Let’s continue our series on women of purpose in the Bible. This week we look at a woman who is named more than a dozen times in all four of the gospels, who knew and traveled with Jesus, and who ended up sticking closer to Him than any of His brothers or disciples, except John. She was brave, determined, and loyal, and she received special insight from God as a reward for her courage and tenacity. Her name was Mary Magdalene.
WHAT DO WE KNOW?
We know that Mary was from the Galilee area north of Jerusalem, which was Jesus’ chosen base of ministry operation. At some point, Mary had an encounter with Jesus and was healed or set free as Luke described:
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, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 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 (Luke 8:1-3).
When Mary was set free, she became one of the women who traveled with Jesus and ministered to His needs as well as those of His disciples. We cannot overlook how radical it must have been to have a group of women traveling with the disciples who were not their wives.
Whenever Mary Magdalene is listed with other women in the gospels, she is always listed first (except for when she was with Mary the mother of Jesus), which probably indicates that she was a take-charge person who also had some means from which she helped financially support Jesus:
- Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb (Matthew 27:61).
- After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb (Matthew 28:1).
- It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles (Luke 24:10).
- Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).
Mary is most prominently featured in the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection, however, and it was there that she distinguished herself as a faithful and fearless servant and disciple, whom women and men would do well to emulate.
The gospels tell us that Mary was close by during Jesus’ trial, death march through Jerusalem, His crucifixion, and His death. Mary noted where they buried Jesus but, being a good Jew, she went home for the Sabbath and then came back with at least one other woman to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. It is John that included the most detail about Mary’s activities at the tomb:
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
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.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her (John 20:11-18).
Notice that Mary referred to Jesus not as the Lord, but my Lord. She was heartbroken, but she was determined to be loyal to Jesus even after what she thought was the end, and she was rewarded with the first to know that Jesus had come back to life as He had promised.
Mary, equipped with a revelation of Jesus, went back to the disciples to tell them the good news but they did not believe her right away. Peter and John went running to the tomb, found it as Mary had reported, and then went home. Not Mary. She stayed at the tomb, weeping and mourning that she did not know where Jesus’ body was and was thus unable to complete the task she came to perform. It was then that Jesus revealed Himself to her by calling her by name and once again she went back to the brothers to report what she knew.
Mary instructed these men (dare we say led these men) because she knew Jesus, followed Jesus, was close to Jesus, heard His voice, and had a personal revelation of truth from Jesus Himself. That qualified her to teach and lead, and when all was said and done, that revelation was all she needed to serve Jesus and others effectively. The men dismissed her because they neither believed what Mary reported nor that a woman could teach them much of anything. Does that sound like the church through the ages, even today?
If you are a woman and identify with or resemble Mary, you have undoubtedly learned something from Jesus that isn’t just for other women, it is for everyone. If Jesus was willing to reveal Himself to you, knowing you are a woman – if it didn’t matter to Him that you are a woman – then why should it matter to you or anyone else?
Mary fulfilled the proverb that states “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Who said that person who is close had to be a man? If you are a woman, I urge you to stay close to Jesus and listen to Him call your name. If you are a man, I encourage you to listen to the women in your life who are close to Jesus, and hopefully they will share with you what Jesus has told them – just like Mary Magdalene did.