The culture has completely hijacked the word “love,” and how that word connects to women. Consider today’s movies, modern music, social media, and the latest Superbowl halftime show. They have tried to reduce love to sex, and women to objects that can be lusted after, used and discarded. But that is so far from the truth of who Jesus says women are. Culture’s shallow, self-centered “love” falls so short of how Jesus has purely and deeply loved women from eternity past. Consider how God-breathed scripture portrays women and Jesus’ love for them.
Jesus’ love respects; it doesn’t degrade.
The greatest event revealed to the human race is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It proved His sacrifice on the cross was accepted and sufficient. It opened the way for imperfect human beings to be in a close, loving relationship with the perfect Almighty God. To whom did Jesus first unveil His resurrection? Whom did He trust with the first knowledge that the wonderful, the impossible had happened? Women.
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.’“ (Mark 16:1-6) Accounts in Matthew 28:1-7, Luke 24:1-8 and John 20:1 confirm this encounter.
While men in ancient times were treating women like property, Jesus gives these women prominence. In a day when women were not acknowledged as having identities or worth of their own, Jesus records their names all throughout the eternal Word, the Bible. He gave women the privilege of front row seats to the greatest event in human history! That’s how Jesus values and loves women.
Jesus’ love builds up; it doesn’t tear down.
Not long before the cross and resurrection, Jesus made another bold, counter-cultural statement of how He loved and valued women.
“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’ And they rebuked her harshly. ‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’” (Mark 14:3-9)
Again, Matthew 26:6-13, Luke 7:37-50 and John 12:3-8 give more detail, like the fact that the woman who sacrificed the expensive perfume for Jesus was Mary (of “Mary & Martha” fame, sister of Lazarus.) We also learn that the loudest critic of poor Mary was Judas Iscariot (future betrayer of Jesus) who saw her, not as a valued individual or devoted worshipper of Jesus as she was, but merely as an obstacle to wealth. Judas is identified in John’s account as a thief who helped himself to the community money bag. Is it possible that today’s loudest critics and demeanors of women also have self-centered motives?
In contrast to Judas, Jesus comes to Mary’s defense. “Leave her alone…Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing…” Jesus declares Mary’s worth and wisdom before the men. He praises her right actions, implying that Judas’ thinking and actions are just plain wrong. More than that, Jesus memorializes Mary; He gives her a lasting legacy, saying, “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Jesus’ love gives; it doesn’t take.
The Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42) who came to draw water at the well where Jesus was resting didn’t just have an empty jar. Her life and heart were utterly empty because, over and over, those she went to for love had taken from her and given her nothing. Her past had taught her to see herself as an invisible, non-person at best, as guilty and shameful at worst. That is how she expected everyone to treat her. Scripture tells us she came at noon, the heat of the day. Perhaps she was avoiding other women’s judging glances. Now there was this man, and worse yet, a Jewish man. Jews did not associate with Samaritans, but looked down on them as half-breeds, impure people, not “true Jews.” Past ancient Israelite sin and exile had resulted in the Samaritans being a people blended between Jews and foreign nations – another reason for this woman to see herself as worthy of disdain.
However, her interaction with a purely loving Jesus changed everything. Rather than treating this woman as invisible and good-for-nothing, Jesus actually spoke to her! He did not order her like a servant; he respected her and politely asked for a drink! In that moment, Jesus gave her worth! He declared that she actually had something of value to give! He spoke into her life that she was not a “less-than” or a “good-for-nothing.” This unexpected kindness bewildered her. She asked, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” Jesus’ reply reveals the depth of His genuine love for her in not answering her question, but giving her to information she desperately needs.
Jesus knows the limits of our finite minds in trying to grasp infinite truth. Sometimes Jesus’ deepest expression of love is not giving us the answer we seek, but leading us to the right question. So He guides her through a conversation where she asks questions and He keeps not answering her question, but giving her deeper and deeper spiritual truth. Mired down by human thinking and a past she wants to hide from, she leans into Jesus’ offer of living water (so she doesn’t have to face women at the well anymore.) When Jesus tells her to go bring her husband and she responds that she has none, she discovers that He knows everything about her life (even that she has been through 5 “husbands” and is now living with a man, unmarried.) She learns Jesus is special, calls Him a prophet, and asks Him to clarify the right place to worship. That’s like us standing before God and asking what the right denomination is – kind of irrelevant. Yet Jesus doesn’t belittle her; He lovingly gives her a bigger picture of the worship God expects, worship tied not to a special place, but to Spirit and Truth. Encouraged by Jesus’ interaction with her, she tosses out the biggest truth she knows. Will He confirm or deny? She says, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Here Jesus gives this woman the greatest gift humanity ever received (knowledge of who He is), perfectly wrapped for her in the exact context she needed to understand. Jesus declares, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” This was the only time before His trial that Jesus specifically called Himself the Messiah and this revelation was given to – wait for it – a woman. She dropped her empty jar and ran back to town full of excitement and truth. She completely forgot her past as a nobody or good-for-nothing; the Messiah had given her worth in talking to her, teaching her, and gifting her with a profound message to tell everyone – “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” Jesus gave her an eternal purpose. After she told the whole town about Jesus, many came to believe that “this man really is the Savior of the world.” Jesus highly valued and gave great worth to this woman.
DEAR WOMEN: On this Valentine’s Day, blot out the compromised “love” of the culture and remember that you are deeply loved — Jesus’ way. Jesus declares your worth and value. He revealed His greatest accomplishment – the resurrection — to women just like you. Jesus sees your worship and sacrifices for Him — that the culture criticizes or overlooks — as beautiful and worthy of remembering. Jesus loves you enough to pursue you, meet you at the well, speak to your heart, enlarge your thinking, draw you into relationship with Him, and give you eternal purpose. Do not be fooled by counterfeit cultural love. Rest in this perfect love — love that respects, builds up and gives you what you need most.