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A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

John 19:23-27

It had to be a mother’s worst nightmare…

The Bible says, “Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother…” Note that please. His mother was there. It was a ghastly, hideous, terrible thing for her to see. She had brought Him into the world; she had reared Him from childhood; she knew Him better than anyone else. Yet now, as His bleeding, emaciated form hung helplessly on the cross, all she could do was watch His agony. For her it must have been shattering beyond comprehension. I have often wondered if, as she stood near the cross, her mind reached back through the years to the time when Jesus was eight days old and she and Joseph had taken the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to be blessed. There Simeon had said to Mary, “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” I do not know if that day on Calvary she remembered Simeon’s words, but I do know that the sorrow and the pain she must have felt that day had to be unfathomable. Yet instead of shrieking in hysteria, fleeing in terror, or falling into a faint, she stood—with incredible courage, she stood. Why didn’t she just go home? I don’t know. But what I do know is: She was there.

And the disciple John was there. Only John. The other disciples had deserted Him. They were not men enough to match themselves against the nails and the cross, not strong enough to challenge soldiers who made sport with vinegar and spears, not kings enough to wear a crown of thorns. One of them who, to save his own skin had denied even knowing Jesus, was now weeping bitter tears of remorse in some hiding place. One of them who, because he had betrayed his Lord, was now dangling at the end of a rope—a miserable suicide. The other nine were cowering in fear behind locked doors, blotted out by shadows and darkness. Only one stayed—John. He was there.

Now I don’t know about you, but I find these next words in Scripture to be profoundly moving. Listen, “When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son.’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’” Doesn’t that grip you at the core of your being? I mean, think about it, please. Although He was dying under the most excruciating kind of anguish, Jesus, the King of love, pushed aside His own pain to tend to the pain of those who stood by His side. Although He was engaged in the single most important event in all of human history, he selflessly remembered to make provision for the needs of His mother. What an incredibly powerful truth that is!

Now let’s look at what that meant for the mother of Jesus…

Is it possible to say, without seeming tactless or heartless, that grief is actually self-centeredness turned respectable—that the person in mourning actually is thinking of his or her self-interest? That person says, “How can I live now? What will become of me?”

That’s why there are tears at funerals—because we are thinking of ourselves. If we were to think only of the one who has stepped through death’s door into the glory of heaven, then there would be no tears, only shouts of victory and songs of praise. But we are human, after all, and therefore, when death strikes at those we love, we do tend to think of ourselves. It’s a very natural, human thing to do, and it would have been a very natural, very human thing for Mary to do. Her first born was dying right before her very eyes, and she needed comforting. That’s exactly what Jesus was doing from the cross. He was giving His mother the comfort of a new relationship.

I think it is important for us to remember today that the relationship between Maty and Jesus was always a bit unusual and sometimes even rather strained. For example, when Jesus was twelve years old, He became separated from His parents on a trip to Jerusalem. After three long days in which Mary and Joseph must have been sick with worry, finally they found Him. He didn’t even apologize. He simply said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke adds, at that point, that Mary and Joseph didn’t understand. Little wonder. I doubt that any of us would have understood under the circumstances. Also, it was the custom in those days that when the father died the oldest son always stepped in to take over responsibility for the home. For a time, apparently, Jesus did that, but then He decided to leave home in order to become an itinerant preacher—and that would have been very hard for Mary to accept. The record goes on to note that, after that, Jesus returned to Nazareth only once in three years, and that was a most unhappy occasion. There was a saying in those days that a prophet was not without honor save in his own country. Well Jesus repeated the saying but added to it these words, “…and among his own kin and in his own house.” He said that publicly, and the words would have stung His mother. On yet another occasion, when Jesus was speaking to a crowd, a man came to Him and said that His mother and brothers were there and wished to speak to Him. Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then, pointing to His disciples, gathered around Him, He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.” The message He was delivering was that He had now joined a much larger family—the family of God. Think how hard it would have been for Mary to hear that.

Suffice to say that greatness always puts an awful strain on family relationships, and so the relationship between Mary and Jesus was not always sweetness and light. However—and this is what I want us to see—Mary’s love for her first-born son was without limits. Nothing could stop it. She helped Him grow up, gave Him the things He would need in His adult life, and then she generously gave Him away. Let that wash over your soul for just a moment. You see, our homes today are covered with wall-to-wall carpeting and more power conveniences than we could ever imagine, but too many of them have no joyous spiritual power. So many of our homes have become little more than hotels with restaurants attached where people drive in to eat and sleep at different times. I wish there were more joy in our homes. I wish parents would spend more time enjoying their love for each other and sharing that joy with their children. I wish more dads would tell their kids just how wonderful their mothers really are. I wish more moms would take greater delight in the men they married, and let the kids see that delight. I wish more parents would, “forsaking all others,” walk away from other relationships into a new commitment to the one to whom they are married—and then chisel the value of that commitment into the heads and hearts of their kids. We are called to give our children our best and then we are called to point them to Mary’s Son and to say to them, “Go and follow Him.”

Now Jesus knew that, for all of the stresses and strains they had had to face together, His mother had given Him her very best. Jesus knew that now His mother needed to be wrenched out of herself. She needed to be torn away from self pity by having her love directed towards someone else. Mark this down: Take grief into a corner and it will keep you there. Here is what is true. Time does not heal the ravages of grief. You dare not pull up the sheets around your sorrow and sit and wait for it to go away. It will not leave. You have to drive it away, and the best way to do that is to become involved in a new task, a new challenge, a new responsibility. That’s the way it works. The moment you begin to give yourself away in sacrificial service to someone else, you begin to drive away the strangling force of grief. Jesus knew that to be absolutely true. He saw from the cross His mother’s overwhelming grief, and He saw from the cross the disciple whom He loved standing beside her, and so He said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” He gave His mother the comfort of a new relationship. That’s a lesson we would all do well to learn.


I guess that after it was all over, Mary did go home, but it was to a new home. Did you catch it in the reading? It says, “From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” Jesus, in His love and compassion for His mother, gave her a new relationship, sent her to a new home, offering her a new responsibility. By the way, while the Bible gives us no details, the tradition tells us that Mary and John shared a home for twelve years until Mary died—first a home in Jerusalem, and then later a home in Ephesus when John went to strengthen the church there. The tradition tells us that John would never leave town, even for the purpose of preaching the Gospel, as long as Mary was alive. That’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it? And here is another beautiful thought: I rather imagine that as Mary walked away from Calvary that day, held tightly by John’s loving arm, she was no longer afraid. Dear friends, Jesus does exactly that for you and for me. In His love and compassion for us, He says to us, “If you will give me your life, then you will never have to be afraid. I will care for you. No matter what battles you have to fight, you cannot lose. Though bleeding, you will never be broken. Though weary, you will never be weak. Though downtrodden, you will never see defeat. For I will be with you always.” You know it’s strange to say it perhaps, but I actually feel the arm of His strength and comfort around me now.

Do you?

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