By Gary Hardin
Author and associate pastor, First Baptist Church Centre
I asked the members of a discipleship class I taught in my church recently, “Who was Mary Magdalene?” Most replied, “Prostitute.”
This false view originated with Pope Gregory I (A.D. 540–604), who preached a homily in which he labeled Mary Magdalene a repentant prostitute.
Mary Magdalene might be the most misunderstood woman in the Bible. She has been falsely described as the unnamed woman with a bad name who wiped Jesus’ feet with perfume as an act of repentance (Luke 7:36–50).
The Jewish Talmud, a collection of early writings for the purpose of teaching, translates “Magdalene” as megaddelah, meaning one who plaits hair, a hairdresser — another false view of Mary Magdalene. The 2003 mystery novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” asserted Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife. Shocking, isn’t it?
More about Mary
What do we know for sure about Mary Magdalene?
- She came from the town of Magdala, on the Sea of Galilee’s western shore. Evangelical Christians have taught this for years, though some biblical scholars disagree.
- Mary Magdalene became a devoted follower of Jesus after He healed her from demon possession (Luke 8:2).
- Mary Magdalene and other women supported Jesus’ ministry financially (Luke 8:3).
- The gospel writers noted Mary Magdalene’s presence at Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 15:40–41, John 19:25) and His empty tomb (Matt. 27:61, Luke 23:55–56).
- The Gospel of John shows Mary Magdalene as the first to see the risen Lord (John 20:11–18).
- The angel at the empty tomb gave Mary Magdalene the commission to “go and tell My disciples.” Jesus told her, “Go to my brothers and tell them” (Matt. 28:5–7, John 20:17).
‘Follower of Jesus’
From these instances, we see Mary Magdalene as a committed follower of Jesus. This quality marks her as an important model for the discipleship of today’s believers.
What can we followers of Jesus learn from Mary Magdalene? Here are just three discipleship lessons:
- When Jesus healed her of demon possession, she responded with gratefulness beyond words. I have said often to numerous congregations, “Never lose your sense of amazement that Jesus died on the cross for you. Never cease being thankful for what Jesus did for you.”
- Mary Magdalene modeled the ministry of presence. Her powerful ministry of presence can be seen in the day-to-day work of Jesus, and all the way to His crucifixion, burial and empty tomb. A ministry of presence can be described as “being there” for others. Sometimes we can share wise counsel. At other times we can do helpful acts. But there are times when words and actions aren’t enough. In those situations, our best ministry is to offer ourselves, simply being there.
- Mary Magdalene gave a powerful witness for Jesus by telling His disciples of the resurrection. Have you ever considered that most of us tell good news without hesitating? We speak easily of our children’s accomplishments, our favorite sports team or a fun vacation trip. Why then should we not talk about the most important One to us, the Lord Jesus?
In 2019, I wrote a book about Mary Magdalene, “Discipleship for the Rest of Us: Lessons on Following Jesus from Mary Magdalene.” We appreciate Mary Magdalene most for the depth of her commitment to Jesus.
We expect pastors, missionaries, seminary professors and other clergy to model exemplary discipleship. But what about the rest of us — truck drivers, salespersons, homemakers, retail clerks and other “regular” people? Mary Magdalene shows the “rest of us” what it means to follow Jesus and to live all-out for Him.
Gary Hardin is a retired pastor and serves part time as associate pastor and minister for older adults at First Baptist Church in Centre, Alabama. He is the author of several books, including “Discipleship for the Rest of Us: Lessons on Following Jesus from Mary Magdalene,” “How God Takes Care of You” and “Wow Words from God.” His latest book, “I Will Rescue You,” is a finalist in the Southern Christian Writers Conference 2021 Notable Book Awards. The SCWC Notable Book Awards Ceremony will take place Jan. 22 in conjunction with the Southern Christian Book Expo. For more information, click here.
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