Acts 3 takes place in Herod’s temple. While it is easy to find diagrams and maps of the temple through a simple search, the actual placement of the gate called Beautiful, mentioned there, is unknown. Despite the debate about where the gate is, there is little argument about where the gate led. It led to the women’s court. The women’s court was the space in the temple beyond which women were not permitted to pass. Women could not pass through the Nicanor gate, and could not enter the men’s or priest’s courts. It was outside of the women’s court that Peter and John found and healed the man who was lame from birth. After his healing, Peter preached a short sermon that retells the gospel story. He tells the people gathered in Solomon’s Colonnade that Jesus was the messiah and that they should not be surprised that under His authority the man was made strong again.
Peter and John were likely speaking to a mixed gender crowd because of their location in the temple. Men and women who came to the temple to beg or sacrifice or worship would have all been gathered together here. Women would have seen the miraculous healing of the man who was lame since birth, they would have heard that the healing was done in the name of Jesus the messiah, they would have heard that the earth would be blessed through their offspring, and that the messiah was sent that they might turn from their evil ways.
Peter’s sermon was preached to all who were present, including the women because women were permitted in this part of the temple. Christians of all denominations agree that the message of the messiah is for both men and women. Sadly, what we do disagree about is what women are to do when they believe the gospel. Many would say that women who believe ought to stand quietly in the women’s court and leave the work beyond the veil to the men in the men’s and priest’s courts. And yet, Jesus tore the veil. Three of the gospels tell us that when Jesus died, the temple veil tore from top to bottom. This tearing represented what Christ’s work on the cross did. It opened access to the holy of holies for all who believe in Him. No longer do believers have to offer sacrifices because Christ is the sacrifice, Christ is the way to the holy of holies and this access was not granted to male believers alone. Why then do we persist in maintaining temple like structures in our churches today? Why do we keep women in the women’s court and deny the full work of Christ for the entire body of Christ?
Today, there are special meetings that only men are invited to, meetings in which significant decisions are made in the absence of women. Men meet behind doors that are literally and figuratively closed to women. Many churches have knit the veil back together in order to maintain an order that Christ has already destroyed.
Most who read this will already agree with me, for this reason, it may seem too small an assertion to make. Maybe. I would like to encourage those of us who have heard the gospel and have left everything to follow Jesus, to begin to have discussions about how we are no longer required to maintain the structures of the temple. Instead of replicating the temple and its hierarchies, we ought to accept the good gift of the gospel that Jesus died so that we could all come before God via Christ alone. When we talk about women and their roles in the church, let’s add this to the narrative. Jesus is our high priest and there is no other. There are no barriers to our access to Him and the earthly barriers that have been created were created by men alone.
Who else does the church keep from full participation? As we advocate for ourselves and the right to be full participants in our churches, let’s consider who else may feel excluded and belittled by the maintaining of these ancient structures. I pray that God will give eyes to see and ears to hear what the spirit is saying to the church.
“God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.” Acts 3:26