Have you ever listened to a woman heralding the gospel? Perhaps more often (and more appropriately) than you recognize! How can it be, you ask? Well, stay with me (and don’t jump to conclusions just yet about what I mean!).
I was recently listening to a helpful sermon (by Iain D. Campbell) on the resurrection of Jesus from John 20. And what stuck with me was when Dr. Campbell, taking a cue from the 19th century preacher T.V. Moore, paused to notice how unusual it appears when we consider that it was a woman, Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus selected as the first herald of His resurrection; the first one to proclaim that He was risen indeed!
How can this be? That’s the question Moore poses in his classic work, The Last Days of Jesus. After all, Moore points out, this is the same Jesus who commissioned the apostles who, speaking on His behalf, would soon make it clear that women are not “to teach or exercise authority over a man” in the church (1 Timothy 3:12). And so, since that is the will of Christ on the matter of women preachers, Moore ponders, how is it that Jesus makes this seeming exception by giving Mary Magdalene – and not the apostles – the privilege of being the first herald of the risen Savior?
The solution, of course, is not to throw out what is said elsewhere in the New Testament regarding the prohibition of women teaching men in the church. 1 Timothy 3:12 stands. “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.” But with that being said, why the seeming exception with Mary Magdalene?
Well, says Moore, it’s not actually an exception at all.
Now, of course, one reason it is not an exception (which I myself would add at this point) is that Mary was not teaching in an authoritative or church setting, but simply sharing the good news person-to-person … just like a woman might do, today, with male classmates or co-workers.
But Moore sees something even more profound happening in John 20. The fact that a woman was the first one to announce the good news of Christ’s resurrection is not an exception, he says, but actually the natural order in which a great many of us have first heard the same good news never since!
And so, seizing on and preaching Moore’s observation, Campbell asks his hearers: ‘Where did you first hear the story of the cross? Who first told you the story of the risen Savior? Where did you first hear that Christ was alive? Was it from a minister in a pulpit? Or was it, perhaps, from a woman – a godly mother, a godly grandmother whose heart was tender to your heart when you were in your childhood … so that the first person to tell you that Christ was alive was a woman, too?’
Here is Moore’s great observation, and Campbell’s stirring preaching of it: It was not strange that Mary Magdalene was the first to announce that Jesus was alive, because that is the pattern for so many of us, in every generation since – first hearing the good news from the lips of a woman! ‘We will never know,’ Campbell continues, ‘what we owe to the women who spent time with Jesus in the garden – our mothers and our grandmothers and our Sunday School teachers who impacted our lives to tell us that Christ was alive.’
And so it is probably true that many who read these lines owe more to the heralding of the gospel from feminine lips than we had really taken time to recognize – not as they usurped the God-given role of men, but as they took up the God-given role of women: nurturing little ones in the faith; helping them memorize scripture and catechism; singing gospel truth to them in the Sunday School room, and in the cradle, and even in the womb.
And so here is a little tribute to the godly mothers and grandmothers who read this little article. And here is an encouragement to those who are still in the midst of those formative years of bringing children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” God is using you! Christ is making Himself known through your lips – often the very first lips who herald His good news to the little ones in your life! So keep on! “Your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”