Encounters With Jesus: Mary Magdalene At The Tomb

It’s my pleasure to talk with you today about a remarkable disciple of Jesus.  This disciple was one of the most dedicated, most generous, most loving disciples of them all.  This disciple stayed with Jesus – there at the foot of the cross while they crucified Jesus.  Was there when they placed Jesus in the tomb.  And was the first disciple that Jesus spoke to after he was resurrected.

Can you guess this disciples name?  Her name was Mary Magdalene.   Did that surprise you?

This morning we are going to continue our study that we’ve called Encounters with Jesus.  And we are going to learn about Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene – immediately after his resurrection.  And I hope that by the end of our talk we will walk away with a new appreciation for this remarkable follower of Jesus.

We are going to talk about what we learn from Mary, but I think when it come to her we first need to start by talking about what we know is NOT true about Mary.  Because there’s lots of confusion regarding Mary.

What do we know about this woman, Mary of Magdala?

  1. She was NOT married to Jesus.

It seems silly to have to talk about this, but as much as I love to internet – there’s so much stupid stuff out there regarding Mary Magdalene that I feel compelled to inform you with utmost certainty that Mary and Jesus were not married.

A few years ago a guy named Dan Brown wrote a fiction book called the Da Vinci Code – and the plot of the book was that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married and had a child, and that the church covered it up in some monumental power struggle.

Pure fiction of course, except that some people have a hard time discerning fiction from reality. And so shortly after the book came out this woman, her name is Kathleen McGowan, stepped up and said, it’s me!  I’m the descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene!

It’s obvious, isn’t it?  Everyone knows that Mary Magdalene was a red haired woman.  “Here comes the red-haired little Jewish girl” everyone said when she was growing up.  “Here comes the red haired, freckle faced, pale skinned Jewish girl.  Who spoke with a brogue and drank Guinness don’t you know.  But she is wearing a hood – and so, what more evidence does one need, really?

I know I’m making fun of her claim but only because it deserves to be made fun of.

It’s embarrassing, really, and very dishonoring in my opinion.   I think that the tendency to want to turn this strong, independent, single, disciple of Jesus into some kind of love interest is much more of an indictment about our present day society than it does about the bible’s so called “bias against women.”  The writers of the Bible treat Mary as a devoted and loving disciple of Jesus.  Anyone who wants to paint Mary as a love interest of Jesus is the one who’s bias’ has been unmasked.

  1. Mary was not a former prostitute.

Again, a misunderstanding based on some passages in the New Testament.  Let me explain why people get tripped up here… and the bottom line is simply because of sloppy research.  Sloppy scholarship.

In Luke chapter 7 we read about a woman of ill-repute – commonly thought to be a prostitute – who anoints Jesus feet with oil and wipes his feet with the tears running down her face.   Out of gratitude, a heart moved by the good news that the Kingdom of heaven was available even to her.

That’s Luke 7.  In Luke Chapter 8, we are introduced to Mary Magdalene and other women, namely Joanna and Susanna – along with “many others” who were not specifically named – who are part of Jesus’ entourage and support team.

But there is no connection between Mary Magdalene and the woman of chapter seven.  No more than any of the other women that appear on the list in Luke 8, along with Mary.

Compounding the confusion with Mary is the fact that Jesus was also anointed, in John 12, by a woman named Mary.  But that Mary was Mary of Bethany.  Not Mary of Magdala.

Let’s face it – there are too many Mary’s in the New Testament!  No there aren’t and it doesn’t take much work to figure them out.  The writers of the NT tell you Mary of Magdala.  Mary – the one from Bethany. Don’t be a lazy scholar.

  1. Mary did not write her own gospel.

It has become quite popular of late, to talk about, Other Gospels.  Including the gospel according to Mary Magdalene.

Now here’s the deal with these things.  In 1896 a guy finds some ancient manuscripts – including one that was a story, supposedly written by Mary Magdalene.  You can go and read the gospel of Mary on line for free later, and as a matter of fact, I’d encourage you to.  Because what you’ll find is a story that makes no sense.  It pictures Jesus as some kind of guru, talking about how there is no sin, only what we think of as sin, and how we need to find the inner spiritual child within.

I know this wasn’t written by Mary because Mary would have written something that made sense.  She would have told stories about how he interacted with people and forgave them and healed them, and gave people hope and a purpose for life.

Instead we get drivel about how there is a conversation between the spirit and the soul, where the soul says, and I quote.  “In an aeon I was released from a world, and in a Type from a type, and from the fetter of oblivion which is transient.” Hmmn. Yes

Does that sound anything like the Gospel of Luke we’ve been reading?  No.  So what is the deal with the ‘gospel of Mary Magdalene”

Well, if you are trying to win converts to your religion, one of the most proven ways of doing so is to claim that Jesus backed you up.  So what you do is you create your own version of scripture and you somehow tie it into Jesus.

You might even say – that the bible you have now is right, but it’s lacking.  Either it’s incomplete, or that it has been corrupted – how ever you frame it, the bible is mostly right but it is unreliable, and so now we have this book, or these books, written by our founder, who has revealed the rest of the story.

This has been happening, by the way, since the very beginning of Christianity.  The Apostle Paul is being followed around by people who say – Paul showed you most of the truth, we’re here to tell you the rest.

And, by the way, Martin Luther began what we now call the reformation, largely because the church had decided that Scripture wasn’t enough.  So now – whatever the Pope says is equal to the Bible in authority.  This was a major problem for Martin Luther, and it should be- because it led to embarrassing things – like for instance, the time the pope declared that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute!

An embarrassing mistake that another Pope had to come back alongside and declare, “Just Kidding.”

This is why the call of the reformation is, “Sola Scripture”  – which means Scripture alone.  Nothing added, and nothing taken away.

Now the gospel of Mary Magdalene was an effort by a group of people called “Gnostics” to hijack Jesus and turn him into a backer of their religion.  But it couldn’t be done using scripture alone, so they created another gospel – one that happened to back up everything they were trying to get people to believe.

These same people created other ‘gospels’ that they named the gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Peter.  Hijacking the names of Disciples in an attempt to add a sense of credibility to their forgeries.

So now that we’ve got that cleared up  – the next question we ask is – what do we know is true about Mary Magdalene?

We know that she was rescued and set free of demonic influence in her life by Jesus.

Luke 8:3 tells us that Mary was delivered of seven demons.

Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, 2 along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons;

Mary Magdalene at some point in her life, had within her, demons that were influencing her life.  Do you know that there are demons in this world?  Some people might ask why we don’t see more demonstrable evidence of the existence of demons in our world.

I’d say – in our culture, specifically the United States – where materialism prevails – it would actually work against the sinister purposes of demons to announce their existence.  Why would they want to wake us up to the reality of a spiritual world that most American’s don’t believe exists?

But next time Jan Thompson, who runs our ministry partnership in Gonaives Haiti, is in town, ask her if demons exist.  And sit down and prepare yourself for a dose in the realities of an enemy that seeks to destroy us.

Mary was under demonic oppression until Jesus set her free.  Which is why, I believe, if she were to write her story, I think it would lead with the time Jesus set her free.

After that – she became full on disciple of Jesus.  As a matter of fact, she becomes one of the leading women in the band of women caring for and supporting Jesus. Whenever she is mentioned with other women, she is the first mentioned.

One commentator went so far as to say Mary Magdalene was to the women what Peter was to the men.  She became a leader among the women.

And what did these women do?  Check this out.  Luke 8:3 tells us that

3 Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples

Man!  This fact does not get a lot of press.  One verse in all four gospels indicates how this meandering group of Jesus people was surviving.  They were being bankrolled in a large part by women of means.  Mary leading the group.

Mary, an apparently single woman, becomes one of the most important disciples of Jesus.  And oh, how devoted she was…

At the cross, while Jesus is dying, where are the disciples?  Only John is there.  The rest have run.  John  and these woman stayed.  Matt 27:55 says many women were there, but singles out Mary Magdalene, along with Jesus mother.

And when Jesus was taken off the cross and placed in the tomb, who was there watching?  Mary Magdalene, according to Matt 27:61.  And who was the first person to the tomb on Sunday morning, to care for the dead body of her deliverer?

Mary.  Now let’s look at Mary’s encounter with Jesus at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, according to John 20… and note some takeaways.

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

The spotlight of the story goes back to Mary.  At this point, no one has seen Jesus.  They are speculating, but he has yet to show himself.  But that’s about to change.

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw 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. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message. 

So what do we take away from this encounter?  Let me suggest something specific here for two different groups of people.

First – let me talk to the women in the room.

It’s quite fashionable in the society in which we live to declare that the bible is anti-woman.  And I want to point out a couple of things here that should at least be considered as proof that it is not the case.

First, the gospel writers do make sure to credit women as being just as devoted, every bit as committed, every bit as dedicated to Jesus as any man was. 

Why doesn’t the NT talk more about these women?  Well, it was 33 AD and the society was what it was – it was patriarchal – women were marginalized.  Which makes it all the more incredible that Jesus would choose – of all his disciples, to appear first to one of his closest and dearest disciples, Mary Magdalene.

But why in the world would it surprise us?  We’ve read about Jesus’ three year ministry – have you read anything that would indicate that Jesus is the kind of leader who marginalized women?  Did he degrade them in any way?

No at every turn we see Jesus treating women as fellow human beings deserving of dignity and respect.  And of the four gospels – Luke goes to great pains to make sure that we understand the important role women played in Jesus ministry, as well as in the early church.

Among the world religions, Christianity is the only one who lifts women up, elevates them to a place of equal value as fellow human beings in this kind of world.  Christianity equals the playing field.  We are all equally brokenness and equally redeemed, equally qualified for life in the Kingdom of God.

  1. Let me talk to the skeptic who is struggling with believing that Jesus actually was resurrected from the dead.

There is an author I respect named Nicholas Kristoff, who obviously respects the humanitarian work of followers of Christ around the world.  But he is a rationalist, and does not believe in miracles.  And so he has interviewed two different people asking the same question.  Must I believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus in order to be a Christian?

Maybe you and Kristoff share that same objection to faith.

I will say that Mary, and the disciples, are proof for the actual literal resurrection of Jesus.  And the proof comes in the manner in which they were surprised that it happened.

Jesus had been telling these disciples that he would die and then be raised back to life three days later.  He told them it time and time and again.  In Mark chapter 8, Mark Chapter 9, Matthew 27.

Even the enemies of Jesus knew this claim, which is why they stationed guards at the entrance of the tomb.  But here’s the thing.  The guards had their back to the tomb.  They didn’t really believe Jesus.  They thought the disciples would steal his body and perpetuate a fraud.

The guards were there to keep people from breaking IN.  They never imagined that Jesus was going to break OUT!

And neither did the disciples.  When Mary gets to the tomb and finds it is empty – what does she say?  “Could it be that he has risen from the dead?”  No.  That thought hasn’t crossed her mind.

Even when Jesus was standing in front of her, she didn’t recognize him.  She thought he was the gardener.  Why?  Because she made an assumption that the resurrection couldn’t happen.

Sometimes people nowadays, we get a little cultural bias going and we look back and try to explain away things like this – and we say, well, you know back in those days, people were simpletons – easily swayed by thoughts of the supernatural.

Well then, if that’s the case, then why weren’t the disciples all lined up for a front row seat on that Easter morning.  Here’s why.   The resurrection was as hard for the disciples to believe as it is for you.

Furthermore – if you were fabricating an account of the resurrection in order to promote your religion, you would never make a woman the first witness.

All historians will tell you that in those times women could not testify in Jewish or Roman courts.  A woman’s testimony was considered unreliable and therefore inadmissible as evidence. Yet here’s Mary.

The only plausible reason why these men who wrote these accounts put Mary on the scene first, is that it must have happened that way.  There’s no other motive.

A moment ago I called Mr. Kristoff a rationalist.  Well, Christianity is incredibly rational.  All the people we read about are acting rationally.  No one thinks it will happen.  And when it does, they are shocked.  Thrilled, but surprised.

They act as you would act if you had been there.

For Mary – you can almost walk through her realization of what is happened.  It happens in a finger snap – but she is there in an empty tomb wondering where the body of Jesus was taken.  Who would steal it?  Why did they leave his grave clothes neatly folded on the slab?  Now here’s a gardener – good – he might know.  Maybe she is in the wrong tomb?

Then she hears the gardener call her by her name.  Why does this gardener know my name?  That’s weird.  I didn’t introduce myself, did I?  No… and then, why does that voice sound so familiar?  It sounds like Jesus’ voice, but he died and that’s why I’m here but he’s not here he’s…  There!  He’s alive!

She behaved like you would behave.  They were incredulous, just like you would be, if you were in their shoes.

So to my skeptic friends, I’d say – all these first century witnesses were just as incredulous as you.  If you are going to refuse to believe, then you must also indict all of these witnesses, most of whom received nothing but beating and whippings and martyrdom.  Their testimony of the risen Christ was written in their own blood.

Mr. Kristoff asks – must I believe in the resurrection of Jesus to be a Christian.  The answer is yes.  See the resurrection is God’s affidavit – It is his sworn testimony – written in blood spilled on a cross – that everything Jesus claimed was true.

Without the validation of the resurrection, then Jesus must be discarded as a delusional cult leader.

So yes, followers of Jesus believe in the resurrection of Jesus.  But that belief is far from an irrational one.

The bible is filled with human beings acting like rational human beings would react to the amazing revelation that there is a God.  That he loves us enough to come to live amongst us, that he loved us enough to die in our place in order to give us a fresh start – and the opportunity to walk with God at our side – our comforter, our advisor, our ever-present help.

Perhaps today is the day you for you, skeptic – like Mary – to come to the realization that Jesus is calling your name.  Perhaps today is the day you connect all the dots that leads from heaven to your heart.  And perhaps today is the you cross the line of faith and believe in the literal life, death and resurrection of Jesus.


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