Ever since we heard a very challenging exhortation to treasure devotion to Christ, I have been considering this question: what does it mean, practically, to be devoted to Jesus? I don’t want that to merely be a doctrine that I hold; I want it to be true of me.
In the midst of meditating upon this question, the Lord led me to an unexpected answer. He led me to Mary Magdalene. It says in Mark 16:9, “Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene...” Of all people, why did Jesus choose to appear to Mary Magdalene very first? To be the first to see the resurrected Christ was a singular privilege in the history of Christianity! We could have all sorts of soulish ideas of who “deserved” this honor: His poor mother, who had suffered so much; John, the disciple whom He loved; Peter, who clearly needed encouragement after his failure; etc. So why Mary Magdalene? I believe it was for the simple reason that, “He has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53) - she must have been the most hungry to see Him.
And seeing her as the most hungry, or to say it differently, as the most devoted at that time, has helped me practically define devotion. Considering her behavior at the empty tomb in John 20 is especially illuminating.
Mary Magdalene As An Example of Practical Devotion to Christ
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.”
John 20:1 NASB
She was the first one to the tomb. Long before the sun was up, she was eager to be with her Lord. She didn’t know what to do, so she retrieved other disciples as well, and they came to examine the scene for themselves. But they didn’t know what to do either, so they “went away again to their own homes
It wasn’t this way with Mary - she remained “standing outside the tomb weeping
). She didn’t know what to do either, but unlike the disciples, she couldn’t leave. She had to be with Jesus. Wherever He was, she wanted to be. She loved Him so intensely
. Her Lord was everything to her! She couldn’t go home and go back to sleep!
And what really touched my heart is what happens next: “(The angels) said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him."”
She wept because she did not know where Jesus was. She had lost the sense of His presence, and it was too much for her to bear. She had come to cherish His nearness so much that even simply not knowing where His body was was unbearable. What an example!
This made me wonder, “Do I feel that? That, ‘I don’t know what drove Him away!’? That, ‘It’s unbearable!’? That desperate, ‘I want to do whatever it takes to find Him, to root out anything that caused this separation’?”
Practically speaking, when I lose the sense of His presence, is it absolutely unbearable? For Mary, the unbearableness of it was revealed in her inability to sleep, willingness to rise early, unwillingness to go home, etc. “Lord, with You IS my home. Your life and nearness have become to me the very oxygen of the air. I cannot go on until I am restored to You.”
By that standard, I must admit that I am woefully wanting. But I cherish the example that she has set for me, to consider any separation from the Lord unbearable. I’m not there yet — too often, my testimony is at the other end of the spectrum (“Surely the Lord was here and I knew it not!”) — but I’m asking the Lord to give me this heart. I believe it’s worth giving everything for (in Philippians 3:7-9, Paul says he counted all things as rubbish so that he could what? Be found in Him! It seems separation from his Lord was unbearable to Paul, too...).
One thing is clear: few will understand such a person. It seems most of Paul’s coworkers probably felt that he must have been a little over-zealous (2 Timothy 1:15, 4:16, Philippians 2:20-21) in his devotion to Christ as well. The twelve disciples dismissed Mary Magdalene when she brought news of Christ’s resurrection (Mark 16:9-11), presumably as the ravings of the lovesick.
But I know that neither of them minded what others thought. They were too taken up with Christ Himself. And that’s where I want to be, too.