Women of Hope: Mary Magdalene

My feet seem not to touch the ground as I run toward the brothers. I’m very nearly flying… HE LIVES!!! My Lord lives! The One I love has risen from the dead. HE HAS DEFEATED DEATH! Like Lazarus, He has walked out of the grave. My eyes have seen Him. My arms have held Him. My ears have heard His voice. It almost  seems too good to be true. Yet, I know it to be so. I KNOW MY JESUS LIVES!

So much of what He said in those weeks and days leading up to His arrest and death makes sense now – how He would be delivered into the hands of men. How they would kill Him, and how on the third day HE WOULD BE RAISED FROM THE DEAD. Oh my, He told us. He tried to prepare us, but we could not grasp His meaning. Believing Him to be Messiah, we could not imagine Him dying.

But my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord! 

Peter! James and John! I have seen the Lord! Jesus lives! He has sent me to tell you that He lives!

Mary of Magdala, known as Mary Magdalene. Once possessed by seven demons. Outcast and alone until she met her Deliverer. Follower of the One who set her free and invited her into fellowship. Faithful disciple of the Christ, present even at His crucifixion and His tomb. The first witness of our risen Lord and Savior.

Very little is written of Mary Magdalene throughout the New Testament, yet her presence constantly weaves itself into the holy shadows of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Her love and devotion to Jesus defied the ways of the world in her day, and they continue to confuse people today – because in our narrow way of viewing deep love, we too quickly assume romantic love. But, the very nature of God’s kind of love, agape, is exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we can imagine in our flesh. But, Mary Magdalene understood the kind of spiritual intimacy with Jesus that goes beyond bodily desire. Hers was a devotion that derived from freedom and wholeness because her Rabboni had given her new life (John 20:16). Mary’s brand of devotion is a love that anchors itself in truth and finds strength in hope.


Mary of Magdala, introduced in Luke 8, is listed as one of the women in the band of Jesus’ followers and as the one from whom seven demons were cast out (v.2). Luke goes on to explain that she and Joanna supported Jesus and the Twelve financially and actually traveled with them as Jesus went from town to town proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom (vv.1,3).  That’s it. That’s all we know of her backstory and role among Jesus and His followers.

But I offer to you – that is enough. Our imaginations can take it from there.

Saint Mary Magdalena by Joseph Aubert at St. Etienne in Jerusalem, 1900

A woman in first-century, Roman-occupied Israel – alone and demon possessed? No father or brother? No husband or son? ALONE with few ways to support herself? We can imagine how Mary might have gone about finding food. 

We can picture in our mind’s eye what it would be like to live completely controlled by evil spirits. And, if we need help, we can look to the demon-possessed man in the Gerasenes::

  • For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs (Luke 8:27).
  • Many times the spirit had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places (Luke 8:29).
  • Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones (Mark 5:5).

Bedeviled souls lose all control, endure great pain, and are pushed into isolated, lonely places. This is Mary of Magdala. As we embrace what her life was like before Christ, we can more fully appreciate her life with Him. Because Jesus spoke a word over her, the seven evil spirits fled and in their place settled a new kind of Spirit – a holy One that kept the evil spirits from returning (Matthew 12:43-45). Mary became a new creation when she received Jesus’ healing, His acceptance, and His love (2 Corinthians 5:17). Her restoration was complete.

Yet, it’s possible that what Mary Magdalene teaches us more than anything else is that for restoration to be complete we must forgive – others and ourselves. We must let go of bitterness and shame, regret and remorse in order to step into the new life we’ve been given in Christ. It’s why Paul tells us to let go of the past and move toward the future (Philippians 3:12-14). Very few things hinder us more in our spiritual growth than allowing ourselves, as my friend says, to be tethered to our pasts.

Mary’s restoration stands as a beacon of truth that none of us are too far gone for Jesus’ saving grace.1 As we peer into numerous scenes of Jesus’ ministry, we know Mary is in the background faithfully serving. And loving – because she had first been loved (1 John 4:19). When we see her at the cross (Matthew 27:55-56), when we see her at the tomb (John 20:1), and when we see her among the group of women that gather with the Eleven after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:14), we see a fully restored woman who has a place and a purpose. And her life becomes a promise of hope for us all. 


Jesus did not look upon Mary – nor any of us – and relate to her through a lens of brokenness. Rather, Jesus looks upon us – just as He did Mary – and sees us as our whole selves. He sees us for who He created us to be. He sees us as we really are in Him.

When I imagine Mary’s sorrow over Jesus’ death, it’s a vivid mixture of grief and confusion. After knowing Jesus, she witnessed the Savior of the World heal vast numbers of broken people, so she grieved for the One who would no longer walk the earth with any of them. She mourned for the One who had loved her to wholeness while, at the same time, she struggled to understand how the Son of God could die.

Despite such feelings and thoughts, Mary’s love for Jesus pushed her to seek Him, even in death. It’s why she was first to the tomb (John 20:1). It’s why she was the first to be sought by the resurrected Christ (v.14). 

Love compelled Mary to look for Jesus, yet grief and confusion kept her from recognizing Him when He came to her in the garden (v.15).

But the moment He spoke her name, she knew (v.16).* She knew the man before her was her Deliverer. It’s so perfect that the first name she calls him is ‘Rabboni’ because Jesus had taught her a new way to live (v.16).1 He’d seen her at her worst and loved her. He’d reached out a hand to her and offered her new life. And she received it all then lived out what we might call the resurrection life.

Fritz von Uhde, “Noli Me Tangere,” 1894

Paul tries to explain such free and full living by comparing the going under of our baptismal waters as death – as dying with Jesus (Romans 6:3). Then, as we come up out of the watery grave, we rise up in resurrection power – “raised from the dead through the glory of the Father” so that “we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). 

Our full and future hope will be realized on the day that our physical bodies are raised from their actual graves, but even now – as in TODAY – our hope in Christ is that we can step into His resurrection and find new life. We don’t have to look any further than at Mary Magdalene to see this truth lived out.

Friends, how many times has Jesus come to us but we’ve not recognized Him? It’s not a bad thing to look back on those times, to name them, and to learn from them. But, let’s promise each other that we will not continue to live from regret and shame. Instead, let’s listen as Jesus calls us by name, embrace Him as He draws near, and grab hold of the resurrection life Jesus offers us – and live it! 

In the end, Mary Magdalene, the Apostle of the New and Greatest Hope,1 shows us what it looks like to come up out of the pit and live healed, whole, and fully devoted because of Christ and for Christ. From a distant past, this disciple pours hope into every person who reads her between-the-lines story. And, like her, we can allow Jesus to teach us a new way to live – by grace, in love, with hope. 

Father God, thank You for passing to us holy stories like that of Mary Magdalene. And thank You for granting us imaginations that allow us to picture the lowly state of a lonely, hungry, demon-possessed woman so that we can then more fully appreciate the new life she is given in Christ. Everything in us tells us the truth of Mary’s life, the truth of Jesus’ power to save the most lost, the most broken, and the most ailing of people. So, we ask that You would keep putting the truth in front of us so that we will daily choose to live free and fully empowered lives in Christ. Lord Jesus, your love stirs us to repentance. We pause now, full of the Spirit, to lay down all that hinders us from being fully restored by You… How we rejoice in the newness of life that You give us! Holy Spirit, how much we need You – your wisdom, your conviction, your grace. We long to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, so with the power You used to resurrect Jesus, we pray that You would resurrect our lives in Him, empowering us to live for Him in all we think and say and do. We confess that the world throws much at us to cause fear and doubt, but today we stand on faith, rooting ourselves in Christ’s perfect love so that we remain fully devoted to our Lord and Savior. We trust in His complete provision. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Exodus 31:1-6; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Acts 4:11-12; Psalm 43:3; 1 John 2:20; Galatians 5:1; 1 John 4:17-18; 1 John 1:9; 1 John 3:24; John 16:8; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Romans 8:11; Ephesians 3:17-19) 

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

*There is great debate over whether Shiphrah and Puah were Hebrew or Egyptian… Either way, their ‘fear of God’ is duly noted in Exodus and their faithfulness rewarded!

  • * I love the scene in The Chosen where Jesus calls the demon-possessed Mary by name, stopping her in her tracks. Such a creative nod to the power of our name spoken by our Savior – just like in the garden near the tomb. The Chosen portrays Mary Magdalene with much imagination, just as we attempted today. They build her backstory and demonstrate life with demons. They show us what it might have been like for women to follow a Rabbi in a patriarchal society. They even illustrate through her how discipleship takes time – full of ups and downs, wins and losses. And how with Jesus we can always reach for His hand and find our way back again. I cannot tell you the profound impact getting to see this woman of hope be brought to life on the screen has had – and continues to have – on me. Season 1, Episode 1. Bet you can’t watch it without sobbing. 😉
  • 1 – I found a podcast about Mary Magdalene hosted by three women who come from a different tradition than my own but whose hearts very much echo my own. So many of their words inspired this post. And their calling Mary the “Apostle of Hope” was brand new to me – how fitting for this journey of hope we’re on! Turns out they took the Pope’s moniker for Mary and shortened it (see #2). So good.
  •  2 – In Pope Francis’ speech, May 17, 2017, he becomes the first to call Mary Magdalene “the Apostle of the new and greatest hope.” His elaboration of her experience with Jesus and her life as one of His disciples not only embraces her as included but elevates her to a status that would have been unheard of in her day and in most days since then.
  • There’s so much to think and say about Mary Magdalene, that I ended up choosing FIVE songs to represent our Apostle of Hope on our “Women of Hope” playlist: “A Woman,” “Alive,” “How Deep the Father’s Love,” “I Can’t Get Away,” and “It Is Well.” “A Woman” is a beautiful rendering of Mary’s story from the Faithful Project. “Alive” by Natalie Grant is from The Story album based on God’s story as given in Scripture.

    In a later Chosen season (3, I believe), Mary is portrayed as being triggered by past traumas and running away from Jesus — back to her ‘old life,’ plagued by demons of another sort. But, as she discovers, she can’t get away from her Father’s love.

    And the two hymns — well, their titles say it all.

    Mary Magdalene certainly keeps telling of what she’s seen.
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • This summer we’re continuing the rhythm of meditation. We’re filling our minds with our anchoring passage, Hebrews 11:1. Mary Magdalene lives out hope as evidence of things not seen. She couldn’t see the demons nor where Jesus sent them. She couldn’t see Jesus’ love, but she could feel the effects of it. Mary put her faith in Jesus no matter what she saw — or didn’t see. As we soak in the New King James Version of Hebrews 11:1, let’s picture the faith Mary of Magdala and seek to make it our own:

      “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured portrait: is actually not a portrait! It’s one painting on The Altarpiece of St. Nicholas by Louis Bréa in the Monaco Principality Cathedral. Bits and Pieces photo by Photo by Zrng N Gharib on Unsplash.

^an affiliate link with which I may earn a bit 

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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