18-5 Mary Magdalene And The Cross
It is emphasized that Mary Magdalene beheld the cross of Jesus (Mk. 15:40)-
the same word is used about how she came to see the sepulchre
(Mt. 28:1); she saw Jesus standing (Jn. 20:14). People beheld
the spectacle of the crucifixion (Lk. 23:48) and repented, smiting their
breasts in recognition of their sinfulness. She was representative of
us all. John’s Gospel is full of references to the crucifixion, and especially
the idea of ‘seeing’ / perceiving its’ real meaning. Jn. 1 “we beheld
his glory”; the word was made flesh on the cross specifically. “This is
the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and
believeth on him, may have everlasting life” (Jn. 6:40) connects with
the idea of looking unto the bronze snake (which represented Christ on
the cross) and receiving life.
“And he that seeth [on the cross] seeth him that sent me. I am
come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not
abide in darkness” (Jn. 12:45,46). Note again the linkage between seeing
and believing; which Jn. 3 applies to belief in the crucified Jesus, as
Israel had to believe in the bronze snake on the pole. The light of the
world was defined in Jn. 3 as the light of the cross. In seeing / perceiving
Christ on the cross, we perceive the essence of God- for the Father was
so intensely manifested in the Son. There, God was in Christ, reconciling
the world unto Himself.
“Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where
I am; that they may behold my glory [a reference to His desire that they
would perceive the crucifixion as the manifestation of glory, after the
pattern of the theophany of Exodus 34], which thou hast given me: for
thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world [the lamb was slain
“from the foundation of the world”]. O righteous Father, the world hath
not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou
hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare
it [on the cross]: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me
may be in them, and I in them” (Jn. 17:24-26).
The emphasis on Mary Magdalene being the one who beheld the cross, the
one who perceived the things of the Lord’s death and resurrection, is
surely to set her up as our example. For we can look at the cross without
perceiving the glory and wonder it all, neither perceiving the urgency
of the imperative in the things which were so uniquely crystallized there.
When we read that “someone” offered him a sponge with wine mixed with
myrrh (Mk. 15:36; Mt. 27:48), we recall the use of myrrh in preparing
bodies for burial (Mk. 14:3; Lk. 23:56; Jn. 12:3; 19:39). Pliny (Natural
History 14.15.92,107) records: “The finest wine in early days was
that spiced with the scent of myrrh…I also find that aromatic wine is
constantly made from almost the same ingredient as perfumes, from myrrh”.
This alerts me to the real possibility that the unnamed bystander who
did this was Mary Magdalene. Earlier she had anointed the Lord’s body
with myrrh “to the burial”. And now she has prepared the most expensive
form of wine as some sort of pain killer. Perhaps the Lord was so touched
by this that He accepted it, but didn’t drink it. His doing this is otherwise
very hard to understand. Her love was on one hand inappropriate, and yet
the Lord still accepted it, even though He couldn’t use it. He could have
felt angry with her for tempting Him to the easier way. But He didn’t.
And in so doing He showed her that the essence of the cross is that there
is no easy way. The principles of all this are to be reflected in our
When Mary Magdalene touched Jesus in Lk. 7:39, people reasoned that Jesus
wasn’t Messiah because He appeared not to know that He was being touched
by a sinner. Yet this incident prepared the Lord for the time when He
would be smitten and demanded to prophesy who smote Him, if He was the
Christ (Lk. 22:64). At that moment, perhaps He thought back to Mary. He
would have realized that that incident with her had been a living out
of the spirit of the cross, and it prepared Him for the final agony.
Mt. 28:9 speaks of Mary Magdalene falling down at the Lord’s feet. Is
this to be connected with how Mt. 18:29 describes casting oneself down
at another’s feet implying a desperate request for mercy? Or at least,
a desperate request (Mk. 5:22; 7:25; Lk. 8:41), as Mary had made herself
earlier (Jn. 11:32). Their experience of the death and resurrection of
the Lord elicited within them a sense of their unworthiness.