Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of Luke
Lesson 6: Women in the Ministry of Jesus
The great privilege of preaching the gospel has been given to men and women. It is not appropriate for this article to enter the debate currently happening in our church regarding the ordination of women, however it is clear from even a superficial study of Jesus' interaction with people in His earthly ministry that He intended that both genders are given the great commission to spread the gospel.
The compassion God has for women began early. Instead of cursing Eve, and therefore all women, God promised her progeny the privilege of giving birth to the Savior (Gen. 3:15). Throughout the Old Testament women are used by God for various tasks. Special mention is given to the mothers of John the Baptist and his cousin, Jesus. During His ministry, Jesus healed, helped, and gave attention to women, even when it was against human conventions of the day. He had pity on women who were impoverished, such as when He commended the widow with her mite, the widow whose son died, and probably many others. He associated with wealthy women like Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. He spoke with the Samarian women at Jacob's well, breaking several social barriers of the day. He didn't condemn the woman caught in adultery, but established that she was not the only sinner in the situation when He listed the sins of the men who entrapped her.
The 1888 message teaches that in seeking us, Christ came all the way to where we are, taking upon Himself "the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh." Thus He is a Savior "nigh at hand, not afar off." He "is the Savior of all men," even "the chief of sinners." These biblical examples testify to Christ's incarnation and caring concern for individuals.
There was one woman who was singled out to spread the gospel in a very unique way. Her background was the worst a woman could have in those times. The Bible describes her as an "immoral woman." Her name was Mary, of Magdala. Mary was the sister of Lazarus and Martha and they lived in a home in Bethany. It is safe to assume that the family was relatively well off, since poor people didn't have the money to own tombs, like the one Lazarus had been buried in. They also had an apparently close connection to Simon the Pharisee (Mark 14:3) whom Jesus had healed of leprosy. Mark and Luke tell us the dinner was at Simon's house. Simon evidently trusted Martha enough to have her coordinate serving the refreshments.
We are told Mary was present, but she would not have been allowed to eat with the men. Mary's exact relationship with Simon is not told, but he knew that she was a "sinner" or an immoral woman, which was probably a secret (Luke 7:39). By telling of Simon's secret knowledge, the Bible supports the statement that "Simon had led into sin the woman he now despised. She had been deeply wronged by him" (The Desire of Ages, p. 566). The hypocrisy of Simon and his colleagues has become synonymous with the word Pharisee. Complacent that his involvement was not known, Simon felt free to condemn Mary, and question the discernment of Christ.
When Mary responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to use the costly ointment she had saved so long to purchase, she demonstrated that of all those who had so closely followed Jesus, only she recognized that He was to die and be buried. Because Mary was willing to perform this act of loving sacrifice and belief before Jesus' death, she was privileged to show the only human support Christ received during his ordeal in Gethsemane and on the cross. "And as He went down into the darkness of His great trial, He carried with Him the memory of that deed, an earnest of the love that would be His from His redeemed ones forever" (ibid., p. 560). Once they understood the significance of Mary's act, how many times did the disciples wish they had joined in both her sacrifice and actions?
Beautiful as this story is, it does not end there. Like all of us, Simon did not truly understand his own heart. The Holy Spirit flashed into the mind of Jesus a story that could save Simon from himself, and save us too if we can grasp the point. It responds to all of our self-congratulatory musing regarding our good works. The story is simple. "A certain moneylender had two debtors; one owed fine hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him more?" (Luke 7:41-42, NASB). After further explaining his story to Simon, Jesus speaks the formula that Simon desperately needed to learn, and that God's "lukewarm" people are perishing to understand today if they don't want to remain lukewarm for another century or more: "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little" (Luke 7:47).
Why Do We Write About Mary Magdalene?
1. As a photographic print resembles its negative, so her strange act resembled His great sacrifice. Jesus had to defend her, for in doing so He was defending Himself, His cross.
2. She had paid an enormous price for that alabaster flask of precious ointment (300 silver coins, the wage of a working man for a year). Jesus paid an enormous price to redeem us.
3. What Mary did was wildly extravagant--"wasting" an entire flask of "very precious" ointment when only a teaspoonful was needed; so what Jesus did was equally (more so!) extravagant--shedding His blood sufficient to save an entire world when only a handful of people will respond.
4. Mary's motive was totally non-selfish; she had no thought of being praised. All she wanted to do was say, "Thank You, Lord, for saving my soul!" So Jesus' motive was purely and simply love for lost people, no acquisitive purpose mixed in to becloud that pure flame of devotion for us. Mary was unconsciously reflecting the motives of Jesus. Her perceptions, her discernment, were more sensitive than that of any of the Twelve disciples.
5. The Bible singles her out as a "sinner," meaning, an outstanding one (Luke 7:37); she was "forgiven much," not little. She knew it, realized it; therefore her now-converted sinful heart could be stretched outsize to "love much" (vs. 47). Hence her amazing deed, the most beautiful ever performed by any repentant sinner in history.
6. Jesus therefore saw in her an example, a "prototype," a demonstration, of what His agape-love could and would eventually produce in "144,000" people.
7. Her act of love in no way contributed to her salvation, which was already accomplished.
Thus Jesus defined the clearest demonstration of what the word faith means: "Go in peace," He said; "Your faith has saved you" (vs. 50). Jesus nailed down for all time to come a clear definition of faith: a heart-appreciation of what He has done for us in saving us from hell itself. When faith is so understood, it can do nothing else than "work" (Gal. 5:6).
Just before His death, Jesus said that the Bible truth of the story of the authentic Mary Magdalene must be told "wherever the gospel is preached" (Mark 14:9). It's a part of the third angel's message in verity!
[This writer is indebted to Robert J. Wieland and his writings, especially his book, Mary Magdalene: The Bible Story, for these concepts.]
Note: This story of Mary Magdalene is found in all four gospels: Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8.