Sermon Series: Mom Emails, Part III ~ The Asterisk * ~ September 30, 2018 ~ John 13:1-5
Welcome to part three of my sermon series Mom Emails. This one is entitled The Asterisk *. If you have not been with us the last two weeks, first of all I do want to remind you – as Lauren said earlier, all of my messages are recorded on a CD. They are placed on the internet, you can get to it through our website. And if you want a CD to take with you and listen to me in your car, or if someone you know, you think, might be blessed by a message, all you have to do is call the church office. Talk to Miss Lauren and she will make sure we mail a sermon CD right out to you. So, if you missed parts one and two, you might want to go back and listen so you can see if I’m making any sense.
My premise of this series was the reality that nowadays, most of our interpersonal communication is text and email, is it not? I mean, do you find yourself making far fewer phone calls and talking to someone’s voice than you did ten years ago? I mean, text and email. It is the case with me and my mom as well. We tend to communicate mostly through email and text.
Recently, I had said to her that I was thinking about including women in our Last Supper worship service next year, not just as a part of the play that we put on, but literally sitting at the table next to Peter and John and Matthew and Bartholomew. I know for a lot of people that is shocking, because when we think of the Last Supper, we picture that painting by Leonardo da Vinci, that famous painting that everybody looks at. That’s what they think really happened, and they don’t stop to realize that that painting was made in 1490. That’s almost 1500 years after the event. Leonardo wasn’t there. We don’t know if that’s exactly what the Last Supper looks like. But that’s the image that we have in our brain. And there’s no women there. But I began to wonder.
The Last Supper is a Seder meal. It’s the meal they celebrate at Passover. It’s the meal Jews have been celebrating since it was instituted by God in Egypt, and men and women have always celebrated Passover together, since the beginning. So, why would women – followers of Jesus – not be allowed to celebrate that Seder meal? They could celebrate all the other ones, but that one… no girls allowed. That didn’t make sense to me.
Besides, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna – they funded Jesus’ ministry with their own resources. Mary the mother of Jesus and several other women were in the upper room on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit showed up, and the birth of the Christian church began. Women were there. Priscilla and Aquila we talked about last week, were co-workers with Paul. Priscilla took part in teaching Apollos about the full gospel. Women were highly involved in Jesus’ ministry, in the disciples’ ministry, in the church’s ministry, but they weren’t allowed to come to Jesus’ Passover celebration in Jerusalem in AD 33? That didn’t make sense to me, I wrote to my mom. She wrote back, I disagree! And that’s fine. She said, nowhere in the Bible does it say women were at the table. And our conversation back and forth became this sermon series: Mom Emails.
Now, let me ask you: are you a disciple of Christ? You are. See, the Greek word for disciple simply refers to a follower of Jesus. If you are a follower of Jesus, a believer in Jesus, you are a disciple. Jesus says in Matthew 28, “Go and make disciples of all the nations,” go and make followers of Jesus. Every person who believes in Jesus is called his disciple. There is a difference between a disciple and an apostle. While every apostle was a disciple (follower of Jesus), not every disciple was an apostle. Two different categorizations. There are specific qualifications for being an apostle. The qualifications included having been with Jesus during his ministry. So, when Jesus walked the earth, between 4 BC and AD 33, you were with him at some point if you wanted to be considered an apostle. Number two, having personally witnessed Jesus after his resurrection, after he came back from the dead out of the tomb, at some point before he ascended into heaven, you saw him personally. Three, having been empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform miracles, or signs. Peter performed miracles. Paul performed miracles. Many of the apostles performed miracles. Now, Paul is a little bit of an exception, because although he was empowered by the Holy Spirit certainly to perform miracles (he did raise somebody from the dead), he did not accompany Jesus on his earthly journey. However, we do know that Jesus made a special appearance to him on the Road to Damascus, and set him, Paul, apart as an apostle to the Gentiles.
So, why do I begin with all this talk about apostles and disciples? Let’s find out. Please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Let us pray together.
Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I begin in the gospel of John. John was an apostle. He was with Jesus on his earthly ministry, he saw Jesus after he was resurrected, and he was empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform miracles or signs. John tells the story of the Last Supper this way, John 13:
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. (John 13:1-5)
So, Jesus had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now loves them to the very end. In all the pew Bibles, and in any Bible of yours that you have at home that is an NLT version (New Living Translation, which is the one we have here), you will see at the end of that first verse, where it says, “Now he loved them to the very end,” you will see an asterisk. An asterisk, if you remember from school, means what? Go to the bottom of the page and see what they have to say. So, if you were to go to the bottom of the page, at the end of verse 1 we would read, “or, he showed them the full extent of his love.” So, what the translators are saying is that in the Greek, you could read this sentence as, “He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end,” or, “He had loved the disciples during his ministry on earth, and he showed them the full extent of his love.” Both translations are valid when you look at the Greek. The asterisk tells us there are two variations.
That’s one of the things I love about the NLT, is the asterisk. Whenever they think the reader needs more information, they’ll put a little asterisk next to it and you’ll look down at the bottom and it explains some stuff. I love that. For instance, in Paul’s letters – when Paul writes his letters, he frequently uses a word, “adelphos.” Adelphos literally translates as “brother,” or in the King James version, “brethren.” When he writes his letters, he says, “Dear brethren,” or “To my brothers.” He’s writing letters to churches. Do you think that those churches had only men in them? Have you ever seen a church with only men in it? Have you seen a church that has a majority of men? Very few. So, did he mean just brothers? There were absolutely no women in any of these house churches? All the churches in Corinth, throughout Galatia and Ephesus, and Colossae and Thessolaniki – all men. They didn’t even have their wives with them. That seems highly unlikely to me, when we know for a fact that there were followers of Christ that were female – Joanna, Susanna, Mary Magdalene, several other women who were in the upper room at Pentecost.
I believe Paul used the word “adelphos” in the same way we use the word “mankind.” When we say mankind, we mean all of humanity, not just men, right? The New Living Translation, the NLT translators have chosen in Paul’s letters to translate adelphos as “brothers and sisters.” That is not the literal translation, but that’s what the NLT people put in the Bible, because they believe (and I agree) that house churches most certainly included both men and women, and that adelphos was kind of like mankind, it was just a colloquialism. And then, they put an asterisk next to it, and at the bottom of the page you will read, when you come across it, the Greek is brothers. So, they’re not trying to pull one over on you. They’re telling you they’re making a translational choice, and at the bottom, they explain why. I love that about the NLT.
But it made me think as well. John writes that Jesus had loved his disciples (he says in verse 1). He washed his disciples’ feet (in verse 5). Not his apostles. He did not use the word apostles, he used the word for disciples. If he meant apostles, he would have written “apostollos,” which he uses in other places in his Gospel. But he chose disciples. Disciples, as I said, are simply followers of Jesus, followers of Christ. It made me wonder – perhaps John is referring to the twelve that we know in the painting as disciples, because all apostles are disciples. But since they were just the twelve, supposedly, I don’t know why he didn’t use apostollos, apostles. Why use disciples?
Maybe (this is part of my theory) because a disciple is simply a follower of Jesus, and perhaps there were all kinds of followers of Jesus, disciples, in that room. Both men and women. The same men and women that had been travelling with him for the last three years. Just a thought.
It also made me think – when Jesus sends out people to share the gospel in Luke chapter 10 it says this:
The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit. (Luke 10:1)
The Bible does not specifically say that he chose only men. It says disciples. They could have been just men, that is a possibility, but the Bible doesn’t say that, it just says disciples. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna were followers of Jesus. They were disciples of Christ. And they certainly could have shared the Good News. They funded his ministry. They followed him around. They listened to him when he taught. They saw him perform miracles, just like the twelve. They were there. So, if anybody could clearly and accurately articulate the gospel, it could have been Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. Absolutely, no question about it.
We know that last week, Priscilla (along with her husband) taught Apollos the full gospel. So, why, I asked my mom, could women not also be some of the seventy-two of the followers of Jesus, the disciples, sent out to tell the world about Christ? Could be!
I mean, later in Romans chapter 16, Paul writes this to the church in Rome:
Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches. Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home. (Romans 16:3-5)
Wait a minute. A house church meets in the home of Priscilla and Aquila – but I thought all the house churches were just men! Brethren! Adelphos! Doesn’t make sense. We have first hand evidence that Priscilla is part of a house church as well.
Paul recognizes Priscilla as a co-worker. Co-worker – not employee. Co-worker. Priscilla teaches Apollos the full gospel. A house church meets in her home, and yet she couldn’t be one of the seventy-two followers of Jesus, disciples, sent out to share the Good News, or to go to Jesus’ Passover celebration in Jerusalem? See how as I studied I began to think, everything’s not lining up for me. There are some dots that just won’t connect.
It gets even better. Further on in Romans 16, Paul writes this:
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did. (Romans 16:7)
You notice after Junia in the NLT, there is an asterisk. If you look at the asterisk at the bottom of the page, it says, Junia is a feminine name. Some late manuscripts accent the word so it reads Junias, a masculine name [nice try, guys]; still others read Julia (feminine). But the oldest copy of the Greek that we have reads Junia. That is a feminine name. Now, if that is a feminine name, it is most likely a woman. Junia, Paul says, was apparently highly respected among the apostles. Fascinating, isn’t it? Among the apostles. Does that mean highly respected as one of the apostles? Was Junia an apostle? Was she with Jesus during his ministry? Did she personally witness Jesus after his resurrection? Was she empowered by the Holly Spirit to perform miracles and signs? I don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say. But as I began this series with, the truth that not everything that happened during Jesus’ lifetime was written down in the Bible, and women specifically were often left out of the story. (We’re going to talk about that in a minute.)
So, I come across highly respected among the apostles and I thought does this mean that Junia was respected as one of the apostles, or does it mean that among the apostles, if you took a poll of the twelve, they would say that Junia was highly respected. She was a highly respected disciple. Highly respected follower of Christ. Could be. Either way, Paul spoke very highly of Junia. He even notes that Junia was a follower of Christ before he was. So, there is an outside possibility – scholars have been looking at Romans 16:7 for centuries and nobody can say definitively how to read that verse. It is possible that we have a female apostle. It’s possible we do not. I cannot tell you for a fact either way.
Now, when I share this theory with some folks, often times what comes back to me (when it comes to the Last Supper), why, then, did Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John seem to mention that only men were there? They only mention the guys! And people point to that as absolute proof. Well, my response is, that would have been completely normal and expected. You see, all too often, men are the only ones mentioned in Scripture. It was the attitude of the day. It was a very patriarchal society.
Think about this – did you ever notice in the flood story. We know Noah.
We know his three boys, Shem, Ham, and Japeth. What’s Noah’s wife’s name? We don’t know. It’s not mentioned. What about the three daughters-in-law? We know they exist, because they along with Shem, Ham, and Japeth were the ones responsible for repopulating the world. What are their names? They’re not mentioned.
Last month I did a two part sermon called “The President and the Pariah,” remember that? It was the story of Jairus, the president of the synagogue whose daughter was dying. And Jairus, even though he was a Jew, even though he was president of the synagogue had the courage to reach out to Jesus (a radical as far as Jews were concerned), and ask Jesus to come with him and heal his daughter. We know from the story that Jesus does go with Jairus, and he gets to Jairus’ house, and he says to his daughter, “Talitha cum! (Daughter, rise up!)” We know Jairus. We know Jesus. What’s Jairus’ daughter’s name? It’s not there.
We also know that on the way to Jairus’ house, he gets stopped by someone who reaches out and grabs the fringe of his robe and is instantaneously healed, miraculously. That’s the woman who was bleeding for twelve years. What’s her name? It’s not there.
So, the fact that women were not mentioned as being there at the Last Supper does not surprise me at all! Not in the least. In fact, here’s another story you should all be familiar with. It’s in Matthew 14. It’s the famous story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, right? It’s a famous story, we’ve all heard it a thousand times since we’ve been in Sunday School. At the end of that story, Jesus tells the people to sit down in the grass. He takes the five loaves and the two fish. He looks up to heaven and blessed them, then he broke the loaves into pieces and gave the disciples – followers of Jesus, might not have just been twelve. Think about it – twelve people to feed 5,000? Think about it. It was seventy-two a few minutes ago. They all ate as much as they wanted and afterward the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers, and in verse 21 they admit their bias.
About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children! (Matthew 14:19-21)
We know this story as feeding 5,000, right? How many were fed? Probably 10,000, if you added in women and children – wives and daughters and sons. But we talk about 5,000, why? Because they’re women and children, and they don’t count! Interesting, isn’t it? I thought so!
I just do not believe that just because only men are mentioned at the Last Supper does not mean that women weren’t there. I simply do not understand why Jesus would value women; why he would include women on his preaching tour; why he would willingly accept the money from women to cover his expenses; have them present at the cross; appear to them first at the empty tomb; and then have them present in the upper room at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes and the birth of the church takes place.
There may have even been a female apostle, Junia! And yet, for some uncharacteristic, unexplainable, and inconsistent reason, Jesus excludes them from what is essentially the Jewish version of Thanksgiving dinner – Passover. I don’t get it. Women were welcome to participate in every other aspect of ministry with Jesus, but were not allowed to come to his Seder meal in Jerusalem. Really? That just doesn’t sound like the Jesus that I have met.
Now, none of this, that I have told you over the last three weeks, means that women were definitely in the upper room at the Last Supper. I cannot say that for fact. However, I emailed my mom, “I believe they might have been. I personally would at least put an asterisk next to it, say maybe!”
So, why bring this all up, some of you may be asking. I know it seems like, what’s the point? Three Sundays you’ve tortured us with this, Pastor! What’s the point? Well, I wanted to emphasize to everyone how important, and how much fun it is to study the Bible! Not just read it, but really study it. Spend a few dollars, it’s not that expensive, and buy yourself a Matthew Henry’s Commentary. Matthew Henry wrote this in the 1700’s, it’s still a classic. You can get it online for free, I think, if you’re better at internet stuff. Spend some time studying the Scriptures – not just memorizing it and reading it, which is important – get yourself into the story. Attend a Bible study. Vicki’s got one for ladies, Dido has one for young adults. I lead the Experiencing God! Bible study on Wednesday nights. Spend some times studying the Scripture. Pay attention to the asterisk in your NLT, and look down at the bottom of the page. When we do that, when we approach the Bible that way, it’s like we are walking in the footsteps of John and Peter and Priscilla and Aquila, and Apollos and Paul. The Bible comes alive. That’s what I want you to do when you read the Scriptures, I want you to picture yourself. When it says Jesus went to the other side of the lake, I want you to picture yourself in the boat. Think about what that would be like. The boat’s rocking back and forth. Or you’re out in the boat in the middle of a storm, and the waves are threatening the boat from capsizing. Imagine yourself in that boat, and all of a sudden there’s a figure that comes walking up. I mean, when we look at the Scripture that way, it comes alive, and you never know what God might reveal to you, the questions he might bring up. Questions are good! I love questions. That’s what I live for, biblical questions. I don’t always have the answers. I don’t have this answer! I got a question, and I’m thinking, I’ve got a pretty good theory for an answer. You don’t have to agree with it, but I feel like excluding women from the Last Supper goes against everything Jesus had done from day one. And I think I laid a good argument out as to why, if women were there, they would have been excluded in the narrative – because they have been all the time.
Well, just so you know, after all this back and forth about women possibly being at the Jerusalem Passover celebration that we have come to know as the Last Supper, my mom wrote, “You make a compelling argument. Perhaps they were. Love, mom.”
And all God’s people said, AMEN!