Here’s a confession. When I read passages like this…
When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying. Here are the names of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot), and Judas (son of James). They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.
Acts 1:13-14 NLT
I tend to get a certain picture in my mind. And I don’t think it’s very accurate.
It’s a bunch of men – Jesus’ men – sitting around a big table, praying.
And about those women mentioned in the verses? I assume they’re not sitting at the table. They’re present, but doing something else. Sitting somewhere else. Not praying with the men.
I think that picture is historically inaccurate, but I think it’s partly framed by growing up with primarily patriarchal thinking in regards to the church.
Men lead. Women serve.
As I was preparing for a recent series of messages about the post-resurrection conversations Jesus had with his disciples and close friends, I found myself digging in a little deeper and reading more about how things were back then. And I’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus was pretty revolutionary for his time when it came to involving women directly in his ministry.
Yes, it’s true that all of the twelve whom Jesus chose were male. Perhaps this had to do with the dangerous kind of work he would be commissioning them into – knocking on the doors of strangers, sleeping who knows where, traveling from place to place in a dangerous world.
Perhaps it was because of some prophetic significance of the twelve Israelite tribal heads and the twenty four elders of Revelation. That’s a whole can of worms in and of itself.
Here’s what I do know. Jesus involved both men and women, directly and closely in his ministry.
And then, throughout the New Testament, women remained deeply involved in the work God was up to.
Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.
– Luke 8:1-3 NLT
Whom did God choose to be the first messengers sharing the story of the resurrection of Christ? Women…
But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance…. Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened.
Luke 24:1-2, 8-10 NLT
Lydia, in Acts 16, was a church planter. She was the first Jewish convert to Jesus in the city. She was very likely a wealthy dealer in textiles, and supported the work of the new church.
When Apollos was discovered by the apostles, it was Priscilla and Aquilla who discipled him, and Priscilla’s name appears first each time they are named in Scripture.
Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.
– Acts 18:24-26 NLT
And then there are the daughters of Philip, who seem to receive virtually no attention whatsoever in most modern evangelical circles. We write them off as mystery, but the Scriptures seem to indicate they were speaking God’s truth to people as a ministry…
On the following day we left and arrived in Caesarea. There we stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven men who had been chosen as helpers in Jerusalem. He had four unmarried daughters who proclaimed God’s message.
– Acts 21:8-9 TEV
When Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, he wrote a deeply personal letter. At the end, he is offering final personal remarks and mentions women who held a pretty significant place in the early church…
There’s Phoebe, the deacon, who very likely delivered and possibly even read the letter to the Romans.
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me.
Romans 16:1-2 NLT
And then there is the apostle, Junia. And Junia’s case is one of the most peculiar of all…
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did.
Romans 16:7 NLT
For a thorough historical treatment of Junia’s rather unique situation in church history, I would highly recommend Scot McKnight’s brief work on the subject, Junia is Not Alone. (It’s available only on Kindle.)
I’ve come to believe that the Great Commission was being carried out with such urgency by the church’s earliest generations that there wasn’t an argument about who should be doing which jobs. It was an “all hands on deck” mission in which everyone was equally valued and welcomed to lead, to serve, to pray, and to carry out the work of missions.
I don’t believe that the urgency of the mission has diminished even slightly. We need every Spirit-filled, gifted, willing servant to engage the present generation with the gospel.
So, boys and girls, let’s keep on laboring together to expand the Kingdom of Jesus until he comes again!
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