April 11, 2020

Mary Magdalene, the First Witness



Early on Sunday morning, before the sun began to rise, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to finish a painful task, the burial of her beloved Lord and Master. The pain and agony she must have felt as she mourned the Savior’s death is beyond comprehension. As one of the Lord’s most faithful and devoted followers, Christ’s appearance to Mary that Easter morn, places her as the first witness of the resurrection! Knowing Jesus was willing to reveal himself first to her, gives us all hope that we too can testify of the Savior’s divinity no matter who we are!

While known today as Mary Magdalene, she would have just been called Mary. She was from the city called Magdala thus giving her the title of Magdalene. This ancient city on the northwestern side of the Sea of Galilee was quite prosperous and known for its fishing industry exporting salted fish, popular in Roman markets. In 2009, archaeologists discovered a beautiful first-century synagogue lined with benches on the sides, colorfully painted fresco walls, a mosaic patterned floor, and a stunning one-of-a-kind stone-carved Torah reading table. Mary may have likely attended this synagogue. Jesus may have even taught here.

Magdala Torah reading table (source: Wikipedia)
The Gospels tell us that prior to following the Savior, Mary had been possessed by seven devils or demons. The scriptures give us no details of the story, except to say that Jesus healed Mary and cast out the spirits (Luke 8:2). Once tormented, Mary was now freed by the power of the Messiah. She devoted the rest of her life to following the Savior. Luke tells us that like other women, Mary helped financially support Jesus in his ministry (Luke 8:2-3). As one from Magdala Mary would have likely had a successful business with enough wealth to support the Savior. In short, after having known darkness, Mary chose to be in the light by becoming one of Christ’s most faithful and devoted disciples.

Contrary to later tradition, the scriptures give no evidence that Mary was a prostitute or the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet. Sadly, Christians later wanted to find a place for sinful women, and thus altered the story of Mary making her a prostitute.

Understanding who Mary is, let’s now turn to the final 24 hours of the life of the Savior. According to the Gospels, after Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the apostles fled and hid (Mark 14:50). John names only one male disciple at the cross, the beloved of Jesus, yet names several women who stood by his side, including Mary Magdalene (John 19:25-26). While other disciples fled in fear, these faithful women, Mary included, were willing to mourn at the foot of the cross to the very end. One can only imagine the absolute heart-rending pain they must have felt and the strength they had to muster as they became eye witnesses to the Savior’s agony and death on the cross.

Despite all that they had just seen and endured, the Gospels tell us that these women, Mary among them, then stayed to help remove the lifeless corpse of Jesus from the cross. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus apparently were also there at least to help remove the body and carry it to the tomb (John 19:38-40). The Sabbath is now fast approaching. The women were not able to complete the full burial process. They would need to return to the tomb on Sunday, the first day of the week to finish the heart-wrenching task. As they walked away from the lifeless body of their beloved Master to begin their own day of rest, surely there would be little rest for Mary and these women.

Before the sun had even begun to rise, Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive Sunday morning, followed by the other women, showing a sincere desire to care for the body of her Lord as quickly as possible. But the tomb was empty! The body of her precious Savior was gone. With what one can only imagine as fear and anguish filling her already broken heart, she ran to tell the disciples (John 20:2). After hearing the news, Peter and John came to see the empty tomb for themselves. As they entered, Peter found that the clothes that had been so carefully wrapped around the Savior’s body, were now folded and carefully placed on the stone bench. (John 20:3-10).

The apostles left, but Mary stayed behind. She weeps as she looks into the tomb and sees two angels sitting where his body had been so carefully laid (John 20:11-12). What sorrow she must have felt as she turned away from the last known resting place of her master. Someone had taken away her Lord, and she knew not where he lay. Tears would have filled her eyes making it difficult to recognize even the very one whose loss she was deeply mourning. “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” Supposing the man to be the gardener and possibly the one who had taken away the body, she says, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15).

The resurrected Lord appears to Mary Magdalene
Then Mary hears just a single word--her own name. “Mary.” Immediately she knows this is not the gardener. This is the Savior—her Savior. Powerfully, it was not by sight that Mary has recognized Jesus, but by hearing the Good Shepherd calling her name. She must have next embraced the Lord whom she had just seen crucified and laid in a tomb, for He said “touch me not,” which is better translated from the Greek as “don’t hold me more” or “you can’t hold me forever” (John 20:17). [1] In this remarkable moment in history, Mary Magdalene has become the first witness to the resurrection of the Savior.

The significance of Mary Magdalene, chosen by the Lord to be the first witness of the resurrection can easily be missed. According to Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, a credible witness must be someone with a good past life, not a slave, and not a woman. [2] Here stood Mary, a woman having been possessed of seven devils—not a credible witness according to Jewish Law. Yet, the Savior not only first appears to Mary, but also to several other women who likewise had come to care for the Lord’s body (Matthew 28:8-10). Before appearing to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5), who would become the head of His church, or any of the other apostles, Jesus first appears to women.

Jesus appears to other women after being resurrected, by James Tissot
The very same women had personally witnessed the crucifixion, and the burial, were now witnesses to the resurrection of the Savior. In a world where women were looked down upon and not valued, this powerful story teaches us that Christ does not see us for our worldly credibility, status, race, or gender, but instead sees our level of faith and devotion to him. In the darkest of moments these women had stayed by Jesus, supporting him, caring for him, even burying him. Now they are the first to have seen His light.

All of us have dark moments in our lives when we feel sorrow and despair. Like Mary who went to the tomb on a Sunday morning expecting to see the dead body of the Lord, we too may feel that all hope is lost. But on that Easter morning Mary found the living resurrected Messiah! He came to her just as the Savior comes to those who seek him.

In those dark moments when all seems lost, and our eyes are filled with tears, we too can hear our name, called by the Good Shepherd who knows us like no other. He brings light and joy to overcome even the darkest of days. Like Mary, we too can be witnesses of the living resurrected Messiah. Like Mary, we too can tell all who will hear of the glorious news of the Gospel. He is risen. Jesus Christ is raised from the dead! Come and see.


[1] See various translations from BibleHub. The JST says "Hold me not" implying Mary is already holding onto Jesus. Thomas Wayment translates the text as "Do not hold me back, for I have not yet ascended to the Father." (The New Testament, Wayment, pg. 204).
[2] Antiquities of the Jews, by Flavius Josephus, 4.219.

12 comments:

  1. Perhaps "Embrace me not" more closely conveys the intentions of both. Mary would have reached for Him to do that. He had to remain untainted by anything from this fallen world until after being with His Father in Celestial realms. Later, upon His return, He walked around in regular clothing and ate fish with some of the disciples, and they were allowed to touch Him then.

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  2. Excellent information and video. Thank you

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  3. May those women who were trouble by their hard lives in this world be saved by our Lord Jesus.

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  4. Join to translate video. Translate to Indonesian

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  5. Hello, It's Eman from Egypt.
    I like your videos very much and I find them very useful, thus I'm asking to have an access to translate your videos into Arabic. And of course for free.

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    1. Eman, I can not give permission to re-upload my videos because I don't own the rights to everything. I had to purchase rights for the content and don't have permission to license that to others. That said, you can add subtitles to any of my videos. I always leave a link in the description below the video for adding subtitles. If you add subtitles, just let me know and I can publish them (YouTube does not notify me when new subtitles are ready for review). Hope that helps.

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    2. I did not intend to republish your videos, I only wanted to add subtitles to yours. So, that really helps. But how can I notify you? Like sending you an e-mail or what?
      God bless.

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    3. I have recently added Arabic subtitles, I wish you confirm and approve it. God Bless.

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    4. Eman, sorry for the delay, I just approved the subtitles. Thank you so much for being willing to help! Google does not notify me of new subtitles, so you if you want to email me (if you want to help with other videos) you can get my email under the About page on YouTube. Thank you again, hope you have a great day!

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  6. Sound teaching! Biblically correct! Thank you for inviting me to this page..

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