Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene, Lydia, and Priscilla
“It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles” (Luke 24:10)
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A disturbed woman, a business lady, and a homemaker: what did these women have in common? Each was chosen for a special reason by the Lord. Each was in the right place at the right time with the right attitude of heart. In an age and in a place where men were more highly valued, these three women had special roles in ministering to the cause of Christ.
Mary and Martha
The sounds of mourning filled the air as friends and neighbors gathered to comfort the family of Lazarus. If only Jesus had come, Lazarus would not have died. His sisters did not understand why he had not come. They had sent him a message and they had waited, but to no avail. Lazarus was dead and buried.
The disappointment was palpable. There were no answers for their friends who questioned why Jesus did not come. A message came that Jesus was coming, and Martha quickly left her house and ran to meet him. Her words were honest, expressing her disappointment and her faith. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (John 11:21‑22 NKJV).
It was to Martha that Jesus gave a great Truth about himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25 NKJV). To Martha Jesus revealed the reality of the resurrection. Then, coming to the grave, he wept as he saw the sorrow and the suffering, repeated so often since the first sin brought death into the world. After a prayer of thanksgiving, he called with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” and the reality of the resurrection was revealed (John 11:43).
Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, learning from him, while Martha made the meal preparations in the kitchen (Luke 10:38‑42). Yet, when the need for faith was strongest, she stayed in the house while Martha ran to meet Jesus. Martha, in the right place at the right time, and in the right attitude of heart, was the one to whom Jesus first revealed his intention to raise her brother.
Weeks passed. A woman hurried through the empty streets in the predawn chill of an early spring morning. The full moon lit the way for her as tears stream down her face. She had an inner compulsion to return to the grave of the one who gave her hope. Other women also came. They held bottles of precious spices and came to anoint the body of Jesus. Their hearts were broken, their hopes were crushed. The only thing left to do was to pour out their love and grief through anointing their dead Lord’s body.
They arrived at the tomb and found an angel sitting on the stone. He told them not to fear, for Jesus has been raised from the dead. They ran to tell the others. Peter and John hurried to the tomb and went inside, but Mary stayed outside, weeping, until the familiar voice says, “Mary”!
Why did Jesus first appear to Mary, before the apostles? (John 20:11‑18). Where was Peter when Jesus was raised? Where was John? They were not there. They saw the empty tomb but then left (John 20:10). It was not the apostles who were there to greet Jesus, but the grieving Mary. She was there, at the right place, at the right time, with the right attitude of heart.
The years passed, and another woman went quietly to a riverbank. She was a stranger in a strange place. A successful business woman from Thyatira, she had set up shop in Philippi. On the sabbath, she went to the riverbank to gather with other Jewish women to worship and pray. A stranger came to them and began to tell them about Jesus. She responded with joy, wanting to hear more. As the shadows lengthened, she invited the stranger to her home, and with these women began the Church of Philippi (Acts 16:12‑15).
Why was Lydia chosen to receive the news of the Gospel? The Apostle Paul had received the vision of a man from Macedonia calling out for help. Why did the Apostle Paul choose to teach the women about Jesus? The holy Jewish men of Philippi were not there. It was the simple, hard‑working women who had gathered for prayer by the side of the river. They were there, at the right place, at the right time, with the right attitude of heart.
How can we be in the right place at the right time? What lessons can we learn from these women who lived so many centuries ago in a very different culture?
There is no way that we can guarantee being in the right place at the right time. Only God knows where that place and time is. We must develop the attitude of heart that always seeks to be close to God and our beloved Lord Jesus. God will see to it that we are in the right place at the right time if our wills are fully surrendered to Him, and if we are seeking closeness to Him.
Each of these women faced circumstances similar to our own. For Martha it was disappointment, for Mary it was grief; and for Lydia it was the routine pressures of work and family.
At the time of Lazarus’ death, Martha was at home with her sister Mary and the many friends and family who had come to join them in their sorrow. But when she heard that Jesus had come, she dropped everything in her desire to find her Lord and ask him why, and seek comfort from the only true source of comfort. The Bible is silent on Mary’s motivation. It merely states, “Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house” (John 11:20). David Stern, in his Jewish New Testament Commentary (page 190), suggests that Mary was sitting shivah, referring “to the Jewish custom of sitting in mourning for seven days following the death of a deceased parent, spouse, sibling or child.” He further suggests “Both sisters observed the practice … but Martha … was now the one willing to set custom aside and leave the house in order to meet him” (page 190).
Martha was in an attitude of heart that loved Jesus more than the age‑old traditions. Martha had learned the lesson of Luke 10:41‑42. Once she had been gently reproved for putting duty first. She had learned to value time with Jesus more than anything else.
Now she was ready to lay aside her traditional duty, ignore the comments of the others, and follow her heart to Jesus. He had disappointed her expectations. Now she faced him honestly and asked him why he had not come sooner. She also voiced her conviction that God would give him whatever he asked. It is no wonder that the scriptures record, “Jesus loved Martha” (John 11:5). Jesus had disappointed Martha’s expectations. But his way was so much better than hers. By granting Lazarus a new life, he also gave him the possibility of a life renewed: the opportunity to be begotten to a spiritual life.
We also experience criticism. We suffer disappointment when God’s ways are different than our expectations. We cannot know the individual plans He has for each of our lives. The Bible tells us that God works out our experiences for our eternal good (Romans 8:28). Like Martha, we need to adjust our expectations to God’s will. We must surrender ourselves unto His will; so that we, like Martha, may be used of God to bring glory to His name eternally.
Priscilla and Aquila
Some disappointments come from outside circumstances, rather than from our expectations of God. If we keep our hearts in a humble, trusting attitude, and our faith in God’s promises strong, these unfavorable circumstances will work to our ultimate benefit
An example of disappointment turned to blessing, is in the 18th chapter of Acts. Priscilla and Aquila became refugees when Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome in 52 AD. We may doubt that they saw God’s hand in these hard experiences, as they left the life they had known and headed for Corinth. What a disappointment to lose their home and family ties, their culture and all that was familiar. Since their hearts were right, God brought them to the place where He could use them. When they went to Corinth, they did not know that they were walking into the place where God could use them best. They were tent makers, so the Apostle Paul stayed and worked with them. They had 18 months of private tutoring by Paul! (Acts 18:11).
Priscilla and Aquila lost much when they left Rome. They had Roman names and Roman lives. It was only because government regulations forced them to go to Corinth that they had this special time of learning with Paul. When Paul left for Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila joined him. There he left them to tend to the Church while he went on to Jerusalem. In this strange way, God had brought them to the right place, Ephesus. At the right time, God sent Apollos, a man “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). There, they fulfilled God’s will for them as they tactfully explained to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26 NKJV). Apollos, just as Priscilla and Aquila before him, had the humility of heart to learn God’s Truth and then proclaim it boldly.
Priscilla and Aquila had turned their disappointment into an opportunity to learn God’s Truth and then expound it. Their willing, humble hearts enabled God to lead them to the right place at the right time. They were willing to risk “their own necks” for Paul’s life. Once they had completed the work God had for them to do, they returned to Rome (Romans 16:3‑4 NASB) and continued to be active in God’s service, holding meetings in their home. They had fully surrendered their lives to God, and He blessed them for it.
In Mary Magdalene’s life we see the attitude of heart that pleases God when all of our dreams have come to an abrupt end. She did not even have the comfort of showing her love for this man who had given her so much. He had given her back her mind and her sanity. Who of us can understand what a great blessing that was?
Mary had stayed in the garden and wept. It was where she had been the night Jesus had died. It was where she had gone first thing Sunday morning. Now, with the empty tomb and the apostles having returned home, she was left alone with her sorrow. Mary had known the torments of mental illness, as demons had attacked her mind before Jesus had healed her. Depression and shame had once been her companions, and how she longed for the one who had given her peace.
It was here that Jesus found her. There, in the quiet of the early morning garden, lost in her grief, she had looked into the empty tomb. She still did not understand what happened to Jesus, but turning around, she saw a man who appeared to be a gardener. She did not recognize that this was Jesus that she loved so much. “Mary!” That one simple word carried all the gentleness and authority of her Lord. She was honored to see the risen Lord before even the apostles.
Sometimes our lives appear to be lost in grief as we witness the loss of a loved one or the death of a dream. Yet in the quiet unrecognized overulings of our lives, we can perceive that God is there, and that Jesus has given us his peace, just as he promised in John 14:27.
Mary was in the right place at the right time and in the right attitude of heart when Jesus chose to reveal himself to her. Similarly, Jesus will reveal himself to us in the midst of our grief, if we lean on him who alone can give true comfort. Like Mary, we also will feel his presence. We also will feel his peace that exceeds our ability to comprehend.
Finding the Right Place
Sometimes we may fear that we are not in the right place to be used of God. Some brethren find themselves in situations of isolation. Lydia was in such a position. Originally from Thyatira in Asia Minor, Lydia had become a prosperous business woman in the city of Philippi. Yet she made time on the Sabbath to go out of the city and gather where “prayer was wont to be made” (Acts 16:13).
Paul and Silas were prevented from witnessing the Gospel in Asia Minor. Instead, they were given a vision of a Macedonian man who begged them to come and help. Paul and Silas went straight to Philippi, a chief city of Macedonia. There were evidently no synagogues in Philippi, possibly because Philippi was controlled by Rome. On the Sabbath, Paul and Silas went outside the city to a place where they “supposed there was a place of prayer” (Acts 16:13 ASV). Though the vision had been of a man from Macedonia, they only found women gathered there to pray. They sat down and talked with the women who had gathered there. Since Lydia had chosen to spend her Sabbath in worship and prayer, she was at the right place when Apostle Paul began to speak. The Lord opened her heart and she listened and accepted Paul’s words. She and her household were then immersed, and she begged Paul saying, “If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide there” (Acts 16:15). It is evident from Acts 16:40 that her hospitality toward Paul and Silas was offered to the other brethren too.
Here, we see the character of our sister Lydia. Circumstances had brought her far from home, but she still sought to obey the Sabbath and to worship and pray. Her heart attitude was right, and so God changed Paul’s itineary to visit her home in Philippi instead of her home in Thyatira. What a tremendous lesson for all of us. If our hearts are in the right attitude, God will work miracles to make sure we are in the right place at the right time.
There is much to learn from our sisters of the New Testament times. They lived in a different time and a different culture than we do. Yet they shared similar experiences, experiences with disappointment, grief, and the pressures and routines of everyday life. Martha, Mary Magdalene, and Lydia rose above their circumstances by seeking to be close to the Lord. They received the Lord’s approval and blessing.
Lessons For Us
In our lives we are frequently confronted by some of these same issues. We can learn some valuable lessons by seeing how God dealt with these women who walked before us.
Criticism — Martha must have suffered pain and shame as the Lord gently rebuked her in Luke 10:38‑42. She accepted the criticism and changed her life in order to obey Jesus. What greater respect and trust can we show for God than to change our lives when His Word shows us a better way? (Proverbs 3:11‑12). Martha learned to stay close to Jesus.
Disappointment — Sometimes God disappoints us. More precisely, sometimes our expectations of God disappoint us. It is ok to ask “Why?,” as David did (Psalm 10, 13, 22, 88). God already knows how we feel, just as Jesus already knew how Martha felt. Martha asked Jesus her question, and then expressed her continued trust in him. When we voice our disappointment, we should also express our faith that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9), and that his promises are true. (Joshua 23:14).
Grief — In our greatest sorrow, God is our strongest comfort (Psalms 56:8). He is the comforter of the depressed
(2 Corinthians 7:6). In her grief, Mary stayed as close as possible to Jesus and received comfort. By her example of trust in God and belief in His son, she surely became a pillar in the Lord’s growing ministry.
Loneliness — If our circumstances take us far from those we love, or if we find ourselves alone in a cold cruel world, gather together with those of like precious faith, as Lydia did (Hebrews 10:25).
Pressures and Responsibilities of daily life — As we rush through our daily lives, we need to take “sabbaths” of rest in which to draw close to God. Lydia sought out time for worship and prayer. In our daily lives, we also need to take the time to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.
Even if we are not in the right place at the right time, if our hearts are in the right attitude, God will arrange the circumstances so that we are blessed.
As we see how Jesus gently sounded the hearts of these beautiful New Testament sisters, we have a better idea of what our Heavenly Father wants from us, and the possibilities for our own encouragement and blessing. We see the varied patterns of faith in their experiences. We see their desperation and their trust even when they could not see Him. If we put ourselves in the right place at the right time with the right attitude of heart, Jesus will use us in his service also.
Categories: 2014 Issues, 2014-November/December
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