Mark 15:40-41, 47 and 16:1

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 15

40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.

47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

Mark 16

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

It is said that Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem, “Mother o’ Mine,” in order to please his mother after the ending of one of his novels had disappointed her. It is a simple poem, but a powerful one about the lengths to which a mother’s love will go to reach her son. Kipling wrote:

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine![1]

Time and time again in human history has revealed the powerful extent to which a mother’s love will compel her. Most notably, we see it in Mary’s presence at the cross. But there is more. Mother is present at the cross with other women. Marks tells us of three women. But the presence of these women is not recorded simply for information’s sake. No, Mary, Jesus’ mother, and the other women tell us something powerful and important about the nature of discipleship and about what a true relationship with Jesus looks like.

The women at the cross remind us that the true disciple is not the famous disciple but rather the faithful disciple.

We begin with the mere presence of women at the cross. They are there and this matters. Here is how Mark tells it.

40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.

It has been widely observed that Luke is the gospel that focuses most strongly on the women followers of Jesus and women in general. Mark, however, is not so. In fact, it has been observed that if the only gospel we had was Mark we would likely not know that Jesus had had women disciples all along the way. In saying this, I am not saying that Mark dishonors women. On the contrary, knowing Mark’s artistry in writing his gospel, it is likely that he has largely left them out of his account of the life of Jesus until this point in order to heighten the significance of their role. Their emergence from fifteen chapters of near silence heightens the drama of their presence and, as we will see, makes a strong statement about what discipleship truly is.

First, though, who are these women? Mark mentions three women:

  • Mary Magdalene
  • Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses
  • Salome

Identifying these names can be a bit tricky because, as Joel Marcus observes, “about half of the Jewish women in Palestine in the Second Temple and Mishnaic periods bore these names.”[2]

There is no real question about the identity of Mary Magdalene and we will consider her in some detail a bit later.  The second Mary is the most interesting. She is mentioned as the Mother of James and of Joses. The interesting question surrounding this Mary is whether or not this is Mary, the mother of Jesus. I believe it is. In Mark 6 Mary is mentioned along with her sons and daughters, the siblings of Jesus.

1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

When you compare the names mentioned in Mark 6 and Mark 15 you find that the two sons mentioned in Mark 15 are in the exact same order as the first two sons mentioned in Mark 6.

Mark 6:3          Mark 15:40

Mary                Mary

James             James

Joses              Joses

Judas

Simon

The reason some question whether or not the Mary of Mark 15 is the Mary of Mark 6 (who is clearly the mother of Jesus) is because it feels unusual to us that the mother of Jesus would be identified by the names of his two siblings as opposed to being identified simply as Jesus’ mother. But Robert Gundry offers a good explanation when he writes:

The sons of the next Mary have the names of the first two of Jesus’ four brothers as listed in 6:3, and in the same order as there. Since 6:3 also gives the name Mary to Jesus’ mother, it seems likely that one and the same Mary was mother to Jesus, James, and Joses…Mark identifies her as the mother of Jesus’ first two brothers rather than of Jesus himself…probably because the centurion has just identified Jesus as God’s Son and Mark does not want Mary’s being the mother of Jesus to lessen the emphasis in this passage on his divine sonship…Mark describes James as “the little” in reference to 6:3, i.e., as younger than his brother Jesus even though listed here before his brother Joses as though he (James) were the oldest son of Mary…The fact that “Joses” is a by-form of “Joseph”…suits a son of Joseph and Mary the mother of Jesus; i.e., Joses was named after his father (as often happened—see, e.g., Luke 1:59).[3]

Furthermore, we know that Mary the mother of Jesus was present at the cross because Jesus will entrust her to John’s care in John 19:26-27.  As for the other woman, Salome, Matthew observes, without naming her, that “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” was present (Matthew 27:56). So it is possible that Salome is the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

These women are present, though at “a distance.” But they are there. Thus, it is here and now that Mark chooses to reveal the presence of women. What is significant is not only their presence but the disciples’ (with the exception of John) absence. Simply put, while the male disciples hide, the female disciples are present. Yes, we know that John was present at the cross beside Mary, at least for a moment, but he is not mentioned here. Regardless, it must be said the women at the cross represent a genuine contrast to the men.

Ben Witherington makes the fascinating observation that “we may say that the three named women present the alternative to the three named men, the inner circle, for they are faithful to the last.”[4] What an indictment! Peter, James, and John are present on the Mount of Transfiguration in the moment of glory, but it is Mary, Mary, and Salome who are present at Mount Calvary in the moment of need.

As it turns out, women followers had been with Jesus since Galilee, as not only Mark, but also Matthew and Luke reveal.

Matthew 27

55 There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Luke 23

48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

In other words, while Jesus certainly appears to have had moments with only the twelve, His path was consistently populated by women disciples. They were present since Galilee but, unlike the male disciples, they were present here too. All of this points to a fundamental truth about discipleship: the true disciple is not the famous disciple but rather the faithful disciple. The twelve are in the foreground of the story of Jesus all throughout the gospels, but they recede into the background here as the women move forward. They are here while the famous twelve are almost completely absent.

Be these women! Have this kind of courage! Do not seek a name! Rather, seek Christ above all! Do not seek advancement and do not need to be known. It is enough to be faithful to the Lord Jesus. The unknown faithful disciple is the true champion of the Kingdom.

The women at the cross remind us that discipleship built on service is more solid than discipleship built on mere confession and visibility.

There is something else in Mark’s description of these women that points to the nature of true discipleship.

41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.

Do you see it? These women “followed him and ministered to him.” Peter had his great moment of confession in Matthew 16:16—“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” He had his great confession, but he was absent from the cross! None of these women have their great moment of verbal confession recorded, but they do not need to. They are at the cross. What we do know about them is that they served, they ministered to the Lord Jesus.

In other words, their lives of service better equipped them than mere confession. There was a discipleship of service, not talk, and, when the time came for the great stand, they were there. They had a strong foundation! Ronald Kernaghan has assessed the significance of this description of service in quite a beautiful way.

Watching the crucifixion from the distance were the only followers of Jesus who stayed with him to the end, a group of women who had cared for his needs during his ministry in Galilee…The Greek verb translated cared for his needs (15:41) is the same word Mark uses to describe the ministry of the angels to Jesus in the wilderness (1:13) and the word Jesus used to describe the mission of the son of Man (10:45)—diakoneo (“to serve”)…It is surely no accident that the women are described here for the first time in the language of discipleship. They followed Jesus. In the hierarchy of first-century Galilean life their presence had gone unnoticed. Now that delusions of power and glory had led the men to desert Jesus, however, the women who had followed him remained. …The men’s affection for Jesus was tainted by their ambition. When their dreams crumbled to dust, they ran away. The women, whose affection was expressed in acts of service, remained.[5]

How about you? Upon what foundation is your relationship with Jesus built? Do you serve the Lord or do you merely sing and speak about Him? Is your foundation one of active obedience and action or one of talk? The former will stand when it is time for a price to be paid. The latter will be in hiding.

The women at the cross are there to remind us that the true disciple is the one who is keenly aware of what Jesus has saved her from.

Then there is the example of one of the women in particular, Mary Magdalene. She is a consistent presence in Mark’s account of the crucifixion and resurrection.

Mark 15

40a There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene…

47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

Mark 16

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

Mary’s presence is important. Why was she there? Why was she so tenacious in her presence? Luke tells us in Luke 8.

1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

Mary Magdalene was present when most others were missing because Mary had been so radically delivered by Jesus Christ. Her presence demonstrates that the true disciple is the one who is keenly aware of what Jesus has saved her from.

If awareness of great deliverance leads to great obedience and presence then what exactly does the absence of great obedience and presence say about our sense of having been delivered? Put another way, it is the one who knows he or she has been saved, who knows that Jesus is literally the difference between life and death, who is there, who is willing to pay the price, who does not have to be pressed or cajoled and guilted into standing beside the Lord Jesus when it costs to do so.

Are you silent when it would cost you to speak? Why? Does your heart not still burn with gratitude for Christ’s saving work? Are you absent when it would cost you to be present? Why? Has your affection for Christ in the light of His amazing sacrifice for you lessened? The women at the cross, and Mary Magdalene in particular, are there to remind us that the true disciple is the one who is keenly aware of what Jesus has saved her from.

Based on the seemingly casual and selective nature of our discipleship—which really is no discipleship at all—our hearts do not still burn with gratitude and our affection for Christ has lessened. If that is you, however, look to the women at the cross. They stand as silent sentinels against the complacently of a church age that seems close to forgetting its own story. They stand as distant but nonetheless real indictments of churchianity, the denigration of Christianity to weekly religious observances in a safe and sealed off environment. They serve as a challenge to our hiding and our fear. And they serve as a summons to greater discipleship, to actually being followers of King Jesus.

See them there. Learn the lesson that their presence teaches. See and learn and remember and come!

 

[1] http://www.bartleby.com/364/365.html

[2] Joel Marcus, Mark 8-16. The Anchor Bible. Vol.27A (New Haven, CT: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2009), p.1060.

[3] Robert H. Gundry, Mark. Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), p.977.

[4] Ben Witherington, III, The Gospel of Mark. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), p.401.

[5] Ronald J. Kernaghan, Mark. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Ed., Grant R. Osborne. Vol.2 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), p.335-336.

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