A meditation on John 19:25-27, given to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican) on Good Friday, 2023. By Fr. Justin Clemente
Those of you who have been around for awhile know how I approach preaching directly on the passion of Jesus. I always say it’s like trying to hold the ocean in your hands. So, I want to break off a bit of the cross for us tonight – a morsel we can digest and a word for this particular season in our church’s life. We’re going to look at John 19:25-27, Jesus’ words to Mary and John, the Beloved Disciple. The title and theme for this evening is “caring for others at the cross.”
Standing By the Cross: Mary & John as faithful disciples (vs. 25-26)
The Cross as the Beginning & the End
First, this evening, I need to make sure that you see the Cross as the centerpiece of Jesus’ life. David Roseberry writes of this passage, “This is a portrait where we see everything about the Christian faith [from Incarnation to Atonement] that is important, essential, and gloriously true. We should place this scene in our hearts and minds and memorize it. It is perfectly powerful.”[i]
Jesus words in verse 26, “Woman, behold your son,” connect us back to his birth. Of course, they are deeply ironic because Jesus is the Son of Mary, but here she’s given another son. In this scene, Jesus himself is handed over to the purpose he was born for. This cross. This death. Our cross. John and Mary both stood there, unmoved, because they understood this. They understood, in the words of John Stott, that that meaning of Jesus’ life is not simply in the living of his life, but in the giving of his life.
In fact, that Jesus calls Mary “woman” and not “mother” takes us back to the promise God made in the Garden of Eden that he would send a savior from the seed of woman. Here it is. Here he is. This the centerpiece, not only of the life of Jesus, but of all human history.
That great bishop, J.C. Ryle, writes of John 19, “He that can read a passage like this without a deep sense of man’s debt to Christ, must have a very cold, or a very thoughtless heart. Great must be the love of the Lord Jesus to sinners, when He could voluntarily endure such sufferings for their salvation. Great must be the sinfulness of sin, when such an amount of vicarious suffering was needed in order to provide redemption.”[ii]
So tonight is the centerpiece. Not an appendage, not an addendum, not an afterthought. We must learn that before we go any further.
John & Mary as Faithful Disciples
John 19:25-27 makes it clear that what bound Mary and John together was their being disciples of Jesus. The mother of Jesus stands under his cross. John is called a disciple twice in these three verses.
I want to ask now in our time of meditation around the Cross this evening a simple question: are you a disciple of the Lord Jesus? I did not ask if your family is Christian. I did not ask if you are spiritual. I did not ask if you admire Jesus. Jesus died that you would be his disciple. A son or daughter of the living God, brought into fellowship through the blood of his Son, our mediator and advocate. Tonight the work is done. It is finished. The way to God is open. The way to life is open! Come, and with Mary, be a disciple of her Son, in the blessed fellowship of his Cross. Come with John and be a beloved disciple of Jesus!
Jesus says, in fact, that “whoever does the will of God, he [can be] my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35) We’re invited tonight to be disciples of the Lord.
Hear the call to discipleship going out from the cross of Jesus. From J.C. Ryle again:
To wear material crosses as an ornament, to place material crosses on churches and tombs, all this is cheap and easy work, and entails no trouble. But to have Christ’s cross in our hearts, to carry Christ’s cross in our daily walk, to know the fellowship of His sufferings, to be made conformable to His death, to have crucified affections, and live crucified lives–all this needs self-denial; and Christians of this stamp are few and far between.[iii]
Standing By Each Other in Jesus (vs. 26-27)
Now, here is the next piece. In solidarity with the cross of Christ, Mary and John hear this call to each other. “Woman, behold your son” and disciple, “behold, your mother!” To quote John Chrysostom, after the cross, “everything is entirely transformed.”
The speaks to a change of relationship in the unchanging lordship of Christ. Think of Mary: she was the maternal guardian of Christ, and now she is guarded and cared for by John. In a wonderful way, Jesus fulfills the fifth commandment by handing his mother to John. Think of John: John is the beloved spiritual son of Jesus, and now he becomes a son to Mary. But Jesus remains Lord of them both. They will spur each other on in their love for the Lord for the rest of their lives.
Now here’s where I want to open this up for our church: don’t forget to care for others in this time of transition. Stand by each other in the Lord. Spur one another on in the good fight of faith. Remember one another. Don’t simply look to your own disappoint or grief. Comfort one another in the comfort of Christ.
And remember that we have the eye of Jesus upon us. He cares for us – enough to say so from the cross! He knows our loss and pain and will provide for it. In fact, he has given one another to do just that.
One last quote from J.C. Ryle here: “The Savior on whom we are bid to repose the weight of our sinful souls is one whose love passes knowledge. The shallow, skin-deep feelings of others, we all know, continually chill and disappoint us on every side in this world. But there is one whose mighty heart-affection knows no bottom. That one is Christ.”[iv]
Such is the love that flows from Calvary. Thanks be to God.
[i] David Roseberry, The Psalm on the Cross. Prosper, Texas: Anglican Compass. Pg. 53.