Faces and Places Around The Cross: Mary: The Mother Of Jesus
I wish to read from the 19th chapter of the Gospel according to John. This is the word of God.
“Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to her, ‘Dear woman, here is your Son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.
Pray with me please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
It had to be a mother’s worst nightmare. The Bible says standing near the cross of Jesus was His mother. It must have been a ghastly, horrible thing for her to see. I mean, here she had brought Him into the world, reared Him from childhood, knew Him better than anyone else. And now, as His bleeding, emaciated form hung helplessly on the cross, all she could do was, in her own agony, watch His agony as His life slipped away. I’ve often wondered if Mary, that day as she stood near the cross, I’ve wondered if, in her mind, she reached back across the years to that day so many years before when Jesus was just 40 days old and Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to be blessed. And there, Simeon had said to Mary, “One day a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
I wonder if she remembered that. I don’t know. But I’m reasonably certain that the pain and the sorrow she experienced that day was unfathomable. And yet, notice, please, instead of shrieking in hysteria or fleeing in terror or dropping to a faint, instead, the Bible says, Mary stood with incredible courage. Mary stood near the cross of her Son. Mary was there. And John was there. Only John. All of the other disciples had deserted Jesus. One of them, in order to save his own skin, had denied even knowing Jesus and now he was weeping bitter tears of remorse in some hiding place. Another of them, because he betrayed his Lord, was now dangling at the end of a rope, a miserable suicide. All of the other disciples were hiding behind locked doors, blotted out by shadows and darkness.
Only one stayed. John. John was there. Mary was there. John was there. And I have to tell you, the next words we read in scripture, I find 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.” Think about that for a moment. I mean, here was Jesus, dying in the most excruciatingly impossible circumstances you could ever imagine, and yet somehow He managed to push aside His own pain in order to tend to the pain of those who were standing nearby. Here was Jesus, engaged in the single most significant event in all of human history and yet selflessly He remembered to provide for His mother.
Yes, what happened that day on Calvary must have been a mother’s worst nightmare. But what Jesus said that day on Calvary must have been a mother’s most blessed gift from a dying Son. For here Jesus was giving to His mother the comfort of a new relationship. Is it possible, I wonder? Is it possible to say without seeming tactless, without being misunderstood, is it possible to say that there is a sense in which grief is self-centeredness turned respectable? That the person in mourning is thinking primarily of his or her own self interest, saying, how can I live now? What will become of me? That’s the reason there are tears at funerals. You see, if we were thinking only of the one has died, who has stepped through death’s door into all of the glory of heaven, if that were what we were thinking about, then there would be shouts of victory and songs of praise.
But we are human, after all. And so when death strikes at those we love, we do think of ourselves. It’s a very natural, it’s a very human thing to do. And it would have been a very natural, very human thing for Mary to do. Here, her Son was dying right before her very eyes and she needed comforting. I think it might be important for us to remember that the relationship between Jesus and His mother Mary was always a bit unusual and sometimes even a bit strained.
You do remember, don’t you, when Jesus was 12 years old, we are told that He became separated from His parents on a trip to Jerusalem. And for three long days they searched for Him, no doubt Mary and Joseph frantic with worry. And when at last they located Him, he didn’t even apologize. He simply said, “Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” And at that point, Luke adds these words. “Mary and Joseph did not understand.” Well, I doubt that any of us would have understood under similar circumstances. And then it was the custom in those days that when a father died in the family, the eldest son immediately stepped in to take responsibility for the home and the family. And for a time, Jesus did that. He was known as the Carpenter of Nazareth. But then there came a point where Jesus decided to leave home and to become a wandering preacher. And thus He would have left Mary with the responsibility for the home and the siblings in the family. That would have been hard for her.
And we are told in scripture that Jesus returned to visit Nazareth only once in three years. Only once. And that turned out to be a most unhappy occasion. In fact, on that occasion—there was an old saying then which said, a prophet is not without honor except in his own country. Jesus repeated that old saying and then He added these words: “And among His own kin and in His own house.” He said that publicly. It would have stung His mother.
Or then there was the time when we’re told that Jesus was speaking to a crowd and a man came up to Him and told Him that His mother and His brothers were outside and they wished for Him to come out and speak to them. And Jesus said rather brusquely, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And then He pointed to His disciples and He said, “These are my mother and my brothers.”
He was delivering the message that He had stepped now into a much larger family. The family of God. Make no mistake. Sometimes greatness can put a strain on family relationships. And so the relationship between Mary and her Son Jesus was not always sweetness and light.
However, and here is the point I wish to drive home hard—However, Mary’s love for her firstborn Son was without limits. Nothing could stop it. Nothing. The fact that she was standing there at the cross. Do you understand? She was risking her life just to be there. Because she was standing there, we can affirm that her love for her Son could not be stopped. So let that just wash over you for just a moment.
You know, our homes today are covered in wall to wall carpeting, loaded with more conveniences than we could ever imagine. And yet, too many of our homes do not have a joy, a spiritual power in them. Too many of our homes have become like motels with restaurants attached. Where people just drive in and eat and sleep and then drive away at different times. Too many of our homes have no joy in them. I wish, how I wish that more parents would love one another intensely and then share that love that they have for each other with the children who are part of the family. I wish that more dads would spend time telling their children just how magnificent and how marvelous their mothers really are. And I wish more moms would take greater delight in the men to whom they are married. And then let their children see that delight.
I wish that more parents, forsaking all others, would walk away from any other relationships and pour themselves with a new commitment into the relationship with the one to whom they are married and then go on to chisel the value of that commitment into the hearts and the minds of their children. I wish, how I wish there were more joy in our homes. You see, we are called by God. We are called to give to our children the very best that we have and the very best that we are. And then we are called to encourage our children, pointing to Mary’s Son, we are called to say to our children, “Go and follow Him.”
Jesus knew that for all of the stresses and strains He and His mother had to face together, Jesus knew that His mother had given to Him the very best that she had, the very best that she was. He knew that. And as He looked down at her from the cross, and He saw her overwhelming grief, He knew that she needed to be lifted out of her pain and sorrow by directing her love toward someone else. Mark this down. Take grief into a corner and it will keep you there. It will imprison you. The only way to deal with it is through the comfort of companionship. Jesus knew that. And so from the cross, He saw His mother standing there and saw the disciple John standing next to her and He said to His mother, “Woman, Dear woman, here is your Son.” He was giving to His mother the comfort of a new relationship. And He was giving to His mother the consolation of a new responsibility.
Let me tell you what is true. Time may, indeed, heal all wounds and other things as well, but time cannot ever heal the ravages of grief. It cannot do it. It does not behoove us to pull the sheets up around our sorry until it goes away because it will not leave. We have to learn to live with it. And the way you do that is to give yourself to some new cause, some new responsibility, some new challenge in life. For the moment you give yourself away to some new task, the moment you pour yourself out as a blessing to others, in that moment you begin to break the stranglehold of grief. The pain remains, yes. The pain is there and the pain will always be there. But you begin to learn how to live with it and you begin to learn how to live in spite of it. The moment you push your own pain and concern aside and pour yourself out in giving yourself to others, you begin to live with the pain.
When the pain is overwhelming, you simply have to give yourself away. It’s the only way. Mind you, I’m not talking about the kind of giving that we render when we send a check or a get well card or a bouquet of flowers or a casserole. Those are admirable expressions of love, yes. No, I’m talking here about something much deeper. I’m talking about pouring yourself into the lives of others to such an extent that the cost of that is extracted from your heart and from your soul.
It is told of Abraham Lincoln that at the height of the Civil War, at the point when the pressure upon him was the most intense, at the point when his personal anguish was wrenching him in half, at that point one day, he stopped by a military hospital and he encountered a dying young soldier in a bed there. He stopped and he said to this young soldier, “Son, is there anything I can do for you?” The young man, his eyes glazed over in pain, did not recognize the president. And he said, “I would be grateful if you would help me to write a letter to my mother.” And so as the young soldier painfully dictated the words, Lincoln wrote the letter.
And then the young man said, “Would you mind signing your name right next to mine so that my mother will know that you were so kind?” Lincoln signed the letter. When the young man saw the signature, he was overwhelmed with emotion. And Lincoln then spoke tenderly and said to him, “Son, is there anything else that I can do for you?” And the young soldier said, “Would it be asking too much, sir? It won’t be long now. It would help me to die if you would stay and see me through.” President Lincoln pushed aside his own pains and his own pressures and he pulled up a chair and he sat down at the bedside. Night came. One, two, three o’clock in the morning. And then just as the dawn was breaking, the spirit of that young soldier took its silent flight. The president stood up and closed the now sightless eyes, whispered a prayer, and then left the bedside.
But do you understand that he had stayed? He had poured himself out to that dying young soldier. He had seen him through. That’s what Christians do. Christians push aside their own concerns and pour themselves into the concerns of others. Christians are so identifying with the needs of others that they give themselves away to the needs of others, no matter the cost. That’s what was happening on Calvary. Jesus on the cross looked down, saw His mother and saw the disciple John, and He said to His mother, “Dear woman, here is your Son” and He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” He was giving to His mother the consolation of a new responsibility.
Well, after it was all over, after Mary had watched as her Son drew His last breath, afterward she did go home. Only, it was to a new home. You see, Jesus had given to His mother a new home, a new relationship, a new responsibility. I love the way the Bible puts it so simply but so beautifully. From that time on, this disciple took her to his own home. The Bible gives us no details, but tradition, and let me tell you, it is a pretty solid tradition, tradition tells us that from that point on, John and Mary, for a number of years until Mary died, the two of them shared a home. First, a home in Jerusalem and then later a home in Ephesus, where John went in order to strengthen the church there. And the tradition tells us something else. The tradition tells us that John would never leave town, even for the purpose of preaching the gospel, as long as Mary was still alive. What a beautiful thought.
And here’s another one. I believe that that day, as Mary walked away from Calvary in the grip of the strong, loving arm of John, I believe she was no longer afraid. And here’s the miracle. God does the same thing for you and for me through Jesus Christ. Jesus says to us, “Give me your life, for if you give me your life, I will take care of you. No matter what battle you may have to fight, you cannot lose. Though bleeding, you will not be broken. Though weary, you will not be weak. Though downtrodden, you will not be defeated. For I will be with you.” Can I tell you that in my own life and my own experience, I have learned that I can keep on living and I can keep on loving no matter what because of the promise of my Savior. I will be with you. Seems strange. But right now, I have to tell you, I feel His great, strong, loving arm around me. Do you?
Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.