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Courage comes in different forms. There is physical courage where you are willing to do something physical that could cause you harm. Like jumping into a pool to save a little child who can’t swim or putting yourself in harm’s way to protect someone else. Then there’s emotional courage which means you face your emotions head on without running away or using some addiction to kill the pain. Social courage is the strength to stand up for what you believe, for your principles, and to stand up for others even when it is risky.
There are three women in the New Testament who were very courageous. We don’t know a lot about them, but I sense these were very usual women who were willing to take risks. We first read about them in Luke 8:
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means (Luke 8:1 – 3).
The three names we are given are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. These women—along with many others—were devoted followers of Jesus Christ. And no wonder! Jesus had cured them of evil spirits and diseases. They knew he was worthy of their devotion because of what he had done for them. And so, in a world that was misogynistic, strongly prejudiced against women, and where women had very little rights and certainly little influence, these women decided to follow Jesus and there was no turning back.
Consider Mary Magdalene. We know she had been delivered from seven demons. It’s not easy for us today to understand what that was like, but no doubt Mary Magdalene had lived a life of torment. Who knows what things she had to suffer while possessed by seven demons?
Further in Luke 8 we are told of a man named Legion who was possessed by even more demons, and his behavior gives us some insight into the life of a demon-possessed person in that day (Luke 8: 26-39). He was driven to the outskirts of the city where he would have episodes of rage, and no one could stop him. They forced him to live in caves and chained him down, but nothing worked. Everyone had given up on him and no one came near. Then Jesus delivered him from those horrific demons and turned this demon-possessed man into a disciple—an evangelist.
For Mary Magdalene, no doubt she was isolated, even feared because of her unusual behavior. We don’t know how long she lived like this but try to imagine living under the control of demons, causing you to do and say things that were terrible, scary, resulting in no friends, no support group, no help and no hope. Tormented by demons, looked down upon by society, she was a true outcast.
But Jesus. Oh, if those aren’t two of the most powerful words when put together. But Jesus. Jesus set her free and totally changed her world. She followed Jesus, literally, walking behind him and the twelve disciples as they made their way through the land. I’m certain she shared her story with any who would listen, telling how Jesus had delivered her. She had the courage to face the gossip, the skepticism, the derision of others who knew her before, and stand up for who she was now.
Maybe you can relate to that. You may not have had seven demons, but you had besetting sin. You may have struggled and suffered, but the grace of our Lord finally broke in. He saved you, just as he is saving all those who follow him. Do you have the courage to share your story? Have you made it known that you are following Jesus, no turning back? That takes courage but if you have a story of redemption to tell, believe me there are many people all around you who need to hear it. People you live with, people you work with, people you’ve known for years, strangers you just met. You can courageously tell them your story so that they have truth that could set them free.
And then there’s Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household. Joanna is married to a man in the upper eschelons of power and prestige: he managed Herod’s household. Herod, of course, was the Roman king of Judea, ruling over all the land of Israel for Rome. He did great things and at the same time, many horrible things. He was both brilliant and paranoid beyond belief. And Chuza managed his household. That had to be a huge job, managing lots of people, high expectations, lots of visibility, and many privileges. And somehow, some way his wife Joanna came to know and follow Jesus.
How easy was it for her to follow after Jesus? She made no secret of it but side by side with notorious Mary Magdalene, she declared her faith in Jesus of Nazareth and not only followed him and the disciples but paid a lot of their expenses. Think of the courage it took for her to step away from her husband’s job and her home, and declare her allegiance to this wandering new teacher, this strange man who was preaching things that were revolutionary, this man with no money, no name, no resources, no home—this man she chose to follow and support.
I’m thinking that took lots of courage in that day. Personally, for Joanna, I imagine this caused some alarm and objection in her home, her marriage, her circle of friends. Can’t you hear her husband asking why it was necessary to follow this crazy man and furthermore, to support him financially? But Joanna followed Jesus; Joanna was not ashamed to tell people what he had done for her.
Has there been a time in your life when you needed to take a stand for following Jesus, even when your family and friends were antagonistic or maybe unsupportive? It takes courage to do that, and Joanna was there with the other women, supporting them and the disciples and Jesus.
Susanna is named among these women but we are given no details about her. The fact that she is mentioned has to signify that she was a well-known follower of Jesus. She could have been young or in her senior years; she could have been single or married or widowed; she could have a large family or no family at all. The one thing we know about her is that she followed Jesus. Walking on dusty hot roads, traveling by foot, probably sleeping in tents mostly, since there were few hotels in those days, and giving of her means.
I keep imagining what it was like for these “many women” we read about in Luke 8. Certainly there were rabbis in that day who had their followers but they were all men who were studying the Torah and the teachings of their particular rabbi. That wasn’t unusual, but many women following this rabbi, Jesus, who had no credentials as a rabbi and his teachings were not like any other—that had to be a sight to behold. Not usual; probably very risky; no doubt many were critical of them, even suspicious. But they were courageous because Jesus had transformed their lives and they were his disciples.
We also know from the Gospels that Mary Magdalene and many other women were with Jesus on the road to Calvary. They witnessed his crucifixion; Mary was one of the first to see the empty tomb. She became one of the original evangelists, proclaiming that Jesus was alive. Can you imagine what courage that took—to tell people that this man who had been crucified and buried was now alive?
But Mary and Joanna and Susanna—and all those other unnamed women had been changed by Jesus—they could do no other but follow him. And I don’t think it was any easier for them to walk a path that was not the norm, not the assumed life for women in those days, to courageously declare their devotion to Jesus of Nazareth than it is for us today. In fact, women practically had no voice in that society, unlike us today.
So, as I look at these courageous women and think of what their lives must have been like, what brave choices they made to stand true to Jesus, what ridicule and rejection they must have endured, I am encouraged that as a woman today, a Christ-follower today, to have the same kind of courage they had. To never be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, at work, at home, in the public square, to have the God-given courage to stand true to Jesus because he has redeemed me and transformed the life of this Mary, just as he did for Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna.
Can you say, with the Apostle Paul:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).
And as he wrote to the new believers in Philippi:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then. . . I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel (Philippians1:27).
It takes courage to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. It takes supernatural courage to stand firm and strive together for the faith. But the great news is, we have that strength, that courage through our Lord Jesus Christ. You see, the great news of following Jesus is that he equips us to have supernatural courage. It doesn’t come from within ourselves; if it did, I would fail altogether.
Listen to these wonderful truths from God’s Word:
The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace (Psalm 29:11).
You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God! (Psalm 68:35).
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak (Isaiah 40:29).
I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).
Our strength comes from the Lord, and that is what gives us courage to stand firm, and when everything around us is falling apart, to keep on standing. So, take courage and keep on letting your world know that you have been transformed by Jesus Christ. He is worthy of our devotion and our courage no matter what we face.