Author Liz Curtis Higgs highlights the faith, love and sacrificial service of several women mentioned in the Gospels who were with Jesus in the final days of his earthly ministry, and explains what their lives can teach us about trusting and worshipping God, even when life seems hopeless.
Mrs. Liz Curtis Higgs: I was thinking this morning, if I wrote a book called The Men of Easter, it wouldn't be a great story. I would be Judas betraying and Peter denying and Thomas doubting and the disciples not believing. I mean, I hate to say it; it's just true. But the women, the women were so faithful and no one more so than Mary.
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John Fuller: That observation is from Liz Curtis Higgs, who's going to help us better understand the important role of women in the life of Jesus Christ. I'm John Fuller and this is "Focus on the Family" with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, Easter is a couple of weeks away and this is the most important time of year. I think we often look at Christmas as the most important with all the celebration, the gift giving that we do.But when you think about it, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ transformed everything. That is the difference maker and we have been given such precious gifts of forgiveness, grace and hope because of the cross of Jesus Christ. The empty tomb proved He was the Son of God.
But despite more than 2,000 years of celebrating this event, many people in our culture, they don't even know what Easter is about. I've encountered some of those people that think it is about the colored eggs and the Easter Egg hunt and the chocolate bunnies. They have no idea that it's truly about the death and resurrection of Christ.
John: And beyond all of those Easter sales and Easter outfits and everything, there are a lot of Christian families, I know that struggle with trying to make this the most wonderful time of the year if I can say it that way.
Jim: Well, and we can do it, John. I mean, I think for us, my guilt would be I get more excited about the Super Bowl. (Laughter) And I am determined to get more excited about Easter, because this is life. This is what it's all about.
Jim: And we're gonna talk to a guest today who has done a wonderful job capturing the women of the Bible that made such an important difference in Scripture and I think, in many ways, in our lives today. And she is the wonderful Liz Curtis Higgs. Liz, it's great to have you back.
Liz: Oh, it's always a blessing to be here. Thanks, Jim.
Jim: So, you have written this fabulous book, The Women of Easter, and I want to start with a description of the "who." Who did you select to highlight out of Scripture who are The Women of Easter?
Liz: Right, Mary, Mary and Mary. (Laughter)
Jim: Mary cubed, see I did up my algebra, you see?
Liz: Well done.
Liz: Well, and there's actually seven Mary's in the New Testament--
Jim: Is that right?
Liz: --just to make things a little confusing, but it's one of the many ways why we know the Bible is truth and not fiction. As a novelist, I would never give two characters the same name.
Jim: (Laughing) Right.
Liz: I wouldn't even start 'em with the same letter. But God's book is the truth and so, we get seven Mary'. Three of the most famous are the ones we focus on as The Women of Easter.
Jim: Well, let's get into it. Let's discuss the first one, Mary of Bethany.
Liz: Yes, Mary of Bethany.
Jim: Who was she? And what was her story?
Liz: Mary of Bethany is a woman who is quiet. She is the kind of woman many of us aspire to be and are not sure we could ever pull off, especially Chatty Cathy's like me. (Laughter) And so, she obviously is from Bethany. All three of these women are identified by their towns—Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Magdala.
So no last names to help us out here. They're just Mary from this certain town. Mary of Bethany, the town of Bethany, small, not far from Jerusalem, was known as the place of the poor, but she was not poor. She and her brother, Lazareth and her sister, Martha, were people of some means. We don't have any "definites" on that. We just know that they were, because they are never described as working.
Liz: We have no record of them having employment. So, apparently there was some inheritance that came along for this family, also no mention of marriages or children. It was these three siblings who lived together and loved Jesus. One of the things I love about the story is it specifically says in Scripture that Jesus loved them by name. Jesus loved Lazarus and Martha and her sister. That's so unusual.
Jim: Well, it is and there's a couple of great illustrations out of those relationships. Of course, Mary and Martha, the great discussion or debate about who is there to serve the Lord and who is there to do the dishes?
Liz: Oh, well, they both served the Lord.
Jim: Well, think about it. Describe that. Martha often ends up with the short end of the stick because she was worried about taking care of everything.
Liz: She does, right.
Jim: Think of so many moms who are in that same boat and Martha gets a bad rap, doesn't she?
Liz: Right, well, she does in that scene. There's no question.I think however, she learns from it. You know, Jesus says to her, "Martha, Martha." You can just see Him shakin' his head as he says it. "Martha, Martha." And He holds up her sister as being the example to which we all would want to achieve, that she would sit at His feet and learn.
But let me tell you what. Martha does learn, because when Jesus comes back after the death of Lazarus, it's Martha that runs out and greets Him, not Mary, grieving in the house, but Martha goes out to meet Him. And she says, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." But she keeps going. "Even so, Lord, even so, I know that the Lord listens to You; Your Father listens to You."
They have this amazing exchange where He says, "Do you believe?" And she comes right back and says, "Yes, I do. I believe that You are the Messiah who has come."Whoa! So, Martha has taken a big leap forward in her faith. And so, she is a real hero to me. We always leave her back in the kitchen. Please let her move on to that next scene (Laughter) where she proclaims who Christ is. It's remarkable.
Jim: It's a wonderful scene, as well. Let me ask you this though. With Jesus in that moment, the whole idea that He understands and knows that Lazarus is gonna come back. Why was He weeping, do you think? Why was He weeping with Mary and with Martha?
Liz: Isn't that a beautiful Scripture: "Jesus wept." The Son of God wept.Well, He did know of course, what was coming, but He felt their sorrow. He felt all of their sorrow. He especially felt Mary's sorrow. Can I just say when Mary ran out, she said exactly the same thing her sister did. If You had been here, my brother would not have died, exact same words in the Greek. But that's all the farther she gets and she's weeping.
And so, she doesn't go on to proclaim a great faith. She's just heartbroken and that broke the heart of Jesus, as well. And He gets right on to it. As soon as Jesus wept, He said, "Okay, let's go to the tomb. Let's solve this problem."
Liz: And of course, that resurrection of Lazarus, this is the rehearsal of what is to come. Jesus must show His people that He has the ability to raise from the dead after four long days. He's risen people from the dead, raised them from the dead, I guess I should say. My English teacher would not be happy.(Laughter) He has raised people from the dead, but usually very quickly after their deaths. In this case, He hung out for two extra days such that it was four full days between the death of Lazarus and the resurrection. Jesus wanted to show them. And I love that it's an extra day, not three days, it's four days, because the Jews believed that the soul remains near the body for three days and only at the fourth day was someone truly dead.
Liz: And so, four days into this, now He comes to release Lazarus from death. And of course, you know, Martha's like, "Oh," here she is being practical again, "He stinketh." (Chuckling)
Liz: We don't really want to do this. That's her hostess thing kicking in. (Laughter)
Jim: Very practical.
Liz: Yes, very practical. She doesn't want the people who've been to her house to have to smell such an awful thing. It's interesting how none of that factors in. The smell is not mentioned again.
Liz: All that's mentioned is the fragrance of new life.
Liz: And so, so just to say, Martha could have been a woman of Easter. She is quite remarkable.But it's Mary of Bethany who does this amazing preparation for Jesus. She anoints Him for burial. We're six days from the Passover. Big party in Bethany, not at Mary and Martha and Lazarus's house, but at the house of Simon, the healed leper, the former leper. And Jesus is reclining at the table. How they did this I don't know. You leaned on your left elbow. You ate with your right hand.
Liz: I'd be wearing food from my nose to my toes. (Laughter) But somehow this is how they ate.
Liz: And Mary comes up to Him in silence and she opens a jar of ointment, "pure nard" it's called. And frankly, that doesn't even sound appealing, "pure nard."
Liz: Sounds more like pure lard.
Jim: Right. (Laughter)
Liz: But spikenard was a very [expensive perfume]. We can't even get our heads around how expensive. It was imported from India and it's a whole 12-ounces, like think of a soda can full of this expensive perfume. And she breaks it open so there's no hope to save any of it.
Jim: I've seen reports it'd be worth about $30,000, a year's wage.
Liz: Thirty thousand dollars, that's right, because you know, she's challenged with that later. That's a whole year's wage for a man and today in our culture, in our economy, average salary about $30,000 of perfume, spilled out gone, poured into the ground, poured onto His feet.
Jim: Well, what about the cultural challenges for her in that moment, as well. I mean, for a woman to do this, to wash His feel with her hair.
Liz: Oh, yes, this was something only the lowliest servant would do, never a woman of means, a woman who could afford $30,000 worth of perfume. Never would she do such a thing. It's so humble. It's so sacrificial, so beautiful. That's what Jesus says, "She has done a beautiful thing. She'll be remembered for this forever." And He chastises His disciples when they complain about the cost. He says, "Don't hinder her."
Liz: "Don't get in the way of her. This is beautiful."
Jim: Liz, when you look at this scene of siblings and the interaction with Jesus, you had a modern-day event like that with your brother. What happened for you in your family?
Liz: Right. Well, it's interesting how it is about books. I've started to write this one frankly years ago when I still had three brothers. By the end of the story, I had none. So, in the years of writing The Women of Easter, one by one, my brothers left this earth.
And so, I began with the death of Lazarus very connected to Mary of Bethany, who's holding Him in her arms and saying, "I just need a Savior. I just need a Savior." And I know this is God's timing. He never does anything by mistake and so, as I lost one brother after another, different reasons; they're all older than me. I guess I knew this day was gonna come, but I was not prepared, the Lord drew me closer and closer to His heart and He said, "I understand what it is like, this loss, Liz, but what is the hope that your brothers have? And what is the hope you have?"
And so, in the end, even through all the sorrow in The Women of Easter and let's face it, if you're gonna go through the Passion of Christ, there's going to be a lot of sorrow, a lot of suffering, a lot of pain, more than I could ever have imagined in my own personal life, as well as in the story of the Christ. But oh, does it make the end even more glorious.
Jim: Yeah and that is part of life, isn't it, the feeling of that pain and how the Lord wants us to draw closer to Him when we're in that situation.
Liz: Absolutely, yep.
You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Our guest today is Liz Curtis Higgs, author of the book, The Women of Easter. And you might be in that spot, where you're in difficulty right now. Maybe you've lost a loved one.
We're here to talk to you and I want to encourage you to give us a call. Here at Easter when we celebrate the Lord's resurrection, maybe you don't know who He is. We want to introduce you to Him and I would encourage you to make that call.
John: Yeah and our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Liz, let's move into the next Mary in your book, Mary of Nazareth, Jesus' mother, because of that pain that you're expressing right now, the pain of loss of a loved one.
Jim: You know, I thought about this in preparing for our discussion today. She's the only human being that absolutely knows what happened to her. And what I mean by that is, she knows if she conceived as a virgin. She knows. And obviously, that was her testimony, that she had not been with a man and that she had conceived in that way, that the Holy Spirit had given her that seed in her womb.
When you put it in that context and you look at a mother's love, how exceptional her love must have been for Jesus, knowing all the uniqueness of how He was born and then to see Him suffer, describe what you learned in researching Mary of Nazareth.
Liz: Well, a unique woman in all of history. As you say, she's the only one who would know the whole story of His birth, but she's also the only person who stood at the foot of the cross, who had given birth to Him. She was the only one with that family, that deep, deep connection.
Liz: Unique. All the others had loved Him, followed Him, worshipped Him, served Him, but only one gave birth to Him. So, we see in the Scriptures what it says. Mary was there at the cross. Many others had abandoned Him. We know that. I was thinking this morning, if I wrote a book called The Men of Easter—
Liz: --it wouldn't be a great story. It would be Judas betraying and Peter denying and Thomas doubting and the disciples not believing. I mean, I hate to say it; it's just true.
Liz: But the women were so faithful and no one more so than Mary. I asked thousands of readers actually on my blog. Could you have been at the foot of the cross? Could you have stood there all day? You know, the truth is, if all that had to happen was the death of Christ, if His death alone was going to be our atonement, then God could've been frankly much more merciful. He could have hung Him, put a sword through His heart. It could've been very short. It was six hours. Six hours is what it took to pay for our sins, six hours!
Jim: Agonizing hours.
Liz: Agonizing, we can't even imagine. You know, when they roll you out of surgery, they say, "How are you feeling now on a scale of 1 to 10?" I've had a couple of 10's in my life. They would be nothing like this.
Hour after hour after hour, and his mother was there, so close. He was only about three feet off the ground. His feet were so [near]. He's physically very close to them, able to look into their eyes. And she would've been that close to touch Him, for hours!
To even get our heads around it, to imagine what it took in faithfulness and love for a mother to do that. You know, years ago when baby Jesus was born, Mary was told by Simeon, "And a sword will pierce your own heart, too, Mary." And I think this is when that happened as she stands there.
John is with her. We do have one good faithful disciple described by name. That's not to say there weren't other men; they just aren't described. They're not listed. It's the women, the women, the women. The women of Jerusalem are with Him on the road to Calvary. The women are standing nearby. Later in the day the women are standing from a distance.
The women were there and Mary was there. She just gets so much respect just for that. And of course, Jesus is thinking about His mother even in His agony. Wow, what a relationship, one of a kind.
Jim: Tells John to take care of her.
Liz: He does. "Son, this is your mother; mother, this is your son."
John: Yeah, Liz, I've been recently struck by the wait that Mary had even after that awful agony of watching her Son die. Then He's buried and I'm wondering if in your research for the book or your study of the Scripture, you found any indication of what she might have been thinking while she waited and waited. I mean, did I miss somethin', Lord?
Liz: No, one of the truths about Scripture is, we are often told what people say and what they do. We are very seldom told what they think or what they feel. And so, I try not to put that into my books, to guess what they might be thinking and feeling.
But they're human, so I think it is okay to say, were I in that situation, here's some of the things that might be running through my mind. I love that John takes her home, literally takes her home to be his mother, because I think she is spared a bit of what follows. And of course, because we have all these Mary's and they don't have last names. You know, when it says Mary was here and Mary was there, I'm pullin' out my hair sayin', "Which Mary are we talkin' about?"
But in the book I go past the resurrection on into the excitement that we find 40 days later. When they're in the upper room, guess what? Mary is there and I think most scholars agree this is Mary, the mother of Jesus. So, she goes full circle with this young man that she gave birth to, watched die, watched rise and now sees in the presence.
Jim: It's very unique again, because I think Mary, to be the mother of our Lord and then to subjugate herself in that realization that He is God.
Jim: She must have lain awake at night with the big questions we try to debate in the evening, you know (Laughing), when you lay your head on the pillow. "Lord, I'm strugglin' with this." Think of that for her, going, "My Lord is my son."
Liz: Wow. Yes, 'cause my mothering never stops. My son is 29.I remember going up to him at a[n] anniversary party and straightening his tie. (Laughter) And he was rolling in his eyes like, "Mom, I'm 29." And then he looked over and his grandmother was straightening his father's tie. (Laughter) And he said, "Oh, my word, it never ends." (Laughter) I said, "That's it exactly son. I will always be your mother." But Mary did have to lay that down and say, "I'll always be your mother, but You will always be my Lord."
Jim: That's a beautiful way to express it. Let's move to Mary of Magdalene. She is your third Mary that you highlight out of the seven Mary's of the New Testament.
Liz: (Laughing) Yeah.
Jim: I didn't even rea[lize]. Did you know [there were] seven Mary's?
John: I didn't know there were that many.
Jim: Think of that. In your book you said she had a notorious reputation. Describe Mary Magdalene. What kind of woman was she and what was that encounter for her life when she met Jesus?
Liz: Right, well, she was demon possessed, seven demons. She's the only demoniac who was named and whose demons are numbered. So, that's very significant. Seven also the number of completion. The girl was full up of demons.
Liz: Now we know from Mark and Luke that Jesus delivered her of those demons. It's kind of fascinating to me that we don't get that physical deliverance scene on the page. It just happened. It was so basically insignificant; it was dealt with; on with the story.
But you can imagine a woman who's been delivered of seven demons would never want to lose sight of the One who set her free. And so, she is a follower of Christ. She, too, has money, because we know in Luke 2, that she gives him money. She provides for the ministry of Jesus. (Whispering) I love that.
She is mentioned among other women who were also you know, disease-packin', demon totin' women. (Laughing) There apparently were more than one and they followed the Christ. Wherever He went, they were sure to go. And so, this is the woman, Mary Magdalene, who is there to the very end. She's called "the apostle to the apostles" because Easter morning, well, first of all, back up. On Friday, she's there at the tomb.
Liz: Right, it's Joseph of Arimathea and Nick at night [Nicodemus]. (Laughter) And then, you know, here's Mary. She is there Easter morning, first at the tomb. She sees the angel. She runs back to the men and says, "The tomb is empty." And the Bible says the men did not believe the women. They thought what they said was nonsense.Eew! Whah, whah! (Laughing)
Jim: And some things have not changed. (Laughter) I mean, really.
Liz: I know.
Jim: But in that context, I mean, it is unique. She was both at the empty tomb. She was also at the cross; it's recorded as one of the women there.
Liz: Absolutely, she was.
Jim: It seems like her relationship with the Lord was so transformative that she's an example of the way that Christ lifted up women in a culture that actually demeaned women.
Liz: The culture did, but Jesus never did.You know, one of the reasons I think that the women are so highlighted in the Easter story and as I said, they really are. They are there. They prepare Him. They're with Him. They announce Him. Mary Magdalene was the one who runs back to the disciples and says five words that changed the world, "I have seen the Lord." I have seen the Lord and she didn't do it on her own. Jesus sent her. He said, "Go tell my men."
That's remarkable. It wasn't because Jesus had no other choice. It wasn't like, oh, come on, where's John? Where's Peter? Mary was the one who was there. Mary was the one who was sent.
Jim: Yeah. Liz, you talk about an encounter or a situation where you were observing a little girl at your church and it ties into this idea of women of Easter, because you saw something in this little girl. Describe that for us. How old was this little girl? What took place?
Liz: Oh, yeah, I think she's about 4. She was across the pew from me all dressed in yellow, head to toe. Grandma did really well. And when the music began, "He Lives, He lives," she jumped up on her pew, nicely padded pew and she kept jumping. She was just jumping up and down, despite her grandmother's best efforts.
She was so full of joy. She was not trying to draw anybody's attention. She was just focused on God. This was a girl who without knowing it at age 4, she had come to worship. And that's really what we see in our three women of Easter. They worship Jesus and they show us how to do it, with humility, with sacrifice, with joy "unabandoned" and always, always, always pointing to Him and not to themselves.
Jim: You've tried to live by that creed now, right, after seeing that little girl?
Liz: Oh, boy, I do. I don't jump up and down on the pew though (Laughter), not a good plan, Jim. (Laughter)
Jim: Liz, this has been so interesting, really, to learn more about the women of Easter. We probably don't think about it, John. Really we know the big story of Easter—
Jim: --but to look very specifically at these women and their contribution to the faith, their illustration to show us what it means to be faithful. They all did that in their own way. And it has been such a delight to have you on the program to talk about these interesting aspects of Easter. Thanks for bein' with us.
Liz: My absolute delight. Thank you.
John: And we'll encourage you to stop by our website where we have a free eBook that can help you learn more about the Savior, the One that we celebrate at Easter time. It's called "Coming Home: An Invitation to Join God's Family." And it's available at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor if you'd prefer, give us a call. Our number is 800-232-6459 and we can tell you more.
Jim: Focus on the Family is here to strengthen marriages, empower parents and equip people to know God better. I mean, that's at our core and we can't do it without you. We need your prayers. We need your financial support and if we've encouraged your family in the past, can I ask you to help us do the same for others?
That's the way it should beand when you send us a donation today, I'd like to say thank you by sending you a complimentary copy of Liz's book, The Women of Easter and I know you're gonna be blessed by it.Again, Liz, it is great to have you on the program.
Liz: Always a joy. Thanks.
John: Well, you can donate to our ministry when you stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And when you get in touch, request a CD or download of today's program so you can pass it along to someone else and they can receive the kind of encouragement that Liz has offered to you. And also, we'd like to request your feedback about our radio programming. I'll invite you to fill out our listener survey via our website. We'll link over to it. It's really easy and quick and it's really important for us to know what you think.
Now coming up next time, what your children need to know, even when you have to discipline them.
Jim Jackson: Message No. 1, you are safe with me. Message No. 2, you are loved no matter what. Message No. 3, you're called and capable. Message No. 4, you're responsible.
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John: That's next time as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Liz Curtis HiggsView Bio
Liz Curtis Higgs is a popular public speaker who has addressed audiences around the world. She is also a best-selling author of more than two dozen books; her nonfiction books include the Bad Girls of the Bible series, and she has written several contemporary and historical novels. Liz and her husband, Bill, reside in Kentucky and have two grown children. Learn more about Liz by visiting her website, www.lizcurtishiggs.com.