Mary Magdalene had made it her life mission to minister to the needs of Jesus, but on that fateful day, she was absolutely helpless to do anything.
Crucifixion was the most shameful and painful form of execution known at that time. Stripped naked — especially shameful for Palestinian Jews — the condemned person hung in full sight of the passing crowds, unable to restrain the excretion of wastes in public and subjected to excruciating torture.Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP), 1993, p. 126.
In shock, Mary Magdalene and the other women stood at a respectful distance, watching in horrified silence as Jesus writhed in humiliation and pain. Time slowed to an unbearable creep. It seemed entire lifetimes were conducted between His raspy, laborious breaths. The jeers and taunts of onlookers were muffled by her private grief.
“Save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”
How different were the days when she and a determined band of other women willingly followed Him through cities and villages as Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. Mary Magdalene was a living testament, a woman freed from the torment of seven demons. It didn’t matter to her that there was a whiff of scandal about her inclusion. Jewish rabbis and Greek teachers never included women among their disciples.Ibid., p. 210. But she, Joanna, Susanna, and many other women were not about to be shooed away if their Master welcomed them without question. To be able to provide for Jesus and His other disciples was her joy and privilege.Luke 8:2 ESV Besides, Mary of Magdala always carried a whiff of scandal. To be called by her wealthy but idolatrous hometown was a constant reminder of that from which she had been rescued.Herbert Lockyer, All the Women of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), p. 100.
She had witnessed many incredible miracles by the word of Jesus. She had seen great crowds amass to see these miracles for themselves. She had heard His teaching and knew those words required a response, a life-altering transformation. She willingly gave it because she knew what it was like to be freed from the oppression of darkness and evil. The years of social isolation that must have accompanied such oppression were more than redeemed the day she stood near Him and heard Jesus say she was part of His family. “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it,” He said, gesturing at her and all the other disciples who stood near Him.Matthew 12:49 ESV
If that offended Mary, Jesus’ mother, it was not evident now as she stood nearby, silently weeping.
“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”
The jeers were merciless. Even one of the other condemned, crucified men joined in, spewing his taunts from a bloodied mouth and weakened lungs. Suddenly the noonday sun went dark and the voices were muted to a fearful silence. Jew or Gentile, everyone in the crowd considered this a bad omen.Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, p. 128. But Mary Magdalene stood still. She knew that darkness was one of the plagues in Egypt; even so, it was a tool of God’s deliverance. She would wait. Jesus had told his disciples that something like this would happen: “[He] began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”Matthew 16:21 ESV The thing was, nobody really understood what He was talking about then. Today, the suffering was highly evident to His disciples but fear clouded their thinking about the purpose.
Three hours of darkness. Three hours of watching life drain from the One she loved so much. Finally, just as the evening sacrifice was being prepared at the temple, Jesus cried out His last and gave up His life. Mary Magdalene would never forget His anguished cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”Matthew 27:46 ESV The earth shook violently when He died, knocking her off-balance. Only later did she find out that at the same time the temple curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sanctuary was torn in two, exposing the secret place that only the high priest could enter once a year.
Mary Magdalene saw how the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side to assure His death. She wondered if they would take His body and throw it in a common grave like every other crucifixion victim. The very idea of it overwhelmed her with grief. Public mourning was important for every dead person, but it was illegal for those who had been executed.Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, p. 129. Even that small act of devotion was prohibited by law.
Mary Magdalene was determined to stay put until Jesus was buried — she had to know where His final resting place would be. Suddenly a wealthy man showed up and the guards let him take down the body. Mary Magdalene hurried to follow him, intent on seeing her Master’s burial spot. Along the way, she learned this man was Joseph of Arimathea. He led her and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, to a new tomb cut out of rock, where he gently laid the body of Jesus. Without a word, Joseph rolled a heavy stone in front of the tomb and walked away. Both Marys sat opposite the tomb, wordless with heavy grief.
Two days later, in the gray light of the early dawn, the women approached the tomb. The heavy stone that Joseph had rolled into place was now sitting to the side. Confused, Mary Magdalene ran swiftly to the other disciples to tell them that Jesus’ body was missing. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him,” she said.John 20:2 ESV
Two of the men heeded her call for help and ran back to the tomb with her. Entering it, they saw the linen cloths lying there but no body. Though they subsequently returned to their homes, Mary Magdalene couldn’t bring herself to leave. She continued to stand outside the tomb and weep for her master. Suddenly, two angels appeared and asked her why she was weeping. Perhaps everything had seemed so odd up to this point, but Mary Magdalene didn’t react unusually to their presence. She simply replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”John 20:13 ESV
The angels were mute, but suddenly she heard the same question from a different quarter. A man was standing next to her. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” One more time, Mary Magdalene repeated her concern. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
“Mary.” It was the only thing He said to her, but she knew her Master’s voice. A shockwave of recognition slammed into her heavy heart, shattering the grief therein.
“Rabboni!” She instinctively reached out to Him.
Gently, Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”John 20:11-17 ESV
It was a miracle — Jesus was alive! And she had the extreme privilege of bearing witness to this precious news. Though the testimony of women was worthless in her culture, Mary Magdalene had received the honor of being the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus.Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, p. 316. Eagerly, she ran to the disciples with her good news: “I have seen the Lord!”
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That’s the last we hear of Mary Magdalene in Scripture and it’s a fitting ending. Mary Magdalene had known the power of Jesus over the demons who had oppressed her. Now she knew the everlasting power of Jesus over death, the wages of sin. His sacrifice on behalf of fallen humanity was acceptable and pleasing to the Father — her Father now, as well.
I wonder if she ever thought back to the jeers and mockery hurled at Jesus while He suffered so violently on the cross.
“Save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”
Well, what if He had? What if Jesus had actually come down from that cross? What if He looked out at sinful humanity and shrugged off the plan of redemption for our sorry souls? That angry crowd was staring at the only way they would ever escape eternal torment — and they mocked it.
They. It’s easy to cast ourselves among the few who, like Mary Magdalene, were truly appalled by the cross, isn’t it? But C.J. Mahaney makes a compelling case otherwise:
Let me tell you who I most identify with.
I identify most with the angry mob screaming, “Crucify Him!”
That’s who we should all identify with. Because apart from God’s grace, this is where we would all be standing, and we’re only flattering ourselves to think otherwise. Unless you see yourself standing there with the shrieking crowd, full of hostility and hatred for the holy and innocent Lamb of God, you don’t really understand the nature and depth of your sin or the necessity of the cross.
As the shouts and screams from the mob grow in volume, what’s it like for our Lord to look out upon these people? Even if you can’t recognize yourself among the angry faces, or distinguish your own strident voice … He can. And in response to those sinful shouts and curses from you and me, Jesus yields to the sentence of death….
When we begin to grasp that we joined that mockery — that we are to blame for the Savior’s death — we start to understand the seriousness of our sin.
But convicting you of sin is not my ultimate purpose here; rather, I want to convince you of grace. For when you’re deeply aware of your sin, and of what an affront it is to God’s holiness, and of how impossible it is for Him to respond to this sin with anything other than furious wrath — you can only be overwhelmed with how amazing grace is.
Only those who are truly aware of their sin can truly cherish grace.C.J. Mahaney, Living the Cross-Centered Life (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers), 2006, pp. 87-88.
Mary Magdalene no doubt cherished grace. She certainly cherished Jesus. But over the succeeding centuries, her reputation was tarnished by those who unscripturally labeled her a former prostitute.Herbert Lockyer, All the Women of the Bible, p. 100. Somehow, I don’t think she would care. Her only treasure was the presence of her Rabboni — the one who refused to save Himself in order to rescue her. And me.
Copyright 2008 Carolyn McCulley. All rights reserved.