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TEXT: Luke 8:1-3
SUBJECT: Women of the New Testament #5: Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene is one of the New Testament's best known women. And rightly so, for few people are greater monuments to God's grace than she. Her life, therefore, gives hope to the vilest sinner and instruction to the most veteran saint. And thus, in her story, there is help for everyone.
This good woman, like her scarlet sister, enjoyed certain blessings not available to everyone. She was a Jew, and so familiar with the Law of God and the way of salvation. Moreover, she had considerable wealth, and so more advantages still. Unlike the peasant women of that time, Mary no doubt received a solid education. She could read well and think logically. Her wealth also made possible what was only a dream to most Israelites: a Bible of her own. And finally, her station in life enabled her to hear the best teaching available. She didn't have to settle for the local rabbi. She could travel to hear--or even hire--the best and most edifying men.
Thus, we know that Mary enjoyed many and precious advantages.
We also know that she squandered every last one of them. For Mary had flouted God's law and rejected His mercy. And so the LORD smote her with a fearful judgment: she was given up to Satan. Possessed of "seven devils" Luke tells us.
What these infernal spirits did to her is uncertain. But it must have been exquisitely cruel. Devils drove one man insane; another to scream out in the night; a boy to attempt self-murder; a woman to walk bent-over double; Job, of course, to "curse the (very) day of his birth". And so Mary was indescribably wretched. No hope in this life. And less in the life to come.
But then Jesus entered her life and changed her forever. He "cast seven devils out of her", which is no small favor. But better still, He saved her, and made her one of the Bible's most saintly--and privileged--women.
Of the many good things that might be said about Mary (and her Savior, of course), five stand out:
Her humility, which is seen in two ways, at least. First, the company she kept. Reared in the lap of luxury and now a woman of independent means, Mary still consorted with that poverty-stricken Carpenter and His "low class" friends. How rude their manners must have seemed to her. How her wellborn friends must have sneered. In fellowshipping with the likes of fishermen and tax-collectors, Mary was "slumming".
But in her we find not a hint of embarrassment. Why? Because, having been devil-possessed herself, she realized that all people are ultimately the same before God: sinners! And if we are equal in the judgment of heaven, how can we look down on others? She thought "the reproach of Christ, greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt".
Her lowliness is also seen in her conduct just after the death of Christ. She, along with her friends, came to embalm His sacred remains. And this, in any culture, is a revolting occupation. Surely, a woman of her wealth might have hired someone else to do the job. But she wouldn't. Her Savior meant everything to her, and so she would happily "dirty her hands" in His service.
Oh, how this humility set her apart from so many other women! The vain women of Isaiah's day, who pranced about in the new clothes; the ambitious Jezebel who thirsted for power; the loud-mouthed, know-it-all women who embarrassed their husbands at every church meeting.
But Mary, unlike these repulsive broads, knew what was most attractive in the feminine character: "a meek and quiet spirit".
A second trait worthy of mention is Mary's generosity. This is the virtue that takes first place in our text. "Mary, Joanna, Susanna, and others provided for Him from their substance".
Taken alone, however, I don't think this verse tells the full story. For it was not only Jesus who needed support, but His Apostles--and their families--as well. Thus the entourage was big. Perhaps sixty or eighty mouths to be fed. And so the cost was considerable. But Mary could think of no better way to invest her money than in the ministry of Jesus Christ and His Church.
And here, she ought to be an example to all of us--but especially the women. For, according to I Peter 3:6, women tend to "worry" more than men. And "money", of course, is one of the things they most worry about. Thus, the husband's impulse to give extravagantly is often reined in by his level-headed wife. And, of course, some giving may be excessive. But this is not one of our biggest problems!
But wives, you ought to balance your financial sobriety with a spirit of charity, a desire to "put first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness", trusting that "all these things shall be added to you".
But, of course, this doesn't apply to women only. For "God loves (in men, women, or children) "a cheerful giver".
A third virtue Mary possessed in abundance was "teachableness". When Christ revealed Himself to her at the tomb, the first word she spoke to Him is significant: "Rabboni" (i.e., "Teacher"). And this couldn't have been planned. It must have been the normal way she referred to Christ.
Thus, unlike such worthies as Peter, James, John, Nathanel, Martha, her sister Mary, and even the Lord's mother, we never find Magdalene fussing with Jesus Christ. She fully bowed to His prophetic office--and lived by "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God".
Here, too, modern females can learn an important lesson. Now, of course, no present-day teacher is infallible (including your pastor or husband). Thus, absolute submission is not required--or even permitted. But the "spirit of submission" is; the willingness to listen, rather than teach is as lovely today as it was when worn by the dear Lady of Magdala.
Let me be as blunt as I can be. I respect knowledge and intelligence in both sexes. Women, every bit as much as men, are commanded to "Grow in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ". And females, like males, must "Love the LORD their God with all of their minds..." Moreover, I am not averse to being helped in my understanding by women. Even Apollos learned much from Aquilla--and his wife.
But that bossy, know-it-all spirit that so many otherwise smart women display is repulsive to God and man, and the scandal of what passes for modern Christian femininity.
Mary was better bred than any of the Apostles, maybe better educated, and certainly better informed than them all. Yet we find her not the least bit domineering. When tempted to be this way, you dear girls and ladies remember Mary's confession, "Rabboni". Let Christ be the Teacher--and you, "come and learn of Him".
A final virtue characteristic of Mary Magdalene is her unswerving loyalty to Jesus Christ.
To be an early follower of Christ was easy. He commanded huge crowds and much respect everywhere. Not even the rulers dared lay a hand on Him. But as His career progressed, He became less and less popular, till the very thousands He had fed became a mob, crying out for His blood.
And thus, all superficial disciples quit the LORD. But more than this, even His nearest associates forsook Him. All the disciples fled at His arrest; and Peter denied Him with oaths. And so it seemed that the song "Must Jesus bear the cross alone" would be answered with a resounding "Yes".
But not quite. Mark tells us, 15:40, "There were also women, looking from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene..." While others were cowering in fear, Mary was standing at the cross of her Savior. And as she was a well-known follower of Christ, she took no small risk in appearing on this "the hour of darkness and the power thereof".
But "perfect love cast out all (of Mary's) fears". She would identify with her Lord in His life, His death, His burial, and His resurrection.
"Tis' loyalty, loyalty,
loyalty to Christ"
And here, in particular, she serves as an example to all Christian women--and men alike--loyalty to the Savior. No substitute for that.
Mary's reward was commensurate with her life. No one ever received a greater blessing than she.
The LORD's mother was the first to know of His incarnation. And what a privilege that was! But the mere coming of Christ secured no one's salvation.
But this other Mary, the once devil-possessed woman of Magdala, received the greatest of all blessings. She was the first to see the Risen Christ with salvation to bestow.
And she was the first to proclaim "The Lord is risen indeed!"
And so, she is worthy of our highest admiration, our carefullest study, and our strictest imitation.
May God give us such grace, for Christ's sake. Amen.
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