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"For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not of ourselves."


A Series of Seven Essays
by Timothy Cross

Christ on the Cross with Mary and John by VanDerWeyden



‘Woman, behold your son!’ ...’Behold your mother!’ (John 19:27).

Aaron – God’s anointed high priest in the time of Moses – used to wear a special breastplate, onto which twelve precious stones were set. On these twelve stones the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were engraved. The whole of Israel was thus, literally, on Aaron’s heart when he went into the holy place of the tabernacle to meet with God and offer sacrifice and intercede for the people. ‘So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breast piece of judgment upon his heart, when he goes into the holy place, to bring them to continual remembrance before the LORD’ (Exodus 28:29).

When Christ, our ‘great high priest’ (Hebrews 4:14), offered up His sinless life as an atoning sacrifice at Calvary, all of God’s elect people – delineated by Jesus as ‘all whom Thou hast given Him’ (John 17:2) – were on His heart. God’s elect, chosen by Him, redeemed by Christ and sanctified by the Spirit, are ‘a great number which no man could number’ (Revelation 7:9). They transcend both the nations and the ages. Yet this great number did not detract the Saviour from a special concern for one particular person: Mary, His earthly mother.

Mary’s distress

It is likely that Joseph – Mary’s husband and Jesus’ legal guardian – died during Jesus’ childhood, for we read no more of him after the incident in Luke 2:41 ff., when the Lord was twelve years old. Mary was therefore in a vulnerable position. She lacked a husband’s support and care, and now had to endure the horror of her first-born son’s crucifixion. Whilst dying to procure the salvation of God’s elect therefore, the Lord Jesus took a moment to care for His mother, ensuring that her physical and psychological needs were undertaken for by the Apostle John. John was guided by the Holy Spirit to record this fact in His Gospel:-

‘But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother ... when Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother. ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home’ (John 19:25 ff.).

Thanks to the word of Jesus therefore, His personal agony and concern for God’s elect notwithstanding, Mary was now safely under the care and the roof of the Apostle John.

Not long after Jesus’ birth, an aged man named Simeon prophesied to Mary: ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel ... and a sword will pierce through your own soul also ...’ (Luke 2:34 ff.). Simeon’s prophecy was fulfilled at Calvary. Mary’s anguish surely was beyond human imagination. Seeing her first-born son being cruelly nailed to a plank of wood and then hung up to died, was truly akin to a sword being driven through her very soul. Knowing her plight, the Lord Jesus intervened. Even though He was suffering intensely Himself, He ensured that Mary His mother was entrusted to the care of a trusted disciple – John, the ‘beloved disciple.’ John was Jesus’ gracious provision for Mary in her hour of deepest need. Mary was now John’s responsibility.

The Law of God

The fifth commandment – part of the moral law of God, binding for all time – states: ‘Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you’ (Exodus 20:12). Of Jesus’ earthly parents, it is written of Him that ‘He ... was obedient to them’ (Luke 2:51) as a child. This incident on the cross reveals that the Saviour honoured His earthly parents up until His dying breath. Christ alone of the children of men kept the law of God fully and perfectly. It was His complete obedience to God’s law which qualified Him to redeem sinners from the curse of the law – from the dreadful and damnable consequences of disobedience to God’s law. Jesus’ life and ministry are all of a piece. He lived a sinless life and He died an atoning death. ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law having become a curse for us – for it is written ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’ (Galatians 3:13). Christ’s obedience to the law of God thus has both its active and passive facets to it. Actively, He fulfilled God’s law. Passively – on behalf of others – He suffered the curse of breaking God’s law, so that all law-breakers who believe in Him might be saved from that curse.

Christ cared for His earthly mother. Here the Redeemer gives an example to the redeemed. Calvin explains the fifth commandment:-

‘By this commandment we are instructed to exercise piety towards our fathers and mothers ... That is to say, that we are to show them respect, obedience and thankfulness, and to render to them every service possible. For it is the Lord’s will that we should act like this to those who have given us life... they have been given to us as father and mother by the Lord, who has willed that we should honour them.’ (Truth for All Time, pp. 17,18).

Forward to the resurrection

‘Woman, behold your son!’ ...’Behold your mother!’ John, as it were, now took the place of Jesus in Mary’s life. He was now Mary’s adopted son, and Mary was his adopted mother. John witnessed the Lord’s death – but John also witnessed the Lord’s resurrection three days later. Running to the tomb with Peter, he saw Christ’s undisturbed grave clothes inside: ‘the linen cloths lying’ (John 20:5). Scripture states that John ‘went in, and he saw and believed’ (John 20:8). ‘then the disciples went back to their homes’ (John 20:10). Let us put two verses side by side and put an emphasis on the common word ‘home.’

‘From that hour the disciple took her to his own home’ (John 19:27).

‘Then the disciples went back to their homes (John 20:10).

Who then was at John’s home when he returned there believing and rejoicing in Christ’s conquest of the grave? Mary was! Scripture is silent, but how could John not but exclaim that Christ’s tomb was empty and that He had risen from the dead!

In later centuries, Mary received a prominence in Christendom not sanctioned by Scripture. Scripture however does honour her as the earthly mother of the Saviour. The Saviour Himself honoured her by entrusting her earthly care to the Apostle John. The last we read of ‘Mary the mother of Jesus’ is in Acts 2:14. There we see her taking her place in the Christian community. She herself was never worshipped, rather, she joined in with the worship of the church. And the object of her and their worship was the Lord Jesus Christ – He who is both the Son of Mary and the Son of God, who died and rose again to save sinners. Jesus was Mary’s special child but also her superlative Saviour. He is also the Saviour of all who put their trust in Him.

Lord Jesus Christ
You have come to us
Born as one of us
Mary’s son
Led out to die on Calvary
Risen from death to set us free
Living Lord Jesus help us see
You are Lord

(Patrick Appleford).

Read previous essays in this series:

Preface and (I) A Word of Forgiveness

(II) A Word of Promise


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Last Update: 2016-09-01 12:11