The Bible places a rather distinct emphasis on the faithfulness of mothers. There is Hagar weeping at the side of Ishmael in the wilderness. There is the mother of Moses fashioning the tiny reed boat which would be the infant Moses’ home for a while. There is the sad scene where Rizpah goes out to protect the bodies of her slaughtered sons. There is the wisdom and the courage of that unnamed mother who turned over her child to King Solomon and, because of the justice of King Solomon, received the child back again. There is Hannah, the mother whose faithfulness allowed God to speak through Samuel. Yes, the Bible has a lot to say about the faithfulness of mothers. But I would suggest that the Bible has no more touching word on the subject than that which refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It says in Luke 2: “His mother kept all these things in her heart.”
Mary’s experiences, as the mother of our Lord, were unparalleled in human history—yet at significant points, I believe that they can provide a pattern for all Christians, and particularly for Christian mothers. We are well aware of all the joys and trials and heartaches of family life—and so was she. And I believe that the greatness of Jesus’ mother resides in the fact that every mother would do well to follow her example. So let’s look together at Mary, the mother of Jesus…
I want us to see first, His mother’s keen spiritual insight.
It would not have been easy to raise Jesus. You know that as well as I do. I mean, how would you cope with a twelve-year-old boy who disappeared for three days, and when at last you found Him simply said: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” How would you respond when the gap between you and the child you were seeking to nurture was as great…well, as great as the gap between earth and heaven? How would you react to a child who didn’t so much cry when He was hurt as when other children were hurt?
It would not have been easy to raise Jesus, but Mary possessed enough spiritual sensitivity to recognize her son as a gift of God. Therefore, she proceeded to shape His growing life with extraordinary devotion to what she believed God wanted her to do. She, like all mothers, had the chance to shape her child’s thoughts and ideals and values and beliefs and opinions—and she made the most of her opportunity. She called herself “the handmaid of the Lord”—and so she believed that her primary task was to instill in her son a faith in the Lord which would be strong enough to withstand any attack.
But I wonder if that is true of most mothers today. Modern mothers want their children to enjoy the advantages of today’s world. They want them to have good educations. They want them to be well dressed. They want them to have the material things of life. Most of all, they want them to be popular. In short, they want their children to succeed. Unfortunately our modern definitions of success do not usually include God. The result is modern mothers nurturing children who are physically attractive, intellectually sharp, socially acceptable…and spiritually bankrupt!
I believe that mothers today need to find the deep spiritual insight which Mary possessed. Peter Marshall writes: “If you have no prayer life yourself, it is a rather useless gesture to make your child say his prayers at night. If your church does not mean anything to you, it is rather futile to send your child to Sunday School. If you make a practice of telling social lies, it will be difficult to teach your child to be truthful. If you say cutting things about your neighbors or about your fellow church members, it will be hard for your child to learn the meaning of kindness. The twentieth century challenge to motherhood, when it is all boiled down, is that mothers must have an experience of God, a faith which they can pass on to their children.”
Peter Marshall is right—and if today’s mothers respond to that challenge, great things will happen. For if you wish to see where the future of this nation is being forged, then don’t bother going to the trade marts and the industrial centers and the legislative halls. Do not even bother going to our schools. Go to the homes of this nation. Christian parenthood is still the greatest, the highest, the noblest vocation on earth. Napoleon said: “The future of France lies with her mothers.” That is true of America as well. When Dean Wicks was abroad with the American forces in World War II, he looked for the power that kept those young men going in the face of fear and anarchy and death. Many of them replied: “The faith my mother gave me.” That’s real power. The old saying is true: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Mothers, that power is yours. Are you using it for God? Mary did. Are you?
Now I want us to see, secondly, His mother’s deep generous love.
Mary not only let her boy grow up, but when the time came she willingly gave Him away. The Bible says of the boy in that Nazareth home that He “grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Mary nurtured her boy; she didn’t coddle Him. She implanted in Him the finest of all endowments. She saw to it that He had a sense of self-respect; that He developed a scale of values; that He knew the nobility of hard, honest work; that He learned consideration for others; that He discovered the meaning of family responsibilities.
Understand, please, that I am not trying to romanticize the relationship between Mary and Jesus. It wasn’t perfect. There were problems there—that must be admitted. It was the custom in those days, when the father died, for the oldest son to take over responsibility for the home. For a time Jesus did just that. But there came a day when He decided to leave home to become a wandering preacher—and that would have been hard for Mary to accept. The record notes that after that, He 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. Jesus repeated that saying but added to it the words: “and among his own kin and in his own house.” He said it publicly—and that must have stung His mother. On another occasion, when Jesus was speaking to a crowd, a man came to Him and said that His mother and His brothers were there and wished to speak to Him. Jesus replied: “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Then motioning to His disciples, He said: “Here are my mother and brothers”—the message being that He had joined a much larger family—the family of God. Suffice it to say that greatness puts an awful strain on family relationships. So the relationship between Mary and her son was not all sweetness and light.
But Mary’s love for her son was without limits. Nothing could stop it. She helped Him to grow up, gave Him the things He would need in His adult life, and then she generously gave Him away.
There is a painting by Holman Hunt which shows Jesus as a teenaged boy, working in the carpenter shop. He is working hard. He is stripped to the waist. In a moment of relaxation from the task at hand, He straightens up to ease the strain on the muscles in His back, and He stretches His arms wide. His mother, across the room, looks up. The light of the sun coming through the door casts the shadow of the young Jesus onto the wall. Stacked against the wall are some pieces of lumber. As Mary looks, the shadow on the lumber appears to be a figure on a cross. I wonder if there were moments like that as she watched Jesus grow from childhood to manhood. I do not know. But this much I do know: when the time for parting came, she bid farewell to her own flesh and blood without a whimper. And in so doing, she taught us that the true love of a mother is never selfish.
There is a marvelous story of an American lady dressed in black, arriving at the gate of the Argonne Military Cemetery in France. She asked the gatekeeper to take her to the place in the cemetery where her only son had been buried. As they walked between the long rows of crosses, he said to her: “The white crosses mark the graves of the boys on our side. The black crosses belong to those who were our enemies.” The lady was dismayed when she discovered that there were black crosses on both sides of her son’s grave. She placed some flowers on her son’s grave, and then for a long time she just sat there with tiny rivers of tears flowing silently down her cheeks. Then through her tears, she looked at the black cross beside her son’s grave and she thought to herself: “I wonder who his mother was?” Then she realized that it didn’t matter who his mother was, her heart was broken, too. And so this grief-stricken American mother took some of the flowers from her son’s grave and she put them in front of the black cross. Then as she turned around to leave, she was startled to see another woman standing behind her. There were tears in her eyes as well. Her son was buried beneath that black cross. The two women could not speak to one another—one spoke English, the other German. But a mother’s heart can always talk to a mother’s heart. The two mothers embraced beside the graves of their sons and then, arm in arm, they walked away.
A mother’s love—ah, it is beyond understanding. Somehow I am convinced that God gave us mothers—and God gave His son a mother—so that we and He might come to know what love really is—sacrificing, unselfish and beautiful. Our whole Gospel revolves around that kind of love—the kind of love we see so clearly in the mother of Jesus, the kind of love we see in our own mothers, the kind of love that allowed God to give His only son for the salvation of the world.
Then, I want us to see, thirdly, His mother’s joyful triumphant spirit.
She said it herself so beautifully just before her son was born: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” I submit to you that because Jesus grew up surrounded by His mother’s joy, He became the brightest, sunniest soul that ever lived.
Our homes today are covered with wall-to-wall carpeting and more conveniences than we could ever imagine, but too many of them have no joy. So many of our homes become little more than motels with restaurants attached where people come to sleep at different times and to eat at different times. I wish that there were more joy in our homes. I wish parents would spend more time loving each other and telling the kids about it. I wish more Dads would tell their kids just how wonderful their mothers are. I wish more moms would take greater delight in the men they married, and let the kids see that delight.
You see, we are called to give children our best. We are called to point them in the direction of Mary’s son and say the most joyful and triumphant words anyone can ever say: “Go and follow Him!” And there is even greater joy in this: knowing that one day, because mothers everywhere have pointed their children to Mary’s son, we shall see the end of the horrors of war and the cries of hunger and the stench of slums and all else that harms the growing souls of children. Of course, for a mother that is the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity of them all: bringing their children to the love and knowledge of God.
I tell you a story…
The young mother set her foot on the pathway of life. “Is the way long?” she asked. And her guide said: “Yes, and the way is hard. And you will be old before you reach the end of it, but the end will be better than the beginning.” But the young mother was happy and she could not believe that anything could be better than that point in life. So she played with her children and gathered flowers for them along the way and bathed them in clear streams and the sun shone on them and life was good. And the young mother said: “Nothing could be better than this.”
Then night came, and a storm broke, and the path was dark, and the children shook with fear and cold. The mother drew them close and covered them with her arms and the children said: “Mother, we are not afraid because you are near.” And the mother said: “This is better than the brightness of the day for I have taught my children courage.”
The morning came and there was a hill ahead and the children climbed and grew weary. The mother was weary too, but she kept saying to the children: “Keep climbing. We’ll be there soon. Keep climbing.” So the children climbed and when they reached the top, they said: “We couldn’t have done it without you.” And the mother thought to herself: “This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of difficulty. Yesterday I gave them courage; today I have given them strength.”
The next day dark clouds hovered over the earth—the clouds of war and hatred and evil. The children groped and stumbled on the way. The mother said: “Look up! Lift up your eyes to the light.” The children looked up and saw above the clouds an everlasting glory and it guided them beyond the darkness. The mother said: “This is the best day of all, for I have shown my children God.”
The days moved on and the mother grew old. She was small and bent. But her children were tall and straight and strong. When the way was rough they carried her for she was light as a feather. At last they came to a hill and beyond the hill was a shining road and golden gates flung wide open. The mother said: “I have reached the end of this journey. And now, I know it is true—the end is better than the beginning for my children can walk with God and their children after them.” And the children said: “You will always be with us, Mother.” They stood and watched her as she went on alone and the gates closed after her. Then the children said: “We cannot see her, but she is with us still.”
The story of Jesus’ mother? Perhaps…
The story of your mother? I hope so…
The story of my mother? Yes…
The story of you as a mother? Why not?