Women Who Worship

Luke 8:1-3; John 20:1-18

May 9, 2004 | Brian Bill

While it’s nearly impossible to spell out everything a mother does, this Motherhood Job Description hits the highlights.

TITLE: Mother, Mom, Mama, Mommy.

SUMMARY: Long term, team players needed, for challenging permanent work in an often chaotic environment.  Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24-hour shifts on call.  Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in far away cities.  Extensive courier duties also required.

RESPONSIBILITIES: The rest of your life.  Must be willing to be hated, at least temporarily, until someone needs $5.  Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects.  Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks.  Must be willing to be indispensable one minute, and an embarrassment the next.  Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.  Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: None required, unfortunately.  On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis. 

WAGES AND COMPENSATION: Get this!  You pay them!  Offering frequent raises and bonuses.  When you die, you give them whatever is left.  The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is that you actually enjoy it and only wish you could do more.

BENEFITS: This job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth and free hugs for life if everything goes right.

I wonder how many would apply for the post of motherhood if they knew in advance what they were getting into.  Actually, I think there’d still be a lot women signing up!  I recognize that while this is a happy day for many of you, for some, this is a difficult day.  Perhaps your mom has died and you miss her terribly.  Or maybe you’ve always struggled with your mom and you don’t have very good memories.  Others of you are hurting as you watch your mother’s health deteriorate.  Some of you have experienced the pain of losing a child, while others have children who have strayed.  This can be a trying time for single women and for married women without children.  It’s also possible that a few of you are birth moms and you’ve made the tough choice to give your child up for adoption.  

While today is Mother’s Day, I want to broaden the scope of this sermon to suggest that we must do a better job of honoring women in our church, in our homes, and in our society.  Women played a key role in the Bible.  

Here’s a brief summary of just the events surrounding the death of Jesus: 

  • Women were the last to leave the Cross (Mark 15:47)
  • Women were the first at the Tomb (John 20:1)
  • Women were the first to proclaim the Resurrection (Matthew 28:8)

I want us to look briefly at two worshipping women who shared the same name, but had different job descriptions: Mary, the mother of Jesus; and Mary Magdalene, who as far as we know, was not a mother.  Let’s begin by noticing that their names were actually Miriam.  That means that they were named after the sister of Moses, who most commentators believe was stationed at the Nile River to help rescue her baby brother (see Exodus 2:1-8).  Miriam is referred to as a prophetess (Exodus 15:20-21).

 Mary the Mother

First, we’ll study the job description of Mary the Mother of Jesus rather quickly because most of us already know her life story.  The biblical word translated “mother” is the Hebrew word “AME” (pronounced “ah-may”), and means, “the bond of the family” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, 13).  I see at least seven principles from Mary’s role as a mother that can benefit those who are the adhesive in the home today.

1. Get ready to serve.  

Without a doubt, servanthood is at the heart of motherhood

In the history of the church Mary has often been portrayed as a kind of misty, otherworldly figure.  That’s a shame because the Bible makes it clear that she was very real, with very real doubts, very real questions and very real faith.  Nowhere is this seen with more clarity than in Luke 1:38when she responds to Gabriel’s remarkable birth announcement: “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.”  Without a doubt, servanthood is at the heart of motherhood.  

A teacher at school put this question to little James in math class, “James, suppose your mother made a cherry pie, and there were ten of you at the table: your mother and father and eight children.  How much of the pie would you get?

“A ninth,” was his answer. “No, no, James.  Now pay attention.  There are ten of you in the home.  Don’t you know your fractions?”  “Yes, ma’am,” he replied, “I know my fractions, but I know my mother even better, AND SHE’D SAY THAT SHE DIDN’T WANT ANY PIE.”

2. Be prepared for a broken heart.  

Some time later, after Jesus is born, Mary receives a prophecy from a man named Simeon that must have stopped her in her tracks.  She had great expectations for her boy but she was about to be reminded that being a mother would mean being broken.  We see this in Luke 2:35“And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  Mothers certainly know what it’s like to suffer.

3. Recognize your role.  

When Jesus was a 12-year-old, the Bible tells us that He and His parents went to Jerusalem as they did every year to celebrate the Passover.  After the feast was over, Jesus stayed behind while His parents headed back home.  Joseph and Mary thought Jesus was in their traveling group, but after a day had passed, they panicked and began to look for Him.  They hurried back to Jerusalem and searched for three days.  Can you imagine the fear that must have gripped their hearts?  Then, when they finally find him, He’s amazing the teachers in the temple with His questions and His answers.  Luke 2:48captures the tension: “When his parents saw him, they were astonished.  His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this?  Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’” The response of Jesus revealed more than just the angst of a pre-teen: “’Why were you searching for me?’ he asked.  ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’”  I love verse 50“But they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

 Mothers, not only will you not understand everything that your children do; you will be constantly reminded that your children belong to the Father, not to you.  Do everything you can to point them to kingdom priorities.

4. Trust God’s timing.  

When Mary was at a wedding in Cana, she tried to get Jesus to do something that He wasn’t ready to do.  She had an expectation for Him that wasn’t in tune with the heavenly timetable.  Jesus’ response to His mother has a twinge of exasperation to it.  Listen to John 2:3-4“When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My time has not yet come.’”  As hard as it is to do, we must trust God’s timing and not force our agenda upon our kids.

5. A relationship with Jesus is more important than family relationships.  

While your family must take priority, it should never be your #1 focus

In Mark 3 we read about a very interesting encounter.  Verse 31 indicates that Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived to where Jesus was teaching and they wanted a word with Him, because frankly He was starting to embarrass the family.  Jesus redefined what is most important when He established that His spiritual family, made up of men and women and boys and girls who trust Him for salvation, is more important than His natural family.  He looked at those seated around Him and said in verses 34-35“Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” While your family must take priority, it should never be your #1 focus.  Do whatever you can to cultivate your relationship with Christ.

6. Stay with your kids through the tough times.  

This principle was severely tested when Mary congregated around the cross to watch her son suffer and die (John 19:25). She hung in there with Him no matter what He went through.  And, even though she had close contact with her Son for many years, she ends up at the Cross, just like we need to. In His last act of kindness, Jesus turns His mother over to the care of His beloved disciple John.

7. Be a worshipping woman. 

 After the resurrection, we read that Mary meets with others for prayer and worship: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers”(Acts 1:14).  There is nothing like the power of a praying woman.  No matter what happens, don’t stop praying and meeting with others in groups.

Mary the Provider

Now, recognizing that we’re not all mothers, let’s look at the job description of Mary the Provider.  A couple introductory points need to be made about this Mary because she is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood woman in the Bible.  She is mentioned in all four gospels, fourteen times in all, more than any other woman except Mary the mother of Jesus.

  • Her last name was not “Magdalene” but was rather distinguished from other “Mary’s” with the same first name by mention of her place of residence, in this case Magdala.
  • She is not the woman caught in adultery in John 8, a fairly common mistake that was repeated in the Passion of the Christ movie.
  • Also, she is not the woman in Luke 7 who anointed Jesus’ feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee.  This woman is unnamed and is associated as someone with a bad reputation.  Luke mentions Mary Magdalene for the first time in chapter 8, in a totally different context.
  • Contrary to the absurd thesis set forth in the bestselling DaVinci Code, there is no evidence that she married Jesus and that their bloodline continues in France today.

Jesus did a couple unusual things that set Him apart from other Jewish teachers.  First, He recruited disciples, and He traveled throughout the country.  He didn’t have a “home.”  Second, his followers were both males and females.  This would have been scandalous to many, but Jesus always elevated women above the cultural benchmark.  In his book called, “Women: God’s Secret Weapon,” Ed Silvoso writes: “One of the main reasons Christianity spread so rapidly in the early years is because its message restored honor and inner worth to half of the world’s population; that is, women” (Regal, page 35). 

Mary of Magdala is the first-named woman among Christ’s followers.  We’re actually introduced to three women by name, and a number of other women, in Luke 8:1-3“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.  The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others.  These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”

 This passage begins with the phrase, “After this,” indicating that Jesus is beginning another missionary campaign.  With each journey, the crowds became larger, as Jesus systematically visits town after town to make sure people hear the good news.

Here’s what we know about Mary. 

1. Satan held her in bondage.  

We’re not certain what led to Mary having seven demons, but we do know that she was held captive by the evil one.  Jesus referred to Satan as a “thief that comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10).  Perhaps she had opened herself up by dabbling in the occult.  We do know that she needed deliverance by someone stronger than she was.  The number seven was the number of completion, which leads us to believe that she was overwhelmed by this dark presence in her life.

2. The Savior set her free.  

The gospel of Mark indicates that the most frequently mentioned miracle of Jesus was exorcism.  While Mary was set free from spiritual bondage, the other two women mentioned had also been miraculously healed.  Each was beyond human help; only Jesus could provide the freedom they longed for.  John 8:36“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And because they were delivered, they couldn’t depart from Jesus, wanting to be with Him as He traveled the countryside.

3. She served out of her means. 

 Mary and her companions were active contributors to the traveling team, as each one gave what they could to finance the journey.  To give out of one’s “means” refers to possessions or property.  Because they had been healed, they now wanted to help.  Humanly speaking, this ministry endeavor could not have happened without their financial partnership.  While Jesus met spiritual needs, these women met needs that would not have been met in any other way.  Like the widow who gave everything she had to Elijah in 1 Kings17:13-15, these women offered their possessions for God’s purposes.  Jesus could have miraculously provided bread like He did on two other occasions but He didn’t.  I think this was in part to give these women the opportunity and privilege to partner with Him in ministry.  By the way, no man is explicitly identified in the gospels as a financial supporter of Jesus.

 We can draw at least three conclusions from this:

  • Ministry costs money.  Even our Lord’s ministry had some logistical and physical needs.
  • Those who give are partners in ministry.  You are part of the “team” when you give out of your resources.
  • It’s biblical to be supported in ministry.  Some are called to “send” and others are called to “go.”  In the fourth century, a woman named Paula paid the expenses of Jerome, so he could translate the Bible in the language of the common people (“A Celebration of Women,” Joann C. Webster, Watercolor Books, page 84). 

Mary went from bondage to freedom to voluntary servanthood.  Friends, when we’re hurting and then healed, we will want to do all we can to help others find healing.  

 Let’s fast forward now to what happened when the resurrected Christ appeared to Mary in John 20.  We know that she was one of the last ones at the cross and now she’s the first one at the empty tomb.  She had come with a group of other women to complete the task of preparing the body of Jesus for burial.  They weren’t quite sure how they were going to get into the tomb but an angel took care of that for them.  Mary went ahead of the other women and got to the grave first. 

When she saw that the stone had been removed, she mistakenly thought that someone had stolen the body of Jesus.  She then ran to tell Peter and John the news.  Peter and John take off for the tomb, with John outrunning old Pete.  

Here are some principles that we can learn from Mary the Provider. 

  • Jesus meets us right where we are.   After John and Peter went back home, verse 11 tells us that Mary stood outside the tomb crying.  In Verse 14 Mary turns around and sees Jesus but doesn’t recognize Him.  He then spoke words of comfort when he asked her the first of two questions in verse 15“Woman, why are you crying?”  Friend, Jesus knows all about those things that make you sad.  He understands your fear and anxiety.  Think of all the tears that have been shed through all the years of human history.  Jesus doesn’t always take away our tears but He stands on resurrection ground as the answer to our agony.  And there’s a day coming according to Revelation 21:4 when “He will wipe every tear from our eyes, when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…”

Jesus not only asks about her sorrow but He also wants to know about her seeking.  He tenderly prods with a second question, “Who is it that you are looking for?”  He doesn’t ask her “what” she is looking for but “whom.”  Until we find Jesus, each of us are looking for someone as well.  Sadly, some of us are on a search for something, when we should be looking for Someone.  

  • Jesus knows us personally.  It’s kind of funny what takes place in the second part of verse 15“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.’”  In verse 16, Jesus said just one word to her, “Mary.”  Actually, in the original He uses her Aramaic name, “Miriam.”  All Jesus had to do was speak her name she immediately turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni.”  This was a title of highest respect.  It was like she was saying, “My master and my teacher.” 

Have you ever stopped to think that Jesus knows everything about you, and likes you anyway?  He cares deeply for you, regardless of what you’ve done, or how you’ve been living.  The Resurrected Christ is speaking your name this morning.  Ed.  Jane.  Joe.  Stephanie.  Do you hear Him?  Will you follow Him?  

Jesus gives us a message.  After hearing her name, Mary drops to her knees and Matthew 28:9 tells us that she grabs on to His feet in worship.  Now that she’s found Jesus she doesn’t want to let go.  Jesus then gently rebukes her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.” The phrase literally means, “don’t cling to me.”  She was still going to have a friendship with Him, but it was going to be much deeper and richer once He ascended into heaven.

After reframing their relationship, Jesus then gives Mary a message: “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  Mary was responsible to deliver the news about this new relationship.  Verse 18 reveals that Mary did what she was told to do: “…she went to the disciples with the news, ‘I have seen the Lord.’  And she told them that He had said these things to her.”   We’ve been given a message as well.  

 One common character quality in both extraordinary Mary’s was that they gave their all to Jesus.  Let’s conclude with three challenges.

Concluding Observations

1. Jesus elevated women and so should we.

Husbands, don’t demean your wives.  Men, don’t look down on women.  Remember, it was the disciples who referred to the women’s report about the empty tomb as “nonsense,” when in fact the men were wrong (see Luke 24:11).

2. Become a spiritual mother to someone.  

The apostle Paul chose the metaphor of a mother to describe his ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2:7“But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.”  Paul also urged older women to “train the younger women to love their husbands and children” in Titus 2:4.  Women, there are other women around you who would love to be taught by you.  I talked to a couple ladies recently who have a heart to begin this kind of ministry here at PBC.

Listen to this tribute to spiritual mothers, as found in the book, “The Celebration of Women” (page 166): 

I want to thank you Lord for the spiritual mothers in my life,

Each had a different talent and was in my life for a different season.

They prayed for me.  They listened to me.  They helped me.

They cooked for me.  They taught me.  They gave me counsel.  They cried with me.

They gave me a safe place to rest.  They gave me money when I was broke.

They freed me from the prison of guilt and confusion.

Without them I do not know where I would be.

They have been Jesus in the flesh to me.

They are Wisdom dancing with Knowledge.

They are Understanding kissing Discernment.

Thank you Lord for the blessing of Spiritual Mothers. 

3. Use what you have to serve where you can.

In other words, fulfill your job description.  If you’re a mother, use your position to make an impact on the next generation.  If you’re not a mother, give what you’ve been given in service to the Savior.  In her book, “Women of a Generous Spirit,” Lois Mowday Rabey says there are seven unique gifts that a woman can give: Grace, Hope, Presence, Extravagance, Loving Truthfulness, Provision, and Legacy. 

Lu Dunbar, Maxine Williams’ mother, wrote a wonderful story about Emily Tubman.  Eighteen years before Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, as a result of reading Galatians 3:28“…there is neither slave nor free…” she freed all of her slaves, giving them the opportunity to live free in the country of Liberia.  Only half agreed to go, and for those who elected to stay in this country, Emily provided land, clothing and provisions so they could support themselves.  In regard to her wealth, she often said this: “I am a steward of the Lord, and only hold this money in trust, and my supreme joy is to dispense it to advance His Kingdom or to relieve human suffering.”  

She fulfilled her job description, as did Mary the Mother and Mary the Provider.  Will you do the same?

As we close this morning, I’m going to ask the men to stand and applaud the worshipping women of this church.  [Applaud].  Women, didn’t that feel good?  Now imagine the applause of heaven, when God will say to you, “Well done, my good and faithful woman!”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?