in the kingdom. All have the responsibility to take the Gospel to sinners. All are to do these things in the name of the Lord, not in their own names. True servants are like Jesus –they are concerned about God and others, not their rank or position. May God bless His Church as they seek to follow Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Note About the Holy Spirit and Women:

The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost on the whole church, men and women. Peter makes it clear when he quotes from the prophet Joel that men and women will prophesy or speak the word of God.

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. (Acts 2:17,18)

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, not is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).

Every believer no matter their ethnic background, economic condition, or gender has the privilege of serving in God’s kingdom.

One Lord, one body of Christ, one message. All of the members of the body work together to take the Gospel of reconciliation and peace to the world. There are a number of places where the gifts of the Spirit are listed (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; Ephesians 4:11-13; and 1 Peter 4:11) but in no place does God tell us that any of the gifts are for men only. All of the gifts or graces were given to every believer.

 

In our last lesson we looked at the life of a deacon that Paul commends to the Church – Phoebe. This week we will learn about the lives of some women who were leaders of the early house churches – Mary, the mother of John Mark, Lydia, Nympha, and Chloe.

 

 Mary, Mother of John Mark

And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. (Acts 12:12)

There are six famous Mary’s in the New Testament. Four of them, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary of Magdala, Mary of Bethany, and Mary the mother of James and John, are named in the Gospels. There are stories of these women and many others who followed and served Jesus while He was on earth in previous postings (spread out from January through May, 2014). Two other Mary’s are mentioned in the book of Acts – Mary, the mother of John Mark, and Mary of Rome.

Mary the mother of John Mark is one of those remarkable women in the New Testament who are mentioned only once. But just as in the story of Anna the prophetess, Luke gives us enough details in this one verse to know and understand much about this courageous woman.

Since this house is referred to as her house, and not her husband’s, she was probably a widow. She was also wise enough to run her own household. Luke tells us that many were gathered in Mary’s house in Jerusalem, so we know that it was a large house. Mary must have been wealthy and well known to the disciples. They used her home as an early house church. Here the believers could also gather to pray or use Mary’s home as a refuge when the persecutions began, which happened quite soon.

Herod put Peter in prison. After his remarkable escape which you can read about in Acts 12, Peter went to the home of Mary, the mother of his friend John Mark. Mary must have been a very courageous woman. She was aware of the persecution of the Christians, and had no doubt heard about the martyrdom of James. She knew that she risked arrest and imprisonment for helping the followers of Christ. In spite of possible grave danger to herself, she opened her home as a place for believers to meet and encourage one another.

The believers were praying there when Peter came. They knew it was a miracle. Mary trusted God to take care of her as she served Him by aiding the believers in the early church. She knew what was the right thing to do and she bravely faced whatever might come her way to follow the Lord.

 

Lydia, First convert in Europe


A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening: and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” (Acts 16:14)

Lydia fills a remarkable place in the history of the expansion of the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus told His followers to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world. In the Old Testament, God had been mostly dealing with His Jewish children. But now, God wants His story of love and salvation to go to everyone, even Gentiles. God’s dealing with Lydia is just one story that illustrates God’s plan for the ages.

Another thing that changed with the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit was that now women would be involved in the work of ministry as well as men.

When Paul and Luke arrived in Philippi they went to the synagogue first as was Paul’s usual practice. But in God’s providence, there wasn’t one in Philippi.  They stayed there for some days, and on the Sabbath they went outside of the city to a riverside looking for people at a place of prayer that they were told would be there. God led Paul, Luke and the others to speak to the women who were gathered by the riverside. Even though there were only women there, Paul knew this was God’s will and he began to preach.

A woman named Lydia was listening. God “opened her heart” and she became a believer. Lydia and her whole household were baptized. She was so grateful for her salvation that she immediately opened her home in hospitality to Paul and the disciples traveling with him. Like Mary the mother of John Mark, Lydia was a very courageous woman. She took the risk of opening her home to the disciples willingly. Even while Paul and Silas were in prison, she continued to use her home for the place of meeting for the new little church where all of the new believers met for fellowship and prayer.

That is where Paul and Silas went when they left the prison. By this time, many others were coming to Christ. The first church in Europe started in Lydia’s home. In a few years, Paul would write an epistle to these Christians who continued to do well in love and service to God. (See Paul’s epistle to the Philippians.)

Lydia is a remarkable example of a gifted, generous woman. As women we can all be encouraged by her graciousness, hospitality, sacrificial love for the brethren, servant attitude, and especially her love for her Savior Jesus Christ. We can be thankful that her story is included for us in the New Testament. It is further evidence of the new place for women in service in the Kingdom of God.

 

Nympha and Chloe

Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. (Col. 4:15)

For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. (I Cor. 1:11)

Nympha and Chloe were house church leaders. In the early church, female church leaders exercised the same authority as male leaders. They had the same social standing and were granted the same respect and honor. They were in charge of all that went on in their homes including the worship services. There is no mention in Acts or in the writings of the early church historians that the women were subordinated to men who were present in their homes. These women were probably better educated and it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that they could read the Scriptures as they became converts to Christianity. They would be in a better position to teach the gospel than anyone who was less educated, including men.

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work (I Thess. 5:12-13).

When Paul was giving these instructions to the Thessalonian Christians, he was referring to their church leaders which at that time were house church leaders, including women like Mary, Lydia, Priscilla, Nympha, and Chloe. Later Paul began to refer to the house church leaders as episkopoi which means overseers/bishops. “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1.1). We know that Lydia was in charge of her house church and so Lydia was among the first overseers/bishops of the early church.

At Pentecost all believers were filled with the Spirit. This included women and they began to serve in the Kingdom of God along with the men doing whatever they were called to do. This is still true today – women can follow the example given us by the women in the Bible to serve however they are called with faithfulness and courage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Note About the Holy Spirit and Women:

The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost on the whole church, men and women. Peter makes it clear when he quotes from the prophet Joel that men and women will prophesy or speak the word of God.

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. (Acts 2:17,18)

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, not is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.(Galatians 3:26-28).

Every believer no matter their ethnic background, economic condition, or gender has the privilege of serving in God’s kingdom.

The Holy Spirit has distributed gifts, or abilities, on all believers for the building up of Christ’s church. These gifts are not for personal aggrandizement but for service.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (I Corinthians 12:4-6).

One Lord, one body of Christ, one message. All of the members of the body work together to take the Gospel of reconciliation and peace to the world. There are a number of places where the gifts of the Spirit are listed (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; Ephesians 4:11-13; and 1 Peter 4:11) but in no place does God tell us that any of the gifts are for men only. All of the gifts or graces were given to every believer.

In our last lesson we looked at the life of a gifted teacher that Paul commends to the Church – Priscilla. This week we will study about the life of an early deacon – Phoebe. These women used the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gave them for the benefit of the church.

 Phoebe

We read about Phoebe in Romans 16:1,2:

 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

 

These words were addressed to the church at Rome by the apostle Paul. Perhaps it was Phoebe who carried this epistle to the Christians in Rome. We know that Paul entrusted his epistles to others when he could not deliver them himself. For example, Tychicus delivered Paul’s letters to Ephesus and Colossae (Ephesians 6:21,22; Colossians 4:7-9).

Paul chose his co-worker Phoebe to deliver this letter and he had confidence in her. He asked the Roman Christians to treat her with respect when she arrived with his epistle. This was because Phoebe had been a faithful helper both to her church and to Paul himself. The Roman Christians were asked to show her kindness and give her any aid that she required.

There has been much controversy over the position that Phoebe held at her church in Cenchrea. Depending on which version of the Bible you have, the word diakonoshas been translated as “servant” or “minister” or “deacon” (the most accurate translation).

In the New Testament Church the term “deacon” became synonymous with selfless service to God for others. For example, in Acts 6:3,4, we see that seven men are called to “serve tables” so that the apostles can be free to pray and preach the Gospel. This same word is used by Paul to describe Phoebe and many of his other co-workers. Many women served in the early church in this way.

Phoebe was probably a wealthy businesswoman. She was from Cenchrea, the eastern harbor of Corinth. This was a major passage for trade along the shores of the Mediterranean. Perhaps Paul met Phoebe on his second missionary journey to Syria when he went through this port.

Paul wrote his letter to the Romans during his third journey. He was in Corinth when he wrote
this letter. How he learned that Phoebe was going on a journey to Rome is not explained to us. We only know that he heard that she was going and that he knew that this trustworthy sister had independent means and could travel. Paul sent her with the letter and it included his commendation.

Travelers often took letters of commendation with them when they traveled. This gave them protection. It also certified that the person carrying the letter was indeed a legitimate envoy for the person who was sending the important message. Since Phoebe had been Paul’s helper, he could vouch for her. The Roman Christians could trust her as a faithful and dedicated servant of the Lord.

We don’t know as much about Phoebe as we would like. We don’t know if she had been married, or widowed, or was always a single woman. We do know that her service for the Lord in her church was so outstanding that Paul entrusted her with an extraordinary task and commended her to others. What high words of praise!

In our day, many churches have turned diakonia into an office only available to men. The men meet once a month and decide how to distribute the donations. They let the women do the actual serving. The women are glad to be faithful servants without any title.

The deacon is supposed to be a servant. The original deacons waited on tables. Today the people in the church who actually serve are mostly women. The ones who take meals to the sick and visit the lonely are women. Many churches will not recognize these women by giving them an office. But do women really want an office? Most women serve because they love Jesus.

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’’” (Mark 9:35)

Those who want to be honored in the church should be known for their service, not for the office they hold.

Phoebe was just one of many men and women who served faithfully in her church at Cenchrea. As time went on, women took their place among the men as servants in the early church.

Women had more freedom to serve in leadership positions while the church was growing. In contrast to the modern hierarchical belief that women were never allowed to be in leadership positions is the fact that women were ordained as deacons in the early church. When Origen wrote about Phoebe in Paul’s letter to the Romans he understood her to be officially ordained for the ministry of the church. Later John Chrysostom also wrote that women should not be hindered because of their sex since in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female. During the fourth century, the Apostolic Constitution still recognized female deacons but women began to be gradually pushed out. When the clergy began to impose itself between God and the community, it became a male-only privilege. The term ‘deaconess’, a diminutive of deacon, was retained to refer to women doing menial tasks, but women were stripped of the clerical office.

As we have seen in the Gospels and the book of Acts, men and women were to work side by side in the new community of faith. Jesus started it. The apostles continued it. Paul assures us that men and women would be equal partners in the kingdom. All have the responsibility to take the Gospel to sinners. All are to do these things in the name of the Lord, not in their own names. True servants are like Jesus –they are concerned about God and others, not their position.

The most important thing about Phoebe was that she was a faithful servant – so faithful and trustworthy in fact that the apostle Paul commended her. God has given us her example of faithfulness for all eternity in His Word. Phoebe did her work for the glory of God.

 

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A Note About the Holy Spirit and Women:

The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost on the whole church, men and women. Peter makes it clear when he quotes from the prophet Joel that men and women will prophesy or speak the word of God.

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. (Acts 2:17,18)

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, not is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.(Galatians 3:26-28).

Every believer no matter the ethnic background, economic condition, or gender has the privilege of serving in God’s kingdom.

The Holy Spirit has distributed gifts, or abilities, on all believers for the building up of Christ’s church. These gifts are not for personal aggrandizement but for service.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (I Corinthians 12:4-6).

One Lord, one body of Christ, one message. All of the members of the body work together to take the Gospel of reconciliation and peace to the world. There are a number of places where the gifts of the Spirit are listed (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; Ephesians 4:11-13; and 1 Peter 4:11) but in no place does God tell us that any of the gifts are for men only. All of the gifts or graces were given to every believer.

In the next two lessons we will look at the lives of two special women – Priscilla and Phoebe – who used the gifts of the Spirit to the benefit of the church.

 

Priscilla  – Equipped for Works of Service

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.  (Romans 16:3,4)

When the apostle Paul came to the great city of Corinth, he went looking for a job. He found a couple that had set up business as tentmakers. He was happy about this since that was his own occupation, too. This evangelist team was Priscilla and her husband, Aquila. It is interesting that in half of the six references in the Bible to this couple, Priscilla is named first. And so, the Bible refers to them as a wife-husband team!

 

We usually think that in Bible times women had to be silent and stay in the background. Yet the apostle Paul gives great honor to Priscilla. Let’s see why. First, here is what we know about her.

Priscilla and her husband had apparently met and married in Rome. She had come from a noble Roman family. Aquila was a Jew from Pontus. They had a flourishing tent making business.
In 49 A.D., the emperor Claudius expelled all of the Jews from Rome. So, Priscilla and Aquila moved their business to Corinth. Corinth was the New York City of the first century. It was a major port with a very long history. The people there were as wealthy as anyone could be in those times. They were living there when Paul came around the spring of AD 51.

The three of them worked very hard at their trade. We are not sure if Priscilla and Aquila were converted to Christianity when Paul first met them, but they surely were converted very soon while he stayed in Corinth. Paul founded a church there and after eighteen months of ministry with his new team, the three of them left and went to Ephesus.

Because of their great wealth, Priscilla and Aquila were able to open their home for church meetings. They did this while living in Corinth, Ephesus and later in Rome.

Paul trusted Priscilla and Aquila enough to leave them in Ephesus while he went to Antioch. They opened another branch of their tent making business. They took complete charge of the mission in Ephesus.

A gifted man, named Apollos, came soon after. He was very knowledgeable in the Hebrew Scriptures (the only ones the New Testament believers had!) and he was an eloquent speaker. He was not completely up to date on the Gospel message however.

It seems that Apollos had participated in the “baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). What Apollos meant by this is that during the early times of the Church there were people who had received a baptism similar to the one that John the Baptist was doing a few years earlier while he was still alive (and before Jesus had fulfilled all the prophecies about Himself). During this baptism people were putting their faith in the promised Messiah but they had not heard about the Holy Spirit. These new believers had not heard about Pentecost. Paul came along and baptized these people in the name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit fell on them as He had at Pentecost. (Acts 19:1-6)
And so, Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos “the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18:26) With their help, Apollos went on to be a powerful preacher.

The Bible says that Priscilla and Aquila took him aside. We can see from this that Priscilla played an active role in teaching him. She was not just in the background serving refreshments. She was teaching Apollos. Some churches do not allow women to teach males over the age of 12. I think that they are misinterpreting other verses in the Bible. This story certainly shows that women may be called to serve in the church with teaching.

Priscilla was also very successful at her business and there were other successful businesswomen mentioned by Paul as well. There was Lydia, whom Paul had already met in Philippi. There was also Chloe, who ran a business in Ephesus. These women all became zealous helpers for Paul. God used them mightily in this way to help spread the Gospel.

Eventually Priscilla and Aquila would end up in Rome. We know this, because Paul sent them affectionate greetings when he wrote a letter to the Roman Christians. There, he also greets the Church that is in their house.

 

Paul tells us that Priscilla and Aquila “risked their own necks” to save his life. We do not know the details of that story, but Priscilla is surely to be admired for her courage.

According to tradition, Priscilla and Aquila ended their lives as martyrs.

It is truly wonderful to see this example of a husband and wife team working together, not only at their business, but also in their mission. What a privilege it is for a woman when her husband has a business that she can be a partner in.

There are many, many clever women with an entrepreneurial spirit who have started home businesses.

And in the Church we should be serving the Lord with the gifts He has given us. Priscilla certainly did!

As we have seen in the Gospels and the book of Acts, men and women were to work side by side in the new community of faith. Jesus started it. The apostles continued it. Paul assures us that men and women would be equal partners in the kingdom. All have the responsibility to take the Gospel to sinners. All are to do these things in the name of the Lord, not in their own names. A true servant is like Jesus – she is concerned about God and others, not her position.

The most important thing about Priscilla was that she was a faithful servant – so faithful and trustworthy in fact that the apostle Paul commended her. God has given us her example of faithfulness for all eternity in His Word. Priscilla did her work for the glory of God. What a wonderful example for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s review from Part 1:

A Note About Jesus and Women

Jesus did not try to change the culture by preaching about gender issues. Jesus simply modeled the way men and women should interact as He went about treating women like equal human beings. He shocked His disciples on many occasions, but He expected the Twelve 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. For most women this would still mean being a good wife and mother. Other women were single or widowed and Jesus affirmed them in their callings as well.

Not only did Jesus treat women with respect and kindness, He made no differentiation as to social class.

–  Some women were really poor – Mary His own mother, and Mary the mother of James.

– Other women were very wealthy – Joanna, the wife of Chuza who was a steward in King Herod’s household, Susanna, and Jairus’ daughter.

–  Some women had relative freedom and responsibility – such as Martha and Mary of Bethany, who were landowners.

–  Some were foreigners – The Syro-Phoenician woman

– Others were castoffs due to illness or demon possession – such as the hemorrhaging woman, the woman bent double, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna.

–  Some women were prominent – Joanna, and Jairus’ wife.

– Other women were considered lowly because they were prostitutes – The Samaritan woman, the “sinful” woman, and an unnamed anointing woman.

–  Many women were widowed – Mary, the mother of Jesus, Anna, the widow of Nain, and the widow with the two mites.

One thing all of these women had in common was that they had sadness or troubles in their lives. Even one as wealthy as Joanna had been demon possessed and needed Jesus’ help. Jesus saved all of these women not only spiritually, but also physically and socially. Women who were sick were considered unclean and were social outcasts. The Jews did not give single women the same respect as married women. Impoverished widows were neglected and were in danger of starvation and illness. Prostitutes were socially unacceptable anywhere.

When Jesus met the needs of all of these women He gave them new life – physically, socially, and spiritually. One of those amazing encounters for Jesus was with a woman that He met while traveling to Samaria.

In our last post we saw that Jesus was helping a Samaritan woman to understand spiritual truth. The woman had only thought of worship in terms of the physical realm. Jesus used the example of physical water to get her to think on a higher plane. Water was a metaphor for life. Jesus wants to tell her about her spiritual life.

At this point, Jesus paused and asked her to go and call her husband. Was this just a distraction or did Jesus have a further spiritual point to make? Let’s continue our story by turning to John 4:16.

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

            The Samaritan woman had still been thinking literally, and asked Jesus to give her that living water so that she would never get thirsty again or have to come to draw the water. Again, Our Lord responds in an unexpected manner with, “Go call your husband, and come back.” She responds, “I have no husband.” Jesus commends her honesty, but proceeds to startle her by telling her something only a prophet, or the Son of God, could know. She has had five husbands, and the one she was living with was not her husband. We do not know exactly what her status was, but Jesus’ answer makes the woman realize that Jesus must be a prophet, and so she shifts the conversation to religion. She points up a major difference between the Jewish worship and Samaritan worship. Perhaps she points to Mount Gerizim, seen in the background from where they are sitting. “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain.”

 

Jesus responds that the Samaritans worship what they do not know. He is the living and true Temple; He is the focus of worship, not a certain mountain. The Messiah does come from the Jews, but an hour is coming when worship will be, “in spirit and truth;” The woman recalls that Messiah will come and declare all things to them. Jesus very plainly tells her, “I who speak to you am He.”

 

She was certain then that the man to whom she was speaking was indeed the Messiah! She left her water pot and ran to the town to tell everyone about Him. “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

 

The people in the town must have been amazed that the woman would approach them so openly with her story! They knew who she was. Women were not seen as credible witnesses. A prostitute must have had even less credibility. It is incredible that they believed her because of her testimony. Truly this was a work of God. Later, many would come to belief in Jesus.

 

While the townspeople were making their way toward the well, Jesus’ disciples had some questions of their own.

Let’s continue with verse 31:

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

  Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

  “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.  And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

 

And so, on an ordinary day, an unremarkable, lowly, nameless woman came to meet her Savior. Not only that, but her courage, and the enthusiasm of her testimony led many others to belief in Jesus as Messiah. The woman left her water pot and ran to tell others of her new freedom in Christ. Many of the villagers went to see Jesus for themselves. Unlike the unbelieving Jewish leaders who wanted to get rid of Jesus, these grateful Samaritans begged Jesus to stay and teach them. Jesus did stay with them for two days.

 

Application

 

The woman at the well was forgiven, cleansed, and moved to tell others of the goodness of her Savior. Jesus cared more about her than the false rules of the Pharisees. God never intended for women to be abused in Israel the way they were by the time of the first century. Jesus restored women to their original place as children of God. Jesus invited women to be His disciples.  Jesus confirmed the worth and value of women when this woman from Samaria became one of the first evangelists! We can follow her example as we serve our Savior.

 

 

 

 

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A Note About Jesus and Women

Jesus did not try to change the culture by preaching about gender issues. Jesus simply modeled the way men and women should interact as He went about treating women like equal human beings. He shocked His disciples on many occasions, but He expected the Twelve 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. For most women this would still mean being a good wife and mother. Other women were single or widowed and Jesus affirmed them in their callings as well.

Not only did Jesus treat women with respect and kindness, He made no differentiation as to social class.

–  Some women were really poor – Mary His own mother, and Mary the mother of James.

– Other women were very wealthy – Joanna, the wife of Chuza who was a steward in King Herod’s household, Susanna, and Jairus’ daughter.

–  Some women had relative freedom and responsibility – such as Martha and Mary of Bethany, who were landowners.

–  Some were foreigners – The Syro-Phoenician woman

– Others were castoffs due to illness or demon possession – such as the hemorrhaging woman, the woman bent double, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna.

–  Some women were prominent – Joanna, and Jairus’ wife.

– Other women were considered lowly because they were prostitutes – The Samaritan woman, the “sinful” woman, and an unnamed anointing woman.

–  Many women were widowed – Mary, the mother of Jesus, Anna, the widow of Nain, and the widow with the two mites.

One thing all of these women had in common was that they had sadness or troubles in their lives. Even one as wealthy as Joanna had been demon possessed and needed Jesus’ help. Jesus saved all of these women not only spiritually, but also physically and socially. Women who were sick were considered unclean and were social outcasts. The Jews did not give single women the same respect as married women. Impoverished widows were neglected and were in danger of starvation and illness. Prostitutes were socially unacceptable anywhere.

When Jesus met the needs of all of these women He gave them new life – physically, socially, and spiritually. One of those amazing encounters for Jesus was with a woman that He met while traveling to Samaria.

 

The Woman at the Well

 

Turn to John 4:1-42. Leave your bibles open because we will be reading the entire story of this wonderful occasion when Jesus showed His compassion to a woman who was also a foreigner.

 

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—  although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.  So he left Judeaand went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

 

One day during His ministry Jesus decided to go to Galilee from Judea. He had to pass through Samaria or go around it. The Samaritans and the Jews did not get along, and many travelers just went around Samaria.

In order to avoid the hated Samaritans, the Jews would actually cross the Jordan River to the east side and travel through Perea and then cross back when they got opposite Galilee.

On this occasion Jesus was led by the Spirit to go through Samaria. Jesus would deliberately go through Samaria in order to have an encounter with a woman that would show not only His love and care about the other nations of the world but also for women. Jesus brought salvation to the whole world, not just Israel.

The disciples were with Jesus on this journey. After a long trek in a dry land they were tired and thirsty and stopped to rest at Jacob’s well near Sychar. It was about the “sixth hour” or around noon.

 

Continuing with verse 7:

 

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

 

When Jesus sat at the well to wait for the disciples, it was a very hot part of the day. Most women came in the early morning to draw water or waited until evening. Jesus know that He would encounter the woman He wanted to see and He knew that she would be alone. She was probably not treated well by the other women and would come at a time when she could not have to put up with their unkind words about her life.

Jesus also knew that if she followed the customs of the day that she would not speak to Him. That was why Jesus opened the conversation Himself.

 

Follow with me at verse 8:

 

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

 

The woman was probably not expecting this answer. Now right here, most of us would have taken the hint and asked Jesus, “What is this gift of God and who are you?” But the woman does not understand yet. She knows by His dress and speech that Jesus is Jewish, but she really does not get His point yet. But Jesus has at least aroused curiosity in her, and she reacts as if she thinks He means the physical water in the well.

 

Continuing at verse 11:

 

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

 

The woman is still thinking on a physical level. After all, she has the water jug and the means to draw water. Jesus is the one who is thirsty and tired. Here He is by a well and He can’t get any water without her help. How is He supposed to help her?

Having the privilege of hindsight, we know that the woman is of course speaking to one who is greater than their father Jacob though she doesn’t realize it. How do we understand the reason for her question? Is she being sarcastic? Is she really curious about this man who is speaking to her, a woman and a Samaritan?

Though the woman seems to want to deflect Jesus, Jesus knows what her true thoughts are. He knows all about this woman. Jesus wants to direct the conversation so He gives her an unexpected answer, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” Jesus had asked her, “If you knew the gift of God,” Jesus is the gift of God. He is the One who offers us eternal life. The water in Jacob’s well can only satisfy a temporary thirst; the living water that He gives will last eternally.

Who or what is this living water? For the Jews, living water was clean water that they could drink and depend on for healthy living. This was opposed to water in wells that was contaminated and could result in sickness or even death. The water in Jacob’s well had been used for centuries by the time the woman came to draw from it.

Jesus’ answer moved the woman’s thinking from the physical water to something more special – beyond the physical. Jesus is referring either to Himself or to the Holy Spirit. But the woman is not quite ready to receive this yet. She is still thinking on an earthly level, but Jesus knows her heart. He knows that she is capable of receiving spiritual truth. How kind Jesus is to take the time to lead this woman to salvation.

 

In Part 2 we will see how Jesus guides her even further into the truth.

 

 

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Let’s review from Part 1 of Mary of Bethany:

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. He had very close relationships with three of the Mary’s – his mother, Mary of Magdala, and Mary of Bethany.

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 of his disciples, 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. We started with the most important woman to Him, humanly speaking, His mother Mary. We saw Jesus’ great love and compassion for the helpless as he healed Mary of Magdala by casting seven demons out of her.

In this lesson we will continue to look at the story of Mary of Bethany. Her story is of a woman who bravely broke with the Jewish tradition that said that women could not be schooled and became disciples of Jesus.

 

Mary of Bethany – Encourager

In our last story we saw the many ways that Mary of Bethany followed Jesus. Mary and her sister Martha opened up their home for Jesus and the other disciples. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened while He taught. When their brother Lazarus died, Mary and Martha witnessed one of Jesus’ most powerful miracles as He raised Lazarus from the dead. These sisters then went on to be powerful witnesses for Christ in their village.

Mary was a very remarkable disciple. Mary was gifted with the discernment to understand the significance of Jesus’ words and actions. This was a special gift to her from God. The Lord would speak of His coming death to the twelve disciples several times during His ministry but they would not understand or believe it.

 

Mark records for us one such occasion. Turn to Mark 9:30-32:

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

For another occasion turn to Matthew 16:21-23:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

We should not be too hard on Peter. Jesus knew that Peter had a long way to go to maturity in his life. We have the privilege of hindsight and can look back and see when Jesus showed patience with Peter even though Jesus knew that Peter would deny him on the night of his arrest. But Jesus knew what Peter was destined for. Jesus knows our destinies too and we should be comforted.

On another occasion Jesus and the disciples were going up to Jerusalem for their third and last Passover supper with Jesus. Of course the disciples did not know this was to be the last supper with Jesus.

Turn to Matthew 20:17-19

Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Again the Twelve apostles did not understand. But there was one disciple who understood – Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Sometime during the last few days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus and His friends went to the home of Simon the leper. While they were at dinner, Mary poured an alabaster jar of costly perfume on Jesus’ feet. John records the story. Turn to chapter 12 of John’s gospel.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Mary took a pound of extremely costly perfume and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. Mark also gives an account of a woman, though not named, who anointed Jesus for His burial. We get some additional information. Turn to Mark 14:4-9:

 “Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Here again, we see that Mary chose the better part. She had already demonstrated that Jesus was more important to her than anything else in the world. The disciples needed to learn this lesson too. Jesus is using this occasion to teach the disciples that there are indeed many important things, like taking care of the poor, but knowing Jesus himself is the most important.

This story also reveals something else about Mary. While the Twelve were struggling to understand what Jesus was talking about when he predicted his death, Mary somehow comprehended the meaning of Jesus’ time on earth. When Mary anointed Jesus’ head and feet with the oil, she showed her gratitude to Him for her own salvation and for saving the life of her brother.

Mary also seemed to understand that Jesus’ time on earth was near an end. She had been attentive to the Lord’s teaching. God had blessed her with understanding. In this story as in all the stories about the incredible women in the New Testament, the women seem to be very intuitive and responsive to the Lord’s words.

The disciples complained about the “waste” of the costly perfume. They wanted to sell it and give it to the poor. We know that Judas had selfish motives for wanting to stop her. He was in charge of the moneybox and was a thief. But Jesus cut through all of the grumbling when he told the men to leave Mary alone. They probably had no idea that Jesus’ death and burial were so close. But Jesus knew that Mary understood. He received her worship on this occasion and honored her.

Jesus made a point about what is more important – that is to worship Him. The disciples had to realize that what Mary did had more significance than what they understood.

Mary’s blessing from God was that she was able to understand her Master’s teachings.

We see in this incident that Mary again “chose the better part”. Mary was so totally devoted to Christ, she was so in tune with His teaching, she was so intent on showing her love for Him that the only thing she could think of was worshiping Him. In her home she did this by listening at His feet. At Simon’s home, she did this by pouring the very costly perfume on Jesus’ head. Jesus made a point to say that wherever the Gospel was preached, her action would be spoken of. He couldn’t have made it any clearer that love and devotion for Him must come first in our lives.

There is something else interesting to note here. Jesus shatters cultural expectations by affirming the status of a woman as his disciple. Jesus is the greatest liberator of women the world has ever known.

Application

Jesus opened the door for women to have the privilege of studying the Word. Women are invited to be Jesus’ disciples and to study and learn and grow into maturity as followers of Christ. How thankful we should be for this story of Jesus and Mary of Bethany.

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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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