Posted by: stpowen | April 17, 2017

‘Woman, behold your Son……..Son, behold your Mother’


‘Woman, behold your son…….Son, behold your Mother.’

From a sermon preached on Mothering Sunday, 2017.

Isaiah 49:15.  ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.’

John 19:25-27.  ‘Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”  And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.’

Taken from a sermon preached at a Mothering Sunday service at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth, 2017.

Usually on a ‘Mothering Sunday’ service, we break off from whatever series we are doing, and look at a special ‘Mothers’ Day’ text.  But at present we are preaching through the words of the Lord Jesus spoken from the cross, and it seemed to us that the verses John 19:25-27 which were read just now are very suitable material for ‘Mothers’ Day’ because they show to us very clearly the heart of a mother, and also how the Lord Jesus kept the fifth Commandment, ‘Honour your father and mother.’  So let’s read those verses once again.

It will be good first of all to look at the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Like her Son, she was already well-acquainted with grief.  Right at the start, when the angel Gabriel was sent to give her the news that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah, we read that she was ‘troubled’ (Luke 1:29).  And no wonder!  A great honour it was to be sure, but it was fraught with difficulty and even danger.  She was betrothed to Joseph, and this pregnancy could be construed as adultery for which the law of Moses specified death.  So her response to the angel is both obedient and courageous.  “Behold the maidservant of the Lord!  Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Then ten or eleven months later, she and Joseph come to the Temple to present the baby Jesus to the Lord, and an old man named Simon approached them and made this prophecy. “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).  Strange words, signifying great privilege but also great sorrow.  At the cross they became, for Mary, tragically true.  Just a short time later, they became refugees in Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous intentions.  Then, as her Son began His ministry, she must have witnessed the virulent opposition of the scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish religious hierarchy, that would lead Him to the cross.

John 19:25-27.  ‘Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother………’  How can we imagine the grief of Mary as she saw her Son hanging on the cross?  The sword had indeed pierced her own soul.  She was the one who had first planted kisses on the brow that was now crowned with thorns.  It was she who had held those hands and guided those feet which were now nailed through to the cross.  And here she is at the foot of that cross, powerless to save, unable to help.

Yet what she can do, she does.  She doesn’t run away and hide; she doesn’t scream or yell.  She stands by the cross.  Whatever comfort she can give to the Lord Jesus in His agony by her presence, that she will give.  The crowds are mocking, the thieves are taunting, the priests are jeering, the soldiers are callous and unfeeling, but she will be there for her Son.  All but one of the disciples have deserted Him and run away, but while He has life, nothing will take her from Him.

Yet we need to note that Mary is just an ordinary woman.  She knew perfectly well that she was a sinner like the rest of us and needed a Saviour (Luke 1:46-47).  Mary would have been the first to object to the adoration and semi-divine status given her by the Church of Rome.  We may observe and learn from her character, her submission to God’s will for her and her love for her Son, but we should certainly not be induced to worship her in any way.

In this connection, it might be as well to mention something remarkable in the Scripture.  The Lord Jesus never addresses Mary as ‘mother.’  I’m sure He did in private, but if so, it is not recorded, and the reason for that is plain to us who live 2,000 years after the event.  It was not for any lack of reverence or affection, but rather to give no Scriptural basis for giving to Mary that pagan title, “Mother of God.”

Vs. 26-27.  ‘When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom Jesus loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”  And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.’

I want to look now at how the Lord Jesus, even in His dying agony, kept the Fifth Commandment, and the example He gives us.   The Commandment is found both in the Old and New Testaments.  ‘Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you’ (Exod. 20:12, repeated and expanded in Eph. 6:1-3).  This command goes far beyond simply obeying one’s parents’ bidding, though that is certainly included.  It embraces love, affection and gratitude, exemplified by respect and care.  It is by no means only addressed to young people.  It is to them first, but the word ‘honour’ looks beyond the obedience required of the young to the love, care and devotion to be given by grown-up children to their aged parents.  In these verses, we see the care given by the Lord Jesus to His mother.  Mary was, no doubt, a widow by this point.  We read nothing of Joseph after the end of Luke 2, and it would have been very odd if Mary had been invited to the wedding at Cana without her husband, had he been living.

There was, of course, no Social Security in New Testament times, and life could be very difficult for widows unless they could be cared for by family members (Hence the poignancy of the plight of the widow of Nain in Luke 7:11ff).  However, God makes clear several times in the Bible His concern for widows and orphans, and the poor in general (eg. Psalm 68:5; 1 Tim. 5:4, 8).  The Lord Jesus sets us a divine example in this respect; first as a child (Luke 2:51), and now as an adult.  Knowing that He must shortly depart from the world, He makes arrangement for the care of His mother.

Why does our Lord’s choice to look after Mary fall upon John?  For we know that Mary had had other children with Joseph after our Lord was born (cf. Mark 6:3).  Well, where were they?  None of them came at this terrible time to support their mother in her grief.  Also, we read that at this point ‘Even His own brothers did not believe in Him’ (John 7:5), although it appears that at some point before Pentecost (Acts 1:14), they came to faith, and one of them, James, went on to become a leader in the church at Jerusalem (Gal. 1:19) and is generally believed to be the writer of the NT letter that bears his name.  But now they were nowhere to be found.  The Lord Jesus had declared, ‘Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and My mother’ (Mark 3:35).  The will of God was that they support their mother in her time of trial and they were not there, but someone else was- the disciple whom He especially loved.

A modicum of Bible detective work will reveal that John was Mary’s nephew, and therefore first cousin to Jesus.  Look again at v.25 and then compare it with Matt. 27:55 and Mark 15:40, and you will see that Mary’s sister who stood by her at the cross was called Salome, and she was the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  Salome and John were there for Mary at her time of greatest need, so Jesus knew that they would be the ones to care for her afterwards.  We might add that John’s family appears to have been reasonably prosperous and therefore able to add Mary to the household.  They had a fishing business that was large enough to employ others (Mark 1:19-20) and were people with connections (John 18:15).  But no doubt John’s spiritual qualifications were the most important.  All the apostles had fled the previous night (Mark 14:50).  Not one had stayed and supported Him at the hour of His greatest need.  Yet there was one who had repented of his cowardice and had returned to be present at the foot of the cross to show that he was not ashamed of his Master.  All te apostles were forgiven for their desertion, even Peter, who denied three times that he even knew Jesus;  but John, who first returned was given the honour of caring for his Lord’s mother.

Furthermore, because ‘From that hour the disciple took her into his home’ (v.26), he would have had the joy, a little later, of running back from the empty tomb to tell his aunt the amazing news that her Son had risen from the dead (John 20:3, 10).  The last time we hear of Mary, she is with the disciples, her other sons and the women, no doubt including her faithful sister Salome, ‘Continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication’ (Acts 1:14).

To close, there is a verse in connection with motherhood which is especially precious to me.  It is Isaiah 49:15.  ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Surely they may forget, but I will not forget you.’  The love of a mother is a very wonderful thing, and one would suppose that it is impossible that she would forget her own child, but that was exactly my experience.  My mother suffered from a virulent form of vascular dementia towards the end of her life and could recognize neither me nor anyone else.  I don’t know how people cope with that sort of grief who don’t know the Lord, but I was comforted and sustained, not least by this verse.  However deep a mother’s love may be, God’s love towards His adopted children is greater.  ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and though the rivers, they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour’ (Isaiah 43:1-3).  The love of God is not there as a lucky charm, but as a love that will see you through the very hardest part of life, will never leave you not forsake you, and at the end will bring you to Himself and wipe every tear from your eyes.




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