Preached at TRINITY, 9.30am // 20th November 2016 & 10am and 11.15am 27th November
‘The transforming power of encountering Jesus’
Mary Magdalene //
The star of this piece (apart from Jesus obvs) is Mary Magdalene. Now I am sure it won’t be any surprise to you that I am a bit of a feminist, and so I really want us to start by taking a look at Mary Magdalene this morning.
So let me ask you, what do we know about her?
Prostitute, Jesus’ wife, 7 demons cast out of her…
She is commonly referred to in modern Christian thought as a prostitute. But I want to tell you there is really no evidence for this whatsoever, it is total conjecture and theory throughout history that has been perpetuated down the years. So let’s just put something to right here! I don’t know really where this idea first came from but some suggestions are:
Perhaps this theory came about because when she is first mentioned in Luke 7, it comes straight after the passage where the ‘sinful woman’ anoints Jesus feet with perfume.
Or perhaps because when she is mentioned in Luke 8 with other woman, they are talked of having their own means, their own finances – how did they get them?
Or perhaps it is because nowhere is there any hint of a mention of family or lineage.
Or perhaps because we know that 7 demons were cast out of her (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2).
But is all of this enough evidence to label her as a whore? I don’t think so! Pretty weak case I’d say!
So what do we know about her…
In Luke 8 we read:
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
She had demons cast out of her. And that she had her own means. So I would like to put forward another hypothesis here. Perhaps she actually came from a wealthy family – after all Magdalene where she came from (hence the name) had a prosperous textile industry. Imagine then she was the daughter of a wealthy family, who had tragically been afflicted by demons. What do you think her family’s response might be on seeing her free and healed from this? I wouldn’t be surprised if they literally threw money at Jesus! Or perhaps she decided to follow Jesus after this, and they were only too happy to support her in it?
Now of course her family aren’t mentioned as they are with some of the disciples, and many of them left home without even a backward glace, just following Jesus on his command ‘come follow me’.
And well as I said that’s just another theory, but we do know she was demonized…
So then we can be sure that her meeting with Jesus was more than a fleeting one – more than just a suggestion to follow him – I mean let’s just imagine her state, as demon possessed. In other biblical accounts of the demonised, we hear people are:
Mute (Matt 9:32)
Blind and mute (Matt 12:22)
Legion – uncontrollable, crying out, cutting himself with stones….
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.
Can you imagine then, if you had been living with any of that and then you were healed and freed from it? The man with the legion of demons was said to then be
‘clothed and in his right mind’ and talking with Jesus. Having been shunned by society, possibly locked or chained up, and then one man frees you from this? What would you want to do?
Well, we know what Mary did, she devoted her life to following him.
And let’s just be clear here, she was just devoted to him, any why wouldn’t she be? Again there is no evidence whatsoever of her being in a relationship with him (which has also been suggested). But she knew who he was. She knew her life had been transformed by the power of Jesus.
In fact there is actually nothing bad or negative written about her – she did not deny Jesus (John 18, Luke 22), nor did she betray him (John 13, Luke 22), or make foolish comments (Luke 9:55 calling down from from heaven). And where she is mentioned with other women – Mark 16: her name is sometimes put first, before even Mary, Jesus’ mother…
She was there through it all. At his trial:
Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs…
At his crucifixion:
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
She had cared for Jesus own needs, she had followed him everywhere, she was not afraid or hiding at the trial or at the crucifixion.
And now here we see her in this passage, the first one to find the tomb empty, the first one to see the risen Lord, and the one to tell the other disciples that he was alive.
Let’s just clarify that, of the 12, or of those who knew Jesus and followed him, Mary M (according to John) was the first one to see him, the one to break the news. Mary Magdalene who history has suggested was a prostitute and sinner.
Theologian Tom Wright notes that:
John has told us nothing of her history; the little we know, we know from the other gospels. But her place here is spectacular. She is the first apostle, the apostle to the apostles: the first to bring the news that the tomb was empty. And… a greater privilege yet: the first to see, to meet, to speak with the risen master himself.
He calls her the apostle to apostles?!
You know if anyone wanted to make this story up, she is the absolute last person they would have chosen. So it’s pretty important that she is the one chosen here for that task.
And I just want to say that I am so glad to be in a church that supports women in leadership, I have been so blessed by peoples support on my journey to ordination, but as we know not everyone agrees. But this passage alone surely has to cause them some doubt!
Mary Magdalene’s encounter //
But I’m not here to give a feminist manifesto! Mary Magdalene is an important player in Jesus life story that’s why I am focussing on her here. And as always we must ask ourselves, what can we learn from her? What can we learn from this passage and her interaction with Jesus?
Well I think there’s a message for us all here and it is:
Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing
There is a situation and in that an encounter with the Lord, transformation takes place and then the good news is shared.
Any God given situation should lead to encounter with Jesus. Any encounter with the Jesus should transform those within it. And those who are transformed should be compelled to share the news of who Jesus is.
So this passage starts with Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb early in the morning, One commentator suggests that in order for it be dark it would have been between 3-6am in the morning which might seem like a strange time for a woman at that time to be wandering around in the dark. But there was a Jewish custom to mourn at the tomb of a loved one for 3 days after the death, as it was thought the soul was still present for that time. Perhaps she was going there to mourn, to just sit and be there.
Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing
So here she is, this is the situation she faces, an empty tomb. Jesus’ body gone. What are her emotions? Fear? who has taken the body? So she runs back to get help. Peter and we assume John (the beloved disciple the text says) run back to the tomb with her. See the scene and then head back to the others.
But Mary Magdalene, she stays. She weeps, looks into the tomb. And here is her encounter. Firstly with the angels, and then Jesus himself.
And she doesn’t recognise him, thinks he is the gardener.
I love verse 15 where he says to her:
“Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Because that surely is a key question to everyone who lives: who or what are you looking for? So often we seek our answers anywhere but in Jesus. This is a key question – WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?!
And how often do we not recognise Jesus anyway? I think Jesus probably comes to us many times, even daily, and we don’t see him. But especially in times of trial – we are caught up in our own emotions, our own situation just as Mary Magdalene was here. We can’t see beyond the immediate situation and yet God longs to appear to us, if we would just open our eyes!
Here of course it is in mentioning her name ‘Mary’ that she finally recognises him.
And what a beautiful moment. ‘Mary’. He just says her name and in that her world is changed, transformed. Suddenly the one who was dead, gone, whose body has even been moved as she thought, is there in front of her and she knows him. (And is if she needed any extra confirmation, there are the angels too!)
Just in a moment – in him saying her name. And you know what, he knows our names too…
In Isaiah 43:1 the Lord is talking to the people of Israel and says:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine’
And Isaiah 49:16, also to Israel:
‘See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands’
and in John 10:3 Jesus talks of himself as the Good Shepherd:
The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Jesus knows your name too.
I wonder if you can remember the first time you encountered Jesus? Perhaps you have always known him with you, which is a wonderful gift so many of us don’t have, or perhaps there was a moment of realisation?
For me, one thing was a moment of realisation that I was loved. Truly and utterly, unconditionally. Phil, my husband, says, as we fell in love with God, we fell in love with each other all over again. And the knowledge that we were ourselves loved as we were, enabled us to experience God’s love for ourselves and in our lives, and to pour out that love on those around us. It was a transformation in our relationship and in our lives.
And here we see a moment of transformation –
as Mary Magdalene, seeing Jesus afresh, in a new encounter with him – she is transformed.
From weeping in grief and sorrow to the realisation he is there, she turns towards him, shouts out ‘rabboni’ and then what would be your next reaction? I think I would fling myself at him hugging him! Wouldn’t you?
And I think that is exactly what she did, when we read the next line:
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…
‘do not hold on to me’, I just imagine her clinging on to him, as if he might disappear again!
She is transformed, from grief to joy, in an instant… Any encounter with Jesus should bring about transformation like that.
And transformation of course should happen when we meet Jesus for the first time, when we become Christians, but we need to go on being transformed into the likeness of who he is. Mary Magdalene knew Jesus, she had already decided to follow him, to support him, to care for him, but this is another encounter, a new step.
Do you have those moments? When you feel something new in your faith, a step forward, a realisation? I’ve had those moments in prayer, by myself or when other are praying for me; or in reading scripture, when suddenly something you’ve read 100 times before stands out in a new way and challenges your thinking or shows you something you’d not seen before of who Jesus is.
Or maybe you’ve had a more ‘powerful encounter – you’ve been healed, had an answer to prayer, seen a miracle happen before your very eyes.
Let’s be open to those things, let’s be seeking those things. I mean here for Mary Magdalene she wasn’t seeking the Lord particularly, she was lost in grief, but how much more do we see, recognise, realise the presence of od when we have our eyes open, our eyes fixed on him?
We could start each day by saying, ‘Lord show me a transforming encounter today’, or ‘I want to see you more in this day’, ‘show me where you are today’, ‘give me open eyes and ears to see and hear you today’…?
And what do we do with those encounters? Those moments?
Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing
And the response to an encounter with Jesus – should be sharing about it, telling the good news – evangelism!
As Jesus tells Mary Magdalene (though I’m not sure he needed to!) she goes and finds the disciples and shares what she has seen ‘I have seen the Lord’ and tells them all that he has said.
When I first became a Christian I described the desire in me to tell people about it, as being like feeling I needed a loud haler that I could stand on the street corner with and wanting to shout out who Jesus was and what he’d done in our lives. I could happily have done that – though I don’t think it’s a recommended form of evangelism TBH!
Instead I began to write about it and years later I’m still writing that blog! Because there is something about a transforming encounter with Jesus that compels us to share it with others.
And it is so powerful…
I love hearing people’s stories of how God has been at work in their lives, don’t you? It’s just so encouraging and inspiring. Last Sunday at the 6.30 we heard from a guy whose family have disowned him for his faith. And yet the ways God had worked in his life were just staggering.
At my last church, there we met a woman who was healed of terminal cancer.
I often start my day by asking God to use me to reach people. On holiday one time, I felt compelled to go and talk to a chap at a table in the restaurant where we were eating. Thankfully he spoke english… As I shared what I felt God was saying, he looked at me in total disbelief as I saw him transformed before my very eyes. He was not a Christian but had spent the day sitting in a church wondering what to do with his life and every word I spoke to him was an answer to that.
Testimony is so powerful…
Revelation 12 talks about a great battle in heaven and notes this:
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…
Victory was in what Jesus did and in out telling of what Jesus has done…
In Luke 8:38-39 – the man with all those demons:
… begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
In John 4 we read of the Samaritan woman who Jesus spoke to at the well, telling her everything she had done and that he was the water of life… she went back to her town and told them all about him and v 39 says:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…
In our Situations – look for encounter, be ready to receive transformation and then go and share what the Lord has done…
So I want to ask you today, where are you encountering Jesus in your lives right now? How are you enabling others to encounter Jesus? how are you sharing what he has done for you?
…..lead into ministry…