Summary: How we can learn from Mary Magdalene’s example
MARY MAGDALENE – JOHN 20.1-18
Over the past year one of the major best sellers has been a book called the Da Vinci Code. The book purports to be genuine history of a secret which the Christian church has tried to suppress for nearly 2000 years – namely that Jesus did not die on the cross but was spirited away by his disciples and that he did in fact marry Mary Magdalene and have children by her. As a novel I believe it is well written and quite exciting. As history, and especially theological history, it is utter nonsense. The problem with the book is that it is promoted as the truth and due to the serious lack of biblical knowledge, even amongst Christians, telling the truth from the lies is missed by many. The book claims to have secret knowledge of God, of Jesus and of the history of the Christian faith. Let me say to you all here and now – the bible clearly teaches that there is nothing hidden of God – it has been revealed in Christ. John in his epistles and the letter the Galatians seeks to refute such ‘secret knowledge’ teaching – known as Gnosticism. Any one, any organisation that claims to have secret knowledge concerning the truth of God is a deception and that is both inside and outside the church.
So this morning in our series of women in the bible we are going to look at Mary Magdalene and see what Scripture reveals concerning her. Turn with me first to Luke chapter 8, whilst keeping your finger in John 20. In Luke 8 we learn that Mary Magdalene was one of a group of women in the Galilee area who financially provided for Jesus and His disciples. We also read that in the past Jesus had freed her from seven demons. We do not know what bondage they had placed her in or how they had entered her life and I am not about to speculate about that this morning. We can safely declare that Christ freed her from them and from their bondage in her life. From that moment on she becomes a devoted follower of Jesus.
Turn now to John 20. Let me set the context. It is the third day after the crucifixion. We know from the gospel accounts of the crucifixion that Mary Magdalene was present throughout at the foot of the cross. She had witnessed the death of Christ. She, no doubt had been involved in the anointing of His body for burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea. Now John tells us (verse 1) she goes early in the morning of the first day of the week to anoint His body again. Literally she has left somewhere between 3am and 6am to walk to the place of His burial to do this last act of devotion and discipleship for her Lord. This was following the traditional Jewish custom which anointed the body until the third day when it was believed that the soul departed the body. So Mary Magdalene was not doing anything out of the norm in going to the tomb. It is worth noting though that, as throughout the rest of the gospel of John, she begins her journey under the cover of darkness – coming to Jesus, the light of the world, and now (unbeknownst to her) risen from the dead. The symbolism of light and darkness is apparent even here at the end of the gospel of John as it was in the opening chapter. We read (v1) that when she arrives at the tomb the stone has been rolled back and she immediately sets off to get the disciples. I find it interesting in verse 2 that she goes for Peter. He had denied Jesus three times and yet his standing is such amongst those who followed Jesus that it is to him Mary Magdalene goes to report the stone being rolled away from the entrance. A lesson there for us all about how one fall does not destroy a man completely.
John goes on to recount in the next 7 verses how Peter and John run to the tomb and find it empty. John just peers in but Peter, in typical fashion, rushes on in. They find the grave clothes where His body was. Isn’t it interesting that in John 11 when Lazarus is raised from the dead he comes forth out of the grave with his grave clothes on and needs help to remove them from his body. But when Christ rises from the dead his grave clothes remain in the grave, exactly where His body was. Why? Because Lazarus was raised to physical life again and he would one day die. Christ, however, has defeated death. Death would never again have any claim over Him and so the grave clothes are left behind. They would be needed again in the case of Lazarus but not in the case of Christ.