Selected highlights from this sermon.
Mary Magdalene was afflicted by seven demons. She probably felt a great deal of self-hatred. But her life was transformed when she met Jesus, and He delivered her.
Women of all backgrounds and troubles can still find restoration in Jesus today.
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Jesus, Lover of a Woman’s Soul!
Why am I preaching this brief series of messages? There are a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s that we might better understand the heart of Jesus. Jesus Christ’s relationship with women introduces us to His sensitivity, to His compassion, and to His ability.
There’s a second reason, and that is to put to death the notion that somehow women in the the Bible, in the New Testament, are unimportant and they are second class citizens. Because it is true that in the New Testament certain roles within the church are designated for men, such as elder, etc., the impression oftentimes is given that this means that women are unimportant and that they do not not have gifts and they do not have abilities. Well, I want you to know today that the New Testament has much to say about women, and it exalts the role of women, as we shall see briefly.
And then there is a third reason, and that is that all of us need the healing and the forgiveness and the interaction and the acceptance that Jesus is able to give whether we are women or men or teenagers or children.
Today we are introduced to Mary Magdalene. In the ninth century there were various legends that arose about Mary (particularly in Southern France), legends about her and also legends about John the Baptist. And these legends taught that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were actually married, and they had children. And these legends have been given some degree of (quote) respectability in The da Vinci Code, which quotes gnostic gospels that say that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were companions. Even if those gnostic gospels are right, and the one I happen to be quoting is the Gospel of Philip (written 200 years after the time of Jesus, and we don’t know who the author was) and it is a spurious document. It’s attributed to Philip, when we know for sure Philip didn’t write it. But even if it is true, the simple fact is it wouldn’t mean that they were married. The New Testament nowhere suggests that Jesus was married.
As a second part of the legend there is the view that Jesus intended that the church be built on Mary Magdalene, but power hungry politically connected men stole it from her, and they built the church on Peter instead. All of that is mythology. But today we are going to be introduced to Mary of the New Testament, that is Mary Magdalene. Now there are many Mary’s in the New Testament so we have to keep them straight. This is Mary Magdalene.
And before we open our Bibles I need to say that if we could interview the women who are listening to this message right now, many of them would probably say that what they’re looking for is someone whom they can trust. Many women have been used by men, lied to by men and abused by men, all of which gives vent to the expression that you’ve often heard. Women say, “Men! You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.” You know. And so many of them are looking for someone whom they can trust. Now not all men thankfully are untrustworthy, but enough are. (chuckles) You know we could say 99 percent give the other one percent a bad name. That’s an exaggeration and that was to be funny, which apparently it wasn’t. (laughter) All of you took that entirely too seriously—entirely too seriously! There are many good men out there.
But then women are saying to themselves, “Can I trust other women?” Yes, I’m sure that in certain contexts you can, but if it is true that we live in a society where fathers who are supposed to be protecting their children abuse them, who then can you trust? Who can you trust? And there’s many a wounded woman listening to this message who has been deeply wounded by others, probably some man or men.
Mary Magdalene comes to us from the pages of the New Testament, and we’re introduced to her in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Please take your Bibles and turn to Luke, chapter 8. I want you to know that she was not a prostitute, by the way. In 591 Pope Gregory gave a message at Easter time, in which he said that the woman of the last part of Luke 7 is Mary Magdalene. The woman in Luke 7 appears to be a prostitute, but there’s no evidence that Mary Magdalene was one, but she was a woman who had great torments. And what we’d like to do in the next few moments is to simply take three snapshots of Mary Magdalene to see what Jesus did in her life.
First of all, there’s the picture of deliverance, and now with your Bibles open to Luke 8, it says, “Soon afterward he went on through 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 them out of their means.”
So we’re introduced here to Mary Magdalene as a woman out of whom seven spirits had gone out. Throughout medieval times there was speculation as to what those spirits were. Dante believed that they were pride, envy, anger, intemperance, lasciviousness (which is a fancy word for lust or being salacious), covetousness, spiritual sloth, and he called these the seven scars that Mary Magdalene had.
Well, Dante greatly underestimated Mary Magdalene’s problem. We’re not talking just about seven psychological scars. We’re talking about evil spirits, independent beings who were thoroughly irredeemably evil, who loved to inhabit people and to torment them. It’s found throughout all the New Testament, and it’s found today if you know anything about the occult. You say, “Well, where did Mary Magdalene get these spirits?” We have no idea. This is all that we have, this single description. But you and I now know (Don’t we?) how people acquired evil spirits. First of all, through the occult, Ouija boards, astrology, mediums, and the list could go on and on.
Five or six years ago here at Moody Church we had an evening service and the pastor who was present gave a lecture on the occult, and then we had an after meeting, and in that after meeting we identified 47 different ways that the people who came forward had been involved in the occult. You get involved in Satan’s territory because he’s not a gentleman. He will take as much of you as he possibly can, and because he works under a disguise, you think that you’re just plugging into the supernatural, and you have no idea what he’s doing to you, and making inroads into your life. So that’s the occult.
Another way is through unrestrained sin—alcoholism, drugs, abandonment, and commitment to immorality of various sorts. And Satan begins to get ahold and spirits begin to harass you. It may come through a family line. You know, there is that story in the New Testament about Jesus casting out a demon from a little boy. What did he do to deserve that? We don’t know, but if your grandmother was into astrology and witchcraft, and your grandfather was into the occult, there’s a possibility that it could have an effect on you. It isn’t inevitable, and you can be delivered from that effect, but the effect might be there.
All that we know about Mary Magdalene is that she had seven spirits. And what I know about people who have spirits, having counseled some of them (a few of them), is that not only is there this sense of guilt, but also there’s this sense of self-hatred and self-condemnation, this cursing almost of oneself, this self-loathing, because Satan likes to strike a blow at your value of personhood, and likes to tell you, “You are so evil that everybody has given up on you. There’s no hope for you, and God has given up on you, too, and you are deserving of what you get.” And so people like that oftentimes live as if there’s a curse on them. Self-hatred!
Well, you know, the Bible says that Mary Magdalene was a woman out of whom Jesus cast seven demons. Let’s just take a picture of this changed woman. The guilt is gone. The self-loathing is gone. The conscience is clean. Imagine today having a clean conscience. The conscience is clean. This is something your friends can’t do for you. There are many things that friends can’t do for you and one of them is that they cannot get into your inner psyche and cleanse your conscience. Only Jesus can do that, and He did it for this woman.
But there’s something else going on in the text. Not only is she forgiven. Her conscience is cleared, but she has a sense of value. Of course, I can’t prove it historically, but I would think that Mary Magdalene was probably hurt by men. And now suddenly she found a man whom she could trust. And (Notice this.) someone whose opinion was incredibly important thought that she was worthy of deliverance and worthy of ministry. Isn’t that beautiful? And Jesus Christ’s opinion is much more important than that of any other person or group of persons. Those of you who think that everybody’s opinion of you is bad, I want you to know today that you can be introduced to Jesus who will do something for you and restore your sense of dignity and value. The value of personhood!
So the first picture we have of her is a picture of deliverance. Then there is a second picture and that is one of devotion. Now I read the text there in Luke 8 with the intention of making this additional comment about it. You’ll notice it lists two other women who were with Mary Magdalene, and they actually traveled with Jesus, and they were a part of His entourage. They went with Him, and they provided for Him out of their means. These women had some money.
Have you ever wondered how the disciples managed? I mean, where were they always staying when they weren’t in a home? How did Jesus always manage? You’ll notice that the text says at the end of verse 3: “And many others who provided for them out of their means.” These women, bless them, traveled with Jesus. And you say, “Well, how long they were with Him?” This is what the Bible says. At the cross these women were there, and it specifically identifies them as the ones who traveled with Him in ministry. And where are they? They’re at the cross. The thing about it is that they helped Him financially, but they also helped Him in encouragement.
Now one of the things we want to see in this brief series is how Jesus just blows the taboos of His culture. He blows them. No rabbi would have allowed women to travel with him, number one. They would have said it didn’t look good, so let’s talk about that for a moment. That may be a legitimate reason to not have women travel with a rabbi. In the case of Jesus, He was surrounded by the twelve disciples, so there were always a number of people there. And we know that Jesus, with His purity of heart and mind, would never have allowed some improper behavior.
But the other reason that the rabbis would have never invited women to come along and to minister to them like this is because in the mind of a rabbi, women were unworthy of ministry and this kind of support. They were too holy for women to travel with them and help them in ministry. Jesus just blows that apart.
When the text says, and we’re back in Luke 8:3, that many other women, by the way, provided for them (some say for Him, plural them—namely Jesus and the disciples) out of their needs, do you know what the Greek text actually says here? Instead of saying they provided for them, which is a good translation, the Greek word is diakoneō, the verb form from which we get deaconess. Ladies, deaconesses, listen. This is where you had your beginning. And when the women are at the cross, it says that these are the women who ministered to them. The word is there again. They were the deaconesses. Now we do not have a verb for deaconess. We just call them servants. I guess the only verb we could have is they were “deaking” along with Jesus. That might be a possibility. But these women followed Jesus, and a year later they are there at the cross.
Now not only do we see them here serving Christ, but they are indeed at the cross. Now we don’t have time to read the Scripture here at this point, but listen carefully. First of all, the cross was no place for a woman to be. It was really no place for a man to be, as far as this is concerned. Horrific! We understand that better now, having seen The Passion of the Christ. It was a terrible experience. And if you read the New Testament, it says that the women were afar off, at last initially, because we could imagine that the crowd is milling around the cross, and they can’t really get close to the cross. It says that Mary, the mother of Jesus was there, and Mary Magdalene, and lists two or three others, and the women are there. Where are the men? Apart of John who shows up later, the men have left. “Thank you so much for your courage, Disciples. Appreciate that! But you are out of here.” But the women are at the cross. Someone has said that they finally stood where they could hear the low moans of His suffering, see the blood dripping from His wounds, and there in low exhausted tones, He committed His mother, Mary, to the apostle, John.
Everybody goes home. Jesus dies. And who stays with Jesus to see where He would be laid, but Mary Magdalene? God bless her! The last woman at the cross! The first woman at the tomb!
And so she comes to the tomb, and you know the story in John 20. If you have a moment you could turn to it there, but it is familiar to most of you—John 20, beginning at verse 11. Mary is weeping because she has come to find the body of Jesus. Wouldn’t that be a tragedy if she had found what she was looking for? How terrible to find the body of Jesus when all that you find is His corpse. And she wanted to better embalm Him.
And so you know the story. She sees the gardener standing next to her and she says in her tears, “Tell me where you have laid Him so that I can take Him away,” as if she could lift Him. She couldn’t have lifted Him. But the gardener says to her, “Mary.” Wow! She says “Rabboni,” which is Master. She recognizes the risen Christ.
Now I am in John 20 because we’ve looked at the picture of devotion. Now what we’d like to do is to look at this picture of the honor, the incredible honor that Jesus gives to this woman. In John 20 you’ll notice it says, “‘Woman, why are you weeping? (verse 15) Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she 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). 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.”’”
There are two things that Jesus does for this woman whose past was so full of guilt and demonization. Two things! She, of course, clings to Him. She grabs his feet and in effect she’s saying, “I don’t want You to leave.” And He’s saying, “Look, don’t do this because the nature of our relationship is going to change. I’m going to be ascending to My Father.” Now later on Jesus allowed women, it says in the Gospel of Luke, to hold Him at His feet, so it wasn’t as if she couldn’t touch Him, but Jesus was saying, “Mary, our relationship is going to change now, and you know that I’m going to ascend to the Father.”
But there are two things He does. First of all, He in effect says, “Mary, I just want you know that we’re brother and sister.” Notice He says, “I ascend to My Father and to your Father.” Well, wait a moment! If God is the Father of Jesus Christ, and God is the Father of Mary, does not that make Jesus and Mary brother and sister? He’s saying, “Mary, you are now a part of the family. You are as close to Me as a brother, and you are My sister. We share the same God.”
That’s good news, you know, for a woman whose background included the occult.
And then He says something else, and this just really thrills me. He says, “Go to My brothers.” He calls the disciples His brothers because they are. After all, they share the same Father too. “Go to My brothers and say to them I am ascending to My Father and to Your Father.” In other words, “Mary, you be the first witness to the resurrection, and you go and you tell the disciples about what you’ve heard and seen.”
Why did Jesus do that? Why did He give the responsibility of being the first one to affirm the resurrection to Mary? Well, you know, there are some people who say, “See, it was His intention to build the church on her.” No, not so fast! But there may have been another reason. You have to understand in those days that men did not believe women. A woman’s testimony in court was not accepted. And Jesus knew that when He told Mary… And Mary incidentally in the sequence goes and tells other women, and then those women go to the disciples. And what do we read in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24? Don’t turn to it but listen to it carefully.
“Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary, the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the Apostles.” But notice this. Men listen! And women! “But these words seemed to them as an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” I mean, who can believe a woman? Hysterical! They always get their facts confused.
I think that what Jesus was doing was saying, “Look, I know that men do not accept the testimony of a woman, but I want to exalt women. I want to exalt Mary Magdalene. I want her to know that even if men don’t believe her, I have confidence in her ability to tell the truth to the Apostles, and to get the word out. And I will believe in her even though men continue to hold women suspect.”
And so Jesus said, “Mary, you go.” That’s why, in about the fifth century, one of the writers actually called her the Apostle of the Apostles. That’s overstretched, but his point was she is the first witness to the resurrection, and you have a woman here who dearly loved Jesus, not in a romantic way, but dearly loved Jesus because of what He had done for her and because of the transformation that she experienced.
Women, I believe, were attracted to Jesus in His ministry. One writer says, “His purity of soul, His reverent courtesy to the opposite sex, His championship of their equal dignity with men before God, and His demand for supreme zeal in the spread of the new kingdom drew them after Him.”
I ask the question, “What would our churches be without women totally devoted to Jesus, with their sensitivity, with their gifts, with their abilities and with their spiritual insight?” Jesus was saying, “Mary, I believe in you even though the Apostles are a little slow to catch on. Between you and Me, I understand. You go to them. You tell them. They may not believe you, but I know. I know you’re telling the truth.”
Two closing comments today! First of all, Jesus helped women. He helped women. Is there a woman who is listening today who needs forgiveness? Come to Jesus and you’ll receive it. Is there a woman today who needs acceptance? Come to Jesus and He’ll give it to you. Is there a woman who needs deliverance? What a wonderful testimony we had this morning in baptism of Adrianne, into the occult, hearing the voice of a demon. You say, “Pastor, did you believe her testimony?” Yes, I believed her testimony. Yes! You get into the occult and you are in the realm of evil spirits, and those spirits don’t like to let you go, but thank God her mother had some Christian literature on the table, and she could read about Jesus and how to be saved.
And isn’t it wonderful (applause) that there are Mary Magdalene’s all over the world, coming to Jesus, finding somebody—some man they can trust. And Jesus extended Himself to them. In fact, you know, when you read the New Testament you almost think to yourself that Jesus attracted outcast women oftentimes. And I think that to some extent He did, not because all the women were that way but because He saw in them a need of having been betrayed by so many. He saw in them an opportunity to bring healing and help and forgiveness and reconciliation and dignity. And that’s my last point. Jesus exalted women.
I’m so excited about the next message in this series. It’s going to be about Jesus sitting on the well, talking to a woman who had five husbands. And I’m going to give you a little preview, just to whet your appetite so that you say, “My, we can hardly wait to come back.”
Not only does Jesus talk to a woman alone when the disciples have gone to buy meat and they leave Him there, and this woman comes to the well where Jesus was sitting. Not only does He talk to a woman alone, which no rabbi ever did, but He talked to a Samaritan woman alone, a half breed if you please. And He talked to a woman who was a Samaritan, who was an immoral woman on top of it. And she became an evangelist, and through her witness many, many believed. Jesus just blew the stereotypes right out of the water as He accepted women and graced them with His presence and with His dignity. (applause) It’s wonderful that you are clapping. I saw a few men who weren’t clapping as hard as they should have been (laughter), so you guys next time you clap for it too.
Whatever we might say about the role of women in the church, and I shall not get into those technicalities in this series, one of the things that is for sure is that when we sing hymns I personally always like to see who wrote them. I want to know something about the heart of the person who wrote the words. And you know that oftentimes we sing hymns that are written by women.
In the early part of the 1900s there was a woman by the name of Jennie Evelyn Hussey who spent most of her time taking care of her invalid sister. You know, in those days they didn’t have nursing homes and places where people could go for help. The family took care of invalid people. Toward the end of her life, Jennie suffered greatly from degenerative arthritis. There were times when the pain was almost unbearable, and she wondered how she could make it from the morning until the evening and get through the pain. And it was in that context with all that pain in her life that she wrote these words:
May I be willing, Lord, to bear
Daily my cross for Thee.
Even Thy cup to share,
Lead me to Calvary.
Wow! And she also wrote the words, particularly relevant for today’s message:
Let me like Mary through the gloom
Come with a gift to Thee.
Show to me the empty tomb.
Lead me to Calvary.
Let us all take our place with Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb. Let us be the ones who come to help the Savior. And let us be the ones to whom He says, “Go and tell My brothers, and tell the world that I am Jesus, that I am raised from the dead, and ready to deliver any desperate person who comes to Me.”
Let us pray.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for this remarkable story. Thank You for the life of Mary Magdalene whose Father is our Father, whose Savior is our Savior, and whose God is our God. Thank You for the deliverance of Jesus in the lives of all who come in humility and brokenness to receiving cleansing, and to have the divine surgeon do something within that no human surgeon can do. Lead us, Lord, to Calvary, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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