Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 8

“When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ ” John 19:26

During the global pandemic, we have experienced the pain of separation from family and friends due to COVID restrictions. Many people are feeling alone, forgotten, and uncared for. But in today’s verses from John 19, we discover a very powerful lesson that speaks to this challenge in our lives.

For the past several days, we have been looking at lasting lessons from the last day in Jesus’ life before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. These lessons include the following:

Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).

– The cross is the total expression of God’s grace to us in Christ (John 17-18a).

– The two crosses teach that God gives each of us the freedom to choose (John 19:18b).

– There is no person or language God will not use to proclaim who Jesus is (John 19:19-22).

Jesus’ garments were removed so we could wear the garments of salvation (John 19:23-24).

Today we learn that THOUGH JESUS DIED FOR THE WORLD, HE ALSO CARES DEEPLY FOR ME (John 19:25-27). The apostle John is the only gospel writer who records this next scene at the cross. Even while dying on a cross Jesus thought of others. William Barclay writes, “There is something infinitely moving in the fact that Jesus in the agony of the cross, in the moment when the salvation of the world hung in the balance, thought of the loneliness of his mother in the days when he was taken away.” 1

“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25). These four women who “stood by the cross of Jesus” contrast with the four Roman soldiers who divided Jesus’ garments (John 19:23-24). “While the soldiers behaved callously and profited immediately from Jesus’ death, the women waited faithfully and patiently for what God would do.” 2  

Might I also add that Jesus’ disciples were not present at the cross (Matthew 26:56, 75), except for the apostle John, “the disciple whom He loved” (John 19:26). Their promise to remain faithful to Christ even in death was soon abandoned when Jesus was arrested (Matthew 26:35) – which leads me to admire the faithfulness of these women all the more.

Exactly who were these women? John mentions Jesus’ “mother” first. None of the other gospel writers refer to Mary in their accounts of the cross. Imagine the ache in her heart as she watched her Son writhe in pain on the cross. No mother wants to see her child suffer such agony. “The anguish of Jesus’ mother fulfilled a prophecy of Simeon: ‘A sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2:35).” 3

Erwin Lutzer has captured what Mary might have felt as she stood before the cross:

She who had planted kisses on the brow of that little Child now saw that brow crowned with thorns. She who had held those little hands as He learned to walk now saw those hands pierced with nails. She who had cradled Him in her arms now saw Him writhing alone on the garbage dump of Jerusalem. She who loved Him at birth came to love Him even more in death.” 4

John also tells us that the “sister” of Jesus’ mother is present as well. We learn from Mark that her name is “Salome,” the wife of Zebedee and the apostle John’s mother (Mark 15:40). So she would be Jesus’ maternal aunt.

Next is “Mary the wife of Clopas,” the “mother of James the Less and of Joses [Joseph] (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40), the husband of Jesus’ mother. 6  And finally there was “Mary Magdalene,” the woman from whom Jesus “had cast seven demons” (Mark 16:9). So we have biological and spiritual family grieving as they watch Jesus suffer. They had been with Jesus in the joys of life and now they desired to be with Him in the pain of death. These faithful friends remained with Jesus when He needed them the most. “We all need – and need to be – friends like this.” 7

What happens next is amazing considering how agonizing suffering usually causes the sufferer to draw within to preserve his own life. But Jesus is no ordinary Person. Even when He is in severe pain, He is still thinking of others. “When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ ” (John 19:26). Why does Jesus wait until now to speak to His mother?

We saw in the previous picture that the Roman soldiers took Jesus’ seamless tunic undergarment and cast lots for it (John 19:23-24). Normally this tunic was given to the son by his mother. Some think that Mary gave Jesus this tunic when He left home. 8

Charles Swindoll observes that there seems to be a correlation between what the soldiers were doing (John 19:23-24) and the words of Jesus in the presence of Mary (John 19:25-27).  Swindoll writes, “Why now? She’s been there all along, watching and weeping. Why hasn’t He acknowledged or spoken to her? Could it be because of the seamless tunic? I think so. His outer garments were insignificant…. But when they touched the tunic, they touched something very near to His heart—the garment made for Him by His mother.” 9

When Jesus “saw His mother” He says to her, “Woman, behold your son!” This may be understood in the sense, “Consider him as your son to take care of you.” 10  It is interesting that Jesus never addresses Mary as His mother. He refers to her as “Woman” here and at the wedding feast in Cana (cf. John 2:4). Could it be that Jesus is reminding her that He is her Savior and not merely her Son?

Wonderful mother that she was, she nevertheless took her place with the other sinners at the foot of the cross. She was not there to aid in purchasing redemption, but she herself was being redeemed by her Son. In the lovely poem we call the Magnificat, composed after she discovered she was pregnant, she said, ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior’ (Luke 1:46–47, emphasis added). She too needed the forgiveness her Son was now purchasing.” 11

Christ knew that “the disciple whom He loved” would faithfully provide for His mother. Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:27). So John took Mary to his home “that hour,” implying that he cared for her as his own mother. He brought the one – whose soul the sword would pierce – away from the terrible scene of her Son’s suffering to the shelter of his home. John’s temporary absence may explain the lack of all the details that are recorded in the other gospels prior to the closing scene. 12

Because Jesus assigned John to care for His mother, it is assumed that Joseph, Mary’s husband had already died. Even as Jesus hung dying on a cross, then, He fulfilled His obligation to care for His widowed mother (cf. Exodus 20:12; I Timothy 5:3-8). “Jesus entrusted the well-being of His mother to John rather than to one of her biological sons because they had not yet believed in Him (see 7:5). Spiritual relationships are to take precedence over biological and physical relationships (see Matt 12:46-50).” 13  

God wants the church to support widows who are in genuine need, who have no family support, and who serve God and His people with prayers and a life that is above reproach (I Timothy 5:3-8).

This scene at the cross teaches us that while Jesus dies for the world, He still remembers the individual. As He is dying on the cross, Jesus looks at the individuals killing Him and prays, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34). While Jesus is dying for billions of people, He looks at the thief beside Him who was suffering and says, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43). As Christ hung dying an excruciatingly painful death, He looks at His mother and His beloved disciple and says, “John, you are the one to take care of My mother.”  

Christ is still the same today. He loves the world, but He also cares about me. He cares about my individual needs. He cares about my life. And He gives me the encouragement that I need.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we live in such an impersonal world where it is easy to feel all alone and forgotten. Thank You for reminding me today that You not only died for the world, but You also care about the individual. You are such an amazing Savior to show such great compassion to Your mother as You agonized on the cross. You knew You would be leaving her to return to heaven, so You provided another son to take care of her. Thank You for caring about every aspect of my life and those who are close to me. Use me, I pray, to be Your voice of compassion and love especially to those who are broken and all alone. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Erwin Lutzer, Cries from the Cross: A Journey Into the Heart of Jesus (Moody Publishers, Kindle Edition, 2002), pg. 72 cites William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: St. Andrew, 1965), pg. 299.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pp. 354-356.

3. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 691-692.

4. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pg. 76.

5. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 485, cites Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (New York: Longmans, Green, 1912), pp. 601-603.

6. Ibid.

7. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 347.

8. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pp. 72-73.

9. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pg. 73 cites Charles Swindoll, The Darkness and the Dawn: Empowered by the Tragedy and Triumph of the Cross (Nashville: Word, 2001), pp. 153-154.

10. Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg.  348.  

11. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pg. 78.

12. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, pg. 485 cites Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (New York: Longmans, Green, 1912), pp. 601-603.

13. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1824.

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 4

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” John 15:26

From Jesus’ instruction to His eleven believing disciples, we are learning how we can be effective witnesses to a hostile world. So far we have discovered we can be effective witnesses to a hostile world when we…

– Realize that we will face the same conflict with the world that Jesus did (John 15:18-19).

– Recall what Jesus has already taught us (John 15:20).

– Recognize that the world is not opposed to us personally, but to our relationship with Christ (John 15:21-25).

The fourth way to be an effective witness to a hostile world is to REMAIN IN VITAL CONTACT WITH CHRIST THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT (John 15:26-27). Jesus knew that when His disciples would be faced with the hatred of the world, they may be tempted to escape from it or remain silent about the gospel. After all, the world can be very brutal toward Christians. The world does not care about your personal well-being. Even though the world would be antagonistic to the disciples’ ministry and message, they were to bear witness of Jesus.

Christ reminds them (and us) that they would not be left alone to fulfill their responsibilities when He goes to the Father in heaven. There would be two witnesses from God to the world. Who is the first witness that Jesus mentions in verse 26? “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26). The first witness is the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches us several things about Him. He is “the Helper” (ho paraklētos) or one “called alongside to help.” 1  He is the One who will assist, empower, and encourage the disciples to be a witness for Christ in a hostile world. If we try to overcome the hostility of the world with our own strength, it will be one huge struggle laden with failure. Satan will oppose us through the world’s system and we are not wise enough or strong enough to overcome him on our own. We must abide in Jesus and yield to the Holy Spirit’s control in our lives to experience victory over the hostility of the world.

To be effective witnesses, we must remain in vital contact with Christ through His Holy Spirit and the Word. That’s why Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth.” He tells the truth about Christ through the truth of God’s Word (cf. John 14:6; 17:17). Jesus says, “He will testify of Me.” The primary ministry of the Holy Spirit is to testify about Jesus through God’s Word. The Spirit’s ministry is not to testify about Himself or you or me. His purpose is to magnify Jesus Christ! If a church or ministry is not magnifying the Person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross, it is doubtful that church or ministry is being led by the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit magnifies Jesus Christ, then His disciples should do the same.

Notice that verse 26 refers to all three Persons of the Godhead. “The Helper” or “Spirit of truth” will be sent by Jesus “from the Father,” and the Spirit will also “testify of” Jesus. The Holy Spirit will empower the second witness.

Who is the second witness? “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:27). The word “you” refers to the disciples in this context, but it also refers to all believers since that time, including you and me today. The word “also” indicates that the witness of the disciples is important. It shows that the disciples and the Spirit together would “bear witness” to Christ. The word translated “bear witness” (μαρτυρεῖτε) is a courtroom term that refers to speaking the truth. What would happen if you took the witness stand in a court of law and never said anything? The judge would hold you in contempt of the court. So this term demands that we speak the truth. Christ is saying that we are to tell the truth about Jesus, so people can be saved.  What is the truth about Jesus that saves people from an eternity in hell?

That He died for our sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:1-6). Why did Jesus have to die? Because all people have sinned against God (Romans 3:23) with their thoughts, words, and actions. Our sin separates (“death”) us from God (Romans 6:23) because God is holy and righteous and cannot be around our sin. Therefore, God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for all our sin when He died on the cross and rose from the dead, proving that He is God (Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:1-6). Jesus now invites everyone to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

Jesus is not inviting us to be baptized or go to church because He never said, “whoever is baptized or goes to church should not perish but have everlasting life.” Nor is Christ inviting us to pray every day or to live a good life because He never said, “whoever prays every day or lives a good life should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus is simply inviting us to believe or trust in Him alone because He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

No amount of our good works can save us from our sins because they are all like “dirty rags” in the sight of a holy God (Isaiah 64:6).  We must trust in Christ alone as our only hope of heaven and He will give us eternal life and a future home in heaven.

As disciples, we need God’s Spirit for empowerment and the Spirit needs us as a means of expression. Why were the disciples chosen to be witnesses? Because they “have been with” Jesus “from the beginning” of His ministry when He was baptized by John the Baptist (John 15:27; cf. 1:29ff). These men would be credible witnesses to the Person of Christ because they had been loyal to Him. They could have abandoned the Lord when persecution intensified, and they did for a short time, but then they came back to Him and He used them to change the known world.

Two things in verses 26-27 are foundational to be an effective witness for Christ. 2  First, we must clearly witness. Those of us who have been richly blessed by the grace of God for salvation are compelled to clearly share this grace with others. We must focus on the finished work of Christ on the cross as the basis of salvation (John 19:30), not our good works (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). Since salvation is a free gift (John 4:10-14; Romans 3:24; 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17), we must emphasize faith alone in Christ alone as the means of salvation (John 3:15-16, 36; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Romans 3:21-4:25; Galatians 2:16; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13; et al.), not a “faith plus” formula. The more we understand and experience the grace of God, the more passionate we will be to share the clear gospel of grace with the lost.

Second, we never witness to others alone. The Holy Spirit is always with us and in us to give us a power that is not our own. When we are afraid to speak up for Christ, He can give us the boldness we need with those who may intimidate us (cf. Acts 4:29-31). When we don’t know what to say, He can give us the words that our listeners need to hear (cf. Matthew 10:19-20). It is His responsibility to persuade people through the Word of God to believe or trust in Christ alone as their only way to heaven (John 16:7-11). But it is our responsibility to yield to His control (Ephesians 5:18).            

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for sending God the Holy Spirit from God the Father to be our Helper in witnessing to a hostile world. I never ever have to be alone when I tell others about Jesus because the Holy Spirit permanently indwells me. And when I feel afraid of what others will think, say, or do if I share Christ with them, the Spirit of truth gives me the boldness and the words to share with them unashamedly. So many times I lack insight when sharing the gospel with others, but You intervene and bring to my remembrance the truth that the listener needs to hear. Thank You Holy Spirit for the power You give to me when I yield to Your control. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 282.

2. Ibid., pg. 283.

Show me a sign for good

Show me a sign for good, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, because You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” Psalm 86:17

King David is surrounded by “a mob of violent men” who have rebelled against God and His anointed king (86:14). David appeals to God’s goodness to deliver him from those who “hate” him and want to kill him (86:15-16). He pleads with the Lord, “Show me a sign for good” (86:17a). This sign would be an indication of God’s support of David as His servant. Most likely this is a reference to God’s deliverance of David from his enemies. David wants this rescue by God to be done in front of his enemies so “they may see it and be ashamed” (86:17b). He wants them to see him getting away so they will understand that God has “helped… and comforted” him (86:17c).

Do you ever feel surrounded by those who hate both God and those who serve Him? It may be a family member, an employer, a neighbor, or a waitress at a restaurant. God is inviting you to ask Him for a sign for good so that those who oppose you may see His deliverance of you and be ashamed of what they did to you. God wants to help you and comfort you in the midst of opposition from others.

During one of our mission trips to the Philippines to preach the gospel in public schools, one particular principal of a school told our Filipino pastors that our team could not share the gospel in her school the next day. So we prayed the Lord would some how show us a sign for good. That night, this principal became sick with a very high blood pressure reading and was unable to go to school the next day. When our mission team arrived at the school that day, the teacher in charge gave our team permission to share the gospel with all the people there. God provided a sign for good not only for our team, but also for all the unsaved people at that school who were able to hear and believe the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Prayer: Precious Lord, please show me a sign of Your goodness so that those who hate me (and You) will be ashamed because of the way You are going to help me and comfort me for Your glory. I pray this sign will also benefit those who do not know Christ as their Savior. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Where do we turn for help?

1 I will lift up my eyes to the hills— from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.” Psalm 121:1-3

As we were approaching our next stop in Colorado, I was captivated by the Collegiate Mountain Range near Buena Vista. These mountains were towering over us as we motored down the mountain pass toward the next town. As I gazed at these majestic peaks, I was reminded of the Psalmist’s words that were uttered on his journey toward the mountains of Jerusalem where he would worship “the Lord Who made heaven and earth.”

Some people approach the mountains irrationally and worship what God made. Nature is the object of their worship (Romans 1:20-25). But the rational way to approach the mountains is to worship their Maker, Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17). This is what the Psalmist did as he moved toward the mountains of Jerusalem.

The Psalmist’s question in verse 1 really grabbed my attention today. “From whence comes my help?” Where do we turn for help or assistance when we face challenges on our life’s journey? We may turn to our own power and ingenuity. Some of us may turn to our friends or family. Others may turn to their horoscope or to crystals which God forbids (Deuteronomy 17:2-5; 18:10-14; Isaiah 47:12-14). But all of these options have limitations.

What is the value of turning to the Lord for help?

1. He is Strong – “The Lord, Who made heaven and earth” (121:2). The God Who made the universe in six 24-hour days certainly has the ability to help me in my time of need. He never gets tired and He never faces a problem that is greater than Him.

2. He is Stable – “He will not allow your foot to be moved” (121:3a). God knows how easy it is for us to slip into sin or discouragement. His unchanging presence and promises give us stability during seasons of change and difficulty.

3. He never Sleeps – “He who keeps you will not slumber” (121:3b).God never falls asleep on the job.He always has His eye upon you.

I am reminded of a time during WWII when the Germans were bombing London all night, every night. After one terrible attack, the people of London began to search through the rubble looking for the dead and the injured. After a while, everyone had been accounted for but one grandmother named Mrs. Smith. They searched everywhere for her and finally someone found her in her bedroom, asleep in her bed. They were shocked and asked her, “Mrs. Smith, how could you sleep with all those bombs dropping all around?” Her answer is precious. She said, “Well, the Bible says that ‘ He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.’ I decided there was no use in both of us staying up, so I just went to sleep and left it in the Lord’s hands.”

God is constantly awake to give us the stability and safety we need when we face dangers on our life’s journey. Stargazing and stones cannot give us what God can give. Our family and friends are not always there when we need them, but God is always available. Look to Him when you are in need of help. He is Someone you can always count on!