With Easter coming this week, we look at a very personal story from the first Easter at prison last night. There were many tears of identification and gratitude as we discussed the life of Mary Magdalene and what it must have felt like for her that first Easter. Widespread deception has clouded the truth of who Mary Magdalene was. The worst of the legends is that Jesus and Mary were married and had children. She was even reported to be the “beloved disciple” of John 21:20. These lies are so hideous because they disqualify all Jesus was and taught. If He was sexually promiscuous He was not the Son of God, the perfect sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. John MacArthur says in his book Twelve Extraordinary Women, “Let’s not allow this truly remarkable woman to get lost in the fog of ancient heretics’ mystical and devilish fantasies.” (pg 173)
What does the Bible say about Mary Magdalene? The key verse is Mark 16:9. “After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning, the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons.” We’re not told what the demons were, nor do we get the story of how and when Jesus cast them out. We just know that Jesus gave her victory over a living death. She must have felt terrible darkness and pain being possessed by the seven demons. We see other places in the Bible that people were tormented with seizures, self mutilation, and loss of control when they were demon possessed. How wonderful it must have felt to have Jesus cast them all out. John 8:36 says, “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” Mary knew that freedom and followed the Son from then on all the way to the cross and then was the first to see Him on resurrection morning.
Luke 8:1-3 says, “Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons…and many others who were contributing their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.” I think it’s remarkable that these women were traveling with Jesus and learning from Him just as his twelve disciples were. It was unusual in that day to have women travel with a rabbi, so you can see how those who want to discredit Jesus would make up stories of immorality. Mary was a godly woman. There were never any accusation against Jesus for how He treated the women traveling with Him and His followers, though there were those who were watching carefully to accuse Him of anything they could find out. Neither the Bible nor contemporary historians charged Him with sexual misconduct. His disciples were good Jews, and they wouldn’t have put up with, let alone died for, someone preaching God’s standards of righteousness while living in sin.
Mary was utterly transformed by the power of God, not her own works, from a living death to abundant life. She spent the rest of Jesus’ life caring for His needs and following Him. Galatians 5:13 says, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” This is the example of Mary Magdalene as she used her own resources to supply the needs of Him and His followers. She even stuck with Him when many found His sayings too hard. At the crucifixion, she stood close to support Jesus’ mother, and then moved back as the blood-thirsty crowd moved in. She couldn’t leave as all of the male disciples had done.
On Easter morning despite the grief over Jesus’ death and all the confusion she felt, Mary was determined to give Him a fitting burial. Mark 16:1 tells us, “Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body.” When she got to the tomb, she saw the tomb was empty and angels sitting there asking her why she was crying. John 20:14-16 says, “She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. ‘Dear woman, why are you crying?’ Jesus asked her. ‘Who are you looking for?’ She thought he was the gardener. ‘Sir,’ she said, ‘if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.’” (At this point, Mary is just seconds away from discovering what we all now know. All of her turbulent emotions—fear, confusion, grief, pain, maybe disillusionment—were about to be replaced with unspeakable joy.) “‘Mary!’ Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).”
As soon as He said her name, she knew who He was. There’s so much history and hope in that word “Mary.” The deliverance and freedom she experienced. The years of relationship with Jesus. The One who had set her free, then taught her about relationship with the Father as she traveled with Him and helped care for His needs, had suffered a horrible death and abandonment. But, He didn’t stay dead. The great news of that morning is that Jesus has overcome the power of death. All of His followers from now on will be set free for all eternity. It just doesn’t get any better. Just like Mary did, we get abundant life now in our physical bodies, and then life forever with the Lord when we join Him in Heaven. He knows our names, too. Listen on Easter morning. He’ll call your name and you will come alive, too. Just like Mary. Just like the gals in our prison ministry.