Saturday, May 13, 2023

A Mother's Journey To The Cross


    There are many wonderful examples of mothers in the Bible. What I find striking about the portrayal of certain mothers is how often their life points to the glory of the Lord. For example, the wonderful prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 illustrates the thankfulness a godly mother has for the Lord's provision of a child. In the opening chapters of Proverbs, Solomon urges his son not to forget his mother's teaching (Proverbs 1:8; 6:20). The Book of Proverbs ends with wise sayings taught to King Lemuel by his mother (Proverbs 31:1). One of Jesus' earliest miracles featured the healing of Peter's mother-in-law (Luke 4:38). In Acts 12:12, a prayer meeting was held at the home of the mother of the author of the Gospel of Mark, John Mark. If one consults an Bible concordance, there is found some 300 or so references to motherhood in the Bible. 

    The one mother I want us to focus upon today is one most familiar, Mary, the appointed mother of Jesus. The first time we hear mention of Mary is in Matthew 1:16, where Matthew writes of her “of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ”. In Luke 1:30-31, we read the words of the Holy Spirit through Luke's writing 

"The angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.'"  

    Mary’s life was used to bring forth the Author of Life in His humanity. Her life would be one centered around the cross. Furthermore, as you read about Mary, you find how quickly she recedes into the background in comparison to the centrality of Jesus in the entire sweep of the New Testament. Mary is briefly mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Book of Acts, and indirectly in Revelation 12:1-2. 

    What I want to do in this post is review some of the texts that mention Mary’s relationship to our Lord, and draw forth principles that deal with living a life centered around the cross.

1. Praise the Savior of the cross. Luke 1:46-55

    The first thing we can note about Mary is how she praised the Savior of the cross. In this first passage of Scripture, Mary paid a visit to her relative Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with a little boy we would come to know as "John the Baptist". Studies show that by six months, a baby is exhibiting all the behaviors of one outside the womb. Baby John could respond to voices by this point. It is interesting how God’s timing is such that Mary’s arrival would match with where John was developmentally. 

    As we shall see momentarily, Mary's praise of the Savior is due to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s working is mysterious isn’t it? Luke talks about the Holy Spirit 19x in Luke and 58x in Acts, making him a premier Biblical author on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. 
    Why did the baby leap in Elizabeth's womb upon hearing Mary's voice? This response was a sign of the dawning of God’s kingdom work. Psalm 8:2 reminds us

“from the mouth of infants and nursing babies you’ve ordained strength”. 

    Jesus Himself would later teach in Matthew 11:25 

“you’ve hidden these things from the intelligent and wise and revealed them to infants”.

    Once Elizabeth told Mary what was going on in her womb, Mary broke out in a Holy Spirit inspired song known as "The Magnificat". This song of Mary is so named because of the first word that appears in the Latin Vulgate's rendering of it (the word "magnificat" means "to magnify, to enlarge, to make much of"). We read of this song in Luke 1:46-55. As I reproduce it below, I'll insert headings in parenthesis to give a sense of how Mary was praising the Savior of the cross.

Luke 1:46-48 PERSON OF THE SAVIOR) And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 (POWER OF THE SAVIOR) “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. 50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. 51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. 53 “He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. 54 (PROMISE OF THE SAVIOR) “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

    Mary praised the Savior. She praised the One in her womb, who no doubt shared in the same Divine nature as the Father in Heaven, the primary focus of her praises. Although the Son, together with the Father and Holy Spirit are the One Savior God (Isaiah 43:10-11), we are reminded that the Father sent the Son to endure the cross (John 3:16; Acts 2:23-24). Remarkably, the Son of God came to share in Mary's humanity to be born the babe in Bethlehem, Jesus Christ our Lord (Matthew 1:23; John 1:14). So, we see Mary praising her Savior. 

2. Pains of the cross. Luke 2:34-35

    It is in this second point we find Mary introduced to what will become the pains of the cross. We pick up the text in Luke 2:34-35 

"And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

    I had a memory this week of when I was scarcely 4 or 5. I was a very sick boy. I had a seizure at that time, and all I recall was that I was in my mother’s 78 Malibu. I know this because the car had a red interior and I was told later that this car was newly purchased by my parents at the time. 

    Later in that same memory, I can recall a waiting room, being in a fetal position, wracked with pain, lying beside my parents. One word captures that recollection - terror. My parents said they prayed for me, and gave me up to the Lord. The doctors said it was likely I would have brain damage, since the seizure was such as to be even fatal. God, in His mercy, preserved me.

    My parents always said that children were on loan from God. The pain of having to turn over a child to God, to have Him take that little one whatever direction he has ordained, was no doubt a great test of their faith. I don’t doubt Mary felt a far greater twinge in her soul at Simeon's in his blessing over the infant Christ.

    The Christian life is described as somehow sharing in the "sufferings of Christ". These "sufferings" speak of what Jesus is currently undergoing in His present ministry of the right hand of the Father. He died once for all for sins. However, the current ministry of Jesus involves sharing in whatever sufferings Christians experience in their daily struggles to live for Him. I'm reminded of what He told Saul of Tarsus (whom later would be called "Paul") in His calling of Saul to salvation. He did not say "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my Church?". Rather, Jesus said "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me" (Acts 9:4). These "struggles" are often classed with the pattern of pain on the cross, since the Christian is called to live a life shaped by it. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you."

3. Prize the cross. Luke 2:45-52

    We have witnessed how Mary praised the Savior of the cross and felt the pains of the cross. We now observe how she would come to prize the cross. Note what we read in Luke 2:45-52 

"When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him. 46 Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. 48 When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” 49 And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them. 51 And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

    When our oldest son was dropped off for the first time at preschool over twenty years ago, it was at the time one of the post painful experiences of our lives. He was dressed in his little bib-overalls and had a little Clifford the Big Red Dog backpack. We sat out in the parking lot until he first day was done. 

    For the first four years of his life, we had seen him achieve the milestones of infancy, toddlerhood, and then preschool. We knew that it would not be the last time we would have to learn to "let go". In having raised two of our children into adulthood, and the latter two into teenage years, I can promise you, "letting go" has not come easier. 

    Such milestones are etched in our minds. Some moments we cherish, some bring tears. We read in Genesis 37:11 of how Jacob kept the matter of his son Joseph’s dream in his heart. He pondered it. He could not comprehend what it all meant. Would it bring pain? Joy? At the time he did not know. No doubt,  Mary sensed her boy’s words were freighted with much weight, of which she could not bear at that point.

    As a Christian, I must ask myself "do I prize the cross?" The cross is a paradox of unparalleled pain and joy. The pain of separation from the cares of this world and putting to death the flesh are necessary for Christian growth. The joys of knowing Jesus at a deeper level outweighs the agonies. Paul writes in Colossians 3:15-16 

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

4. Press toward the cross. John 19:25-27

    We now arrive at one of the post heart wrenching scenes in all the Bible. John writes of Mary standing at the foot of the cross in John 19:24-27 

"So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be”; this was to fulfill the Scripture: “They divided My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.” 25 Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household."

    Chuck Smith, a commentator, notes of this scene: 

“Possibly no other human agonized as much over Jesus’rejection and suffering as His mother did. This was not only because of the natural love of a mother, but also because His rejection was her rejection. Wonderfully, His vindication was hers also.”

    What is happening in this scene? Jesus here is fulfilling the Law (Exodus 20:12; Eph 6:1-3). He also was fulfilling his earthly life as a loyal son in all his household, seeing to the care of his mother to John. Only at the cross can the demands of the law and the demands of love be fulfilled. We could observe far more here, but let me hasten on to the final thought.

5. Power of the cross. Acts 1:11

    The cross, as it would turn out, meant the completion of Christ’s atoning work. It also pointed beyond itself to the empty tomb and His ascension, which would begin His current work in Heaven. The cross and empty tomb, Calvary and Easter, each support one other. 

    We have observed how Mary praised the Savior of the cross, felt the pains of the cross, prized the cross, and pressed toward the cross. It is in this final verse, which also gives us the final time we read directly of Mary in the Bible (Revelation 12:1-2, mentioned earlier, speaks of her indirectly), that we find her awaiting with the 120 in the upperoom for the promised Holy Spirit. 

    What can we say of Jesus' work of salvation? The cross of Calvary is the wondrous root, and the resurrection that glorious flower which release the sweet aroma of His presence. The root of Calvary, the cross, came to be the basis for Christ’s finished work. The resurrection, the flower, came to be the proof of the Father’s acceptance of His atoning work. We saw in this post how Mary treasured in her heart all that Jesus said as a twelve year old boy. How much she comprehended – we’re not sure. 
    Her actions in the upper room tell us at least she believed upon her Son with that Easter faith, awaiting His promise of Pentecost. She was anticipating the day she would once again see the One she once bore, and who now was bearing her. She had witnessed Him die on a cruel cross just over a month prior. Now she had the thrill of knowing He had risen from the dead, had made subsequent post-resurrection appearances, and was ascended into Heaven. 

    She drew strength from the power of the resurrection of the one she had once bore, and which now would carry her the remainder of her days. Mary's life reminds us of a life centered around the cross. Her life points to Him - and rightly so.

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