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8. Devoted Women Identified by Faithfulness: Mary the Magdalene

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Time: Time: Jesus' Third Year of Ministry, ~AD 29

Editor's Note: The author (Melanie Newton) does not have any audio for this article, however she recommends this audio message by Vickie Kraft as helpful in conjunction with this study.

Background

As Christ continued His public ministry, more and more people began to travel with Him from one town to the next. Some were no doubt just curious onlookers. But others followed because they could not help but accompany the person who had so radically changed their lives. Mary, the Magdalene, was among the latter group. She had long ago moved from the ranks of the curious to the convinced.

Magdala is thought to have been a small village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, southwest from Capernaum. It was about three miles north of Tiberias where the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, had his capital. Once famous for its fine woolens and dyed products (the dye came from shellfish caught in its waters), Magdala had as many as 4,000 inhabitants with 80 weavers' shops and 300 shops that sold pigeons for sacrifices. The Hebrew name Magdala is associated with the word migdol, which meant “a watchtower.” It was also known by two other names—Magadan and Dalmanutha. In Jesus' day it was primarily a Gentile city, as its horse and chariot racetrack indicates.

The name Mary is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Miriam. Recall the role of Miriam among the women of Israel (see Micah 6:4).

Day One Study

1. Read Matthew 15:29-16:4 and Mark 8:10-12. Discuss Jesus' ministry in and around Mary's hometown (see map in “New Testament Insights”).

2. Read Luke 8:1-3; Mark 15:40-41 and Matthew 27:55-56. List all the women mentioned by name in these passages and any information given about them (family associations, etc.).

3. Jesus did not use daily miracles to provide for His own needs and for those of His disciples. For those who traveled with Jesus, list all that ministering to and providing for Him would have looked like for these women. Be specific by thinking through what you have learned about daily life at that time. Note that Galilee was 60-70 miles from Jerusalem.

4. Review the Background sections in Lesson One and Lesson Four. How did Jesus' acceptance of what these women did for Him go contrary to the culture?

Historical Insight: Jesus’ allowing these women to travel with Him and provide for Him “would have been viewed as a scandalous situation in Palestine in that day. However, like the forgiven woman (7:36-50), these women had also been forgiven much, [healed from diseases], and they loved much.” (Walvoord and Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, p. 224)

5. Why did they do it? And, how did traveling with Jesus also benefit them? Think about all that Jesus was saying and doing as He traveled from town to town.

Scriptural Insight: Jesus intentionally taught His 12 disciples and many others to know, follow, depend upon, and obey Him. Women also were learning what it means to follow Him in the same way as He taught them along with all the others (Luke 8:1-3; 10:38-39; and John 11:25-27). Some of those women were part of the 120 waiting for the Holy Spirit to come in Acts 1-2.

6. Living Out His Love: Women who have been forgiven and healed much want to give back to the one who has set them free from their pain. In what ways do you give back to the One who has set you free? In other words, how do you support Jesus’ ministry today?

Day Two Study

7. Reread Luke 8:1-3; Mark 15:40-41 and Matthew 27:55-56. Write down everything you can deduce about Mary Magdalene and choices she made.

8. From our previous study of the Canaanite woman in Lesson Six, what symptoms might Mary have displayed while being demon-possessed? [Note: there is no scriptural evidence that she had been immoral. A church leader around 500 AD associated Mary with the immoral woman in Luke 7:36-50, thus unfairly adding that stigma onto her character.]

9. Explain how her plight as a demon-possessed woman might have affected her life socially, spiritually, and emotionally.

10. Read Luke 18:31-34. What information did Jesus give to His disciples to prepare them for the future?

11. Mary Magdalene experienced firsthand the events of the last week of Jesus' life—His triumphal entry, the cleansing of the Temple, verbal combat with the Pharisees, and the agony of His arrest and trial. What range of emotions must Mary Magdalene have felt through the last week of Christ's life?

Day Three Study

12. Read Matthew 27:55-61; Mark 15:40-47; Luke 23:49-56 and John 19:25. Discuss how Mary Magdalene and the other women continued to minister to Jesus on the day of His trial and crucifixion. What information is given that gives insight to their strength of character during a stressful, emotional time?

13. Compare this with what His male disciples did at His arrest and trial in Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50 and Luke 22:24-62.

14. Read Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-14 and Luke 24:1-12, 22-26. Discuss the following:

  • Who did or did not see the angel(s)—
  • The message the women were given to spread—
  • The response of the disciples to the news—
  • Jesus' defense of the women—
  • Jesus' rebuke of the men—

15. Because of a twisted interpretation of the Mosaic Law, the rabbinical leaders taught that women were uneducable. They were also considered unreliable as courtroom witnesses. How was God's use of women as reliable witnesses revealed in these verses? Why do you think God entrusted the spectacular news of the resurrection to women?

Historical Insight: “That a woman would be the first to see Him is an evidence of Jesus’ love as well as a mark of the narrative’s historicity. No Jewish author in the ancient world would have invented a story with a woman as the first witness to this most important event.” (Walvoord and Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, p. 342)

16. Living Out His Love: Jesus trusted that the women would do what He asked them to do. What message did He entrust them to spread? What message has Jesus continued to entrust you to share? Write out the simple gospel message below as you would share it with someone. For ideas, see “Ways to Explain the Gospel”.

Day Four Study

17. Read John 20:1-18. Describe the scene and what Mary Magdalene experienced. What is revealed about her and her view of Jesus? “Rabboni” (verse 16) is personal, meaning my teacher.

18. From our study of Mary Magdalene so far, why do you think He appeared to her first after His resurrection (here and in Mark 16:9)?

19. Discuss Jesus' conversation with her and her response (in John 20).

Focus on the Meaning: Mary may have embraced Jesus physically for the Lord responded, “Do not hold onto Me, for I have not yet returned to my Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them…” These words spoke of a new relationship, new relatives, and a new responsibility…A new relationship will begin with His Ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. The new relatives are the disciples whom Jesus called His brothers…Believers in Jesus become a part of Jesus’ family with God as their Father. Mary’s new responsibility was to testify to His risen presence. She was the recipient of four special graces: to see angels; to see Jesus risen; to be the first to see Him alive; and to be a proclaimer of the good news—the latter being something all Christians share with her. (Walvoord and Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, pp. 342-343)

20. Why can we assume that Mary Magdalene was probably single?

21. Considering the life of a single woman without children, what could be some advantages of being single as she serves the Lord? Disadvantages?

22. Living Out His Love: The local church often undervalues single woman, especially the career single who has never been married nor has any children. If you are single, how do you feel included or not included in your church’s ministry to women? In what ways might a single woman feel left out of ministry opportunities at your church? Is there a single woman who might need your friendship? If you are single, what can you do to let the married women know you want to be included? Discuss with your group ways to be more inclusive of those who are not married and/or mothers. 

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