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TEXT: John 19:25-27
SUBJECT: Last Words #3: Son, Mother
Jesus Christ hung on the cross from nine o'clock in the morning until three in the afternoon. During this time, He spoke seven times, a number-I believe-signifying completeness. The seven sayings summarize who He is and what He came to do.
His first words were spoken to God-Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do. This is fitting for God and His grace were the things that mattered most to our Lord-and should be our first priorities as well.
Next He spoke to a sinner, promising This day you will be with Me in paradise. This is of a piece with His whole life. Often despised for eating with crooks and prostitutes, He was nicknamed 'a friend of sinners'-and they didn't mean it in a good way!
Now, He speaks again, and this time to His mother Mary and the disciple whom Jesus loved. The man is not named but he's the author of this Gospel whom the Church has always identified as John, the brother of James, one of the Twelve our Lord called to follow Him.
It's good to know our Lord remembers His loved ones-even in His darkest hour. Pain has a way of scrambling our thoughts, of making us think of ourselves and forget others. But it did not have this effect on our Savior. Even on the cross, Jesus, having loved His own, loved them to the end. Sick Christians are not forgotten, neither are the depressed, the worried, or the guilty. He puts our tears in a bottle; He writes them in His book, a book that is ever open before Him. You are not forgotten.
There's a Psalm to this effect, one that never fails to make me cry, it's Psalm 102. It has the Lord in His customary place-in the height of His sanctuary, in heaven. What's He doing there? You'd think He was reigning and ruling and receiving, but what He's really doing is.listening. Listening for what?
The groaning of the prisoner.
The Lord does not forsake us. He thought of Mary and John in their day and He thinks of you and me in ours. If a bride can forget her jewels and a nursing mother can forget her baby, the Lord cannot forget His People! But of course He cannot: We're engraven on His hands.
In His third saying, our Lord speaks to two people. The first is Mary, to whom He says,
Behold your son.
I have read these words for more than forty years, but it was only this week I found out what they mean. I always took, your Son, to be Christ. Mary should look to her dear Son in faith because she too is a sinner and He was dying for her salvation. Like everyone else, Mary needed to be saved, and she would be saved by looking to Christ.
Look unto Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is no other.
This is a true doctrine. But it's not the one taught here. For the son He has in mind is not Himself, but John, who (as far as we know) is not related to her by blood, but by something much thicker.
He's telling Mary to be a mother to His favorite disciple.
Our Lord then turns to John and says,
Behold your mother.
John is to take care of Mary as if she were his own mother. Which he did-From that hour that disciple took her into his home.
A couple of things should be said about John's obedience. First, it was immediate. He didn't meditate on what our Lord said or pray about it or discuss it with spiritually-minded friends: he just did it. There's a lot to be said for this. When we don't know the Lord's will, we study, pray for understanding and seek the advice of our brethren, but once we know it, we quit thinking, praying and asking--and we start obeying!
A second thing: it was practical. The verse says nothing about warm feelings welling up in John's heart. I hope he had them, but Mary didn't need warm feelings half as much as she needed a place to stay. And that's what the disciple gave her. We're prone to feel love more than to show it. But of course: feeling is far easier than doing! But telling a needy person, Be warmed and filled does neither. Even if you really mean it!
As Mary's firstborn Son, our Lord must provide for his mother. He did this His whole adult life (it seems) and now that He's dying, He leaves her in the care of His best friend.
This is noteworthy because, at the time, Israel was a family-centered culture, and Mary had other children, who were now responsible for their mother. But the Lord takes her away from her own flesh and blood and gives her to a man who is not part of the family. His brothers, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon, must have been offended by what He did, but Mary complied with His wishes, and spent the rest of her life with John.
Why would our Lord do this? John hints at it in 7:5-
For even His own brothers did not believe in Him.
In other words, while Mary's sons were related to her genetically, they were unrelated spiritually. In Mark 3:33-35, our Lord says,
Who is My mother, or my brothers? Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and My mother.
It's hard to appreciate the radicalism of what our Lord said. Our society values the individual and stresses personal rights. The Jews didn't. They put the family front-and-center. Who you were meant far more than what you had or what you could do. This was not just a custom, but grew out of the Covenant God made with them long before. The Jew prized his heritage--some proudly, others thankfully--but they all gloried in being the heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But not anymore! From now on the, family has been trumped by a higher kinship. With the New Covenant, being in Abraham's family means no more than being in the family of Pharaoh, Goliath, or Haman! The only Family that matters now is the Family of God. And we don't get into that by being born, but by being born again-
As many as did receive Him, to them He gave the right to be the children of God, as many as believe on His name, who were born, not of blood, nor or the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Jesus Christ is starting a new family with new boundaries, new privileges, new responsibilities, and new loyalties.
Kids: Don't trust your parents' faith. It will not save you! Neither does growing up in the church or hearing Bible stories at bedtime! You must believe in Christ yourself. Paul says
We are children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
And not because of who your parents are or how you were brought up. Thank God for your parents' faith. But don't trust it. Trust Christ.
Let's get back to Mary and John and what the words meant to them. Up to now, the dear lady and young man had served the Lord personally.
Mary carried Him in her womb, gave birth to Him, nursed Him as a baby, cared for Him as a boy, prayed for Him, encouraged Him, taught Him, and in short, loved Him as any good mother loves her son.
John, it seems, only knew the Lord about three years, but during that time, He became His best friend, spending many happy and profitable hours together.
This is how Mary and John had served the Lord. But this kind of service was no longer possible. On the cross they couldn't help Him, and three days later, He wouldn't need their help. Yet they still loved the Lord and they still wanted to serve Him.
And they could still serve Him! By serving one another.
Mary must be a mother to John, to be and do for him what she would have been and done for Jesus. John must be a son to Mary-to love and respect and take care of her now and in her old age.
This is what the words meant to Mary and John.
And to us.
Because we love the Lord we want to serve Him. But what do you give the Man who has everything? How do you serve a Man who does not need and cannot use your service?
You serve Christ by serving His family.
When He was among us, the Lord needed things, the same things you need. He needed money, and some dear ladies gave it to Him. He needed a place to stay, and He was always welcome in the home of Lazarus. He needed friends, and Peter, James, and John were good ones (for the most part). He needed encouragement, and Mary of Bethany provided that. At the end, He needed a strong back to carry His cross, and Simon had one. He needed friends and family and sympathy, and John, Mary, her sister, another Mary, and Mary Magdalene were there for Him. Finally, He needed a tomb, and Joseph or Arimathaea gave Him his own.
All these dear people met His needs. But He doesn't have any needs at God's Right Hand. But His people have the same ones He had.
Favors given to them are given to Christ. In the same way favors withheld from them are withheld from Christ. Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me.Inasmuch as you have not do it to the least of these My brethren, you have not done it to Me.
There's always some reason to not help other brethren. We don't have much ourselves is one of them. But the Lord doesn't ask you to share what you don't have, but what you do have.
If we help others we won't have enough for ourselves. But the Proverb says you will-There is he who scatters and yet increases, and there is he who withholds more than is right, but it only leads to poverty.
Helping others can hurt them in the long run. That's true, but that possibility didn't stop the Lord from helping, did it? When ten lepers came for healing, He didn't say, Well, some of them might be ingrates, so I better not heal them. He simply healed them-and yes nine of them were ingrates!
Finally, there's the problem of not knowing what to say. Job's friends can help us here. When they didn't know what to say, they comforted the man; when they thought of something, they broke his heart.
'Behold your son' and 'behold your mother' are not commands in grammar, but they are in effect. The Lord ordered John to care for His mother and Mary to love John as a son.
In commanding them to love one another, He commands us to do the same. Not to love in word and tongue, but to love one another in deed and in truth.
This means visiting orphans and widows in their affliction; it means lending without hope of getting your money back; it means weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice; it means praying for one another.
If these were the wishes of a stranger we could choose not to grant them. But they're not the wishes or a stranger, but of our Lord and Savior. This means we have to do them. Or, better, we get to do them.
We can do them because if Christ gives the commands, He also provides the grace to obey them.
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