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Mary Magdalene Didn't Get It at First

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Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2 report that Jesus had cast SEVEN DEMONS out of Mary Magdalene. Prior to that point, no one who knew her would have picked Mary to be the leader of the female followers of the Messiah. With seven demons, she likely had what we would call “multiple personality disorder” and lived a chaotic life.

A few years ago, Russell Moore made a similar point about how God is so powerful, He can use the most unlikely people to do great things. Like Mary Magdalene. He wrote, “The next Billy Graham might be drunk right now. The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might currently be a misogynistic, profanity-spewing hip-hop artist. The next Charles Spurgeon might be managing an abortion clinic today. The next Mother Teresa might be a heroin-addicted porn star this week. The next Augustine of Hippo might be a sexually promiscuous cult member right now, just like, come to think of it, the first Augustine of Hippo was.

But the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so. The new birth provides new leadership to the church and fulfills Jesus' promise to gift his church with everything needed for her onward march through space and time (Eph. 4:8-16).”

Mary is an example to us of what God can do with a heart devoted to Him. He may find us with a life thoroughly messed up, but He can lift us out of all that and use us for His glory!

1. Mary’s First visit to the tomb. (1-2)

Mary returned to the tomb at her first opportunity: “Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark.” Here’s the timeline of Resurrection weekend.

- Jesus died Friday afternoon.

- He was buried just before sunset Friday evening. As the Sabbath began at sundown, Mary could not visit the tomb Friday evening.

- Nor could she visit the tomb on Saturday, as that was the Sabbath.

- She might have been able to go after sundown on Saturday, but it was dark and risky to be out.

- The most prudent thing would’ve been to wait after sunup on Sunday, but apparently Mary Magdalene couldn’t wait a minute longer, so she took the risk and left before sunrise!

What she found at Jesus’ tomb surprised her so much, Mary ran to get help. (1-2) She “found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.” Her first thought was that Jesus’ grave had been robbed. This crime was so common in those days, Emperor Claudius made it punishable by death to discourage it.

Mary did not know about the Roman seals and the guards (Matthew 27:62-66) – both were gone by the time she arrived. Those precautions would’ve discouraged ordinary grave robbers. Distraught, she ran from there and “found” Simon Peter and John. Whether “found” implies a happy accident or intention, it doesn’t matter. When she found them, Mary told to them, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” I wonder who she thought stole Jesus’ body? Her use of the pronoun WE may indicate Mary may’ve she encountered other disciples first, got no help from them, and then sought out Peter and John.

2. Mary’s final visit to the tomb. (11-18)

Verses nine and ten tell us that Peter and John did not understand the significance of the tomb being empty or the presence of Jesus’ shroud. As they were no help and no consolation, Mary returned to the tomb in tears.

She got an explanation in verses eleven through thirteen. As she wept, Mary stooped to look in the tomb (the opening would’ve been just three feet square, at ground level), something she didn’t do on her first visit. She may have expected to see the same thing Peter and John reported seeing; the tomb empty except for Jesus’ burial cloths.

What she saw instead was even more extraordinary: “two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying.” Apparently the angels had been sent to console Mary as they asked her affectionately, “Dear woman, why are you crying?”

Mary’s reply shows she hadn’t thought about Jesus’ Resurrection. Her concern was to recover His body. So she answered, “they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.”

We learned from Luke 24 that the Emmaus Walkers were KEPT from recognizing Jesus. Here it seems Mary’s grief kept her from seeing Jesus. (14-15) When Mary turned to leave she saw someone standing there. Maybe He stood in the periphery of her vision. Maybe her eyes were so full of tears she couldn’t see clearly enough to recognize Him.

“Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She didn’t recognize His voice. At this point she did not hear or see Jesus; she didn’t recognize Him. Mary didn’t yet “get” it. She assumed He was the gardener. After all, who else would be in a cemetery first thing in the morning?

“Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” Clearly, she is still focused on recovering Jesus’ corpse. Desperate to find the body, she stops just short of accusing the cemetery keeper of graverobbing!

One word was all it took for Mary to get it. (16) “Mary!” Jesus said.

In John 10:3-4, Jesus taught that, as the Good Shepherd He could call His sheep by name and they would recognize His voice and follow Him. At the sound of her own name, Mary Magdalene finally recognized her teacher’s voice!

“She turned to him” means she finally recognized Jesus. She cried out, “Rabboni!” (the Hebrew word for “Teacher”). This would’ve been the familiar title Mary used to refer to Jesus. I believe it indicates a desire (conscious or subconscious) on Mary’s part to return to their old relationship. However, the past was gone.

The future started in that moment. (17-18) I have no trouble believing Mary’s first instinct was to joyously embrace Him. So why did Jesus say, “Don’t cling to me, for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father?”

This remark has puzzled believers throughout the centuries and scholars have advanced at least a dozen different explanations. As always, we must start with what the text says.

- In v. 16, after she recognized Him, Mary CRIED OUT, “RABBONI!” In all the gospel accounts, this is the ONLY TIME anyone called the post-Resurrection Jesus “teacher.” So, this exceptional address is met with an exceptional reply: “Don’t CLING to me.”

- This can’t be taken to mean “Don’t TOUCH me” for Jesus invited all of them to touch Him in Luke 24:39, He urged Thomas to touch Him in John 20:27, and the group of women touched Him in Matthew 28:9-10 without any rebuke. An entirely different Greek word is used here. Both can be translated as “touch,” but in John 20:17 this word is better translated “cling” with the emotional connotations associated with the word “cling.”

- Clearly Jesus told this to Mary in response to her use of the title “Rabboni.” He used CLING in an emotional sense. In other words, He instructed her, “Don’t hold on to the old situation. Everything has changed; I am no longer your teacher. Now I am your God.”

- Mary hoped His appearing would return everything to the way it had been since she met Jesus for the first time. Jesus spoke quickly to relieve her of that notion. From that moment on, nothing was the same.

Jesus’ explanation for this seemingly stand-offish request was that He hasn’t yet ascended. This statement also proves my point; just because He hadn’t yet returned to heaven, Mary had no cause to think His earthly presence would continue.

Instead, Jesus’ plan was to very soon ascend to heaven, going there to sit at the right hand of God the Father. Then it would be obvious to all His time on earth was at an end and give the highest possible evidence that He was God.

This was a transitional time, and things weren’t fully settled yet. Acts 1:3 tells us that for a period of FORTY DAYS after His death, Jesus appeared to His disciples off and on. There are ten such appearances recorded in the gospels. We must assume this is only a fraction of His post-Resurrection appearances.

Also, there was work to be done and He wanted Mary’s obedience first. He commanded Mary to “go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” The word BROTHERS is significant. It implies Jesus has already forgiven them for deserting and denying Him. It also fits with John 15:15 where Jesus announced He no longer called his followers “servants,” but “friends.” It fits with Romans 8:17 where Paul says we are “co-heirs” with Christ.

It’s too bad that the cryptic comment “Don’t cling to me” has gotten so much attention when it’s not the point of Jesus appearing to Mary. God’s salvation is the main point and Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene to enlist her help in getting the disciples rounded up so He could make that point. The purpose of Jesus’ Resurrection was to provide salvation. That’s where the attention of Mary and the Apostles needed to be fixed.

Mary Magdalene had the honor of being the first of Jesus’ followers to see Him resurrected and the first to witness about Him. Mary demonstrated part of the reason for this honor in her prompt obedience: she “found the disciples and told them, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ Then she gave them his message.”

Mary’s devotion to Jesus is evident before and after she got it.

Mary demonstrated her devotion to Jesus in the following ways:

- The risk she took in going to the cemetery alone and in the dark. (1)

- The panic she felt when she found the stone rolled away and, without looking inside, concluded His grave had been robbed. (2) (Maybe she worried all along that might happen.)

- Her grief at the loss of His body and search for answers. (11-15)

- Her enthusiastic response to Jesus. (16)

- Her obedient response to His command. (18)

For a time, Mary’s devotion blinded her to the truth. Overwhelmed by emotion, she failed to remember Jesus’ promises to rise on the third day after His death. Grief temporarily kept her from seeing Jesus was not the gardener.

This shows us that emotion is a guide to Jesus, but it is not always a reliable guide. We don’t discard our feelings, but we require them to submit to reason and more importantly to the Spirit, so we can be guided by all three into the truth of who God is and what He has done for us. We need to take off our blinders and ignore all distractions to perceive the Resurrected One, Jesus Christ, in all His glory and receive Him as our Lord and Savior.

I believe God honored Mary Magdalene in three ways. One, he sent angels to console her. Two, she was the first person to meet the risen Christ. Three, He sent her on a mission to take a message to the Eleven, making her the first evangelist.

The gospel writers also honor Mary. Every time the women at the tomb are named, Mary Magdalene appears first on the list, even ahead of Jesus’ mother Mary!

RESOURCES:

Illustration retrieved from https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2015/october/8102615.html on 17 March 2023.

The Anchor Bible, Vol. 29A, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, 1970, Raymond E. Brown

Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 13, The Gospel of John, 2007, Grant R. Osborne

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