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“Behold Your Son… Behold Your Mother!”


All your loving and caring for and obedience to your mothers, fathers and other authorities would never be pleasing to God if you have no faith in the atoning work of Jesus for your sins. For as Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please him.”

John 19:25-27 (text); Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Psalm 69:1-12

March 18, 2012 Download PDF sermon
Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowful Mother) by James Tissot, 1899 (click to enlarge)

Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowful Mother) by James Tissot, 1899 (click to enlarge)

Our text today is commonly preached not on the Lenten season, but on Mothers’ Day. Why? Because it suits the theme of loving and taking care of mothers., such as “Seven Ways to Love Your Mother” or “Ten Steps to Becoming a Good Mother.” Is there any other theme a pastor can preach from this text?

Now there is nothing wrong with a sermon on loving and taking care of mothers (and fathers). The first commandment in the second table of the Law, which is summarized as loving your neighbor, is the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” Paul says it is the first commandment with a promise, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Eph 6:1-3). Jesus himself was obedient to his parents from his childhood days. When he was 12 years old, he stayed behind in the temple, and his parents finally found him after a three-day search. But “he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them” (Luke 2:51). No doubt he honored and respected his parents, because he fulfilled all the Law.

This is why Jesus condemned the scribes and the Pharisees as hypocrites when they legally avoided financially and physically caring for their aged parents by declaring their assets “Corban” or “dedicated to God” (Mark 7:9-13). They are hypocrites because they care about observing worthless man-made laws, but “have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23). The scribes and the Pharisees were great in “majoring in the minors.”

Scripture is full of instructions for children to honor their parents. They are to listen to their parents’ teachings (Prov 1:8; 7:1-2). Those who disobey and mock their parents are condemned (2Tim 2:2; Prov 30:17). The Old Testament law is severe on children who are disobedient, rebellious and drunkards: they are to be stoned to death by the elders of the city (Deut 21:18-21).

This is why countries that have passed anti-spanking laws are disobeying a godly Biblical principle and actually promoting disobedience and rebellion among children. Discipline is a common theme in children’s training, such as Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (“Spare the rod and spoil the child “ is not in the Bible.) It is an important part in the training, teaching, and correcting wayward behavior of a child. Discipline is not cruelty and hate, but in fact a show of love and care for a child.

Surely, honoring our parents is one of the important applications we can learn from our text. But if we dwell only on this commandment in studying our text, we too will be “neglecting weightier matters” and “majoring in the minors.” For the weightier matter in this text is this: the crucifixion scene is the climactic point in the great drama of God’s redemption plan for his people.

We will look at the three major characters in this portion of this great drama: (1) The Grieving Mother; (2) The Firstborn Son; and (3) The “Adopted” Son.

The Grieving Mother
The Gospels write that there were many women present at the crucifixion, “There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him” (Matt 27:55; see also Mark 15:40; Luke 23:49). They were Jesus’ disciples, and they provided for his needs in his hour of great suffering. Some of these women were named, of which the number and identification are disputed.

Our text says among them “were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” John and his mother were “standing nearby.” All scholars agree on two identifications: Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary of Magdala, the one who had seven demons that Jesus cast out (Luke 8:2-3). The other identifications are disputed. Some say there are three women: Mary the mother of Jesus; Salome, Mary’s sister, who was also the mother of the sons of Zebedee; and Mary Magdalene. Some say there are four women: Mary the mother of Jesus; Mary’s unnamed sister; Mary the wife of Clopas; and Mary Magdalene.

Whoever the other women were near the cross, Mary the mother of Jesus caught his attention. As in the wedding at Cana (John 2:4), the crucified Jesus addresses Mary, not as “Mother,” but as “Woman.” Was Jesus disrespecting his mother Mary, just as if we addressed a woman today as “Woman”? Remember how former President Clinton addressed the woman involved in the sex scandal? “That woman,” not Miss Lewinsky. And that shows not just an attitude of ignoring and denying his relationship with her, but that of disrespecting her. But in the first century, addressing a woman as “Woman” is not uncommon or improper.

More significantly, the word “woman” (Greekgyne, as in “gynecology”) alludes back to redemptive history, all the way back to the creation story. In the first announcement of the gospel after our first parents fell into sin, God prophesied that the Seed of the woman will destroy Satan, that ancient deceiver, the serpent of old (Gen 3:15). Paul makes this connection in a puzzling statement in 1 Timothy 2:15, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing.”

What is he saying? It is in this context: Women, represented by Eve, the woman who will bear a Seed (Gen 3:15), are to learn in silence and not have authority over men. Why? Because (1) she was not the first created; and (2) she was deceived first. And since she was deceived, she became a transgressor. How would she be saved from sin? The woman of Genesis 3:15 will bear a Child, a Seed, who will crush the serpent’s head. And Joseph, Mary’s husband, was told by the angel about her: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). The salvation of women (and men) came “through childbearing,” when Mary bore a child, the Seed of the woman Eve. This Jesus, “born of woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4), will save transgressors by the atoning sacrifice of himself on the cross.

God started executing his eternal plan right after Adam and Eve fell into sin in the garden of Eden. The last act of God’s plan for saving his people unfolded in the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world, through Mary. Even before Jesus was born, Mary already heard amazing things, first from the angel, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be bornwill be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

After Jesus was born, Mary again heard wonderful words from the shepherds about angels singing “Glory to God in the highest!” because her child, the “Savior who is Christ the Lord,” was born. And when she went to the Temple for her purification and the baby’s redemption, the prophet Simeon said some ominous words, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:34-35).

After he died, a Roman soldier pierced his side with a spear to make sure he was dead, “and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). Not only was he surely dead, but the blood and water confirmed that Jesus was a true human being with a real human body. Again, this was a fulfillment of another prophecy, “They will look on him whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10).

Seeing his Son crucified and dead on the cross must have greatly pierced Mary’s soul, as Simeon prophesied. How much sorrow and anguish of the soul can a mother endure? This time, Mary pondered in her heart, not the wonderful things that the shepherds told her about the glorious announcement of the birth of the Savior. She now pondered Simeon’s ominous words, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” Now as she watched her Son’s cruel death on the cross, all the words that came out of her Son’s mouth, and all the things he did that she “treasured up… [and pondered] in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51), came back to her remembrance.

Now she knew how deep and painful that sword has pierced her own heart! But even with such unimaginable grief, she stood strong at the foot of the cross, silently mourning. She had no words of hate against the mocking soldiers, the mob, and the criminal on the cross. She suffered greatly but with dignity until her beloved Son gave up his spirit.

The Firstborn Son
When the child Jesus was presented at the Temple, the prophet Simeon declared the infant as the long-awaited Consolation of Israel, but that the child “is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (Luke 2:34-35).

As God’s sign of salvation to mankind, Jesus will be opposed, “despised and rejected by men” (Isa 53:3). He would grieve his mother Mary greatly, because wicked men will nail his hands and feet to the cross. The Psalmist foresaw this event, “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet” (Psa 22:16). But all of these were foretold in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings, and Jesus knew these from the beginning (Luke 24:27, 44).

When he was born, he was called Mary’s “firstborn Son” (Luke 2:7). But not only was he firstborn in the physical sense; he was most of all, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15). He existed from eternity as the glorious Son of God, with the Trinitarian Godhead. Why is he called “firstborn”? Because, just as all firstborn sons in the Old Testament, he had the highest rights, privileges and inheritance among all the children in the family. If he was the son of a king, he would inherit the throne of his father. King David was described in these terms, “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27), a type of Jesus “the ruler of kings on earth” (Rev 1:5).

From his boyhood, he knew why he was born on earth. He told his parents, frustrated and greatly distressed after a three-day search for their missing 12-year-old Son, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s business?” With his every word, thought and deed, he set his face like flint towards his goal—to be “the firstborn from the dead” and “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (Col 1:18; 1Cor 15:20). He would give his life as a ransom for many, willingly laying it down for us.

And after he is raised from his tomb, many others would also be raised from the dead. Believers would also be called “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb 12:23) because we would all be like him on the day of resurrection. He is the foretaste of what all believers would be like on the day of resurrection.

Though he was a member of the Trinitarian Godhead in heaven from eternity, he willingly came down to earth as a lowly human being. His mission was to assume a human body and fulfill all the righteousness of God’s law, declaring, “I have came not to abolish the [Law or the Prophets], but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). Three times, he predicted his suffering and death at the hands of wicked men, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22, 44; 18:31).

As he suffered greatly on the cross, he saw his dear mother weeping and mourning, and he had compassion on her. He had compassion on her! He who was already suffering the unimaginable, eternal wrath of God did not long for sympathy or pity, but had compassion on others. He asked his Father to forgive all these wicked people. He forgave the criminal who repented before he died on the cross, and did not defend himself against the mockery of the other. He did not ask his Father to send twelve legions of the heavenly host to destroy these evildoers surrounding him.

How different he is from us! During times of trial, we forget everyone except ourselves. We become the center of our own attention, demanding the sympathy of others for our plight. Not so with Jesus. He always had the interest of others first, even in his greatest hour of suffering.

Now, he who needed care and compassion, expressed his undying love for his needy, grieving mother. John Calvin described this unspeakable love of Jesus towards others, especially to his mother:

Though horrible blasphemies against God filled his mind with inconceivable grief, and though he sustained a dreadful contest with eternal death and with the devil, still, none of these things prevented him from being anxious about his mother.

He discharged his lawful duty to his mother as he was breathing his last few breaths of life. As her mother’s Savior, he gave up his life for her, and for the church, whom he loved as a husband loves his wife (Eph 5:25). How much does he love his own mother and his church? May we have understanding of “the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:18-19).

As he came to fulfill all the Law throughout his whole life, now on the cross, he fulfilled the fifth commandment as a Son, “Honor your father and your mother.” He now saw in his beloved disciple John the instrument by which he would fulfill righteousness before his death.

The “Adopted” Son
When Jesus saw his grieving mother and John his beloved disciple, he said to him, “Behold, your mother! And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

"John on Patmos" by Alonso Cano (c. 1640)

"John on Patmos" by Alonso Cano (c. 1640)

The apostle John was not Mary’s real son. One of the most hotly-debated issues between Protestants and Catholics is whether Jesus had any siblings. Many in the early church taught that Mary was a “perpetual virgin” and had no other children after Jesus. This was the majority view starting in the 4th century, including Jerome (347-419) and Augustine (354-430). Even the 16th century Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli and Martin Bucer agreed with this teaching. More recently, J.C. Ryle did not believe that Mary had other children.

But Scriptural evidence is clear and indisputable that Jesus had siblings, thus, Mary was not a perpetual virgin. After attending the wedding at Cana, Jesus “went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples” (John 2:12). In Mark 6:2-3, those who heard him preach asked one another, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Roman Catholics argue that “brothers” and “sisters” here are Jesus’ disciples or cousins. However in both passages above, the familial contexts are very clear. Besides these, it would be a gross violation of God’s creation mandate that a man and his wife “shall become one flesh” if Joseph and Mary did not have conjugal relations (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4-5).

So if Jesus had brothers (and sisters), where were they as he was being put to death? And why would Jesus commend his mother to his disciple John, and not to them? The answer is in John 7:5, “For not even his brothers believed in him.” If, as Roman Catholics teach, Jesus’ “brothers” are his disciples or followers, this verse in a self-contradiction. Jesus knew this family rejection all too well, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household” (Matt 13:57). Perhaps all the way to his crucifixion, his brothers were not believers.

John, of course, was the son of Zebedee and brother of James. He was a member of Jesus’ inner circle called “The Twelve” apostles. He was surely the one who is described as “the disciple that Jesus loved.” In writing his Gospel, John’s original audience consisted of both Jews and Gentiles living in the Greco-Roman world near the end of the first century.

Tradition has it that John ministered for several years in Judea, but went to Ephesus in modern-day Turkey after a severe persecution broke out in Judea (Acts 8:1). He wrote his Gospel and three epistles in Ephesus, and died there of natural causes at a ripe old age about 95-100 A.D. For a time, he was exiled by the Roman authorities to the Greek island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. He was the only apostle who was not martyred, his brother James being the first apostle to suffer martyrdom. John discipled Polycarp, an early church father who was also the pastor of the church in Smyrna (now Izmir in Turkey), and who was martyred in 155 A.D. In turn, Polycarp discipled Irenaeus, who later became the pastor of the church in Lyon in present-day France.

How faithful was John the beloved disciple? When all the other disciples scattered in fear when their leader was arrested and crucified, John was not ashamed or fearful for his life. He stayed with his Lord all the way to the end. What a privilege John had to be entrusted by the Lord himself to care for the Lord’s mother! He would be “adopted” as a substitute firstborn son. Jesus’ last wish for him was as if he was being rewarded to be a member of the Lord’s earthly family.

From that hour till the end of Mary’s life, John took her home as his own mother. The word “took her to his own home” actually says, “took her to his own [things].” This means that John gave Mary all the rights and privileges as a member of his own household, even as his own mother.

John surely suffered persecution as an apostle of Christ, but he was rewarded for his faithfulness. The Lord trusted John enough that he committed the care of his own mother to him. More than this, he was rewarded with a vision of heaven and the last things which he wrote in Revelation. In this life, we may not reap the rewards of being faithful to Christ, but surely in the world to come, “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12), and be rewarded with a vision of the glory of Christ and of heaven.

Jesus took care of his mother’s spiritual and physical needs, but what about his other unbelieving family? Certainly, his brothers loved and may even have cared for their mother after Jesus was gone. But all their loving and caring for her, and their obedience to her and to all of the Law would never please God as long as they did not believe in the atoning work of their Brother for their sins. In the same way, all your loving and caring for and obedience to your mothers, fathers and other authorities, and all your good works would never be pleasing to God if you have no faith in Christ. For as Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please him.”

But it was not a hopeless situation for Jesus’ brothers, for where do we find them after the resurrection? They were in the upper room in Jerusalem, with all the twelve apostles: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers“ (Acts 1:14).

Jesus’ unbelieving brothers found peace and rest in their Savior Jesus when they believed. Like Mary, John, and Jesus’ brothers, you too will find peace and rest in this sin-cursed, suffering world when you draw near to the cross of Christ. It is at the cross that Jesus died in your place as an atonement for your sin.

At the cross, God the Father and Jesus the Christ invites you: Come! Behold, the body of the Savior broken for the complete forgiveness of all your sins. Come! Behold, the blood of Christ shed for the complete forgiveness of all your sins. When you do, he will take you home to all of his “things” in heaven, where you will dwell with your Savior forever.

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