“BEHOLD THY MOTHER!”
1. Turn in your Bible to John 19.23, and stand for the reading of God’s Word:
23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.
24 They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.
25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
2. I read from Arthur Pink’s Exposition of the Gospel of John:
Seven times the Saviour spoke while He was upon the cross, thus exhibiting His perfections as the Word, in death, as in life. The first, the word of forgiveness, for His enemies (Luke 23:34). The second, the word of salvation, to the dying thief (Luke 23:42, 43). The third, the word of affection, to and for His mother (John 19:25, 26). The fourth, the word of anguish, to God (Matt. 27:46). The fifth, the word of suffering, to the spectators (John 19:28). The sixth, the word of victory, to His people (John 19:30). The seventh, the word of contentment, to the Father (Luke 23:46). The third, fifth and sixth of these cross-utterances are recorded by John, and will come before us in our present study.
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene” (19:25). The Jews were present at the crucifixion to satisfy their fiendish craving for His death; the Roman soldiers were there from duty; but here is a group noticed by the Spirit who had been drawn there by affectionate devotion for the central Sufferer. They were not looking on from a distance, nor mingling with the morbid crowds in attendance. They stood “by the cross.” A pitiably small company, five in all; yet a deeply significant number, for five is the number of grace, and in contrast from the crowds which evidenced man’s depravity and enmity, these were the trophies of Divine favour. This little company comprised four women and one man. The first was Mary, the Saviour’s mother, who now realized the full force of that prophetic word spoken by the aged Simeon more than thirty years before: “Yet, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also” (Luke 2:35). The second was Mary the wife of Cleophas, of whom we read but little, yet in that little what a wealth of love! — here at the cross, in Matt. 28:1 at the sepulchre; called here “his mother’s sister”—evidently her sister-in-law, sister of Joseph, for it is most unlikely that she was a full-blood sister with the same name as herself. The third was Mary of Magdala, out of whom Christ had cast seven demons, and to whom He appeared first when He was risen from the dead. How significant that each of them was named “Mary,” which means bitterness! What anguish of spirit was theirs as they beheld the dying Lamb! Equally significant is the absence of another Mary—the sister of Lazarus! A fourth woman was there—Matt. 27:56—the mother of John, though she is not mentioned here. The fifth one was “the disciple whom Jesus loved”—so far as we know, the only one of the eleven apostles who was present.
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother.” “Neither her own danger, nor the sadness of the spectacle, nor the insults of the crowd, could restrain her from performing the last office of duty and tenderness to her Divine Son on the Cross” (Mr. Doddridge). After the days of His infancy and childhood, we see and hear little of Mary. During His public ministry her life was lived in the background. But now, when strikes the supreme hour of her Son’s agony, when the world has cast out the Child of her womb, she stands there by the cross! Baffled, perhaps, at the unprecedented scene, paralyzed at His sufferings, yet bound by the golden chain of love to the dying One, there she stands. His disciples may desert Him, His friends may forsake Him, His nation may despise Him; but His mother is there, where all might see her—near Him in death as in birth. Who can fully appreciate the mother-heart!
Marvelous fortitude was Mary’s. Hers was no hysterical or demonstrative sorrow. There was no show of feminine weakness; no wild outcry of uncontrollable anguish; no falling to the ground in a swoon. Not a word that fell from her lips on this occasion has been recorded by any of the four Evangelists: apparently she suffered in unbroken silence. The crowds were mocking, the thieves taunting, the soldiers callously occupied with His garments, the Saviour was bleeding — and there was His mother beholding it all! What wonder if she had turned away from such a spectacle! What wonder if she had fled from such a scene! But no! She did not crouch away nor fall in a faint. She stood by the cross. What tremendous courage! What love! What reverence for the Saviour!
“When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!” (19:26). Occupied with the most stupendous work ever done, not only on earth but in the entire universe; under a burden which no mere creature could possibly have sustained; the Object of Satan’s fiercest malignity! about to drain the awful cup which meant separation from God Himself for three hours; nevertheless, even at such a time, the Lord Jesus did not deem natural ties as unworthy of recognition. To the very end He showed Himself both perfect Son of God and perfect Son of man. In boyhood He had “honored” His parents (Luke 2:52), so does He now on the cross. About to leave this world, He first provides a home for His widowed mother. First He had prayed for His enemies; then He had spoken the words of salvation and assurance to the repentant thief; now He addresses His mother.
“He saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!” Twice do we find our Lord addressing Mary as “Woman”: at the Cana marriage-feast (2:4), and here. It is noteworthy that both of these references are found in John’s Gospel, the Gospel which treats specifically of His Deity. The Synoptics present Him in human relationships, but John portrays Him as the Son of God—above all; hence the perfect propriety of Christ here addressing His mother as “Woman.” That this term is neither harsh nor discourteous is clear from a comparison with 20:13. But there was another reason why He would no longer call her “mother”—as, doubtless, He had addressed her many a time. The death on the cross made an end of all His natural ties: “Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yet, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we no more” (II Cor. 5:16)! From now on, believers would be linked to Christ by a closer bond, by a spiritual relationship, and this is what the Saviour would now teach both His mother and His beloved apostle. “Behold thy son!” I am thy “Son” no longer. It is a striking confirmation of this that Mary is not mentioned at all in connection with Christ’s resurrection: the only other time she is referred to in the New Testament is in Acts 1:14, where we see her taking her place among (not over) believers at a prayer- meeting.
“Here it is that our Lord lays aside His human affections. He sees His mother and His beloved disciple near the Cross, but it is only to commend them the one to the other, and thus to separate Himself from the place which He had once filled among them. Sweet, indeed, it is, to see how faithfully He owned the affection up to the last moment that He could listen to it; no sorrow of His own could make Him forget it! But He was not always to know it. The ‘children of the resurrection’ neither marry, nor are given in marriage. He must now form their knowledge of Him by other thoughts, for they are henceforth to be joined to Him as ‘one spirit’; for such are His blessed ways. If He takes His distance from us, as not knowing us in ‘the flesh,’ it is only that we may be united to Him in nearer affections and closer interests” (Mr. J. G. Bellett).
“Then saith he to the disciple” (19:27)—the one standing by “whom he loved.” In Matt. 26:56 we read concerning the Eleven, “They all forsook Him and fled.” This was the accomplishment of His own sad prediction, “all ye shall be offended because of me this night” (Matt. 26:31)—the Greek signifying “scandalized.” They were ashamed to be found in His company. But it is blessed to know that one returned to His side ere He died. And which one was it? Who of the little band shall manifest the superiority of his love? Even though the Sacred Narrative had concealed his identity, it would not have been difficult for us to name him. But the fact that Scripture informs us that it was the writer of this fourth Gospel supplies one of the many silent but indubitable proofs of the Divine inspiration of the Bible.
“Woman behold thy son! Then said he to the disciple, Behold thy mother!” (19:27). First, to His mother, Behold now this one who cares for you, who has taken his place by your side, who would not allow you to stand here alone. Second, to John, Behold thy mother!—regard her henceforth with the tenderest affection; she is My living legacy to you! Thus did the Redeemer give to the apostle who had leaned on His breast, the one on whose breast He had once rested! Thus did He give to John the place which He had filled—a higher place than that which He gave to Peter! The order is indeed striking: Christ bade Mary look to John, before He commanded him to care for her—John was to be the stay of Mary, not Mary of John!
“And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (19:27). First, the Saviour’s act has forever set an example for children to honor their parents—to the end, not only while they are minors. Second, it marked His tender compassion: He would graciously spare His mother the worst, and therefore made arrangements that she would not witness the awful darkness, hear His cry of agony, or be present when He died. Third, it showed Him Son of God, the Protector and Provider of His people; it was the pledge of His equal care for all He leaves behind on earth—while we are here in the world He will supply our “every need.” Fourth, He here confirmed the law of love, under the shadow of the cross. He united together those who loved Him and whom He loved. There was no command, for love needs none; love will respond to a gesture, a glance. The beloved disciple at once understood his Lord’s mind. Fifth, He intimated that in providing for His people, He would do so by means of His people; it was John who was to provide hospitality for Mary. Christ is still saying to us: “Behold thy son! . . . Behold thy mother!”—compare Matt. 25:40. How marvelously are the Divine and human perfections of Christ blended here: as Man, honoring His mother; as God, the Head of the family, making arrangements for the children!
“From that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” Of old it had been predicted that the Lord Jesus should act discreetly: “Behold, my Servant shall deal prudently” (Isa. 52:13). In commending His mother to the care of His beloved apostle, the Saviour evidenced His wisdom by the choice of her future guardian. Perhaps there was none who understood Him so well as His mother, and it is almost certain that none had apprehended His love so deeply as had John. We see, therefore, how they would be most suited companions for each other, the intimate bond of spiritual love uniting them together and to Christ. None so well fitted to take care of Mary; none whose company she would find so congenial; none whose fellowship either would more appreciate.
“From that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” Here, as ever, the Roman Catholics err—“not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” From this verse they argue that Mary could have had no other children, otherwise Christ had never committed her, a widow, to John. But the Word of God plainly declares that she did have other children — “Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? and his sisters, are they not all with us?” (Matt. 13:55, 56). The same Word of God also shows us that they were, at that time, ill-fitted to be Mary’s companions and guardians—“I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children” (Psa. 69:8), were the Saviour’s own words. How, then, could they take the Saviour’s place, and be unto Mary what He had been! “We surely need no stronger proof than we have here, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was never meant to be honored as Divine, or to be prayed to, worshipped and trusted in, as the friend and patroness of sinners. Common sense points out that she who needed the care and protection of another, was never likely to help men and women to heaven, or to be in any sense a mediator between God and man!” (Bishop Ryle). How this incident also illustrates, once more, that spiritual bonds have the preference over natural ties! Moreover, what a heart-piercing rebuke to His unbelieving “brethren” (John 7:5) were His words here to Mary and John.
3. Please consider this last sentence, for it sums up the essence of what impact the Lord Jesus Christ’s words would have on His unbelieving half brothers, what impact His words would have on Mary’s other sons.
4. The Lord Jesus Christ committed His mother to the apostle John’s care, even though His actions would certainly wound and possibly enrage His half brothers. But there was no more powerful way for Him to impress upon His brethren the fact that they were lost and needed to be saved than by doing what He did. And there was no more powerful way of Mary driving that same point home to her unsaved sons than by her agreement with the Lord Jesus Christ that John was more fit to take care of her than were her own sons.
5. How does this speak to you men, who are responsible to provide for your wife’s needs even after you die? How does this speak to you ladies, who will someday (if your kids will have you) choose which child to live with when you are too old to live by yourself? And how does this speak to you children who will someday have a mother to take care of, and you now find yourselves qualified and your siblings unqualified by their lost condition?
6. On this Mother’s Day, allow me to impress upon you the importance of you getting as prepared as you possibly can to take care of your mother. Arranging for His mother’s welfare by committing her to John’s care was the Lord Jesus Christ’s final display of obedience to that portion of the Law of Moses which commands, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
7. But this command to honor your mother must be seen against the backdrop of another Biblical principle, found in Second Corinthians 12.14: “the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.”
8. So, we have three considerations before us: First, there is the Lord Jesus Christ’s concern for His mother. Second, there is the command of the Law to honor your mother. Finally, there is the caution that children ought not to lay up for their parents, but the parents for the children.
9. What sense are we to make of these three important considerations? That we will leave for the sermon, after brother Isenberger comes to lead us. Please stand at this time.
1. This sermon is instructional and not evangelistic. My purpose for the long term is to see some unsaved member of your family come to faith in Christ. My interest for the short term is to give you some insight that will enable you to drive the truth home to an unconverted member of your family, in the hopes that a deep awareness of sin, that an astonishing recognition of the great gulf that separates between the saved and the lost, will be used by God to prepare a loved one’s heart for conversion to Christ.
2. But I must warn you that God calls upon you to do hard things from time to time. There are occasions when you simply must rise up and be courageous. You must allow yourself to be used by God to pierce the soul of an unsaved loved one. Understand that you simply cannot remove the deadly tumor that’s deep inside without plunging the blade in and cutting deep.
3. Are you unwilling to do that? Then judge for yourself whether you are content to sit by while your failure as a parent results in a worthless son going to Hell. Or you are willing to deceive yourself with groundless optimism that everything will turn out all right with your wicked daughter.
4. Perhaps the situation for you is entirely different than I have just described. Perhaps it is an unsaved mother, who despite her protests, is not at all ready to meet her God. You must do something, but she will not allow you to witness to her. Her heart must be softened, so that her pride and stubbornness can be melted away, but she will allow no one to preach to her.
5. Allow me, if you will, to lay out some recommendations related to these three verses for your consideration, for your evaluation:
1A. First, THERE IS THE LORD’S CONCERN FOR HIS MOTHER
John 19.27: “Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”
1B. There can be no disputing the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ was fulfilling the requirements of the Law, as well as demonstrating His great love for His mother, by arranging for her needs to be met in her old age.
2B. And in doing right by her as a son, we see that He is perfectly willing to violate convention, perfectly willing to surprise and shock other members of the family, to make sure that His mother would be properly taken care of. As Pink mentioned in his comments on this verse, and I quote, “Moreover, what a heart-piercing rebuke to His unbelieving ‘brethren’ were His words here to Mary and John.”
3B. Do you have unconverted children as well as converted children? I would suggest that you make your wishes known to your unconverted children, sir, that they are not qualified to tend to your wife, their mother, should you die and leave her widowed. If the Savior was willing to commit His mother to someone completely outside the nuclear family to ensure that she was well taken care of, because her younger children were unconverted, then you should be willing to take less drastic steps to see your wife taken care of after you are gone.
4B. And in the case of a mother who is already widowed, the example of the Lord Jesus Christ still applies. You may have two children who want to take care of you when you are too old to live by yourself. Which should you choose? You must choose the saved over the lost, the spiritual over the unspiritual, the churchgoer over the non churchgoer, in order to emulate the Savior and in order to testify to the child who is unconverted that he is not fit to tend to you in your old age. He simply does not meet the spiritual qualifications, no matter how well off he is financially.
5B. When mom gets older and going to church is more difficult for those old bones and joints, she needs to live with the son or daughter who loves God, who lifts up Christ, who attends church, or her physical limitations will hinder her spiritual vitality. If she lives with her spiritually vigorous child she may see her unconverted child reached for Christ’s sake. But if she lives with the lost child she will only be an accessory to the crime of convincing the lost child that he is okay, that he is not so bad (He’s good enough to take care of his mom, isn’t he?), and thus the likelihood that he will be converted is thereby reduced.
6B. The great lesson that we learn from the Lord Jesus Christ’s example is that the widowed mother must be placed into the care of a disciple of Jesus Christ who can be trusted. Her spiritual welfare is simply too important to risk in the hands of those who are not presently living for Christ. And by doing so the impact that is made on the ungodly children is beneficial to seeing them come to Christ.
2A. Next, THERE IS THE COMMAND OF THE LAW TO HONOR YOUR MOTHER
Exodus 20.12: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
Since this is Mother’s Day, let us focus our attention on adult children honoring their mothers, setting aside for now considerations of honoring fathers.
1B. Allow me, if I may, to speak to mothers for just a few moments.
1C. Mom? I dare say that I am the only preacher your children have ever heard who emphasizes that they should honor you in your old age, making sure that you are properly taken care of by your children. This is what God commands them to do and this is what I urge them to do.
2C. But let us face the cold and brutal realities of life, mom. Unless you are a very unusual mother, you did not raise your children to recognize their responsibility before God to honor you in your old age. Or, if you tried to raise them in this way, ask yourself if you have you been successful in training your children to honor you by taking care of you in your old age?
3C. While most adult children do not want to take care of mom, especially if it requires mom living with them, I know a woman with eight grown children, each of whom would absolutely love for her to live with them. Her secret? Her children not only want to honor her, she is honorable as a mother.
4C. To be sure, your children are commanded by God to honor you. And honoring you does not end when your children reach adulthood and are no longer obligated to obey your commands. They are to treat you with courtesy, dignity, and respect so long as you live.
5C. But should you live with your child, mom, you must remember that the relationship has changed. It is no longer your home that your child is living in, but your child’s home that you are living in. Therefore, your entire approach to your adult child, everything about your relationship, must change considerably from the way it was before your child reached adulthood.
6C. Your willingness to show respect toward the adult child who honors you, your willingness to make it as easy as possible for your child’s family to have an aged and honored member of the family live with them, will show whether or not you are an honorable woman, making it as easy as you can for your child and your child’s family to honor you.
7C. Though there were a few bumps in the road from time to time, the key (in my opinion) to Jane Johnson’s son and daughter in law treating her like a queen while she lived with them, before her home going, was her recognizing that she was a guest in their home, that she no longer had the right to order her adult son around like she had done with he was a child, and her spirit of humility and gratefulness toward them for doing what most widow’s children are unwilling to do.
2B. Now, let me speak to you sons and daughters for a moment or two.
1C. You have an obligation before God to honor your widowed mother. She may be easy to live with or difficult to live with, but your obligation remains the same. Your mother may be sweet and respectful, or imperious and demanding, but your obligation remains the same. Your mom may be wise enough to make herself easy to live with, or she may be a foolish old woman who makes it hard for people to live with her, but your obligation remains the same.
2C. There may be times when you have to speak to your mother directly and seriously, but you should still be committed to honoring her. She may not be an honorable woman, making it doubly difficult to do right by her, but your obligation remains the same.
3C. Some widows do not seem wise enough to realize where they would be without their children, so they treat their sons and daughters disrespectfully, making life in their home a living Hell. But it is still your obligation to honor your mother, even if she is a wicked old woman who refuses to be sweet and amiable.
3A. Finally, THERE IS THE CAUTION THAT CHILDREN OUGHT NOT TO LAY UP FOR THEIR PARENTS, BUT THE PARENTS FOR THEIR CHILDREN
Second Corinthians 12.14: “Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.”
1B. In this verse Paul, as a spiritual father dealing with his spiritual children, reassures them by making reference to a principle known to them all, that it is not the child’s obligation to lay up for the parents. Rather, it is the parent’s obligation to lay up for the children.
2B. My friends, this does not mean that children should never take care of their parents. But it does mean that such is not the general approach to life that should be taken. And it suggests that any care that children render to their parents should be delayed until the children have reached adulthood, established their own home, and have reared their own children, or have gotten a good start to rearing their own children.
3B. The caution that I leave you with at this point, has to do with children who want to do right by their parents, who feel a holy obligation to look after them in their old age, but who are not yet sufficiently established in their own lives to take care of their parents without doing themselves great harm in the long run.
4B. We must be wise in our decisions to make sure that no premature steps are taken that might cripple a child’s long term ability to honor his mother. For example: I would tend to discourage a child working a full time job to take care of mom until after he has graduated college and gotten married, otherwise the natural order of things is disrupted. Another example: I would discourage an unmarried daughter from taking care of her parents, because the natural order of things is disrupted.
5B. Aging parents, a widow, need to hold out as long as they can before allowing their children to step in to take care of them. They need to be selfless. They need to lower their standard of living. They need to live in smaller and smaller apartments, until that son or perhaps that daughter is properly established, to more easily take care of mom in her old age.
6B. It may be that children will protest and tell you that they want to take care of you. That’s commendable. But they are not wise, and you should show them that you are not selfishly taking advantage of them by declining their offer until their education is complete, until their family is established, until it is really the right time for you to be taken care of.
1. Mom, this is your day, and my intention with this message is to do far more than honor you and make you feel good. My design has been to recommend necessary steps to make sure you are taken care of when you are old and infirm.
2. Do not feel threatened by what I have recommended, for these are only recommendations. But they are recommendations that are based on almost 30 years of observations, and based upon so many people that I love and care about not being properly prepared.
3. Mom? Make the education of your children the second most important thing, after their conversion. Teach them, train them, coerce them, cajole them, but do whatever you can to persuade them to obtain a college education after they graduate from high school, and to not even consider marrying until after they graduate from college.
4. You see, if your kids are not converted they will have little interest in honoring you. And if they are not well educated they will have little ability, they will be short of the means, to honor you by taking care of you in your old age.
5. Do not allow your children to repeat the mistakes that you made, by not getting a good education, by getting married before you went to college. While it is true that some people can get married and then complete college, most people are not as tough as Dr. French is, and once they get married they never complete their education.
6. In short, let us conspire together to make sure that our mothers are taken care of in their old age, if need so require. But let us at the same time discourage our children from doing things prematurely that will hinder their ability to properly honor their mothers. They should not marry before they complete their education. Neither should they come to their parent’s rescue too soon, which is to say before they complete their education, before they marry, before they are somewhat established.
7. Good things and honorable things need to be done . . . but at the right time, so those things can really be done in the right way.
 Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), vol 3, pages 237-242