Chapter 20 – The Greatest Woman in Scripture

Biblical scholars have debated for centuries whether the Luke 7 repentant sinner, Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany (Lazarus’ sister) are one, two, or three distinct persons. Please note that for the sake of grammatical simplicity, I sometimes refer to all of three of them as a singular “Mary” in this chapter, although I am not necessary advocating that view. Regardless, they collectively portray a breathtaking picture of godly femininity that also serves as an example to men as well.


Mary was the feminine embodiment of the truth, there is no fear in love. Fear is one of the most controlling forces in life – such as the fear of having things exposed that we are ashamed of or the fear of being ridiculed or rejected. Many people carefully arrange their entire lives to avoid facing such fears. Yet virtually every single time Mary is mentioned in scripture she is overcoming these fears because of her unstoppable drive to be near Jesus and express her love for Him. I am convinced Mary’s position in eternity will be one the greatest of anyone’s in scripture, including the apostles and prophets. Let’s look at her 4 primary appearances in scripture. 


Exposing Her Sin

In Luke 7 Jesus dined with a Pharisee named Simon who invited Him to his home. In the middle of the meal, a woman who was known to be a sinner, perhaps a prostitute, came into Simon’s home. She anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair as she wept with brokenness over her sins. Scholars point out that we don’t know for sure whether this woman was Mary Magdalene and/or Mary of Bethany (Lazarus’ sister). However, this act bears a striking resemblance to Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus just before His crucifixion. Plus, like this woman, Mary Magdalene came from a sordid past, having been delivered by Jesus from seven demons (Luke 8:2). Finally, at the end of the passage, Jesus identifies this woman by her immense love for Him, which is something Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany were also known for. Therefore, it is not surprising that many Bible teachers believe this was indeed Mary of Bethany and/or Mary Magdalene at the time of her conversion.


Imagine how vulnerable and embarrassing this act would have been for this woman if she had been self-aware… weeping uncontrollably and wiping Jesus’ feet while everyone just stared at her silently. To add to it, she was in the presence of a well-known spiritual leader in her community who she probably knew condemned her. Yet, she somehow didn’t care. She was so intent on expressing her brokenness to Jesus that she abandoned every semblance of discretion.


The single most destructive type of fear that plagues the human race, including the church, is the fear of having our sin exposed. This is the fear that keeps us hiding from God, buried under guilt, compelled to perform religious works to appease our consciences. However, the most foundational form of courage is the willingness to expose our sin, before God and others, so we can be set free. Mary, if it was her, embodied this courage. She did the opposite of what Adam did in the Garden and what mankind has instinctively done ever since. Instead of hiding from God because of her shame, she actively sought Him out and voluntarily exposed it.


Simon the Pharisee did not understand what was happening. At the same moment the woman was being set free from bondage, Simon manifested his bondage. He began to criticize her in his heart for being a sinner. Jesus, knowing his thoughts, came to her defense, saying “Her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much.”


Sitting At Jesus’ Feet

In Luke 10, Mary and Martha welcomed Jesus and His followers into their home in Bethany. This wasn’t an ordinary occasion – it was the biggest event in the history of the homestead. Their large group of guests included some of the most famous people in the nation – Jesus and His disciples. And it’s possible that many more of Jesus’ followers were present since the seventy he sent out to various cities had just returned to debrief with Him.


What an incredible burden of hospitality! Imagine the pressure and anxiety that Martha must have felt, and that Mary should have felt. Even in our culture, women can become extremely stressed with the preparations involved in entertaining guests. How much more would this have been the case in their culture, where a woman’s entire identity and social value came from her domestic life?


The weight of expectations for Mary to fulfill her hostess duties would have been enormous. But she disregarded them. Instead, she sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him teaching. To Martha and probably many others, this was inexcusable. But for Mary it was worth it. She valued the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet so highly that any amount of derision paled by comparison.


Jesus knew Mary’s heart and affirmed her choice. Martha, a godly woman, took offense and brought the matter to Jesus’ attention, sincerely expecting Him to stand up for her and correct Mary. Instead, He stood up for Mary and corrected Martha.


The fear of not living up to the expectations of family members, friends, employers, or one’s culture can be overwhelming. This fear can make it seem impossible to find time for the one thing in life that matters most – sitting quietly at Jesus’ feet and being changed by His presence. Mary is a model for overcoming this fear. She had courage to accept the scorn and criticism that is often associated with choosing heaven’s priorities over mans’. 


Are you beginning seeing a pattern? Mary is driven to do something inadvisable and courageous because of her passionate love for Jesus. Other believers ridicule her. Then Jesus stands up for her and rebukes those who rebuked her. Now watch the pattern continue.


Pouring Out Her Love

Shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion, in the middle of a meal, with her family members and all the disciples present, Mary of Bethany took a vial of perfume worth tens of thousands of dollars, broke it over Jesus’ head, anointed His feet, and wiped them with her hair (John 12, Mark 14, and Matthew 26). Again, imagine how vulnerable and embarrassing this would have been if Mary had been self-aware. To make matters worse, those present were indignant and scolded her, calling it a waste.


Perhaps Mary’s family members thought she was being dramatic and wanted to be the center of attention. Perhaps the disciples thought she was being self-righteous and holier-than-thou. However, Jesus knew her heart and He defended her. He was so moved and honored by her expression of love that He promised it would be told to every generation afterward for all time. This must have made everyone else’s criticism seem completely meaningless to Mary. She was only concerned about one Man’s approval.


Someone who pursues Jesus with all her heart and passion, without regard for appearances or reputation, may be ridiculed by other Christians, friends, and family members. She may be called too extreme or unbalanced. There’s nothing the world hates more than a Mary Magdalene and it is usually not difficult for this world’s rulers to find Christians to agree with their accusations. However, those who pursue Jesus like Mary are willing to endure it because the joy of having Jesus’ approval makes all the criticism seem meaningless by comparison.


The First Witness of the Resurrection

Finally, after Jesus was crucified, we once again see Mary’s love conquering her fear. All of Jesus’ disciples went into hiding for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). Mary Magdalene might easily have been subject to the same fear since she was known for having gone around from city to city with Jesus and the disciples (Luke 8:1-2) and was also known as Lazarus’ sister, whom the Pharisees sought to kill after Jesus raised him from the dead (John 12:10). However, her desire to honor Jesus’ body overruled any fear she might have felt. As a result, she has the honor of being the first witness of Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16:9, John 20:16).


Afterward, she was once again subject to ridicule and was once again defended by Jesus. When she jubilantly announced to the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, they thought it was nonsense and refused to believe her (Mark 16:11, Luke 24:11). Shortly afterward, Jesus Himself appeared to them and reproached them for not believing her testimony (Mark 16:14).


Jesus actually set Mary up to be misunderstood and ridiculed. He commanded her to tell the disciples of His resurrection (John 20:17) knowing they might reject her testimony, but He wanted to test them to see if they would seek the Holy Spirit’s perspective rather than trusting their own reasoning. Mary’s encounter with Jesus was completely outside their paradigm for what was possible. They could not consider her testimony was true so they had no choice but to dismiss it as nonsense. Many people cannot accept a believer’s testimony about their journey with the Lord if it doesn’t fit into their worldview or their paradigm for how God works. This can often lead to ridicule. This is another kind of courage Mary modeled – the courage to share her testimony about God’s activity in her life even though others might dismiss it or deride her for it.



As stated, scholars have debated for centuries whether the Luke 7 repentant sinner, Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany (Lazarus’ sister) are one, two, or three distinct persons. Regardless, we’ve seen an incredible truth emerge from these passages: There is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). Therefore, love inspires the greatest acts of courage. Mary’s life, whether individually or collectively, is a picture of this courage. She was criticized (possibly) for her transparency and brokenness over her sins. She was criticized for violating cultural and family expectations so she could sit at Jesus’ feet. She was criticized for expressing overt passion and generosity in her worship of Jesus. And she was criticized for sharing her experience of Jesus’ resurrection. Every great thing she ever did was opposed and ridiculed by others, usually other believers, and every time Jesus affirmed and defended her. She refused to be ruled by fear because she was ruled by love.


She was like a prophet, except instead being persecuted for declaring God’s judgments or future events, she was persecuted for her shameless love for Jesus. The blessing Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount certainly applies to her life:


“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)


The Bible identifies several factors that contribute to a believer’s position in heaven and in the age to come. Examples include serving others (Matthew 26:26), suffering for the gospel (Hebrews 11:35), overcoming (Revelation 2:26-27), and faithful stewardship of resources and talents (ex. Luke 19:15-17). However, the single weightiest factor that determines a believer’s position is the extent to which she fulfilled the first commandment, to love God with all her heart, mind, soul, and strength. By this metric, Mary Magdalene is among history’s greatest saints, perhaps right alongside even Paul, John, or David. She is a shining example of godly femininity who, in many ways, also serves as an example to men.



Much of what I share in this book, I learned during a period of restoration after nearly destroying my marriage. In the next chapter I will share some of my journey.