When discussing the most devoted followers of Jesus’ the New Testament writers say far less about three of the apostles-Barholomew; James, son of Alphaeus; and Thaddaeus (likely the nickname for Judas, the son of James)-than they say about Mary Magdalene.
She was from Magdala, a small town in Galilee in northern Israel, And since Mary was such a popular name in the New Testament, people took to calling this particular Mary by her hometown.
At some point early in his Galilean ministry, Jesus encountered Mary Magdalene and cast seven demons out of her. Many have speculated that Mary was a former prostitute. In fact, movie renditions of the life of Christ through the years have often taken this creative liberty. We don’t know if that’s true. The Bible doesn’t say. We don’t know exactly how the seven evil spirits afflicted Mary. But from the grim descriptions of demon-possessed individuals elsewhere in the New Testament, it’s safe to assume Mary endured a miserable existence.
That is, until Jesus came to where she was and set her free. Immediately this transformed woman became one of Jesus’ most committed disciples. She latched on to Christ like a drowning person grabs a life ring. You get the sense she didn’t want to let him out of her sight.
She became part of his traveling entourage (along with a group of others devoted women; see Luke 8:1-3). They gave their time, energy, full attention, material resources-in short, their entire lives-to Jesus.
Over the course of Christ’s three-year ministry, many of his followers or would-be disciples turned away (see Mark 10:17-23; John 6:66). Not Mary Magdalene. She clung to Christ like a person dangling over a cliff hangs on to a rope
She was there at the foot of the cross on the awful day of his death (even when most of his male followers had gone into hiding Mark 15:40; John 19:25).
She was present at his hasty burial (read Mark 15:47) and returned to his tomb immediately following the Sabbath in order to properly anoint his body (read Mark 16:1).
Because of her devotion, Mary Magdalene-a woman with an awful past-enjoyed the privilege of being one of the first witness of the empty tomb on that first Easter morning (read Matt 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-7;Luke 24:1-8).
Still, it was too much to comprehend. In their shock and confusion, the women rushed to tell the apostles, who were skeptical and insisted upon seeing these things for themselves.
In the chaos and commotion of that mind-boggling morning, many of Christ’s disciples, male and female, investigated the empty tomb. Eventually, however, they all left.
All except for Mary. (Are we really surprised?) This deeply grateful and devoted woman lingered. Clinging to her precious memories, she stood outside the tomb crying. Then she stooped to look inside. John tells us what happened next:
“Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus told her, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father-to My God and your God.” (John 20:12-17) How fitting that in this happiest and most amazing of moments, Mary Magdalene instinctively did what she’d been doing ever since she met Jesus: she clung to him.