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Mimicking Mary Magdalene

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Mimicking Mary Magdalene


Ryan Ferguson


April 9, 2023



Good morning, friends. This is the account of Mary Magdalene as told in the Gospels, Mary Magdalene, who is the messenger to announce Jesus’s resurrection. At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry,

“Jesus went on through the cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for Jesus and the twelve out of their means” [Luke 8:1-3].

When Jesus was crucified,

“standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” [John 19:35].

After the burial of Jesus,

“Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loves, and said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going towards the tomb. Both of them were running, but the other disciple reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying where Jesus had lain. Then Peter, who followed, came, and went into the tomb and saw the linen cloths. And he saw the cloth which had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had arrived at the tomb first, also went in and saw and believed; for as yet, they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went home.

But Mary stooping to look in, she saw two angels in white, one sitting at the head and one sitting at the feet where Jesus had lain. And the angels said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ And she said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned and saw Jesus, but she did not know that it was Jesus. And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ And she supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). And Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’ — and that he had said these things to her.”

Mary Magdalene, the messenger of the resurrection. John gives us Mary’s story and Mary’s dialogue. Why? I mean, after all, this is the story of the resurrection, and yet Mary Magdalene seems to be the main character. Why? What are we to learn? What are we to see in Mary?

Let me ask you a question. If you were to make a recruitment poster for Christianity and you had to choose from Jesus’s disciples, whose face would you put on that poster? Well, let’s consider some options of Jesus’s followers. How about James and John? Jesus nicknamed them the Sons of Thunder. These were the guys who wanted to call down fire on a village because they wouldn’t believe in Jesus.

How about Peter, the leader, in a sense, of the disciples, this guy who looked at Jesus and said, “I will never leave you. Even if I die, I will never leave you.” And within hours, he bailed on Jesus, followed him to his trial, cursed, and denied ever knowing him — probably not our best choice.

How about any of the other followers of Jesus who, when Jesus was arrested, scattered in fear? If I’m going to make that poster, I’m taking Mary Magdalene’s face and putting it front and center. We can learn from Mary what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Mary Magdalene was delivered by Jesus. Mary was transformed. Mary encountered Jesus in a moment of deliverance. Joanna and the other women — they were the economic fuel that accelerated the ministry of Jesus. Mary’s money — her means purchased food, lodging, and supplies so Jesus and the twelve could travel and spread the good news of the kingdom of God. Delivered from her infirmities, Mary Magdalene lived a life of generosity. Mary Magdalene witnessed Jesus’s death firsthand. She was compassionate.

Jewish leaders, conspiring with Roman officials with the assistance of false witnesses, empowered by a traitor, arrested Jesus, falsely accused him, put him through a sham trial, convicted him, tortured him, and sentenced him to be crucified. And we discover Jesus on the cross, and in the story, we have to wonder, will he be as alone on the cross as he was during his trial? And John answers that question for us. John lets us know that Jesus’s mom was there, Mary. John lets us know that Jesus’s aunt, also named Mary, was there. John lets us know that he was there because Jesus asked John, “Take care of my mom after I’m gone.” But you remember who else was there? Mary Magdalene. So, of all the people who followed Jesus, in his last moments, who was there to care for Jesus’s family, but John and Mary?

Now I think it’s kind of easy to look down on all the disciples who didn’t show up. But I wonder, under that political climate, under that religious climate, would I have been a disciple to show up? I think we can all ask that question and play the odds and say most of us wouldn’t have shown up either. We don’t need to deride those who didn’t show up, but we surely need to honor those who did. The only ones close enough to hear Jesus’s words in his final hours and interact with him in those last moments were a mom and aunt and Mary and John. What love, what compassion we see in Mary! She loved Jesus. Certainly, Mary got to know his family through those years of traveling and providing for them and loved them. And she showed up in that moment, not with a flower or cards, but with compassionate presence. Can you imagine what that would be like to stand with a mom and an aunt in front of a cross? Do you think John looked around and wondered “Where are the other ten disciples?” And brothers and sisters, if you would permit me to use my imagination a little bit, I have to wonder if Jesus looked down and saw Mary and thought, “I knew you would be here. I knew you would be here.” Mary, the compassionate disciple, was there when everyone else bailed.

Mary Magdalene searched for Jesus. She was persistent. Did you feel that in the narrative, in the story? No one pursued the disappearance of Jesus more than Mary in the scriptures. Mary tells Peter, John, two angels, and Jesus himself, “I don’t know where they’ve taken him. If they’ll tell me, I’ll take care of it.” Think about that statement in really practical terms. What is she saying? “If you will tell me where a dead body is, I will pick it up, carry it, and pay for it to be taken care of.” That’s what this woman is saying. When Peter and John go home, Mary stays put and persistently looks into the tomb. Undeterred in the presence of heavenly beings, Mary talks to them. Did you know Mary is probably only one of two people in the entire Bible who isn’t afraid of angels? She just had a conversation with them and says, “If you hid him, tell me where he is.” She tells them what to do. Then thinking Jesus is a gardener, she presses him for information about where Jesus is. She won’t give up. And as you read that story, you can conclude I don’t think she would have ever given up. “I’ll find him. Someone’s going to tell me where he is.” Mary was persistent.

Mary Magdalene announced Jesus’s resurrection. She was courageously countercultural. So, after persistently searching for Jesus, Mary gives Jesus this huge hug, which is actually my favorite part of that entire narrative — “Don’t cling to me.” She just grabbed ahold of him. “You’re not going anywhere now. I’ve got you.” That’s when Jesus asks her to deliver a message. “Tell them I’m alive. Go tell my brothers that I am ascending to God, to their God, my God, your God, my God. Go tell them.”

Here’s why that’s wild — because from this time period, we have first and second century Jewish and secular historical writings that conclude women were not reliable witnesses. That’s terrible, but that’s the reality of the day. So, think about it. Jesus waits until the culturally reliable witnesses — Peter and John — leave to show up. The men leave, and then Jesus shows up as the gardener and talks to Mary and says, “You deliver my message. You be the witness. You are the reliable witness to the resurrection.” And Mary, no hesitation, runs again. She’s already run to Simon Peter once and back. She takes off with another sprint and goes and tells them, “I’ve seen him. He’s not dead. He’s alive. He told me things. He’s ascending to the Father.”

Jesus’s choice of messenger demonstrates the width of his invitation. Everyone is welcome. Mary was courageously countercultural. To me, Mary Magdalene is the portrait of a follower of Jesus. Mary Magdalene is the transformed, generous, compassionate, persistent, courageously countercultural disciple of Jesus.

But how did she become that? Mary became who she followed. Mary became who she followed because Jesus transforms people. Jesus took tax collectors, the despised traders of his day, and transformed them into traveling servants. Jesus transformed fishermen into public speakers. Jesus inspired a Roman centurion at his death to declare his deity. Jesus transforms people. Jesus’s mission was to come to earth as a human, live a perfect life for us, die on a cross, defeat death for us through his resurrection, and provide a gateway so that we can be made right with God. Jesus can transform us.

Jesus was also generous. Jesus gave everything. Jesus gave up all of his rights to do His mission on earth. Generosity is defined by the sacrifice of Jesus, and Jesus extends that generosity to you. Jesus invites you to received his gift of love and life and be transformed like Mary.

Jesus was persistent. Jesus knew his mission on earth from his birth. There’s this phrase that appears over and over in Luke’s gospel.

“Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.”

Jesus knew what was at the end of his mission, and he took step after step right towards it. He was persistent in pursuing his mission of saving people. Jesus does not give up on his people. He is persistent. He persistently pursues us.

Jesus himself was courageously countercultural. Jesus saved his people by dying for them. That is not what the culture thought a hero would do. That is not what Jewish people thought was going to be their Messiah, their rescuer. They were ready to overthrow Rome and be free. But instead, the Messiah comes and tells them, “If my kingdom were of this world, we would get swords and fight. But that’s not my kingdom. I’m going to create a kingdom by dying.” Jesus led his people by washing their feet. Jesus pursued people like Mary Magdalene that culture would reject. Jesus welcomed prostitutes to parties. Jesus challenged the religious elite who would use a woman as bait to win an argument. Jesus took kids into his arms and used them to teach lessons in a culture where children were disposable. Jesus taught that marriage matters. Jesus went beyond the minutia of the Jewish law to teach the broad principles of love and justice and mercy. Jesus challenged his followers to love everyone, to forgive at their own cost, to reject anger.

Jesus painted a picture of an upside-down kingdom, where the last would be first, leaders would be servants, the greatest would be the least, the poor would inherit kingdoms, and mourners would be happy. In obedience Jesus entered into this world that he wanted to save and rescued it in a way that didn’t line up with culture whatsoever. Jesus is the transforming, generous, persistent, compassionate, courageously countercultural Savior that rose from the dead. Mary became that. She became what she followed. Mary became like Jesus.

And brothers and sisters, even right now, Mary is more like Jesus than she was then because Mary isn’t dead. Yes, her body died, but if Jesus rose from the dead, she gets to participate in that resurrection. Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 15.

“Now, if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead [if we as his followers say Jesus isn’t dead; he rose from the grave] how can some of you say that there’s no resurrection of the dead?”

Yeah, Jesus rose, but nothing happens to me in the future. How can that be true?

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then we don’t rise from the dead, then Mary Magdalene right now is just rotting cells somewhere in Israel.

“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

If all we have is this seventy-some years in life we’re given on earth, if that’s it, then look on that with pity because that’s terrible. But Paul concludes,

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead!”

Paul’s point — If Jesus rose from the dead, then his followers rise from the dead. We don’t die forever.

So, think about it — Mary, the messenger of the resurrection, experiences the reality of Jesus’s resurrection. She’s alive, waiting for that day of the Lord that we talked about last week, where her body will be made new, just like Jesus’s new body.

So, brothers and sisters, let us take this Resurrection Sunday, this Easter weekend, and choose to become what we follow. Let us become transformed, generous, persistent, compassionate, and courageously countercultural followers of Jesus. And let’s remember, if Jesus is raised to new life, then his followers are raised to new life. Let us become a follower of Jesus like Mary Magdalene. Let’s follow Jesus and become like Jesus. Amen? Amen.