VIDEO Love That Will Not Let Go

Mary Magdalene both clung to the risen Christ and went out to bear witness.


Love That Will Not Let Go
Image: Fokus Good / Getty Images

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me … Go instead to my brothers and tell them ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”—John 20:16–17

The Resurrection is an unprecedented event in history. In the words of C. S. Lewis, it is a miracle of the New Creation. Something of which the world has had no previous experience at all has entered the old order and radically altered it. The great reversal has begun. The new wine has burst the old wineskins. Even familiar relations with Jesus in the old creation no longer suffice. Now, it seems he can only be recognized by those to whom he chooses to reveal himself.

The story of the Resurrection is also the story of human love at its best. When all else fails—even faith and hope—love comes through intact. It may be weak in comparison to divine love, but it is strong enough to move the heart of the Lover. Such is the love of Mary Magdalene.

What makes Mary’s devotion to Jesus unique may have begun early in his ministry when he cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:1–3). Mary had known the terrifying power of spiritual enslavement and the exhilarating freedom of following Christ her teacher. Here was a Rabbi who treated women very differently. From that day, her admiration and love grew.

Mary followed Jesus to Jerusalem. When all the other disciples fled (Mark 14:50), she stood in solidarity with other women to witness his agonizing death on the cross (Matt. 27:55). Love refuses to be cowed. Love perseveres when hope is extinguished. Mary witnessed Jesus’ limp body being taken down from the cross. He was dead! But love will not give up.

She continued to follow Jesus to the point where she could go no further. The tomb was finally clamped shut. Sabbath was about to begin. She had to leave, but not without first taking note of where his body lay (Mark 15:47).

Mary could not wait for the Sabbath to be over. At the first streaks of dawn, she hurried to the tomb. Love drove her back. Perhaps all she wanted was to be with the Beloved—if only to run her hand over the cold, defiant rock that blocks the tomb’s entrance. But further dismay greeted her: The stone had been removed and the body was gone. Without a second thought, she hurried back and reported it to Peter and John.

John reached the tomb entrance first and hesitated, but Peter, true to form, barged in. The sight defied explanation, for they “still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). Peter and John tried to figure out what might have happened. They were practical men looking for plausible explanations, and finding none, they decided to leave.

But Mary lingered. She would not give up so easily. But where is he? Why? No, it can’t be—perhaps a jumble of foreboding thoughts filled her mind. Could it be the work of grave robbers? Perhaps anger welled up at the thought of unconscionable men desecrating Jesus’ body. Mary could take it no more; she broke down in tears.

She moved closer to the tomb and saw two angels. Their brief exchange suggests that they seemed harmless, ordinary folks. Just then Jesus appeared and asked: “Why are you crying?” But Mary could not recognize the voice. Thinking that he was the gardener, she pleaded with him to tell him where he might have carried away the body of Jesus, saying, “and I will get him”—I will carry him (John 20:15). She did not consider how she would do it. These are words of a determined woman. Whatever it took, she’d find the body and carry it back.

Was Mary so blinded by her tears that she could not recognize Jesus? Not likely. The Gospels record other instances when the resurrected Jesus was not recognized until he chose to make himself recognizable, such as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who only recognized Jesus through the breaking of bread. For Mary, the voice of the “gardener” suddenly sounded familiar when Jesus called her by name.

Mary’s love had been stretched to breaking point—almost. But then Jesus revealed himself and spoke her name in the familiar voice that she had heard countless times before. In the depth of despair, her “teacher” had found her. She recognized his reassuring voice. She instinctively clung to him, driven by love that will not let go.

But she could not make Christ exclusively her own. Love must at some point yield to the will of the Lover: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ ” (v. 17).

Following Jesus had brought Mary to the brink of despair, but love finally broke through the old order. She became the first witness of the risen Christ and the first bearer of the Good News: The Father of Jesus is now our Father and Jesus is now our brother (Heb. 2:11, 12). But Mary was not a witness in the formal sense, for in her culture a testimony was validated by at least two witnesses and among the Jews, the status of a woman as a witness was a contested issue. What Jesus did for her can only be understood as an act of pure love in response to her singular devotion.

Mary Magdalene’s relentless pursuit of her Beloved exemplifies the spiritual quest for deeper union with God. Like other contemplatives, mystics, and saints in subsequent Christian history, Mary teaches us that love never fails—even when hope fails. It sustained her through the dark night of Holy Saturday into the dawn of Easter. Even as Mary clings to Christ, she also learns to let go. The ecstasy of her reunion with the Beloved was not meant to be for her alone to enjoy. He called her to go into the world and bear witness to the Resurrection: “I have seen the Lord!” From Mary, we begin to understand why love is the greatest theological virtue (1 Cor. 13:13). From her, too, we learn that however much we relish mountain-top experiences of intimacy with God, we must also descend to bring the Good News of the living Christ to a dying world.

Simon Chan served as Earnest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological College, Singapore. Now retired, Chan is the author of several books including Grassroots Asian Theologyand Spiritual Theology.

This article is part of Journey to the Cross, CT’s 2019 Lent/Easter devotional, which is available for digital download here.

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How Great Is Our God

Why Mary Clung to Christ

Only a handful of women dared to visit Jesus’ tomb as Easter Sunday dawned. The male disciples cowered in fear they’d be crucified next. Between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus appeared multiple times to numerous people (Ac. 1:3, 1 Cor. 15:6). Surprisingly, His first post-resurrection appearance was to Mary Magdalene. Expecting to anoint a corpse, she had a face-to-face encounter with her risen Savior. When she realized it really was Jesus, she clung to Him. Do you blame her?

Magdalene was not Mary’s last name. It refers to Mary’s home town of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee’s western shore. She is so designated to distinguish her from eight other women named Mary in the New Testament. Her name occurs only a dozen times in the Gospels, but as you piece the puzzle together, an inspiring three-part image emerges: 

  1. Mary’s Deliverance from Demons.

Luke 8:2 and Mark 16:9 describe how Jesus delivered Mary from seven evil spirits. We are not told how the demons affected her life, body or behavior. Some commentators suggest she was epileptic and suffered from seizures. Others think she had a debilitating mental or physical illness. Whether those demons corrupted her mind or her morals or both is up for debate. The big question is, “Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute?” The Talmud (a collection of ancient Rabbinical writings) states that Magdala had a reputation for prostitution. In a sermon in 591 A.D., Pope Gregory claimed she was the unidentified, uninvited “sinner” who crashed a dinner party Jesus attended (Lk. 7:37-39). That woman, believed to be a harlot, anointed Jesus’ feet with pricey perfume and washed them with tears of repentance. Simon the Pharisee, host of the dinner, objected that Jesus even allowed the tramp to touch Him. But there is no biblical proof that woman was Mary.

Others have tried to connect Mary with the Adulteress Woman in John 8 who was drug before Jesus to be stoned until He intervened. That again is purely speculation. The Bible does not say Mary was a prostitute. It simply says she was delivered from demons and became a devout disciple. Truth be told, all Christians have been delivered from something—“Who has deliveredus from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear son” (Col. 1:13). Maybe we weren’t bound by demon possession, but we were freed from demonic oppression to some degree or another. The good news is, when Christ comes in, Satan must leave!

After her dramatic deliverance, Mary, along with other wealthy women, “ministered unto Him of their substance” (Lk. 8:2-3). How did Mary become wealthy? Did she inherit it? Magdala was known for is textile industry, making fabric and dying cloth. Was she a business woman? Somehow, she had the means to help fund Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps she bought and cooked the disciple’s food, bought and/or washed their clothes or ran errands for the Prophet and His pupils. The fact that she was free from family obligations indicates she was probably unmarried and childless. 

  1. Mary’s Dedication to Discipleship. 

Though a supporting cast member, Mary comes to the forefront in the Easter narrative. While male disciples fled, Mary devotedly followed Jesus to the bitter end. Consider the degree of dedication she displayed: she was close to the cross when Jesus died (Jn. 19:25), she participated in Jesus’ burial (Mt. 27:55-61), she was the first to discover the empty tomb (Jn. 20:1), then she ran to inform Peter and John that Jesus’ body was missing (Jn. 20:2). They, of course, doubted her story, “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Lk. 24:11), not that she made the most credible witness given her past problems.

Bible commentator Craig Keener notes, “Ancient Jewish men did not accept women as reliable witnesses for most legal purposes and this cultural tendency may have further moved John and Peter to look for themselves . . . The witness of women was worth little in Judaism; that Jesus first appears to a woman would not have been fabricated and shows us how Jesus’ values differ from those of His culture.”

Why, of all people, did Jesus appear first to Mary Magdalene? One answer is simply GRACE! One could argue that she was least deserving due to her track record. Jesus often sought out the downtrodden of society to express His love to. Another simple principle may apply—“Seek and you will find.” She was the first to the tomb, so her search was rewarded. God rewards those who diligently seek after Him (Heb. 11:6). 

  1. Mary’s Clinginess to Christ. 

Mary didn’t recognize Jesus at first, assuming He was the cemetery caretaker. When Jesus called her by name, she knew His voice and threw her arms around Him. Jesus restrained her saying, “Touch me not” (KJV). The Greek word translated “touch” here means, “to attach oneself to, to fasten to.” Other versions render that phrase, “Stop clinging to me” (NAS), “Do not hold onto me” (NIV). Do you blame her? She had just witnessed her Savior tortured and crucified and now He was ALIVE. Mary must have thought, “Lord, I lost You once, I don’t ever want to lose You again. I will never let You go!”

Skeptics use this passage to insist Jesus and Mary had a scandalous, romantic, even sexual, relationship. Modern novels and movies have made absurd claims that Mary became Jesus’ secret wife and they had a love child together. They also exploit an excerpt from fragments of the Gospel of Phillip that claims Jesus kissed Mary often. They fail to explain that kissing was a common way of greeting among Jews (1 Cor. 16:20). Parts of that document are missing so they gladly fill in the blanks with Hollywood hogwash. This recycled rumor was condemned as heresy by the early church fathers. The reason Mary clung to Jesus was not some sensual attraction, but a sincere gratitude for how He changed her life and pure elation that He was indeed alive again.

Mary Magdalene was almost certainly one of “the women” among the 120 disciples who received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Ac. 1:14). Catholics celebrate her as a saint; Protestants consider her a heroine of faith. Tradition claims she continued to be a bold witness for Christ, leading many idol worshippers to salvation then retiring to a life of seclusion after years of public preaching. Many other unproven legends of her abound. She was the first to proclaim the Easter message. She owed much, gave much, loved much and served much. Once inhabited and tormented by demon spirits, she was filled with and transformed by the Holy Spirit. No wonder Mary clung to Christ. We should too!

Ben Godwin is the author of four books and pastors the Goodsprings Full Gospel Church. To read more articles, visit his website at and take advantage of his 4-book bundle for $25.00.

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VIDEO The Abby Johnson Story – It Starts With The Workers

One day, about a decade ago, a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic director saw something at her own clinic—and it made her instantly pro-life.

Her name is Abby Johnson, and she was the director of the Bryan, Texas Planned Parenthood clinic, which was affiliated with the greater Houston area Planned Parenthood—one of the largest markets for America’s largest abortion-provider. In 2008, Abby had been voted as Planned Parenthood’s Employee of the Year. She was on a fast-track for further promotion within Planned Parenthood.

I interviewed Abby Johnson on the radio a few years ago. She told me about something that happened that made her question how good Planned Parenthood really was:

“I had been instructed to increase the abortion quota at our facility, which was strange to me because I really got involved with Planned Parenthood, believing that abortion was something we were trying to eradicate, [to] make unnecessary through various education programs.”

I said, “Safe, legal, and rare?” She said, “Sure, that’s what we said to the media, and that’s what I believed.” She naively thought abortion (as a last resort) was helpful to women.

Abby said in a television interview for D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM):

“Planned Parenthood says that they offer options counseling, but that’s not true….they don’t really know how to effectively counsel on anything but abortion. I was great at selling abortion. I was a very, very good salesperson. I could sell an abortion to anybody. It’s so easy when you get a woman into your office, and she is vulnerable and she’s unsure.”

But on September 26, 2009, at the request of a visiting doctor who insisted on sonogram-assisted abortions, Abby ran the sonogram machine and saw from a different perspective what her life’s work (up to that time) was really all about.

In her book, The Walls Are Talking (with Kristin Detrow, 2016), Abby writes:

“As I stood watching, a thirteen-week-old unborn child struggled and lost its life within its mother’s womb, finally crumpling and disappearing into the cannula, a hollow plastic tube attached to the suction machine by a flexible hose.”

She described it this way in the DJKM television interview:

“I was just in shock. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. And the baby was actually making some progress. It was moving further and further away from the instrument, so much so the doctor had to reposition the cannula. And he finally got everything in place, and he asked the technician to turn on the suction, and she did.”

Abby continues:

“In just, a few moments, I saw the child’s body begin to go through that tube.

For those few moments I was watching this child fight hard for its life. It didn’t have a chance. We had all those instruments and all that technology, and that little baby didn’t have a fighting change, and it did fight.”

Abby adds:

“I walked out of the room that day just realizing, ‘I’ve got to make a change. Never again. I’m never going to participate in this again.’”

Today, Abby’s story can be seen on the big screen. Unplanned, based on her best-selling book of the same title (with Cindy Lambert, 2010), opened this past weekend and was a surprise hit. It came in number five at the box office, which is quite an accomplishment for an independent pro-life movie that virtually all of Hollywood does not want you to see. I saw it on its opening weekend and highly recommend it.

Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, told me:

“The depiction of abortion in Unplanned is something that every pro-life person should see—and every pro-choice person.”

Today, one of Abby Johnson’s central goals is to assist abortion clinic workers who want to leave the abortion industry. Her organization, And Then There Were None, is directly geared toward this.

In an online video for that outreach, Abby says, “Our vision statement for And Then There Were None is ‘No abortion clinic workers, no abortion clinics, no abortions’—it starts with the workers. We see ourselves as being part of a pro-love movement…we want to love these workers out of the clinics. We want to love them to a path of healing, and we want to love them…into a relationship with Jesus Christ.” So far, they have been able to help 500 people leave the abortion clinics.

In her book, The Walls Are Talking, Abby says she relates to Mary Magdalene:

“I have also done my fair share of sinning. And I have also been forgiven much more than I deserve. I abused and betrayed women in the worst possible way. I convinced them to kill their children….It was Christ who changed me.”

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, make your plans to go see Unplanned.


Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., is an on-air host/senior producer for D. James Kennedy Ministries. He has written/co-written 31 books, e.g., The Unstoppable Jesus Christ, American Amnesia: Is American Paying the Price for Forgetting God?, What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (w/ D. James Kennedy) & the bestseller, George Washington’s Sacred Fire (w/ Peter Lillback)  @newcombejerry