These days, Christians are often accused of being too old-fashioned. Our culture is constantly demanding that believers get in step with the times on all sorts of controversial issues. But as followers of Christ, we cannot look to societal norms for truth; we must keep returning to Scripture.
It’s somewhat strange to me that one of the accusations leveled at the church is that the God of the Bible is somehow anti-woman. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Jesus’ example in the Gospels did more to elevate the status of women in the ancient world than anything else in all of history.
Below are just a few examples from the ministry of Jesus that reveal God’s heart toward women.
Women were part of the team
While we aren’t told much about many of the women named in the Gospels, we do know that women were among Jesus’ most faithful followers.
Luke 8:1–3 tells us, “The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”
These women went with Jesus as He traveled the countryside preaching and teaching the kingdom of God. That means they got a front-row seat for much of what Jesus did throughout His ministry. This wasn’t the normal way of things for roving rabbis in the first century. Jesus did something special here by including these women.
But there’s something else to note in this: women supported Jesus financially. They put their money where their faith was, setting an example for the rest of us.
At the end of His ministry, when Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross, it wasn’t a group of male disciples who stayed nearby. They “deserted him and fled” (Mark 14:50). But the women stayed close. The apostle John tells us, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (19:25).
You might say that detail is more of a reflection of the women’s faithfulness, rather than Jesus’ treatment of women. But had Jesus not loved them and treated them with dignity and honor, it’s hard to believe they would have stuck by Him when everyone else disappeared.
Mary of Bethany sat at Jesus’ feet
I know. At first glance, reading that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet” might sound like Jesus held regard for women. In today’s world, sitting at someone’s feet might imply a measure of subservience, meant to imply something like “I get the chair, but you sit on the floor.” However, in the first century world of Jewish teachers and rabbis, to sit at someone’s feet was to be his disciple—and women were not normally allowed to become disciples.
Jesus, however, not only permitted Mary to receive His teaching, just the same as His male friends, He also defended Mary’s position at His feet to her sister, Martha. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41–42 ESV).
Jesus not only granted but celebrated elevating Mary to the status of a disciple. God’s heart is that all of His children—male and female alike—receive the good portion from His hand.
Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene
On Easter Sunday morning, Jesus chose to appear first of all to Mary Magdalene. She was the first person entrusted with the full gospel message: that Jesus died and rose again on the third day.
Jesus told her, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17). Though Peter and another disciple, perhaps John, had already been to the empty tomb, Jesus didn’t appear to them first. He trusted Mary with the good news.
To understand why this is so revolutionary, you have to understand that, at the time, a woman’s testimony was not permitted in court. Yet, as God often does, He turned the wisdom of the world upside-down and chose an unlikely witness to bear the most amazing testimony ever delivered.
Not only was Jesus’ choice of Mary revolutionary for the time, it also reveals something about the early church. Since the Gospel writers include this important detail in their accounts, knowing that much of the world would be biased against a woman’s testimony, we know they caught hold of Jesus’ elevation of women.
The early church lifted women up, and everywhere the gospel has gone, the plight of women has benefited. Jesus loves His disciples, male and female, and so should we.
Over to you
While Bible-believing Christians can differ on the role of women in ministry, we can all follow Jesus’ example when it comes to how we love, respect, and care for our sisters in Christ.