When Jesus walked the earth, gender inequality was so entrenched in Jewish society that an adulteress could be stoned without trial and men could divorce their wives for just about any reason at all.
In a nation of God-fearing and moral men, women were considered little more than property. They were servants whose place was in the kitchen or the field. Some of the religious leaders taught that women were ignorant, yet there was no point teaching them anything because they were also inferior. They had weak minds to go with their feeble bodies. Since they were also untrustworthy chatterboxes, their testimony had little value in a court of law.
Then along came Jesus.
Jesus encountered all sorts of women, both good and bad, yet he never criticized them or spoke down to them. He never said they were unreliable or inferior to men. In stark contrast with the religious leaders of the day, he spoke to women, he touched them, and he revealed the love of God to them. In doing this Jesus provided us with a prophetic picture of the kingdom come.
For the past few months, I have been writing a book about women in the church. It’ll come out mid-2020. In this book I tackle all sorts of questions such as, what is God’s plan for women? Should women stay silent in church? And were women created to serve?
My favorite chapter in the book is entitled, How did Jesus empower women? The full chapter is available on Patreon. Here’s a taste…
In first-century Israel, women could not enter the best parts of the temple and they had to sit apart in the synagogue, hidden behind a curtain or balcony. This religious segregation conveyed an unholy message: men have the inside track when it comes to God. If women wanted to draw near to God, they needed a male priest to show the way. If they displeased the priest on account of their sin or inferior womanliness, they would never encounter the grace of God.
Then Jesus came preaching a message of unrestricted access and inviting all to draw near to God. “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The Jewish religion had strict worthiness tests regarding who could approach God, but the only qualification Jesus listed was weariness. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me” (MSG).
Again and again Jesus reminded his listeners that he was not looking to recruit a select group of high performers. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). The Law of Moses specified that only certain men from a certain tribe with certain characteristics could minister before the Lord, but Jesus offered no restrictions. He would receive anyone who came to him, whether male or female, young or old. “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).
Jesus not only preached a message of universal acceptance, he preached it in places where those who had been rejected by religion were most likely to hear it.
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)
Jesus said this in the temple, but whereabouts in the temple did Jesus teach? The answer to this question is fascinating because it demonstrate the indiscriminate nature of Christ’s message.
The temple of Jerusalem was divided into courts. The inner court was called the Court of Israel, the outer court was the Court of Gentiles, and separating these two courts was the Court of the Women. As these names suggest, anyone could walk in the outer court, but only Jewish men could enter the inner court. In which courts did Jesus teach? In all of them.
When Jesus sat outside the treasury making remarks about widows and their mites (see Mark 12:41), he was sitting in the Women’s Court, because that’s where the treasury was located. When he debated with the Pharisees and religious leaders, he was in the Court of Israel, because that’s where religious men hung out. When Jesus overturned the tables, he was in the Court of the Gentiles, because that’s where the money changers and sacrificial animals were kept.
The religious leaders would never have taught in the Courts of the Gentiles and Women, but Jesus did because he wanted everyone to know how much God loves us.
It is written in the Prophets: “They will all be taught by God.” (John 6:45a)
Jesus liked to quote the prophets who foresaw an end to gender discrimination. Jeremiah, for instance, foresaw an end to the old ways where men taught only their neighbors and brothers, and a new way where all would know the Lord, “from the least of them (i.e., women and children) to the greatest of them” (Jer. 31:34).
Before Jesus, the message for women was, “You are not worthy, stay back.” But Jesus proclaimed a better message: “Your heavenly Father loves you, draw near.”
It was the dawn of a new day for the downtrodden daughters of Eve.
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