STEPHEN, First Christian Martyr

Stephen, traditionally regarded as the first martyr of Christianity, was, according to the Acts of the Apostles, a deacon in the early church at Jerusalem who aroused the hatred of members of various synagogues by his teachings.  Accused of blasphemy, at his trial he made a long speech, fiercely denouncing the Jewish authorities who were sitting in judgment on him… and was stoned to death.  His martyrdom was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus (later better known by his Roman name, Paul), a Pharisee who would later become a follower of Jesus and an apostle.

The only primary source of information about Stephen is the New Testament book of Acts.  Stephen was one of the Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jews selected for a fairer distribution of food to the Greek-speaking widows in Acts 6.

Background

Stephen is first mentioned in the book of Acts as 1 of 7 deacons appointed by the Apostles to distribute food and charitable aid to poorer members of the community in the early church (Acts 6:5).  Since another deacon, Nicolas of Antioch, is specifically stated to have been a convert to Judaism, it might be assumed that Stephen was born Jewish, but nothing more is known about his previous life.  The reason for the appointment of the deacons is stated to have been dissatisfaction among Hellenistic (Greek-influenced and Greek-speaking) Jews that their widows were being slighted in preference to Hebraic ones in distribution of food (and, possibly, alms) from the community funds.  Since the name “Stephen” is Greek, it has been assumed he was one of these Hellenistic Jews.  Stephen is stated to have been full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and to have performed miracles among the people (Acts 6:5,8).

LifeAPP:

Stephen was a doer.  But, more significant than what Stephen did was who he was!

Who we are is always more important than what we do.  Before we busy ourselves with serving God, we need to make sure we are in God’s will.

*  It is obvious to all when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.

It seems to have been among synagogues of Hellenistic Jews that he taught and performed “signs and wonders“, since it is said he aroused the opposition of the “Synagogue of the Freedmen“, and “of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of them that were of Cilicia and Asia” (Acts 6:9).  Members of these synagogues had challenged Stephen’s teachings, but Stephen had bested them in debate.  Furious at this humiliation, they paid off false witnesses to testify that Stephen had preached blasphemy against Moses and God, and dragged him to appear before the Sanhedrin, the supreme legal court of Jewish elders, accusing him of preaching against the Temple and the Mosaic Law (Acts 6:9-14).  Stephen was calm throughout, his face looking like “that of an angel“.

LifeAPP:

In the midst of the greatest crisis of his life, Stephen’s face was radiant!

Do you shine for Christ in a similar way?

Speech to Sanhedrin

In a long speech to the Sanhedrin, comprising almost all of Acts 7, Stephen presents his view of the history of Israel.  The God of glory, he says, appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia, thus establishing at the beginning of the sermon one of its major themes, that God does not dwell only in one particular building (meaning the Temple).  God was with Joseph, too, in Egypt.

Stephen recounts the stories of the patriarchs in some depth, and goes into even more detail in the case of Moses.  God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and inspired Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.  But, the Israelites turned to other gods.

This establishes the second main theme of Stephen’s speech, Israel’s disobedience to God.  Stephen was accused of declaring that Jesus would destroy the Temple in Jerusalem and of changing the customs of Moses, but his appeals to the Jewish scriptures prove how the laws of Moses were not subverted by Jesus but, instead, were being fulfilled.  He denounces his listeners as “stiff-necked” people who, just as their ancestors had done, resist the Holy Spirit.  “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him.”

The Stoning of Stephen

Scorned, the crowd could contain their anger no longer.  But Stephen, seemingly now oblivious to them, looked up and cried, “Look!  I see Heaven open, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:53). To the Sanhedrin, this claim that the recently executed Jesus was standing by the side of God (not sitting, as He is usually described in NT texts) was such intense blasphemy that they covered their ears so as not to hear it (Acts 7:54).  They rushed upon Stephen, drove him outside the city to the place appointed, and stoned him.  At this time, Jewish law permitted the death penalty by stoning for blasphemy.

The witnesses, whose duty it was to throw the first stones, laid their coats down to be able to do this, at the feet of a “young man named Saul“, later to be known as Paul the Apostle.  Stephen prayed that the Lord would receive his spirit and his killers be forgiven, sank to his knees, and “fell asleep“.  Saul “approved of their killing him“.

LifeAPP:

Stephen prayed that all those involved be forgiven.  I assume that included Saul.  Not even one of the greatest enemies of the church was beyond the kind of forgiveness Stephen prayed for.  God would prove this by the next chapter in Acts!

Regardless of who you are… or what you may have done, you are NOT beyond God’s forgiveness.  If God could forgive Saul, He can forgive you.  And if God could turn a Saul into Paul, He can certainly use you for the good of those around you!

Stephen’s death marked a crucial turning point for the church.  Not only was it the beginning of the first great persecution of believers, but it also set the stage for Saul to become one of its most important figures.

You can read Stephen’s story in Acts 6:3—8:2.

NICOLAS, Deacon of the Early Church

At a time when the church was comprised almost entirely of Jewish believers, its growing numbers brought tension between 2 groups: the Hellenistic Jews and the Hebraic Jews.  Hebraic Jews kept close ties to the Promised Land, its language, and its culture.  Hellenistic Jews were those who were influenced by Greek thought and language – most had been born far from Jerusalem.

LifeAPP:

What do you think some of the differences were?  Do you think maybe the Hebraic Jews thought of themselves as being more “legit” than the Hellenistic Jews were?

Within the church in Jerusalem, the Hellenistic Jews began to feel slighted… complaining that their widows were being excluded from the church’s regular food distributions.  The apostles, already stretched to capacity with their teaching responsibilities, appointed 7 men – Nicolas was one of them – to make sure ALL the church’s widows were cared for.

Most consider these to be the first “deacons”, but – while it seems they did the work of deacons – they are never referred to as “deacons”.

Judging by their Greek names, it seems all 7 were of Hellenistic background.  You can see why this might have been important.

Such selections would have won the trust of the Hellenistic Jews within the church.  But, Nicolas is given a descriptor… a “God-fearer“… a “proselyte” (convert from another ideology/faith)… a Gentile convert to Judaism, then Christianity.

Nicolas has the distinction of being the first Gentile Christian named in the New Testament.

He helped the church overcome one of its first practical hurdles.

His presence in the church, and his appointment to such an important role, was a signal that the gospel could not restricted to nationality or ethnicity.

Later, Nicolas’ home city of Antioch would become the frontline in the effort to spread the gospel among the Gentiles.

LifeAPP:

In what ways do people of your church differ from one another?

How/ why do differences cause friction?

What can you do to eliminate friction between people… even believers?

You can read the story of Nicolas in Acts 6:1-7.

GAMALIEL, Jewish Rabbi & Saul’s (Paul’s) Teacher

Rabbi Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel (famous teacher of Jewish law), was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the early 1st-century.

In Jewish Tradition

In the Talmud, Gamaliel is described as the president of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.  Gamaliel holds a reputation in the Mishnah for being one of the greatest teachers in all of Judaism.

In Christian Tradition

The book of Acts introduces Gamaliel as a Pharisee and a celebrated doctor of the Mosaic Law in Acts 5:34-40.

-  The Anger of the Sadducees  (Acts 5:17,18)

-  The Angel of the Lord  (Acts 5:19-21)

-  The Astonishment of the Jailers  (Acts 5:22-26)

-  The Accusation by the Sanhedrin  (Acts 5:27,28)

-  The Answer by the Apostles  (Acts 5:29-32)

-  The Advice by Gamaliel  (Acts 5:33-42)

*  The Counsel  (v.33-37)

a)  His Identity  (v.33,34)  He was a highly-respected Pharisee.

b)  His Illustrations  (v.35-37)  He gave the example of 2 unsuccessful spiritual revolts in past days: Theudas (who pretended to be great, and had 400 followers; after he was killed, his followers scattered), and Judas of Galilee (who was killed, and his followers scattered).

*  The Conclusion  (v.38,39)  Gamaliel’s advice to “wait and see” was accepted after his concluding argument.

*  The Consensus  (v.40)

*  The Commitment  (v.41,42)

The book of Acts later goes on to describe Paul, recounting that – although “born in Tarsus” – he was brought up in Jerusalem “at the feet of Gamaliel, (and) taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers“; see Acts 22:3.

-  Gamaliel’s training gave Paul a solid religious foundation… teaching everything short of Jesus as the Messiah.

-  Gamaliel’s training gave Paul a solid Old Testament foundation.

-  Gamaliel’s training gave Paul an understanding of the Law… and how it’s deficiencies pointed to the need for Christ.

Imagine the influence Gamaliel had on Paul… on our New Testament… and on our doctrine!

Gamaliel may have been present at the trials of Jesus… though he is never mentioned by name.  He certainly would have been aware… and would have known who Jesus was and how His life ended.

Some traditions hold that Gamaliel openly professed Jesus after the biblical account of him ends.

Some traditions hold that Gamaliel secretly professed Jesus after the biblical account of him ends.

The Bible is silent concerning whether or not he ever professed Jesus as the Messiah.

LifeAPP:

God finds His advocates… even allies… in unusual places.  He works His will in amazing ways, and sometimes uses even those who might be antagonistic toward Him in ways that work for His purpose.

Our God is a BIG God!

You can read the biblical account of Gamaliel’s story in Acts 5:34-40; 22:3.

BARNABAS/Joseph, Encouraging Co-Worker with Paul

His Hellenistic Jewish parents called him Joseph.

31AD

Joseph was a Levite, a native of Cyrpus, where he owned land. He sold his land, giving the proceeds to the church in Jerusalem; Acts 4:36,37. The apostles gave him the name Barnabas… “Son of Encouragement”.

LifeAPP:

If people in your church gave you a nickname, what would it be?

34AD

When Paul returned to Jerusalem after his conversion, Barnabas took him to the apostles and introduced him to them; Acts 9:27. It is supposed they had been fellow students in the school of Rabbi Gamaliel.

LifeAPP:

Barnabas stood up for – and with – Paul, when others were not so sure about him. Imagine what might have happened – or not happened – concerning the mission activity of the early church had Barnabas not given this support and encouragement.

Who could you stand with today? You might never know the difference it would make…

40AD

The prosperity of the church at Antioch led the apostles and the church at Jerusalem to send Barnabas to check it out. He found the work so extensive and weighty, he went to Tarsus in search of Paul, “an admirable colleague”, to assist him. Paul returned with him to Antioch and labored with him for a whole year there; Acts 11:25,26.

LifeAPP:

A good mentor helps build a good disciple.

44AD

Barnabas & Paul were sent back to Jerusalem from Antioch, with the contributions Antioch had collected for the poorer members of the Jerusalem church.

46AD

Shortly after they retuned, bringing John Mark (Barnabas’ cousin) with them, they were appointed as missionaries to Asia Minor, and, on this “first missionary journey of Paul”, they visited Cyprus and some of the principal cities of Pamphylia, Pisidia, & Lycaonia; Acts 13:14.

48AD

Paul began to grow more popular than Barnabas; he begin to be more known for his Roman name (Paul) than his Jewish name (Saul), and, instead of “Barnabas & Saul” we now read of “Paul & Barnabas”; Acts 13:9,16; 14:8,9,19,20.

LifeAPP:

What humility… to be willing to take a backseat, to step out of the stoplight, to play second fiddle. But, Paul would never have been who he was without Barnabas!

49AD

Returning from this first missionary journey, Paul & Barnabas were again sent up to Jerusalem to consult with the church there regarding the relation of Gentiles to the church (the Jerusalem Council); Acts 15:2; Gal. 2:1.

According to Gal. 2:9,10, Barnabas was included with Paul in the agreement, on the one hand, and James, Peter & John, on the other, that the 2 former should, in the future, preach to the pagans, not forgetting the poor at Jerusalem. This matter having been settled, they returned again to Antioch, bringing the agreement of the council that Gentiles were to be admitted into the church.

50AD

After Paul & Barnabas had returned to Antioch from the Jerusalem Council, and after spending some time there (Acts 15:35), Paul asked Barnabas to go with him on a second missionary journey; Acts 15:36. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along again, but Paul did not… because John Mark had left them on their first missionary journey; Acts 15:37,38. The dispute ended with Paul & Barnabas splitting up, taking separate routes of ministry. Paul took Silas as his companion, and journeyed through Syria & Cilicia; while Barnabas took John Mark to visit Cyprus; Acts 15:36-41.

55AD

Barnabas is not mentioned again by Luke in the book of Acts. But, in Gal. 2:13, a little more is learned of him; he followed Peter’s example of not eating with the Gentiles… and, in 1Cor. 9:6, that he continued his work as a missionary.

It is believed his argument – and relationship – with Paul was resolved.

LifeAPP:

Imagine failing at the source of your greatest strength…. Even the most faithful aren’t perfect… and they admit it!

61AD

Church tradition describes the martyrdom of many believers… including Barnabas. Evidently, certain Jews went to Syria & Salamis, where Barnabas was then preaching the gospel. They grew exasperated at his success. They confronted him in the synagogue, drug him out, and, after a series of inhumane tortures, they stoned him to death.

His kinsman, John Mark, who was witness to this death, privately interred his body.

You can read the story of Barnabas throughout the early church accounts, but he is mentioned specifically in Acts 4:36,37; 9:27; 11:25,26; 13:14,16; 14:8,9,19,20; 15:2; Galatians 2:1,9,10; Acts 15:36-41; Galatians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 9:6.

MATTHIAS, Disciple Chosen to Replace Judas

Matthias was the disciple chosen by the remaining 11 apostles to replace Judas Iscariot as an apostle, following Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and suicide. His calling as an apostle is unique in that his appointment was not made personally by Jesus, who had already ascended to Heaven, and, it was made before the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the early church.

- The First Church Business Meeting? (Acts 1:16-26)

I. Regarding the Defection of Judas (v.16-20)

II. Regarding the Election of Matthias (v.21-26)

* The Conditions (v.21,22)

* The Candidates (v.23)

In the days following the Ascension of Jesus, the gathered disciples, who numbered about 120, nominated 2 men to replace Judas: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) & Matthias.

* The Counsel (v.24,25)

They prayed, then they cast lots.

* The Choice (v.26)

The lots fell on Matthias; so he was added to the apostles. The apostles used God-given wisdom to narrow the choices to 2 good men, then handed the final decision over to God.

No further information about Matthias is given in the New Testament.

- According to Nicephorus, Matthias first preached the Gospel in Judea, then in Aethopia (modern-day Georgia [the country, not the state]), and was stoned to death there.

- The Synopsis of Dorotheus says this: “Matthias preached the gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbor of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.”

- An extant Coptic Acts of Andrew and Matthias, places his activity similarly in “the city of the cannibals” in Aethiopia.

- Another tradition maintains Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem by the Jews, and then beheaded.

- According to Hippolytus of Rome, Matthias died of old age in Jerusalem… ca. 80AD.

So, from what little we know of Matthias, we learn these truths:

1) He had been a faithful, long-term follower of Jesus.

2) Being chosen to serve does not guarantee a position of prominence.

3) Whoever we are – and whatever we accomplish – is all due to the grace of God and for the glory of God.

LifeAPP:

Are you being faithful today in following Christ?

Are you willing to serve in anonymity and do things others might never know about? If you are rewarded with more, it will be because you have been faithful with less.

You can read the story of Matthias in Acts 1:21-26.

LUKE, Gospel Writer & Paul’s Traveling Companion

Surprisingly, little is known about the man who wrote a quarter of the New Testament.  What is known is that Luke brought his own unique set of skills to bear – including his expertise as a doctor and his sharp eye for detail – in writing an account of the life of Jesus and the early church.

Luke the Evangelist is 1 of the 4 Evangelists - the 4 authors of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, John).  Luke was a native of the Hellenistic city of Antioch in Syria.  He authored both the Gospel according to Luke and the book of Acts of the Apostles, which originally formed a single literary work, referred to as Luke-Acts.

The composition of the writings, as well as the range of vocabulary used, indicate that the author was an educated man.  It seems Luke was a Gentile.  If this were true, it would make Luke the only writer of the New Testament who can clearly be identified as not being Jewish.

Luke was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry.  At the beginning of his Gospel, he described himself as a researcher who “carefully investigated everything” (Luke 1:3).

Luke was friends with the apostle Paul.  Beginning with Paul’s 2nd missionary journey, the 2 men became traveling companions… indicated off and on by the pronoun “we”.  As such, Luke witnessed firsthand many of the incidents recorded in the book of Acts.  He may have suffered imprisonment and persecution alongside Paul.  He was there with Paul when a ship bound for Crete broke apart, nearly drowning everyone on board.  Some believe he put his medical training to use quite often, such as when Paul was bitten by a snake on the island of Malta.  In fact, it was probably an occasion of providing medical treatment in which Luke met Paul.

Luke was part doctor, part historian, part adventurer – but most of all, he was a dedicated, articulate, compelling advocate for the Good News of Jesus Christ.

LifeAPP:

Luke approached his writing of his Gospel with the same care that he approached his practice of medicine.

He served God with excellence in every part of his life.  Do you?

Consider the man who spends hours preparing a report for work, but only 30 minutes preparing his Sunday school lesson.  Consider the woman who wouldn’t dream of skipping her weekly “hair appointment”, but is “just too tired” or “too busy” to get to church many Sundays.  What kind of priorities are these?

If we are going to serve God – whether through writing as Luke did, leading a small group, teaching a class, volunteering to keep the church building clean, or working in the nursery – we need to serve with excellence.

*  God is worthy of the best we have to offer.

Luke became a disciple of Paul and later followed Paul until his (Paul’s) martyrdom.  Having served the Lord continuously, unmarried and without children, filled with the Holy Spirit he died at the age of 84 years.

You can read Luke’s style reflected in the Gospel that bears his name; his story reflected in the book of Acts; but, in particular, in Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1; 16-28; Colossians 4:14; 2Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24.

MARK/JOHN MARK, Gospel Writer

-  Mark/John Mark was the son of Mary, a woman of wealth and position in Jerusalem; see Acts 12:5-12.

Historians claim the “upper room” was in this same house.  So, Mark would have had first-hand access – and possibly was witness – to the Last Supper, the appearance of Jesus to the 10 apostles on Easter night, the appearance by Jesus to the 11 apostles a week later, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, etc.  It seems this home – the home Mark lived in – had become the nerve center of the early church/  It is believed Mark 14:13 speaks of Mark (14:12-16).

-  Mark was a close friend (and possibly convert) of Peter; see 1Peter 5:13.

He became 1 of the 70 Disciples, being among the first followers of Jesus.

See Mark 14:51,52; it is believed Mark is speaking of himself.

- According to the historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, Herod Agrippa 1, in his first year of reign over all of Judea (41AD), killed James, son of Zebedee, and arrested Peter, planning to kill him after the Passover.  Peter was miraculously rescued by angels, and escaped (Acts 12:1-19).  Peter went to Antioch, the  through Asia Minor (visiting the churches mentioned in 1 Pet. 1:1), and arrived in Rome in the second year of Emperor Claudius (42AD); it seems John Mark went with Peter.  It was probably during this time that Mark wrote down sermons and stories told by Peter, thus composing the Gospel of Mark.

Mark’s Gospel was probably the first Gospel written.  Much of it seems to have come from Peter’s firsthand telling.

-  Barnabas was Mark’s cousin; see Col. 4:10.

He had the rare privilege of going with Paul and Barnabas on the 1st missionary journey (Acts 13:5) (46AD).  But, it seems – when things got tough – Mark decided to pack up and go back home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).

Later, when Paul & Barnabas were planning their 2nd missionary journey, Paul was determined Mark should not go with them (Acts 15:36-41) (49AD).

-  Fortunately, Mark’s story doesn’t end there.  Barnabas, the great encourager, took Mark with him to Cyprus on a missionary tour of his own.  As part of this trip, Mark founded the Church of Alexandria.  He is considered the founder of Christianity in Africa.

-  Apparently, this second opportunity for Mark to show himself faithful paid off, because, 12 years later (61AD), as Paul wrote his letters to the Colossians & Philemon, he referred to Mark as his fellow worker; see Col. 4:10; Phil. 1:24.

And, some of the last words we have from Paul (66AD) have Paul requesting John Mark to come to be with him; see 2Tim. 4:11.

LifeAPP:

Mark/John Mark is a shining example of the power of God to redeem failed disciples.  Our God is the God of second chances!

*  Failure in life does not mean the end of usefulness.

You can read Mark’s story throughout the New Testament; 1Peter 5:13; Mark 14:13,51,52; Acts 12:5-12; 13:1-5,36-41; Colossians 4:10; Philippians 1:24; 2Timothy 4:11.

CLEOPAS, Traveler to Emmaus w/ Jesus

I.  The Reunion with Jesus  (Luke 24:13-16)

Two believers, leaving Jerusalem, are joined by Jesus on the road back to their home in Emmaus, 7 miles from Jerusalem.  They had evidently been in Jerusalem for the Passover, and had their weekend turned upside-down by the crucifixion of Jesus.

“Two of them…”.  Disciples?  Two men?  Husband and wife?  Was Cleopas’ wife one of the women who went to the tomb early that morning?  Cleopas’ name, in Latin, is “Alpheus; was he the father of “James, the son of Alphaeus”, an apostle?

-  Their Discussion  (v.13,14)  They talked about the crucifixion and related events.

-  Their Darkness  (v.15,16)  Neither of these 2 recognized they were talking with Jesus.

II.  The Request from Jesus  (Luke 24:17)

Jesus asked them why they were so sad.

III.  The Reply to Jesus  (Luke 24:18-24)

-  They Told Jesus Their Problem  (v.18-21)

A recap of Jesus’ life and ministry.  “We were hoping...”  The crucifixion had shattered their hopes that Jesus was the Messiah; after all, a Messiah couldn’t be killed like that, could He?

-  They Told Jesus of Their Puzzle  (v.22-24)

Some women had said they found the tomb empty, and were told by 2 angels that Jesus had risen!

IV.  The Rebuke by Jesus  (Luke 24:25-27)

-  Their Ignorance of the Scriptures  (v.25)

-  His Interpretation of the Scriptures  (v.26,27)

Jesus reviewed for them the Old Testament passages that referred to Him.

V.  The Recognition of Jesus  (Luke 24:28-35)

-  The Meal  (v.28-31a)

*  The Invitation  (v.28,29)

The two disciples invited Jesus to stay with them and eat.

*  The Revelation  (v.30,31a)

After Jesus prayed, He passed them the bread.  That’s when they recognized Him!  Something in the way He gave thanks… or broke the bread… or possibly seeing the nail-prints in His hands… gave Him away.

-  The Miracle  (v.31b)  Jesus suddenly disappeared from their sight!

-  The Meditation  (v.32)  They discussed between themselves what they had just experienced.

-  The Mission  (v.33-36)

The two disciples went back to Jerusalem to report to the apostles what had happened.

While they were telling the apostles, Jesus appeared to them – and 10 of the apostles – while they were there, too!

Cleopas and his traveling companion… ordinary, unknown disciples… are the only 2 Jesus appeared to two times on Resurrection Day!

LifeAPP:

If Jesus were to suddenly step into your life…without warning or announcement… just walking beside you as you were going where you were going, how soon would you be able to recognize Him?  What would give Him away?  Do you know Jesus well enough to recognize those things about Him that might mark Him for who He is?

For Cleopas and his traveling companion, they knew enough about Jesus to eventually recognize it was Him without Him announcing Himself to them.  It may have taken them several hours, but the light eventually turned on.  Would yours?

*  Stay alert for Jesus with you.

You can read the story of Cleopas in Luke 24:13-36.

JOANNA, Woman Who Supported Jesus’ Ministry

Joanna (“Yahweh Has Been Gracious”) is a woman mentioned in Luke’s writings.  She was healed by Jesus (either healed of a disease or infirmity, or exorcised by a demon), and later supported Him and His disciples in their travels.  She was the wife of Chuza, who managed the household of Herod Antipas, the king of Galilee.  Being the wife of Chuza, she must have been wealthy and powerful… at least compared to other women in 1st-century Palestine.  This also means her husband was directly connected to the very man who had John the Baptizer put to death, and who played a part in Jesus’ death.

Yet, she followed Jesus faithfully… and provided for Him and His apostles financially.

She witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion… and was among the first to be told by angels of Jesus’ resurrection.  Joanna is among a group of women who are the first resurrection witnesses, along with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and other women; Luke 24:10.  These women went to the apostles who thought their testimony about the risen Lord was nonsense, though Peter and some others decided to go to the tomb to look for themselves.

Joanna has been named a “saint”  by the Catholic Church.

Some scholars link Joanna with “Junia”, who is mentioned by Paul in Rom. 16:7.  Paul says Junia was famous among the apostles, and that she was in the Lord before him (Paul)… which would have been prior to 34AD.

An ossuary (coffin) has been discovered, bearing the inscription, “Johanna, granddaughter of Theophilus, the High Priest”.  It’s possible this was this Joanna.

If Joanna had been a man, she would have been considered a celebrity among the early followers of Jesus:

- She had access to Herod’s palace.

- She had money and resources… and possibly lived a lifestyle that matched.

Yet, she is known for her connection with Jesus:

- She (and other women) helped meet the needs of Jesus and His traveling group.

- She was among the women who heard and saw firsthand that Jesus was risen from the dead.

LifeAPP:

It is almost as if Joanna lived dual lives; not contradictory lives, but parallel lives.  If so, she was known – and is remembered – for her life connected with Jesus.

What about you?  You balance home life and work life.  You balance private life and public life.  You may even be trying to balance a secular life with a spiritual life.  But… which part of life are you most known for?

You can read Joanna’s story in Luke 8:2,3; 24:1-10; Acts 1:2,3.

MARY, Witness to the Resurrection, Mother of James & Joses/Joseph

Mary is identified in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) as one of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb after He was buried. Along with Joanna & Salome, she is recognized as 1 of the 3 “myrrhbearers” by the Lutheran Church.

There are 5 passages generally agreed to refer to this Mary (of the several mentioned in the New Testament):

- Matthew 27:55,56; Mark 15:40,47… describing the Crucifixion.

- Mark 16:1… leading up to the Resurrection.

- Luke 24:10… following the Resurrection.

If you were asked to name the followers of Jesus, you would probably first try to name as many of the apostles as you could. But, there were more disciples than that. What about women? If you were to say the name “Mary”, you would probably be safe… there were several:

- Mary, the mother of Jesus

- Mary the Magdalene

- Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha & Lazarus

- Mary, wife of Cleopas

- Mary, mother of James & Joses/Joseph

- Mary, mother of John Mark

What do we know of Mary, the mother of James & Joses? Not much…

- She may have been one of the women mentioned earlier in the Gospels… one of the many women miraculously healed by Jesus.

- She was probably a woman of wealth… and possibly supported Jesus’ ministry behind the scenes.

- She was willing to be openly, obviously, associated with Jesus.

Following Jesus’ death, there were 2 women named Mary – Mary Magdalene & this Mary – who went to His tomb to anoint the body and finish the preparations for permanent burial. They stepped out into the open, possibly – surely? – risking arrest and persecution, while the 12 apostles stayed hidden.

Because of their courage, they became the first witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. They, then, ran to tell the apostles the unbelievably good news.

LifeAPP:

Not much is known of this Mary. She is one of the many disciples of Jesus who goes virtually unknown. Did that make her unimportant? Obviously not!

You may, at times, feel not much is known of you; you’re just one of the many disciples of Jesus who goes virtually unknown. Does that make you unimportant? Definitely not!

Be faithful today to do your part… that which God has given only you to do.

* God’s applause is the only applause that really matters!

You can read the story of this Mary in Matthew 27:55,56; Mark 15:40,47; 16:1; Luke 24:10.