Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.…
Here we see —
1. The fulfilment of the promise: "Them that honour Me, I will honour." John honoured Christ most emphatically. Consequently, Jesus applied to him the very name He had, "Son," and made him the guardian of the Virgin in His place.
2. The disinterestedness of Christ. Pain and weakness often make people peevish and irritable. Jesus was anxious about others, in spite of agony indescribable. To the very last it was true that He "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister."
3. In one sense, the words, "Behold thy mother," show how intensely human Jesus was. Of whom should a dying son think but of his mother?
4. What shall be said of Mary as she stands at the cross? Surely, if she were as great and as powerful as Popery teaches, Christ would not have committed her to the care of John. He would rather have commended John to her. Stabat Mater — the mother stands by the cross. What an impressive spectacle! She and three other women are there; John is the only man. Four women to one man — quite prophetic of Christianity's future. Behold Mary's fortitude! Despite all the horrors, we see her stand, not faint. Mary avowed herself Christ's disciple when disciples were few and enemies were many. May we do the same. The text delivers three messages.
I. ATTEND DILIGENTLY TO SECULAR DUTIES. Jesus was expiring as a martyr. But was that all? Nay. He was now offering Himself as a sacrifice for us. Yet, mark! in the midst of all He thinks of His mother, and commends her to the care of His friend. This is very significant. Preaching, singing, &c., are a small part of religion. They are chiefly means to an end — holy conduct in ordinary life. The earth has two motions: she turns on her axis, and she travels round the sun. Can the one be made a substitute for the other? We are to revolve round the Sun of Righteousness, and also on the axis of common, daily duty. Jesus Christ did not say much about theology. He taught that holiness finds itself at home anywhere. Why did He talk about fish, loaves, candles, salt, silver, &c.? To show that, save sin, "nothing is common nor unclean." Dr. Arnold said, respecting literature, that what we want is not more books on religion, but more books written in a religious spirit. A distinguished ecclesiastic, whose overwrought brain urgently needed relaxation, was once engaged in a game of chess. His companion suddenly asked, "If Christ were to come here now, what would you do?" He replied, "I would finish the game; I began it to the glory of God." A humble Christian was visited once by his pastor when he was occupied with his ordinary craft at the tan works. Offering an apology to the minister, the latter cut it short by saying, "My friend, God grant that I may so be found when the Lord shall come — found doing my duty as you are." The New Testament abounds in exhortations and encouragements to the most commonplace obligations. Husbands love your wives, &c. The world cares little for many of our theological debates. But one thing it never fails to understand and to value, namely, goodness! Let the poor and the suffering find in us ready sympathy and succour; then will men exclaim, "No man can do these works that thou dost, except God be with him."
II. TRUST THE APPOINTMENTS OF PROVIDENCE. Why did Jesus say to John, "Behold thy mother"? It seems strange that He passed over her own sons. Yes, and only seems. First, Mary's sons rejected Jesus. "Neither did His brethren believe on Him." They were out of sympathy, spiritually, both with Christ and Mary, whereas John was, heart and mind, devoted to Him. Secondly, John was in a better social position than the other apostles, and than the Lord's mother. We see, then, that what looks strange was really very wise and kind. All God's dealings are the same. If He was good at the cross, He must be good here and now. We sorely need this faith. There is much in our experience which is painfully mysterious. Why is might so often allowed to conquer right? Why do the innocent suffer for the guilty, &c.? We fully sympathize with the ancient writer who said: "When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me." Is there rest anywhere? There is. "At the feet of Jesus." Sit there. He will not remove all our perplexities. Nevertheless, be assured of this: Christ tells enough to console us, to take off the edge of our difficulties, and to render us trustful. He reveals a God so good that, if we take Christ at His word, we may be perfectly satisfied that somehow all shall yet be well. "Have faith in God," and thus "return unto thy rest, O, my soul."
III. GIVE PROFOUND HEED TO THE COUNSELS OF THE DYING. John did so. The advice of the expiring is almost invariably right and good. "Fools men may live, but fools they cannot die." The dying tell us —
1. That earthly possessions cannot satisfy us in death. Philip II. of Spain cried, "O, would God I had never reigned! O that I had lived alone with God! What doth all my glory profit, but that I have so much the more torment in death?" Albert the Good said, "I am surrounded with wealth and rank, but if I trusted only to them, I should be a miserable man." Salmasius declared, "I have lost a world of time. Oh, sirs! mind the world less and God more." Bunsen exclaimed, "My riches and experience is having known Jesus Christ. All the rest is nothing."
2. That Christ, not themselves, is the ground of their hope. Archbishop Whately, a distinguished scholar, thinker, philanthropist, replied to a friend who said to him, "You are dying as you lived, great to the last." "I am dying, as I lived, in the faith of Jesus." Another remarked, "What a blessing that your glorious intellect is unimpaired." "Do not call intellect glorious," answered Whately; "there is nothing glorious out of Christ." A third observed, "The great fortitude of your character now supports you." "He said, "No, it is not my fortitude that supports me, but my faith in Christ." May such simple but sufficient trust be ours!
(T. R. Stevenson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.