MARY THE MOTHER OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-8-60 10:50 a.m.
To you who listen on the radio, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message dedicated to our mothers. The sermon is on Mary the Mother of Jesus. In the Gospel of John, "The third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there" [John 2:1]. In the nineteenth of John, the twenty-fifth verse:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother . . . When Jesus therefore
saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
Mother’s Day is a universal day in all Christian lands; the second Sunday in May. Its observance has even penetrated to pagan and heathen lands. There are boundaries to families and to races and to nations; but there is no boundary in the love and respect of humanity to mother. This Gospel of John was written with great purpose. John outlived all the other disciples, and for a century he pondered the deep spiritual meaning of the things that made up the life of our Lord. These that are written in his book, "chosen out," he says, "of a multitude of things that Jesus did, which if they were written every one," he supposed that, "the world itself could not contain the volumes that would be penned" [John 21:25]. Everything John writes therefore has great purposive significance. And it is thus in the recounting of these things concerning the mother of our Lord; things that are not mentioned anywhere else in the Book. They come out of the deep brooding of the beloved disciple over the meaning of the life of our Lord.
As the first beatitude in the Bible is addressed to Mary, when Elizabeth said, "Blessed be thou among women, and blessed be the fruit of thy womb" [Luke 1:42], so in the beginning of the public ministry of our Lord, he notices that the mother of Jesus was there. And in the great last act and appearance of our Lord – for after the crucifixion the world never saw Him again, He appeared only to His disciples – the last the world ever saw of Jesus was when He was raised beneath the sky, and this sainted, beloved disciple John notices again that the mother of Jesus was there. "There stood by the cross of Jesus His mother" [John 19:25].
This devotion for mother to child is the most sanctifying influence in human life, for the child is next to the heart of mother all of the days of its existence. The child comes to life close to the heart of mother. The child is nurtured and bathed by the blood of mother. The child born is reared under the careful tutelage and adoring affection of a mother. And however the course of life and destiny may turn, to her he is ever "my son." Some of them enter school and are great scholars. Some of them enter business and become great magnets of industry and wealth. Some of them enter public life and are elected to high office. Some of them enter the scholastic world and are professors and teachers. But to her, however great and famous, or however feeble and unknown, he is her son. And the dreams that are in the life of childhood, and the visions that finally express themselves in manhood, are so much and so largely the ultimate expression of the dreams and prayers and visions that he learned from her.
It is no less so in the story of the presentation of the life of our Lord here in the Book. Our Master learned to speak the name of God, our Master learned the Holy Scriptures, our Master learned the habits of devotion, and "on the Sabbath day He was in the synagogue as His custom was" [Luke 4:16]; that habit was framed, and that custom was made in the days of His childhood. And through the days of youth and of manhood, until the days of His public showing unto Israel, you find this Son of God, this Savior from heaven, close by His mother. And now in this last day of the agony and passion of our Lord, there so much of the hurt and the tears of Gethsemane, then the standing through the long hours of the trial after a sleepless night, no one bid Him be seated, and after the horrible scourging that contributed no small part to the death of a Roman malefactor who was crucified, and after the agony of the cross, looking down, He beheld in that hour of tears and sorrow His mother. And so said the third word of the cross: "Woman, behold thy son! And to the disciple whom He loved, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home" [John 19:26-27]. And Mary lived; the widowed Mary lived with John.
What kind of a woman would you have seen had you also stood by the cross that day and looked into her face? For one thing, she is a very, very humble, poor, plain, peasant woman. Her speech betrays that she lives in the North country; she doesn’t belong to the Zion of Judah. But she is a provincial; she speaks with a brogue and a dialect. She is plainly not a product of the schools. She is plainly a peasant woman. Her clothes betray her: she is dressed as the poor are dressed. There is nothing of all of the embellishments that belong to the king’s court. There is nothing of that in her dress or on her figure. She is a plain, poor, peasant woman. The lines in her face and the gnarling of her hands are evidence of a life of great toil and hardship and sacrifice. She has known nothing in all of her days but hard labor, and task, and burden, and toil. And the weight of more than fifty years lies upon her shoulders. And in that day, and in that country, the woman aged prematurely. And Mary, standing there at the cross, shows the years of toil and sacrifice in her face and in her form.
That is so opposite to what tradition and art and painting do present in the life of Mary. For example, in St. Peter’s in Rome, to the right, as you enter that glorious pile of brick and stone, you will find one of the most beautifully effective statuary groups in this earth. It is called PietÃ , and you have there a nineteen-year-old girl holding in her arms a thirty-three year old corpse, her Son. You see that is in keeping with the thought that age is a curse and that by no means should Mary ever have grown old; that age is an insult and a disgrace and that for Mary to be a mother other than of our Lord is a violation of the purity of life, all of which is a violation of the Word of and the truth of God. There’s no nineteen-year-old girl, still a virgin, holding in her arms a thirty-three year old corpse, her son. No sir! For God has crowned motherhood, Mary, and God has crowned age and the burden of the years with those sublimities that are a part of the natural adoration of God and the natural path of human life. Verily, verily, to my humble persuasion, Robert Browning caught more of the truth of the Scriptures when he said:
Come, grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!
["Rabbi Ben Ezra"; Robert Browning]
And when we look upon that mother who stood by the cross of Jesus that day, we look upon a mother whose hair is white, and whose shoulders are stooped, and who has known the years of burden and toil. Is she any less beautiful? Well, it depends upon the eye that looks. For if one looks with the eye of the soul and if one can see with the feeling of the heart, the white head, and the creased brow, and the gnarled hand and the stooped form are beautiful as unto God. Looking upon her, thinking of the prayers she has prayed in the stillness of the night, of the sobs that have fallen from her lips, of the experiences that have enriched the days of her pilgrimage, of the eyes that illuminate the very page of the story of the record of God, all these things sanctify and consecrate and make a halo with a light beyond anything seen on earth, on land, on sea, or in heaven above.
Could I also say that we might be surprised to see her standing there? "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother" [John 19:25]. And when Jesus therefore saw His mother, I would have supposed – wouldn’t you – that she had been at her home in Galilee. And it is not amiss to suppose that it is unusual she should be there. "There stood by the cross of Jesus His mother." I would think that her presence there is due to an intuition that somehow mothers are born with; they seem to know, to sense. They have the gift of prophecy. And this blessed mother somehow sensed, knew that the day of His hour had come.
Holman Hunt, the incomparable artist, has drawn a picture that the world could never forget: Jesus is in young manhood, and He is working in the carpenter’s shop – they called Him "the carpenter" [Mark 6:3], and Mary the mother has come into the door, and in a moment of aspiration the young Man Jesus stands in the carpenter’s shop with His arms outstretched; but the mother, looking beyond, sees the shadow that He casts on the wall, and the shadow is the shadow of a cross.
And somehow beyond those days of aspiration, when the crowds were acclaiming Him and sweeping Him toward the throne [John 6:15], when the disciples themselves were arguing about who shall be greatest in the kingdom of Jesus [Matthew 18:1; Luke 22:24], and when the whole populous are shouting, "Hosanna, welcome to the Son of David, glory to God in the highest" [Matthew 21:9], placing their garments in the way and waving palm branches [Matthew 21:8], somehow her heart knows that the end is nigh; His hour has come. And that night in the trial, I would suspect that she was close, standing by. And when He was scourged [Matthew 27:26], in the throng and in the multitude that stood below the pavement and looked up at Pilate’s judgment seat, she mingled with the throng. And when He bore His cross [John 19:17], she heard the wail of the women of Jerusalem [Luke 23:27]. And when He was raised between the earth and the sky, she saw her Son crucified and nailed to the tree [John 19:16-34].
And had we stood there that day: the Sadducees, and the Pharisees, and the rulers and the Sanhedrin saw an enemy crucified; and the Roman soldiers saw another malefactor put out of the way; and the disciples and their friends saw all of their hopes of grandeur fall to the earth; and the mother of Jesus stood there and saw her Son die, and though crucified as a malefactor, loved Him still. Isn’t that like our mothers? Society asks, "Who is he? Where does he come from? What is his pedigree?" Business asks, "What’s his credit rating? How much money does he have?" Law asks, "What’s the evidence? What’s the record?" Scholasticism asks, "What are his degrees and his educational background?" Mother asks, "Son, what can I do to help?" That’s all.
There’s a famous poem written, and the summary of its story is this: that a man loved a woman who loved him not, and in contempt she said to him, "Go get the heart of your mother that I may feed it to my dog." And he runs and slays his own mother for the love of the girl, and then hastens back with his mother’s heart in his hand, stumbles on a rock, and as the heart of his mother falls from his hand and rolls away, the heart weeping asks, "Son, did you hurt yourself?" Ah. It never changes. Her face changes, it’s wrinkled; her hair changes, the gold turns to silver; her posture changes, she is stooped and old; her mind changes, it’s gone; but she never changes.
When I went to see my mother, they said, "She will not know you." But I walked in the room, her mind gone, they said, "Who is this that’s come?" She looked at me and said, "It is my son." Never changed, never. The same, her heart never changes. No more beautiful or meaningful poem than Rudyard Kipling’s:
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 doomed in body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole.
["Mother O’Mine"; Rudyard Kipling]
"There stood by the cross of Jesus His mother" [John 19:25].
May I say a word of her devotion and sacrifice? I have visited in these foreign fields our missionary work. I have seen the graves of many, many missionaries. In Nigeria I visited the grave of two young women who were stricken and destroyed by yellow fever, and I especially asked to be taken to that little plot of ground, for I had been in the home of the mother and the father of one of those dear girls who lay there waiting the great resurrection day of the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. And as I stood there, I thought of the sacrifice of the girl who laid down her life as a missionary. I thought also of the tears of the mother in America who told me of the death of her daughter.
High up in the mountains of the Apennines is a large American cemetery, Pietramala, above it Old Glory waving, and the crosses and the crosses and the crosses and the graves beautifully kept, an American military cemetery. And as I walk through the rows and the rows and the rows, I thought of the sacrifice of the young men: they laid down their lives for the defense of America, and for the freedom of our nation, and that we might live under God without fetters and without chains. And I also thought of the sacrifice that I have seen in the hurt eyes of a mother, when the government in the war would send me word and say, "Will you bear personally this telegram to her?"
The bravest battle that ever 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.
["The Bravest Battle." Joaquin Miller]
"And there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother" [John 19:25]. And by us – if she’s in heaven, in loving intercession; if she’s in earth, to the utmost of her loving power – there stands today the encouragement, and the influence, and the prayers, and the hopes, and the wishes, and dreams of that Christian mother. This is the tribute your pastor has paid for himself and for you to our sainted mothers.
Now we sing our hymn of appeal. At this service at eight-fifteen, God was so good to us; there were eight who came at that early morning hour, putting their lives with us in the church. In the throng, in the host of people this morning, wherever you are, in this great throng in the balcony round, on this lower floor, somebody you give his heart to Jesus, put his life in the church, as the Spirit of the Lord shall bid you come, would you make it now? Down one of these stairwells at the front, at the back, in this lower floor, into the aisle, "Here I come, pastor, and here I am; today I give my life to Jesus." Or, "Today, we are putting our lives in the fellowship of the church." A family you, or one somebody you, while we sing the hymn, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.