[ Download sermon discussion questions for self-study or group discussion click here ]
This Sunday, we pause to look at the women at the cross and why they chose to stay even when everyone else ran away. What did the resurrection mean for them and for us?
When I say raised up, I mean raised up to life. Not just physical life. It’s about the raising up of a person’s dignity, worth, status in society, changing how we look at ourselves, and how society treats others. Raised up!
Whether it is gender, race, educational background, social status, mental health… whatever it is that makes us feel less than in our own eyes or in the eyes of society, Jesus’ gospel is that you have been raised up! God is doing the great reversal to make things right so that everything in all creation can be restored to what it was meant to be!
Question 1 (Open)
Why do you think the women at the cross risked their lives to stay with Jesus?
I think the women had their lives most transformed by Jesus, and they just couldn’t abandon him at his greatest hour of need.
The women who followed Jesus and those who interacted with him in the Gospels were great examples of how God raises people up. Jesus challenged the social conventions of his time and risked being maligned and misunderstood to raise up a group of people who were greatly marginalized in that time and society. To understand how radical Jesus’s actions were, we need to know a little about the background of that time.
The Low Status of Women in Jesus’ Day:
Jewish culture in the first century was decidedly patriarchal, as with much of the world even today. The daily prayer of Jewish men included this prayer of thanksgiving: “Praise be to God that he has not created me a woman.”
Women were not even counted as persons back in first century Palestine, as illustrated in the comment from Matthew’s Gospel about the feeding of the five thousand. Matt 14:21 says,
“The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
This left women in a very vulnerable position. They had little access to property or inheritance. Any money a woman earned belonged to her husband. Men could legally divorce a woman for almost any reason, simply by handing her a writ of divorce. A woman, however, could not divorce her husband.
While the study of the Scripture was regarded as extremely important for men, women were NOT allowed to study the sacred texts. Rabbi Eliezer, a first-century teacher, is noted for saying, “Rather should the word of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman.”
Women clearly represented the marginalized in their society. In light of this situation, the regard and respect that Jesus exhibited toward women in the gospel accounts of the New Testament is truly remarkable. The Kin-dom of God that Jesus envisioned involved a reversal of the current social structures and a new vision of who would qualify as members of this family.
JESUS’ EXTRAORDINARY TREAMENT OF WOMEN
For Jesus, women have an intrinsic value equal to that of men. Jesus said, “… at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female” (Matt 19:4 referring to Genesis 1:27) Women are created in the image of God just as men are. Like men, they have self-awareness, personal freedom, a measure of self-determination, and personal responsibility for their actions. Jesus came to earth not primarily as a man but as a person. He treated women not primarily as females but as human beings. The foundation stone of Jesus’s attitude toward women was his vision of them as persons to whom and for whom he had come. He did not look at them in terms of their sex, age, or marital status; he considered them in terms of their relation to God.
Considering the backdrop of first-century Middle Eastern Judaic culture, Jesus’ words and actions were shockingly inclusive.
According to the biblical scholar Walter Wink, “Jesus violated the mores of his time in every single encounter with women recorded in the four Gospels.”
JESUS DEFIES THESE EXPECTATIONS IN AT LEAST FOUR WAYS:
1) JESUS SPEAKS WITH WOMEN IN PUBLIC
Jesus REFUSES to treat woman as inferior. Jesus treated women with respect and rejected cultural norms. He recognized their dignity and their gifts.
Luke 13:10-16 Jesus cures a woman who had been crippled for 18 years, laying hands on her in the Temple and saying, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity”. When the leader of the synagogue becomes indignant that Jesus has healed a woman on the Sabbath, Jesus uses a title of particular dignity for her, calling her a “daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16). Women had NEVER been called “daughters of Abraham” even though the expression “son of Abraham” was often used to indicated that a male Jew was recognized as bound by a covenant to God. With this title, Jesus recognized this woman as having equal worth.
In John 4:4-42, Jesus ignores two codes of behavior…. He initiates a conversation with a despised foreigner, a Samaritan. In addition, this foreigner is also a woman. And he chose her to be a reliable witness for him! (John 4:39)
JESUS TREATED WOMEN WITH RESPECT AND COMPASSION
Jesus refuses to view women as unclean or especially deserving of punishment. For example, women who were menstruating were considered ritually unclean. In this condition, women were not allowed to participate in most religious rituals. Anything or anyone she touched was deemed unclean.
The most dramatic story concerning a woman in this state is the account of the woman who had a flow of blood for 12 years as recorded in Luke 8:40-48. Luke emphasizes Jesus’ compassion for the woman by the way he situates the story against the backdrop of Jairus, an official of the synagogue. Jesus turns his attention away from the synagogue official to the woman, thereby equalizing the two people. When she touches his garment, the woman’s touch rendered Jesus unclean according to religious custom. He says nothing of her ritual impurity, but instead addresses her as “Daughter” and says that her faith has healed her and to go in peace.
3) JESUS HAD WOMEN DISCIPLES
The presence of female disciples of Jesus at the cross is found in all four Gospels of the New Testament. Unlike rabbis of his day, Jesus taught women the scriptures and accepted them as equal followers as men.
The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 shows us Jesus’ acceptance and blessing of Mary’s desire to learn. She is described as one who “sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak”. This was the typical position of the male disciple. To sit at the feet of a rabbi meant that a person was one of his disciples.
Women followed him and ministered to him. Luke 8:1-3
Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, denial, trial, and crucifixion are held in the embrace of the women who “had followed him and ministered to him when he was in Galilee” and followed him to Jerusalem.
In Mark those who follow Jesus are disciples. Minister comes from the Greek word diakonos, which means to serve. In Mark, the only other times minister is used are when the angels minister to Jesus after his temptation, when Peter’s mother-in-law ministers to Jesus and the disciples after Jesus heals her, and when Jesus says in response to his twelve disciples when they were arguing over who should sit at his right and left when he comes in glory: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life to liberate many” in Mark 10 :45, it is the only time in the Gospel of Mark that the word serve or minister was used to describe a man and it was Jesus talking about himself.
Elizabeth Struthers Malbon notes “Not only does Jesus take up women’s work, but women take up Jesus’ work. Women, from near the bottom of the hierarchy of power, have served and remained faithful followers to the end–although even they are ‘looking on from afar’….It is striking that Mark chooses to emphasize the presence of women followers in the absence of the male disciples at the crucial moment of Jesus’ death. Those with power can learn from those with less power.” (“Gospel of Mark,” Women’s Bible Commentary, 491).
Question 2 (Multiple Choice)
Do you think it was more risky for the male disciples than it was for the female disciples to be present at the cross?
Women were present at Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 15:41)
Mary Magdalene, Mary, Salome, and the other women continued to faithfully minister to Jesus until the end. The did not run away, they did not hide. Even if it was at a distance, they stayed with Jesus. They bore witness to his death, and they made sure he did not die alone.
I used to think maybe the male disciples didn’t have the courage to be present that day, because the risk might have been greater for them than for the women. But historical accounts tell us that the Romans had no qualms about crucifying women in that era.
Many of the details we have about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are recorded because these women had the courage to stay near the cross. And after that, the courage to be the first ones to go back to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. Even when everything seemed lost and at great risk to themselves and their lives, the female disciples kept showing up. Surely, there is something to be learnt from them!
“We have seen it in so many places: When things get rough, when things are at their worst, when everyone else flees or is in hiding, very often it is the women who stand up, offering themselves, becoming completely vulnerable as they submit to the risk of death. That is indeed their strength and their power.
So here in the resurrection event is the pivotal moment in all history. The male disciples have fled and are hiding, and only the women are left. And they come not without fear, the gospel story tells us, but they come out of love and faith. They were faithful to Jesus in all of his life, and in his death, and now even after his death. Out of their love for him, they are going to minister to him even at the tomb.
For their loving perseverance and courage, these women are rewarded with the honor of being entrusted with the most important news in the history of the world.
The news from the women at the tomb was the greatest hope that the world has ever known. And yet what did the disciples call it? “Nonsense.”
Hope unbelieved is always considered nonsense. But hope believed is history in the process of being changed. The nonsense of the resurrection became the hope that shook the Roman Empire and established the Christian movement.”
-Jim Wallis, While The Men Were In Hiding, Women Delivered the Greatest News the World Has Ever Known
Question 3 (Word Cloud)
There are at least 2 women apostles mentioned in the Bible. Can you name one?
- Mary Magdalene – the Apostle to the Apostles in some Christian traditions
- Junia – Paul’s co-labourer, fellow prisoner, prominent among the apostles
Here’s a list of female disciples, apostles and deacons:
Amid the large number of people whom Paul lists as sending greetings in his Epistle to the Romans are Phoebe, the deacon (administrative officer or assistant) in the Church of Cenchreae (a port near Corinth); Prisca, a “fellow-worker”; and Tryphaena and Tryphosa, “workers in the Lord” – descriptions which Paul also applies to men in the same passage.
“Say hello to Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and my fellow prisoners. They are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” Romans 16:7
We know from the book of Romans that Junia served alongside Paul in his ministry, and was effective enough to be considered a threat to the local authorities, who imprisoned her along with Paul. Paul thought highly enough of Junia and her co-laborer Andronicus that he commended them both in Romans 16:7 as “prominent or noted among the apostles”.
Though widely accepted as a woman apostle throughout early Church history, in later translations an “s” was added to the end of her name, making it into a masculine form, Junias. What was the reasoning behind this – was it a scribe’s mistake? Or could it have been something more political, like an attempt to deny that women could be apostles? A female apostle was considered such an appalling anomaly by many later readers of Romans that when biblical manuscripts were copied and recopied over the centuries, the name Junia was frequently changed to a masculine form. More recently, scholars have overwhelmingly acknowledged that the name is definitively feminine. Some commentaries even acknowledged that Junia’s name had been changed later by church leaders who were uncomfortable with the idea of a woman being an apostle.
The NIV translation, for example, finally corrected the name in the 2011 revision, along with thousands of other gender-related corrections.
Question 4 (Multiple Choice)
Do you think the situation for women is much better now?
1. Yes, but we still have some way to go
2. No, it’s still quite similar to the past
3. No, in fact it’s worse now
Even today, God is still raising women up. Why? Because there is a need.
The institution of the Church can be very patriarchal even today. Individual churches lie along the spectrum and some like us, strive to treat everyone equally regardless of gender or sexuality, and I am very thankful for that. But not many churches are like us. One of my female pastor friends told me she felt called to ministry quite early on in life, and the church she was in didn’t believe that women could be pastors or leaders alongside men. Her senior pastor told her that women’s brains were not made to exegete the Bible, even though she scored the highest in Greek in her class.
There are many churches that still believe women should not be pastors. Even women in Protestant denominations that do ordain women encounter a stained glass ceiling. More than half the graduates from their seminaries are women, but only 3 percent of those women are assigned to churches larger than 350 members. Most are assigned to assistant pastor positions and few become leaders of large congregations.
I wonder how this affects both men and women with regards to what they think is possible and the roles women can play in church? Does this limit us in some way?
Question 5 (Open)
How do you think it might benefit both women and men, and the Church if these limitations don’t exist?
Maybe one question you might have is, “So what does this all mean for me?” Sometimes when a sermon or a book is about women, we often think it has nothing to do with us unless we’re a woman. That shows something about our mindsets – that subconsciously, there is a primary gender around which everything revolves, and a secondary gender. When a sermon or a book is about men, people don’t think “this has nothing to do with me because I’m not a man”. We understand men to be an important part of humanity so we can all benefit from their lives, lessons and experiences. It is the same with women.
So what can we learn from Jesus’ experiences and treatment of women in the Bible? Plenty! Firstly, whatever Jesus did to challenge social conventions and patriarchal mindsets to raise up women, that’s exactly what God is doing for each of us. Whether you are a woman, man, gender queer, whether you’re a child, adult, a minority in some way, God’s heart is to raise you up to life! The fullness of life!
When Paul says in Col 3:1 “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above” that’s what he means. God’s heart is to raise you up to life just as Christ has been raised up. “Raise up” doesn’t just mean eternal life, “raise up” means our status is no longer dictated by the world. In God’s eyes, we are all God’s children, co-heirs with Christ — equally precious and each person deserves to live fully with human dignity. Raised up means we are no longer bound by social conventions and human mindsets. We get to see ourselves and others through God’s eyes! And who better to show us what that looks like than Jesus?
How Jesus raised up the women of his time to become disciples and apostles — treating them as equals who have the capability to lead, seeing them as worthy witnesses, entrusting them with the most important news in the history of this world, and commissioning them to go share this good news with others — is one of the best examples of how God sees each one of us and raises us up.
If you have ever felt less than because of how Church or society sees you, if you ever doubted your ability to be a follower of Christ because of what you have been told or your own limiting self-beliefs, if you never thought you could lead or make a difference in God’s kin-dom, then this message is for you.
So to all of you who are present here, I want you to tell you there is a reminder and a challenge for each of us today.
The reminder is that God has raised each of us up with Christ! Live like it!
The challenge is for us to go raise others up too!
Like Jesus, will you lift up the dignity of those who are downtrodden and marginalized? Treat them with respect and compassion? Show them they are equally loved and precious in God’s eyes even if it means going against social conventions?
Will you, like the women in the Gospels, follow Jesus to the ends of the earth regardless of the cost?
Will you practise his inclusive model of discipleship and see each person through God’s eyes?
Will we risk reputations, relationships, even our very lives to follow?
May we who have been raised up with Christ continue to follow Jesus in raising others up and live out the true meaning of God’s resurrection power!
[ Download sermon discussion questions for self-study or group discussion click here ]