“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, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. “– John 19:25-27
Most people who were around the cross of Jesus were expressing their contempt for Him. Religious leaders were mocking Him. Hardened, drunken Roman soldiers were gambling for His clothes. Two thieves hanging on crosses on either side of Jesus chimed in with the verbal abuses of the crowd.
Many women who followed Jesus from Galilee and ministered to Him were watching from a distance, some closer than others. Included in the group of women were Mary Magdalene (out of whom Jesus had cast 7 demons); Mary the mother of James the less and Joses; and the mother of Zebedee’s children, the apostles James and John. Judas, one of the 12 apostles, had betrayed Jesus and had committed suicide. Another of the apostles, Peter, had denied Jesus. All the 11 remaining apostles had forsaken Him and fled from Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. But Mary is standing as close as she can to the cross along with John.
When, as a teenage girl, she said “Yes!” to God’s assignment to be the mother of the Messiah, she did not realize the suffering that would accompany her unique privilege. She would be unjustly scandalized as a young woman who became pregnant before she was officially married. She didn’t know she would be forced to give birth to the Son of God in a stable and that news of her Son’s birth would trigger a massacre of babies in and around Bethlehem. Mary, her husband Joseph and her young child would need to live for a while in Egypt as refugees. At the time, she could not see that during His wonderful 3 ½ years of anointed ministry as an adult, He would be loved by some, but despised, threatened and rejected by the vast majority of His own countrymen.
The brow of Jesus she had kissed so many times when He was a little child was now bleeding profusely under a crown of sharp thorns. The hands she held when He was learning to walk were pierced with long rusty nails. His body which she had once cradled in her arms now writhed in unspeakable pain against the rough splintery wood of the cross. There is nothing she can do to silence the vicious mocking of the crowd, remove the thorns or pull out the nails or soothe His pain in any way. The whole scene, the whole atmosphere, is overwhelming. Her heart is pierced and numbed with grief. But she continues to stand right there as these moments of agony unfold.
But this is why He had come into the world. He had come to live among us to die for us. God’s perfect plan established before the foundation of the world was now being fulfilled. The perfectly just One was suffering for the unjust to bring us to God (I Peter 3:18). God’s love and justice were converging on the cross of Jesus. The perfectly righteous one was paying the penalty for sin on behalf of the unrighteous. He had to do it alone. Mary too needed the redemption her Son was now making possible for her. She cannot comprehend what is happening. But she’s not about to leave Him, she’s not running or walking away from the cross.
For a few precious moments, Jesus especially focuses on Mary His mother and John. Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, had apparently long since passed away. As the eldest Son in a single parent home, Jesus would no longer be able to care for her as He had. The nature of their relationship was about to change. Earthly ties were ending and Kingdom of God ties were beginning. She was God’s chosen earthly vessel through whom the eternal Son of God came into the world as the Son of Man. Her Son would now be her Savior!
In the midst of incomprehensible spiritual and physical suffering, Jesus gave a new assignment to Mary and to John. Mary was losing her Son, but gaining another son. John was adopting Mary as his mother.
Why was John assigned to care for the mother of Jesus? Why not one of the half-brothers or half-sisters of Jesus?
At his point, none of them were believers, none of them were at the cross. They had grown up with Jesus and it was hard for them to believe their half-brother was actually the Son of God, the Messiah, Savior of the world. John was a cousin of Jesus, who, along with his brother James, wanted to call down fire upon those who did not receive Jesus (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus had nicknamed these two apostles, “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). But John had come to an understanding of the true nature of love better than any of the other disciples. So Jesus knew John would give Mary the very best of care and that Mary needed another son to care for. “And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” John 19:27b. What wonderful assignments from the cross of Jesus!
While dying in torment on the cross, Jesus had others—actually all of us—in His mind. He asked the Father to forgive the human participants in His crucifixion who were accomplices in the most horrendous crime in human history (Luke 23:34). He assured a repentant thief that he would be with Him that very day in paradise (Luke 23:43)
Where would you have been that day? Would you have been blaspheming the Son of God among the crowd of mockers? Would you have run away from the scene, lest you incur any possible guilt by association with this man so publicly despised and condemned as a vile criminal? Would you have been gambling with the drunken Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross? Would you have been right there nailed to a cross near His? Would you have been only a curious spectator keeping a comfortable distance from such an upsetting spectacle? Or would you have stood with Mary and John, as close as you could to His cross?
From that day to today those who stay closest to His cross are given the greatest opportunities to love and to serve, to die and to live. Jesus did not miss the point of His suffering. And we dare not miss it either. It was all for the eternal benefit of others, including you and me. And so it is when we suffer for His sake. He may remove one resource for help and comfort from us, but He will give us another, in ways we would never have expected.
As those of us who are His true followers enter “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10), are no longer are we focused on our own pain or upon all the ways we are being mistreated because we belong to Christ. Rather our ears are opened to hearing His word, our eyes are opened wide to see the needs of others near us, and we are eager to complete the assignments Jesus has given us to express His love to them.