Introduction: Jesus, Lover of a Woman’s SoulRelated Media
The quest for fulfillment became the driving force behind women of the ‘80s and ‘90s. As women tuned into the highly mobile, high-tech society around them, they begin to turn their energies to new frontiers. To excel, to succeed, even to surpass the accomplishments of their male counterparts, has been the goal of many women who have challenged men’s domain. Now, however, as women examine who they have become, many are wondering where they really belong. It has become painfully clear that achievement and success have not delivered the payoff of personal fulfillment that women have sought. In the brief reflective spaces sandwiched between their frenzied commitments, women are now realizing that external accomplishments do not meet their deepest inner longings. So the search for fulfillment continues.
The desire to find continuity and meaning draws women toward the spiritual arena, where cults are flourishing. As believers, we know that only Jesus can fill the void in a woman’s life. What women desperately need today is exposure to vital Christianity.
All of us rub shoulders with a variety of women every day—women with whom we share a coffee or lunch break, mothers who trade off car-pooling children, neighbors, and friends. They all need to know the answers to these questions, “Who is Jesus Christ?” and “Why did He come?” They also need the answer to “How did He treat women?” and “How can women know Him today?”
To fully appreciate Jesus’ approach to women, we need to resist our impulse to approach Scripture from our twenty-first century cultural perspective. Our understanding of Scripture is more accurate if we step back in time—into the shoes of the women of the first century AD.
The Life of Women in Jesus’ Time
What was it like to be a woman living around the rim of the Mediterranean during Jesus’ time? How was a woman’s role defined by the cultural and religious constraints of that era? By examining the context in which Jesus presented His radical teaching, we begin to appreciate His extraordinary approach in relating to women.
Think back to that time when a man was commended because he killed his wife for appearing in public without her veil. A Roman woman’s rights were completely subject to her father’s power. If she married, then those rights, even the power of life and death, were transferred to her husband.
In both Greek and Roman cultures, women held a second-rate status. Their legal rights were practically non-existent. In fact, only a husband could petition for a divorce. In such a society, permissive polygamy was considered normal—for men. Needless to say, such a practice only further relegated women to an inferior position since they were treated like property, a mere commodity to indicate status or position.
Jewish women fared slightly better than their contemporaries in surrounding cultures. A married woman with children did hold a certain place of honor as a wife and mother, but even that position was tied to her ability to produce male children. It was an agricultural society. Fathers needed sons to help them work the land and lots of them.
There were three common sayings in those days:
1) Hail those whose children are boys; Woe unto those whose children are girls.
2) At the birth of a son, all are glad. But about a daughter, people mourn.
3) When a boy comes into the world, there is peace. And when it’s a girl, there comes nothing.
Those sound bizarre, even cruel, to our modern ears!
Because of a twisted interpretation of the Mosaic Law, the rabbinical leaders taught that women were uneducable. They were considered unreliable as courtroom witnesses. Women were even held responsible for the lustful temptations men suffered. A Jewish rabbi would not talk to his wife or daughter in public. There was even a group called the “Bruised and Bleeding Pharisees” because they would rather cover their eyes than look upon a woman in public. As a consequence they would bump into walls and houses. Notice the transfer—because women were the greatest source of their own personal sin (lust), the woman becomes evil. Rather than face the sin in their own hearts, they make women the scapegoat. That contributed, of course, to the cultural position of women.
But perhaps the plight of Jewish women could best be summarized by the prayer Jewish men daily prayed, “Thank You, God, that I am not a slave, a Gentile, or a woman.”
Enter the Lord Jesus Christ…
Into the midst of this culture, the Lord Jesus Christ entered—with a radically different value system from that of His culture in the way He regarded women. Thus as Jesus’ ministry unfolded, the average citizen of Israel began to witness an extraordinary approach to women, one that cut against the grain of commonly held practices.
- He spoke to them publicly when a rabbi wouldn't even speak publicly to his wife. (Luke 8)
- He let them travel with Him during His public ministry and support Him with their own money. (Luke 8)
- He taught them openly and continually when the rabbis disdained doing so. (Luke 10)
- He let them be the first witnesses to His resurrection. (John 20)
- He allowed them to honor Him. (Luke 7; John 11)
- He was sensitive and compassionate toward women; performed miracles for them. (Luke 8)
- He never spoke condescendingly to women, never made derogatory jokes about women, never humiliated or exploited women.
And women who knew Him loved Him! And wanted to serve Him!
Jesus treated women as no man had ever treated them before. His warmth, personal attention, tenderness, sound teaching, and compassion toward women were revolutionary. And why shouldn’t He? He created us!
John 1:3 says, “All things were created by Him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.”
In Col 1:16, we read, “for all things in heaven and on earth were created by Him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him.”
In Gen 1:26a, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness...’”
As Creator, He designed us with a mind to know God, emotions to love God, and a will to obey God. This holds true for women as well as for men. Our female minds need to be filled with the knowledge of Him so that our hearts may respond with great love for Him and our wills can choose to obey Him.
Jesus knows us backwards and forwards. He knows about our emotional nature, our need for security and significance, and even our hormones! He understands our need to nurture and to be loved—both from those humans closest to us and from our Creator God. And even though His culture neglected to give women the worth they deserved, He could do no less than show that He loves men and women equally. In fact, He openly demonstrated His love for each individual He met—both men and women—for whom He would ultimately die. We experience His love and are commissioned to live it out in our daily lives so others can experience His love through us.
Living Out His Love
Christianity is Christ! It is not a lifestyle or rules of conduct. Nor is it a society whose members were initiated by the sprinkling or covering of water. It is about Jesus Christ and our relationship with Him. We enter into that relationship by faith—faith in Him as the Son of God who lived a perfect life in a human body, died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and rose again from the dead with a new resurrection body so He could give us new life as well.
Jesus gives us a new life. The Apostle Paul described this “new life” relationship in Galatians 2:20,
“I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
A 20th century Bible teacher simply put it this way:
“He gave His life for you so He could give His life to you, so He could live His life through you.” (Ian Thomas, The Saving Life of Christ)
The moment we accept this call to new life, God “clothes us” with Christ (Galatians 3:27). This means that when God looks on us, He sees His own Son. We become totally loved and accepted in His sight. Have you ever known what it is like to be totally loved and accepted by someone? What a fantastic experience!
We are given a new identity—“in Christ” which comes with many new aspects of our relationship with God (complete forgiveness, peace, reconciliation with God, redemption from the power of sin in our lives, and a sure inheritance of eternal life that will never be taken away). Because of this new identity in Christ and Him living His life through us, we become the walking, talking, and visible representatives of an invisible God as we are following Jesus in our lives.
To follow Jesus means to make the choice to learn from Jesus through what is taught in the Bible and, in dependent obedience, apply those teachings to your life. Through obedience and humility, you see Jesus living His life through you, influencing those around you so they can experience His love as well.
Thankfully, Jesus does not leave us alone to work really hard to do what He’s asked us to do. He empowers us to fulfill our purpose. The power comes from God’s Spirit who comes to live inside us from the moment we trust in Christ for salvation.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8)
“Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20)
Our response is to live dependently on His power in our lives…by faith. We are simply to obey Him and trust His Spirit in us to work through us. And, being a little scared is a good thing because we will rely on Him more. Feel free to say, “Lord Jesus, I can’t do this on my own. I will trust you to do this in me and through me.” Then, watch what He does!
My heart’s desire is to encourage you through this study to have an authentic, loving relationship with Jesus Christ for yourself so that you are willing to share that experience with others around you. It’s going to be a great journey. And, I’m so glad to be walking beside you!