A Cry of CompassionPastor Lutzer | March 11, 2001
Selected highlights from this sermon
While Jesus was hanging on the cross, He was thinking about others. As Pastor Lutzer takes us through the third cry from the cross, we’ll learn about those who were at the crucifixion and what it meant to them—from Mary, the mother of Jesus, to Mary Magdalene, to John, to the soldiers standing nearby.
But what does the cross mean to us? To find out, we need to stand at the cross, and let it speak to us.
Samuel Johnson once said that nothing focuses the mind like the knowledge that one is to be hanged. If you knew that you were to be hung, your mind would be very focused. And the last thing that we would expect from someone who knows that he is to be hung is to be concerned about others. We would expect his thoughts to be totally self-absorbed just before he goes into eternity.
But isn’t it interesting that Jesus, on the cross hanging there, thinks about others. William Barclay says 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 would be taken away.
And so it is. There are four women that are at the cross and one disciple. And the story is recorded for us in the 19th chapter of John’s Gospel. I want you to turn to that—John, chapter 19 where there is this short segment in the saga of Jesus Christ’s death.
John 19, verse 25: “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister (that would be Salome who is actually the mother of James and John), Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (That’s four women.) 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.”
As of a result of today’s message I think we are going to see that the closer that we get to the cross, the more sense of responsibility that we have. The more we get to the cross, the closer we come, we will see that the cross reveals to us who we really are, and we’ll see that in these personages we, in effect, see ourselves, because once you are confronted with the cross of Jesus Christ you cannot remain neutral. The cross will do something in you and for you, either softening your heart that you might be drawn to the Savior, or making it harder as you turn away.
What we’d like to do in the next moments is to simply look at the personages, the three people who are involved in this third cry from the cross. As you know, this is a series of messages entitled Cries from the Cross. We’ve analyzed the words of Jesus when He made that remarkable statement: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Last time we were looking at the thief on the cross when Jesus said those remarkable words: “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.”
And now we come to the third word, the third cry, when He said, “Dear woman, here is your son, here is your mother.” First of all, we begin looking at the mother. We look at Mary, the mother of Jesus. We see first of all, and we are reminded of the fact that as she stands here a prophecy is being fulfilled. You’ll recall that when Jesus was a little boy, eight days old, He was taken into the temple in Jerusalem. And Simeon held Him in his hands, and Simeon made this remarkable statement. He said to Mary, “A sword shall pierce your own heart also so that the thoughts of many people shall be revealed,” and we look at Mary’s life and we can see that the sword pierced her heart on many occasions.
First of all, we think of the time when the innocent boys near Bethlehem (the children) were massacred. You remember Herod was so angry because he was threatened by this king who was born in Bethlehem, that he ordered his soldiers to go into homes and mercilessly kill any infant boy two years of age and under, and it says that throughout the whole Bethlehem area there was this cry. Rachel, symbolic of the mothers of Bethlehem, crying for their little ones. You mothers can relate, and Mary knew in her heart that it was because of her son that this was happening. Surely, yes, she did not do the evil, but it was the birth of her son that caused Herod’s insecurity and his anger. And I’m sure that it hurt her deeply.
And then we think of the time when the sword came to Mary when some of the sarcastic remarks were made about the birth of Jesus, when the Pharisees said, “We were not born of fornication,” implying that Christ was.
Some people dispute it, but it’s certainly possible that there were various whispers going on regarding the birth of Jesus, how that the conception occurred before Joseph married her, and so there was always this implication that somehow Jesus Christ’s birth was not legitimate. And Mary knew the truth, but she also had to endure the shame.
And then we think of Jesus and His ministry. She knew that her son was perfect, which incidentally leads to some interesting speculation regarding what it must have been like to rear a perfect child. I know this that we as parents (I’m speaking of the Lutzer’s.) did not have that privilege, but Mary did. And what does that mean in terms of the relationship with the other half brothers that Jesus had? And they are listed for us in the New Testament. And so Mary knew all that, and yet she saw her son reviled, scorned, misunderstood. All of those things took place, and she had to endure it.
And now suddenly at the cross the sword finally reached its most sensitive target. It was as if the sword went into her heart and divided it. Here she is now in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ as He is dying on the cross. She saw the beatings. She saw the groans. She heard all of the things that were being said. And now, mothers, think of this. She had to endure her son being crucified.
How can we begin to visualize it? She saw the crown of thorns, but she could not remove it. She saw the nails in his hands, but she could not pull them out. She saw the lacerations of his body, but she could not put salve in those wounds. She heard the cries and the tauntings and the jeers and the ridicule. She heard all that but she could not silence the crowd, and there she stood. I like what the text says in verse 19. It says that she stood near the cross. She was standing there. She didn’t swoon. She didn’t faint, though that would not have been wrong. The simple fact is she was there for her Son.
Now, I think that she might have been able to save Him. She might have been able to go to the authorities and, as a mother, plead for mercy. In fact, she might have even said, “You know really he’s insane.” She could have maybe used that argument, that he’s insane, that don’t take his words seriously. And perhaps she’d have been able to work sympathy and rescue her son with whatever it would take. But I’ll tell you Mary was a wiser woman than that. She did not want to interfere with the divine mystery. She knew that there was something happening on that cross, and that she herself was being redeemed.
Perhaps also she entertained the hope that at some point He would be able to come down from the cross. She knew that He had ten thousand angels at His disposal. He could have spoken the word. He could have come down from the cross. Maybe somehow in the end He would not die, but I want you to know that when He turned to her and said, “Woman…” You’ll notice it there in the text. “Dear woman, here is your son.” And He was not referring to Himself. He was referring to John, and here, as He looked at John, “Here’s your mother,” she knew then that He was preparing her for the final exit, as He would die.
And Jesus, in doing this was saying, in effect, that the earthly ties were over, and the brand new heavenly arrangement was about to begin. He would no longer be her Son. From now on He would be her Savior. And she did need to be saved, even as she said in the Magnificat, “I rejoice in God my Savior.” So the first person we look at is none other than Mary, the mother of Christ.
Now we look at Jesus. I entitle this “The Son’s Example.” Here He is. He is writhing on the cross. He is mindful of the great sorrow that He has caused His mother. He is mindful of the distress that she has been under because raising Him was not easy in light of all the criticism, and in light of the persecution that the family received. And now He speaks to her and He says to her, “Dear woman.” He calls her woman (not out of disrespect), the very same thing He did at the wedding of Cana of Galilee. He said, “Woman, what I have to do with thee? My hour is not yet come.”
But Jesus never called Mary mother. It’s never been recorded in the Bible. It’s simply not there that He called her mother. Now, John says that Mary was the mother of Jesus, and we know what we mean when we say that she was the mother of Jesus, but Jesus Himself never calls her mother, because I think He wants to distinguish between the fact that He is a heavenly son and she is an earthly mother. And even though she gave birth to Him, she most assuredly did not give birth to the divine nature. That was the gift of God that was implanted within her so that she gave birth, as it were, to the humanness of Christ. But the divine nature was a part of Jesus, since He was a baby. That’s the miracle of the virgin birth. That’s the miracle of this conception, so she is not the mother of God in the sense that somehow she gave birth to God. But she did give birth to a child who was indeed God, a very God. It’s an important distinction.
And maybe Jesus, as He looks through the corridors of time, knows that there is going to be a time when Mary is going to be exalted far above any role that she would play biblically. And so in order to guard against some of the excesses that would eventually take place, Jesus never does call her mother, but He turns to her and says, “Dear woman.” Now, of course, it was the responsibility of the first-born son to take are of his mother, and he takes care of her to the very end. This is His last will and testament.
Now, I have a question for you. Why does He entrust His mother into the hands of John rather than some of His half-brothers? And Jesus did have brothers. They are listed for us in Matthew 13:55. They are named as James and Joseph, and Simeon, and even the name Judas, to be sharply distinguished between that and one of Jesus Christ’s disciples. The name Judas was very popular in those days. It was as popular as the name John is today. Now because of what Judas, the disciple, did, people don’t name their child Judas, and therefore we are not very acquainted with the name.
But the simple fact is that Jesus has these brothers. Why were they not entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of Mary? I think the answer is in John, chapter 7 where Jesus is going up to the feast in Jerusalem, and it says, “Neither did his brothers believe in him.” Can you believe that? You know the Bible has to be the Word of God because if we were to work out a story of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, we wouldn’t have written it that way. We’d have said that His brothers very much believed on Him because they saw Him at close range. But they didn’t believe on Him until after the resurrection.
And we read in the book of Acts, chapter 1, as they are in the Upper Room now, as the 120 are gathered, it says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the woman, and Mary, the mother of Jesus with his brothers.” They accepted Jesus Christ, their half-brother, as the Messiah, after the Resurrection. And so you have Jesus as our example, as He’s thinking about His mother, and concerned about her, and entrusting her to John.
So we’ve looked at a mother’s love. We’ve looked at a son’s example, and now let us look at the disciples’ responsibility, and I’m thinking here, of course, of John. Now the Bible says that when Jesus was taken into custody, all the disciples forsook Him and fled (all of them) and that includes John. And there was a divine prediction that was, in a sense, fulfilled when that happened because it says in Isaiah, speaking of Christ, “I have trodden the winepress alone.” There’s a sense in which when the agony began Jesus had to be alone. And, of course, we know that in the end He really did endure everything alone. People could offer Him sympathy, but there was no way they could participate in His suffering. Mary, and I’m sure John, too, would have given anything if they could have traded places with Jesus, but that was impossible. There was no way that they could participate in the redemption of the world.
And so all the disciples forsook Him and fled, but John came back. To his everlasting credit he did because he is mentioned here, of course, in the passage of Scripture that we read in the 19th chapter of the book of John. They were offended because of Christ and so they left. The Greek word is scandalized. They were scandalized because of Him.
Years later Jesus and John are going to meet because you remember the story of how on the Isle of Patmos John was going to receive this revelation, and it is the revelation of Jesus Christ. And he’s going to see Jesus in all of His glory. He’s going to see Jesus in His strength and in His might. In fact, His face shone like the sun, we read. But now he has the responsibility of taking care of his mother.
You know, it is interesting that when the resurrection occurred the Bible says that Peter and John ran into the tomb, and they looked around, and John believed. John believed. He finally grasped it. And then it says the disciples went to their own homes. You know what that means. That means that John would have hurried back home, and he’d have told Mary that her son was risen from the dead.
And so John now has the responsibility, does he not? He has to take into account all that Jesus Christ has asked him to do. “Behold your son. Behold your mother.” And the Bible says from that time on this disciple took her into his own home.
Now we’ve sketched the picture. What I want us to do in our imaginations and in our hearts is to come closer to the cross. Let us stand there. Let us look at the people that are near the cross. Let us take away all of the things that distract us and let us come and stand with those who stood close to Jesus. What does the cross teach us? What does the cross mean to us? And now I’m speaking to you personally. What does the cross mean to you?
If we were to speak to John, John would say, “To me the cross is a place of responsibility, because I was given the responsibility to take care of Mary.”
Let me ask you a question. If you had been asked to do that (Let’s suppose that Jesus would have asked you to take care of Mary), would you have done it? You say, “Of course.” If we could have taken care of Mary we would have done anything to be able to take care of her. Well, I want you to know today that we have that privilege every single day of our lives. You see, Jesus said, “As I am sent into the world, so you also are sent into the world.” He makes that statement. And one day, the Scripture says, some people were standing around and they were trying to get to Him specifically. It says in the book of Mark, “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent someone to call Him. A crowd was sitting around Him and they told Him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you.’ And He said, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and He said, ‘Here is my mother my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother.’”
You know, it’s interesting that Jesus was always separating Himself, always making sure that people understood that He was the heavenly Son, even though these were His earthly relatives. But what Christ is doing is He is opening up the family, and He’s saying that the family belongs to all who do the will of God. And so, in a sense, you and I have the responsibility of saying that we have the responsibility one with another, just as John was given the responsibility to take care of Mary.
Let me be very specific. There are widows in this church who need some sons to take care of them, and to help them. There are women who are single—single women, single mothers who need surrogate fathers for their children. And Jesus looks at us today and says, “The cross is a place of responsibility.” The nearer you get to the cross the more responsibility you have for others.
Years ago I read a story about a man who committed adultery, and then he married the woman with whom he was involved, divorcing his wife. And in his new marriage he had several children. And later on when he got cancer and knew that he was going to die he knew that his second wife could not take care of these children, so he actually asked his first wife if she would be the one that would take responsibility for the children of his second marriage, and she said yes. And she took care of them. And somebody said to her, “How can you do that? How can you have that much love?” And she said, “The love of God is put in our hearts in such a way that we can forgive and we can love and we can sacrifice.” It’s almost as if you think of the words of Jesus on the cross saying, “Woman, behold thy children,” and then to the children, “Children, behold thy mother.”
The cross, my friend, today, is a place of responsibility.
Who else was there at the cross? Well, I mentioned it earlier. Notice it says, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister.” That would be Salome who was the mother of James and John. If you went up to her and said, “What is the cross to you?” she’d say, “The cross to me is a place of rebuke.” Remember she’s the one who came to Jesus and said, “Is it possible for my sons to sit in your kingdom, one on the right hand and the other on the left?” It was the cry of a mother, but it was a selfish prayer actually. And now she is there at the cross and she sees the suffering of Jesus Christ, and she is rebuked in her spirit. How silly to think of things like that! How she misunderstood that you do not get to go to the crown until you have seen the cross. And she’s thinking of what Jesus was willing to endure, and His love for her. And she’s saying to herself, “How foolish I was to request special places in the Kingdom.”
I want you to know today that the cross of Jesus Christ rebukes all wrong values. The cross of Jesus Christ comes to us in our need and it destroys all of the ladder climbing and all of the desires of self-exaltation. When we stand before the cross we tremble and we say, “In light of what Jesus has done, why is it that the self-exaltation to me becomes so important?” It can’t happen if you see the cross.
In many different countries they have festivals in quasi-Christian places, and in Brazil when they were having a festival like that, there was a sign that said “Cheap Crosses for Sale,” you know, these little trinkets that you buy. Cheap crosses for sale! All of us want a cheap cross. We want to come before the cross and we want to receive forgiveness and then we want to live our lives our own way. But the cross properly understood will not allow us to do that. It rebukes us. It humbles us. It reminds us of our great need. So if we came to Salome, she would say that the cross was a place of rebuke.
Who else is at the cross? Well notice it there—Mary Magdalene.
Mary, what is the cross to you?
To me it is a place of redemption.
She’s the one who had seven demons. We don’t know what these demons were but at some point in her life she was infested by this evil that came upon her, these evil personalities that lived within her. And now she is there near the cross and she recognizes that the one who is dying there on the cross is the one who delivered her.
And there are some of you here today who need redemption. You’ve come today and you may have come to this church for many different reasons, but in your heart of hearts you know that you are struggling with evil, and you need someone to be able to speak the word and bring deliverance to your soul. And Mary Magdalene would say, “This is my redeemer. He’s the one who delivered me from evil.”
For all of us the cross is a place of responsibility. It’s a place of rebuke. It’s a place of redemption as we come there. And so I want you to notice. What about the other people who were there at the cross? Well, for some people it was a place of ridicule. You have the people looking at the face of Jesus and taunting Him and saying to Him, “He saved others. Himself He cannot save.” And so for them it was a place of ridicule.
What were the soldiers doing? It says in verse 23: “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’”
So if you ask the question, “What were the soldiers doing?” to them indeed it was a place of ridicule. It was a place of relaxation. It was a place in which they just simply ignored the cross. And some of you may fit into that category. Some of you may be here today and the cross to you is an interesting event. It’s an event that may even bring you some joy. And it’s an event that you might actually admire, but in your heart of hearts you have never responded to Jesus Christ. You have never received His redemption. And so I challenge you today to come near the cross.
We sing so glibly (Don’t we?) “Beneath the cross of Jesus, I fain would take my stand.” Let us stand there and let the cross speak to us as a place of responsibility, redemption and rebuke.
And so, who are you here at the cross? Are you a John? Are you a Mary? Are you a Salome? Are you a Mary Magdalene? No wonder Bonhoeffer said, “It is not before us but before the cross that the world trembles.” Jesus, keep me near the cross.
Let’s bow together in prayer.
And, our Father, today how grateful we are for the cross of Jesus Christ. We thank You for the thoughtfulness of Jesus who thought not of Himself but thought of others as He was on the cross. Oh, we pray today, Father, lead us near to where Jesus was. And we pray, Lord, for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior. They have never received Him. We pray that at this moment You will cause them to believe that they might be saved.
And now I’m going to just pause for a few moments, and I want you to pray, and I want you to tell God whatever it is that you need to tell Him in light of what you have heard. Who are you near the cross? You talk to Him.
Father, we do pray today in the name of Jesus that you might just grant openness of heart and honesty to all who have prayed. We pray that those who have never trusted Christ as Savior might do that, and those who know Him, oh Father, may it be there that we see our responsibility. Grant, oh Lord God, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.