By Marlene Houk
I’m researching and writing about the 135th woman in the Bible, Mary Magdalene. As I’m writing about her, I see pictures from my friends in Israel as they walk through her hometown, Magdala, along the Sea of Galilee.
Their pictures helped me understand her story, told in all four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Her dramatic incidents told in these books, include her hometown, Magdala. She survived demon possession there, but throughout the books, the negative label of her past sticks with her by including Magdalene in all but two mentions of her name. But a miracle happened, probably in Capernaum which is close by, and Jesus dramatically freed her from a prison of hopelessness and evil. She follows her Savior for the rest of His earthly ministry, encountering world-shattering events. One of these episodes—the crucifixion of Jesus—tilted her mind, body, and soul. Jesus had lifted her out of a dark and sinister pit of confusion and despair to the warm and nurturing light of His world. She had served along with His disciples for at least two years. And now, she was confused, desperate to find answers, and devastated by His death.
The arrest, trial, and crucifixion of her beloved Savior must have shocked her with its cruelty and political agenda. As she watched, Jesus died an agonizing death on a heartless Roman cross. Did Mary Magdalene hear the veil in the temple some several hundred feet away as it ripped in two? (Matthew 27:51) What did she feel when the skies darkened for three hours in the middle of the day? (Matthew 27:45) Would the earthquake have frightened her as rocks crashed and split? (Matthew 27:51) Did she gasp at the grating of wood or brick as coffins and stones moved and dead saints walked again? (Matthew 27:52-53) She must have been rooted to the spot where she stood, trying to absorb the enormity of it all. The chaos in Mary Magdalene’s life as she stumbled through one crisis after another in three short days would have devastated me.
Early Monday morning, when she visited the empty tomb with her friends, carrying simple herbs and ointments for cleaning and honoring Jesus’ body, her world tilted again. Jesus’ empty tomb transfixed her. As she reverted to her mindset of life before Jesus, perhaps her practical nature supposed that the simplest explanation was possible. Robbers (or disciples) had stolen His body and left her bereft of even final simple acts of love—or a place to honor her beloved Redeemer. So, she sat by the empty tomb, grieving her loss.
Like Mary Magdalene, we discover the difficulty of looking above our human thoughts when our world topples. Mourning the absence of a loved one, choosing to risk and losing everything, or realizing betrayal along with many other crises, stops us in our tracks. We tend to think literally rather than spiritually. And so we weep for what is lost.
Practicing looking above circumstances as we navigate life might be better done in times of peace or lesser events that don’t clog our minds with emotions. Hebrews 12:2 provides a clue. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus looked beyond death to being reunited with His Father and living in joy again.
Reactions to life’s ups and downs are normal. But, eventually, we can explore life from God’s viewpoint once again. We find wonderfully captivating truths such as Psalm 56:3, Isaiah 41:13, or 2 Samuel 22:33 in the Bible to carry us through tough times. Loving His Word helps us to look above while we wade through earthly storms below.
Enjoying worship songs and fellowshipping with God’s people empower us to rise above our circumstances. Even delightful or confusing times offer us opportunities to walk through doors of truth as we look above and see them through God’s viewpoint.
Although Mary Magdalene wept at Jesus’ empty tomb, her sorrow turned to joy when He spoke to her. (John 20:18) His presence turned her despair into delight and catapulted her into joy. She ran to share her life-changing news with her friends—the other disciples.
Let’s run along the same trail as Mary Magdalene—racing to others with the good news of His resurrection which empowers us to look above.
Marlene is an author and teacher of Bible studies. She may be reached at [email protected]
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Blue Ridge Christian News covers Avery County, Burke County, McDowell County, Mitchell County, Yancey County, and Madison County in North Carolina, and Christian news from around the country.