"Woman, Behold Your Son..."
As I think about our Lord’s final statements from the cross, my soul can readily identify with the words from Stuart Hine’s magnificent old hymn How Great Thou Art.
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can
take it in; that on the cross, my burden gladly bearing. He bled and died to take
away my sin.
I scarce can take it in. Yes, this concise phrase sums up how Christ’s words impact me spiritually and emotionally as He made the ultimate sacrifice.
When He, the crucified One, lovingly forgave the ruthless Roman crucifixion detail, I am moved first to silence and then to contemplation of His call upon my life to go and live likewise. When He, the object of scorn and hatred, granted eternal hope and life to the crucified repentant thief, I am awed by His compassion in such demanding circumstances, and I am challenged to
make sure that with my life and my dying breath my focus is always on the souls of others.
I scarce can take it in ... but I do because I know these are words I, as a follower of Jesus, must know, study, and live because they are some of the most significant ever spoken by my Lord on earth. These words echo down the halls of time, seeking to shape and mold me and you into people whose lives reflect Christ to a Christless world.
From 9 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. on that fateful Passover morning, Jesus taught us through His words how to walk in a way designed to give the Father glory and to impact souls for eternity. At high noon, the gospel writers tell us a thick darkness fell over the land until 3 p.m. when Jesus finally died. Just before that eerie darkness descended, when all could still see what
was going on atop the hill called Golgotha, John introduces us to Christ’s third statement:
The Seven Last Statements of Jesus Christ Part 3
“But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister,
Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His
mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother,
‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ From that hour the disciple took her into his own household” (John 19:25-27).
Please, focus your mind on the windswept, skull-like hill north of Jerusalem.
• As the soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross, four women and one man stood watching with eyes swelled with tears.
• As the soldiers gambled greedily and laughingly for Christ’s meager clothes, four women and one man stood watching with eyes swelled with tears.
• As religious leaders paraded by like strutting peacocks and insulted the Messiah
repeatedly, four women and one man stood watching with eyes swelled with tears.
• As even the thieves Jesus was crucified mocked Him repeatedly, four women and one man stood watching with eyes swelled with tears.
• As Jesus forgave the soldiers, four women and one man stood amazed at His grace.
• As one thief later begged for divine mercy, four women and one man were comforted by His compassion.
Who were the four women? Putting together the information from parallel gospel accounts we get this possible identification (Note: there is much debate in the scholarly world as to the exact identification. For further study about the views, read William Hendricksen, The New Testament Commentary, John: 430-431).
• Mary, the mother of Jesus.
• Salome, the sister of Mary, wife of Zebedee (Matt. 27:56), and mother of James and John,
who were two members of Christ’s inner three.
• Mary, the wife of Clopas.
• Mary Magdalene, of whom Christ cast out the seven demonic spirits (mark 16:9; Luke
Four hurting women, from a grieving gray-haired mother to dear family members and friends, stood close enough to the cross that Jesus could see them and speak to them. Imagine their collective pain. Imagine their sorrow as they watched life ebb from His body. Imagine their feelings of utter hopelessness as He hung there. Imagine their despair that the wonder of His life was over.
Along with this small intimate group of courageous female believers, was one man. John, the faithful friend of Jesus. John, the disciple Jesus loved deeply as a saint. I must ask the question: Where were all of the other ten disciples? Answer: They were offended by the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of their Master. Jesus prophesied this would occur, and it did:
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is
written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be
scattered’” (Matthew 26).
Scattered they were, all except one of them, John. He stood by his friend, by His Lord to the bitter end, regardless of the personal cost. He dared not let his Lord and Master die alone, abandoned. No, he put his own life on the line, along with the women, the make sure Jesus felt their love and support at the most difficult time in His earthly life and ministry. What a friendship. Might your life be full of friends like this. Might you be a friend like them to others no matter the price you have to pay.
As this small group stood almost motionless near the foot of the cross, something most amazing and moving occurred. Jesus, once again, showed why He was, and is, the perfect God-Man, the perfect sacrifice, and the true Messiah.
After three hours on the cross, pain screamed throughout His body. Wounds pulsated and throbbed. Blood was caked on His skin from prior beatings. He couldn’t move His hands to back the crown of thorns out of His skull slightly to give Him some relief. No position He sought gave Him any relief but only served to maximize the agony. Teeth clinching cramps arrested His attention as His fatigued muscles anticipated the inevitable. And every upward push against the nail in his feet so He could get a small breath, only burned beyond measure. He
was dying and He knew it was only going to get worse at high noon, when in the darkness He would bear the full weight of all the world alone.
However, even in this sad state, Jesus, showed He was perfectly in control. His words to His mother not only catch us off guard, but show us the depth and breadth of His compassion. In between one of those awful gasps for air, He made the most moving, instructive statement:
“Woman, behold, your son!” (John 19:26). In Greek, “Γύναι, ἰδοὺ ὁ υἱός σου.”
When getting a couple of words out was sheer agony, Jesus mustered the inner strength and spoke directly to His beloved mother, Mary. How these words must have touched and torn at her heart. How her eyes must have lit up to hear His voice. The same deep, strong voice which used to call her mom around the carpenter’s shop, now calls her woman. Why?
The first time Jesus ever called His mother, woman, was at His first miracle in Cana of Galilee, when He turned the water into wine (John 2). It is most fitting John is the only gospel writer who mentions Jesus calling His mother by this term, because John’s purpose is to present Jesus as absolute deity. Therefore, by calling Mary, woman instead of mother, Jesus taught here, along with all the other believers assembled on the hill that day, He must not be seen as an
earthly son primarily but as the Lord, as the Savior of the World.
Comfort is, also, built into this. How so? As Mary began to wrap her heart and mind around the fact that her son, the Messiah, had to die for the sins of the world as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 53), she would be better equipped to accept what was happening to Him. Now do you begin to see just how wonderful Jesus’ words are here? Christ taught us how to live as life ebbed from his body.
My father did the same thing. Even though brain cancer stripped him of all human decency, even though the disease made bodily functions difficult and demanding, he still showed love, respect, and compassion for all the young nurses who attended to him. Early one morning I dropped by the convalescent hospital on my way to work to see how he was doing. As I walked into his room, a young nurse was working at making his bed.
“Good morning,” she said, “Your father is in the bathroom, so you can take a seat and wait for him.”
Sitting down in the quiet of his room, I watched as she dutifully made his bed. With each pull and tuck I thought I heard her crying, so I asked, “Are you OK?"
“Yes, I’m fine. I just wish I had a dad like your dad,” she remarked with tears rolling down her young cheeks.
“How so?” I asked.
“Well, some people come in here and say they are Christians, and I just don’t see it in how they treat me. But your dad, he is the real deal. He is Christ to all of us whenever we come in here. He speaks to us with love and respect and he wants to know about our lives.”
I started crying because of why she was crying. Even with death on the near horizon my earthly father taught me how to live for the heavenly Father.
Turning His attention to John, He continues to educate them, and us, regarding how we are to live until He calls us home:
“Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ From that hour the disciple
took her into his own household.”
What just occurred? Jesus entrusted the care of His mother to John, who very well could have been his cousin, plus His friend. Where was Jesus’ father, Joseph? The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is probably correct with this assertion about him:
“As no mention is made of Joseph in the later parts of the Gospels where they
Holy family is referred to (compare Mt 12:46; Lk 8:19), it is commonly supposed
that he died before the commencement of the public ministry of Christ” (ISBE:
Further, since Joseph drops from the historical scene after Christ’s visit to Jerusalem when he was around 12 years old (Luke 2:41ff), it is probable he died sometime during Christ’s teenage years, leaving Jesus, the eldest son (and the other boys: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, Matt. 13:35), to run the family and care for His widowed mother. She leaned heavily on him when the unthinkable happened at such a young age for a husband and father. And Jesus did what any
son, especially a firstborn son would do in that situation. He stepped into the gap and did what a man had to do to car for his mother and his siblings.
I remember when my mother’s father, my grandpa, Dorsey, died from brain cancer at 55 years of age, leaving my poor grandmother, Islare, with access to his Southern Pacific Railroad retirement funds until she was sixty-five. At this tragic moment in her life she was only 52. After his funeral, which was the first funeral I ever attended, she came over to me at my mother’s house, put her arm around me, and said as she hugged me, “No, Marty, you are my little man.” I knew what that meant, and I was her little man for the next six years until I left for college at 18.
With the sinister shadow of death is approaching, Jesus is still thinking not about
Himself, but about His mother. Think of it. He said in His Sermon on the Mount that His goal was to fulfill all of the Law of Moses (Matt. 5:17-18), and even in this care for His widowed mother fulfillment was achieved. The Mosaic Law stressed Israel’s spiritual obligation to care for the less fortunate, especially widows.
“When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the
field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and
for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of
your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs
again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow” (Deut. 24)
Commandments like this are woven like a beautiful thread all through Deuteronomy (Deut. 10:18; 14:29; 26:12, 13; 27:19). Widows have a special place in God’s heart. Therefore, it is no wonder that some of Jesus’ final words are in direct fulfillment of how His followers were instructed to treat the less fortunate and more financially fragile among us. By making this statement, He not only fulfilled the Law, He showed utmost compassion, care, and love to the mother who had born Him. What a Savior! Even as He battled all the forces of darkness, even as He bore all of our collective sin, He kept His life focused on the things which mattered most, namely, the care of His widowed mother. Makes you want to ask yourself a personal question if your mother is a widow: Do I really take care of my mother? Am I standing in the gap for her and her needs? Caring for her is what Christianity is all about.
John’s response to our Lord’s request is most admirable and educational. He didn’t make excuses as to why he couldn’t take her in. He didn’t say he’d do it until they could find her a permanent place. On the contrary, from the moment Jesus asked for the help of His friend, John gave it to Him until he died. No questions asked. He stepped into a dysfunctional family which had abandoned their mother, most likely because of her acceptance of their sibling as the
Messiah, and at that moment became Christ to her .... No matter what it cost him. Mary would now be treated as his mother. He would make sure she had a roof over her head, food on her table, clothes on her back, and loving people in her life.
How can you hear all of this and not be touched beyond measure? We all have parents, and many of us in our lifetimes will live to have either a widower or a widow as a parent. The Baby Boomer generation knows this family dynamic more than any other generation in our country. And this group of people, me included, is given words by Jesus designed to show us how God expects us to treat these significant, economically brittle people. Despite what is occurring in our lives, be it good or bad, favorable or unfavorable, we are to think less of ourselves and more about them. We are to permit nothing or no one to pull us away from our God-given responsibility to make sure their needs are met 24/7. And if we are called by dire life circumstances to be “John” to someone else’s mother, then let it be so to the glory and adoration of the Father. To live as such is to live like Christ.
When a hurricane hit South Florida, Norena's home was one of many that was severely damaged. The elderly woman received an insurance settlement, and the repair work began. However, when the money ran out, so did the contractor, leaving an unfinished home with no electricity. Norena has been living without power ever since.
The astounding part of this story is that the hurricane was not Katrina, a Category 5 storm which hit the Gulf coast in 2005, but Andrew. Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992. Norena has been living in that dark, unfinished house for 15 years. No heat when the winter chill settled over South Florida. No air conditioning when the mercury climbed into the 90's and the humidity clung to 100 percent. Not one hot shower. Without money to finish the repairs, Norena just got by with a small lamp and a single burner. Her neighbors didn't seem to notice the absence of power. Acting on a tip, the mayor of Miami-Dade got involved. It only took a few hours of work by electrical contractor Kent Crook to return power to the house. CBS News says Norena plans to let the water get really hot, and then take her first
bubble bath in a decade and a half. "It's hard to describe having [the electricity] ...to switch on," she said. "It's overwhelming."
After I read that story, I couldn’t help but ask myself: “Where were Norena’s children?” Did they desert her? Sure, she might have been childless, or out-lived them. But chances are good she has children. And even if she didn’t, you mean nobody else paid this old woman any attention? Really, no one else who lived around here was privy to her special need? No one?
This story gives me a spiritual snapshot on the lay of our land. There are probably
numerous Norenas out there, maybe right next door to you, or a few doors down, who desperately need someone to be Christ to them. They might be unable to help themselves. That is why they need you. But you need to slow down for just a moment to see their need. Will you?
Christ slowed down, didn’t He? He slowed down the entire process of becoming our Sin-substitute just so He could care for a lonely, hurting widow. His mother. Believe me, there is nothing nobler in the world than for a son or a daughter to honor their parent. Likewise, there is nothing nobler than for a person to show honor to someone else’s parent by stepping up to the plate and being ready and willing to care for them.
As we think about these words of Jesus, is it any wonder we sing with all our might the well-worn hymn How Great Thou Art? We sing it because Jesus is, indeed, great ... great in how He taught us to live even as momentary darkness descended. And how are we to live? We are to selflessly and lovingly be present to care for the parent left behind. With 4,900 mothers and/or fathers dying daily, I’d dare say the Baby Boomer generation has a tall order from the Lord, don’t we? As Jesus made sure his mother was cared for, we, too, must do everything with our power to do the same. Will you? Do you?
I remember being called to a rest home late one night. A nurse at the facility went
through her list of local pastors seeking to find one to come and be with a dying old woman. At some point, she rang my number, and I agreed to come and stand next to the bedside of a woman I’d never met.
When I arrived, the nurse ushered me into the room. The woman’s body was clearly shutting down, and her breathing couldn’t have been more labored. Standing near the foot of her bed was a man, her only son. I introduced myself, offered a prayer for her, and together we stood there in the dim light until she slipped into eternity.
Not long after her last earthly breath, he quickly left the room, never to return. A nurse came in shortly after his exit to attend to his mother. As she prepared for the body to be moved, she looked at me and made the most startling statement.
“Pastor, you know that man who was just here?” she asked.
“Yes, this woman’s son,” I replied.
“Well, it is the saddest thing, but this is the first time in twelve years he ever came to visit her. Once he checked her into this place, he never came to see her . . . until tonight when she was comatose and didn’t know he was in the room. That happens a lot in this place.”
I resolved that night to never be that man. Christ’s words and lofty example also serve to solidify my commitment to care for others, especially those in my family who are looking for someone to be Christ’s hands and feet to them.
What greater, godlier thing, can you do this Passion season than commit to care for those in need in your life?