[To learn more about the annual Evangelical Sunday School Lesson Commentary, visit www.pathwaybookstore.com.]
One of the great proofs of Christianity continues to be the reality of changed lives. Commitment to Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit brings about transformation which amazes people even years later. In the early centuries of the church, the apologists (defenders of the faith to unbelievers) used this transformation as one of their basic arguments. Radical changes which are so widespread among believers definitely speak of a divine power.
A radically changed life most frequently is the testimony of the person who "lived a lot" by experiencing the offerings of a sinful world. These may include alcohol and drug addiction, sexual immorality, crime, and a disregard for their own health and safety. When these individuals make a commitment to Christ as Savior and Lord, the change evidences itself in a dramatic manner.
Sometimes those of us who were raised in sheltered Christian environments and did not participate in many of the sinful indulgences of our era may feel we do not have a strong testimony. But we do! We too have been transformed and made new creatures in Christ. We have been spared from the degradation and heartache so many have experienced. This is the greatest testimony of all!
All of us who accept Christ experience a radical change within. But for those who have steeped themselves in the pleasures of the world, the change is more dramatically seen by those around them. In those cases they have the opportunity to share a dynamic testimony.
Recently in an attempt to make people more visually aware of the impact of drugs, some before-and-after billboards have appeared. On the left side is a normal-looking man or woman. On the right is how they now look after being on "meth." Their teeth have rotted, their skin is splotched, and they appear to have aged 10 years or more in a short period. In marked contrast are the changes for good which come to those who receive Christ and drastically alter their lifestyles. Though we do not have a picture of Mary Magdalene before and after, it's only logical to believe she too experienced a radical transformation.
I. A LIFE TRANSFORMED (Luke 8:1-3)
A. Delivered (vv. 1, 2)
1. And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him,
2. And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils.
Our introduction to Mary Magdalene comes as part of a description of Christ's ministry. He and a ministry team are traveling throughout a variety of cities and villages. This particular itinerary is not recorded in any of the other Gospels. In Luke 8 the 12 disciples are not divided into teams traveling in various directions. Ellicott's Bible Commentary described it as follows: "The Master and the disciples formed at this period one traveling company. When they arrived at the town or village, they held a mission, the Twelve heralding His approach and inviting men to listen to Him as He taught in synagogue, market-place, or open plain."
Luke also records another company traveling as a separate group to maintain propriety within the cultural setting as well as not allowing any accusations of immoral conduct. They would arrive in advance of the Master and His disciples to make arrangements for food and lodging.
In verse 2, Luke specifically records by name one of the women in this company. The attachment of "Magdalene" to her name indicates her being from the town of Magdala. It was located on the western side of the Sea of Galilee not far from Tiberias. In just a few words it becomes evident that Mary Magdalene was the recipient of miraculous deliverances. Where previously her body was inflicted with disease, she is now healthy! At one time she was possessed by evil spirits, but now she is free and a follower of Jesus.
The seriousness of Mary Magdalene's demon possession is seen by their numbering seven. This is also recorded in Mark's Gospel (Mark 16:9). Seven indicates an especially aggravated or violent form of possession. What this may have meant to Mary in her past is not explained. One can only speculate.
B. Supporting (v. 3)
3. And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.
Apparently a number of influential women chose to be a part of Christ's traveling ministry. They supported Him with their labor, their presence, and their substance.
Verse 3 points to the women mentioned by name as well as others possessing substantial financial resources. This appears to indicate Mary Magdalene belonged to a wealthy segment of Galilean society. She and the other women willingly financed the ministry of Jesus and His disciples.
There are so many bits of information we would like to know. For example, what type of family did Mary come from? Was she married? Did she have children? How was it possible for her to leave her home and be part of the ministry company? If she was one of the wealthy individuals, how did the family come to be one of means?
When you think of Mary Magdalene's spiritual and physical deliverance, it seems logical for her to be part of the ministry. Not only would she be thankful for her transformation, she would also want others to have the same opportunity. There is a personal application here for all of us. When we consider what salvation means to our present and future lives, we should want others to have the same experience. We do not need money to do so. Simply giving our testimony is the main thing. If we happen to be blessed with financial extras, then we should seek to support those who are ministering in ways and areas not open to us. Let us follow the Great Commission model (Matthew 28:19-20), which reminds us to start where we are and then expand our reach.
Here is a good place to stop and emphasize the central truth of the lesson. Everyone who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord experiences a radical change. Regardless of our situation, each one of us is transformed and has a dynamic testimony. Once we were hopelessly on the path to eternal punishment, but now we are looking for eternal life with the heavenly Father. Once we were blind to the concept of true life, but now our eyes are open to truth and to the joy of having a fulfilled life in Jesus Christ.
II. DEVOTED HERALD (John 20:1-9)
A. Early Visitor (v. 1)
1. The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
This part of our lesson is a drastic shift from its first section. Instead of a traveling ministry, Christ's disciples are facing a cruel reality. After being arrested and abused, their Master was subjected to the cruelest form of death sentence—crucifixion. As far as they knew, He still lay dead in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea (Matthew 27:57-60).
After the hasty burial of Christ due to the nearing hours of the Sabbath, those having witnessed it returned home to observe the 24-hour period. Once the Sabbath was over, the women bought spices to be taken to the tomb. These embalming spices did not preserve the body. Their purpose was to help cover the odor of a decaying body. About 4:00 a.m. Mary Magdalene and another Mary (Matthew 28:1) came to the tomb.
This early hour for their arrival indicates the urgency they felt to provide proper care for the Master's body. Having served Him in life, they intended to continue that pattern of care even after death. Much to their amazement, even in the darkness it became evident the stone was moved from the tomb's entrance. The usual pattern of tomb construction was to have a layer of stone which rolled on a downward track to close. To open it required several individuals to roll it upward and block it.
B. The Announcement (vv. 2-9)
(John 20:4-9 is not included in the printed text.)
2. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.
3. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.
Coming to the tomb at about the same time are two of the 12 disciples, Peter and John. Apparently Mary runs back to where they are with a startling announcement—the body of Jesus isn't there. She assumes someone is responsible for moving the body. Her immediate concern is not knowing where they placed Him.
In writing this account, John doesn't use the pronoun I. Nor does he refer to himself by name. Instead he emphasizes relationship. A closeness exists between John and the Master.
Hearing Mary's announcement, the two men run toward the tomb. This is not a time for standing around and discussing possibilities. Apparently John is the faster runner of the two, arriving first at the empty tomb. He doesn't wait for Peter to arrive before checking out the situation. Without entering he simply looks inside. Plainly visible are the linen cloths which would have been wound around the body. Immediately this showed an unusual situation. Anyone moving the body wouldn't remove the linen grave bands.
Upon arriving, Peter immediately walks inside the burial tomb. He too sees the grave wrappings simply lying there. Then he notices another significant piece of evidence. The separate face napkin, which was placed on the head in the process of preparation, is in another part of the tomb. This would indicate someone's removing it and specifically folding it. That would not be the action of a grave robber.
Verse 8 indicates John's also entering the tomb. Now he sees the complete picture. Faith wells up, and sorrow is drowned out as Peter and John comprehend a miraculous resurrection. Christ's past speaking of the Resurrection now can be understood. Previously they were slow of heart and understanding. But now they see what was predicted, though not fully comprehending it.
III. SEEING CHRIST CLEARLY (John 20:10-18)
A. Weeping (vv. 10-13)
10. Then the disciples went away again into their own home.
11. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,
12. And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
13. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
By comparing the accounts of the other gospel writers, it appears that Mary Magdalene leaves the other two women who are with her to run back where Peter and John are still on the way. After they enter the tomb, see the signs, and are convinced of what has taken place, they return to their own homes. For some unknown reason, Mary doesn't enter the tomb while the disciples are there. One wonders whether or not some conversation passes between them. Regardless of the possibilities, one thing is for sure: Mary stands outside the tomb and weeps. She isn't demonstrating any sense of believing in a resurrected Master.
Previously Mary Magdalene saw only the opened tomb. She did not look inside. Finally, through her tears she chooses to see for herself. But it definitely is different from what Peter and John saw. Their attention was on the grave cloths. That's all there was in the tomb. In marked contrast are the angelic visitors Mary now sees. What a contrast! Once she was a woman under the domination of evil spirits. Now she enjoys the privilege of heavenly beings talking with her in the moments of sorrow.
The angels confronted Mary with a question. The content seems illogical in view of the setting—Jesus' crucifixion, His burial, and now her concept of the body being moved. Of course she would be weeping in view of what Jesus had delivered her from and her involvement in His ministry. Yet God challenged Mary to think on what she had witnessed and express how she felt about it.
In the Old Testament we see God asking Moses the seemingly insignificant question, "What is that in your hand?" (Exodus 4:2, NIV). Later, when the men of Ai defeated Israel, causing the people's courage to melt away, the Lord commanded Joshua, who was mourning, to "stand up"! Then He asked the question, "What are you doing down on your face?" (Joshua 7:10, NIV).
Each of these situations remind us of the need to think and to express oneself with the Lord. Yes, He already knows where we are in our thought process, but still wants us to speak.
Mary's response points to her perceived dilemma. Her response to the angels is consistent with what she earlier spoke to the disciples (John 20:2). The Lord's body is missing. As if it was not enough for them to have seen the suffering and death of Jesus, now the body is gone. Who would have been so bold? Why would they have wanted to do such a deed of desecration? No wonder she stands weeping.
Her assumption of the body's being moved was a limited, earthly perception. Lest we become too hard or judgmental on Mary, we must remember our having the advantage of looking back with all the Scriptural records. It is so easy for us to assume she should have been sensitive to the whole picture. Yet, if we are honest, we too have probably been shortsighted in some of our perceptions.
B. Meeting (vv. 14-18)
14. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
15. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
16. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
17. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
18. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
There is no record of the angels responding to Mary's perceived dilemma of the Lord's missing body. For some reason she turns from them. No reason is given in Scripture. Many of the earlier Biblical commentators believe the angels motioned to indicate someone being behind Mary. When she turns, Jesus stands near her, but she doesn't recognize Him. Maybe it was due to there being some difference in His resurrected body. Maybe tears dimmed her ability to focus. There also was the unexpectedness of His appearance.
Even after asking her the reason for weeping, Mary doesn't recognize the Master. It's the same question asked by the angels. Assuming He must be the gardener, since it wouldn't be logical for anyone else to be there at that hour, she asks about Jesus' body. She concludes if anyone knows, the caretaker will.
Isn't it interesting how Mary never uses Jesus' name? There's the assumption of considerable knowledge or, in her grief, she simply fails to state all the information.
Without stating it specifically, Mary implies her desire to take Jesus' body and give it a proper burial. How she would accomplish this apparently hasn't been thought through. She couldn't handle the body by herself. Also, where would she place it? All of this becomes inconsequential when Jesus simply says her name, "Mary."
Immediately Mary turns and replies with the Aramaic word Rabboni, meaning "Master." She hears His voice differently this time. She knows the Master's voice speaking her name. As would be expected, she apparently touches Him and holds on. It is at this point where a modern translation more accurately states Christ's response. Instead of His saying "Touch me not," the original language is better translated "Do not hold on to me." He isn't asking her not to start doing a particular action but rather to stop doing something.
It is suggested that Jesus was pointing to the fact that He was not yet ready to make a permanent ascension to the Father. She would see Him again. But for now there was a task at hand. She was to go and give the message of Jesus' resurrection and coming ascension. He told her, "Go to my brethren" (v. 17). Even though His disciples had failed Christ during His suffering, He called them His brothers.
When Mary arrives at the location of the disciples, she has a marvelous account to give. What a meeting she had experienced! Instead of bringing spices and placing them on the wrapped body of Jesus, she had met the resurrected Lord face-to-face. And she saw and spoke with angels.
Mary's experience reminds us of the spiritual experiences which can be ours when we seek our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. The glory of God can be sensed by those who will actively seek to know Him. Paul's words to the Philippian church are appropriate here: "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Philippians 3:10, NIV).
Mary Magdalene provides an example of the power of God to transform a life. Regardless of the depths of sin into which one has fallen, he or she can be rescued and changed into a new creation with a new purpose in life. Mary Magdalene once suffered under the control of demons but was delivered to become a disciple. Countless similar stories can be found throughout the history of Christianity. The names are different, but the renewal is the same.
GOLDEN TEXT CHALLENGE
"BE NOT CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD: BUT BE YE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF YOUR MIND, THAT YE MAY PROVE WHAT IS THAT GOOD, AND ACCEPTABLE, AND PERFECT, WILL OF GOD" (Romans 12:2).
The transformation here urged has its negative and positive aspect. The believer is not to be conformed to this world but transformed by a mental renewal.
This world refers to the present order of things, the age in which we live, humanity under sin - seeking its own way, separated from God, and governed by unbelief, pride, selfishness, and Satan. To be conformed to this age is to yield oneself to it, following the line of least resistance, until one becomes like the age. Such conformation is forbidden to the believer. Demas forsook Paul, "having loved this present world [age]" (2 Timothy 4:10). Thus, the Holy Spirit may be grieved, and the person polluted and paralyzed.
To be transformed is to be changed from within in such a way as to give external expression. As Jesus was transfigured on the mount by an unveiling of the divine glory within, so the believer is called upon to give expression to the spiritual renewal within. The renewing of the mind is the work of the Holy Spirit, and the manner in which the transformation takes place. The consequence of this transformation is "the recognition of God's will as right and fit and ideal" (New Bible Commentary). The Christian whose mind has been renewed "tests the reality and power of moral truth by actual experience; to others it is a region of phrase and fancy" (H.P. Liddon).
To learn more about the annual Evangelical Sunday School Lesson Commentary, visit www.pathwaybookstore.com.