Don’t you love it when you have good news to tell? “He loves me,” “I got the promotion,” “a baby is coming,” “my grades are better”—news we want to tell someone. Someone who will be glad for us. Someone who will recognize the importance of what we are telling them.
When two angels announced the good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, they gave that good news to women. Women—who were considered to be unreliable messengers and couldn’t even testify in court—women were given the honor of passing on the best news ever transmitted—Jesus is alive!
Each of the gospels records that women were the first to receive the amazing news that Jesus was alive, but they recount it in slightly different ways. Matthew gives us the names of Mary of Magdalene and the other Mary in Matthew 28:1; Mark records Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome in Mark 16:1; Luke includes Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James in Luke 24:10; and John mentions only Mary Magdalene in John 20:1, 11. Mark says that there were “many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem” (Mark 15:41). And Luke agrees that there were other women (Luke 24:10).
Very little is known about these women except that they were followers of Jesus. Salome is mentioned as being at the cross (Mark 15:40) and she is identified as one of the women who followed him and cared for his needs. Joanna was the wife of Chuza, who was a manager of King Herod’s estate or possibly his vineyard in Galilee according to Luke 8:3. Mary the mother of James and Joses was also at the cross during Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 27:56). They had been ministering to his needs out of their own resources (Mark 15:41; Luke 8:1-4) so presumably, they were moderately wealthy. They traveled with him, at least part of the time, and it is logical to think that they would have ministered to women who came to hear Jesus teach.
More attention is given to one woman in particular—Mary Magdalene. Mary was entrusted with the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead. She is mentioned first in all four gospel accounts of the resurrection, which may indicate that she was a leader among the women, just as Peter is frequently mentioned first among the disciples. We know that at one point in her life, she was seriously afflicted by demons. The accounts say that she was freed from seven demons (Luke 8:2). Since the number seven is often used in scripture to indicate completeness, this likely means that she was completely demon possessed. Other New Testament passages show the severity of demonic possession: a son thrown into the fire by demons (Mark 9:22); a man who cut himself with sharp stones (Mark 5:5); a Canaanite daughter who was “suffering terribly” from demons (Matt. 15:22); and a man who was blind and mute (Matt. 12:22). Demonic activity was prevalent during the time when Jesus lived on earth. And the demons were destructive and wicked. It would not be too strong to say that Mary’s life was in jeopardy from the demons when Jesus delivered her.
It seems probable to me that Mary Magdalene had a supportive ministry to others who were being delivered of demons. Among the many women who followed Jesus, there must have been a number who had been suffering greatly from demons. She surely was able to encourage others and to help them find freedom from demonic possession through the power of Jesus. What a testimony she was to what could happen to a woman who was set free! No longer in bondage, no longer a slave to sin and pain, but set free by Jesus—now able to serve and love others with freedom and joy.
Many people today, especially in the western church, have a false idea of who Mary Magdalene was. They have been wrongly influenced by books such as “The Da Vinci Code”, which sold upwards of 80 million copies and was later made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. Mary Magdalene is portrayed in that book and movie as an erotic figure, which the Bible does not do. In truth, she was most likely from a fishing village in a now obscure region of Galilee, for “Magdala” means “salted fish.” Since that is all that is really known about her background, it’s foolish to speculate more.
Mary Magdalene had been at the crucifixion, standing near the cross, watching the horror of Jesus’ death (John 19:25). As darkness fell and the Sabbath began, Mary faithfully observed the Sabbath rest. Now, as daylight broke on Sunday, she and other women had come back to the tomb bringing additional spices to finish the preparation of his body.
They were puzzled when they saw that the large stone that covered the mouth of the tomb was already moved away. And Jesus’ body was missing! The angels told the women who had entered the tomb, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen. Remember he told you that he would be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day, be raised again” (Luke 24.1-12).
Mary Magdalene, upon discovering the empty tomb, ran to get the disciples. Though Peter and John had come back to the tomb with her, they were unable to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Jesus’ body and returned to their homes. But Mary lingered in the garden with her pain, confusion, and distress. Suddenly, as she wept, unbelieving, she saw a person—the gardener, she supposed. He asked her why she was crying. She explained that Jesus body was missing and that she wanted it to be put back.
Then Jesus spoke her name, “Mary,” and she knew instantly what she had not dared to believe—He was alive. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus alive and in person after his resurrection—a woman, and one who had had seven demons, but a woman who followed the Lord (John 20.10-18). She fell trembling at His feet in worship and joy, and called His Name in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means teacher). She longed to embrace Him, but He told her not to hold on to Him yet, for He had not yet returned to His Father. Instead, He gave her a commission, an assignment, “Go and tell my brothers I am returning to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.” (John 20:17).
And Mary of Magdala did that. She was entrusted with good news, the best news ever given, and she spread that news.
She found the disciples and said, “I have seen the Lord.” She gave them all the details of her visit to the tomb with the other women and their encounter with the two angels. She told them how she had seen Jesus in the garden and mistaken Him for a gardener! And then how she had spoken with Jesus face to face. And she told them the exact words He had told her to tell them.
After that, Jesus appeared to Peter, to the eleven disciples, to more than 500 of his followers over a period of 40 days. And he appeared to Paul, as well, after his conversion (I Cor. 15:6).
But women, and Mary Magdalene in particular, were the first to hear the news of Jesus’ resurrection and the first to share with others the very good news that Jesus was alive again. His resurrection proved that He is indeed God and that He has conquered death. The resurrection was God’s proof that the redemption paid by Christ on the cross was accepted. Without his resurrection, his death would have been ineffective for our sins. His resurrection validates that He is God, that He has power to forgive sin, and that He has power over death.
A simple way to understand what the resurrection did is in the words of this song by Bill and Gloria Gaither called “Because He Lives.”
God sent his son
They called him Jesus
He came to love
Heal and forgive
He lived and died
To buy my pardon
An empty grave
Is there to prove
My Savior lives
The most important news ever, on earth, was that Jesus had been raised from the dead. And that news was given to women.
Paul says that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, neither male nor female. By that he doesn’t mean that we lose our gender identity when we place our faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. He means that Jesus died as much for women as He did for men, that women matter to Him, that He trusts the feminine gender to spread His word, His good news. Like Mary of Magdala and Joanna and Salome and Mary the mother of Joses and James, we can be His ardent followers and tell everyone we meet the best news we have ever had, “I have seen the Lord.”