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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The Word of Affection
Text:John 19:26-27 (View)
Occasion:Easter (Good Friday)
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 26

Psalm 25:4

Hymn 25:1,3

Hymn 28:4,7

Psalm 63

Scripture reading:  John 19:1-30

Text: John 19:26-27

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

There is a saying that “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.”  That’s not a biblical saying, but it does express biblical truth.  “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”  What it means is that there is room for every kind of sinner at the foot of the cross.  All sinners are treated equally at the foot of the cross.  All who come to the cross of Christ with repentance and faith find grace and forgiveness.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what you struggle with.  If you’ve had an abortion in the past, the ground is level at the foot of the cross.  You can find grace and forgiveness.  If you struggle with same-sex attraction or have even given in to those desires, the ground is level at the foot of the cross.  There is room for you when you turn your back on your sin and look to Christ in faith.  Whether there are struggles with sexual sin, addictions, pride, whatever – the ground is level at the cross of Christ.  The Saviour on the cross is the one who can bear all the burdens of those who come to him.  No burden is too heavy, no sin too great.

With our text this morning, we are at the foot of the cross.  And we’re going to see that the ground is level here for everyone, even the mother of Jesus.  This comes in the context of what we call the third saying of our Saviour from the cross, or the third word from the cross. 

Let me first set the context for you.  Because it’s so familiar, I can be brief.  Our Lord Jesus has been handed over to the Jewish religious leaders to be crucified.  He was brought out to Golgotha and nailed to the cross.  A placard was placed over him that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  His garments were divided up amongst the Roman soldiers.  That reminds us that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, he was completely naked.  That was part of his humiliation.  Crucifixion was gory and shameful.

Around the cross was a crowd.  Some were just curious onlookers, like the people slowing down on the freeway to check out an accident.  The Roman soldiers were there – they were responsible for making sure that the crucifixion happened properly.  They were in charge.  But nearby the cross were also people who cared about Jesus.  John specifically identifies five people, four of whom were women.  There was Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Mary’s sister was there too, probably Salome.  Mark’s gospel mentions her as being present and Matthew tells us that the mother of the sons of Zebedee was present.  It’s likely the same person.  What that means is that not only is John there, but also his mother.  John is then a cousin of Jesus, and Salome is his aunt.  Besides Mary and her sister, there were also Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.  They’re all standing there because they love Jesus and they want to support him in his suffering.  Not everyone has abandoned him at this point.  He still has some people who want to stand by him.

That brings us to verse 26.  Jesus is hanging on the cross, suffering not only intense physical agony, but also spiritual agony.  The weight of God’s wrath against our sin is bearing down on him.  Yet he has the presence of mind to look out over the crowd gathered around.  He sees his mother and the disciple whom he loved.  This is John’s way of referring to himself.  So Jesus sees John and his mother Mary standing some distance away from the cross.  We don’t know exactly how far, but from what follows it was obviously within earshot.

Jesus then speaks.  He doesn’t say much, but what he does say is full of significance.  He says to Mary, “Woman, behold your son!”  He says to John, “Behold, your mother!”  John and Mary understand what this means.  Mary goes with John to his home and she becomes part of his immediate family.  By this time, Mary is a widow and she needs a male figure in her life to care for and protect her.  With Jesus gone, John is going to fulfill that function.

I want to look at two things that are happening here as Jesus says this.  The first is what most commentaries will focus your attention on.  That has to do with the fourth commandment.  Our Lord Jesus honours his mother here.  Throughout his life he perfectly obeyed all the law of God, and here on the cross he continues to do so.  His mother needs to be taken care of after his death, and he sees to it that she is.  

Someone might be thinking, “But what about his half-brothers and sisters?  Where are they?”  We know from elsewhere in Scripture that Mary had more children.  We also know how those children saw Jesus.  They didn’t believe in him.  They’re out of the picture.  Later on, the Bible tells us that this changed.  But right now, they’re nowhere to be seen.  Who is Jesus going to entrust his mother to?  There’s only one trustworthy male figure anywhere nearby and that’s John.  Hence, he chooses John for this calling.  He tells John that he must treat Mary as if she were his own mother.

There is gospel comfort in what Christ does here.  Sometimes we look at his sinless life only in terms of how it qualified him to be the sacrifice for our sins.  Brothers and sisters, it’s true, we need a sinless Saviour.  We confess in the Catechism that “he must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner cannot pay for others.”  That’s in Lord’s Day 6.  Jesus had to be sinless in order to suffer and die for our sins.  That means being sinless also when it came to the fourth commandment, “Honour your father and mother.”  He was guiltless, blameless; he never fell short of the mark.  That qualified him to be our mediator and deliverer. 

Now that speaks to his lack of sin.  But there is more here, because not only did he not sin, he also perfectly kept God’s law and what it actively required.  This is often forgotten or neglected.  He was positively righteous, which is to say that all the demands of God’s law were fulfilled perfectly by him.  If that’s not clear, it’s the difference between not killing your neighbour and perfectly loving your neighbour.  Jesus not only didn’t kill his neighbour, he also perfectly loved.  In theology, we speak about his active obedience.  This plays a role in our justification.  When God declares us right with himself, it is entirely because of Christ.  It is because Christ paid for our sins with his suffering and death on the cross, but it’s also because he lived a perfect life in our place.  He kept all of God’s commandments for us, and his positive righteousness is imputed to us, credited to our accounts.  God sees us not only as those whose sins have been forgiven, but also as those who are perfectly obedient in every way.  That’s because Jesus was perfectly obedient for us.

Let me illustrate.  I once heard a well-known American preacher say that the gospel is like golf.  In some charity golf tournaments, there is this thing called a mulligan.  If you know you’re a bad golfer, before the tournament, you can buy some mulligans, some do-overs.  So, if you’re at the tee, and you hit the ball and it swerves off into the forest, you can use a mulligan, a do-over.  You try again and it doesn’t count on the score-card.  So this preacher says that the gospel is like that.  You have messed up.  Jesus gives you a mulligan; he freely gives you the opportunity to try again.  The gospel is that God gives you a do-over.  But you know what?   The biblical gospel is far better than that!  If you want to stick with the golf illustration, Jesus takes your place on the course.  He plays a perfect game in your place.  Your name is still on the score card, but Jesus has done it all for you. 

Of course, what we’re talking about is something far more significant than a game of golf.  In our salvation, the obedience of Jesus is presented to the judge of heaven and earth.  This is no game.  Our eternal destiny hangs in the balance.  God is willing to accept the obedience of his Son in our place.  He demands obedience from us, but he receives the obedience of his Son offered for us.

That includes his obedience to the fourth commandment that we see here.  When Jesus entrusts his mother to the care of John, he again honours the law of God.  Loved ones, we have to see that this was for us, in our place.  As we look to Jesus in faith, resting and trusting only in him, God looks at us as people who have obeyed his law perfectly.  This is good news.  Usually when we look to the cross, we look to the suffering of Jesus, but here we see that his obedience is also in play.  Actually, you can’t really separate the two.  Jesus is always the obedient Son of God and his life was always one of suffering.  They are intertwined and we see that here in our text too.

That brings us to the second thing that is happening here as Jesus says these words.  This is the part that most commentaries overlook.  There is something deeper going on and it has to do with the suffering of our Saviour. 

Did you notice the way Jesus addresses Mary in verse 26?  Perhaps it leapt out at you when he said, “Woman, behold, your son.”  If it didn’t leap out at you, it should have.  This is an unusual way for a Jewish man to speak to his mother.  Moreover, this is not the first time that Jesus has spoken to her like that.  If we go back to John 2, at the wedding at Cana, he speaks to her the same way.  When she comes to him and says, “They have no wine,” Jesus responds in John 2:4 by saying, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.”  Mary knew that he had power to work a miracle.  He could powerfully and publically provide the wine for the feast.  But he tells her to step away and not let her position as his mother stand in the way of his ministry.  That’s why he calls her “Woman,” and not “mother.”  It’s a way of speaking that is polite and respectful, but at the same time puts some distance between them.  In John 2, he was telling her to step back. 

The same thing is happening here in John 19 at the foot of the cross.  Jesus calls Mary, “Woman,” not to show her any disrespect, but to make her understand her position.  She is called to fall back from thinking of herself as his mother.  Jesus is calling her to fall back from thinking of him as her biological son.  As she stands there, the prophecy of Simeon was undoubtedly coming true.  A sword was piercing through her soul as she watched her beloved son dying on the cross.  But Jesus urges her to step back from the relationship that she’s had with him up to this point.  John is going to take his place.  John will be her surrogate son, the one to replace the son on the cross. 

This has to happen for two reasons.  The first reason has to do with Mary.  She has to come to see that Jesus is her Saviour.  The one dying on the cross is not just her son, but the Messiah, the Christ.  He’s telling her to step away so that she can be put into the proper relationship with him.  As he is about to die, Jesus does not put Mary in any position of authority.  He calls her “Woman,” so that she understands her proper place as one of the redeemed.  She has to let go of him as her son, and take John in his place.  Jesus is not abandoning her – he is simply reconfiguring his relationship with her.  It’s going from a mother-son relationship to a Saviour-saved relationship.  In this, he’s flattening out the ground at the foot of the cross.  No one, not even his own mother, is more important than anyone else at the foot of the cross.  All are sinners.  All need to be saved by him.  This shows that the love of our Saviour for his mother went deeper than blood, and it’s the same deep love that he has for all believers equally. 

But the second reason why John replaces Jesus as Mary’s son has to do with the suffering of our Saviour himself.  On the cross, he is approaching the edge of hell.  He is about to enter into the darkness and this is something that he has to do alone.  He has to bear the full weight of the wrath of God by himself, without any support of anyone else.  For him to be our Saviour, he and he alone has to bear the penalty for sin.  His mother and John cannot be standing by.  He must send them away at this moment.

Notice that this is something that he actively does.  Sometimes people portray Jesus as an innocent victim.  He was taken by surprise and, if he had the chance, he would have been somewhere else other than Golgotha.  Well, we say we believe in penal substitutionary atonement.  The atonement is penal – Jesus bears the penalty of our sin, the just wrath of God.  The atonement is substitutionary.  He is our substitute on the cross, taking our place.  And we say it is an atonement – it is the sacrifice that brings about reconciliation, the sacrifice that makes peace between a holy God and sinful people.  There are those who caricature penal substitutionary atonement.  They mock our belief.  They say that this doctrine makes God out to be some kind of cosmic child abuser.  He takes out his wrath on his innocent Son.  What we find in our text deflates that caricature.  We see Jesus here, actively sending his mother and beloved disciple away because he is willingly putting himself in isolation.  He is segregating himself from all support in preparation for his descent into hell.  Shortly after this, the lights will go out in creation, darkness will fall for three hours and the full weight of the wrath of God will bear down on Jesus.  In preparation for that, he sends everyone away.  From that hour, John took Mary to his own home and Jesus was left entirely without any support.

This is something that he does out of love for us.  To be our Saviour, he had to do this.  He did it willingly and actively.  He didn’t flinch or back away.  He resolutely sends all his support away so that he can suffer for you alone.  It’s love for you that leads him to put John and Mary in this new relationship of mother-son.  It’s love for you that leads him to face your hell alone.  Brothers and sisters, do you see the gospel here?  Do you see the good news?  Your Saviour went the distance and did it all without any reluctance.

Without him, you would face suffering in hell.  Without Jesus, you would be facing an eternity of torment in isolation.  But isn’t it wonderful that you don’t have to face that as you’re looking to Christ in faith?  Isn’t it comforting to know that with Jesus you’re facing an eternity of blessing in fellowship with God and his people?  The Saviour who had to push away his own mother and his beloved disciple did it so that he can pull you to himself and spend eternity with you.  Loved ones, this is our Saviour and the gospel calls you again today to embrace him in faith.  Turn your back on your sins, hate all those sins, and turn to Jesus Christ saying, “This is my Saviour.” 

This is a place of level ground.  All of us are sinners equally and there’s room here for everyone.  If you know your sin and misery and want forgiveness, if you’re broken and want to be fixed, if you’re dead and want to be alive, there’s a Saviour who can do all that and more.  The ground is level at the foot of the cross and by God’s grace there’s room for you there.  AMEN.   


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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