THERE STOOD BY THE CROSS HIS MOTHER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
John 19: 25
5-12-57 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning hour’s message entitled There Stood by the Cross of Jesus, His Mother.
In the second chapter of the Gospel of John and in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, we have a record of the first public appearance of our Savior in the working of a miracle; in the nineteenth chapter of John, we have a record of the last public appearance of Jesus to the world. Now, in John 2:1 it says, "The third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there." In the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of John and the twenty-fifth verse: "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother" [John 19:25]. These words from John, the beloved disciple, are most meaningful. For John says that if he were to attempt to write all of the things that Jesus said and did, he supposes the whole world could not sustain or hold the books that should be written [John 21:25]. He says out of the multitude of things to tell and to describe he chooses these purposeful and meaningful incidents. So, what I read in the Gospel of John has a double significance, because it has been chosen of a multitude of things that are never mentioned and never told.
There was an unusually close and precious relationship between John, the beloved disciple, and the mother of our Lord. The third saying from the cross, of the seven, is this: "Woman, behold thy son! And son, behold thy mother!" Then the Bible adds, "And from that day John took her unto his own house" [John 19:26-27]. That is, when Jesus died He commended to John’s care His widowed mother. And from that day and thence forward, she lived in John’s home. And John was to her a son, and she was to the beloved disciple a mother.
I would suppose that the reason for the unusually different way of John’s writings from all the other writings of the Scriptures is to be found in the years and the years that he brooded over the things that had occurred in the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. John outlived all the other disciples by a full generation. When John was still living and preaching, the names of the other disciples had come to be just memories. John, at a hundred years of age, doubtless wrote the Gospel of John. John, at ninety years of age, doubtless wrote the Revelation. And I say, in his age, he brooded over those things that had been revealed in the life of our Lord Jesus, and naturally, how much more so would he have thought upon the things of the mother of our Lord? The life of Jesus was framed and molded and shaped, humanly speaking, by His mother. When the first son was born, Eve said, "I have gotten a man from the Lord" [Genesis 4:1]. The soul of the child comes from God; but the molding and shaping of that soul is in the hands of mother. All through the days of the life, however the child may grow, and to whatever heights of success he may attain, yet to that one woman he is always a child, a son, a daughter. The child may go to school and win many academic degrees, and the child may grow up to be a great scholar; but to his mother, he’s just her boy. The little fellow may grow up and enter business and accumulate great wealth, but to her he’s just a boy. He may enter the field of statecraft and be elected to high office, but to her he’s just a little child. He may enter the military world and achieve fame as a general who in war protects his country, but to a mother, he is still just a boy. He may be a missionary and go to a foreign field, and he may do great things in the kingdom and patience of Jesus, but to her, he is still her son. A boy never quite grows up to mother; a daughter never quite attains maturity to mother. They’re still children in her sight. So I would think the story of the Lord Jesus would hardly be different. He grew up in her love and devotion, His life shaped and molded by her precious hands; and to her, always, even Christ the Lord was a son, a boy, a child.
And in the great and final hour of the death and agony of our Lord, He did not forget her. I suppose it would be difficult to delineate the tears and agonies and sorrows of that last and final day of our Lord in this earth. The agony of Gethsemane [John 18:1-13], the long hours of the sleepless night, made to stand at the trials, not given opportunity to rest [John 18:13-40], scourged, spit upon, manhandled, mistreated, insulted, reproached [Matthew 27:26-31; John 19:1-15], and last, upon His weary shoulders the burden of a heavy cross, under which He finally staggered and fell [Luke 23:26; John 19:17]; then the driving in of the nails, then the raising of His body between the earth and the sky; then the burning, torturing, unappeased thirst [Matthew 27:33-50; John 19:28-30]. And yet, in the midst of the agony, He remembered His mother. "There stood by the cross of Jesus His mother." And that was when He said the third saying of the seven: and looking upon the beloved disciple, He said, "Son, your mother," and looking upon her, "And Mother, your son" [John 19:26-27]. In her widowhood and age, He remembered her.
What did the Lord Jesus see when He looked down from the cross and looked upon His mother? He saw an aged, widowed peasant woman. Her accent betrayed the land of her life; she was a Galilean. Her garb bespoke the poverty of her life; she was dressed as a peasant. The care-worn face, the gnarled hands, the white hair bespoke the years of the toil of her life. She was above fifty years of age; and in that Oriental country, one who had labored and toiled and had attained the age of beyond fifty bore the marks of the years of poverty and labor.
"But pastor, that is so different from some pictures of our Savior." For example, there is a doctrine received by so great a part of Christendom of the perpetual virginity and the perpetual youth of the virgin Mary. If you ever see the beautiful, incomparably beautiful Pieta by Michelangelo – one of the most moving pieces of sculpture in this world – you’ll see there an eighteen-year-old girl holding in her arms the dead and Crucified Christ who is thirty and three. "What of that, pastor?" Just this: you might be persuaded that age is less blessed than youth, but it’s not true. I think God Himself inspired Robert Browning to write the first stanza of "Rabbi Ben Ezra":
Come, grow old along with me!
the best is yet to be,
The last, for which the first was made:
God saith, A whole I plan,
Youth shows but half;
Trust God, see all, nor be afraid.
Mary grew old, as all our mothers grow old. The years take their toll: her frame is stooped, her hair is gray, her face is lined, but she is blessed of God no less in age than in the days of her youth.
"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother" [John 19:25]. We’re surprised to see her there. Would you not have thought she would have been in Galilee, in Nazareth, in her humble home, wouldn’t you? Are you not surprised to see her standing there? Just why is she there? I think it was a divine intuition. It was something that a mother could know; it was a something that a mother, without anyone saying, without anyone describing, without anyone prophesying, without anyone delineating, it was something that her mother-heart knew. Holman Hunt, the incomparable religious artist, one time drew a picture of Jesus in the carpenter’s shop when He was a youth. And Mary comes into the door and looks upon Him, and the way He is standing there is the shadow of a cross beyond the youthful Boy, and Mary sees it. I think she saw it all the days of her life. Simeon prophesied in the temple, "Yea, and the sword shall pierce through thine own soul also" [Luke 2:35]. And there in this last journey to Jerusalem, the mother of Jesus is there with the women who followed Him out of Galilee [John 19:25]. And when the disciples were drunk with joy, "The kingdom is come," when they were quarreling with one another as to who should be prime minister and who’d sit on His right hand and on His left [Mark 10:35-37], and when the populace was mad with acclamation, and when the whole world shouted, "Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord" [Matthew 21:9], I think then that Mary the mother of Jesus knew. And in the agony of that long and never to be forgotten night, I think she understood. And when He was condemned by the populace and by Pontius Pilate [John 19:14-17], and bearing His cross through the Via Dolorosa, the women of Jerusalem began to lament and to cry and to wail [Luke 23:26-27]; I think she was in the group. And finally, on the Hill of a Skull, when they raised Him between the earth and the sky, I think in the outskirts of the crowd that stood by she also was standing [Luke 23:35]. And as the sun rose to meridian strength, and the heat began to beat down on Golgotha, I think the crowd began to disperse; I think the scribes and the Pharisees began to seek the shade; I think the soldiers drew aside to cast their lots for His robe without seam [John 19:23]; and I think it was then that Mary drew near and stood by the cross [John 19:25]. To the world, a malefactor; to the world, a criminal; to the world, a felon; but to her, a son.
And that boundless and endless mother love is one of the great facts of human life. Did you ever think: society will ask, "Who is he, and where does he come from?" And business will ask, "What does he own, and what is his financial rating?" Law will ask, "What is his record, and what are the evidences?" And education will ask, "What does he know, and what is his training?" But a mother will ask, "Son, how can I help?" That’s all. We’re all successes in her eyes, all of us.
I thought the sweetest story that I ever heard about the mother of the great pastor of this church was this: somebody, to that dear, plain, simple mountain-woman, was extolling the incomparable abilities of the world-wide pastor George W. Truett, and what a great preacher he was; and the mother said, "Yes, George is a great preacher; but you also ought to hear my son Jim." Isn’t that a mother for you? Isn’t that mother? We’re all successes in her sight, all of us.
If I were hanged on the highest hill,
I know whose love would follow me still
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
I know whose tears would come down to me
If I were damned in body and soul,
I know whose love would make me whole
["Mother o’Mine," Rudyard Kipling]
I read of an angel that was commissioned to bring back to heaven the most beautiful thing in earth. He saw a fleecy cloud, "I’ll bring that back." He saw an unfolding flower, "And I’ll bring that back." And he saw a baby smile, "And I’ll bring that back." And he saw a mother’s love, "And I’ll bring that back." So he carried to the ramparts of glory those beautiful things in the earth. The cloud had vanished away. The flower had wilted and died. The smile had gone away. But mother’s love was precious and eternal. "There stood by the cross of Jesus His mother" [John 19:25]. And in that hour when He died, she bowed her head in grief and in tears. There was a hurt in the heart of God the Father; there was a hurt in Mary the mother.
Ah, it would be difficult to describe the sacrifices of these blessed and precious mothers. Strange how things turn. When I was a youngster at Baylor, we were in a little town in West Texas, and I stayed in the home of a family named Reagan. And I got acquainted with them, such fine, wonderful people. If they’re kin to you, good Doctor, you can be proud of the kinship. And when I went to Africa, in the city of Ogbomosho, just outside there is a grave of a missionary. Her name was Lucille. She died of yellow fever. And as I stood there at that grave, I thought of that mother in West Texas.
We visited one time the American Military cemetery in Pietramala, high up in the Apenniney mountains in Italy. And as I walked among those fallen boys and read their names and their homes here in America, I thought of those mothers.
The bravest battle that e’er was fought,
Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find it not,
‘Twas fought by the mothers of men
["Motherhood," Joaquin Miller]
"There stood by the cross of Jesus His mother" [John 19:25].
And if you have a Christian mother, she bows her head in prayer for you today; all the dreams and the hopes and the unfailing devotion in her precious heart for you, for you. And if you had a Christian mother, and she’s in glory, she is waiting for you, for you. In the circle of this love, and in the heart of those prayers, we find our souls and heaven itself. On this glorious, incomparably precious day, all over this world, dedicated to our mothers, is not this a great day for a boy to give his heart to Christ, for a girl to honor, trust in, her mother’s Lord? Isn’t it a great day to put your life in the fellowship of the church? Isn’t it a good time to follow the beckon and the call of the Lord? Would you?
Listening on this radio, wherever you are, would you listen to the voice of the call of the Spirit of Jesus and look up in faith and trust to Him today? Would you? And in this great throng of people in God’s house this morning, down these stairwells from the balcony, into these aisles and to the front, would you come and take the pastor’s hand? "Pastor, today I’ve given my heart to God, I give my hand to you." Into the fellowship of the church, as the Lord shall lead the way, shall say the word, while we sing this appeal, would you come? Bless his heart, while we stand and while we sing with him.