A sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Fareham, on Good Friday
22 April 2011
Text: John 19:26-27
In all the gruesome gore of the crucifixion, amidst the injustice and cruelty, and the terrible suffering and pain, John relates to us a most incongruous scene of touching affection:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, 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 19:26f.)
What a beautiful example of a son’s love for his mother. Even as He hangs on that cross dying, pushing His feet against the nails in an agonising, desperate and ultimately futile struggle for breath, He manages to show concern for the woman who brought Him into the world, ensuring that she has a home after His death.
This is what He was born for: to fulfil His duty to His mother. Scripture teaches us that this is what the incarnation of the Son of God was all about: in the fulness of time, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal 4:4–5). This meant that the Son of God, the agent of all creation, the Lord of hosts, whose mouth had spoken the law to Moses and whose finger had carved it onto the stone tablets, placed Himself in submission to it. And so Mary, by giving birth to the Son of God, was no longer another creature in the universe, but the Mother of God—to whom the Son of God was therefore submissive, as the law demanded.
Jesus kept the Law fully and perfectly to the end—and so He honoured His mother fully and perfectly to the end. While He was still free, He chastised the scribes and the Pharisees for giving themselves an excuse not to care for their parents in their need; now, on the cross, He demonstrated the full extent of what it meant to keep the Fourth Commandment, by providing for His mother after His death.
This is an excellent lesson for us on what it means to show honour to the earthly authorities God has placed on earth to govern us and to care for us. Whether it is our parents or other authorities—teachers, rulers, government, pastors, bishops—we are to honour them on account of their office, regardless of what they are like. Children are to honour and obey weak or unreasonable parents just as much as godly and reasonable ones, because they are their parents—and the same applies to all godly authorities that derive from parenthood.
If ever there was a child who could refuse to honour a mother because of her faults, it was Jesus. It was for her sins, too, that he was hanging on the cross—and yet, even as He was dying for her sins, He honoured her to the end.
However, the crucifixion of Christ is something far greater than an object lesson in obedience. While it is characteristic of the evangelist John to include small details such as this in his Gospel, it would be completely out of character to include it to make a point about our keeping of God’s law. He begins his Gospel by declaring that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
And so it is that this incongruously tender moment at the foot of the cross is in fact a demonstration of the grace and truth that Jesus brings. He kept the Law perfectly and to the end, not merely out of a sense of duty, and certainly not merely as an example for us to emulate.
He was born under the law in order to redeem those who were under the law. Jesus kept the law because we could not. He was obedient to the point of death, because we are disobedient from birth. Since Adam’s disobedience, death has ruled the world through mankind’s transgression. God’s wrath has been justly revealed against everyone born of woman since the birth of Cain, because at every point His law has been broken—every such transgression deserving punishment by death. As the sainted Dr. Franzmann writes in his great justification hymn:
In Adam we have all been one,
One huge rebellious man;
We all have fled that evening voice
That sought us as we ran.
We fled Thee, and in losing Thee
We lost our brother too;
Each singly sought and claimed his own;
Each man his brother slew.
(Lutheran Service Book 569:1–2)
But the second Adam came, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law. He did this by fulfilling all the demands of the law, every jot and tittle. He was the only man ever born of a woman who did not deserve to die, because He was perfectly obedient. And so when He died, the punishment He received was not for His own sin. And so His death could be reckoned as payment for someone else’s sins: yours and mine, and of the whole world. More than that, just as He took your disobedience and nailed it to the cross on Calvary, He now gives His perfect obedience to you as a gift. What’s yours is His, and what’s His is yours. Your sin for His righteousness; His life for your death.
But that still leaves us with a problem. When Jesus cried, “It is finished!”, it really was. His work was completed on that gruesome afternoon long ago. But how do I receive today what He won for me then?
It is to this question that John is pointing us when He tells us of Jesus’ words to Mary and to the anonymous disciple. For it was not so much a case that Mary gained a new family in being taken into John’s home. After all, she had other sons than her first-born, plenty of family to take care of her in her old age. No, Jesus’ gift was to the beloved disciple: the mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, was now in his own home.
This is a beautiful image of God’s gift of grace to His disciples. It was through His mother Mary that Jesus was brought into the world. Through that earthly mother, the Word was made flesh and made His dwelling among men. It was at the breasts of Mary, and later at her table, that the Son of God was fed so that He may grow into a man who would fulfil God’s plan of salvation.
And so Mary is the most appropriate symbol and image of the spiritual mother that still keeps giving birth to sons of God by bringing Jesus into their worlds, and nourishing them for the life of Christ in them. Through Mother Church, God gives birth to children of God in the through water and the Word. It is at the breasts of that mother that those children are nourished with the spiritual milk of God’s Word, and at her table that they enjoy the food and drink of Life, growing in stature until they grow up to full manhood in Christ’s kingdom.
Mother Mary, brought Christ into the world. The spiritual mother of whom she is an image continues to bring Christ into the world through preaching and the sacraments. And in the Gospel and in the sacraments, the gifts of Calvary are being distributed to the world. It is in Baptism that the blessed exchange of our sins for His righteousness, our death for His life, takes place. It is in preaching of the Word that He kills us and makes us alive. In the Holy Supper, the body that was slain and the blood that was shed, are offered to us, uniting us with His death and His life.
And so, as the earthly Mother of Jesus once made her home with the beloved disciple, may the Holy Mother Church make her home with each of us, bringing Christ into our midst and keeping and guarding us with His gifts until we see Him face to face in His glorious kingdom.