Apostle Barbara Childress
Christ loving his own
The first two sayings of Jesus from the cross reveal his heart of love for sinners. The third reveals his heart of love for those who have already come to know him. The people of God are always divided into two groups: those who have not yet come to know Christ and those who have. The love of Christ goes out to each of these.
Who can comprehend the tender love Christ has for his own? The apostle John, in his introduction to the account of the night before Jesus was crucified, gives us a glimpse of that love with these words: 'Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end' (John 13:1).
It would have been a marvel if Jesus had felt even a fleeting compassion for anyone in this world of sin. But Jesus did not just feel a fleeting compassion for one person. He had an abiding love for the many whom John refers to as 'his own'.
John gives us another glimpse into the love of Christ for his own as he tells us of the third time Jesus spoke from the cross: 'Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother...' (verse 25). Are there any words more heart-rending than these? Jesus was dying the most horrid, ignominious death possible and his mother was there to see it. She heard the hammer blows that drove the nails and must have winced with each blow. She saw the cruel cross lifted in the air and heard his cry of pain as it was dropped abruptly into the ground. She saw the blood flowing down. She heard the mockery and ridicule of the gloating religious leaders and the others around the cross. She heard the callous cursing and laughing of the soldiers as they went about their grim business.
Shortly after Jesus was born that old saint of God, Simeon, had looked deep into Mary's eyes and solemnly said, 'Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also...' (Luke 2:35). There in the show of the cross, Mary felt the thrust of that sword. Never were a more gruesome death and a more gracious Son joined than here.
The other women gathered there around the cross had probably tried to persuade her to stay away from the savage spectacle, but she was inexorably drawn there by one of the strongest forces known to man - a mother's love. 'Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it' (Song of Solomon 8:7).
We are blessed when the trials of life swell up around us if we have faithful friends on whom we can depend to the very end. These Mary had. Her sister was there and Mary Magdalene, that woman who owed such a massive debt to grace, was there. And one of the twelve, John, was there.
All of Jesus' disciples had forsaken him and fled, but John had returned. John consistently identifies himself in his Gospel as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved'. Perhaps that phrase carries with it the reason why he thought better of his cowardice and returned to take his place at the foot of the cross. The glory of his life was in being embraced by the love of Christ. No, he did not glory in his love for Christ. It was too weak and faltering. But the love of Christ for him - that must have been the invisible hand that pulled him back to his rightful place. If we are to shun cowardice and stand with Christ as John did, we must dwell much on the Christ who loved us and gave himself for us.
That little company of believers must have felt very much alone there on that barren Golgotha. They were in a tiny island of love and devotion in a sea of hatred and disdain. They were a tiny patch of blue in a sullen, grey sky. They were a spray of tender flowers in the midst of a tangle of thorns and brambles. Suddenly Jesus looked upon that little company and spoke to his mother: 'Woman, behold your son!' He must have nodded towards John as he spoke those words. And then to John he said, 'Behold your mother!' and nodded towards Mary.
These few words carried a world of meaning for Mary, and they contain powerful and large lessons for us.
Jesus' tender concern for the needs of this life
First, they show us the tender concern of the Lord Jesus for those who have pressing, urgent needs in this life. Mary had such needs. The future must have looked very bleak to her as she stood there watching her son die. Her husband had died. Her others sons had still not accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and she probably could not count on them for either physical or emotional support. And now Jesus was being taken from her.
What was to become of her? Jesus' words gave the answer. With those words he placed Mary in John's care and charged John to treat her as though she were his own mother. His words found their mark for the next thing we read is, 'From that hour that disciple took her to his own home.' So Jesus was not so occupied with his own needs that he neglected the needs of his mother. He saw to it that she was cared for before he died.
Concern for others was always to the forefront of Jesus' life. And now it is to the forefront in his death. The first three sayings of Jesus on the cross were spoken on behalf of others. This is not surprising. The whole purpose of Jesus' death was to help others. He did not have to die. No Roman nails were strong enough to hold him to that cross. He died for our sake, and the nails that held him there were the nails of love. He was there to act as our High Priest, to make an atonement for sin and to offer it to God on the behalf of his people.
There are a couple of things for us to learn from Jesus' concern for the needs of others. First, if Jesus is so deeply concerned about our needs, we can and should bring our needs to him. What troubles you today? Have friends turned against you? Do you carry serious illness in your body? Are you lonely and depressed? No matter what your problem is and no matter how overwhelming it is, there are two things you should do. First, think long and hard on these precious words from the author of Hebrews: 'For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses' (Hebrews 4:15).
Thank God, we can bring our burdens to Jesus with the confidence that he cares about us and will help us. That does not necessarily mean he will remove the burden from us, but if he does not we may rest assured it is because the burden is for our good and he will give us strength and grace to bear it.
Jesus' concern for the needs of others teaches another lesson as well. If our Lord was so concerned about others, his followers should also be concerned about others. Have we learned this lesson from our Lord? Or have we bought into the self-centeredness of our day, with its emphasis on 'my needs'? How much do we really live for others and care for their needs? Their own needs, problems, wants, circumstances and disappointments make up the whole of reality as far as many are concerned.
Let's see to it that we never forget that our family members are included in that category of others. All too often we treat the worst those we profess to love the most. In particular, let's make sure we obey God's clear command to honour our parents. If Jesus had time in the midst of dying to respect his mother, we can surely find time in the midst of living to respect our parents. What does it mean to honour our parents? It means giving them obedience in our younger years, support in their older years and respect through all their years.
The priority of the next life
The second significant lesson these words teach us is the priority Jesus gives to preparing for the next life.
This lesson comes out in a couple of ways. First, the fact that Jesus was concerned about Mary and her physical needs did not cause him to come down from the cross and abandon the work of redemption he was performing there. He could have done this. He did not have to stay on he cross. He could have put Mary's physical needs above everything else and come down from the cross, but he did not. Instead he gave priority to opening the door of heaven to all who believe in him.
The second indication that Jesus gave priority to the next life arises from the way in which he addressed Mary. He did not address her as 'mother', but simply as 'woman'. Many have found this disturbing. It appears to them that Jesus was being rude and inconsiderate. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus addressed Mary as 'woman', not to be rude but to underscore a most vital truth - namely, that their relationship was now changed for ever. Herschel Ford explains it in this way: 'On the Cross Jesus actually broke the relationship of mother and son. He turned her away from Himself by saying, "From now on not I, but John, is to be your son." From that time He is no longer anyone's son - He is the world's Saviour. Mary no longer is the mother, she is a simple believer, and her Son has become her Saviour...He provided for her as a Saviour a million times better home than He provided for her as a son.'
F. W. Krummacher makes the same point in these words: 'His earthly connection with her must give way to a superior one. As though He had said, "Thou, My mother, wilt from this time be as one of My daughters, and I thy Lord...The relationships according to the flesh and the manner of the world have an end; other and more spiritual and heavenly take their place.
It is surely no accident that we find Jesus using the same form of address for Mary on another occasion when he was much occupied with the work of the cross (John 2:4). While Jesus was concerned about Mary's physical needs, he was even more concerned about carrying out the work of providing eternal salvation for sinners. The needs of this life pale in comparison to that.
Have you received the eternal life Jesus came to provide? Many seem only to be interested in the Christ who meets the physical needs. They want a God who cares about them in the here and now and who helps them with the problems of this life, but they disdain the eternal salvation he offers. They want to accept the lesser gift of his caring concern for the problems of this life and reject the greater gift of eternal life. The tragedy is that they can have both.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.%%detect_both%%