Perhaps no greater testimony to the importance of women in the work of God is the place Jesus, Himself, placed on their importance.
James Hurley wrote:
“The foundation stone of Jesus’ attitude toward women was His vision of them as persons to whom and for whom He had come. He did not perceive them primarily in terms of their sex, age or marital status; He seems to have considered them in terms of their relation to God.”
Even though many today are quick to point out the supposed “misogynistic” traits of the Bible, even a cursory reading of the Old and New Testaments refutes that idea. Then when one spends only a small amount of time studying Jesus’ ministry, the role of women and the way He made no distinctions based on gender becomes extremely evident.
We must first understand that the place of women in the first century Roman world and in Judaism had been as second-class citizens. However, Jesus’ regard for women was much different from that of His contemporaries. Jesus recognized women as fellow human beings.
The fact that He personally addressed women, as with the woman with the bleeding disease or the one bent over for 18 years, or the fact that He allowed them to listen to His teachings, as with Mary, set Him aside as a bit of a revolutionary in regards to the way men generally treated and viewed women in His day. He showed His regard for them as co-heirs of eternity in many ways, one of which was the way He used them in His ministry.
He did so in basically two categories: 1) those who served Him in some way, and 2) those who witnessed His resurrection.
The Women Who Served Jesus
In this category were two one-time participants as well as a group of women who served more frequently.
The two one-time participants in serving our Lord were the two women who anointed Him with oil. One was the notoriously sinful woman and the other was Mary. Both served Jesus in this way out of love and respect, but Mary’s was the more significant in that she anointed Him with a view to His approaching death. Mary had true spiritual insight, no doubt gained from Jesus’ teaching. Even the disciples who were there didn’t understand what she understood. (Matthew 26:6-13) Jesus placed high regard and honor on this woman in the sight and witness even of His own disciples.
The women who served Jesus more frequently generally did so financially and traveled with Him and His disciples to care for them while they taught and spread the Gospel. Luke 8:1-3 reads:
Soon afterward he (Jesus) went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
Matthew 27:56 speaks of this group of women who traveled with Him all the way to Jerusalem, providing for them along the way. What is being said in the Word, then, is that the women traveling with Jesus were not only sitting under His teaching, which in and of itself was unheard of in that day, but they were the ones who were financially and in all other ways taking care of Jesus and His disciples. Obviously, they were instrumental in Jesus’ ministry and He unabashedly included them in it.
The Women Who Witnessed Jesus’ Resurrection
A final indication of the dignity accorded women in the ministry of Jesus is seen in the importance given women in the resurrection accounts. In Christ’s day, women were not considered reliable witnesses. As a matter of fact, historian Josephus warned,
“But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.”
In other words, women can’t be taken seriously. And yet, God chose women to be His initial witnesses to the disciples on the resurrection of Jesus. All four Gospel writers bestow a great honor on the women who lovingly and with servants’ hearts came early to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. We read then where they faithfully bore witness of Jesus’ resurrection to His disciples and, no doubt, to countless others in the months and years that followed. (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 23:55-24:10; John 20:1-18)
The most important point we can glean from this is that God did use women along with men at this strategic juncture in human history.
James Borland wrote:
“These women not only were the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, but also stand perpetually as examples for all believers. These women led the way in proclaiming the Gospel—that Christ died for our sins, was buried, but rose again for our justification the third day. The duty and high privilege of witnessing for Christ is still open to every believer, without distinction as to gender.”
Even though women were not called nor appointed as apostles, in accordance with God’s created order, that fact in no way diminished their importance or role in Jesus’ ministry, nor in the advancement of the Gospel both before and after His death. The roles are meant to be different, but it is obvious that God, through His Word, never mandated that one was more important than the other. Without ever contradicting His own order, God has made it abundantly clear that both men and women are equally important in His Kingdom, both within the roles He has given.
John Piper said,
“From the very beginning of the Christian church, women have been absolutely crucial partners in ministry with men—partners in marriage and partners as single women….The fact that God calls men to lead the church as the teaching and governing elders is, in the long run, a strengthening, liberating, joyful thing for Christ-exalting women….May the Lord continue to help us swim against the stream of bland and unbiblical egalitarianism as we exult in our equality before God and our complementary differences in calling and roles and the nature of manhood and womanhood.”