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Lesson 5: A Woman Needing Freedom

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“Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that He had said these things to her.” (John 20:18)

Pray: Lord Jesus, please teach me through this lesson.

A Little Bit of History

As Jesus 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 wanted to accompany the person who had so radically changed their lives. Mary, the Magdalene, was one of those.

Mary came from Magdala, a small village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, southwest of Capernaum. 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. It was also known by two other names—Magadan and Dalmanutha. In Jesus' day, it was primarily a Gentile city with a lot of Roman influence. Two gospel writers record Jesus going there (Matthew 15:39-16:4; Mark 8:10-12). Perhaps that is when He met the woman we now know as Mary Magdalene.

1. Read Luke 8:1-3. List every reference to women, including names and any information given about them.

Mary Magdalene had been freed from the bondage of demons (also called evil or unclean spirits) controlling her life. Demon possession was exhibited in a variety of ways—blindness, deafness, muteness, seizures, irrational behavior, crippling of body, cutting oneself, and/or violent behavior. Anyone who was in such spiritual bondage lived a miserable existence.

There is no scriptural evidence that Mary had been immoral. A church leader around 500 AD associated Mary with the immoral woman in the previous passage (Luke 7:36-50), but there is no scriptural evidence for that. This unfairly added that stigma onto Mary’s character.

2. How might her plight as a demon-possessed woman have affected Mary’s life…

3. What did these women do as they followed Jesus (verse 3)?

4. Consider the activities that “helping to support them” as He traveled might have involved. List as many as you can.

Jesus did not use daily miracles to provide for His own needs and for those of His 12 disciples as He traveled throughout Galilee and onward to Jerusalem 70 miles away. Instead, He lived as a man daily dependent upon God to provide. In this way, He could identify with all of humanity and gave opportunity for men and women to support His ministry. This set an example for later apostles and missionaries to be supported by those who benefited from their preaching. These women probably gathered and prepared food, washed clothes, filled water jars, repaired clothing and sandals, baked bread, and probably paid for shelter at an inn.

5. Based upon what you have learned so far, how did Jesus' acceptance of what these women did for Him go contrary to the culture?

6. Why do you think these women supported Jesus by their service and their money?

7. How did traveling with Jesus also benefit them?

Jesus accepted their money and their service as an act of worship, love and gratitude. Other rabbis might have taken the money in an offering but never accepted their close presence. These women were blessed by just being with Him and hearing His teaching over and over again. They saw every miracle. They watched Him interact with people—alongside the 12 disciples. They were unofficial disciples who became a part of the early church.

8. Read Matthew 17:22-23 and Luke 24:1-8. What information did Jesus give to His disciples (and the women) to prepare them for the future?

So, when Jesus headed to Jerusalem for the Passover, Mary Magdalene experienced firsthand the events of the last week of Jesus' life. Consider the joy and expectation she probably felt during His triumphal entry and His cleansing of the Temple. Yes! But, she may have felt anxiety about what would happen in Jerusalem.  Then, she experienced the agony and horror of His arrest and trial. What a shock!

9. Read Matthew 27:55-61. How did Mary Magdalene and the other women continue to minister to Jesus at His crucifixion?

10. Read Luke 23:55-24:1. After His death, how did Mary Magdalene and the other women continue to minister to Jesus?

At a time when most of Jesus’ 12 disciples deserted Him (except for John), these women stayed close to Him. In this case, being “lowly women” (in their culture) was an advantage because they weren’t seen as a threat.

11. Read Matthew 28:1-10 and answer the following questions.

  • Who saw the angels? See also Mark 16:1, 5-6 and Luke 24:1 & 10.
  • What did the angel(s) tell the women to do (Matthew 28:5-7)?
  • Who saw Jesus (Matthew 28:8-9)?
  • How did they respond to Jesus (Matthew 28:9)?
  • What did Jesus tell the women to do (Matthew 28:10)?

12. Read John 20:1-9. John only mentioned Mary Magdalene’s presence at the tomb. We know from the other gospels that Mary was not alone at the tomb (verse 2, “we”). Like John, let’s focus on Mary’s experience on that beautiful morning.

  • When Mary Magdalene ran to the disciples, what was her concern (verse 2)?
  • Read John 20:10-18.
  • After the disciples left, what did Mary do and see (verse 11-12)?
  • When asked by the angels why she was crying, what is still her concern (verse 13)?
  • When she turned around, whom did she see (verse 14)?
  • When asked by Jesus why she was crying and who she was looking for, what does her response (verse 15) reveal about her boldness as a woman?
  • What happens when Jesus calls her by name?

Faithful Mary went to the tomb, ready to prepare Jesus’ body properly, probably thinking this was her last opportunity to serve Him. When she saw the empty tomb, she felt helpless to find Him and to care for His body. Three times she wants to know where He has “been put.” She wants to find Him and declares, “I will get Him.” How could she do that? This is such a bold statement from one gutsy woman!

Jesus calls her by name, and she recognizes Him. Mary may have embraced Jesus physically (as did the women in Matthew 28:9-10) for the Lord responded, “Do not hold onto Me, for I have not yet returned to my Father.”

13. What responsibility does Jesus give to her (verse 17)?

14. How does Mary respond (verse 18)?

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. Even the disciples didn’t believe their words at first (Luke 24:11). Yet, God entrusted these women to be reliable witnesses for Him. The women faithfully told the disciples that Jesus was alive.

15. Why do you think God entrusted the spectacular news of the resurrection to women?

“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)

Satisfied by His Love

Mary Magdalene was once held in spiritual bondage. She experienced misery. Perhaps she was shunned. Her family may have been burdened to care for her. Then, Jesus came into her life and gave her freedom. Out of gratitude and love, she freely chose to travel with Jesus and care for His needs with money, effort and time. Mary followed Jesus to Jerusalem and was present at the cross.

Jesus satisfied her immediate need for freedom from bondage and gave her abundant life. Jesus intentionally taught everyone who followed Him, including women, what it means to know, follow, depend upon, and obey Him. And, those who had been forgiven and healed wanted to give back to the One who had set them free from their pain.

16. In what ways do you give back to the One who has set you free? How do you support Jesus today?

Jesus Satisfies Your Heart with Freedom

In the story The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmun Dantes escaping from a cruel captivity lands on a beach occupied by smugglers who force him to fight a man named Jacabo to the death. When Dantes has the chance to kill his opponent, he spares his life and plants the knife into the sandy beach instead. Jacabo’s immediate response is, “I am your man forever”—implying today, tomorrow and the next day—not knowing what would be ahead for him.

Considering what Dantes did for Jacabo, Jesus did that and more for us. He set us free!  And, out of gratitude, each of us should choose to serve the very One who did it.  Not knowing everything ahead of us, we can declare, “Lord Jesus, I am YOUR woman”—today, tomorrow, and the next day.  But, what would that look like?

To be set free means that you are in bondage to something. We’ve already seen how Jesus frees you from bondage to lies by giving you truth in Himself and in God’s Word. He frees you from sinfulness by giving you complete forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. Jesus frees you from bondage to chronic illness by offering you hope that He is going to get you through it, right by your side.

Jesus freed Mary Magdalene from her spiritual bondage to demons. Because of your faith in Jesus you are also freed from spiritual bondage because a greater power moves into your soul—the Holy Spirit Himself. He sets you free from the power of sin and Satan to become what God intended you to be.

But, there is another kind of spiritual bondage—that of expectations based on outward performance. Maybe you started out accepting the gift of salvation by faith in Jesus as a free gift. But then you have been thrown into a works-related way of living this Christian life in order to maintain your acceptance before God. The Bible calls this “living by law.”

Living by law can be any man-made system of works by which people attempt to approach God on their own merits or performance. I’m not talking about what is clearly taught in the New Testament about living a life that pleases God. Sin is still “sin.” I am talking about those extra rules that some person or organization devised for you to follow to be a “good Christian” and for God to love you. Such extra rules could include: how often you must go to church, which church you must attend, what kind of clothing you must wear, and things you must do or say every day to stay in God’s good favor. The result is that you stray from enjoying a love-based relationship with Jesus to practicing a religion. When you are living this way, your spiritual life is in bondage to feelings of obligation, guilt, and fear of punishment for not doing it right.

Jesus wants to set you free from that. The Bible says in Ephesians 2,

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Here’s the key truth that will set you free from any bondage to religious performance: by grace are you saved. Grace means “undeserved favor.” It’s a gift you neither you nor anyone else deserves. God gives His favor to someone not because they are good enough to deserve it but because His love chooses to do so. We all receive this grace when we trust in Jesus.

God wants you to relate to Him now on the basis of His grace. Jesus paid the complete price for you to be set free from your sinful past. You can do nothing more to make yourself acceptable to God. Paul understood those who had been relating to God through outward performance for years. He had been there! He writes how God’s abundant grace changed his life when he says this,

“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:13-14)

Out of God’s mercy comes His grace to you. God’s grace is so abundant it’s like a cup overflowing. This overflowing grace sets you free from whatever has you in bondage—sin, guilt, religious expectations, whatever. Paul was describing himself, but doesn’t it also describe Mary Magdalene? It also describes you.

God’s grace is His undeserved favor abundantly poured out on those who desperately need Him. You and I desperately need Him.

His grace overflows to you every single day. You are completely forgiven and covered in God’s grace—His gift to you of love and acceptance in His eyes. Who would say “no” to that?

Paul writes in Romans 6 that we have died with Christ and are raised with Him to a new life. This new life has a new identity—you are in Christ, a child of God, totally forgiven, accepted and loved by God. That’s who you are from the moment you placed your faith in Jesus Christ and how God sees you! This new identity sets you free to live a radically different life. You’re dead to the old “you” and alive to the new “you” in Jesus.

So, how do you respond to God’s grace that has freed you from spiritual bondage and gives you a chance to live a new life? You respond with love and gratitude for what Christ has done. You respond to God’s grace by saying,

“I love you, Lord. I thank you, Lord. I want to approach life your way rather than my own way. I am your woman, Lord, ready to serve you.”

That’s what Mary Magdalene did. She responded to His grace. She was willing to love Him, obey Him, and serve Him with her life. She responds out of love and gratitude, not out of obligation.

Grace motivates you to serve Jesus out of love and gratitude for what He has done for you. You want to live the kind of life that pleases God because you love Him and are thankful for what He has done for you. You can freely accept Jesus’ complete payment for your every sin (past, present and future) on that cross and your new identity—you are in Christ, a child of God, one of His saints, totally forgiven, accepted and loved by God. You can freely say, “Lord Jesus, I am your woman”—today, tomorrow, and the next day. You can freely make that choice to serve Him wholeheartedly, without obligation or fear.

God wants you to relate to Him on the basis of His grace, so that your obedience is based on His love for you, your love for Him, and gratitude for what Christ has done for you. Relax! You have been set free from whatever spiritual bondage you have experienced. Thank Him for this wonderful freedom!

Our God created us with a spiritual thirst for a relationship with Him. A relationship with another human cannot satisfy that thirst. Only God can satisfy the thirsty heart. As the Bible promises,

“for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” (Psalm 107:9)

A satisfied heart will want to say, “Lord Jesus, I am your woman—today, tomorrow, and forever.” Let Jesus satisfy your heart with the goodness of His love.

17. How have you been relating to God through outward performance, such as works or good deeds, with the accompanying feelings of obligation, guilt, and fear of punishment for not doing it right? Recognize that you have been set free from that by God’s grace through your faith in Jesus Christ. How will you let His grace given to you motivate you from this day forward to love Him, obey Him, and declare, “Lord Jesus, I am Your woman?”

Response in prayer and praise:

Ask Jesus to satisfy your heart through knowing Him. Trust Him to work in your life to bring you healing, hope, and freedom. Thank Him for His grace toward you and His unending love for you.

Discover more about Jesus:

Christianity is Christ so spend a few minutes each day reading the verses and reflecting on Jesus—His life, His relationships, and His teaching. Get to know Him well—this One who loves you dearly.

  • Read Luke 18. Reflect on what you read.
  • Read Luke 19. Reflect on what you read.
  • Read Luke 20. Reflect on what you read.
  • Read Luke 21. Reflect on what you read.
  • Read Luke 22. Reflect on what you read.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Women, Women's Articles

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