Throughout his ministry Jesus deliberately and intentionally broke and challenged societal stereotypes and cultural taboos. He spoke to women publically; he encouraged women to speak out publically. He taught women equally with men; he gave them the Spirit of understanding and freedom to study. The apostle chosen by him to take the news of the resurrection to the disciples was a woman. “Go and tell,” he said to Mary.
For forty days following his resurrection the upper room became a classroom for both women and men. The book of Acts records that his instruction was given “through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” Their time together was reminiscent of the forty days the seventy elders ate and drank with Moses on the mountain. Moses said to that group, “Wait here until we come to you again” now Jesus said to his followers, wait,” in a little while you will see me again.” (Acts 1:2; Exodus 24:14, 18; John 16:16)
As Jesus departed from their sight, his final words were, “You (men and women) will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” “And lifting up his hands, he blessed them (women and men) and was carried up into heaven.” (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:50)
The Upper Room
Following Jesus’ ascension, this group of 120 persons returned to the upper room. Jesus had just given them their marching orders; their first mission would be to Jerusalem. The group quickly realized that in a very short time, the city would be filled with pilgrims, arriving from all over the known world, both Jews and God-fearers. How were they to carry out the commission entrusted to them?
We have generally believed that the 10 days preceding Pentecost were spent passively, sharing memories, reminding each other of the events of the past three and ½ years and encouraging one another with the hope of seeing Jesus again. While the men may have studied and the women continued to care for their physical needs, they all just mainly prayed and waited.
May I suggest that this pivotal time was spent actively, organizing an evangelistic effort, coordinating plans and resources, and utilizing the skills and abilities of all persons present. I believe the upper room became a conference room where vital and important preparatory work took place. The previous forty days spent with Jesus had opened their minds to the Scriptures and had solidified their understanding of the Messianic event. They knew their message and now they needed a plan of action.
One hundred and twenty apostles had 10 days to get it together, to get it right.
I believe that “certain women” were an integral part of those deliberations. These women were actively involved in the organization and the implementation of the Pentecost event at a leadership level. After selecting Peter to preach, the group now turned to the question as to what was to be done when people responded to his baptismal call; how were new converts to be instructed in The Way. Perhaps it was a woman who suggested, “Pilgrims need food and lodging. We should provide places to gather, provide for food, and then in table fellowship give them instruction.”
And so the Scripture records, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together.” When the day arrived the group had coalesced; they had come together; they were ready.
Then “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” God recognized the labor and work of these Galilean women and men and gifted them with ability to speak intelligibly with power and conviction to the educated Jews and God-fearers gathered for the feast.
It was not by accident that Peter chose as his opening “key text” a passage from the book of Joel. To the gathered crowds he proclaimed, “THIS (the witness of these men and women) is what was spoken though the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon All Flesh and your sons AND YOUR DAUGHTERS shall prophesy.’ ” It was essential that those gathered in Jerusalem believe the witness of the women as well as the men.
On the day of Pentecost, women actively engaged in the work of evangelization. They had been eye-witnesses of the Christ event; they had been recipients of the gifts of the Spirit; they had been chosen by Christ as ‘apostelos ‘. Now the Holy Spirit’s gift of communication allowed them to bear witness of what they had seen, heard and experienced. Now the men and women combined their efforts and “Those who welcomed his (Peter’s) message were baptized, and that day about three thousandpersons were added. They devoted themselves to the APOSTLE’S (men and women’s) teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
Imagine baptizing 3,000 individuals! There is some historical indication that women baptized women in the early church and continued to do so until about the third century AD. For a woman to go into the water and be touched publically by a non- related man would have been scandalous. Jesus’ commission however was clear: all his followers were to make disciples, baptize and teach. There was no provision in the Great Commission for this activity to be done solely by males.
“Day by day they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread from house to house and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”
Hospitality was offered in private homes and food was prepared and served by the disciples. Food doesn’t just magically appear! Meals take preparation, feeding large numbers takes organization. Table fellowship with its corresponding opportunity to share instruction in The Way was the method planned by this select group of 120. “… and day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2: 46, 47)
Opposition came to both men and women at the leadership level
Evidence that women were in early leadership positions, comes via the record that indicates that it was not just men who were targeted by the Jewish establishment for elimination. After Saul approved the killing of the disciple, Steven, he “ravaged the church by entering house after house dragging off both men and women and confining them in prison.” (Acts 8:3) It was in the homes, or house churches, where instruction in The Way and the “breaking of bread” was being given by Jesus’ followers.
It was not the new converts to The Way that Saul was concerned about, he knew if he could silence the leadership, if he could eliminate the eye- witnesses, he could stop the movement. It was the women and men who had followed Jesus from the beginning, who had been empowered to spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and soon coming Lord that Saul targeted and sought to eliminate.
Saul “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus so that if he found any who belonged to The Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1,2)
Our church organization, with its gospel commission has largely left women out of leadership, policy-making and planning positions. Women have not had a place at the conference table where governance issues regarding our mission are being decided or where resources are being allocated.
What we can learn from the upper room is that when Jesus breathed his Spirit, it was on allpresent. When he opened minds to the understanding of the Scriptures, it was to both women and men. When he proclaimed “you are my witnesses” he did not specify a particular gender. Women, as well as men, were sent out as apostles. When he raised his hands in blessing, all were included.
In the upper room it was the combined effort of both men and women in planning, praying and working jointly together that precipitated Pentecost. When the Spirit descended it was the combined preaching and ministry of both men and women that shook the world. Pentecostal power will again come to the church when the Spirit is welcome to breathe on all, when all who have received the Spirit’s gifts are acknowledged and utilized.
*Note to my readers: It might be helpful to review part I from 8/26/11 for background
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3415