Cal Jernigan – Lead Pastor
I am writing this post from the land of Israel/Palestine, very near the Sea of Galilee. I have come here, yet again, with a group of folks from Central. Our goal is to discover the wonders of this ancient land and to deepen our understanding of the current reality of the people who now live here.
These trips are incredibly rich and rewarding and they offer deep insights into the Bible–past and present. I seriously want to encourage you to join us on an upcoming trip, just as more and more people are now doing. These trips will change both your understanding and your perception of God. It truly is a transformative experience!
So this makes about the tenth time I have now trekked to Israel. Each time proves to be fascinating, and each time I experience something I have never before encountered. This is what keeps bringing me (and many others) back repeatedly.
I tell you all this to tell you something remarkable. For the first time ever, today we visited the excavation site of Magdala. This is the home town of Mary Magdalene (Mary of Magdala). Part of what makes this place so incredible is that it was discovered less than ten years ago, buried beneath a banana plantation! It sits on the extreme western shore of the Sea of Galilee, and yet it has just recently been revealed. While there is an active excavation currently underway, enough has been exposed to begin to allow the public to experience it. And indeed, we did!
What’s so significant about Mary Magdalene?
According to Luke 8:2, Jesus cast seven demons out of a woman named Mary Magdalene. By any count, seven is a lot of demons! Mary is most often depicted as a wild child. But Mary’s story is the story of a conversion, a total change of direction. There was a “before Jesus” version and an “after Jesus” version. In this sense, her story is very much like many of our own stories. Most Jesus followers have a “used to be” story – a “I once was” but “now I am” story. Mary had such a story, and hers was sketchy at best. I’m not sure what one does to collect seven demons, but we can safely assume she wasn’t hanging out with church people. But that was all “before.” Her best life came after encountering Jesus (as does ours). Luke 8 further tells us that Mary, along with a group of other women, actually provided for Jesus financially. Somehow, after meeting Jesus, she had managed to make a decent living. This is in part what allowed Jesus to have such a wide and effective ministry.
Because of the transformation in Mary’s life, she appears quite a few times in the gospels, and she plays no little role. We know that when Jesus was crucified, while the men were busy fleeing, Mary and a few other women stayed close by and watched it all carefully. We know also that as soon as they had crucified Jesus, these same women were the first to think of taking spices to prepare his body for burial.
Listen to the words of Luke 24:1-11.
“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright, the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’ Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
Isn’t it just like God to reveal the resurrection first to women? And isn’t it just like men not to believe what the women said they witnessed?
But the story they told was true, and the testimony of these women stood up to the extreme scrutiny of others. Why? In no small part, this was due to the noble character of these women. Their lives had simply become too credible to be denied credibility!
And that’s just what Jesus does. He takes us from “messed up” to “made over.” And it is in this message that the life of Mary Magdalene continues to bring encouragement to this very day! Just like her, you and I can be radically remade by Jesus. Regardless of where we’ve been or what we’ve done, we can have a new life. We can have a new purpose!
I want to close this post by reminding you of the words of 2 Corinthians 5:17
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
These are words meant for you and for me. They are meant to bring hope. They are meant to bring joy.
Your past doesn’t have to define you. Your past is simply the prelude to the future Jesus has for you! Never underestimate what God can do with a life fully submitted to him.
This is the transforming truth of Mary Magdalene!