What Act of God Brings Incredible Joy? + Who Was Mary Magdalene, and Why Was She the FIRST Witness of the Resurrection?? #114

Hello everybody, and happy Tuesday to you! I am at day 32 or 33 of my partial Nazarite vow – no beer and no wine is going okay, and I have the haircut part is down pat – I have an unruly mop on my head that will begin to look cavemanesque in about 3 days. Unfortunately, I’m not doing so well on the rest of the fruit of the vine part, as I eat a bowl of Raisin Bran with banana slices nearly every day, and raisins are verboten for a Nazarite. I suppose I’ll just remain an Alabama/California hybrid with shaggy hair.

Anyway…today’s Bible readings include Leviticus 25, Ecclesiastes 8, Psalms 32 and 2nd Timothy 4. A shout out to my wonderful sun John Caedmon who told me earlier today that he agreed with my decision to stop ending the podcast readings with Ecclesiastes, because, and I quote, “Ecclesiastes is kind of depressing.” Yes, my son – yes it is. The good news is that it gets better at the end, and that is sort of the point of the book, and sometimes it is the point of our lives as well. For those who are in Christ – no matter how bad things are now – it gets better at the end. I know that is not an original or insightful sentiment, but what it lacks in freshness it makes up for in hope and bedrock truth.

Our focus passage today is in Psalms 32, though I admit that there were several things in 2nd Timothy 4 that drew my attention – maybe we will catch them on the second read through. Our Big Bible question of the day is all about forgiveness. How is forgiveness joyful? Let’s read Psalms 32, and then return and discuss the joy of forgiveness:

How joyful is the one
whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered!
How joyful is a person whom
the Lord does not charge with iniquity
and in whose spirit is no deceit!

When I kept silent, my bones became brittle
from my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was drained
as in the summer’s heat.Selah
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not conceal my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.Selah

Psalms 32:1-5

There is a very simple but profound couplet of truths in the first part of Psalms 31. First: There is GREAT joy from the Lord for that person who realizes their sin, knows the danger and damage of that sin, knows the holiness of the Lord, and yet finds that God has – in mercy – forgiven their sin. Twice the Psalmist here acknowledges the utter joy of forgiveness. That is truth #1, and it is an important truth for us in pandemic times. The call of the Father is echoing all across the world right now – repent and follow Jesus! For those that hear the call and do repent and follow Jesus, HOW JOYFUL for them that their sins will be forgiven and not held against them! How joyful that they are NOT disqualified from eternal Heaven – made only for the perfect – because their sin no longer counts against them! There is amazing joy in forgiveness.

But don’ t miss the second great truth here: There is GROANING and HEAVINESS and WEAKNESS and ILL HEALTH for those who HIDE their sins. Brothers and sisters – if you are hiding your sin right now – whatever it might be – pornography, alcoholism, abuse, outbursts of anger, gossip, slander, criticism, complaining and grumbling, cheating, lying, stealing – whatever….HOW HEAVY that is on your soul! It makes your bones brittle, and your heart weary, and your whole body and soul are impacted. What is the answer – CONFESS TO GOD – and FIND JOY FROM HIS FORGIVENESS!

There is a major choice facing all those who are concealing sin: Keep hiding it and nurturing it until it eats away every drop of strength and joy you have, or kill it by confessing it to God and walk in the joy that comes from forgiveness. Easy choice, right?! I say this as a man who struggled with pornography for over a decade in my youth. Sin may be delightful for a moment, but concealed sin weakens you and eats at you and kills you slowly. Confessed sin brings forgiveness and joy and depth of relationship with God the Father!

Mary Magdalene is one of the most interesting people in the Bible. She was a devoted follower of Jesus, and her love for Him is so pronounced and so obvious in the Bible that it has produced lots of speculation – even speculation that she loved Him in a romantic way. I believe the truth is much more profound and deep than a simple crush, however.

Though the Bible does not explicitly say it, there has been a tradition in the church for almost 2000 years that Mary Magdalene was a saved and redeemed prostitute. That tradition is so old that there might well be some truth to it, but we just can’t know. We do know, however, that Mary was delivered of SEVEN demons by Jesus – which must have meant that she spent a significant portion of her life tortured by those same demons, and her reputation undoubtedly suffered from that trauma as well. We also know that Mary was the first person that Jesus revealed Himself to after the resurrection – the first person that He talked to, post-resurrection. This is an incredible honor, and it could be said without too much exaggeration that Mary Magdalene was the first member of the church of Jesus – the first witness to His resurrection, and the first evangelist – bringing the good news to the disciples. What does she have to do with forgiveness, I hear you asking? Excellent question – let’s turn to New York pastor Tim Keller to give us the remarkable answer:

When you read the commentaries, an awful lot of the commentaries say, “The reason Mary was there and she wouldn’t go home and she stayed there was because she was hysterical. She was so emotional she couldn’t see the angels through her tears. She was so hysterical she couldn’t see Jesus was who he was. She was hysterical.” That’s not true. The more I’ve been looking at this, it’s not true at all. Absolutely not.

By the way, in today’s New York Times there’s an interesting article in the entertainment section, of all places, by the New York Times religion writer, in which I guess somebody asked him, “How do the angels depicted on TV sitcoms and TV shows compare with biblical angels?” Gustav Niebuhr says, “Not a lot.” He says, “When most people see angels they fall down. They’re overwhelmed.”

By the way, in Luke 24 and in Mark 16 when the other women see these angels dressed bright (and Mary saw they were bright), it says they were dressed in white. How do we know this? The only source of any of this information is from Mary. Mary remembers it. But when the other women saw these very same angels, we’re told they fell to the ground. They were in alarm. The angels always had to say, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.”

Mary looks at them. They ask a question and Mary says, “I’m looking for Jesus.” This is not hysteria. Hysterical people freak when they see things like this. This is not hysteria. Then she talks to Jesus. Why doesn’t she recognize Jesus? Because she’s hysterical? No. We will see as we go on through the resurrection accounts that nobody recognizes Jesus at first. His resurrection self means that he has been changed, though he’s still himself, and people have to look, like if you look at somebody you haven’t seen in 25 years. “Oh, it is you.”

She didn’t recognize him, but here’s what’s interesting. She’s not hysterical. She deduces, “If this is the gardener, if this is the supervisor of the grounds, then nobody could have done a body snatching without his help or at least his okay. He will know it.” That’s deduction. She’s not enraged, and she’s not hysterical. She says, “Sir.” Very steely. She doesn’t say, “Where is he?” She says, “Sir, if I personally have to go find the swollen, stinking, decayed body of my Lord, if I have to go find him and pick him up myself, I’m going to do that. Where is he? Do you know where he is?”

This is not a hysterical woman. This is a woman who is iron. This is a woman who is relentless. This is a woman who is a laser beam. She’s a drill. She’s going to get through anything. “Angels, schmangels. Where’s my Lord? Gardeners, I don’t care.” How did this happen? I’ll tell you. Jesus says it’s simple arithmetic. Jesus Christ says in Luke 7, “The one who is forgiven much, loves much.”

I want to press you on this. It’s simple arithmetic. She loved him more than anybody else. That’s why she’s still there. Everybody else is gone. It’s the reason she came. It’s the reason she hasn’t left. It’s simple arithmetic. She knew she was a sinner. She knew she was broken. She knew how big her debt was. She knew it, and Jesus had said, “You can be a child of God.” This is the reason Marys are chosen. This is the reason Marys are used. It’s people who know they’re sinners, it’s people who know the depth of their sin, who love like this.

Let me apply this to you. For some of you, there’s no joy or tears. There’s no incredible confidence like Mary has, and there’s no weeping either. Your religion is sort of a matter of duty. You’ve always been religious. You were raised in a church. You come to church now. This is not hysteria. Don’t you dare look at this like that. This is love. This is relentlessness. This is doggedness. This is commitment born of grace.
I’ll tell you the reason you don’t have the joy of Mary, and I’ll tell you the reason you’re not used by God like Mary. I’ll tell you why you’re not changing people’s lives like Mary. I’ll tell you why you don’t have this greatness of heart like Mary. This might sound very strange to modern New Yorkers. You don’t know you’re a sinner. You are superficial in your understanding of your brokenness.

Very often the Marys of the world who were addicted to sex and inner demons, they know. Do you know what a slave you are? Do you know what a slave you are to achievement, to position, to status, maybe in some cases to moral superiority? Do you realize you have hijacked your life just as much as Mary did? You’re avoiding Jesus as Savior and Lord, even if you’re using him as an example.

Until you see yourself as sinful as Mary saw herself, you’re not going to be used. Isn’t it amazing? It’s the Marys of the world God uses, and nobody else. “Well,” you say, “but I’m not a prostitute. I’ve never been. I’ve not been a mental patient.” I’m trying to say it’s the Marys of the world or the people who know they’re no different than the Marys of the world, and only those people, who will ever be used.
By the way, there’s one other little tangential footnote. This second point is the divine priority of grace, and there’s one other thing we’d better get through our heads by looking at Mary here. Jesus chose her first. What does this mean? It means Christians ought to every day try to get their snobbery out, throw it on the ground, and stamp on it, try to kill it.
The Bible says because of this dynamic, the people who know the least about God, in ages past and today and in ages to come, will always be the people who are running things. This is a terrible thing for New Yorkers to hear. If you look down your nose at brothers and sisters who are beneath you in achievement, beneath you in education, beneath you in social status, beneath you in economic status, you’re just not reading the Bible. Get your snobbery out. Throw it on the ground every day and trample it and think of Mary.

Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).

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