Women of Hope: Joanna and Lydia

Financier Number One

The damp air cools my tear-soaked face. The silence of the early morning deafens my senses, and my heart sinks as I see the garden, the tomb. More tears. Filling and spilling.

Oh, how could He be dead? How is Messiah no longer with us? 

Wait. The stone is moved. The tomb, it’s empty. Where is my Lord? Where have they taken Him? The light – it’s so bright…

HE LIVES! Our crucified Christ is raised from the dead!! I knew He would not leave us – Jesus lives!!!

Joanna. Wife of Chuza. Aristocrat in the high court of Herod. Healed by Christ. Follower and financial supporter of Jesus. Only mentioned by name in Luke’s gospel, this minor character steps into her role as a disciple of Jesus with major impact. For as much as we don’t know about Joanna, it’s not a stretch to say she sacrificed much for the Kingdom of God. She becomes for us a standard to which we can look to for direction and encouragement as we seek to become women who put their hope in the Lord.


A person of great affluence and influence, the wife of Herod’s household manager lives in Galilee – the very place Jesus of Nazareth spends most of His years of ministry on earth. Positioned thus, Joanna’s path crosses with Messiah’s, and her life changes forever. First, Jesus heals her (Luke 8:2), and when He invites her to join Him, Joanna enters this faithful flock (v.3). 

One of several women who travel with Jesus, Joanna goes against tradition – especially for a woman of her station. She sacrifices the conveniences and connections of the pampered life in order to give herself completely to the ministry and work of Jesus, including – but not limited to – financial support (v.3). 

I have so many questions about Joanna. What did her husband think of her devotion to Jesus? Was she shunned by her friends? Did she raise the cash to support the ministry, or did her husband let her use his? Or maybe she’d inherited money – but then again, this is first century Israel, so that’s not likely. 

Either way, our curiosity is captured. Our imaginations spin out all the possibilities of what it must have been like for a wealthy woman like Joanna to become a true follower of Christ.1 We may not have all our answers, but one thing we know for sure – Joanna was faithful to the end. 

Luke describes this group of women as being present the day of Jesus’ death – 

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.”   

Luke 23:55

Unlike most of the Twelve, the women of Jesus’ circle remain present throughout the entire passion experience. They don’t even turn away after His death; rather, they follow Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to see where they will bury His body (see also John 19:38-42). 

Myrrhbearing Women” as seen in St. Paul’s Church, posted by Ted on Flikr

They follow so that they can return. Sunday morning. To an empty tomb. To a vision of angels gleaming like lightning (Luke 24:1-4). Joanna is in the group who first learned of Jesus’ resurrection and is charged with going back to tell the Eleven the good news (v.9-10), becoming one of the first people on the planet to proclaim, “Christ is risen!”1

Because of Joanna, Jesus’ ministry remains sustainable in the days of travels that are full of teachings and healings. The men Jesus called to do this kingdom work had left families and jobs (Luke 9:1-2), so resources for food, shelter, and clothing had to come from somewhere – sometimes from the kindness of those the Twelve served (v.3-4). But mostly from women like Joanna.

Financier Number Two

Heavenly Father, You have opened my eyes to see You in fuller glory! When I heard Paul describing your Son, my heart nearly exploded. Everything in me knew what I heard was true, so I did not hesitate to say yes to Jesus, to step into the river for my baptism – along with my entire household!

I am made new. My mind has settled peacefully on the One who gave His life for me, and my spirit recognizes the union I now have with the Spirit. I am ready to be your servant however that looks, whatever it takes. 

Lydia. Entrepreneur. Worshiper of God. The first recorded convert to Christianity in Europe.2 And hostess to Paul and his companions. Like Joanna, Lydia has wealth, but it comes by her own hand, ingenuity, and hard work. Her quick “yes” to Jesus catapults Lydia into Paul’s world of church planting, and this minor character establishes herself forever as one who has a major impact on the burgeoning era of Christ’s Church. And she continues to inspire us to use all we have for the good of others and the glory of God.


Successful by worldly standards, Lydia is a wealthy woman who makes her own way in the world selling luxurious purple fabric to the rich and famous (Acts 16:14). Originally from Thyatira (Turkey today), a land known for its expensive purple dyes made from mollusks,2 Lydia lives across the Aegean Sea in Macedonia (today’s northern Greece) when she meets Paul. 

In the passage of Acts 16 immediately preceding Lydia’s introduction, Paul changes course after a man in a dream tells him not to go on to Asia but to go west into Macedonia (vv.6-10). In other words, God set Paul on a path to meet Lydia in Philippi.

Described as one who already worships God, Lydia gathers with other women at the river for Sabbath prayer when Paul and his friends join them (v.13), telling them of Jesus. Lydia immediately responds to Paul’s invitation to follow Jesus. She and her household are baptized on the spot, and she not only becomes a huge financial supporter of The Way but opens her home to Paul and his colleagues (v.15).

St Paul Meeting Lydia of Thyatira by Edward Irvine Halliday. (1902-84) Oil on canvas. Victoria Gallery & Museum, Liverpool, England. **

Lydia’s faith firmly roots her in the ways of the Lord as she continues to learn from Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Luke. But her faith also puts her and other believers on the radar of those who don’t approve of the Early Church. Persecution rises quickly against followers of Jesus – for instance, Paul and Silas are beaten and arrested not long after Lydia’s conversion (vv.18-24). However, when they’re miraculously freed from prison, it is to Lydia’s house they return – a home full of brothers and sisters of the faith (v.40). In other words, Lydia has a house church!

And one that flourishes – despite the persecution (Philippians 1:27-30). 

While we know that Lydia’s business success enabled her to own a home large enough to house Paul and the men of his group, as well as host a growing body of Christ, her definition of success shifted – from that of making money to saving lives. 

Sisters in Christ

Joanna and Lydia, two sisters in Christ even though years and the Mediterranean Sea separated them, chose to use every resource available to them for the good of Jesus’ ministry and Church – at great sacrifice and with great success. Their biographer, Luke, made sure to name them in the midst of the greatest story ever written because he saw, firsthand, the fruits of their labor.

Can you imagine how many “minor characters” Luke must have met and heard about as he traveled with Paul and collected facts and details about Jesus? Each one faithfully played the role they were given, contributing to the foundation of the Church that was laid at the Cornerstone – each word and every action noticed by the physician’s eye but impossible to include in the final drafts of his two books that would one day be included in the canonized Scripture (Luke and Acts).

For that very reason, it stands out to me that he would include the names of Joanna and Lydia so that their faith could be remembered for all time – remembered, and emulated. As women of hope, Joanna and Lydia show us how to leverage all that we have for Christ’s cause, not giving in because of what we’ll sacrifice or endure. Instead, they point the way toward a life anchored in the hope of Christ that is able to break free of society’s norms and expectations, free of our own creature comforts and fears. Friends, their stories are meant to be ours! So, let’s step into our “minor” roles, trusting that as we put our hope in Jesus, all we do will have a major impact for years to come.

Father God, we stand in awe of the stories that You have woven together throughout your Word. And, it’s hard for our brains to fully fathom how two seemingly obscure women tucked into the pages of Holy Writ can have so much to show us about living as women of hope. We are blessed, once again, to see that your Word never returns void to You – rather, it weaves Itself into our hearts and minds until we’re transformed! Lord Jesus, have we ever stopped to thank You for the way You included women in your ministry? For turning the ancient world upside-down and inside-out with your holistic, healing ways? For inviting us into your story of redemption? Thank You! We see more and more clearly that each of us has gifts and passions that You desire to use for the good of others and the glory of God. Holy Spirit, we ask for your help to teach us and encourage us to step into the life we have and to sow the seeds of faith we’ve been given. Remind us not to compare ourselves to other people but to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus so that we can keep pressing on toward the prize that is living wholeheartedly for Him. Instruct us how to align our hearts and minds with Jesus so that we’re able to step into our calls as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and friends with a holy confidence, willing to sacrifice whatever it takes in order to achieve Jesus’ brand of success. Thank You for always being with us and in us. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(inspired by Hebrews 4:12; Isaiah 55:11; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Luke 8:2-3; Acts 16:40; Mathew 9:35; Revelation 7:14; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Romans 8:26; Romans 15:13; 2 Corinthians 10:7,12; Galatians 6:4-10; Hebrews 12:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:17; 1 Corinthians 3:16)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • 1 – One of the resources I read contained research and suggestions that really piqued my curiosity. For instance, if Joanna had remained at home with her husband when Jesus was not traveling – which is quite likely – she would have been perfectly positioned to witness and hear all that went on during Jesus’ trial, persecution, and execution. She had access that no other Jewish Galilean would have had. As such, Joanna could have been something like a main source of details for Luke’s gospel. Here’s the article
  • 2 – Another resource I looked at described in more detail what life for a woman like Lydia would have been, including facts about making purple cloth and how it would’ve been purchased and worn by only the most wealthy – all of which speaks to Lydia’s own wealth. This same article emphasizes Lydia’s unusual independence – it’s her business, her household. No mention of a father, husband, or son. This put Lydia in the unique position to give much of herself and resources to her new faith and house church. It also described this particular painting and all its AMAZING details!

**”In this painting by the artist Edward Irvine Halliday, there are several different encounters happening at the same time, but we are drawn to Lydia’s purple robe as she is converted while listening to St Paul preaching the good news. Various hues of purple, mauve, lilac and periwinkle illustrate Lydia’s clothing industry. As well as greens, pinks, blues, black and white presenting a tapestry of fabrics typical of the times and of the trading routes. This range of colors is mirrored in the landscape, creating harmony between land, sea and sky.

“Notice the diversity of people: we see a modern mother and child; a Buddhist meditating on the gathering; eastern philosophers wearing exotic hats holding dialogue. Bystanders are watching Lydia’s conversion and Roman soldiers play a board game. Another man abducts a prophetess on horseback who Paul has just freed from an oppressive Spirit; fishermen are busy on a pastel lake while crumbling imperial pillars lie abandoned in this coastal town. The old order is passing away, the new is coming ashore. The Roman Empire is receding with its triumphal arch and Doric columns set against the distant mountains. A new way opens up and is emerging as the missionary of Jesus works the crowds! In the midst of these changing times and emerging Christianity, stands a woman who has come to faith.” (both descriptive paragraphs quoted from the same article I used previously)

  • While I could not find songs specific to Joanna and Lydia, I did find songs that put into words and rhythms and tunes how I imagine they would have thought, felt, and worshiped. So, the two songs I selected for Joanna on our “Women of Hope” playlist are “Where Would I Be” by Christy Nockels and “In Awe” by Hollyn. The two for Lydia are “Pour It Out” by Vineyard Worship and “As For Me” by Christy Nockels. I had not realized till I got to this week that I’d chosen two songs by Christy Nockels — and from the same album. What are the odds? Somehow it feels so perfect to frame the song selections this way for these two sisters in Christ.
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • This summer we’re continuing the rhythm of meditation. We’re filling our minds with our anchoring passage, Hebrews 11:1. Our two minor characters lived their faith out with major conviction. So, let’s continue to ponder the NRSV version:

      “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” NRSV
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured portrait: “Saint Joanna, the Holy Myrrh Bearer” Icon, posted by St. Paraskevi Church. Bits and Pieces photo by Photo by Zrng N Gharib on Unsplash.

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Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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