As with so many who have served the Lord faithfully, the name of Mary Magdalene has been much maligned by people of the world, ranging from Popes to film-makers, but the role that she played in service to the Lord is most instructive. We meet her first in the opening verses of Luke chapter 8 before she disappears from the record of scripture. Though she disappears from view, her reappearance at the cross suggests that she was one who was active, quietly, expressing her devotion to the Saviour in a way that was supportive of the Lord and His disciples without drawing attention to herself.
It is interesting to look briefly at the context of the first reference to Mary Magdalene in the gospels, for Luke mentions, ‘And it came to pass afterwards’, Luke 8. 1.
In the verses that precede this chapter, we have the record of the Lord’s visit to Simon the Pharisee’s house. On that occasion, we find a woman who enters the house and washes and anoints the feet of the Lord. In the course of a conversation, the Lord asked Simon a question, ‘And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged’, 7. 42, 43. Whilst I would not suggest that the woman of Luke chapter 7 was Mary Magdalene, a commonly held error, I think there is an interesting parallel. Of the woman, it was said that she had been forgiven much. Of Mary Magdalene, she had been delivered from much, for Luke says of her ‘out of whom had come seven demons’, 8. 2 NKJV.
It is worth pondering the occasions when the Lord delivered various demon-possessed individuals. Were there any as serious as Mary? Apart from the man of Gadara, Mark chapter 5 and other passages, who was possessed of a legion of demons, Mary is probably the worst affected individual to be delivered by the Lord. She is a tremendous witness to the saving and transforming power of Christ. Out of Mary, the Lord had cast seven demons. What was her response? Along with these other women, we are told that she ministered to Him of her substance. The Lord may not have had much personally but His and His disciples’ needs were met by this group of women as they were busy in preaching.
There are times when the importance we attach to those who occupy the platform masks the gifts being exercised by others within the local assembly. That is sad! We know that the Lord had the power to turn the stones into bread. He had food that His disciples knew not of. He could survive without food much longer than we could. But what is most instructive is that He receives and welcomes the simple provisions of these sisters and shares their concern for His disciples.
Let us not underestimate the work of the sisters here, for the work of the Lord would have been seriously impoverished without it. It is a testimony to their, and Mary Magdalene’s, devotion and commitment to Christ.
‘And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among which was Mary Magdalene’, Matt. 27. 55, 56. It is John’s account in particular that describes these women as standing – one of three Marys in that picture.
It is interesting to remember that back in the garden of Gethsemane, chapter 26 verse 56, all the disciples had forsaken Him and fled. When it came to the events at the cross, the only one of the disciples that we know to be near the cross was John. The rest were absent. Indeed, Peter had denied his Lord three times in the events leading up to the crucifixion and those simple facts make the devotion of these women to stand in stark contrast to the fear of the men.
At the hour of the Lord’s suffering and death, the women, among whom was Mary Magdalene, were present. They stood and witnessed the Lord being crucified. They witnessed the almost unrecognizable figure being hounded to His death. They witnessed His shame. They saw the ridicule and hatred of men expressed towards the Lord. They stood. They took it in. All the horrors of Calvary were played out before them.
I think this a tremendous tribute to the character of these sisters. They were committed and they were consistent.
There are companies of the Lord’s people around the world who owe much of their continuance to the consistent testimony of sisters. Such sisters do not move out of their God-given sphere of service but, by the consistency of their testimony, the door of witness remains open.
‘And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre’, Matt. 27. 61. Her mission was to observe the place where the body of the Lord was laid and the detail of His burial. Mark tells us, ‘And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid’, Mark 15. 47. These details were important to Mary as she was to come at the first opportunity to remember the Lord and think upon Him.
It is interesting too to note that Mary was one of the last to leave Calvary. Along with Joseph and Nicodemus, she left the scene of the crucifixion only when the Lord was no longer there. There is a continuing testimony to her commitment and consistency. However, I would suggest there is more. How important, as we gather to remember the Saviour, that we linger on the wonder of Calvary. We can become too preoccupied as the pressures of the day of service crowd in upon our thoughts. For Mary, she lingered by the cross.
But, as she sat by the sepulchre, in her mind she also saw what she thought to be a particular omission from the simple labours of the secret disciples, Joseph and Nicodemus. They had taken the body from the cross. They had wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. They had laid it in the tomb. It is Mark who reveals what was in Mary’s mind, ‘And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him’, 16. 1.1 Perhaps she felt that there was something more that she could bring.
Do we appreciate what the sisters bring to each meeting for worship? They may not express it audibly, and here there is no record of Mary speaking, but what she sought to contribute was individual and heart-felt. Equally, what she would have contributed would have brought a sweet perfume into the presence of the Saviour. Let us not lose sight of the importance of what the sisters contribute to the worship of the assembly!
In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre’, Matt. 28. 1. It is John’s account that says, ‘The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre’, John 20. 1.
We get a clear picture of the urgency of Mary’s mission – she comes at the earliest possible moment. In the glimmering light of dawn, she makes her way to the grave. What did she think she could do with the stone rolled across the entrance to the tomb? Was she aware of the guard present at the tomb?
We have no answers to these questions but we do have a picture of Mary’s desire to anoint the body of the Saviour. Whatever obstacle may be in her way, she was committed to this seemingly final act of devotion.
This is a challenge for brethren and sisters alike. What is our priority in life? For Mary, her priority was to be in the presence of the Saviour. Her desire was to be involved in service for Him. There are pressures upon all of our lives, but there is a worthwhile challenge to us all to ensure that our priorities are right!
‘Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her’, John 20. 18. There seem to be particular privileges that are afforded to the women in the narrative of the resurrection. To whom does the Lord appear in resurrection first?
It would be easy to criticize Mary as one who failed to appreciate the teaching of the Lord regarding His resurrection. She might be criticized for not recognizing the Lord when she saw Him in the garden. However, reading through the subsequent appearances of the Lord in resurrection, there is equal incredulity amongst the male disciples of the Saviour, and Thomas’ reaction seems to typify that fact.
Rather than criticism and censure, it is touching to see the Lord’s concern and compassion for Mary. Perhaps this is Mary’s finest hour. Certainly, it is interesting that it is only here that we read of Mary speaking, although it is only a brief record of her conversation. How careful is the scripture! In private conversation, in equally private communication to the gathered disciples, Mary moves in complete accord with her biblically-defined role. What she can do, she does. What she can’t do, she leaves to others. That is an important truth in application to brethren and sisters alike! May we all be exercised to fulfil the gift that God has given us – not to seek to do those things for which we are not gifted or directed!