Message 1: Jesus and the Sinful Woman of Magdala
October 4, 1944
by John N. C. Hiebert
Dear Friends of the Radio Audience,
At the close of this Lord's day we turn our attention once more to our loving Saviour. The story I have read to you out of the Gospel of Luke gives us one of those touching scenes of our Lord and His loving ministry to a needy soul. Jesus was always interested in people and He was interested in their needs, whether they be spiritual or material. All the need of mankind touched His sympathetic heart. As we read the Gospels carefully we cannot fail to notice His intense interest in individuals. He saw their needs and took notice of them. In our story Jesus met two individuals of very different character. The one was a self-righteous Pharisee named Simon and the other was a very sinful woman, most likely the woman known in the Gospels as Mary Magdalene.
The ministry of Jesus to the Pharisee was quite different from the ministry of Jesus to the sinful woman. but it was a fitting ministry. Simon had honored Jesus by inviting Him to his home and by preparing a meal for Him. He had, however, failed to carry out the finer courtesies that belonged to an honored guest and this had not escaped the Master's notice. Simon revealed his calloused heart by clearly showing his feeling toward the sinful woman. Jesus also noticed this. And so for Simon He had nothing but a sharp and very fitting rebuke. That was just what Simon needed. But His ministry to the sinful woman was far different, and in the few minutes that are at our disposal tonight, I want to call your attention to the sinful woman weeping in sorrow and repentance at Jesus' feet and to the loving ministry of Jesus to her soul. Thus we have before us the picture of Jesus and this sinful woman of Magdala.
I have mentioned that from all indications the woman of the story was Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, from whom it is recorded that Jesus cast seven devils. Assuming then that it was she, we have here the story of the complete transformation of a great sinner into a great saint. Notice the steps in this marvelous transformation. The story shows us her great sinfulness, her great sorrow, her great salvation, and the further records show us her great service. How wonderfully complete was the transformation of this sinful woman at Jesus' feet when she met the Saviour of lost men and lost women. The story is a clear evidence of the great fact that Jesus saves the greatest of sinners and lifts even those who have sunk deepest into sin. No case is hopeless for Him. He can save you, unsaved friend, just as He saved Mary of Magdala long ago.
First of all we see the great sinfulness of the woman who met Jesus long ago, in Simon's house. This woman was known as a great sinner. This is very clear from the record we have of her. She is mentioned as "a woman in the city who was a sinner." She was known as that in her home town and the town Magdala itself had a name of being a very wicked place. She was evidently a sinner among sinners. And there was no outer sham of righteousness about her. Many parade themselves in our communities as virtuous and good people and thereby only try to hide a life of unspeakable sin and shame. This woman was honest, at least. The Pharisee speaks of her in the words, "She is a sinner," and Jesus admits it by His words, "Her sins which were many." She had fallen deeply into sin, her sins were as crimson and as scarlet. She had lost much by this life of sin. Her virtue and purity were gone, her character was defiled, her name had become the very symbol of sin. How utterly sin can ruin a life. She was a tragic example of this fact. Yet this woman of Magdala does not stand alone in her class. Men and women throughout the ages have trodden the downward trail of sin. They have done what she did, they have lived like she lived, they have felt the effects of sin like she felt them. Many of you who are listening to me tonight know what sin does, for sin has never changed its character. Maybe you have not gone down that trail of sin as far as she had gone but you are walking the same pathway. Do what she did. Come to the feet of the Saviour with all your load of sin. Jesus will welcome you as He welcomed her, for "The son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
The story goes on to show us the great sorrow that filled the heart of this sinful woman at Jesus' feet. We read, "And she stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears." How freely the tears flowed down her cheeks and onto the feet of Jesus, giving vent to the deep grief in her heart. But why all this grief, why these many tears, why the deep sorrow and anguish of heart? There was but one answer; it was her great sin that led her to this great sorrow. Thank God for the gift of tears in an hour like that. And thank God for every true tear of repentance that flows down the cheek of a sinner seeking pardon at Jesus' feet. There are altogether too few of them. The sorrow she expressed in her many tears is the sorrow mentioned in 2 Corinthians 7:10: "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of."
It is not so much what sins we have committed in the past that determines our spiritual state as it is the attitude we take towards that sin. There is no hope for the sinner who is careless about his sin, who justifies himself in his sin, or even boasts about his sin. There must be genuine sorrow for sin if there is to be pardon from sin. How truly the words of the song describe the longing in the heart of the woman at Jesus feet:
"Only a contrite sinner, longing to be made whole.
Praying for peace and pardon, Jesus, save my soul."
My friend, do you know anything about such sorrow for sin? Have you ever shed a tear over all your sin and over the many transgressions in your life? The only way of pardon is the way of repentance.
The next step in the transformation of Mary Magdalene was her great salvation, her complete pardon by the Master whom she had come to seek. Jesus let her weep quietly at His feet till she had poured out her whole heart in silent prayer for forgiveness. When the right moment had come, He turned to her and said, "Thy sins are forgiven."
There was no doubt nor condition expressed in these words. It was a fact. Jesus expresses it as a fact. The woman accepted it as a fact. She was pardoned, her sins were gone, never to be remembered against her again. No words she had ever heard, no, not even those she had heard from her mother's lips, had ever sounded sweeter to her ears. And with that forgiveness she entered into a new life. That moment she knew what Isaiah meant by the words, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
Great had been the sin of her life. Great had been the sorrow of her heart. But great was also the pardon and the salvation that had reached her soul. And tonight that same Jesus longs to pardon your sin, my friend, if you will only come to Him, if you will only confess your need to Him. He will save you and pardon you and transform your life like He did it then for the sinful woman of Magdala. What a glorious night it would be for you if you would come to Him just now.
The great experiences of Mary of Magdala led her into a life of great service. She loved much because much had been forgiven, and her great love expressed itself in great service. She faithfully followed the Lord with other women and served Him and ministered unto Him wherever she could. She stood at the foot of the cross and saw Him die. It was she to whom the Lord first appeared on the resurrection day and it was she, this sinful woman from Magdala, this woman who had been known as a great sinner, who had the great honor of being the first one to bear the news of the resurrection to others. She was the first missionary of the new dispensation. And though the records are silent of her later life, we have no doubt but that she kept on serving the Lord until her death.
God only knows, my friend, the service that you could render in the Kingdom of God if you would only come to Him and let Him save you. He not only longs to save your soul; He longs to use your life. Why don't you give Him a chance!