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Mary Magdalene

May 1995 | by Maurice Montgomery

‘And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance’ (Luke 8:1-3).

‘Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils’ (Mark 16:9).

It is the day of preparation, the day before the Jewish Sabbath, and three men are crucified outside the city of Jerusalem. Two of them are convicted thieves and the other is Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. The death of each thief was no doubt significant to some family member or friend, but the death of the Nazarene had universal and eternal significance The death of Jesus Christ of Nazareth answered the eternal purpose of God in the redemption of his elect. All of the Old Testament sacrifices and offerings found their fulfilment in Christ and his death. They were merely a ‘shadow of good things to come’. ‘But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified’ (Hebrews 10:1-18).

What a day in the history of the world! And what a death! ‘Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’ (Hebrews 9:26). When this man died sin was punished, purged, put away, the curse of sin and death removed, divine law and justice fulfilled and satisfied, and God was reconciled to his elect (2 Corinthians 5:1819). The death of this third man, the Lord Jesus Christ, opens for the vilest and guiltiest of sinners free access to God. I repeat, ‘What a day! And what a death!’

One troubled onlooker

Consider the woman Mary Magdalene. She had a very personal interest in the Lord Jesus Christ and all that happened to him that day. The Bible does not give us much information about the details of her life, but what God has been pleased to record and leave for our study and consideration is very precious and heartwarming. She was a sinner, a woman out of whom the Lord cast seven demons. Whether this indicates exactly seven distinct demons I do not know. Sometimes the number seven in the Scriptures seems to mean completeness which, in this case, would merely indicate that she was demon-possessed. Either way, she was indeed a woman greatly blessed of God, and an example of love and devotion to all believers.

Look at her relationship and attachment to the Lord Jesus Christ – her Lord. Some time during his early ministry he had come into contact with this demon-possessed woman. We do not know what kind of condition she was in at the time. We only know that, whatever her condition, Christ cast the demons out of her and that she, along with some other women, became one of his devoted followers, ministering to his needs as he travelled from place to place (Matthew 27:55; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:3). The Lord does not reveal to us how long she had been following Christ around the country, but we do know that she was following him when he made his last journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Matthew 27:55-56). He had delivered her from demon possession and she dearly loved him. He was her Lord and Master, her Messiah and King, her Deliverer and Friend. When he suffered, she felt pain. When he died, a part of her died with him. Because of her lack of light and understanding, her faith probably wavered and her hope waned at his death. Her dear heart was no doubt full of confusion and doubts at the turn of events. She must have felt that her world was falling apart, but one thing never changed: her sincere love for her dear Lord and Saviour!

Her personal agony

We may surmise that Christ’s death was all the more grievous to Mary because of her lack of light and understanding.: She, at the time, did not understand his death, nor did she believe in his glorious resurrection (Luke 24:7-8; John 20:9). But she knew who he was. He was her Deliverer, her Messiah, the Son of the living God, and she had left all to follow him. He was her Lord. He was her life. Can you imagine the confusion of mind and agony of heart and soul as she witnessed what was happening to her Lord?

When he left Jerusalem carrying that heavy cross, that which was to be the instrument of his shame and death, do you not suppose that she was one of the ladies who followed along grieving and weeping over him? (Luke 23:27-28). No doubt she was standing close enough to clearly observe as they nailed her Lord to the cross, lifted it upright and dropped it into the ground. And as he hung there with torn and lacerated flesh, suffering and pouring out his life’s blood, she was there watching (Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 23:49; Mark 15:40). But she could not remain at such a distance from her suffering, dying Lord. She must come nearer. Her loving heart brought her nearer. When the Lord Jesus addressed his mother and John from the cross, Mary Magdalene was right there beside them with her loving, aching heart, watching, listening and suffering (John 19:25). And after most of the crowd had dispersed and gone home, where do we find Mary Magdalene? She remains near the cross, no doubt waiting to see what would happen to her Lord’s body. She was concerned about who would take his body down and where they would place it (Mark 15:47).

When his body is finally taken down, laid in the tomb and the tomb sealed, does she immediately go home and try to get some much-needed rest? No, I see her sitting beside his tomb. How long she remained there we do not know, nor can we ever fully know the troubling thoughts which must have been passing through her mind, or the grievous pain of soul she must have been enduring. Some time afterward, she arose and started back to the place where she was staying, evidently to observe the Jewish Sabbath.

Can you picture her weary, worn and stooped frame as she trudged away from where her Lord’s body lay? And if her footsteps were heavy, what is that compared to the heaviness of her heart? When did the sun ever go down on a sadder, heavier heart? And what a night she must have spent … endured! I’m sure that every waking moment – which was probably most of the night-was spent thinking about her Lord and Master, and the events of the previous day.

Garden tomb
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A new day dawns!

We find her at the end of the Sabbath, having purchased precious spices to anoint her lord’s body, on the way back to the tomb where his body lay (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; John 20:1). As the new day is dawning, she begins to wonder how she will roll the huge stone away which seals the tomb, but as she draws near the sepulchre she notices that the stone has already been removed from its place and the tomb is no longer sealed.

Many troubling thoughts must have flashed through her already tormented mind. Who rolled the stone away? Why had it been rolled away? What had happened? Had someone taken her Lord’s body away to subject it to more indignities? Oh, how her poor heart must have been pierced by the mere supposition of such a shocking occurrence. Immediately tears of sorrow began flooding down her cheeks, and as she bent over to peer into the tomb, through her tears she is able to see that her Lord’s body is gone; but she sees two angels, white and resplendent with glory, one at the head and one at the foot of where her Lord had been laid (John 20:11-12). And they said unto her, ‘Woman, why weepest thou? She said unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him’ (John 20:13). Then she turned around for some reason ‘and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus’. Jesus speaks to her, ‘Woman, why weepest thou?’ She, supposing him to be the gardener, replies, ‘Sir, if you have borne him hence’ tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Then that wonderful moment came. The moment when her love was rewarded, her heart relieved and her tears dried. ‘Jesus saith unto her, Mary.’

It is not for mere sinful, finite mortals to attempt to explain what transpired here. She sees the Lord Jesus Christ but does not recognize him. He speaks to her and still she does not know that the speaker is her Master. But when he is pleased to reveal himself, to make himself known to her, he merely calls her by name and she knows who he is! Oh, the amazing, mysterious, effectual grace of our Lord! And how totally dependent sinners are upon his sovereign manifestation of that grace to their souls! (Matthew 11:27; 16:13-17; John 17:2-3; 1 John 5:20).

‘She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master’ (John 20:16-17). Someone has suggested that the literal meaning of ‘Rabboni’ is ‘My dear Master’, but whether that is true makes little difference, because it is certain that was her meaning. That is what Christ heard in her voice and what he saw in her heart. ‘Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.’ I am not sure that I know what that statement means, but what follows is easily understood. ‘… but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and to my God, and your God’ (John 20:17); and she went and told them.

The Lord she loved

To summarize, I see a woman who had little understanding of what we term theology. In fact, this woman did not even possess what many theologians would require as basic and essential to the salvation of one’s soul. They would say that she was lost and still in her sins until some time following Christ’s resurrection.

But I see a woman who was delivered from demon-possession and saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I see a woman who, apparently from the time of her deliverance, followed the Lord Jesus Christ, ministering to his needs; a woman whose loving heart kept her following him to the cross, and brought her to sit by his tomb weeping. It was to this woman the Lord Jesus Christ first revealed himself after his resurrection, calling her by name. It was this woman that the Lord Jesus Christ sent to his disciples to break the news of his resurrection. And when Christ said ‘Go tell my brethren’, was she not included in that blessed number? And when he said, ‘Say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and to my God, and your God’, was she not identified with that blessed number? Oh, I dare not think otherwise! She knew and loved her Master and was sold out to him ‘lock, stock and barrel’! He was her life! Some will preach what a sinner must know to be saved. Better to preach the Christ whom the sinner must know.

When we consider the inspired record of Mary Magdalene, uncluttered and unmuddled by religious speculation, we simply see a sinful woman with an honest and sincere love for the Messiah, her Deliverer, the Lord Jesus Christ. Hers was not a mere professed love, love in words and tongue, but love ‘in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3:18); a love which caused her to leave whatever home and family she had known in order to follow him, serve him, and worship him … her dear ‘Rabboni’. She loved him because he first loved her (I John 4:19), came to her, delivered her, and revealed himself to her. Has the Lord Jesus come to us and made himself known to us, and in free love delivered us from the guilt and domination of sin? Then let us pray for grace to imitate Mary in her love and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.