Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a perfect child? Can you imagine a child who never threw selfish tantrums or scowled at the meal you set before him? Can you conceive of a kid who never left his room trashed after he was told to pick it up or who never spent his allowance irresponsibly and then whined for more money?
Here’s a reality check: If you did have a perfect child, life as a mother in this world would still be hard.
Mary had a perfect Son, but her life as a mother was filled with the sadness of life in the flesh. Like every mother, she still needed a Savior to rescue her from the demands, guilt, and worries of motherhood. In her case, her Savior was her Son.
I cannot think of a scene in Scripture that speaks more affectionately to a mother’s heart than when Jesus uttered those few words from his parched lips, “Woman, behold your son!” (John 19:25–27). Whether you are a mother or not, this text unveils to us the love, lessons, and legacy of Jesus’ last interaction with his mother before his death.
The Love of a Son
Our dear Lord Jesus approached the moment of his death. After hanging on the cross for several hours, his strength was drained, his senses were numbed, and his sight was blurred. Not only was Jesus enduring great physical torment but he was also suffering from a sense of spiritual desertion as he drank the cup of God’s wrath to the bottom. Yet he kept a compassionate eye upon the crowd that called for his death and, with calloused indifference, lingered to witness it. His pitying eye fell on his mother.
A Hurting Mother
It’s hard to imagine the mixture of love and loss with which Mary’s heart throbbed. This dear woman had labored for Jesus’ birth. She had worried about him (Luke 2:48), prayed for him, loved him, followed him during his ministry, and supported him through severe opposition. No doubt she felt the guilt that resulted from her shortcomings in dealing with him and her other children. She knew the burden of motherhood, even as it related to the Son of God.
Mary is the only woman in the world who has ever raised a son who never sinned against her. Although she sinned against him, he never talked back, never disobeyed, never dishonored her. I love my children dearly, and you love yours, but they are hardly perfect! Our love for our children is hindered not only by our sins against them but by theirs against us. Imagine the love she must have had for this Son.
Now she watches as her precious boy bleeds away for the sins of his people. Thirty years earlier, as the prophet Simeon held Mary’s new baby, he soberly told her, “A sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). The sword had struck.
No Greater Love
With a quick glance toward his disciple John, Jesus spoke to his mother: “Woman, behold your son!” To John he said: “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26–27). From that hour John took her to his home. Jesus was giving a new son to his mother to replace himself. And he gave her the best son she could expect, the disciple Jesus loved. John, the only one of the disciples there now, indicates his loyalty, courage, and faith by his presence.
Jesus’ love toward his mother proves his love for us, his believing brothers and sisters. When you and I are in trouble, our thoughts tend to turn inward. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. He directs his thoughts toward those whom he loves. He is mindful of our needs just as he was mindful of his mother’s needs.
Still, he takes his time in meeting our needs. He could have made this arrangement between Mary and John at a more convenient time. But he waited until she needed to hear it most.
Three Lessons from the Cross
From the cross Christ grandly demonstrates three lessons.
The Church Is God’s Family
Mary had other children who could have met her physical needs after Jesus’ death. But Mary needed the kind of spiritual companionship found only in the family of God. Earlier, Jesus had said that his mother and brother and sister are those who do the will of God (Mark 3:35). In the church believers treat older men as fathers, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity (1 Tim. 5:1–2). We have no eternal ties to anyone who isn’t united to Christ by a living faith. God’s children are our family. When it comes to caring for those we love, we must learn to involve the covenant community.
Children Must Care for Their Mothers
Being born under the law (Gal. 4:4), Jesus was obligated to honor his parents. How perfectly he fulfilled that law, providing for his mother even on his deathbed.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees for not honoring their fathers and mothers (Mark 7:8–13). Here is another example of Jesus practicing what he preached. The same John to whom Jesus speaks here later wrote: “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). Do we follow Jesus in looking after the interests of our mothers? Or do we see them as our servants to make our meals, clean our rooms, and drive us everywhere we want? Mothers may do these things in service to Christ, but their children must not treat them as servants. Jesus honored his mom. He came to serve her, not to be served by her.
Mothers Must Love Their Children
In the shadow of the cross, Mary could do nothing for her Son. Still, in his darkest moment, Mary shows the commitment of a caring mother. She was there for him. She grieved with him. She cried with him. If she could have embraced him, she would have. Mothers miss the point if they see themselves strictly as disciplinarians and rule enforcers. Mothers are called to share their hearts with their kids. The swords that pierce your kids’ hearts must pierce yours as well.
The Legacy of Jesus’ Actions
The Bible was written for every child of God. That’s true of this text as well. But certain texts are written to a particular type or group of people. In the events recorded in this verse, Jesus provided for his own mother. But as he hung and died on the cross, he was providing for every believing mother and woman (and man and child).
Jesus Provides Pity for Motherhood’s Demands
Motherhood can be a great burden. It places great demands on mothers’ emotional and physical resources. Jesus bore the heavy burden of the cross so that he could give us the light burden of the Christian life. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Everything that is demanded of mothers Christ supplies through his life. We experience the comfort of his provision through faith and an intimate walk with him.
Jesus Provides Pardon from Motherhood’s Guilt
What mother can live up to the expectations placed upon her? Because of its demands, motherhood can produce much guilt. This guilt can be crippling spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and even physically. In his death Jesus graciously tells women (and men), “You don’t measure up. You can’t measure up. That’s why I died for you!” Only Christ can measure up to the demands of the law of motherhood. When we take hold of Christ by faith, all our guilt is banished to the grave. In God’s eyes, believers are now as innocent as Christ himself!
Jesus Grants Peace for Motherhood’s Concerns
A friend of mine writes about a recent brush with death: “I experienced steady peace regarding my own salvation . . . but … I felt tremendous anxiety about my … family and the sorrow that would transform their lives [if I died].…This spiritual schizophrenia has often plagued me. How can I have such assured faith in Christ’s salvation, and yet doubt His providence? How can I rest my soul entirely upon Him, yet think I need to carry my family myself? At times … I was able to leave my family in the Lord’s hands, but mostly I felt deep concern for them.”
What mother or father hasn’t thought like this? What is going to happen to my children? How will they possibly turn out well, considering my own failures and shortcomings? Jesus died on the cross to give us new life. The apostle Peter reminds us that “the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). God accomplished the salvation of his people through the treacherous acts of wicked men (Acts 4:27–28). God can bless our children through even our worst shortcomings. He can raise up children of faith from the stones of the earth (Luke 3:8). He doesn’t need our help.
Mary and John and the other believers followed Jesus to Golgotha and watched him until he died because they believed he went there to lay down his life for them. Through this experience they came to trust in Jesus for all their needs. For less-than-perfect mothers and fathers with less-than-perfect kids, that’s the only message that can give us real comfort.
Rev. William Boekestein is the pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, PA (URCNA).