This letter is from GCI Vice President Greg Williams.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Several early Christian writers call Mary Magdalene “the apostle to the Apostles.” We learn why in John chapter 20:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Mary Magdalene was among several women who were followers of Jesus. She had been present at Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, and with some other women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body (Mark 15:47-16:8; Luke 23:55-24:11; Matt. 28:1-10). She was also the first person of either gender to encounter the risen Lord, and the first to testify to the resurrection when she informed the apostles that Jesus was alive. No wonder she is called “the apostle to the Apostles”—a title that highlights how Jesus held women in high esteem and included them in his ministry.
In a culture where a woman’s testimony was not legally valid, it was shocking that Jesus chose a woman to be the first person to testify to his resurrection. This was even more shocking when you consider Mary Magdalen’s background. She is thought to be the unnamed penitent woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and hair, then anointed his feet with expensive perfume (Luke 7:36-48). From that passage, plus the statement in Luke 8:2 that Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary, the tradition arose that she had been a prostitute before becoming a follower of Jesus. Mary is thus a powerful demonstration of the redemption and transformation that comes to anyone who in faith, and with repentance, follows Jesus.
Can you imagine how Mary Magdalene felt that Easter morning? She no doubt excitedly testified to Jesus’ resurrection—doing the work of an evangelist! In doing so, perhaps she shared the story of her own life. Understanding that Mary had been a demon-possessed prostitute prior to becoming a follower of Jesus highlights the amazing power of Jesus to redeem and transform people. Her life was a powerful witness to the gospel of God’s grace. What a wonderful example of how God reaches out to all people, inviting them to receive Jesus with an open heart and mind, trusting him as Lord and Savior.
Just as Mary played a foundational role in the ministry of Jesus, in GCI we have hundreds of women who faithfully serve as ministers of Jesus Christ in various roles, including that of lead pastor. I thank God for these women. I also thank our triune God who, in love, reaches out to all humanity, calling all sorts of people in all kinds of situations to worship him and to share in his ongoing mission to a sin-sick world.
I wish you all a wonderful Holy Week as we gather to prayerfully reflect on Jesus’ suffering and death, and to joyfully celebrate his resurrection.
PS: Due to Holy Week, the publishing of GCI Equipper on April 4, and the closure of our Home Office from April 5-22 (as we complete the move to Charlotte), GCI Update will not be published again until April 25. See you then!