THE MOTHER OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-14-89 10:30 a.m.
And once again welcome to the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Mother of Jesus. Our background text—and this is one of the strange coincidences that I’ve so often found in my preaching through the Bible—right before me, in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of John, in which I am preaching through these present days, right before me is the story of the background of our text, John 19:25-27:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved—John
He saith unto His mother, Woman—a gracious title—behold thy son!
Then saith He to the disciple—John—Behold thy mother!
And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
Universally, the second Sunday in May, this Sunday, is designated as Mother’s Day. There are boundaries for families, and states, and nations, and tribes, and peoples. But there are no boundaries for the love of mother, it is universal. I had one of the strangest responses that I ever experienced in my life in preaching in the Baptist church in Moscow, Russia. I was not expecting it and it was just something happened that overwhelmed me. In the message, I was speaking of the common denominator of all mankind, whether they live east, west, north, or south; whether they’re red, white, pink colored; whether they’re rich or poor. I was speaking of the common denominator of all humanity. And incidentally referred to the fact that whether it be the tears of an American mother, or the tears of an English mother, or the tears of a French mother, or the tears of a German mother, or the tears of a Russian mother, when they bow over the prostrate form of their son killed in the war, all of those tears are strangely alike.
Well, sweet people, when I said that, there was a burst of tears in that throng. And if you’ve ever been there and have watched them, each one of them will have a large white handkerchief. Everyone in divine presence took out that white handkerchief and dried the tears from their eyes. Well, after the service was over, I asked Pastor Zhidkov—I said, “Why was it that, when I spoke of those men that were lost in this war, that they cried so, burst into tears so?”
“Well,” he said, “There was nobody present, no one present, but had lost a brother, or a son, or a father in the war.”
Mother’s tears: how strangely alike they are throughout all the boundaries that separate mankind. So the mother of Jesus, sweet virgin Mary—she is presented to us in the first beatitude in the story of our Lord. You read it just now, “And the angel said unto her, Hail, thou that art highly favored… Blessed art thou among women” [Luke 1:28]. And when she went to see her [kinswoman] Elizabeth, Elizabeth met her and the babe, John the Baptist, leaped in her womb [Luke 1:39-41]. And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit said, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb . . . For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb” [Luke 1:42-44]. The first beatitude, “Blessed art thou among women” [Luke 1:42]. And when our Lord began His ministry, the first Messianic miracle, she was there [John 2:1]. And when His life closed in the days of His flesh, she was there standing by the cross [John 19:25], the first and the last, that devoted mother.
And however life may turn, that Child is always hers. When Eve gave birth to the first child in the race, she said, “I have gotten a man from the Lord” [Genesis 4:1]. Received the life as from God; and in truth, how much it is. And whatever the course or the destiny of that youngster—go to college and be a scholar; enter the world of business and be a rich man, rich woman; enter the world of politics and be a governor or a president; enter the world of the military and lead an army; enter the world of religious faith and be a missionary in a far country—but wherever, that child is still hers, loved and remembered forever.
So it was in the agony of His death on the cross: our Lord remembered His mother standing there in infinite sorrow and committing her to the love and care of the loved apostle John [John 19:25-27]. When He looked upon her standing at the across, what did He see? Three things in her: number one, she was plainly a provincial. She spoke with a Galilean accent. She did not belong to the culture of Jerusalem, and was certainly not in the family of the Sadducees. She was a provincial. A second thing about her, she was plainly a poor, peasant woman. She belonged to that stratum of society that toiled and labored. She was dressed like a poor peasant. And third, she was old. Her hands were worn with years of toil and her face was lined and wrinkled. In the Near East and in that long ago day, a woman aged early in life, and Mary is beyond half a century.
I have never been able to understand or to enter into the doctrine of the Roman Church: that Mary was a perpetual virgin and that she was perpetually young. For example, if you ever go to the Vatican and look inside of Saint Peter’s Cathedral, you’ll see that incomparable statuary piece by Michelangelo called Pietà. There you will see a girl, 18 years of age, holding in her arms the corpse of Jesus, who’s 33. I cannot understand why. Why should it be that older age is less appealing to God and to man? It seems to me, the aging of life carries with it an infinite benedictory remembrance from heaven.
Do you remember this stanza from Robert Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra”? 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!”
Don’t be afraid of the years that multiply. They bring with them infinite blessings, heavenly joys, God’s presence in the pilgrim way.
And I can think of that for this wonderful mother, Mary: the psalms that she sang, the prayers that she prayed, the experiences of the pilgrimage. O God, how wonderful it is, thus to grow in the depths of life as we grow in the years of our age. Could I say again I am surprised that she is there; I thought she would be at her home in Galilee. But here she stands, by the cross in Jerusalem in Judea [John 19:25]. You know what I think? There was an unerring intuition in that mother’s heart of what should come to pass in the days of His atoning love and grace.
Have you ever seen that picture of [William] Holman Hunt, [The Shadow of Death -1873]? Jesus is standing in the carpenter’s shop with His arms extended somehow in the work of the day, and back of Him as He stands thus, He casts a shadow of a cross against the wall, and Mary sees it. Somehow she sensed that that day of atonement had come and this prophecy of Simeon was fulfilled in her life, “Yea, and a sword shall pierce thine own soul also” [Luke 2:34-35]. And there she is, standing by the cross [John 19:20]; to the Romans—brutal, hard—the lifting up of that cross was an announcement to the world, “This is a malefactor. This is an insurrectionist. This is a thief, a sinner, rightfully dying by execution, crucified.” That was the meaning of the Roman “lifting up,” crucifixion. But to that mother standing by the cross [John 19:20], this is God’s Son, and mother’s love is ever unchanging.
The world asks, “Where did you come from? What’s your status?”
Business asks, “What’s your bank account? What are your assets?””
Society asks, “What is your privilege?”
The scholastic world asks, “What are your degrees?”
Mother asks, “Is there something in which I can help?”
One of the most unusual, fanciful stories I ever read in my life: there was a cruel, vicious woman and the man was courting her. And in order for her to accept his proposal of marriage, she said, “You cut the heart out of your mother and bring that heart to me.” And he went to his mother and cut out her heart and was carrying it to that vicious woman in his hands when he stumbled and fell, and the mother’s heart rolled somehow, someplace, away. And the mother’s heart said, “Son, did you hurt yourself? Did you hurt yourself?”
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 of mine,
Sainted mother of mine.
[“Mother O’ Mine,” Rudyard Kipling]
An angel came down from God’s heaven to bring back to the great Almighty the most beautiful things in the earth. And the angel chose a fleecy cloud, and a beautiful flower, and a baby’s smile, and a mother’s love. And when the angel appeared before the Lord God in heaven to present the most beautiful things in the earth: first the cloud, it had dissipated and disappeared; then the flower, it had wilted and died; then the baby’s smile, it had vanished away. But mother’s love had increased in beauty and meaning through the days. In this story of the cross of our Lord, there’s a sacrifice on the part of the Heavenly Father. He couldn’t see His Son thus suffer and die, He turned His face away, and the whole universe turned dark [Matthew 27:45-46]. There’s the sacrifice of the Son, who is suffering for our sins on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50]. There is also the sacrifice of that mother [Luke 2:35].
You know, I was going through Italy one time, up those Apennines, the spine of Italy. And suddenly—I had no idea of such a thing—came across a large, expansive military cemetery, an American cemetery. There, in those Apennines, a vast cemetery, where American soldiers who had fallen in the war were buried. And I walked among those tombs and read the inscription: “These are our American soldier boys, who laid down their lives for us.” You know, I thought in my heart: back home in America there is a mother somewhere who is weeping over a son, who is lost.
The bravest battle
That ‘ere was fought
Shall I tell you
Where and when?
On the maps of the world,
You’ll find it not.
It was fought by
The mothers of men.
[“The Bravest Battle,” Joaquin (Cincinnatus Hiner) Miller]
Their love so constant, their prayers so faithful, and their remembrance so unending—God be praised for our sainted mothers! And God be praised for your mother, leading us in the way of the Lord!
And that is our prayer for you and our appeal for you who have shared this hour on television. Did you have a Christian mother? You could do no thing in this earth that would please her more either here or in heaven than to give your life in faith to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-13]. If you don’t know how to accept Christ as your Savior, call us. There will be a faithful, devout somebody who will answer the phone and lead you into the most beautiful relationship you could ever know in life, and someday I’ll see you in heaven.
And to the throng in this sanctuary, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, “Today, pastor, I’m receiving Christ as my Savior, and I’m coming” [Romans 10:9-13]. Walking down one of these aisles, walking down one of these stairways, “We have decided for Christ and we’re on the way.” A thousand times welcome, receiving Him as your Savior, coming into the fellowship of His dear church, answering the call of God in your heart; make it now, and may angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.