The Women in Jesus’ Life

Matthew 27:55-56

May 14, 2006 | Brian Bill

A group of kids were asked to give their answers to some questions about their moms.  Here are two of my favorites:

Q: What does your Mom do in her spare time?
A: Mothers don’t do spare time.

Q: Why did God make mothers?

A: To help us out of there when we were getting born.

One mom was out walking with her 4-year-old daughter when her girl picked up something from the ground and started to put it in her mouth.  The mother tells what happens in her own words: “I took the item away from her and I asked her not to do that.”  My daughter quickly asked, “Why?”  “Because it’s been lying outside, you don’t know where it’s been, it’s dirty and probably has germs,” I replied.  At this point, my daughter looked at me with total admiration and asked, “Wow! How do you know all this stuff?”   I thought quickly and said, “Uh…All moms know this stuff.  It’s on the Mommy Test.  You have to know it, or they don’t let you be a Mommy.”  We walked along in silence for 2 or 3 minutes, as she pondered this new information. “Oh…I get it!” she beamed, “So if you don’t pass the test you have to be the daddy?”  I smiled and replied, “Exactly.” 

Bless you moms!  You’ve passed the mommy test!  Actually, we want to honor every woman here today.  If you’re over 18, would you please stand so we can celebrate your serving and applaud your impact?  I’m hoping you will be encouraged and affirmed as we look at how important women were, and are, to Jesus.

Before we get to our topic, allow me to summarize what we’ve learned so far in our “Cracking the DaVinci Code” series.

  • Separating Fact from Fiction.  Three weeks ago we discovered from 1 John 4 that when confronted by confusing teaching we must take a truth test, keep Christ as key, remember that God is greater, and practice limitless love.
  • Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?  Two weeks ago we focused on two key questions about Christ from Matthew 16.  First, who do people say that He is?  And second, and most importantly, who do you say that He is?
  • Can You Trust the Bible?  We were reminded last week from 2 Timothy 3 that the Bible is God-breathed, it has a good base, it has great benefit, and it must be grasped and believed.

Related to this, I was encouraged to read the results of a new Zogby poll that shows, despite sensational reports to the contrary, most Americans are not buying the theological premises of The Da Vinci Code: “Among those who have read the book, more than 60% believe that the Bible is closer to the truth, while only 10% believe Dan Brown’s novel is more truthful…The most striking result from the survey is that after either reading or hearing about The Da Vinci Code, 44% of respondents were more likely to seek the truth by studying the Bible, while only 20% were less likely to study the Bible.”

That’s what we’ve been doing in this series; we’ve been studying what the Bible has to say about Brown’s audacious claims.  Today we come to what is perhaps the most scandalous section of The DaVinci Code.  Dan Brown believes that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that they had a child named Sarah and that their bloodline continues today in France.  Incidentally, I happen to agree with Sandra Miesel’s contention that the DaVinci Code is “blasphemy delivered in a small voice.”  As we’ve been doing throughout the series, let’s hear from the book itself:

  • “The grail is literally the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church.” (Page 238)
  • “And not just any person…A woman who carried with her a secret so powerful that, if revealed, it threatened to devastate the very foundation of Christianity.” (Page 239)
  • Quoting from the Gospel of Philip, the character Sophie reads this passage: “And the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene.  Christ loved her more than all the disciples…” [I can’t repeat what is said next because it makes me recoil inside].  (Page 246)
  • “…Jesus was the original feminist.  He intended for the future of His church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene.” (Page 248)
  • “Behold…the greatest cover-up in human history.  Not only was Jesus Christ married, but He was a father…” (Page 249)
  • “…Mary Magdalene…her marriage to Jesus Christ…it’s a matter of historical record…and DaVinci was certainly aware of that fact.  The Last Supper practically shouts at the viewer that Jesus and Magdalene were a pair.” (Page 244)

I’ve received questions throughout this series and have attempted to answer at least one during each message.  Here’s a question that I’ve been asked a number of times. 

Q: Why did Leonardo DaVinci paint Mary Magdalene into the Last Supper?

A: Here’s my simple answer.  He didn’t.  

Let me be quick to say that I’m not an art historian by any means and recognize that I’m out of my expertise area, but I also want to address this question because Brown’s portrayal of what is in this painting has really thrown some people.

Before Believing Brown

Consider these facts before believing Brown’s book:

  • Leonardo wasn’t there for the Last Supper and didn’t have a picture to work from because he lived almost fifteen centuries after Christ.  That alone should make us pause.  Simply put, he painted his perspective; and that doesn’t make it true.  By the way, do you know what Peter said at the Last Supper?  He looked at his buddies and said, “Hey, you better get on this side of the table if you want to be in the picture!”
  • Leonardo had personal and profound issues with the church, and these showed up in his artwork and his writings. 
  • We don’t really know what he painted because the original has greatly faded and what we see now has been restored several times.  By the time of the first restoration project, I’m told that the original was almost totally unrecognizable.
  • With only twelve disciples with Jesus, if one is Mary, then where’s John?  He’s referred to in John 21:7 as the “one whom Jesus loved.”  There’s no way he would have been left out of this very important meal.
  • As I mentioned last week, 60 Minutes and other investigative teams have debunked the theory that DaVinci was a member of the Priory of Sion.  This makes Brown’s whole premise evaporate and DaVinci could not have added secret codes in his paintings.
  • John is the youngest disciple and therefore was painted as a very young man, perhaps even as a teenager.
  • Sketches of this painting make it clear that the person to the right of Jesus was John.
  • According to art expert Bruce Boucher, Leonardo’s portrait of John is consistent with depictions of John by other artists in Florence at that time.
  • Perhaps most telling is to look at how Leonardo painted other men at that time.  His last known painting is called “St. John the Baptist.”  Notice how “effeminate” he paints this John.

Jack Wasserman, retired art professor at Temple University, says that “Just about everything [Dan Brown] says about Leonardo is wrong.”

Was Jesus Married to Mary Magdalene?

Let’s briefly address the audacious assertion by Dan Brown that “the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record.”

  • It’s silly to argue from silence.  Brown believes Jesus was married because the Bible doesn’t say he wasn’t.  It’s dangerous to extrapolate based on absence of information.
  • Most men were married, but not all.  Brown suggests that since most men were married, then Jesus must have been.  While that is true, there was precedent for single men, especially at the community of the Essenes.  In addition, the prophet Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul were single.  1 Corinthians 7:1: “Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.”  Keep in mind that Jesus often did things that were contrary to cultural expectations.  
  • If Jesus was married, Paul would have said so.  In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul argues that it’s OK for the apostles to be married and cites those who had spouses: “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?”  Paul most certainly would have referenced Jesus being married if He had been because it would have bolstered his argument that marriage is a good thing.
  • The Gospels never mention that Jesus had a wife.  Whenever texts mention Jesus’ family, they refer to his mother, brothers and sisters, but never a wife.  Mark 6:3 is a good example: “Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us?”  
  • When Jesus is on the cross, he does not give any special attention to Mary Magdalene.  In fact, the only woman He is concerned about is His mother, directing John to take care of her: “Here is your mother.  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:25-27).  If Jesus were married, He would have made arrangements for His wife to be taken care of as well.
  • In lists of the women who traveled with Jesus, it is never stated that Mary Magdalene was his wife.  It would have been natural to say, “Mary, the wife of…” had she really been married.  Many of the other women are identified by the men in their lives, but Mary is simply referred to as Mary from Magdala.
  • The Gnostic Gospels never specifically say that Jesus was married either.  Brown likes to reference the “Gospel of Phillip” and the “Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” which incidentally are not gospels at all and were written a century or more after Christ’s death.  I read the “Gospel of Mary Magdalene” this week and nowhere does it say that Jesus and Mary were married.  It’s important to know that this manuscript is partial with big chunks missing; specifically sections up to chapter 4, and portions of chapter 5 to 8.  You tell me if we should give any credence to this concoction when we read Gnostic nonsense like 8:17-18: “I was not recognized.  But I have recognized that the All is being dissolved, both the earthly things and the heavenly.  When the soul had overcome the third power, it went upwards and saw the fourth power, which took seven forms.”

Scholars point out that the key text Brown uses from the Gospel of Phillip has a big gap in it so we don’t know exactly what was said.  In addition, Brown claims that the Aramaic word for “companion” literally meant “spouse.”  That’s simply not true because this word appears ten times in the New Testament and not once does it imply a marital relationship.  On top of that, this document was not even written in Aramaic; it was written in Coptic.

  • The vast majority of scholars believe Jesus was single.  One of the few things that most liberal and conservative scholars agree on is that Jesus was never married.

What Jesus Thought of Women

Was Jesus the original feminist as Brown claims?  I wouldn’t use that word but He certainly elevated women above the cultural and religious parameters present in that day.  In fact, it can be shown that whenever Christianity is introduced into a culture, it has lifted women up.

The Real Mary Magdalene

Brown is right about one thing; the church for years has been mistaken about Mary Magdalene.  She was not a prostitute.  Even the Passion of the Christ portrayed her incorrectly.  Let me suggest a few reasons why our views of Mary Magdalene get messed up so easily.

  • Mary is one of seven different women with this name in the New Testament.  It’s difficult to keep them all straight so it’s easy to get confused about which Mary was contrary and which Mary was contrite.
  • The first notion of Mary as a prostitute comes from a sermon delivered by Pope Gregory in A.D. 591.  While the Catholic Church did not officially correct this teaching until 1969, Gregory’s sermon did not trash Mary; instead he held her up as a tribute to the grace of God that transforms lives.  Incidentally, Mary Magdalene is held in high regard by the Catholic Church.  Why would they do this if they had deliberately set out to tarnish her reputation as Dan Brown suggests?
  • The anonymous sinner in Luke 7 was thought to be Mary Magdalene.  Many have made the mistake of thinking the sinner who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair in the previous chapter was Mary Magdalene.  Luke 8 introduces a totally different scene with different people with the use of this phrase: “After this…”

Mary Magdalene as a Model

What do we know for sure about this Mary?  In short she was a follower and friend of Jesus.  I see six facets to her faith journey that can help each one of us today.  Please turn in your Bibles to Luke 8:1-3: “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.  The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others.  These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”

1. Chaos. 

As He preached the good news, people were set free

The first thing we learn about Mary is that she was called “Magdalene.”  That wasn’t really her last name; it means she was from an area called Magdala.  We also discover that she had been deeply disturbed by seven demons.  The number seven speaks of completion so we could say that her life was in complete chaos.  While some liberal commentators suggest that this was just a symbol for sickness; the Bible teaches that demons are real and they can, and do possess people, even today.  Notice how Dr. Luke makes a distinction between those cured of “evil spirits” and those cured of “diseases.”  What we know about Jesus in Luke 4:18 is that He was sent “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” As He preached the good news, people were set free.

2. Conversion. 

We’re not really told how this happened, but we do know that Mary from Magdala had been magnificently set free.  Her life was now moving away from chaos because she had experienced conversion.  If you find yourself in chaos today and you are troubled spiritually, emotionally or physically, come to Jesus right now.  You don’t have to live the way you’ve been living any longer.  Allow Him to convert you.  2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

3. Community. 

What are you doing to stay close to Him?

Once Mary moved from chaos to conversion, she wanted to spend all the time she could with Jesus and with others who believed in Him.  When Jesus moved to the next town, she went along.  Friend, if you want to grow closer to Christ you must stay in community with Him and with other Christians.  What are you doing to stay close to Him?  You cannot grow if you are out of community with God and with others.  Sunday morning involvement in corporate praise and preaching cannot be optional for the believer.  I encourage you to plug into a small group, join a Bible study, and get involved in the mentoring program here.  You may also want to consider finding an accountability partner to pray with several times a week.

4. Contributor. 

Notice that Mary didn’t just hang out with Jesus; she used what she had to meet His needs.  She had been blessed and now she was determined to be a blessing as the financial needs of the entire group were provided by these female followers.  My guess is that Joanna was able to give more because her husband was the manager of Herod’s household, but whatever Mary had she gave to Him.  That’s a good principle for all of us to remember.  No one can do everything but everyone can do something.  Perhaps she gave even less than Susanna, but we do know that she was a contributor.  Matthew 27:55 says that the women “cared for His needs.” The women at our church are just like that today.  You give because of the grace you’ve received.  This church is as strong as it is, in large part because of the contributions of the women here.

5. Commitment. 

Mary and the other women not only contributed cash, they demonstrated a deep commitment.  We know that Mary Magdalene in particular not only hung out with Jesus, but hung in there with Him when He was crucified.  She figures very prominently in all four gospels.  Matthew 27:55-56“Many women were there, watching from a distance.  They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.  Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”  Not only that, but she was among the first at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning according to John 20:1: “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.” According to John 20:15-16, she was the first person Jesus appeared to after the Resurrection.

The call of Christ requires a commitment to put Jesus first, even above your family as Matthew 10:37 makes clear: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Mary took the drastic step of leaving her home and her family, along with the other women and the disciples, in order to share in what the Savior was calling them to do.  And they hung in there.  

Some of you are in a tough spot today.  Don’t give up.  Maybe you wish you were a mom.  Maybe you’re a mom and you wish your kids treated you better.  Maybe you’re flying solo and you’re parenting your kids on your own.  Maybe one of your children has died.  Some of you have a hurting heart for the prodigals in your life as you long for them to return.  Stay strong.  Keep believing and stay close to Christ.

6. Communicator. 

Mary not only demonstrated a deep commitment to the Messiah; she communicated His message as she was sent by Jesus to go and share the good news in John 20:18: “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.” I get the sense that she was very enthusiastic about telling others what she saw and experienced.  Moms, keep on communicating the good news of Jesus Christ to your kids, with excitement and enthusiasm.  Keep on talking to your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members about what Jesus has done for you.  You might even want to consider opening up your backyard this summer so that our 5-Day-Club team can share Christ with the children in your neighborhood.  It’s been said that women were the last at the cross, the first at the empty tomb, the first to see the risen Christ on Eater morning, and the first to share the good news.

Where are you in this process?

  • Are you still living with the chaos that comes from being far from Christ?
  • If so, it’s time to be converted so you can be set free.
  • After this important step, are you doing everything you can to stay in community with Christ and with other Christians?
  • While its good be in community, it’s imperative that you move from being a consumer to become a contributor.  In what ways can you start giving of your time, your treasures, and your talents?
  • When tough times come, and they will, will you stay committed?  If you’re drifting, it’s time to come back.
  • And then, determine to communicate what Christ has done for you.  Do it with enthusiasm and with energy.  Who will you talk to this week?

Passing the Test

Many of you have passed the “Mommy Test.”  I’d like to suggest another test this morning that we all need to pass.  It has two parts to it.

1. A relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship you will ever have. 

Your marital status, or whether you’re a mom (or dad), is not the most important thing about you.  You matter to God for who you are.  On this Mother’s Day, remember that you are not defined primarily by your role in a family but by your relationship to Jesus as His follower.  Jesus redefines what is of ultimate importance in Mark 3:35.  The crowd had singled out Jesus’ natural family, indicating that his mother and brothers were there.  Notice how Jesus redirects this to show that a love relationship that leads to obedience is more important than any earthly family ties: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”  Question: Are you in His family?

2. This may sound scandalous when you first hear it so get ready…Jesus will be married someday. 

Erwin Lutzer puts it this way: “Jesus is now engaged to us, the church—His bride.  He would not have been married on earth, knowing that His coming marriage is in heaven.  On that day, we, along with Mary Magdalene, will be invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb…in the most blessed intimate union of fellowship imaginable.”  Question: “Are you ready to say “I do” to Jesus?

Please stand as I read Revelation 19:7-9: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!  For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.  Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.  (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)  Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”  

Only those who accept the invitation will enjoy the feast.  Are you ready to accept His offer so you can move away from chaos, once and for all?  And, as His bride, will you make yourself ready by remaining pure until He comes?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?