Luke8v1to4: JESUS AND HIS FEMALE DISCIPLES
(A) Introduction (Read the passage.)
These first four verses of chapter 8 seem to indicate a new phase in the ministry of Jesus. It is typified by a change of location, a different way of teaching and some new disciples. The adoption of parables as a preferred way of declaring the kingdom of God poses some hard questions.
(B) A new location
After this (his early ministry), Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him. v1.
Jesus early ministry was based in the fishing villages on the northern shore of Lake Galilee - Bethsaida and Capernaum - the home of most of his disciples. He built up a considerable body of support in the area as the feeding of the five thousand indicates. However, many Galileans followed him for material benefits or as spectators of signs and wonders. See exposition on 'Jesus heals the official's son'. They also had a mistaken belief about how the kingdom of God would be inaugurated. After the feeding of the five thousand the crowd would have made Jesus by force. See exposition on the 'Feeding of the Five Thousand.'
The reasons Jesus abandoned a sedentary ministry for an itinerant one:
(1) He had done all he could in Capernaum
Jesus' supporters in Capernaum were suspect. This is evident from what happened when Jesus challenged the crowd to make an unconditional commitment to him after the feeding of the five thousand. Many of them lost interest and John records: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Jn6v66. See exposition on John6v60to71. We know that Jesus did not persevere endlessly where he encountered lack of faith and hardness of heart. He was unable to perform many miracles in Nazareth, his hometown, because of its inhabitants lack of faith and so he moved on. It seems to me that something very much like this has happened in Britain. People are so resistant to the gospel that the Holy Spirit has transferred operations to China, Brazil and Nigeria where men and women are open to the truth.
(2) His disciples had got too comfortable in Capernaum.
It is possible that the disciples were growing complacent in Capernaum. Everything seemed to be going well. Jesus' popularity was growing and a mass uprising to establish him as king seemed increasingly likely.
Jesus decided to get the disciples on the road away from their comfortable homes. It wasn't long before he sent them out unaccompanied to proclaim the kingdom of God. See Luke9v1to6. This was followed by a further missionary initiative when 72 were appointed and sent forth to preach: "The kingdom of God is near you." Lk10v9.
I know Christians who are very fond of the hymn:
(3) There was a need for others to hear the good news of the Kingdom.
Jews throughout the land needed to be prepared for the coming kingdom; its onset was so near.
For two thousand years Christianity has been a missionary faith as its adherents have fulfilled the great commission of Jesus: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations." Mt28v19. If we cannot go ourselves we can support those that do. Once a church withdraws into itself it loses one of its reasons for being and is in danger of withering and dying.
(C) A new way of teaching.
On tour Jesus continued proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. v1. He chooses to do so now by telling parables: While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable. v4. The Master explains his use of parable by quoting from Isaiah 6:
'Though seeing, they may not see;
(1) Jesus continued to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.
I think it is possible to forget when reading the Gospels that the coming of the kingdom was good news! A lot of the kingdom parables contain dire warnings! The standard Christ set his subjects was very demanding. There does seem to be more good news in the New Testament epistles. So what was the good news Jesus proclaimed:
(b) The entry qualifications. Jesus outlined who will be welcome in the kingdom in Luke6v20to22 - the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful and the rejected. This was doubtless an encouragement to the vast majority of his hearers.
(c) It was God's kingdom. This would make great demands of the subjects of the kingdom but there would undoubtedly be wonderful blessings as well.
(2) Confusion about the kingdom of God.
This confusion was apparent:
(b) In the reaction of the crowd who after the feeding of the five thousand wanted to make Jesus king by force
(c) Supremely by what happened when Jesus made it crystal clear to the people who had been so impressed by the feeding of the five thousand what the kingdom of God was all about. Jesus told them: "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." Jn6v29. He appealed for total commitment to himself because that was the will of his father in heaven - that was the kingdom of God. Jesus said: "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will rasie them up at the last day." Jn6v39.
After Jesus invited his 'loaves and fishes disciples' to put their trust in him John records: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Jn6v66.
Christians do not talk much about the kingdom of God today. Instead they make much use of the word, 'Gospel'. I think the same confusion surrounds this word as surrounded the kingdom of God in the time of Jesus. Church of England clergymen are very fond of talking about, 'The Gospel', but they do not all mean the same thing by it. They certainly do not all mean the same thing by it as I do. The Gospel I proclaim is: Repent of your sin and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin and you will be both forgiven and received into the family of God.
(3) The reason Jesus switched to teaching in parables.
What is a parable? Warren Wiersbe has some helpful remarks about the nature of parables in his book on Luke, 'Be Compassionate'. This is what he writes:
The word 'parable' means, 'To cast alongside'. A parable is a story that teaches something new by putting the truth alongside something familiar. A parable starts as a picture that is familiar to the listeners. But as you carefully consider the picture, it becomes a mirror in which you see yourself. It can also be a window through which we see God and his grace.
Jesus did not speak in parables so that no one could understand! It is easy to draw this conclusion from his quotation from Isaiah6v9and10:
though hearing, they may not understand.'
I realise that the reaction of Jesus' own disciples to one of his first parables does not seem very encouraging. After he had told the wonderfully graphic story of the 'The Sower', Jesus said to the Twelve: "Don't you understand this parable? How will you understand any parable?" Mk4v13. Apparently, the disciples did not find Jesus' new strategy very helpful!!
However, Mark also records: With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. Mk4v38. So it is evident that Jesus changed his style of teaching to accommodate the resistance of the crowd to his blunter proclamations about the kingdom.
I believe that Jesus taught in parables because he was addressing a very mixed audience. The people who listened to him shared a variety of beliefs and attitudes. It is probable that the majority had reservations about Jesus.
I used to address just such an audience in school assemblies. I couldn't speak to children and sceptical colleagues as if I was addressing a prayer meeting of the faithful. The children would quickly switch off and it would make some of my fellow teachers very uneasy. So what did I do? I did just the same as Jesus; I told stories. I have recorded some of them on this website in the section entitled: STORIES. Take, for example, the story entitled, A nearly perfect day. The good thing about this story is that it can be responded to at a variety of levels. Some might be happy that I had a nice day out with my brother; some might decide to buy a copy of the 'Big Issue' in future: some might remember with gratitude a person who showed them grace; some might be sad that they have been unkind to someone who needed their grace; some might ponder the cost of grace; some might silently thank God because they have benefited from his grace: someone might suddenly see what the grace of God involved and respond to it. I found the story a very powerful means of communicating the truth.
To tell stories or parables is a good strategy because:
(b) They can be easily remembered.
(c) People identify with a familiar picture. A common experience nearly always ensures a sympathetic hearing.
(d) They convey truth powerfully. Consider the vividness with which the parable of 'The Prodigal Son' conveys God's love for wayward sinners or the reaction of the Jews to the parable of the 'The Tenants'. Luke records: When the people heard this, they said, "May this never be!" Luke20v16.
(e) They allow people to receive truth according to their level of understanding and spiritual maturity. This remains true today! I know of Christians who have reservations about the parable of 'The Prodigal Son' because they identify with the older brother. They have never been like the Prodigal in the 'far country'. Such Christians, and I was one once, miss the point that every believer depends equally upon the grace of God.
(f) They reward the discerning and thoughtful. It is significant that according to Mark: He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything. Mk4v34. Jesus explained everything to his disciples because they were, with the exception of Judas, committed to him personally. But the interesting thing is that the gospel writers have not explained everything to us! We have an explanation for the parables of 'The Sower' and 'The Weeds' but for none of the rest. So we are encouraged to think for ourselves about the majority of Jesus' parables - to make of them what we will. Some of them, like the parable of 'The Shrewd Manager' and the parable of the 'Rich Man and Lazarus', remain difficult to understand. To a certain extent the enigmatic words of Jesus remain true: "Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." Mt13v12. The better we know Jesus, the better we shall understand him and the more we will get from his parables.
The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod's household, Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Jesus called 12 male disciples to follow him. There is no doubt that Jesus chose them to play an important role as leaders and teachers in the early church. But Jesus had some lady disciples, too, who followed him out of gratitude and were often with him. This group of women had the following characteristics. They:
(1) Owed Jesus a great deal.
The three most prominent female supporters of Jesus had been made whole by Jesus. They had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Mary Magdalene was delivered from seven demons and must have been a profoundly disturbed women before she met with Jesus.
For 2000 years Jesus has made innumerable women whole and their response has been to dedicate their lives to his service. The more we are conscious of what we owe Jesus the more we should be committed to his cause.
I remember a story told by Rev George Bird of Bethesda Ipswich many years ago. One of the members of his church was an Ipswich shopkeeper. He made a habit of keeping a large nail in his till. When asked what a nail was doing in is till the tradesman replied: "So I never forget just what I owe HIM."
(2) Were well-to-do.
Many of the ladies who travelled with Jesus were wealthy and able to support Jesus and his disciples out of their own means. They were the financial backers of the Jesus' movement.
There may have been a tradition of rich widows sponsoring a well-known teacher. Jesus accused the Pharisees of abusing this practice: "You devour widow's houses and for a show make lengthy prayers." Mt23v14.
Jesus showed humility in allowing wealthy women to help him. This is not something Paul made a habit of. (See my exposition on: An apostle's rights.) I gave my old friend Edward a lift to the dentist's last week. He said to me, "I much preferred life when I could help people. Now I am the one who has to accept help." We need to remember that whenever we ask for assistance we give a fellow Christian the opportunity to lay up treasure in heaven. Jesus was aware of the benefits that would accrue to his lady followers if they were allowed to make some input into his ministry.
The church owes much to wealthy Christian women. While William Booth was evangelising the East End of London with his 'Hallelujah lasses' Catherine Booth was raising money in the West End from the well-to-do ladies who attended her meetings. Their contributions financed the Salvation Army.
(3) Would do anything for Jesus.
The ladies who travelled with Jesus and his disciples didn't just make donations of money. There can be little doubt that they prepared meals, drew water, washed and mended. At the end of Jesus' life there was a devoted group of women intent on washing and anointing his dead body. They set off at break of day to make good the work of Nicodemus and Joseph only for their ambition to be thwarted by the gloriously empty tomb.
There are many, many practical jobs that ladies can do for Jesus. It is not necessary for women to be Bishops in the Church of England to be first in the kingdom of God! Jesus said that the last will be first and the first will be last.
I greatly admire Elizabeth Fry for the practical way she served Jesus her Lord. She visited 106 ships used to transport 12,000 women to Australia. Elizabeth pleaded and pressed everywhere for more humane conditions on board ship. This indomitable women saw many changes for the better: women were no longer put in fetters; they were allowed to breathe fresh air on deck instead of the foetid air of the ship's hold; the female convicts were given clean clothes to wear; they were allowed to take children under seven with them. Hundreds of women whose lives had been made happier and more useful by Mrs Fry's efforts kept in touch with her by letter. These letters confirmed her fervent belief that few people are beyond redemption, and that cruelty degrades both the oppressor and the oppressed. She once wrote: "The good principle in the hearts of many abandoned persons may be compared to the few remaining sparks of a nearly extinguished fire. By means of the utmost care and attention united with the most gentle treatment, these may yet be fanned into a flame, but under the operation of a rough or violent hand, they will presently disappear and be lost for ever." Mrs Fry served the female convicts of the 19th century much as Jesus served the fallen women of his day.
(4) Shared the privations and dangers that Jesus did.
The women who followed Jesus and his disciples around risked their reputations. We can just imagine how some people talked and how respectable Jewish mothers ostracised them. To a certain extent Jesus also jeopardised his good name. Even today media folk make suggestive remarks about Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene and others were faithful to the end. They were last at his cross and first to his tomb on the resurrection morn. Women have never been afraid to take risks in the service of Jesus. Elizabeth Fry needed a lot of courage when she first went into the women's section of Newgate prison. The turnkey feared for Mrs Fry's safety and tried to dissuade her from going in. He said: "Madam, your clothes will arouse their envy and greed, and they will almost certainly tear them from you. They are completely lost to all decency; they are lewd, drunken, blasphemous, dirty, dishonest and violent." However Mrs Fry insisted and entered the cells crammed with 300 female prisoners. Most of the women were in rags; some were emaciated with starvation; others wild and hollowed-eyed with misery and fear; a minority drunk with gin bought in the prison - dancing and yelling curses at anyone and everyone. Most of the inmates looked more like wild beasts than human beings. Yet when Mrs Fry and her one female companion entered the cell a strange calm descended upon those there and the two women were able to distribute clothing, tend the sick and speak words of comfort to the mothers. Elizabeth Fry like Mary Magdalene, and so many other women, was faithful to the end. Her last words were: "Oh, My dear Lord, help and keep they servant." That is what she was to the end of her days - the willing servant of her Lord.
(5) Were much blessed to be fellow travellers with Jesus and his disciples.
Jesus could have taken money from his wealthy patrons but then insisted that they remained at home. He did not do this! In some respects the women were as much his disciples as the Twelve. They were able, like Mary, to sit at his feet and listen to him teach. Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna were also repositories of the truths he uttered. When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden she called him, "Teacher." (See my exposition on John20v10to18) There is no doubt that Jesus had a very enlightened attitude to women and this has been rewarded by the devoted service they have rendered him through the centuries.