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." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27)
In His First two words from the cross, Jesus forgave His enemies and invited His friends to paradise. Now He has to take care of some family business. In order to understand what the business was about, we need to learn some family history.
Jesus Strained His Family Ties
It all began with what people these days would call a problem pregnancy. Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married, but before they had intercourse, Mary discovered that she was carrying a baby. An angel explained to Mary and her fiancé that the child had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. They believed God, but it was not the easiest thing in the world for everyone else to understand. People in Nazareth could do a little arithmetic. They could tell that Mary was further along than she ought to be. And if you think that was easy to live down, then you have never lived in a small town with small-town gossip.
After Jesus was born, Mary was given a scare. She took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised, and she was given this prophecy: "A sword will pierce your own soul too" (Luke 2:35). If you think that is the kind of forecast a young mother likes to hear, then you have never had someone cast a long, dark shadow over your maternity.
Then there was that little junket to Egypt. King Herod heard that a king had been born and felt threatened. So he ordered all the infants of Judea to be put to death. Joseph took Mary and Jesus, and they fled to Egypt (Matthew 2:7-18). If you think that was a fun vacation, then you have never made an international journey with an infant crying in the backseat...of a donkey.
Or how about the time when Jesus was twelve and the family went up to Jerusalem for Passover? After the feast was over and Mary and Joseph had traveled a full day's journey back toward Nazareth, they suddenly realized that Jesus was not with His cousins after all. He was gone! If you do not think Mary ran all the way back to Jerusalem with her heart in her throat, then you have never lost track of a child in a shopping mall. Three days later when they finally found Jesus — He was talking theology with the scholars at the temple. His mother said. "Son, why have you treated us like this? You father and I have been anxiously searching for you." "And after all we've done for you!" she might have added.
Jesus simply said, with some astonishment, "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:41-50).
I am not saying that Jesus was a problem child, although there were times when it may have seemed that way to His parents. Jesus was a good boy: the Bible says that He obeyed His parents (Luke 2:51). But make no mistake: as Jesus was growing up, His unique identity as the Son of God and His unique ministry as the Savior of the world did put a strain on His family ties.
All of that was nothing compared to what the family went through when Jesus began His teaching ministry. He abandoned the family business to become an itinerant preacher. If you think that was easy to accept, then you have never had a child quit a steady job in order to freelance. One of the first things Jesus did in His new career was alienate His neighbors, declaring that "no prophet is accepted in his home town" (Luke 4:24). They drove Him out of town, of course. That must have been something for the women to talk about when they gathered to draw water from the well in Nazareth.
Then there was the time when Mary tried to help Jesus with His ministry. They were at a wedding in Cana, and the host had run out of wine. Mary suggested that Jesus should do something about it. You can hear the rebuke in Jesus' voice: "Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come" (John 2:4). His identity as the Son of God had to take precedence over His identity as the son of Mary.
Or how about the time Mary and the rest other boys heard that Jesus was teaching in a nearby town? There was a large crowd, and they had to wait around outside for a while. Finally someone sent a message to Jesus: " 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.' He replied, 'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' Pointing to His disciples, He said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother' " (Matthew 12:46-50). Jesus was redefining His family in spiritual terms as those who do the will of God.
Jesus Broke His Family Ties
Finally, Jesus broke His family ties altogether. They had been strained before, but they were broken at the cross. What anguish Mary endured at the cross when her eldest son was crucified! "Dear woman," Jesus said to Mary. Not even "mother" as a son ought to say, but just "woman." "Here is your son." Mary was no longer to be His mother, and Jesus was no longer to be her son. Right up to until that moment, Mary may well have held out the hope that her son would not have to die. She knew that Jesus had the power to perform miracles. She knew that He could call upon legions of angels to deliver Him. She knew that Jesus could even get Himself down from the cross. But when He said, "Dear woman, here is your son," she knew that Jesus was taking His leave of her in order to die. His words to her from the cross must have been the soul-piercing sword she had dreaded for so long.
Those words may have been like a sword, but there was also tenderness in them. "Dear woman," He called her. Jesus was speaking to Mary with real affection, speaking to her in love. It was really because of His great love for her that He said what He said. Jesus was committing Mary to the care of the disciple whom He loved. That disciple was probably John himself, who was an eyewitness of the crucifixion and a recipient of the love of Christ. John was to become like a son to Mary and was to treat her like his own mother. And John did just what Jesus had told him to do. "From that time on this disciple took her into his home" (v. 27).
Jesus teaches us by this example to love our mothers. That is so obvious, it seems unnecessary to say it. Yet it needs to be said because we live in a culture that believes that family ties are made to be broken. Robertson McQuilkin gives this glimpse of contemporary attitudes about loving family members:
I attended a workshop in which an...expert told us that there were two reasons people keep a family member at home rather than in a nursing facility: economic necessity or feelings of guilt. Afterwards I spoke with her privately, trying to elicit some other possible motive for keeping someone at home. But she insisted those were the only two motives. Finally I asked, "What about love?" "Oh," she replied, "we put that under guilt." So much for love. 1
We live in a culture that devalues the old and infirm, even discards them.
Jesus teaches us to do just the opposite. He teaches us to love our siblings, cherish our children, and honor our parents (cf. Exodus 20:12). Jesus teaches us to provide for the needs of our family members, especially as they grow old. Even though Jesus is at the point where He can no longer care for His mother Himself, He entrusts her to one of His most trusted friends. He wants His mother to have a place to live and food to eat. He also wants her to have the love and support of a family. William Barclay says, "there is something infinitely moving in the fact that Jesus in the agony of the cross, in the moment when the salvation of the world hung in the balance, thought of the loneliness of His mother in the days when He was taken away." 2
Jesus Binds New Family Ties
There was one more thing Jesus did for His mother, and it was the most important thing. At the same time He broke His ties with Mary as her son, He established a new spiritual relationship with her as her Savior.
Mary first met Jesus at the manger. She was the first person to meet Him. She felt Him stirring in her womb, gave birth to Him, held Him in her arms, and nursed Him at her breast. Mary met Jesus as her son at the manger, but she did not meet Him as her Savior until she met Him at the cross. Mary needed to lose Jesus as a son in order to find Him as a Savior. Mary needed to take her place with the other disciples, standing as a sinner at the foot of the cross. She needed Jesus to die for her own sins.
There is a poem by Thomas Warton the Elder that may capture something of Mary's experience in losing her son at the cross:
Beneath, lo! Mary weeping stands.
In tears most pitifully fair.
And beats the breast, where Christ had hung,
And tears her long disheveled hair
"Where can I lay my mournful head?
My son, my king, my God is dead!" 3
That last line explains how Mary's relationship with Jesus has been transformed: "My son, my king, my God." At the beginning Jesus was her son. Now He is her God and King, for she has met Him at the cross.
If Mary needed to meet Jesus at the cross, then you need to meet Him there too. If Mary needed to stand as a sinner at the cross, then you need to stand as a sinner at the cross. If Mary needed Jesus to die for her sins, then you need Jesus to die for your sins. If Mary needed to trust in Jesus for her salvation, then you need to trust in Jesus for your salvation.
Once you have met Jesus at the cross that way, something wonderful happens. You become a member of God's family. That is how it was for Mary. After Jesus died, was raised from the dead, and was taken into heaven, the first Christians gathered to pray in the upper room of a building on the Mount of Olives. The Bible mentions the names of some of the disciples who were there. Then it says. "They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers" (Acts 1:14). That is a snapshot of Mary in her new family. She is with her brothers and sisters in Christ, praising God for the salvation that they all share together in Jesus Christ. The old family ties have been broken, but Jesus has established new family ties.
You can belong to that same family. If you meet Jesus at the cross the way Mary did, admitting that you are a sinner and trusting that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, then you will be welcomed into God's family. When you accept the salvation that Jesus offers, God adopts you into His family as His own son or daughter.
God's daughters and sons discover that their new family ties are stronger than any they have ever experienced before. It you come from a broken family, then Jesus invites you to participate in the family you have often longed for. He invites you to receive more support, affection, intimacy, and joy than you have ever dared to dream were possible. It you come from a strong and loving family, you will find that the ties in your new spiritual family are even stronger and better than those old family ties. The new family ties are stronger because they are bound by the love of God Himself. And they are better because they cannot be broken, even by death.
1. Robertson McQuilkin, "Muriel's Blessing," Christianity Today, February 5, 1996, p. 32.
2. William Barclay, The Gospel of John, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), vol. 2, p. 257.
3. Thomas Warton the Elder, "Ode on the Passion," in Robert Atwan and Lawrence Wielder, eds., Chapters into Verse: Poetry in English Inspired by the Bible, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), vol. 2, pp. 214-215.
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