by T. Austin-Sparks
"And many women were there beholding from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre... Now late on the sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre." (Matt. 27:55-56,61; 28:1).
"And certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary that was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out" (Luke 8:2).
"But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping: so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and beholdeth Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turneth herself, and saith unto him in Hebrew, Rabboni; which is to say, Teacher. Jesus saith to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God. Mary Magdalene cometh and telleth the disciples, I have seen the Lord; and that he had said these things unto her." (John 20:11-18).
"These all with one accord continued stedfastly in prayer, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren." Acts 1:14.
A very simple word is in my heart for this moment. It is impressive to notice how frequently Mary Magdalene is referred to, how much she is kept in view. She is found in every one of the Gospels and undoubtedly was included with the women of Acts 1:14, and hers is a place of considerable significance and value. We cannot but ask why she should be kept so much in view, should be mentioned so much by name. It is no accident; it is not just good enough to say that all these apostles who wrote these records were evidently impressed with this woman and the others, and that they found in writing the story of Christ’s life and death and resurrection, that they could not just leave these people out. I think we have to go deeper than that, believing that the Holy Spirit has something in mind if these records are inspired by Him, and we look to see what that something might be.
Beginning at the end, we find that Mary Magdalene was the first of the witnesses of the resurrection of the Lord. In these meditations we have been much occupied with witnesses. "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me" (Acts 1:8). The first witness, the first representative one of the risen Lord to testify that He was alive, He was risen, was Mary Magdalene. It seems to me that she stands here to indicate the service of the new dispensation, the service of Christ — to be a witness to Him, to represent Him. This service of the Lord begins with her, and why? The thought that is in my mind is just this: that here is the service of the Lord again. And what is it that lies right at the heart of the service of the Lord, what is it that really makes a witness, a representative, what is it that constitutes this testimony in person to the risen Lord? — and I think Mary Magdalene answers the question for us very simply but very forcefully. The dynamic, the power, the essence of the service of the Lord is a passionate devotion of love to His Person. That is simple, but fundamental.
In the first place you find her a woman in great need — need of deliverance, of salvation, of mercy, of grace — a woman in great trouble and distress, and the Lord saves her out of all her troubles. From that time she is never far from Him; she is one of a band of such women who follow Him everywhere and minister to Him. Then in the last scene she is there with our Lord’s earthly mother standing some distance from the cross, watching, grieving, in those last hours. She is, perhaps, the last or one of the last, to leave that scene. Then she is the first back at the sepulchre; before daybreak she is back there watching the sepulchre, breaking her heart. John 20:11-18 is perhaps one of the most moving stories in the New Testament. The cry of her heart — "Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him." Then Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said, "Rabboni, Master!" Is not this all the embodiment of a personal love for the Lord, a mighty personal love for Himself? And it is out of that that her witness springs and that she becomes the first preacher of the dispensation.
It is out of that that the whole of the true ministry of Christ through the whole dispensation springs. That is the nature of it. We can say it in a few words and quite simply and although it is brief and very simple, let us nevertheless seek to recognize the supreme importance of this, that the service of the Lord is not in the first place going out to do things, or to say things, to propagate doctrines or truths or interpretations, to set up movements or fellowships or churches. The service of the Lord is the spontaneous outflow of a personal love for Himself. And when you move on to the day of Pentecost, and from then on, it is just that.
It would seem that the coming of the Holy Spirit was a baptizing of believers into a love of Christ, for from that moment of the Spirit’s coming, they had nothing to talk about but the Lord Jesus. They were just full of Him! Their conversation was full of Him, their preaching was full of Him, their witness was just all concerning Himself, and it was ever so. It was so with the great apostle of the Gentiles — Paul. "God", he said, "was pleased to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him among the nations" (Gal. 1:15,16). "The love of Christ constraineth us" (2 Cor. 5:14), "The love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 5:5). That was the dynamic of service.
Now, that is simple and it works in two ways. All activity, work, and what is called "service" for the Lord, without that behind it, is lacking in the true power of fruitful service, but if that is there, we cannot help being the Lord’s servants. Nothing can make us true servants of the Lord but a personal passionate love for Himself. Nothing can substitute that. But given that, there is no need for any kind of human ordination, an ecclesiastical setting apart. You are the Lord’s servant right enough if you have an adequate love for Himself in your heart. It will be, it will work out. All our value to the Lord depends upon the measure of our heart-love for Himself. That is all. There is nothing profound about that, but it is testing.
We may do many things, like the church at Ephesus later on. It did many things, but the Lord said, "I have this against thee, that thou hast left thy first love" (Rev. 2:4). And in effect He said: There is no justification in your lampstand remaining, it is merely an empty profession, an outward vessel without the inner Lord, the inner light. And unless this original first love is recovered, it is mere profession, doing many things, but the thing which justifies our existence is that love and only that. Nothing but that love will keep us going. It is the power of endurance through the years, and it is an awful thing to come to a Christian life which has got to be kept up without that love for the Lord in the heart. It is only that love that really makes the Christian life possible under all the strain of the years.
I am quite sure that in the case of the apostle, with all his suffering and all he had to meet, the thing that kept him going was that flame of love in his own heart for the Lord Himself. Through the suffering, nothing but a strong love for the Lord will keep us going.
And so, without adding any more to that, I simply say to you and to my own heart, what you and I need is a recovering, reviving, an increase. Whether it be that we have it or have lost it or have never had it, what we need is this mighty flame of love for the Lord Himself, not to be just professional workers, servants of God in some professional way. No, what we need is that love for Himself to be intensified and out of that everything else will come, and apart from that, the Christian life is a miserable thing, a burden to bear, while love for the Lord makes us witnesses.
So Mary Magdalene just comes to us with the greatest of all lessons. She stands there, the last at the cross, the first in the resurrection, the first witness of the dispensation. It is a woman. Now, of course, you can take that wrongly, you can take that technically, and say of course that at once justifies women’s ministry and women having first place. I have nothing to say against women’s ministry, but what I believe the Holy Spirit means here is that women in the New Testament represent the affectional side, the principle of affection, of love and devotion and service in terms of love. That is what the women are there to represent and it seems that this woman gathers it all up. But you see the background — heart devotion to the Lord which produces her marvellous ministry, her representative ministry for the dispensation. For her ministry was representative of the dispensation — that which produced this ministry and this representation was her own heart-sense of indebtedness to the Lord for His grace. And what ministry is of value which has not got that behind it? Paul says, "I am debtor" (Rom. 1:14) and that is the dynamic of his ministry. Mary Magdalene would say, I am debtor, I owe everything to Him!
If you and I come into a lively and sufficient sense of our indebtedness to the Lord for His marvellous grace to us, we will be witnesses right enough, we will serve the Lord right enough. Oh, then, for a revival in our hearts of the sense of our deep indebtedness! Of course, you have to be patient with the simplicity of this word, but I think it touches the centre of things, however simple. Do not let us be concerned about things at all. The matter about which we have to be concerned is our own heart relationship to the Lord, that heart devotion to Him. The Lord save us from having anything of a Christian life that is less than that which simply is abiding in that attitude of love — "Master! Rabboni!" I do not think we can ever reproduce the accent, the tone, in which Mary uttered that word at that moment. It was the come-back of a heart that was breaking over her Lord, now the floodgates are opened. I wish that we could get the accents of the two, when the Master said, "Mary!" You cannot catch it, but you can imagine something. And in the familiar tone she had heard Him address her before, she caught the tone and said, "Master! Is it you, Master?" The depths of that! I do not want to be sentimental, but there is something there which indicates this, which leads to the possession of the first note of the dispensational service. The whole dispensation, the whole age, is gathered up into this woman in what she represents. All service to the Lord springs from this — Master! In that sense, "You are the one with whom everything for me is bound up."
Well, the Lord speak more than my words can say on this matter.