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Mary Magdalene

Jul 22, 2018

Passage: Luke 8:1-3

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Pentecost

Detail:

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. It is no small thing to remember Mary Magdalene on this Sunday. The testimony given about her in God’s Word is remarkable. In her, we are shown God’s amazing grace and transforming power. On a broader scale, her testimony demolishes the idea that God’s Word somehow neglects women or promotes a misogynistic view towards women. Anyone who claims that the Word of God has a low view of women, hasn’t read The Holy Scriptures. At the same time, Mary represents all of us. Before Christ came into our lives, we were lost, utterly lost and Mary Magdalene is a picture of this universal predicament even while her circumstances were unique. However, to stand back and realize how the LORD took her from a terribly desperate state to becoming an incredible disciple is – while being an outstanding example to us all – to be in awe of this woman of faith! Not only did the LORD honor her in a remarkable way, but in her actions, she shines so brightly that we can only hope to emulate her.

But as I said she is an example and I want to get back to more of this business or insinuation that the Christian faith (based on the Word of God) puts women down. Through Eve whose name means “life,” we know about the mother of all the living. Indeed, no Eve, no Messiah would have ever come! We wouldn’t even be here! Through Sarah, whose name means “Princess,” the great patriarchs came, but without her, where would Israel be? Deborah was a great judge through whom the LORD worked to protect Israel. Without her, Israel would have been defeated. Ruth is the example of faithfulness par excellence! How often she is quoted, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you (Ruth 1:16-17).” Esther, whose name means “Star,” but also conveys God’s hiddenness (even while saving us), was the instrument that rescued Israel from annihilation.

When we come to the New Testament, what higher honor could possibly be given to a human being than to carry the King and Savior in the womb?! The early church properly referred to Mary while defending Christ’s divinity: “Mother of God.” She carried within her God in the flesh! When Saint Paul taught on the Holy Church, what is the Holy Church compared to? Answer: a woman; a holy bride. There are countless great women mentioned in the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the Epistles. Some of the highlights include the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 who would not give up on her faith in Christ. In the end, she overcame the LORD by the power of her faith and it is as if the LORD had no choice but to bless her. The LORD said to her in the end, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” John 4 records the great scene of Jesus speaking to the woman at the well. In response to the grace of Jesus, she became a great evangelist, telling others about Jesus! She did not hold back. Anna, whose name means “Grace,” is identified as a prophetess at Luke chapter 2. To this day there is a gorgeous baptistry in Philippi, ancient Macedonia-modern Greece that honors Lydia whose account we find in Acts chapter 16, recording how she served St. Paul and his missionary companions in her home. St. Paul in Romans 16 mentions Phoebe who was a Deaconess! St. Paul wrote of her: “welcome her in the LORD in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well (verse 2).”  

To know these things – and even this list is but a small example from God’s Word – is to cringe at some of the things we hear today against the Christian faith. But even the lives of faith in Christ created by the Holy Spirit today demonstrate the truth about the high honor of women. It is easy for me to think of many examples of sisters in Christ who have made all the difference in the world for the conducting of the sacred ministry during my service as a pastor. But the one that stands out is my wife, Traci, of course. She has been the LORD’s voice of encouragement and grace to me over the years; she has lifted me up and calmed me down. She has given me absolution and stood by me to serve the people of God. She has always had my back and she has been my example of steadiness and devotion. She teaches me about the complementarity that the LORD made when He established holy marriage. Marriage is not the union of one greater than the other, but of two – both originally created in the image of God – who are counterparts, coming together so that they are no longer two, but one. And our faith honors the woman in marriage, so much that we read in Ephesians 5 that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her! That is how worthy of honor women are in the eyes of God. Men should be willing to die for them. So, what of this Christian faith? Yes, it honors women to say the very least!

But we might want to think twice in coming to Mary Magdalene (at least at first glance), and we need her because sometimes we suspect that we might be all that bad as well (like she was). The revelation in Luke’s gospel about her is startling. One demon in a person is beyond our ability to imagine. We hear the word “demon,” a “hairy one” by-definition, a word that depicts evil and darkness…a fallen angel that sets out to destroy. They are powerful, and they use their power to corrupt and to try to lead a person into the pit of hell, to join them in the eternal fire that awaits them.

If you glaze over, silently doubting the reality of demons, then they rejoice over you. Your incredulity means that you are all- the-more susceptible to their power. You don’t want to be that person.

When they attack – and the good news for you is that as a Christian you are protected by the Holy Spirit, and the full armor of God – and if they possess, then the signs are unnerving. Those able to diagnose true possession understand that the first step is to maintain a healthy skepticism (to consider every other diagnoses before possession), and even then if possession is suspected, a few possible symptoms are not enough to go on; there must be a cumulative case made; a considerable combination of signs that last over a long period:  1) the ability to know things never learned nor studied (like languages for instance); 2) the ability to make sounds that are unnatural for human capacity; 3) the demonstration of exceptional physical strength; 4) extreme anger, hostility, and violence, the severity of which can be frightening or unnerving; 5) a shift in appearance in facial features; 6) extreme vulgarity and cursing; 7) illicit and extreme immorality; 8) shift/drastic change in personality; 9) extreme aversion to the things of the faith; and 10) self-mutilation. Here is one of the more descriptive scenes in God’s Word:   

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 once 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 (St. Mark, 5:1-5).

Thanks be to God that we are not left helpless against the demonic. Much to the contrary, the Word of Christ which created the universe, which raises the dead, and causes people to be born from above in and through Holy Baptism, The Word of Christ is that powerful! Thanks be to God.

Furthermore, it is not the task of the Christian to be pre-occupied with the occult, but rather to live in the joy of the LORD and to be preoccupied with the LORD Jesus Christ. Anyone who is pre-occupied with dark things has already lost their way. Obsession with possession is not what we are called to. We are children of light called to think on things above. Our pre-occupation is Jesus and it is only when we encounter someone who is extremely plagued, do we even begin to consider the possibility of a spiritual cause. As for certain movies that specialize in the demonic and possession, why watch them? Why subject your mind to these things? They are contrary to God’s peace and love. It is not incidental that some people who have watched such movies, have had terrible nightmares. Why subject ourselves to these things? We have better things to put before our eyes and our minds!

The point here, however, is that horrible damage and terrifying manifestations can be caused even by one demon. But here at Luke 8, verse 2, we learn that Christ had healed Mary Magdalene not just of one demon (and one is devastating enough), but of seven. We cannot even begin to imagine what Mary’s condition was before Jesus entered her life. She would have been considered utterly despicable and frightening; she must have been worse than a leper (repelling others away). Who would want to be near her? She must have been in agony. She must have been lost and in hopeless darkness. She must have felt as though she was in a spiritual prison, out of control. She was being convinced that she belonged to hell.

And then…Jesus!

Her life changed.

But why did Jesus want her?

Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (Matthew 9:12).” “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners Matthew 9:13).”

Jesus could only warn the self-righteous, those who appeared clean and beautiful on the outside, but were whitewashed tombs on the inside (Matt 23:27-28). These did not want Christ as they had deceived themselves about their own self-righteousness. But the LORD had a different relationship with those sick and heavy-laden; those suffering; those rejected and despised; those condemned; those without hope…Mary Magdalene is a picture of this. And therefore, she is a spectacular reminder of the grace of God. What could she bring to the LORD to even intimate worthiness or deserving His help and healing? Nothing! She couldn’t bring anything at all! She was beyond helpless…with 7 demons inside of her, all she could do was resist the LORD. And yet Luke 8 at verse 2 states simply that she had been healed and at verse 3 it is revealed about her: “from whom seven demons had gone out.” There it was. She was clean. And this is a tremendous word picture of the LORD’s saving work.

It is possible for us to go through experiences in life, whether things foisted upon us or things that we have willingly committed that leave us with a sense of being dirty. There is therefore a part of us that wants to go into the shower and sit there for hours, hoping to become clean. When our consciences, however, convince us that we are not clean, then we go through life believing that Jesus is not for us. “How could the perfectly clean Savior even want someone like me who is so dirty?!” But wait! Behold! Look at Mary Magdalene! She had seven demons, seven! She was utterly unclean! She was completely dark. She was – seemingly – the last person who could ever become clean again! And yet, that is exactly what happened! The LORD made the demons leave her. Mary became clean. She knew it. She had a new life. Everything had changed…and this is where her discipleship comes in. She didn’t just say, “Thank you Jesus” and go off to live for herself, no, she became a dedicated follower of Christ. She would never leave Him…her thanksgiving overflowed. People have conflated her into the scene in Luke 7 of the so-called “sinful woman,” but there is no evidence in Scripture that permits us to make that assumption, so we can’t, but we don’t have to. What we do know is that Mary Magdalene lived out her faith by always following…always.

And her following, her discipleship are beyond my words to describe. The terrible suffering, she once knew was unspeakable, but then her discipleship became higher – and in the account of John 20 – even higher than the other disciples even those who would become apostles! What does this scene in John 20 say about Mary Magdalene? Consider the clues: verse 1: she went to the tomb first. It was so early, it was still dark. It would have been easy to hide out as one known as a follower of Jesus Christ, she didn’t care…even in the LORD’s death, she was bound and determined to still serve Him, to care for His buried body. No one else was with her. Yes, maybe she had become separated from the other women by accident, maybe she was just avoiding the crowds or taking advantage of the coolness of the morning, but there was probably a little more involved than that. Jesus had healed her. She would never forget. She owed Him her life. She had become a true follower. It was not just a name or a label; Jesus was in her soul and she could do nothing but continue to serve Him! She was that devoted!

When she reached the tomb, she saw that the stone had been taken away from the entrance to the tomb. She was alarmed, so she ran to tell Peter and John. And here is the next incredible scene about Mary: she returned to the tomb with Peter and John, but after the men inspected, they left, but not Mary. She remained in the place most associated with her LORD. She would not leave. And again, she was alone. She was the follower of all followers; the disciple of all disciples…yes, this woman who once had seven demons.

And she wept. She wept because of her great love. That even now in the LORD’s death, to be kept from caring for him in death was crushing. She loved Him that much! So, to her…to this woman, the angels spoke. They did not speak to Peter. They did not speak to John. They spoke to her. But that was nothing compared to what happened next. Jesus came and do not let this get by you. Mary Magdalene, the once unclean, the once demon possessed, the helpless, the hopeless…this Mary…this Mary the Risen Jesus spoke to first. What an honor! What a magnificent distinction. Mary Magdalene was the first person on earth the Risen Christ spoke to! The King of the Universe spoke HER name, “Mary (verse 16).” And then she must have held on to Him (verse 17) …she was the first one to touch the Risen LORD! And then – as if the honors upon the woman could not be heaped high enough – the LORD commanded her to “go” and to “say” (verse 17). She was commissioned as the first one to bear the news that Christ was risen! She was the first! And she did what she was commanded to do! This woman – Mary Magdalene rescued from an unspeakable curse – the first to come to the tomb, the first to alert the apostles, the one to whom the angels spoke, the first to see the risen Christ, the first to speak to the Risen Christ, the first to touch the Risen Christ, the first to receive a command to tell others from the Risen Christ, and the first to do it. This was and is Mary Magdalene. See how the LORD exalted her! See how the LORD took a very great sinner and cleaned her into a very great light! Her story still speaks to us. Our example for faith is this once demon-possessed woman…she teaches us how to be truly thankful, she shows us how to follow, she shows us how to love, she shows us obedience, she shows us faithfulness, she shows us to care less about what others think and to care about following Christ and telling others about Him. She is our example, this once demon-possessed woman, who became clean by Christ!

You have been cleansed dear Christian (washed in Holy Baptism); and you have been given a new life in Christ…and you have been drawn by the Holy Spirit to come to the LORD…you have come to see Him (in His Holy Body, the Church; and in His Holy Body, the Eucharist); you have come to see Him and to hear Him and to touch Him and to be touched by Him…and He assures you that you are unclean no more. You are now washed, cleansed, new…He has made it so. So, let’s follow…no matter what…against all social convention, against all skeptics…against all who give up hope…let us follow like Mary did; and let us tell others, let us tell everyone! We can now, because through the blood of the Lamb who is risen: we have been made clean!