Archive for February, 2014

Many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while ministering to Him. Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew 27:55, 56)

Mary Magdalene is mentioned more often than any other woman in the Gospels except for Jesus’ mother Mary, yet there is probably no woman in the Bible that has been as misunderstood as Mary of Magdala.  The church has often portrayed her as the sinner who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. But that text in Luke’s Gospel does not name the woman, and it is not likely that the woman spoken of there is Mary. Others have thought that she is the woman taken in adultery in John’s Gospel. Again, there is no reason to suppose that. We really are not told much about her former life. We should be careful and see just what the Bible does say about her.

The apostle Luke first mentions Mary when he tells us about the women who were following Jesus and the disciples ministering to their needs. “There were twelve with Him and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses; Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.” (Luke 8:1-3) These women were above reproach. We can be sure that Jesus and his disciples would not do anything that would ruin their reputations. Jesus’ enemies were always looking for ways to accuse Him.

But no one could ever make accusations against the Lord for the way He Jesus freedomtreated women. Jesus thought that it was important for women to be disciples and learn from Him. He was kind and cared for them. One of these women was Mary Magdalene. We are only told that Jesus cast seven demons out of her. Once Jesus freed Mary from the demons her life was changed forever. She was no longer in bondage to them; she was free and as a free  and very grateful woman she chose to follow Jesus and minister to Him for the rest of her life.

The subject of demon possession seems very foreign to our modern ears. We do not really understand it in our day, especially in our culture. There are other places in the world, such as Haiti, where people fool around with demons, but to most of us they just don’t seem real.

For people in the area of Magdala in the first century, demons were very real. Magdala was a fishing village near Capernaum on the shore of Galilee. Apparently this area was a hotbed of demonic activity. Jesus had already exorcised a number of demons in that region. This was the home-town of Mary of Magdala.

Though it seems unbelievable to us, there really are fallen spirit creatures called demons that indwell afflicted individuals. We have several stories in the Bible where these demons even talk through the lips of the possessed person. Jesus confronted many demons and healed many people from them.

Notice that Jesus “healed” them. Scripture portrays demon possession as an affliction. While sin may have played a part in the demon possession, none of the demoniacs in the Bible is explicitly associated with immoral behavior. These men and women were seen as tormented, unwilling people suffering wretched indignities at the hand of evil spirits. They were miserable, forlorn, heartsick, and pitiable creatures. Often the demoniacs were insane. Most of them had various illnesses. They were shunned by society and so they were ill-nourished and very poor.

This was the life of Mary of Magdala when Jesus found her. Her demonic possession must have been very severe; she had seven demons. So, she had the strongest of reasons to love and follow the Savior. He had saved her from much. He rescued her from illness and torture. Since the Bible portrays those who were possessed as afflicted with illness, we have no reason to believe that Mary was involved in any immoral behavior either before or after she met Jesus. She was a faithful, grateful follower all the days of her life. Her love for Him and her gratitude for her healing enabled her to devote her life, along with some other women, to wholeheartedly serving Jesus. She voluntarily used her own means to do this.

Mary was a very courageous disciple. When Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified, she followed Him, and stayed near to Him right to the bitter end. We know that she was at the cross with other women. “But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25) We know that most of the other disciples had scattered, but Mary stayed close by.

It must have been agonizing for her to watch the death of her beloved Lord. There was a mob there, screaming and shouting hatred at Christ. But she did not shrink away. She stayed close to Jesus to the end. When Joseph of Arimathea was given permission to bury Jesus, she followed him to see the tomb where Joseph took Him and how His body was laid. She went home and prepared some spices and perfumes, and then rested, because it was the Sabbath.

Mary had the privilege of being the very first witness to Jesus’ resurrection, early the next morning when she went to the tomb bringing her spices with her. Imagine her surprise when the tomb was empty! She ran to tell the other disciples. At first the other disciples thought that her words were nonsense (Luke 24:11). But, Peter and John ran to see for themselves. They saw the empty tomb, but they did not understand yet what was happening and so they went home.

Mary stood outside the tomb weeping.  She thought someone had come andmary-and-jesus-at-the-tomb stolen away the body of Jesus. But then, Jesus Himself came and spoke to her. At first, she did not recognize Him. “Mary,” He said. When she heard that beloved voice say her name she knew it was her Lord (John 20:16).

Jesus gave her a very special honor. She was the first person to see Him after He rose from the dead. Others had heard the announcement from angels, but Mary had the special honor to be the first to see and speak to Jesus Himself. “When He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene.” (Mark 16:9)

This was a special tribute paid to a faithful disciple. No one can ever share that honor with her or take it away from her. As women, we can and should try to imitate Mary in her deep love and commitment for Christ.

In our day, there are some really wild stories about Mary. You may often hear people criticize an immoral woman by calling her a “Mary Magdalene”.  Popular books and movies portray her as a loose woman. One apocryphal movie even makes her out to have been the wife of Jesus. This is all blasphemous.

The next time you hear anyone say something negative about this gracious, godly woman, I hope you will straighten them out! The Scriptures portray her as an extraordinary person much loved by Jesus. Mary was actually a faithful and honored Christian who let her profound gratitude and love for Christ show.

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But only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:42)

She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her. (Mark 14:8,9)

In the last few weeks we have been looking at the stories of the encounters that Jesus had with women. We started with the most important woman to Him, humanly speaking, His mother Mary. Then last week we told the story of one of Jesus’ great friends, Martha of Bethany. This week we will look at the story of Martha’s sister, Mary.

We learn about Mary from the three occasions when she and Martha are with Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel we see the account of a dinner party at their home in Bethany (Luke 10:38-42). In John’s Gospel we will meet them again at the tomb of their younger brother, Lazarus. Jesus would raise His friend from the dead (John 11). Then later, at the home of Simon the leper, where everyone was probably celebrating the resurrection of Lazarus, Martha is again serving. Mary took a pound of extremely costly perfume and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair (John 12:1-11).  Matthew and Mark also give an account of a woman, though not named, who anointed Jesus for His burial. The details in the accounts point to the fact that this woman was probably Mary (Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9).

Martha_and_MaryIn our first story recorded for us by Luke we see that Mary had “chosen the good part” and devoted her whole attention to Jesus. Sitting at His feet she learned much from Him. She took in His every word and she comprehended it, even better than the disciples. Mary was gifted with the discernment to understand the significance of Jesus’ words.

The Lord would speak of His coming death to the twelve disciples several times during His ministry but they would not understand or believe it. Mark records for us one such occasion. While teaching in Galilee Jesus told His disciples, “‘The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.’ But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.” (Mark 9:31, 32) On another occasion after Jesus told the disciples about His upcoming death and resurrection, Peter exclaimed to Jesus, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You” (Matt. 16:22). Jesus rebuked Peter on this occasion. When Jesus and the disciples were going up to Jerusalem for their third and last Passover supper with Jesus (of course the disciples did not know this was to be the last one) Jesus told them again that He was to be delivered into the hands of the chief priests and scribes who would condemn Him to death and crucify Him, but on the third day He would rise up. (Matthew 20:18, 19) Again the disciples did not understand.

But there was one disciple who understood – Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Sometime during these last few days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus and His friends went to the home of Simon the leper. While they were at dinner, Mary poured an alabaster jar of costly perfume on Jesus’ head. Jesus remarked that Mary was doing it for His burial. Her action showed that she understood what Jesus had been saying about His mission to the world – that He must die for our sins but He would rise again on the third day.

When Mary anoints Jesus’ head and feet with the oil, she is showing her gratitude to Mary-anointsHim for her own salvation and for saving the life of her brother. She also seems to understand that Jesus’ time on earth is near an end. She had been attentive to the Lord’s teaching. God had blessed her with understanding. In this story as in all the stories about the incredible women in the New Testament, the women seem to be very intuitive and responsive to the Lord’s words.

The disciples complain about the “waste” of the costly perfume. They wanted to sell it and give it to the poor. We know that Judas had selfish motives for wanting to stop her. He was in charge of the moneybox and was a thief. But Jesus cut through all of the grumbling and said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” (John 12:7,8)

Jesus made a point about what is more important – that is to worship Him. The disciples had to realize that what Mary did had more significance than what they understood. Mary’s blessing from God was that she was able to understand her Master’s teachings.

We see in this incident that Mary again “chose the better part”. Mary was so totally devoted to Christ, she was so in tune with His teaching, she was so intent on showing her love for Him that the only thing she could think of was worshiping Him. In her home she did this by listening at His feet. At Simon’s home, she did this by pouring the very costly perfume on His head. Jesus made a point to say that wherever the Gospel was preached, her action would be spoken of. He couldn’t have made it any clearer that love and devotion for Him must come first in our lives.

There is something else interesting to note here.

Jesus shatters cultural expectations by affirming the status of a woman as his disciple. Jesus is the greatest liberator of women the world has ever known.

Mary at Jesus' feetThis Mary is the same one who anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair (Matt 26:6-7; John 11:1-2; 12:3; To sit at the feet of a respected rabbi was the position of a disciple. In Acts 22:3 Paul says he was instructed at the feet of Gamaliel, a leading rabbi of Jerusalem (Luke 8:35). Mary’s initiative in taking such a position at Jesus’ feet and learning was actually shocking for most Jewish men, surely for the disciples. Rabbis did not have female disciples. Girls were not allowed to receive a formal education. Indeed one Jewish teacher, R. Eleizer is quoted as saying, “They shall burn the teachings of Torah rather than convey them to women.”

Jesus opened the door for women to have the privilege of studying the Word. Women are invited to be Jesus’ disciples and to study and learn and grow into maturity as followers of Christ. How thankful we should be for this story of Jesus and Mary of Bethany.

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Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. (John 11:5)

Martha and Mary were two unmarried sisters who lived with their brother, Lazarus in Bethany. Bethany was only a couple of miles away from Jerusalem making it a nice place to stay when Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem. Jesus and His disciples had seemingly known the family for some time. Since Martha was in charge of the guest arrangements, we assume that she was the elder of the two sisters.

We are not sure how Jesus came to be such close friends with this family. We don’t know much about His childhood or young adulthood except for the incident at the temple when He was 12 years old. (See. Luke 2:41-52) Jesus did not start His public ministry until around age 30 but this did not preclude Him from making many private friends before that time.

Jesus no doubt made many friends while He was growing up. He would have done the same things all other people did including socializing. It is quite possible that His friendship with Martha’s family may have gone back many years.

In any event, by the time we come to our stories about Martha we know that Jesus already knew who she was and loved her.

One time when Jesus and the disciples were traveling they stopped at the martha, mary, Jesushome of Martha and Mary. The Gospel writer Luke tells us that on this occasion Martha was distracted with the meal preparation for her guests. (Luke 10:38-42) While she was busy in the kitchen, her sister Mary went and sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him as He talked. Martha was irritated at Mary and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her with the preparations. Jesus gently responded, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Notice how gently Jesus responds to Martha. He doesn’t tell her that she is completely wrong for working so hard to prepare for her guests, only that “Mary has chosen the good part.” It is important to have food for your body, but it is more important to have food for your soul. Martha had misplaced her priorities a bit.

Martha was a consummate hostess and her hospitality was impeccable. She seemed to be gifted with the ability to organize and to make all of her guests feel comfortable. Jesus certainly came right in and sat down and started making conversation with the other guests. Being able to make others feel so much at home is an admirable trait. We might feel sympathetic with Martha when she found herself doing all of the work. But, this is what she was gifted for and called to. Her only mistake, which was very gently pointed out to her by Jesus, was that she worried about her chores too much. Taking a little time out for the Lord when He was right there with her was more important.

This does not mean that Martha’s faith was less than Mary’s. We see that Martha was the first to respond to Jesus when He came to their home on a later occasion when their brother Lazarus became ill.

Martha and Mary had sent Jesus a message when Lazarus became sick. They believed that if Jesus would come, He would heal their brother. It is a familiar story – Jesus delayed two days, apparently on purpose – and then traveled to Bethany. (See John 11:1-46)

Martha ran outside to meet Jesus when He finally arrived while Mary stayed in the house. Martha trusted Jesus completely. She told Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”  Martha was sure that Jesus would help them.

Jesus told her that Lazarus would rise again. Imagine how Martha must have felt. It was wonderful that Jesus was comforting her and telling her that she would see her brother again some day in Heaven. She did not realize at first what Jesus meant.

Jesus meant that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead right then. He asked Martha if she believed in Him and that if she believed in Him she would never die. Martha responded, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” This declaration of faith is the same as that of all believers in Christ – it is saving faith.

After this, Martha went and called Mary. They went to meet Jesus and then walked to the tomb where Lazarus had been buried.

Jesus told some men to remove the stone that was at the mouth of the cave that was being used as the tomb. Martha said, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

lazarus_resJesus prayed to the Father and then cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” Lazarus came out of the tomb still wrapped in the burial cloths around his body. Imagine what Martha and Mary and all of the people standing around watching must have thought! What joy and gratitude must have filled Martha’s heart! Martha did not understand what Jesus had been trying to explain to her earlier, but now there could be no doubt. Jesus, her friend, is also the Resurrection and the Life. He is also her Savior.

We meet Martha one more time in the Gospels. Later, Jesus goes to Bethany again on the way to Jerusalem six days before His final Passover. This will be the Passover that Jesus will share with the disciples before His trial and crucifixion.

Once again, Jesus stays at the home of His good friends, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. At some point on this visit they went to the home of Simon the leper for a meal. (Mark 14:3) “So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving…” (John 12:2) Here was Martha still doing what she was good at. Her reputation as a hostess was well known. Simon apparently did not have a wife or other female relative to act as his hostess and so he called on his friend, Martha. I can’t help but wondering if Martha spent a little more time talking to Jesus on this occasion, having learned her lesson.

Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. Martha must have been a very special person since Jesus made it a point to make their home His home when He was near Jerusalem. We must not forget that though Jesus is divine, He also came to earth as a human. He had human needs for food and shelter. Martha met those needs and Jesus showed His appreciation for her.

Martha is an example of consistent, unshakeable faith. And she was one more of the many women that Jesus showed kindness to in the Gospels. Next week, we will look at Jesus’ special relationship with Martha’s sister, Mary.

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These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. (Acts 1:14)

For several weeks now we have been studying the life of Mary the mother of Jesus. We have seen that Mary responded to God’s call to her to bear the Savior joyfully and with humility, courage, and instant obedience. Mary trusted God and her husband, Joseph to provide for her and her Child even when danger came their way.

When Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus she was willing to flee to mary and young JesusEgypt, a land traditionally an enemy of the Israelites. Returning home to Nazareth she and Joseph raised Jesus as a normal boy even though Mary knew that He was the Son of God.

Mary did not remarry when Joseph died, but depended on her sons, especially her firstborn, Jesus, to help care for the family. Jesus continued to care for her until the day that He began His public ministry.

Jesus’ first miracle was at a marriage feast in Cana that Mary was attending with Him. We saw that though Jesus knew it was time for Him to go out on His own, He showed respect and deference to His mother when she asked for His help. Mary then acknowledged Jesus’ duty to begin His ministry when she turned over authority to Him as she told the servants at the wedding, “Whatever He says to you, do it” (John 2:5).

After this Mary returned to Nazareth and continued her life with her other children. The Gospels do not say many direct things about her but we may infer some things from what the Gospel writers do say. Mary no doubt led a good life among her neighbors in Nazareth. She probably did all of the normal socializing and participated in the usual customs of the day. She was probably a friendly and caring person and well liked by her neighbors. Though she knew that Jesus was the Son of God, Mary did not go around boasting about her Son or treating Him any differently than she would anybody else.

In fact we have indirect evidence of this. When Jesus attained adulthood He began His public ministry in Galilee by teaching in the Synagogue. People were amazed at His words and wondered, “Is this not Joseph’s son? (Luke 4:22) His own neighbors did not accept Him apparently because to them He was just a normal member of their community. They wanted proof that Jesus was the Son of God and when He didn’t perform a trick for them they led Him out of the city to throw Him off of a cliff.

As Jesus’ ministry progressed people began to oppose Him more and more. Once after Jesus cast a demon out of a man the Pharisees accused Him, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul (Satan) the ruler of the demons” (Matthew 12:24). These Israelites thought that Jesus was evil or insane.

It was right at this time that Mary and some of Jesus’ brothers and sisters came to see Him. Was Mary worried about the anger and hostility that was displayed on this occasion? Mary must have been wondering how things were going for Jesus. Perhaps she was even concerned that He was being too controversial. This does not show a lack of faith on Mary’s part, only anxiety as she observed the life of her Son. We have the benefit of hindsight and we know the rest of the story. But Mary was living in the middle of it. Neither she nor any of the other disciples were clear at this point about what was to happen to Jesus. Mary had to live one day at a time trusting God.

When someone told Jesus that His mother and brothers were waiting outside to see Him, He responded, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” (Matthew 12:48) Some have said that Jesus’ response was being disrespectful to His mother. No, Jesus was not slighting them but trying to make a point. He immediately answered His own question by saying, “Behold My mother and My brothers!” as He pointed to His disciples. In other words, Jesus used this occasion to teach the lesson that those who have established a relationship with Him by putting their trust and faith in Him are His family.

As Mary listened to Jesus explain that, “whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50) she would have understood that Jesus was referring to more than just His physical family. Mary returned home knowing that she had a double relationship with Jesus, physical and spiritual. Jesus was her Son and her Savior.

Mary at the crossWe don’t hear about Mary again until we meet her standing at the cross when her beloved Son was put to death. Here she is standing with other women, and John the disciple. What pain and anguish must have been in her heart as she beheld the cruel and painful death of her Son.

Here again, we see how considerate Jesus is of His mother. Though He has the weight of the sins of the world to bear, He takes time out to provide for Mary. He puts her in the care of John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” John took Mary into his own household. Jesus shows that though He said that His family now includes all believers, Mary still held a special place in His heart. Though Jesus’ time on earth was growing short, He spent some of it doing His last duty as a human son by thoughtfully caring for His mother.

Mary returned home with John and waited for events to unfold. Was she as surprised as all of the other disciples when on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came and told Peter and the others that the tomb was empty? It is very likely that no one understood the full extent of Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth until His resurrection. But what joy must have filled her heart when she heard the good news!

This is not the end of Mary’s story. We know that she was waiting in an pentecostupper room in Jerusalem along with the eleven apostles and over 100 other disciples after Jesus ascended into heaven. (Acts 1:14) The believers would be filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. They would then all go out to proclaim the Gospel of the good news that Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that people could receive forgiveness for their sins and be at peace with God.

Mary would surely have been a willing and dedicated follower of Christ her Son proclaiming the good news to everyone. We know that she lived for at least a few more years because of the details of her life in Luke’s Gospel. Only Mary herself could have recounted such intimate details to Luke.

Mary’s relationship with Jesus was very special. She was a model of faith, courage, humility, and obedience for all.

Mary is also our first example of the many women that Jesus dealt with during His ministry on earth. We see that Jesus showed her respect, deference, and most of all love. Jesus showed kindness, consideration, and love for all of the women He met. We will continue stories of these encounters in the coming weeks.

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