The last person we are considering in this series of messages is unique. The others we have treated as individuals. We will do this with Mary Magdalene as well, but we will also spend a good amount of time considering her typological significance. So we will treat Mary, but we will also be considering a very important person—the bride of Jesus Christ, the Christian church.
WHAT WE KNOW OF MARY MAGDALENE
Mary Magdalene is popularly thought of as a fallen woman who was restored by Christ. This is quite possible (in the sexual sense), but we are not told this explicitly. That she was delivered from acute bondage to sin is directly stated. Mary Magdalen was part of Christ’s traveling entourage (Luke 8:1-3). She began to follow Christ after He cast seven demons out of her (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). Mary was apparently from Galilee (Mark 15:41; Luke 23:55), and had some wealth, for she was one of Christ’s financial supporters (Luke 8:3; Mark 15:41; Matt. 27:55). Mary’s devotion to Jesus was marked. She attended His crucifixion (Mark 15:40; John 19:25), and when Joseph of Arimathea wrapped Christ’s body in fine linen, Mary Magdalen and another Mary marked the place where He was buried (Mark 15:47; Matt. 27:61).
MAGDALENE AND THE RESURRECTION
As soon as it was possible, she and two other women came to anoint the Lord’s body with spices (Mark 16:1). When they arrived, they found they had stumbled into a glorious pandemonium (Matt. 28:1-2). There was angel on the rolled away stone (Matt. 28:2).Not surprisingly, the chronology of the events after this require some untangling. The women saw angels who told them to give a message to Peter that they were to meet in Galilee (Mark 16:7). Mary and the others did give the message to disciples, but they did not believe it. But Peter was curious and went to the tomb, and found it empty (Matt. 24:12). Mary had also told Peter and John about it separately (John 20:2). Mary herself doesn’t know what to think—”they have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre.” She came back to the tomb and wept (John 20:11). Looking into the tomb again, she sees two angels, one on either side the mercy seat, the place where Jesus had lain (John 20:12). They ask why she was crying, and she said that it was because the Lord’s body had been taken. She turns back from the tomb, and mistakes Jesus for the gardener—until He speaks her name (John 20:14-18).
AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE
Now let us leave Mary Magdalene for a moment. We need to take a few steps back from this picture, and consider the larger story. If we were to subtitle the story of redemption, we could call it, “How God the Father Arranged for His Son to Marry a Prostitute.” Another name for it could be “How the Whore Became a Virgin Bride.” To get an idea of this Scripture-wide context, let us consider just a few things.
The Messianic line—in the first chapter of Matthew, the genealogy given for Christ contains four women, all of whom had reputation issues. There was Tamar, who dressed like a prostitute to trick Judah into sleeping with her (Gen. 38:12-26; Matt. 1:3). There was Rahab, who was a Canaanite prostitute (Josh. 6:17; Matt. 1:5). There was Ruth, who was from Moab. She was a virtuous woman, but could have been slandered—after all, she did spend the night with Boaz (Ruth 3:7; Matt. 1:5). And there was Bathsheba, the women who betrayed her husband Uriah in sleeping with David (2 Sam. 4:11; Matt. 1:6). Matthew has a purpose in naming these four women, just as the Old Testament mentions them all with a clear intent.
The story of Hosea—the prophet Hosea was commanded by God to marry a woman who would cheat on him (Hos. 1:2). In the first two chapters of this heart-wrenching book, God through His prophet gives a wonderful statement of how Israel will be cleansed of her idolatries, and will become chaste. These two statements (Hos. 1:10; 2:23) are quoted by the apostle Paul in Romans 9:24-26, and applied to Jews and Gentiles in the Christian church together. This means the Christian church is the whore who became a virgin.
The woman at the well—a motif is a literary device that sets the stage for understanding the context of events. Just as we have motifs that make us understand a situation instantly, so the ancient world had them. In the Bible, one such motif is whenever a man meets a woman at a well—you know that a wedding is in the offing. So imagine the scandal that came from representing Jesus in just this situation with an immoral woman (John 4:27). What is the point here? The Father is seeking worshippers; He is seeking a bride for His Son, and she must be unworthy (John 4:23).
God loves disreputable women. He arranged for His Son to marry one. And this is the glory of grace. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And so let us come back to Mary Magdalen. In the story of creation, Adam met Eve in a garden. In the story of redemption, Jesus met Mary in a garden. In the garden, Adam met a woman with a disreputable future. Christ met a woman with a disreputable past. We must always remember this because we are prone to forget it. And when we forget it, we usually do so in one of two ways. We become either self-righteous because we have forgotten our past, or we are guilt-ridden because we have forgotten our future. But through His holy Word, God wants us to dwell on these things.
SHORT CATECHISM FOR LITTLE SAINTS
What kind of woman is the Christian church?
What describes Paul’s life and ministry?
Zeal, intelligence, and faithful obedience.
Who does Mary Magdalene represent?
She is the Christian church, cleansed and forgiven.