Mary Magdalene: From Demon-Possessed to Devoted Disciple
Mary Magdalene’s legacy in Scripture is one of complete devotion to her Lord. Wherever her name is mentioned in any of the four Gospels, we read that she followed Jesus, ministered to Him, and was even with Him at the cross when the disciples fled. What motivated her commitment to this son of a carpenter from Nazareth?
We are not told much about Mary Magdalene, but what the Lord has revealed to us gives us a glimpse into the meaning of Jesus’ words in the Pharisee’s house, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:47). Mary was likely from the town of Magdala, near the sea of Galilee, and might have easily heard of Jesus when He began His ministry. Both Luke and Mark tell us that Mary Magdalene was, at one time, possessed of seven devils, which the Lord Jesus cast out of her. No further details of her demon possession or Jesus’ personal ministry to her are given, but we can well imagine the abject misery she would have been subject to in that condition.
We can assume that Mary Magdalene had a family, friends, and a place in Magdala to return to after Jesus restored her (possibly during His stay in Capernaum, where he healed many and cast out evil spirits). Yet we read that Jesus “went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women ... Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils” (Luke 8:2). She made the unusual choice to leave her home and follow this man wherever He went.
Mary no doubt experienced much hardship and persecution during the time she followed Jesus. The draw to return to the familiarity of her hometown and perhaps her family might have been strong, and yet we only read of her faithful companionship and devotion.
Further demonstrating this devotion to her Lord, Mary Magdalene remained with Jesus even as He suffered the agonizing crucifixion. She and other women from Galilee did not abandon Him during His humiliation; unlike Peter, who denied His Lord, Mary remained faithful. Then, in Scripture’s lengthiest passage concerning Mary Magdalene, we find her at the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid, both the night He was buried and again early on Sunday morning (Matthew 27 and 28); she had come to anoint Jesus with spices.
Considering her relatively small place in the whole of Jesus’ ministry, we might think it unusual that Mary Magdalene was the first at the tomb. A remorseful Peter, or perhaps the disciple Jesus loved, John, might be the more logical choice. Yet we can view her eagerness as evidence of her faithful love to a Savior who had delivered her from unimaginable circumstances.
At the tomb, her devotion to her Lord is richly and marvelously rewarded, as she is the first person to see Him after His resurrection. He tenderly says her name, “Mary,” when she does not immediately recognize Him. Imagine the joy she felt in that moment, after believing her beloved Savior to be dead and finding Him standing before her!
It is possible that Mary Magdalene did not necessarily understand what Jesus was accomplishing with His death on the cross; after all, she went to the grave expecting to find and anoint His body, not anticipating His resurrection. Yet her great love compelled her to go to be with Him; she knew who He was, and what He had done for her, and she loved Him. Our finite understanding often sees very little of the Lord’s purposes in our lives or through our circumstances, but the more we come to know Him, the more we will love Him simply for who He is.
The devotion that Mary displays is far surpassed, however, by the love of Jesus for her. In other places in the gospels, Jesus is said to have been moved with compassion for those He healed. It could have been nothing less than compassion that motivated His healing of Mary. Indeed, her love flowed out not only from her great gratitude at being freed from bondage, but also from Jesus’ great love for her. She experienced, as do all believers, that “we love Him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Does our knowledge and experience of Jesus’ love for us compel us to great devotion for our Savior? When we face persecution — or merely ridicule — for naming Jesus’ name, do we cower in fear or stand fast by His side? Let us pray for this same grace to walk with Jesus as Mary Magdalene did; may we be so compelled by His great love for us that our love for Him cannot be hidden.