MARY, THE MOTHER OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-12-85 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message on Mother’s Day entitled Mary, the Mother of Jesus. In the Book of John, John’s Gospel, chapter 2 and chapter 19: an observation that John makes in the first verse of chapter 2, “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there” [John 2:1]; and in chapter 19, verse 25, “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother” [John 19:25].
The subject of “mother” brings to our hearts a thousand precious memories. There are boundaries for tribes, and for races, and for nations, and for states, but there are no boundaries for motherhood. It is universally acclaimed as one of the moving remembrances of human life. Almost universal now, the second Sunday in May is received as Mother’s Day, and almost universally, beautifully and preciously observed.
One of the poignant memories of my own life happened in our Baptist church in Moscow, Russia. I was preaching morning and evening there in that church. And there was a place in the sermon that I was delivering upon which, at which the people burst into tears. The congregation has a preponderance of older women in it. I had not thought for it, had not planned for it, but it was one of those providences that a preacher will meet in his life of ministry. And what it was was this: I had been in England, I’d been in Germany, and I had just come from Leningrad. And the marks of the vast and terrible Second World War were still seen in the scars on those great European cities, and especially in a place like Leningrad that had undergone a terrific, almost inhuman bombardment for three years from the Nazi army, and never fell. And the tide of the German conquest is marked by a tremendously impressive monument. It was thus far the German army had succeeded, and here the Russian defenders had stopped them.
Anyway, I had just been through all of that. And in the sermon, I was speaking of the ravages of war among all the participants, whether they were English, or American, or German, or Russian. And in illustrating it, I said, “Whether it is an American mother bending over her boy, or a German mother bending over her son, or a Russian mother bending over her son, their tears are all strangely alike,” and that is so everlastingly true. The sorrows of humanity, and especially those that are incurred by the viscous confrontations of military might and war, are indescribably sad, no matter who wars on either side.
Thus the appearance of Mary, the mother of Jesus; the first beatitude, chronologically, in the Bible, was addressed to her. Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with John, later called the Baptist: when Mary came to see her, upon the annunciation of the conception of Jesus [Luke 1:26-38]; the first beatitude, “Blessed art though among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” [Luke 1:39-42], the first beatitude. And the first messianic miracle of our Lord; John says Jesus performed a marvelous miracle, the sign, the sēmeion. John never uses the word “miracle.” The first sign of His messianic calling and assignment, John says, “And Mary His mother was there” [John 2:1]. And in the last that the world ever saw of the Lord Jesus—thereafter the Lord was only seen by His disciples—the last the world ever saw of the Lord Jesus and the last the world ever saw of her in recorded testimony; at the cross Mary is there [John 19:25]. At the first and at the last, she is there. And with the disciples, the apostles of Christ, when He was raised from the dead, and they met in prayer in Jerusalem, Mary is numbered among those who had seen Him raised from the dead, and, of course, prayed upon His ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-10, 12-14].
So whether first or last, mother is there. And the child of her womb is so largely framed by her gracious hands, like the clay under a potter’s hand. After all, God gave the child under her heart for the first nine months of its life, as Eve said when God gave her her first son, “I have gotten a man from the Lord” [Genesis 4:1]. And the child never ultimately is removed from the heart and love of a wonderful mother. The child can go away to college to be a scholar. The child can enter business to accumulate wealth. The child can enter politics to seek high office. The child can enter the military and fight for his country. Or the child can be a missionary and go far away to an alien field. But wherever the child goes, the youngster never ultimately gets away from the loving remembrance and godly care of the mother. And so it was in the life of the Lord Jesus, beautiful and shaped by His mother’s prayers and godly teaching.
So in the day of our Lord’s agony, she is there, standing by the cross [John 19:25]. He had been through indescribable sufferings, the agony in the garden [Luke 22:41-44], the terrible trial that lasted all the night [Matthew 26:57-69, 27:1-2; Luke 23:6-12; John 18:12-14, 18:28-19:6], the flagellation [Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; John 19:1], and from what I can read, many times a culprit, a prisoner died under the strokes of those Roman whips. After the flagellation, and carrying the cross under which He stumbled and fell, and finally being nailed to the tree, and raised between the earth and the sky, dying in such agony [John 19:16-34], our Lord remembered His mother. And the third saying from the cross concerned her [John 19:26-27]. There stood by the cross of the Lord His mother [Matthew 19:25].
Now had we stood there that day and looked upon her, what would we have seen? What kind of a woman would we have seen? Well, there are several things that you would have seen that are very apparent. One is this: she is from the north; she’s from Galilee, and her accent in speech clearly betrays it. A second thing: she is a peasant woman. Her clothing and her demeanor speak of her life of poverty. Her hands are worn with toil. She is a working, poor peasant woman. The third thing is so apparently denied by all art and literature. She is bent with age. In the East, a peasant woman who has known nothing but toil and work, when she is beyond fifty years of age, is patently old. And Mary is beyond fifty years of age, and the lines of care and toil are written in her face and recorded on her brow.
Why the dominant church in the world and its art and literature seek to deny the age of Mary I have never been able to understand. All of you who have been in the great St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome have seen the incomparable piece of statuary by Michelangelo entitled, the Pietà, “Pity.” And there you have an eighteen year old mother, an eighteen year old girl, holding in her hands, the body of the Lord Jesus, her Son, who is thirty-three years old. I have never been able to understand that, as though age were not also in the blessing of God.
Do you remember a stanza from Browning’s, “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!”
[from “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” Robert Browning]
And Mary, the mother of Jesus, is that. Think of the psalms that she had sung. Think of the prayers that she had prayed. Think of the experiences that she had known. Think of the blessings of life, as well as its toils and cares, that had followed her along the pilgrim way. Mary His mother is there [John 19:25].
Nor can I turn aside from the thought that I’m surprised that she is. It’s not what I would have thought for. I would have assumed that Mary, the mother of Jesus, would be in Galilee, but she is not at her home in Galilee. She is there in Jerusalem, and she is standing there at the cross. I wonder if that could not possibly be a mother’s intuition that brought her to the capital city of the Roman province of Judea.
Did you ever see this picture painted by Holman Hunt, who seemingly had also an intuitive feeling of spiritual things? I looked at it one time. It is the picture of Jesus, when He is, oh say, eighteen or nineteen years of age, and He is working in His father’s carpenter shop. Doubtless, by then Joseph was not alive, and He is the breadwinner in the family, and He is working in the carpenter shop in Nazareth. And at a moment of exaltation and aspiration, He is standing there in the shop with His hands outstretched, and the mother is seeing behind Him the shadow that is made on the wall, and it is the shadow of a cross.
Was it not Simeon the prophet who, when the Lad was dedicated in the temple, said to her, “Yea, and a sword shall pierce thine own soul also”? [Luke 2:35]. And that day has come, and I make the observation that intuitively she sensed it and was there in Jerusalem when Jesus was tried and crucified [John 19:25].
Now for a moment I want us to look at that cross. To the Roman—and this was the purpose of their invention of crucifixion—to the Roman, He was lifted up as a malefactor, as an insurrectionist, as one who was seeking to replace Caesar himself. He was tried for that, was condemned for that, and as the Romans did, in order to dissuade or discourage other insurrectionists, they were crucified; they were exhibited; they were nailed and lifted up, where all the passers-by could see and be warned by the terrible example. Now that was the Roman. He was lifted up, raised up as a malefactor [Luke 23:32-33], and those who passed by were to see it as such. This Man has rebelled against Caesar and the Roman government.
But for a moment, look through the eyes of Mary, who is standing there at the cross [John 19:25]. What did she see? Her beloved Son moving in a different world.
Society asks, “What is His pedigree? To what family does He belong?”
Business asks, “What is His credit rating? What does He own?”
The academic community will ask, “What are His achievements? What are His degrees and His learning?”
Law may ask, “What is His standing?”
Politics will ask, “What is His influence over the electorate and what office has He held?”
But a mother will ask, “What can I do to help? What can I do to help?”
I read the most unusual story. There was a young man who fell in love, deeply in love, with a woman who was heartless. And when the young man pressed her, that she give her life to him, this cruel young woman said to the suppliant, said to the young man, “You bring me first your mother’s heart.” And the young fellow was so in love with that cruel woman that he cut out the heart of his mother.
And as he came back to bring that cruel woman his mother’s heart, in his rush he stumbled and fell, and his mother’s heart was lost to his hand. And as the mother’s heart rolled on the ground, with tears the mother’s heart said to the boy, “My dear son, are you hurt?” A thing like that of course never happened, but it is a parable of mother’s love. Whatever, however, she never changes.
You remember the poem of Rudyard Kipling:
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 prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, mother o’ mine!
[“Mother O’ Mine,” Rudyard Kipling]
I read one time where an angel was sent down to the world to bring back to heaven the most beautiful things the angel could find. He returned with four recoveries: one, a fleecy cloud; two, a beautiful flower; three, a baby’s smile; and four, a mother’s love. When the angel presented them before the Great Majesty on High, the cloud had gone away, the flower had wilted, the baby’s smile had faded, but mother’s love was as beautiful and pristine and precious as ever.
May I close with an observation? Standing by the cross, you see there a sacrifice on the part of God, our Father. When Jesus became sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21], even the Father turned His face away. It was dark; the light of the sun went out. And from high noon until three in the afternoon, the earth was covered with darkness [Mark 15:33]. God’s face was turned away. And you remember the lament of our Lord, “Lama, lama, why oh why, sabachthani, hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Mark 15:34]. It was a sacrifice of the Father; He gave His only begotten Son for us [John 3:16].
It was a sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. He bore in His body the judgment of our sins [1 Peter 2:24]. He suffered in our stead [Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21]; He died our death [1 Corinthians 15:3]; He paid the penalty to the full for our transgressions [John 19:30]; He suffered and sacrificed Himself [Hebrews 10:5-14].
I cannot but observe also His mother suffered and sacrificed. When she stood there and looked upon the death and the sufferings of her Son [John 19:25], the Lord said to her, “’See John.” And to John, “See your mother.” From that moment John took her to his own home, and she lived there with that precious and beloved disciple, [John 19:26-27], mother’s sacrifice.
One time I was following Italy on the spine, in the Apennines mountains, going north through the middle of Italy. I didn’t know it was there, I’d never heard of it, but going north through those Apennines mountains, we came across a vast American military cemetery. I had no idea it was there. It’s called [the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial]. And the men who died, the American men who had lost their lives in that march upward through Italy are buried there in [the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial]. And I walked among those graves and just looked at those, a vast number of American boys, who had fallen in battle and are buried there in those mountains in central Italy, and as I looked and looked and looked, I could not help but think of their mothers back home; mother’s sacrifice.
The bravest battle that was ever was fought,
May I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find it not;
’Twas fought by the mothers of men.
[from “The Bravest Battle that Ever was Fought,” Joaquin Miller]
And her devotion, and her prayers, and her tears, and her sacrifice, and her unwavering and unending love, sanctifies and hallows our lives forever, now and until we see her in heaven.
And that is our appeal in this time of invitation. Did you have a Christian mother? Did she teach you the faith of our loving Lord? What greater benedictory blessing could ever come to your life than to love, and adore, and worship, and follow the Lord God of our mothers? To put your life with us in this dear church, a whole family you, to answer some call of God in your heart, or “Pastor, I’d like to know the way”; we’ll pray with you, love you, guide you into the kingdom. When we sing this song, our prayer partners are here; God’s ministers are here; you come for any reason that the Spirit would press the appeal upon your heart, and we’ll pray together. And if there is not time in this moment to guide in the way, to answer any question you might have, we’ll meet after the service is over, and we’ll pray God together, and seek His face and His will together. If the Lord speaks to your heart, answer with your life [Romans 10:9-10]. In the balcony round, there’s time and to spare, coming down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “This is God’s day for me and I’m on the way.” God bless you, angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.