MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-12-85 10:50 a.m.
And welcome the great throngs of you who share this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message here in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. It is entitled Mary, Mother of Jesus. Our texts are two; one is in John chapter 2, and one is in John chapter 19. The first one in John chapter 2, the first verse: "And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there." The second text in John 19:25: "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother," Mary, the mother of our Lord.
Almost universally, and certainly in the Western world, and certainly where the Christian faith is known and loved, the second Sunday in May is designated joyfully and gladly as Mother’s Day. There are boundaries to families, and tribes, and tongues, and states, and nations, but there are no boundaries to motherhood. Universally, mother is adored, revered, remembered, and, if she is a worthy woman, in prayer to God, named with deepest and everlasting thanksgiving.
One of the most poignant remembrances in my life was preaching in our Baptist church in Moscow. I preached Sunday morning and Sunday night. And in one of those messages, the whole congregation burst into tears. The church is largely made up of older women, and unashamedly they took their large handkerchiefs and sobbed into them and wiped the tears out of their eyes. Something I was not expecting, never thought for, but it arose out of this passage in the message. I had been in England, been in Germany, had just been in Leningrad, and I had seen the deep scars of the second World War in those great European cities, and – especially in Leningrad – had been made party to the awesome, three-year siege of that city, and had been taken to the impressive and large and massive monument that marked the extent of the German advance in the siege of Leningrad and where it had been stopped by the Russian defenders. Anyway, as I spoke of the tragedy of that vast and almost beyond historical remembrance, brutal war in which more than eighteen million had lost their lives, as I spoke of that conflict, I said, "Whether it is an American mother bending over her fallen son, or whether it is a German mother weeping over her soldier dead, or whether it is a Russian mother crying over her child killed in the war, their tears are all strangely alike." That is so true. Mother and child are forever and indelibly and everlastingly inseparable. God made it so.
Thus in the story of our Lord, Mary appears. She is the first to hear a beautiful beatitude in the Bible. Chronologically, the first beatitude in the New Testament is addressed to her. "Blessed, blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" [Luke 1:42]. Not only is she the first to hear a beatitude, she is also the first to be present at the messianic miracle of our Lord. John never uses the word "miracle"; he uses the word semeion, "sign"; and in this miracle, the sign John calls it, of the transference, the transformation of the fruit of the vine into the wine we shall drink in the kingdom of God at the marriage supper of the Lamb; Jesus is there with His mother. She is present at the first semeion of the messianic ministry of our Savior [John 2:1-11]. And she is the last in His final appearance before the earth, before the world. When the Lord was crucified, that was the last time the world ever saw Him, and Mary is standing there by the cross [John 19:25]. Thereafter, our Lord was seen by His disciples only. And thereafter, she is seen and named in the company of the disciples only. But the world never saw Him or her again. In the first and in the last, Jesus’ mother is there.
We can say almost that same descriptive avowal about our mothers, the first and the last, never away from her remembrance and her loving prayers and godly intercessions. We first were in her heart: nine months did she bear us close to her very soul. God gave us to her from heaven, a gift from the omnipotent hands of the Almighty. Eve said, "I have gotten a man from the Lord" [Genesis 4:1] when her first child was born. And the beginning of our life is in her heartbeat. And we never get away from her loving care and prayerful intercession. We may go into school to learn to be scholars, or into business to accumulate wealth, or into law to learn the statutes of the land, or into the military to march in behalf of our country, or into missionary service and are gone away to a foreign strand; but we never leave or go away from the love and care of our sainted mother. Thus Jesus was trained and molded and guided as a child under the loving, tender care of Mary, His mother.
And when the tragic day of all tragic days came, and He was hanged on a cross, He remembered that mother. The sorrows, and the hurt, and the tragedy, and the pain and suffering, and agony of those days was beyond anything that I could ever know: the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, the long trial that lasted throughout the night, the flagellation by the Roman soldiers under which many of their prisoners died, the heavy cross under which He stumbled and fell, and finally the cruel nails that fastened Him to the tree. And in that agony and infinite hurt and pain, He looked down upon His mother, and said the third word of the seven from the cross: "Mother, this your son, John. John, this your mother, Mary." And from that moment on, John took her to his own home" [John 19:26-27].
As you and I might have stood that day by the cross, and looked at Mary, what would we have seen? What was she like? First, her speech betrays her. She is from a northern Galilean province. Second, her clothing is that manifestly of a poor peasant woman. And third, her face also betrays in its lines of care and toil a life of poverty and hardship. And in that far eastern country, a woman over fifty years of age bears record of the hardship and the toil of her life. And Mary, the mother of Jesus was over fifty years of age when she stood by the cross.
I have never been able to understand why in art and in literature she is always pictured as a young virgin. Youth has its endowments, its halos, its visions and prospects, its scintillating promise of the days to come. But why should age be depicted as being less blessed of the Lord God? For example, if you have ever been in St. Peter’s in Rome, there to the right as you enter the great doors is the magnificent statuary of Michelangelo, the PietÃ , "the Pity." It was brought here to Dallas and we looked upon it here also. A young woman eighteen years of age, holding in her hands a Man taken down from the cross thirty-three years of age – why the necessity to sculpture, or to paint, or to write in poetry and in literature that she was always a young virgin? Why not a dear and saintly mother who had known the toils of the way in the pilgrimage of this life? As Robert Browning writes in one of the stanzas of "Rabbi Ben Ezra":
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our lives are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half,
Trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"
["Rabbi Ben Ezra," by Robert Browning]
Thus, Mary – the days left its mark upon her face, upon her brow – but think of the prayers that she prayed, and of the visions that she dreamed, and of the mysteries that she pondered in her heart, of the psalms that she sang, of the presence of God in the days of the long pilgrimage. Age also has its blessings and the recompenses of God.
May I point out or say one other thing? My surprise that she is there at the cross; I would have thought she would have been at her home in Nazareth in northern Galilee, but she is here in Jerusalem at the time of the great Passover. I am surprised she’s there; or could it be that in a mother’s intuition she knew that that final and tragic day had come? Holman Hunt, the incomparable English painter, intuitively also saw what Mary must have sensed and known. In one of the great paintings of Holman Hunt that many of us have seen, Jesus is in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. Joseph is dead, and He is the support of the family. And about eighteen or nineteen years of age, the Lord is in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. And as He works, in a moment of exaltation and exhilaration, He lifts His arms, and Mary in the shop sees back of Him the shadow of a cross against the wall. Intuitively did she know the tragedy of that coming day? Was it not Simeon the prophet, when she brought the Child to be dedicated in the temple, was it not Simeon who said to her, "Yea, and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also"? [Luke 2:35]. And Mary is there that day, standing almost certainly at the outer edge of the crowd [John 19:25]. But as the sun darkened and as the hours passed by and the crowd gradually dispersed, Mary drew near to the cross; stood there, looking up into the face of her Son. There is something about that that speaks to my heart.
Crucifixion was invented by the Romans. It is by far the most painful way of execution known to man. And the Romans did it largely as a threat against any who might raise their arms against the power of Caesar. And any one who was crucified was publicly displayed. That was the Roman genius that lay back of the awful cruelty of execution, that these who might be tempted to form insurrection against Caesar, this is their lot. And they were publicly displayed, these who were condemned, and executed, and nailed to a cross. So Rome did it, and raised up the Lord beneath the sky as a malefactor and as an insurrectionist. And when Rome looked upon that cross, it was, "This man is evil, and vile, and violent, and an enemy of the state!" But when Mary stood there and looked on that cross, what did she see? The Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit; born from her virgin womb and the Soul of her love and life and hope [Luke 1:26-35].
It is a strange thing about mothers. Society will ask, "What is his pedigree?
What is his family?"
Business will ask, "What are his assets, and what is his financial standing?"
Law will ask, "What is his place and what are his references?"
Politics will ask, "What is his influence over the electorate, and what are the high offices that he’s held?"
But a mother will ask, "What can I do to help? What good thing by which I could bless?"
I heard of a man who had fallen in love with a beautiful but cruel woman. And in pressing her for her hand, she said to him, "Bring me first the heart of your mother." And he, so in love with that cruel, beautiful woman, cut out the heart of his mother. And in running to that cruel woman with his mother’s heart in his hand, he stumbled and fell and the heart fell on the ground. And as the heart fell on the ground, his mother’s heart said, "Son, did you hurt yourself? She is ever that. Rudyard Kipling wrote it like this:
Though 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 prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, o mother o’ mine!
["Mother O’ Mine," by Rudyard Kipling]
An angel was sent from heaven to this earth to bring back the most beautiful things the angel could find. He brought back four things; beautiful from this verdant earth. He brought back a fleecy cloud; he brought back a beautiful flower; he brought back a baby’s smile; and he brought back a mother’s love. And when the angel presented his beautiful things, brought from this verdant earth, the fleecy cloud had passed away, the beautiful flower had wilted and died, the baby’s smile had faded and gone, but mother’s love was pure, and pristine, and everlasting, and unfading – o mother of mine!
May I say one last word? The sacrifice of our godly and sainted mother: when I think of the cross of our Lord, this is the gift and the sacrifice and supreme pouring out of the love of God. And so unable even to look upon the suffering of His only begotten Son, at high noon He turned His face away. And for three continuing hours, the sun refused to shine, and darkness covered the face of the earth [Luke 23:44-46]. It was a sacrifice on the part of the Father God in heaven, giving us His only begotten Son. It was a sacrifice on the part of the Son of God; He is the One who bore in His body the penalty and the judgment for our sins. It was for our sakes that He wept and cried. It was for our sakes that He suffered and died. There is in it a sacrifice from Jesus Himself, but there is also in it a sacrifice from His loving mother. She also wept and cried and knew the hurt of the suffering that He bore.
When I was going years ago through the middle of Italy, in the middle of the peninsula through the Apennines, the mountainous backbone of Italy – I had no idea it was there – just suddenly, there before me was Petra Mala, a big cemetery, a big American military cemetery. Our American boys, our soldiers who were fighting through, as Churchill said, "the soft underbelly of Europe," they landed at Casablanca in Africa, then at Sicily, then at the Anzio beachhead, and then through Italy, up to the Nazi German Reich; many, many, many of our American boys fell in battle as they marched through that peninsula of Italy, and their bodies were gathered together, and they are buried there at Petra Mala, high up in the Apennines of the Italian peninsula. Well, as I walked among those rows, and rows, and rows of our American dead – young, so very young to me – I thought of their mothers back home. The sacrifice of the life of the boy who lies there in the military grave; his sacrifice was the utmost, the last measure of devotion. But there was sacrifice also in the hurt and the suffering of the mother back home.
Shall I tell you the greatest battles that e’er were fought?
Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find them not.
‘Twas fought by the mothers of men.
[Author and work unknown]
And her loving sacrifice and continuing remembrance of us is a light that shall guide and bless us and encourage us to the end of our way; until some day, we shall see her in heaven.
And that is our appeal to you. What finer, greater thing could you do in life than to have a Christian home, you? Or what finer thing could you do in her memory than to dedicate your life to the Lord? And what more beautiful answer to her prayer, than that you should accept Jesus as your Savior; and what a precious moment in which to do it now – the second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day. "Pastor, this is my family; wife and children, all of us are coming today." "This is my wife, pastor, the two of us are coming today." "This is my friend, we are coming today." Or just one somebody you. "God has spoken to my heart, dear pastor, and I’m on the way." In the balcony round, down one of these stairways at the front and the back; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles. "Pastor, I wish someone would pray for me." We shall! Love to do it. "Pastor, I wish someone would show me how to be saved!" We’ll stay down here forever, that we might share in that kind of a counseling, of praying, of ministering, and love doing it. As God might speak to your heart, answer with your life. And on the first note of this first stanza, come. That first step will be the most meaningful you’ll ever make. Angels will attend you! God will bless you if you come. Do it now! Make it now. Welcome now, while we stand and while we sing.