Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-13-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing this service with the congregation of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message on The Mother Of Jesus. In the nineteenth chapter of the Fourth Gospel, beginning at verse 25:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother,
When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciples 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.
Her husband, Joseph, most apparently was deceased. He drops completely out of the story of the life our Lord after His birth and after His age of twelve in Nazareth. And the reason for the Lord’s commitment of His mother to John is easily found in the story of the Gospels – that her sons, the half-brothers of Jesus, did not believe in Him [John 7:5]. James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Jude – they later were converted, but at this time the brothers themselves did not accept the Lord. So, in this tragic hour of death, seeing His aged and widowed mother, He bequeaths her in care and comfort and sustaining support to John, the beloved disciple.
It is very interesting, when you read through the Bible, to notice that the first beatitude of the New Testament is bestowed upon Mary. In the first chapter of Luke, the Holy Spirit records: and Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias and the mother of John the Baptist – and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she spake out with a loud voice and said: "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" [Luke 1:41-42]. This is the first beatitude of the New Testament.
When I look at the Gospel of John, I notice that in our Lord’s first miracle, at His first public appearance, John records that the mother of Jesus was there. "And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there" [John 2:1]. And when I turned to the ending of the Gospel, in the last public appearance of our Lord – for the world never saw Him again after the crucifixion; only the disciples saw the Lord raised from the dead; to them alone did He reveal Himself alive. The last time the world ever saw the Master was when they looked upon His still and silent face in death [John 19:30]. And in that last public appearance, John records that the mother of Jesus was there, and it evoked from our Lord the third saying of the seven from the cross: the commitment of His mother to John [John 19:25-27].
In my humblest persuasion and opinion, this is not fortuitous; it is not accidental. For John says that there were so many things that Jesus did that, if he wrote them all, the world could not contain the books that would be written [John 21:26]. But He selected these things "that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ; and that believing we might have eternal life in His name" [John 20:30-31].
So what I see here in the Gospel of John is something, in every detail, most carefully, and prayerfully, and purposefully chosen. When I see His mother presented at the beginning of His ministry [John 2:1], and through the story of the Gospel, and now at the last public act [John 19:25-27], I know there was great purpose in John’s writing as he has and as he did.
[It’s] just easy for me to follow the life of the apostle, as he took Mary to his own home and cared for her as his own mother [John 19:27]. And all of those things that the Scriptures say that Mary kept in her heart and pondered them [Luke 2:19] – I think John did likewise. He kept them in his heart and pondered them in the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
It is especially meaningful to me, as I read the story, that the Lord remembered His mother in the time, and in the hour of His greatest, excruciating, and indescribable agony and suffering [John 19:25-27]. The night before, He had been in Gethsemane [John 18:1-12]. And there, in an agony of trial, His blood came out of the very pores of His skin and stained the ground above which He prayed [Luke 22:44].
In Isaiah 53, "And God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied" [Isaiah 53:11]. Doubtless, the agony of the spirit, and heart, and soul of our Lord was as deep and as unfathomable as the agony He suffered in His physical frame. And after that night of Gethsemane [John 18:1-11], then His arrest and all through the hours of the night until the morning,no one offering Him a place to be seated; He stood in trial before Caiaphas, the high priest, and before the Sanhedrin, the highest court of Jewry; and then before Pontius Pilate and Herod, and back again to Pontius Pilate [Luke 23:6-11; John 18:13-40].
And then, after His condemnation, He was scourged [Matthew 27:26]. And these historians tell us that a malefactor died as much from the cruel, merciless scourging, beating, as from the nails of the cross itself. And then, finally, His quivering flesh is fastened to the wood; and His form is raised upward; and the cross is lowered into its place in the earth [John 19:16-24]; and there, dying with unappeased thirst and with the chill of the shadow of death passing over His body, He looks down and sees His mother standing by the cross [John 19:25].
I wonder what she looked like. Had you been there that day and had you seen her, what kind of a woman would you have seen? There are several things I would think most apparent about her. One, she’s a peasant woman from the northern country of Galilee. Her speech betrays her origin, and her dress publishes her poverty. All of her life she’s known nothing but drudgery, and toil, and labor. Over fifty years of burden rest upon her shoulders. And in that Eastern country, where age comes so easily and so ungraciously, she must have looked very old.
It’s a strange thing how that, in art and in literature, Mary is always presented in the charm and strength of youth. For example, it is the doctrine and the dogma of the Roman church, her perpetual youth and virginity; as though youth were more beautiful than old age. I cannot but share the beautiful sentiment of the English poet Robert Browning, when he begins "Rabbi Ben Ezra" with this stanza.
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!"
And Mary in her age is no less beautiful than in her youth. If you ever visit the Vatican in Rome, walking inside the great door, to your right and at the front, you will see Michelangelo’s Pieta. It is the statue that was so tragically harmed by a maniac about two or three years ago. But the marvelous thing about that statue is this: when you look at it, here is a girl, eighteen years of age, holding the corpse of her Son who is over thirty-three years of age. There the attempt to portray the charm of youth, as though in her age she became ugly and unacceptable – oh no and never! For age has its beauty; full, and rich, and deep.
And had you seen Mary that day, standing by the cross, you would have seen a beautiful woman. Her hair, I’m sure, was gray. Her hands, I’m sure, showed the toil and trace of heavy drudgery, but the experience of her life had beautified her soul. Psalms of praise had fallen from her lips. Prayers of intercession and devotion had risen full out of her heart. Her face looked like a manuscript illuminated by the very light and presence of Almighty God. Standing by the cross that day in age, she was as beautiful as the day when the angel Gabriel announced to her, as a young woman, that she should be the mother of that foretold and foreordained Child [Luke 1:26-35].
Another thing: when I read the passage, I’m surprised at where she is. "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother" [John 19:25]. I would have thought she would have been at home in Galilee. But no! She is here in Judea; and she’s in Jerusalem; and she’s on Golgotha; and she is standing hard by the cross. I wonder why? I think almost certainly that the Spirit of prophecy was upon her.
And all through the years and the years, the saying of aged Simeon, when they took the boy Jesus as a baby to the temple, there to do for Him according to the law, and because of their poverty offered two little pigeons [Luke 2:22-24] – I think the prophecy of Simeon ever stayed in her heart, "Yea, and the time is coming when a sword shall pierce thine own soul also" [Luke 2:35]. And back and back of the glorious life that unfolded before her, as she saw her Son grow up, and then announce His public, messianic ministry [Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15], was that prophecy that the day would come of infinite, indescribable sorrow and tragedy [Luke 2:35].
Holman Hunt has captured that, the famous English painter. There is a painting, and you’ve seen it I’m sure, copies of it, when the Lord is in His father Joseph’s carpenter shop, and He is a lad there – a young man of about eighteen or nineteen – and the artist has so drawn the picture of the Lord, that, in His work, He has His arms extended, outstretched. And Mary, seeing Him, looks beyond; and there against the wall is the shadow of the cross, created by the upright standing of her Boy, and by the outstretching of His arms.
And I think the shadow of the cross ever attended the memory of Mary, when she watched her Son as He began His tremendous public ministry [John 2:1]. Upon the day when the enthusiasm of the crowds would have taken the Lord and made Him a king by force [John 6:15], I think she saw the shadow of that cross. And when the disciples argued with each other about who would be greatest in the coming kingdom [Mark 9:33-34], I think she saw the shadow of that cross. And when on Palm Sunday, the throngs entered the city of Jerusalem and shouted and sang of Him who was the Messiah and the Christ, "Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord" [Matthew 21:9], I think Mary saw the shadow of the cross.
And coming from her home in Galilee that awesome and final day, she was present. She saw the mob that before had shouted, "Glory!" and "Hosanna!" She saw the same mob in vicious, merciless, ruthless, blood calling, cry, "Crucify Him! Away with Him!" [John 19:15].
I think she saw and heard the bitter looks and voices of the Sadducees, and Pharisees, and scribes as they thirsted for His blood [Matthew 27:39-42]. I think she saw the soldiers drive those heavy spikes through His hands and feet [John 19:16-18]. And as the day wore on, and the sun rose, and the people found shelter in shadow from the heat, I think Mary, at first standing at the edge of the crowd, moved closer and nearer and still closer, until finally she was standing by the side of the cross itself [John 19:25].
Is not that like mother? To the world, the Romans were exhibiting on that gibbet a malefactor, a criminal, a seditionist. But to Mary, the cross was holding up her Son. And she was standing as close by as she could; to help, to encourage, to comfort, to suffer – just to be near. Is not that mother?
I heard a story one time. A young man fell in love with a cruel, heartless woman who hated his mother. Upon a day, she said to him: "Bring me the heart of your mother, that I may feed it to my dog." And the young man hastened away, slew his mother, cut out her bleeding heart and, holding it in his hand, was running back to that heartless woman. And, as he ran, he stumbled and fell. And the heart fell out beyond him on the ground. And, as he lay there prostrate, the heart of his mother said to him, "My sweet son, did you hurt yourself?"
This is mother, standing by the cross as close as ever she could draw.
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 love and tears would come down to me.
If I were damned in body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole.
["Mother o’ Mine"; Rudyard Kipling]
An angel one time was sent from heaven to earth to bring back to God the four most beautiful things he could find. And the angel searched our planet and found four beautiful things: one, a fleecy cloud; two, an exquisite flower; three, a baby’s smile; and four, a mother’s love. And the angel returned to God in heaven with his four gifts. Well, when he presented them before the great Jehovah, the cloud had dissolved away; the exquisite flower had wilted; the baby’s smile had faded. But mother’s love was forever and forever!
When I was a youth, I was seventeen years of age, I played in the band at Baylor. And upon a time, we were in a tour presenting the virtues of our school. And we went through West Texas. And, in a town out there named Big Spring, I was put up for the night domicile in the home of a godly family. As I visited in the home, a young man so cordially invited by mother and father in the home, I learned that their names were Reagan; and that they had a daughter named Lucille; and that Lucille Reagan had been called of God to be a missionary nurse and had been sent by the Foreign Mission Board to Nigeria, Africa. And there in Nigeria, serving Christ as a nurse, she had been stricken down by dreaded yellow fever, and had died, and was buried somewhere in Africa. And as I visited with the father and the mother, being a young minister, they talked to me so freely. I felt the hurt and the sadness of the loss of that missionary girl in Africa.
Did you know that in the passing of the years and the years, becoming pastor of this dear church, I went on a preaching mission in Africa? And when I was in Nigeria, I asked our missionary leaders, "Would you by any chance know where a lonely missionary is buried, a nurse by the name of Lucille Reagan?" And one of the missionaries said, "Yes, I can tell you where."
I sought out the place beyond Ogbomosho in the heart of Nigeria. And I stood there and relived again the love of that mother and father for that sweet child. You see, the sacrifice of the cross was the sacrifice of Jesus [1 Corinthians 5:7, 15:3]; that’s right. The sacrifice of the cross was the sacrifice of the Father who gave His only begotten Son [John 3:16]: that’s right. But the sacrifice of the cross was also the sacrifice of Mary; and as she stood there and saw her Son nailed to the tree, the infinite hurt, and sorrow, and tragedy of that awesome hour! [John 19:25-34].
"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother" [John 19:25]; are they not always standing by us? Are they not always praying for us? Are they not always offering hands and heart to help? Our Christian mothers.
In a moment, we shall stand to sing our appeal. And while we sing it, could there be a more precious time than this time; a more holy and heavenly hour than this hour in which to give your heart to Christ; in which to put your life in the circle of His church? Would you do it now? In this balcony round, a family you, a couple you, or one somebody you; on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I am pastor. I am coming today." Make the decision now in your heart. In a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming down that aisle, walking down that stairway. "Here, pastor, I give you my hand. I have decided for God, and here I come." As the Holy Spirit shall press upon your heart, the appeal make it now, do it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.