April 20 – Compassionate Loyalty

“And many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him.”

Matthew 27:55

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The women who supported Jesus’ ministry all the way to the cross are fine examples of compassionate loyalty.

Caring, consistent loyalty is a wonderful characteristic of godly women. This trait is probably more evident in them than it is in godly men. The women by the cross were the main group of believing eyewitnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion. They also showed incredible loyalty in the face of ridicule and danger. This courage contrasted with the disciples who, except for John, had fled in fear the night before Jesus was crucified.

We saw in a lesson earlier this month that some of the women, including our Lord’s mother, had been watching the crucifixion from the foot of the cross (John 19:25–27). But in today’s verse the women are described as “looking on from a distance.” They had not suddenly become afraid of the Roman soldiers or the Jewish leaders. Neither had they become ashamed of being known as Jesus’ followers. They withdrew because their grief was deep and their hope shattered at the impending death of their Master. The women’s endurance, however, was undaunted.

Throughout His ministry, devoted women such as those at the cross ministered generously to Jesus and the disciples. Luke 8:2–3 says, “Mary who was called Magdalene … Joanna the wife of Chuza … Susanna, and many others … were contributing to their support out of their private means.” It is probable that most of the meals Jesus and the Twelve ate were prepared by faithful women.

The women who followed Jesus set the standard for faithful service and compassionate loyalty that Paul later outlined for godly women: “a reputation for good works … washed the saints’ feet … assisted those in distress, and … devoted herself to every good work” (1 Tim. 5:10). Such self–giving acts of practical service are marks of excellence and spiritual maturity that ought to be evident in the lives of all believers.

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Suggestions for Prayer: Is there a Christian friend to whom you can affirm your loyalty? Pray for an opportunity to serve that person in a practical way.

For Further Study: Read John 13:3–17. How did Jesus demonstrate the theme of today’s study? ✧ What impact did Jesus’ example have on Peter?[1]


Sympathetic Loyalty

And many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, among whom was Mary Magdalene, along with Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (27:55–56)

The reaction of the second group Matthew mentions was especially beautiful. Unlike the soldiers, who went from unbelief to belief, the many women who were there were already believers. Their response to the crucifixion could be described as sympathetic loyalty.

From John’s account we know that some of the women, as well as John, had earlier been at the foot of the cross (John 19:25–27). But perhaps because they could not bear to observe the suffering of their Lord so closely, those women were now looking on from a distance. They were not afraid of the soldiers or the Jewish leaders and had no concern for their own safety or welfare. They were not ashamed of being identified with Jesus. They withdrew because they were devastated at the suffering and death of the one they had loved so dearly Their grief was deep and their hopes seemed shattered, but their courage was undaunted.

Sympathetic loyalty is one of most beautiful and distinguishing characteristics of godly women, generally being more evident in them than in godly men. A spiritual woman has the capacity for incredible loyalty in the face of ridicule and danger. Except for John, the rest of the disciples had fled in fear. Even Peter, who mustered enough courage to follow Jesus as far as the house of Caiaphas, was not to be found at the cross.

The great Bible expositor G. Campbell Morgan described those women as “hopeless, disappointed, bereaved, heartbroken; but the love He had created in those hearts for Himself could not be quenched, even by His dying: could not be overcome, even though they were disappointed; could not be extinguished, even though the light of hope had gone out, and over the sea of their sorrow there was no sighing wind that told of the dawn” (The Gospel According to Matthew [Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1929], p. 318).

We do not know the number of women who were there, but Matthew’s speaking of them as many perhaps would suggest up to a dozen. However many they were, these women were among those who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him.

Devoted women had traveled with and served Jesus for a long while. Among the earliest of them were “Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their [Jesus’ and the disciples’] support out of their private means” (Luke 8:2–3). Throughout His ministry, such women ministered generously and lovingly to Jesus and the Twelve with their financial resources, their talents, and their hospitality. It is probable that many if not most, of the meals they ate were prepared by those faithful women.

Ministering translates diakoneō, which has the basic meaning of serving and is the verb form of the noun from which deacon is derived. Although the feminine form of the term was not used to describe a specific type of ministry until many years later in the early church, if at all (see Rom. 16:1, where “servant” could be translated “deaconess”), those ministering women were, in effect, the first deaconesses.

Throughout the Old Testament, godly women are acclaimed. The psalmist extolled the Lord by declaring that “He makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children. Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 113:9). And even apart from the possible office of deaconess, the role of women in the early church centered in their faithfulness as wives and mothers and in their practical care for fellow believers. The kind of elderly widow Paul declared was worthy of support by the church was one who has “a reputation for good works, … has brought up children, … has shown hospitality to strangers, … washed the saints feet, … assisted those in distress, and … devoted herself to every good work (1 Tim. 5:10: cf. Luke 4:39; 10:40).

Far from being spiritually demeaning, such self-giving acts of practical helpfulness are a mark of womanly excellence and spiritual maturity–a truth Jesus had a very difficult time teaching the disciples (see John 13:3–16).

The ministry of godly women has always been of great significance in the church. Those women by the cross were the primary believing eyewitnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion, and a woman was the first person to see the Lord after His resurrection. Those faithful women certainly would have had a special place of respect and affection in the early church. When the apostles were first preaching the gospel and testifying of their experiences with Jesus, it is hard to imagine that they did not frequently acknowledge the courage and devotion of those women-who remained with the Lord during His time of agony and death, while they, His specially chosen and trained men, had fled and were hiding out in some obscure part of Jerusalem.

Through His direction of Matthew’s pen, the Holy Spiritidentifies some of those godly women by name. The first is Mary Magdalene, the one from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons (Luke 8:2). Magdalene was not part of her family name but simply indicated she was from the town of Magdala, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, just south of Capernaum. She probably was identified in that way because she was unmarried and could not be identified by her husband or sons, as was the common practice in that day.

The second woman mentioned is Mary the mother of James and Joseph. This James was one of the apostles and was commonly referred to as James the Less (Mark 15:40) or James the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3; Acts 1:13) to distinguish him from the other James, who, with Peter and his brother John, constituted the inner circle of the Twelve. John identifies this Mary as the wife of Clopas” (John 19:25), apparently a variant of Alphaeus.

The third woman is identified as Salome by Mark (15:40) but is referred to by Matthew simply as the mother of the sons of Zebedee, in other words, Zebedee’s wife. The sons of Zebedee were James and John (Matt. 4:21) and were nicknamed by Jesus “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). From John’s gospel we learn that Mary the mother of Jesus was also at the cross (19:26), although she may not have been with the other women at this time.

The first of the three women Matthew mentions was not married, the second was identified by her children, and the third by her husband. The implication seems to be that divine dignity is bestowed on all categories of womanhood. God has a marvelous and blessed role for women He has gifted with singleness, for women who are faithful mothers, and for women who are faithful wives. And perhaps in order not to suggest a secondary rank for the single woman or for the formerly wicked woman, Mary Magdalene is here named first.

Conspicuously absent from the scene at the cross were the Twelve, except for John. Judas had committed suicide, and the other ten were hiding for fear of their lives. During their Lord’s greatest time of need, they had temporarily violated the basic principle of discipleship. “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me,” Jesus said, “is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:38). At this time the disciples not only did not have the courage to risk bearing their own crosses but did not even have the courage to stand with their Lord as He bore His.[2]


The Faithful Women (27:55, 56)

Special mention is made of the women who had faithfully ministered to the Lord, and who had followed Him all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome, the wife of Zebedee, were there. The fearless devotion of these women stands out with special luster. They remained with Christ when the male disciples ran for their lives![3]


55–56 Along with the soldiers, certain women, generally not highly regarded in Jewish society, watched to the bitter end. They kept their distance, whether through timidity or modesty. Though last at the cross, they were first at the tomb (28:1). Not only do they provide continuity to the narrative, but they prove that God has chosen the lowly and despised things of the world to shame the wise and strong (cf. 1 Co 1:27–31). These women were Galileans who often traveled with the disciples to care for Jesus’ needs out of their own resources (cf. Lk 8:2–3).

Comparison of the lists of names in Matthew, Mark (15:40), and John (19:25) produces these results:

Matthew

 

Mark

 

John

 

Mary Magdalene

 

Mary Magdalene

 

Jesus’ mother

 

Mary the mother of James and Joses

 

Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses

 

Jesus’ mother’s sister

 

Mother of Zebedee’s sons

 

Salome

 

Mary the wife of Clopas

 

Mary Magdalene

 

If we make two assumptions—(1) that John’s second entry is distinguished from his third (i.e., they are not in apposition) and (2) that John’s list of four includes the list of three in Matthew and Mark—then certain things become probable. First, the mother of Zebedee’s sons was called Salome, unless a different woman is here introduced. Second, if Mary the mother of James and Joseph (or Joses) is Jesus’ mother (cf. 13:55), then Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene appear on all three lists. That would make Salome Jesus’ mother’s sister—his aunt on his mother’s side. Others suppose that Mary the wife of Clopas is the mother of James and Joses, who are not Jesus’ half brothers. Yet the result still equates Salome and Jesus’ aunt on his mother’s side. Although none of this is certain, it would help explain 20:20.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 27:54–55). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1310). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 652). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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