“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!”
Already approximately two hours had the Lord spent on the cross!
During this time He had spoken what is known as the first two crosswords. Almost immediately as they were pounding the nails into His blessed hands and feet, He uttered the first word: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And a little later, He uttered the second, a promise of salvation to a dying thief; “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” In the midst of a tumultuous mob which cursed and mocked and derided Him, He took time out to assure one of His chosen ones of his blessed estate.
But now it seemed that the confusion and tumult had subsided a little. The soldiers had seated themselves near the foot of the cross, while the people with their rulers were gathered into little groups and scattered on Golgotha’s crest, only to wait for the end, which they expected was very near.
Almost unnoticed by the now quieted mob, there appears another little group, slowly making their way to the cross and the crucified Saviour. One of them was the disciple whom Jesus loved. John, the beloved, had been very near to Jesus throughout His trial and suffering. It was he who had followed within the palace of Annas and Caiaphas, where he had witnessed the testimony of the false witnesses and observed the mockery and suffering imposed upon Jesus. He was there also when the Lord was brought before Pilate, and he heard the final verdict of this representative of Roman jurisprudence. No doubt, immediately upon hearing the sentence of death, he left quickly to bring the other disciples word. They, either from fear or utter disappointment, had been absent throughout. At least, so it seems, he was absent from the scene of the crucifixion for a short time, because fails to record in his gospel the first two words of the cross. Perhaps also he was intent on calling on Jesus’ mother and offering to take her to the scene of the crucifixion. The text informs us that with John there now appeared Jesus’ mother and other women, one unnamed, except to say that she was Jesus’ mother’s sister, and Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus therefore saw His mother and the disciple standing by, whom He loved, He begins to speak the third word of the cross!
Woman, behold thy son!
And to the disciple . . .
Behold thy mother!
Here, indeed, we observe the voluntary severing of all His earthly ties! A most significant act! Significant it was not only for Mary and the beloved disciple, but especially for the Lord Himself! Woman, behold thy son! This was not the first time He addressed His mother this way. We remember the incident in the early part of His ministry when He performed the first of His miracles in Cana of Galilee. At the wedding feast evidently Mary His mother was intent on seeing her Son show forth His power; and when she approached Him to inform that the supply of wine was depleted, Jesus rebuked her saying, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.” Mary was reminded not to interfere when He was about His Father’s business. Of His Father’s business He was always deeply conscious. Even at the early age of twelve, though He did not address His mother as He did at Cana and now again as in our text, He nevertheless rebuked her for what appeared to Him an interference in His Father’s business, when He said: “Wist ye not that I must be about by Father’s business?”
Could it be that now again the Lord interprets Mary’s appearance at the cross in terms of interference with His Father’s business?
But how can that be? Could He not for once, and now of all times, address her as Mother? Can He not understand that His own flesh and blood mother would take this last precious moment to bid her Son her fondest good-bye, and if it were possible impress upon His lips her kiss of farewell? And should He not reciprocate, by informing her in no uncertain terms how much He esteemed her, and how greatly He prized her tender care from birth and her sound instruction in the fear of God? Would it not have been appropriate and normal to expect that in such a moment as this, when death was about to separate them, when a mother’s grief was so unbearable, and a Son’s suffering so intense, that each would express to the other their heart-felt sympathies, and give to each other the solace they needed?
O, indeed, the relationship between Jesus and His mother must have been very close! Was He not in every point like as we are, though without sin? And therefore, as it is in most human and earthly relationships, that of mother and son, and son and mother, especially the tie between Jesus and His mother would be very close?
So close in fact was the bond between Jesus and His mother, that if He did not at this moment sever it, He might be drawn from the path of obedience. Do the Scriptures not inform us that He was tempted like as we are, while He was the sinless One?
And this explains why Jesus at this point must abandon the normal, because He had come into the world for the express purpose to accomplish the abnormal, the miracle, the wonder of grace! Nothing may interfere, and especially the normal relationships of life!
Because Jesus is so bent on performing the Father’s business faithfully to the end, He does not even allow His mother to speak and to express her mother-love. Noticeably Mary says nothing, nor is she given an opportunity to say anything. Nor for one moment is she allowed to give vent to her human passions. While His own heart bleeds with love and compassion for His mother, the dearest possession He has on earth, He may not allow Himself to be distracted from the path of obedience.
Hence, Woman . . . !
Woman, behold thy son!
It is not I, but the young man standing next to you who is your son!
Was this word of Jesus perhaps the sword of which the aged Simeon spoke when he held the infant Jesus in his arms and predicted as he spoke to mother Mary, a sword would “pierce through thy own soul also”?
The sword that severed all earthly ties!
The tie of mother and Son, and Son and mother!
At this moment it was necessary that the Lord adhere to the doctrine which He had on several occasions taught His disciples. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” This doctrine He here applies to Himself. Not even His mother may stand in His way of attaining unto the kingdom of heaven. And if Mary will also see her Son no longer in the earthly relationship but in the light of His Lordship and Saviourhood, then she too will well understand why the earthly relation must be severed.
Woman, behold thy son!
To the disciple, Behold thy mother!
From now on this disciple whom Jesus loved will fill the place left by Jesus. Significantly we read in the words that follow the text: “And from that hour that disciple took her into his own home,” signifying that John also understood completely that Jesus had voluntarily severed His earthly ties only to transport the disciple into the responsible place He had occupied.
Thus Jesus bequeathed to His most beloved disciple His most precious earthly possession! While at the same time He revealed to him, who was most able to understand, that by His power as the Son of God He was able to rise above the sphere of human relationships, in order to accomplish His heavenly calling.
Significant also was this act of separation for Jesus!
Voluntarily He severs earthly ties in the determination to carry out His Father’s work alone! This also explains why He did it, that is, why He cut these earthly bonds.
It was the hour of darkness! When all the vials of God’s holy wrath would be poured out upon Him, when the Sin-bearer and Sacrifice of atonement which He was, must tread the wine press of the wrath of God alone. No one may succor Him in that hour! All human help, even the gentle presence of weight of the awesome price He must pay for the redemption of His people no one can help Him to bear. The fire of God’s judgment, the intensity of whose heat He will in a few moments give expression to when He cries out: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He must endure all alone. The law of God which He came to fulfill He must keep with respect to both its tables. The love of His God must be supreme, and the love of the neighbor, also the love and honor of His parent is possible only because He loves God so much that He is willing to lay down His life for all His own.
But who can understand the suffering He endured? And who can begin to comprehend the pain He suffered when that hot knife that severed His earthly bonds pierced also into His own soul? The loss He suffered in deference to the will of the Father?
Surely also this suffering was added to that He already bore as the Saviour on the cross!
We say, voluntarily He severed His earthly ties, implying that the suffering He surely felt as His mother was cut from Him, He willingly assumed, in order that He might be a perfect Mediator!
And after He has saved us, He in turn makes us also willing to forsake all things, even father and mother, husband and wife, parents and children, if necessary, in order that we also may be wholly consecrated unto God. Only so will we be able to deny ourselves, in order that He may confess us before our Father in heaven.
So, indeed, the very cross of Jesus makes us strangers to the world!