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Women as Witnesses to the Resurrection:
Another Striking Implication

April 20, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, [some women followers of Jesus] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Focus

The centrality of women in the resurrection stories gives us a dramatic picture of God using women for a crucial and wonderful aspect of his revelatory work. It foreshadows the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh, empowering all Christians to speak forth the good news of the resurrection and its implications. The Easter narratives encourage women not to hold back in the expression of their gifts. And these narratives encourage men to receive what God has to say through women with faithful gratitude.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I talked about the implications of the centrality of women in the stories of Jesus’s resurrection. Given that the witness of women was discounted in the Mediterranean cultures of the first century, the fact that the resurrection stories feature women offers strong evidence in favor of their historical reliability. Surely the early Christians would not have made up stories in which women played such a central role, because this would have been a liability in their effort to pass on the good news of Easter. The first believers in Jesus told the stories they did because they were convinced that what they related actually happened. So, one striking implication of the female witnesses to the resurrection is the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts.

Today, I want to note another significant implication of the fact that women were the first ones to bear witness to the resurrection. In Luke 24, several women who had followed Jesus went to his tomb in the hope of anointing his body for burial. This was in accord with Jewish tradition. But when the women arrived at the tomb, they found it empty. Then, two angels appeared to them, telling the women that Jesus was not there. He had risen from the dead. The angels added that Jesus himself had predicted this when he was with his disciples, including the women. Luke tells us that the women “remembered his words” (Luke 24:8). So they returned to the place where the male disciples were gathered so as to share the great news of the resurrection with them. Unfortunately, the men didn’t believe that what women told them, considering it to be “an idle tale” (24:11). Peter, however, was intrigued enough to run to the tomb in order to check things out for himself (24:12).

In yesterday’s devotion, I talked about how women in the culture of Jesus were not regarded as trustworthy witnesses. This was just one facet of pervasive sexism in the cultures of the first-century A.D. In Judaism during the time of Jesus, most rabbis believed that it was wrong to teach Torah to women. Jesus was an obvious exception to that rule. He had many women among his students (see Luke 8:1-3) and he gladly taught them (see, for example, Luke 10:38-42; 24:8).

During the years of his messianic ministry, not only were women taught by Jesus, but they also became teachers of others (see John 4:4-42). Jesus had no problem with using women to help spread the good news of the kingdom of God. That openness to women as messengers of the gospel continued after Jesus’s death and resurrection. It’s striking that women were not only the very first witnesses to the resurrection, but also the very first proclaimers of the resurrection. They were the first ones to tell the male disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Now, surely this wasn’t the result of some divine oversight. God wasn’t up in heaven worrying, “Oh my. What’s going on? Women are the first ones to share the good news of the resurrection, and they’re doing this with men.” On the contrary, God quite intentionally gave women this special responsibility and role. (Of course, God does everything intentionally!). It seems likely to me that one reason for this is that God wanted to make it clear that in the church of Jesus Christ, women would be empowered and authorized to proclaim and teach. And the recipients of their proclamation and teaching would include men.

What happened on Easter morning, therefore, foreshadowed what would happen at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would be poured out on “all flesh,” so that “your sons and daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17). In the church, women and men would be empowered by the same Spirit. Therefore, women and men would be gifted by the Spirit to minister to others in words, by prophesying, teaching, uttering wisdom, and so forth. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:26: “When you come together, each one has a hymn; each one has a teaching; each one has a revelation; each one has a tongue; each one has an interpretation” (my literal translation; there is no “or” in the Greek, by the way). A few verses later, Paul added, “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (1 Corinthians 14:31). All Christians, whether male or female, are empowered by the Spirit to help all others learn and be encouraged.

I expect you know that Christians have different opinions on what kinds of teaching and proclaiming ministries are appropriate for women. I respect those who don’t see things as I do. But after decades of careful biblical study, I am convinced that Scripture teaches that, in the church, both men and women can be gifted by the Spirit to teach, prophesy, and preach to both men and women. The centrality of women in the resurrection stories gives us a dramatic picture of God using women for a crucial and wonderful aspect of his revelatory work. It foreshadows the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh, empowering all Christians to speak forth the good news of the resurrection and its implications. The Easter narratives encourage women not to hold back in the expression of their gifts. And these narratives encourage men to receive what God has to say through women with faithful gratitude.

Reflect

As you reflect on the role of women in the Easter stories, what strikes you as significant?

If you are a woman, do you see the women in Luke 24 as examples and encouragement for you to pass on the good news of Jesus?

If you are a man, are you open to learning from women as God inspires them?

Act

Take some time to reflect on Luke 24:1-12. Ask the Lord to speak to you through this passage. Be open to whatever God puts on your heart.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for choosing women to be the first proclaimers of the good news of Easter. Given how often women have had limitations placed upon them, your choice of women for such crucial work calls us to be open to the full expression of gifts by women and men.

Moreover, no matter my gender, the example of the women in Luke 24 challenges me to pass on the good news to others. Give me boldness, Lord, and courage, as well as kindness and sensitivity. May I be an effective channel of your truth to others. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Because of the Resurrection


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