Monday, November 15, 2010

Mental Vitamins: Twelve Extraordinary Women Series - Mary Magdalene

For those who may have just stumbled upon my blog, I have recently been reading and sharing from the book Twelve Extraordinary Women by John MacArthur. Each week I highlight a new woman and offer a discussion.

This week's extraordinary woman is Mary Magdalene, who is perhaps one of the best-known and least-understood names in scripture. There aren't a lot of details about her life and personal background but she is well-known as being the first person to whom Christ revealed Himself after the resurrection. MacArthur explains some of the myths in connection with Mary Magdelene. I won't go into detail on that here, her life according to Scripture is extraordinary enough without the false embellishment. My focus will be on the confirmed details surrounding Mary Magdalene's life.

Mary Magdalene did have a dark past. She was a woman whom Christ liberated from demonic bondage. Luke introduced her as "Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons" (Luke 8:2). It's the only real detail we are given about Mary's past.

The symptoms of demonic possession varied. Some demoniacs were insane, as in the case of the two demon-possessed men who lived in the graveyard and behaved so monstrous that no one dared approach them (Matt 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-5). More frequently, demonic possession was manifest in physical infirmities, such as blindness, deafness, an inability to speak, fits and seizures and general illness. Don't confuse these symptoms of demonic possession as manifestations of epilepsy, dementia or other psychological afflictions. Scripture makes a clear distinction between demon possession and diseases (Matthew 4:24). Demon possession involves bondage to an evil spirit - a real, fallen spirit-creature - that dwells in the afflicted individual

In every case demon possession is portrayed as an affliction, not a sin, per se. Lawlessness, superstition and idolatry undoubtably have a role in opening a person's heart to demonic possession, but demonized individuals  are always portrayed as tormented people, not willful villains. Scripture presents them to us as victims with utterly ruined lives. Mary Magdalene was one such victim. Satan tormented her with seven demons. Scripture deliberately and mercifully omits the details of her dreadful demon possession but we are given enough information through other demonic possession accounts  to know that she must have been a tortured soul. With so many demons afflicting her she may likely have been what most people regarded as an "unrecoverable lunatic".

The miraculous twist to her story is that Christ delivered her from all that. How and when she was set free is not spelled out for us. It seems her former demonization is only mentioned for the purpose of revealing Christ's goodness and grace toward her. It highlights God's power over evil and His ability to overcome even the darkest and most hopeless of situations.

After Jesus had set Mary free from her evil bondage, her love for Christ reflected her profound depth of gratitude and she joined the close circle of disciples who traveled with Jesus.. Mary Magdalene was a faithful disciple even when others turned their back on Him. No doubt her loyalty stemmed from the fact that He saved her from a life of demonic torment and because of that she understood that He could also save her from a life of eternal torment in hell. She followed him to the cross and subsequently to the grave. In fact, she secretly followed Joseph to the tomb and "observed where He was laid" (Mark 15:47). So it was thanks to Mary Magdalene that the disciples even learned where Jesus' body was buried. She watched as Jospeh and Nicodemus carelessly and hastily prepared Jesus' body and left Him alone in the tomb and she came with ointment and spices for one final expression of love to her Saviour - to whom she knew she owed everything. There was evidently no thought of resurrection in Mary Magdalene's mind.

The apostle John , eyewitness to some of the dramatic events of that morning, gives the best description:

 1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 

 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
 13 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.” (John 20:1-13)

Mary's first inclination was to assume that someone had stolen Jesus' body. When she looked inside the tomb for the second time, two angels appeared and they spoke to her saying: "He is not here; for He is risen" (Matthew 28:6) Then the angels instructed her and the others to "Go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead" (Matthew 28:7). At that point, all but Mary Magdalene ran out to share the marvelous news. Mary seemed to have stayed outside the tomb and continued to grieve over Christ's missing body. Perhaps she was in shock and had not understood the angel when he shared the news that Jesus was not dead, but that He had risen...He was ALIVE! So the angel came and spoke directly to her: "Woman why are you weeping?" And between sobs she replied "They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him." (John 20:13)

It was then that she turned and saw Jesus. Though she did not recognize Him at first and pleaded with Him to show her where they had taken the body of Christ. All He had to say was her name and she instantly recognized Him. "He calls His own sheep by name... [and] they know His voice" (John 10:3-4). Mary's grief instantly turned to inexpressible joy.

Can you imagine it?! Become Mary for a moment. Imagine standing in front of the resurrected Lord - the Saviour of all humanity - who everyone thought was dead - and realize for the first time that He is ALIVE in front of you and a mere arm's length away. Can you imagine being the first one to see His face and embrace Him with a hug? It must have been hard for her to ever let go! The pure joy she must have felt at that moment. No drug or other esteemed pleasure could ever amount to that feeling. What a blessing she received. She was the first to have seen and touched the Lord after He conquered death. She was the first to experience the full extent of God's love for us. That must have been one powerful hug!

I believe that Mary Magdalene was blessed with this unmatched honour because of her faithfulness and devotion to Christ. It's a testament that despite the fact that our past may be filled with darkness, our future's can be made bright in Jesus and by trusting in Him we can be delivered from darkness. All that is required is deep faith and reverence. I don't know about you but I cannot wait for the day where I can share an EPIC hug with Christ! What a monumental day that will be!

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