The Real Woman of “The Da Vinci Code”

As of 2010, “The Da Vinci Code” is the best selling novel of the 21st century. It is one among several works of mystery fiction that have torn at the weaker fabric of faith among those who have claimed allegiance to Christ. At its best, “The Da Vinci Code” is what it claims to be: a work of mystery fiction. At it’s worst, it’s a tale that spouts forth blasphemy against the Holy Bible. One of the key components of many such books is the character defamation of Mary Magdalene in her portrayal as the romantic interest of Christ himself. “In the Da Vinci Code”, a descendant of Christ and Mary is discovered. It is found to be Mary who sat beside Christ at the Passover supper rather than the apostle John. Let’s take a look at the Biblical, factual, character of Mary Magdalene in the next couple of posts. Just who was this woman about whom so much has been lately postulated?
Well, as stated, modern writers have partnered with Hollywood to present to us the sensational new story about the hidden romance between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Many would even have us to believe that they were married; that indeed the weeping woman at the tomb of Christ was overly distraught because she was his widow. There is but one thing wrong with these hypotheses. There is not one shred of Biblical or historical evidence to support them. In fact, there is, inherent in the detailed description of the ministry of our Lord, much opposing evidence—so much that the very idea that Christ was sexually involved with any woman at any time is blasphemous. But the Bible student today finds much that is sensational about the life of Mary Magdalene. This woman, from the village of Magdala, was once possessed with seven demons. While we don’t know all about demon possession, we do understand that demons often made the people in whom they lived behave erratically, often screaming (Mk. 1:23), writhing and self-mutilating (Mark 5:4,5). The possessed often had to be physically restrained (Mk.5:4,5) and the demons apparently could use the mouths of their human houses to speak (Mt. 8:28-31, Lk. 8:27-31). Sometimes those who were demon possessed went about naked (Lk. 8:27). The possessed, as one can well imagine, became subjects of derision and were avoided by many in society. Barnes describes these evil spirits as “impure and unholy, having a delight in tormenting, and in inflicting painful and loathsome diseases.”* Sometimes those who were possessed went out from society and lived in caves or tombs to seek retreat and shelter (Mt.8:28-34). Our Mary was demon possessed. She was tormented, derided, and characterized by a type of insane behavior…until she met the Lord.

Mary was delivered from bondage by the One who had power over the Devil.

…and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons… (Lk 8:2)

Mark 16:9 affirms that it was Christ who had cast the demons out of Mary. Christ is the One, as well, who can take us from the torturous clutches of sin’s temporal consequences and its eternal torment. We need to reflect on the drastic change that occurred in the life of this woman on her day of delivery. She went from the darkest affliction to the purest affection. She changed from a tormented human to a human testimony. The insanity that was her existence suddenly changed to an eternal peace.

And Christ is still delivering. I am reminded of my friend Michelle, formerly a strip dancer. Scorned and denigrated, Michelle found her day of deliverance. She is a great worker in the local congregation I attend. I think of Marla, who left the casinos, the addictions of tobacco, and her passion for impure forms of entertainment, to become a devoted wife and mother with a steely determination to go to heaven. I think of Maria, my sister on a South American island, who confessed to me many of the sins listed in I Corinthians six, verses nine and ten, and then dared to ask if she, too, could be delivered as were those Corinthians who were washed, sanctified and justified (I Cor.6:11). And then there is me. Without His saving blood I am just as black as the vilest sinner. I desperately need the One who has power over Satan and death.

Praise God for his delivery from the power of Satan. While we are not possessed by evil spirits today as was Mary, we find ourselves bound by the shackles of Satan and sin until we come in contact with the Great Galilean.

Mary ministered to the Lord.

And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar,
among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. Mt. 27:55,56

What an amazing privilege to have been among the women who walked the dusty Galilean roads with Jesus. Oh, to have personally witnessed in one’s own flesh, the supernatural healing power of this Jesus! To have come to understand after that cleansing the source of the power! To be able to wash the feet of Diety! To have him in one’s home for lunch, bring along His water flask as he traveled through the villages, find shelter for him among those villagers, or just to sit down on a grassy hillside and be enthralled as he taught simple, yet profound lessons about the lilies or the sparrows as one who had authority (Mt. 7:29)!

Matthew 25:37-40 puts me in the picture:

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?
When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

I can set the table for the King of Kings. I can sew His clothes or go to the prison and speak words of hope to Him. When He is sick, I can take him chicken noodle soup and when He is hungry, I can take a loaf of homemade bread and a bag of groceries. Let me never be too busy or self-absorbed to minister in the spirit of Mary Magdalene! May my children grow up knowing that needs of others take precedence over selfish desires. May they take it for granted that our family will stop whatever we are doing to take care of the emergencies of our family in the Lord. When our children complain about the forfeiture of an outing due to an unexpected need in the body, may we open our Bibles to Matthew’s judgment scene and elevate the occasion of sacrifice to the divine privilege that it really is. “We are going to the hospital today with Jesus!”… “We are taking Jesus to the mental health center today!”…” We are getting to give Jesus a ride to services.”… “Jesus is coming over to talk about problems in His life.”

It is relevant to notice also that Mary gave of her substance in this ministry:

… and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons,
and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance. Lk.8:2

The Greek word for ministered in this passage is a form of the word we translate deacon. It means to be a menial attendant, to wait upon. The original language for substance means property or possessions.** The fact that our ministries to Jesus today should consist of substantial material sacrifice cannot be overlooked. The commission of all we have to his glory is required of Christians today. We should be willing to part with any material possession that can be used for His glory. The text indicates that Mary was a financial supporter of the ministry of Christ. Our financial support is still needed for His ministries.

For some time, in my daily prayers, I have prayed the following: “O God, I am so thankful for your material blessings in which we bask. We are rich! Help us, Father, to use these blessings for your glory. But if they ever get in our way of serving you faithfully, just please take them away from us. We want to go to heaven!”

It is a prayer that has strengthened my resolve to never let the pursuit of things get in the way of my responsibilities as a keeper at home. It has made decisions about ballgames versus Wednesday night Bible studies seem simple. It has constantly called me to more faithful stewardship. I want to give substantively to the ministry as Mary did.

Mary stayed till the end.

When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.
And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb. Mt. 27:59-61

That progression to the foot of the cross had been a grueling and sorrow-filled climb. Mary had followed the Lord from the halls of Pilate to the hill of Golgotha. She watched the agony of the cross from a distance. She felt the earth move under her and witnessed the tearing of the rocks (Matthew 27:50-56). She was present when the centurion at the foot of the cross made the good confession: “Truly this was the Son of God.” She and the other Mary followed the rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, as he laid the body of the Lord, wrapped in clean linen in his freshly hewn tomb. She watched as Joseph rolled the stone over the opening of the sepulcher (Matthew 27:56-61).

I recently had a study with a woman who was contemplating becoming a member of the body of Christ. She was unashamed in asking me just what would be required of her family. “Would we need to be there at every service? My kids have a lot of practices and games and our youngest really has a strict bedtime. The older two have loads of homework. Wednesday nights would be really difficult for us. I just need to know what kind of commitment we would be needing to make.”

I recall an elder in the church in one of the places we lived. Through every sermon, he constantly looked at his watch. He became visibly upset if the service exceeded the hour. I have observed, in some congregations, an exodus of a large number of people after the communion is served, but before the final song and/or prayer.

Somehow, I don’t think Mary was looking at the sundial. I don’t think she was wondering if the commitment from here on out would require more time and money. I don’t think she was thinking about how nice it would be to get home and wash her tired and dirty feet that had climbed the hill to Golgotha. I don’t imagine her thinking about what was for supper or whether there would be time before the Sabbath to go shopping at the market. In short, she was the kind of disciple that willingly stayed till the end. Are you?

Mary kept the law.

And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid.
Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. Lk. 23:55,56

The One who came not to destroy, but to fulfill the law was subjected at last to the Hadean realm. His body was lying in the borrowed tomb of a rich man on a hillside near Jerusalem. The adrenalin from the events of the preceding day and night had to have been flowing through the veins of Mary as she left the tomb and went home. But she was a woman who kept the commandments in all circumstances.

I think it’s worthy of note that Mary was a devout law keeper, especially in view of the fact that chief priests and Pharisees, those who had been so condemning of the Messiah, for His healing on the Sabbath (Lk. 13:14), were now going about the business of meeting with Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea, setting a secure watch and sealing the stone to secure the body of the Lord of the Sabbath…all on the Sabbath day! The Lord of the Sabbath was just resting on the Sabbath. He was about to prove once and for all, his lordship over it.

May we delight in His commandments (Ps. 119:35), realizing that his mandates are His mercy, His commandments are His compassion and His will is born of His Wisdom.

(to be continued)

Much of this post taken from “Power Lectures, 2009,” edited by Wade Webster, Southaven, MS; 2009 (article by Cindy Colley)

All Pain…No Gain: Lessons from the Kidney Stone

Just how personal is too personal for a blog? I don’t know. It seems to me a blog is a little more informal than, say…my chapter in a lectureship book or even my column in the bulletin for the ladies of the church. And this space is designed for women, so I think we can touch on some things that might not be discussed in a Bible class. So, if this is TMI, perhaps I could beg license just this once.

I really didn’t feel great on this particular day, even when I left the house. My husband, Glenn, was somewhere in South America and, as I am prone to do, I had let the pantry get very empty and going to the store was becoming less optional. So there I was in Wal-mart around noon that Tuesday when it really hit me with a compelling vigor. It was a sharp pain that was both abdominal and muscular. It felt so much like labor–that hard kind of back labor– that I had experienced once in my life, when Hannah was born. Well, this time there would be no baby. That’s for sure. “Well, maybe,” I thought, “this is just the kind of pain I am going to have now that I am pre-menopausal. Whatever this is, I do not like it.” But I had made the dreaded trip to the store and I was determined to get every item on the list since this was not actual labor and there would be no embarrassing water breaking or ambulance trip. I could do this.

Thirty minutes or so passed and I had changed my mind. I could not do this. I wasn’t sure I could complete the check-out process, much less drive home. Somehow I did, though. I remember telling myself, if I could make it to the bed, take some Tylenol, and maybe even sleep a while, I would wake up and maybe this Gargantuan pain would be gone. I remember praying that the pain would stop. I went to bed for five hours. Bad proceeded to worse. I began to feel sick at my stomach and lost everything that was in my digestive system. Dehydration soon resulted. I took Tylenol and lost that, too. I took turns between writhing in my bed and walking to the bathroom for further dehydration. As I walked back and forth, I could no longer straighten my body.

Thankfully, my son, Caleb, was home from USC on spring break. I am just so thankful for this blessing of Providence. I called to him and, after a short discussion, he decided he would take me to the ER. There was no thought of even getting dressed. I went in my pajamas. As I went to the car, I thought, “This feels a little worse than when I went to the ER and brought home this baby who is now driving me there.” Well, this time, though, there would be no baby…just the pain. And the trip…well, let’s suffice it to say that there was a red light or two when we didn’t get to go when it turned green. I would be leaning out the open door, further dehydrating and turning green right along with the light. I remember the orderly who met us at the drop-off point at the ER. She said, “Honey, I think I’m going to get you a wheel chair.” She got me a little pan, too, and I did not even realize until much later that I was likely the object of pity to the 2456378 (it was a lot) people who were in line in front of me. They mostly had sore throats or sprained ankles and were laughing and talking, reading the newspaper and playing games on their cell phones. I protested in my brain that these social ER visitors were being called to the back, where the IVs with pain meds were located. But my body could not protest.

It was approximately 1:00 am when the verdict finally came in. I had signed the paperwork and given them my credit card. I was paying through the nose for this ordeal (just like when my kids were born). I’d had blood work and x rays and an IV (just like when my kids were born). But there would be no baby. At last, the pain subsided (just like when my kids were born). But it had been 16 hours of pain and travail (two to three times longer than either childbirth labor I’d endured). This time, I had no baby to show for all those hours of pain. All I had to show for them was a kidney stone. To cap the stack, the ordeal wasn’t over. Four weeks later I would return to the hospital to have surgery for its removal.

Later, I thought a lot about what my Lord said about the pain of childbirth:

A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you (Jn. 16:21,22).

When the product of pain is something so wonderful as new life, the pain is quickly forgotten. Have you ever thought about the fact that, as Christians, our sorrows and pain have new life at the end? There will come a time, at the end of all the trials we face in this life, when we will see Him and rejoice.

I love the book of First Peter, the epistle of suffering. It details for the people of God all of the rewards and benefits of suffering. Notice some of these blessings at the end of trials suffered because of our faith. But remember the blessings are only for His children.

Suffering:
1. produces praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Christ (1:7).
2. makes us acceptable to God (2:20).
3. makes us happy (3:14).
4. makes us more like Christ (3:17,18).
5. signifies that we have stopped living in sin (4:1, 2).
6. allows us to be partakers with Christ (4:13).
7. shows that the spirit of glory and of God rests on us (4:14).
8. gives us opportunity to glorify God (4:16).
9. solidifies our commitment (4:19).

See, people who are without the Lord have pain, too. They get sick. They lose loved ones. They lose jobs and are involved in accidents. But, in the midst of their pain, there is no longing for heaven that grows in the trial. There is no deepening dependence on God and prayer. There is no growth of faith or intensifying sense of urgency about evangelism. There is no positive spiritual effect on those about them who are witnessing their attitudes about suffering. But for the suffering child of God, there’s all this, now, and then a new life at the end. I think it will be easy, just as Christ said, to forget about the pain when I am enjoying a new life in heaven with him.

But what of those who don’t get the new life in heaven? It’s kind of like they are at the hospital. They are having all the pain of childbirth. They are paying through the nose. They are suffering through the process. But, in the end, there is no new life. All they get is a kidney stone.

I’ll take John 16:22. Hear it again:

And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.