How Jesus Used a Woman to Strengthen His People

How Jesus Used a Woman to Strengthen His People

Awakening Sleeping Beauties in Jesus’ Church

Mary of Magdala, Part 3


I have lady friends who love their beauty sleep. Seems to really work! So, keep on loving it! But there are other sleeping beauties in Jesus’ church that may need awakening. Jesus woke up a sleeping beauty with the kiss of His commission. Once she was awake, Jesus used her to strengthen and prepare His people. I’m hoping this blog post will be the kiss that nudges some sleeping sisters to open their eyes just enough to see prince charming. Maybe you’re one of these sleeping beauties that need a gentle nudge.

Profile of a Sleeping Beauty

If you are a woman, you might be surprised to discover that one of these beauties might be you. Take a careful look at yourself as I unfold John’s profile of a woman, a sleeping beauty, Jesus used to strengthen His people.

The profile starts with — I know — hard to believe — what is known as “The Great Commission.” Thank you for hearing me out.

“The Great Commission.” Most Christians have heard the phrase. It’s not unfamiliar. Jesus’ final words to His disciples — His so-called “marching orders”— are understood as “The Great Commission.”


Women and The Great Commission

But what is unfamiliar is the connection between Jesus’ great commission and women. Women and The Great Commission are never heard in the same sentence. I know, never say “never.” But in this case, I think it is fair to say that we have never heard anyone teach us that Jesus gave a “great commission” to a woman. Have you? If you have not, I invite you to read on.

There are two familiar versions of Jesus’ Great Commission. Have a look:


Matthew’s version looks like this:

“Therefore, go, make disciples[1] of all the nations,

(How do you make disciples?)

immersing[2] them into[3] the name[4] of the

Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit,

and teaching them to obey[5] whatever I

have commanded you…”

Matthew 28:19-20


Mark’s version is rather different:

Go into all the world and proclaim

the good news to every creature.”

Mark 16:15[6]


What Happened in John?

By far, Matthew’s version is the most familiar and well known, though it is misunderstood.[7] Mark comes in second for familiarity; but what about John’s Gospel? Does John include a “Great Commission?"

I used to think that John omitted a commission fashioned in the same format expressed in Matthew or Mark. John’s final chapter (chapter 21) is the story of Peter’s three-fold restoration after his three-fold denial of Jesus. So it seems like John simply omitted “The Great Commission,” I initially concluded.[8]


I Was Mistaken

I was mistaken. I failed to practice what I preach. I failed to observe a key piece of evidence that clearly indicated a “great commission” in John.

But in my own defense, John’s “Great Commission” is not found in the final chapter of his Gospel. So, I was looking in the wrong place. I also made the mistake of assuming that Jesus gave His “great commission” to his male disciples only. Jesus just didn’t commission women. My unexamined assumption, of course, was incorrect.


Unexamined Assumptions

Assumptions — unexamined — can be a breeding ground for all sorts of misinterpretations of Scripture. I’ve held my own share of unexamined assumptions and the ensuing misinterpretations. But reading John’s Gospel in the Greek[9] text forced me to examine my unexamined assumptions.


Off Come the Gloves

Once again, my unexamined assumptions were proved wrong by a close reading of Scripture; not the first time nor the last. I knew the right move for me was to share my discovery. Though, I concede, I will be fighting the “church” city hall on this issue.

But “church” city hall has been incorrect on many important issues precisely because it cherry picks Scripture, takes Scripture verses out of their context, and approaches passages in a “we know it all,” closed-minded way; hardly the way to please our Savior or model His own approach to teaching. So, off come the gloves.  


John’s Great Commission: to a Woman

John does include a “Great Commission.” But the commission is given explicitly by Jesus to a woman, to Mary of Magdala. That caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting a great commission from Jesus to a woman. I wasn’t allowing John to set his own agenda. I had my own agenda based upon false assumptions. Jesus gave his “Great Commissions” to men only. Right? Well, let’s go where the evidence leads us.

Why not allow John himself to set the agenda. After all, he came from the bosom of Jesus and is thus qualified to share the heart of Jesus with us (John 13:23).

Each of Jesus’ “Great Commissions” is given in one of His post-resurrection appearances. John’s version is no different. So, have a close look at the common links in all three versions:

Go, make disciples” (Matthew)

Go, proclaim the good news” (Mark)

“Go to my brothers and tell them” (John)


The Same, but Different

Each commission is spoken by Jesus and occurs after His resurrection. All three commissions begin with the same verb, “go.” The exact same Greek verb[10] is used in all three Gospels. In all three, the ones receiving Jesus’ instructions are His followers who understand His true identity and authority. Each commission contains an emphatic requirement:[11] make disciples, proclaim the good news, tell Jesus’ brothers. So, the commissions are obviously connected.

Perhaps John’s version of the “Great Commission” has been overlooked because it was given to a woman or to one person instead of a group. Perhaps it has been missed because the recipients in Matthew and Mark are Jesus’ male leaders. This is all the more reason why we must pay close attention to John’s version. It is not given to Jesus’ male successors. So, it is different.


Different Doesn’t Disqualify

But different doesn’t disqualify it. Matthew’s version and Mark’s version are also different. Matthew says, “Make disciples.” Mark says, “Proclaim the good news” — different verbs; different actions; different emphasis. In fact, the only common link that Matthew and Mark share is the verb “go.” Mark says nothing about making disciples. Matthew says nothing about proclaiming the good news. Matthew and Mark do not parrot one another. They complement one another.  So, John’s similar “Great Commission,” while different, also includes the word “go” and, therefore, warrants a closer look.

In John’s case, Jesus intentionally gave a version of the “Great Commission” to a woman. Mary was assigned the task—in the commission—to prepare Jesus’ leaders for His appearance to them (John 20:19-23).


Jesus Commissions Mary

Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary of Magdala came and messaged the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord…’” (John 20:17). Like Matthew and Mark, John also uses the word “go.”


Jesus Commissions Mary Intentionally

Why didn’t Jesus just fulfill this role Himself? He could have excused himself from Mary’s presence and proceeded to the gathered disciples. No effort required. His body passed through locked doors. He could appear anywhere at a moment’s notice. It would have been so easy for Jesus to appear to His disciples and say: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father….” They would have received the message clearly and plainly.

It was an option, but an option Jesus declined. Jesus assigned the commission to Mary. It was intentional and on purpose. So, John’s commission is striking because Jesus gave it deliberately to a woman. We can ignore it, dismiss it, explain it away, or examine it honestly.


The Importance of Mary’s Responsibility

Jesus’ future leaders — the apostles — were not yet regenerate. In more modern nomenclature, they were not yet “saved.” Jesus had not yet “breathed on them”;[12] they had not yet received the Spirit.[13] So, Jesus intentionally sent Mary to them to prepare them for His appearance and their regeneration, their new birth (John 3:5).


Mary the Evangelist

Jesus’ disciples only received the Spirit after Mary messaged them about seeing the risen Jesus. She prepared them to receive Him and the Spirit. So, Mary’s task, the “great commission” Jesus gave her, was to prepare them for regeneration, prepare them to receive the Holy Spirit from Jesus.

Mary planted the seeds of truth about the Savior in the hearts of His future leaders. Mary fulfilled the role of an evangelist of Jesus’ resurrection. Mary is not depicted by John as competitor with Jesus’ disciples, but as a co-worker, a co-laborer, and a partner. Both marriage and ministry are partnerships of men and women; both institutions are designed to serve and promote Jesus.

Mary Fulfilled Her Role

And Mary obeyed Jesus’ commission. When Jesus appeared to his future leaders on the evening of the resurrection, they were prepared for Him because Mary fulfilled her role as an evangelist. But are Mary’s sisters today offered the same opportunity?


The Call to Sleeping Beauties in Jesus’ Church

Has Jesus called you, sleeping sister, to be an evangelist? Has Jesus told you to go to some of His future leaders and tell them that you have seen the Lord and that He has ascended to the Father in heaven? Has the risen Savior ordained you to message His future leaders that they, too, can enjoy God as their Father? Is that gift sleeping inside you?


Has Jesus Given You the Gift of Evangelism?

Mary of Magdala is not the only evangelist in John’s Gospel. The woman of Samaria, after encountering Jesus at a well, said to her townsfolk, “Come see a man who told me everything I did.” Many people followed her invitation and came to believe in Jesus (John 4:29). She is the greatest evangelist in John’s Gospel.[14] Has Jesus given you, sister in Christ, the gift of evangelism? And is it sleeping? Does it need to be kissed?

Jesus continues to give gifts (gifted people) to His church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers.[15] The first two gifts are foundational in nature (Ephesians 2:12). The last two gifts are constructional and continue to be given to the church until Jesus returns. I’ve seen ample proof of Jesus’ gifts to His church--women with the gift of evangelism--many times. Here is one anecdotal story.[16]


Women Evangelists I Knew

I was born and raised on a mission field. Many of my missionary “aunts” — instructed by the Mission Field Council--entered remote mountain towns and villages. In those distant places, their gift of evangelism woke up and roared like a lion! These women evangelists organized Sunday Schools, led many men, women, and children to repentance and faith in Jesus, then developed a church, discipled men and women, and finally appointed qualified men to leadership in the church. All by themselves, too. No men around to help “straighten them out.”

These women were evangelists in the true sense of the definition.[17] They prepared men, women, and children to receive Jesus. They prepared Jesus’ future leaders. Just like Mary. Just like Euodia and Syntyche, two women who struggled side-by-side with Paul[18] in the cause of the Gospel (Philippians 4:2-3).


Roar or Meow?

Ironic — don’t you think — that this pattern of women being encouraged to be evangelists on the mission field is discouraged or even forbidden by their own supporting churches in North America? On the mission field, they roared like lionesses. But at home, even their meows are sometimes muffled. 


Does the Gift Lie Dormant in You?

Sister, perhaps, you, too, are one of Jesus’ gifts to His church. Perhaps the gift of the evangelist lies dormant in you. If it does, that gift, that sleeping beauty, needs to be kissed awake. It is time for that Spirit-birthed gift to stop sleeping and start roaring.


Sleeping Beauty or Speaking Beauty?

The church — perhaps well-intentioned and sincere — may have overlooked you — a woman. But if Jesus ordained you from your mother’s womb to be an evangelist and gifted you accordingly, then find a body of believers who will commission you just as Jesus commissioned Mary. By His commission, Mary’s gift was kissed awake. He recognized her beauty. If He has gifted you, isn’t it time for you to be a speaking beauty?

Perhaps you are a stay-at-home mum or have chosen a vocation to help make the world a better place. Wonderful. But why not use your life’s platform to also exercise your gift?

You can use your gift anywhere: in the neighborhood, at work, or in an outreach ministry. Jesus’ disciples needed to hear from Mary. There are many people out there, men included, who also need to hear Jesus’ words from your heart. They need to hear the lioness within you roar.


Pucker Up

If Jesus has so gifted you, but that gift is sleeping, then pucker up and allow this blog to be the kiss God uses to wake it up. Accept the truth about yourself. Embrace the gift Jesus gave to you; unwrap your gift. Exercise it. Refuse to allow the Spirit to be hindered or quenched any longer.


 Be a Mary

Ask for training from fellow believers who will recognize, affirm, and celebrate your gift. Be a Mary. Be an “Aunt” Ruth. Prepare men, women, and children to receive Jesus. Prepare the way for them to meet Jesus. Fulfill the Great Commission He gave to you. Let that sleeping beauty within you become a speaking beauty, a lioness that roars. Come on, sister, pucker up.


Joy Patterson’s[19] hymn,[20] addressed as a prayer to Jesus and aligned with John’s call to women, is cited here as part of the kiss to awaken that gift within you. Read it or, better yet, sing it as your own prayer. As you absorb its message, see if it doesn’t feel like your gift is being kissed awake.


“Teach us how to work together,

brothers, sisters, side by side,

equal partners in the struggle,

in the cause of truth allied.

To each one some gift is given,

man or woman, young or old;

help us use each skill and talent

your great purpose to unfold.”[21]



Thank you for reading this.
Tim Cole

κήρυξον τόν λόγον

Grace Bible Church
St. Petersburg, FL 33707-1524


[1] Matthew’s Gospel is a manual on how to “make disciples.

2 Matthew uses the standard Greek word (βαπτίζω) for immersing an object into water—such as plunging a piece of cloth into a tub of colored water in order to dye it--or the sinking of a ship; the New Testament never uses the word “sprinkle” (ροντιζω)  to describe water baptism. The word “sprinkle” is used to describe the sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat in the holy of holies (Hebrews 9:13), but never for what we term “baptism.” The reason for using the word “immersion” is easy to understand. The Old Testament pattern of God’s people (Adam, Noah, Moses, Israel—twice—and then Jesus Himself) commencing a new chapter in redemption history by passing through a water barrier on the way to a mountain to worship God requires a full immersion experience. A few drops of water can hardly depict death to the former way of life and entrance into a new beginning. The English word “baptize” is not a translation; “baptize,” alas, is but a transliteration, an invented word that masks the true meaning of the original Greek term (“to plunge, immerse, to dip into, to sink, to drown”)

[3] Literally, “into,” not “in,” as in most English translations.

[4] Observe: “name” is in the singular, not plural, though three Persons are described. God’s new name in the New Testament is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” God is a triune deity made up of three equal persons. Observe also that no one in the New Testament is ever baptized into the name of the triune God, only into Jesus Christ (see, for example, Acts 8:12; 10:48; Romans 6:1-3). There are good reasons for this omission, of course. But this is not the place to explain.

[5] Observe, not just “teaching them,” but teaching them to obey, the missing link in churches.

[6] Luke’s Gospel omits a similar commission of Jesus to His disciples, though his final words to them are couched in the form of promises, rather than commands. (Luke 24:46-48

[7] Neither, it seems to me, is Matthew’s Great Commission practiced.  The church makes converts and fans, but fails to implement Matthew’s strategy of developing and shaping disciples who actually obey Jesus’ teaching. This is what he means by “making disciples.”

[8] John omits many episodes in Jesus’ life: birth, Lord’s Supper, Judas’ suicide, ascension to heaven, to name a few.

[9] The New Testament was written in a language called “Koine Greek.” “Koine” simply means “common.” The Greek of the New Testament was the language of the common people. We might tag it as “Walmart Greek” or “Grease Monkey Greek.”

[10] Πορέυω; this same verb is used many times in the Gospels. For example, Jesus said to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”(Luke 10: 37) But the verb is used prior to Jesus’ resurrection and not to one of Jesus’ followers.  

[11] While the word “go” begins each commission, it is not Jesus’ emphasis. In each case, “go” is the necessary step to carry out the most important aspect of His commission: make disciples, proclaim the good news, and tell Jesus’ brothers.

[12] This act of breathing by Jesus seems to reenact the creation scene where the pre-incarnate Jesus breathed life into Adam as described in Genesis 2:7. Technically, this is the new birth occurring in the life of the disciples (“born of water and the Spirit”: John 3:5).

[13] John 20:22. This act fulfills Jesus’ promise to provide them with the Advocate, the Spirit of truth; John 14:17-18, 25.

[14] The Samaritan woman was later baptized and given the name “Photini.” Along with her two sons and five daughters, she traveled to Carthage (North Africa) to fulfill her role as an evangelist. She and her children were arrested for their evangelism efforts, taken to Rome and imprisoned. She met her death by being thrown into a well.

[15] Evangelists and shepherd-teachers are not church offices. They are gifts given by Jesus to His church. The word “give” or “gift” is used four times in Ephesians 4: 7-11. Unlike gifts, church offices always come with character requirements. Elders (Overseers, Shepherds) and Deacons are offices to be fulfilled by those who meet the character requirements (Titus 1:5-9; 1Timothy 3:1-13). But gifts (gifted people) are sovereignly bestowed by Jesus without gender requirements. Even spiritual gifts are sovereignly bestowed without character or gender qualification (1 Corinthians 12-14; Romans 12:6-8). Church “offices” (Elder, Deacon) are not to be confused with “gifts” (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherd-teachers).  But, alas, the confusion remains between “office” and “gift.” Only careful, honest examination of Scripture will cure the confusion sickness in the church. Traditions die hard.

[16] My own mother led me to trust Jesus. I wonder how many other faithful mothers did the same for their children.

[17] One missionary “aunt” of mine was named Ruth (I affectionately called her “Cat Woman” long before the days of Batman and Robin) and was of Scandinavian stock—strong, robust, tough-as-nails, but every inch a lady. She was single and lived alone high up in the mountains. She was a brave soul and an evangelist. But she hosted what seemed like 100 cats in her house; way too many for my liking. She roared but her cats meowed and did what cats do. She ran what I would call a real Scandinavian “Cat House.” I have never smelled anything quite like it--a house with 100 cats. I still loathe the smell of ammonia today. Whew! No wonder I can never forget “Aunt” Ruth.

[18] These two women also seemed to struggle with one another.

[19] Joy F. Patterson (1931--); we sing her hymn at GBC to the tune, “Hymn to Joy.”

[20] The title of the hymn is: “Christ, You Call Us All to Service.”

[21] Verse 2.