This week I want to review some important points about a woman we see in the New Testament. Much has been made of this woman and her relationship with Jesus, the disciples and the mother of Jesus, and rightfully so. Her name is Mary Magdalene.
Let’s look at the earliest recording we have of Mary in the scripture, Luke 8:1-3 (NIV):
1) 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, 2) and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases; Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3) 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.
Here we see Mary, along with a couple of other women that are named, and even others, working behind the scenes in Jesus’ ministry. We all are familiar with the men, the Twelve, as the passage calls them, but we often forget those working in the background. The passage tells us these women actually were helping support the ministry out of their own means or in today’s vernacular, out of their own pocket or labor.
Another point to be made here is the reality of what we see several places in Scripture. Jesus lifted women up from their traditional roles of degradation and servitude at this time in history and placed them into a position of joy and fellowship and service. In Jewish culture, women were not supposed to learn from rabbis. By allowing these women to travel with Him, Jesus was showing that all people are equal under God.
Mary is someone who has had a very difficult past. Just how the seven demons that are referenced had impacted her life is not clearly stated in Scripture. Some say it was a type of mental illness. Others say it was a lifestyle of prostitution. The fact is, we do not know. What we do know is that after the deliverance from these demons, she devoted her life to following and aiding the ministry of Christ.
The next place we see Mary Magdalene is at the cross while Jesus is hanging there. She is there with Jesus’ mother Mary and another lady that some believe was actually the mother of John and his brother James – the sons of thunder.
John 19:25 (NIV) Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister who was Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
In verse 26 right after this you see that John was also there. The other disciples all were in hiding but John was here at the cross with his mother, Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene. We then come to a longer passage which is the key to what I want to focus on today.
John 20:1 - 16 (NIV)
1)Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2) So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!”
3) So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4) Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5). He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6) Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7) as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8) Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9) (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.). 10) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11) Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12) and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13) They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.” 14) At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15) He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.”
16) Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”)
This passage is preached from often, especially around Easter. John’s account of these events is the most personal of the Gospel accounts. Mary had gone to the tomb early in the morning of the third day. John does not mention it in his account here but Matthew mentions that the “other Mary” was also with Mary Magdalene. John’s only reference was that this other woman whom many believe was John’s mother, was at the cross and then John tells us that Mary Magdalene says “they have taken Him and we do not know where they have put Him”. Mary Magdalene is surprised and disappointed that the stone had been rolled back from the grave. She is beside herself and she runs back to where the disciples were gathered / hiding. Peter and John then run to the tomb with John including the little detail about him outrunning Peter. (It is amazing the little details that are included to help you see that this really happened.) After they observe the scene, they both leave and go back to the other disciples leaving Mary Magdalene there at the tomb all alone. She looks inside the tomb now since Peter and John had done it and she noticed two angels sitting where Jesus’ body was once laid. These angels ask Mary why she is crying and she then turns around and sees another person. In her state of distress, she believes this person to be the gardener. Here Jesus is, standing right in front of her, and she does not recognize Him. She has seen Him almost daily for three years and yet does not recognize Him or His voice. Some would say that is because of her distress or that Jesus’ physical appearance changed some either due to having a resurrected body or due to the brutal torture He underwent three days before. Whatever the reason, we know Mary simply does not recognize Him. Jesus asks questions of her to help her calm down. “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Jesus then speaks one word that instantly gets her attention and causes her to see Him for who He really is. Jesus says to her “Mary”, in what I would imagine is an elevated voice, in order to break her hysteria and focus her upon Him. Jesus calls her by name at which point she knows that it is Him and clings to Him. Let that sink in for a moment. Let those goose bumps travel across your whole body. Let that chill shiver you to your core.
In John, chapter 10 and verses 3 and 4 we see where Jesus tells us that the Good Shepherd “calls his own sheep by name” and that “his sheep follow him because they know his voice”. Real faith is always personal. If you only believe that Jesus died to forgive people in general for their sins but you do not believe that He died for you and your sins – then you are not taking hold of Jesus by faith. Your spirit has not heard Him call you by name. You do not truly “know” Him.
There are other examples of getting a new name for certain people in the Bible such as Abraham, Sarah, Israel, Peter, and Paul. There are many more references in the Bible to this point of either you receiving a new name or your name being recorded in the Book of Life. Some of the other verses are Exodus 32:32-33, 33:12, 33:17, Isaiah 62:2, Daniel 12:1, Psalm 69:28, Luke 10:20, Philippians 4:3, Hebrews 12:23, and Revelation 2:17, 3:5, 3:12, 13:8, 21:27.
Mary is running around frantically and is looking for the wrong Jesus. She is looking for a dead Jesus. She is looking for someone far less great than He really is. Mary would never have found Him unless “He came and sought her”. Jesus comes to her. He comes to open her heart and then breaks through by calling her by name. Faith came to her once Jesus Himself spoke her name. The same is true for every child of God. One day He speaks your name, a name that only He knows and that deep down in you, only your spirit knows. Once He speaks that name, your spirit hears it and leaps to life. Your spirit is regenerated or reborn or “born again” just as was Mary Magdalene’s. He places within you the gift of grace through faith as outlined in Ephesians 2:8 and through that faith He brings to life inside you, you now believe and receive Christ into your heart. It is not a decision you made on your own. I repeat, it is not a decision you made on your own. That may shock you to hear and it may be something totally different than everything you heard in church all your life. It is true though. It is a decision that He birthed in you. Salvation is 100% God or it is not salvation at all. Jonah learned that in the belly of the fish. God wants us to know it as well. You may think it was you who “believed” for that is how our mind initially sees it but in reality, it was Him who birthed that belief in you. C.S. Lewis talks about this in his book Mere Christianity. Lewis says that we first think we believed but as we grow in our relationship with Christ we eventually come to the point where that term is no longer used. At that point we have all become too busy looking at the source of the belief, praising Him and expressing eternal gratefulness to Him. We realize it was 100% Him all along.
Jesus could have chosen anyone to be the first messenger of His resurrection but He chose Mary Magdalene. Jesus specifically chose a woman. In that day and time, a woman could not testify in a legal matter. Their word meant nothing. Jesus though came to her. Jesus chose this person of dubious background, not a pillar of the community. Jesus chose someone from the support team, not one of the guys out front, not one of the leaders. How much clearer can Jesus be? He is saying “it does not matter who you are or what you have done. My salvation is not based on pedigree, it is not based on moral attainments, raw talent, level of effort or track record. I have not come to call the strong but to call the weak. I am not mainly your teacher. I am your savior. I am come to save or rescue you not by your work but by my work”.
I thank God that He has called me by name and I know many others that read this can testify to the same. May we all pray that He uses us and our church and other children of God in this community and area to proclaim His Word and show His love. Through that Word and demonstration of His love, may our Father call to many others and draw them unto Himself, saying their own precious name in a way only their spirit can hear, opening their eyes for the first time to see our wonderful Savior. And once they see Him, they will cling to Him and never want to let go, just as Mary did.