2008-07-02 / Religion

The Gospel Truth

Mary's reputation ruined by the world
Dr. Charles F. DeVane Jr. First Baptist Church

Three of our great character studies in the gospel of John are women who share the same name, Mary. We have already examined the texts that tell us of the great faith of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Today we shall look at the most misunderstood of the three, Mary Magdalene. John 20:1-2, 11- 18.

The Misunderstandings

About Mary

This Mary is mentioned 12 times in the Bible, with all of the occurrences in the gospels. Only one reference, Luke 8:2-3, mentions Mary before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This is really all we know about the Mary from Magdala until the final moments of Jesus' life. So why do people tend to think she was an exceedingly sinful woman, a prostitute or the wife of Jesus Christ?

One reason is a biblical misunderstanding. In Luke 7 we read the story of a "sinful woman" who breaks into a dinner party and anoints Jesus' feet with tears and perfume. This woman was clearly not Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who performed a similar act at the end of Jesus' ministry. And, this woman was clearly not Mary of Magdala since there is a clear transition of places and people between Luke 7 and 8. As far as we know, Mary Magdalene was no former prostitute.

The worst misunderstanding about Mary does not come from an erroneous leap in biblical logic, however, but from terrible taste in fanatical fiction. Three infamous works portray Mary Magdalene as the lover, sexual partner and/or wife of Jesus Christ. They are the third century's gospel according to Philip, Nikos Kazantzakis' 1951 novel "The Last Temptation of Christ" and the 2004 bestseller "The DaVinci Code." Building on the biblical error mentioned above, these writers tried to drag down Jesus by painting him as a typical man trysting with an atypically sexual woman.

But it's just fiction, right? Fiction that touches on history should be true to the facts. Forrest Gump was a fictional football player from Alabama, but where he touched history, history remained untouched. This is not so with the books that belittle Mary Magdalene and blaspheme Jesus Christ. And because of them a million doubts have been planted in the minds of people about the gospel, the person of Jesus Christ and even Mary Magdalene.

Perhaps a proper view of Mary can help clarify what it means to have a proper, biblical, saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Clarity About Mary

Mary, before she met Jesus Christ, was a well-todo socialite from the city of Magdala on the coast of the Sea of Galilee whose life was messed up by demonic power. She was in love with the world, the flesh and the devil. This does not make her some kind of prostitute. It makes her something worse. She was a lost person.

There is nothing worse than having looks, money and power, when none of it belongs to the Lord. Perhaps it would be worse to have none of that and still not belong to the Lord. But the bottom line is that the worst person in the world is not necessarily a prostitute or a pimp, a warmonger or a murderer, a liar or a thief, but a lost person without Jesus Christ.

Mary, when she met Jesus Christ, was a totally transformed person. Her love of the world was transformed into a love of the Lord. Her love of money and fleshly pursuits was transformed into tithing and supporting Jesus' ministry. Her love of, or at least letting in, of the devil was transformed into repentance, faith and the permanent presence of God in her life. Mary became a saved person.

There is always evidence of the transformed, saved life. There is a change in who controls your life. There is a change of what to do with your time and treasure. There is a new pledge of allegiance. I find it absurd to see Mexicans immigrate to the U.S. and fly the Mexican flag. I find it more absurd to see baptized Christians never attending church, studying the Bible or living a holy life. Salvation is transformation.

Mary, once she met Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, could never let go. That's why she followed him everywhere. That's why she was at the cross and the tomb. That's why she was first in line at the resurrection. That's why she should be revered as a great gospel character today. Mary was a wonderful Christian person. And this great character in the gospel of John leaves for us a great legacy of genuine Christian faith.

The Legacy of Mary

God's love knows no boundaries. Frankly, it wouldn't have mattered if she had been a prostitute. It didn't matter that because of bad decisions, or perhaps just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Mary's life had been marred by the seven-fold force of the devil in her life. Jesus set her free and Jesus can set you free, too.

God's service knows no obstacles. Mary didn't say, "Since I wasn't chosen to be an apostle, I'm not going to be a witness." She didn't protest or claim she lost the election because she was a woman. She was the first witness of the resurrection and one of the greatest witnesses and workers in the early Christian church. Woman or man, if you believe in Jesus you'd better be serving Jesus, actively and aggressively, in his church.

God's heaven knows no beauty greater than the face of the Lord Jesus Christ. Mary's last words in the gospel of John are, "I have seen the Lord." For those transformed by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, those will be our first words when we get to heaven. Thank you, Mary, for showing us how to live, how to witness and what to say when we get to heaven.

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