Were You There When He Rose from the Dead?
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
First, we must understand that most Hebrew women in Judea were barely second class citizens. Jewish girls were betrothed by their fathers at a very young age. Even if they were linked to a patriarchal household, they were likely to be poor. They could inherit property, but it was the men in their lives who controlled it. Women were segregated from men for worship at the temple. A woman could not divorce her husband, but husbands could divorce their wives for any reason, leaving women to suffer in abject poverty. During their menstrual cycles, they were considered unclean, and a man who even touched a woman during her time of the month was required to perform a purification ritual before he could worship at the temple. Being born female, unless also wealthy, was a liability.
And yet, God chose a woman to bring his son into the world. Jesus could have simply appeared in the heavens, announced by a legion of angels singing glory, glory! What an entrance that would have been! But instead, God chose a poor young Hebrew girl, barely a woman, to carry the Messiah. A woman who, without the intervention of holy reassurance to her betrothed via a dream, would have been the shame of her family and her village: an unwed mother. So, young Mary endured the pain and exertion of labor to deliver God’s son in a rush of blood and fluid, sweat and exhaustion. She cleaned him, swaddled him, and nursed him at her breast. She raised him to be a good, obedient son.
When grown-up Jesus began his earthly ministry, scripture tells us he invited twelve men to be his disciples. We know their names and some of their professions: Matthew, the tax collector; brothers Peter and Andrew, James and John, the fishermen. But some women also followed him: Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Herod’s business manager, and Susanna, perhaps wealthy Galilean women who helped underwrite Jesus’ mission. Some, like sisters Mary and Martha, provided a home for Jesus when he was in town; others went on the road with him, something unheard of for women in that day. No doubt they washed and mended clothing, prepared meals, and supported Jesus and his disciples any way they could, and because he treated them with kindness and mercy, respect and love, because he welcomed them as full partners in his ministry, they happily and tirelessly served him out of love.
Jesus interacted with many women in the course of his work. Defying tradition, he conversed with a Samaritan woman, who then became a missionary to her village. Even though the testimony of women was not considered reliable, and this woman was an outcast among her own people, they believed her. Jesus brought the widow’s son, her sole source of support, at Nain back to life and healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman, as well as raising the daughter of Jairus. When a woman who had suffered a hemorrhage for twelve years, effectively banning her from the temple and socially isolating her, touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak and was healed, Jesus didn’t recoil, even though her touch rendered him ritually unclean. He called her Daughter and told her that her faith had made her well. To the sinful woman who anointed him and the adulterous woman whose life he spared he offered compassion and a fresh start. “The kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said, “is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” In a society that valued women only for childbearing and rearing and homemaking, Jesus assured them of their role in kingdom building.
At the end of his life, when his disciples had fallen away and his friends had fled, it was women who stood near the cross. Women whose place was at home, yet who ventured out to support their beloved son, teacher, and friend. So is it any surprise that women were the first witnesses to his resurrection? Because Jesus was crucified on Friday afternoon and the Sabbath began at sundown, Joseph of Arimathea had time only to wrap the body of Jesus in linen before laying him in the tomb, so Mary Magdalene and other women had prepared spices to anoint him properly for burial. As they followed the path, suddenly there was a violent earthquake. Undeterred, the women continued to the grave, where they found the guards posted by the religious authorities, fainted dead away on the ground, and an angel sitting on top of the huge stone, which had covered the opening of the tomb and was now rolled aside. “Don’t be afraid,” the angel told the women. “I know you’re looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He has risen, just as he said. Come and see where his body was, and then go and tell the news to his disciples. Tell them that he will meet you all in Galilee.” As they hurried away, frightened but joyful, Jesus met them. They ran to him and worshiped him. “Don’t be afraid,” he reassured them. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Jesus, alive! Jesus the miracle worker, healer, life restorer, teacher, brother, friend. The one who defied convention and associated with sinners. The one who said, “I have come to seek and save the lost.” The one who treated everyone the same, whether male or female, young or old, wealthy or poor, in-crowd or outcast. The one who came to save all who acknowledge our sin and accept him as savior and lord. The one who sacrificed everything, even his life, so that we could be free. The one who is redeeming the world, restoring it to its original perfection, building his kingdom here on earth. Who invites us to join him, to share his love and grace and mercy with all of his children, regardless of gender, race, social status, or anything else that threatens to divide us. In him, we are all one. Jesus is alive, and in him we also live. Hallelujah! He is risen!
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Children’s Worship and nursery care available) and stay afterward for Discovery Hour (preschool through high school).