Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a perfect child? Can you imagine a child who never threw selfish tantrums or scowled at the meal you set before him?
But here’s a reality check — if you did have a perfect child, life as a mother would still be hard!
Mary had a perfect Son, but her life was filled with sadness. Like every mother, she still needed a Saviour to rescue her from the guilt and worries of motherhood. In her case, her Saviour was her Son.
I cannot think of a scene in Scripture that speaks more affectionately to a mother’s heart than when the Lord Jesus uttered those few words from his parched lips: ‘Woman, behold your son!’ (John 19:25-27).
As Jesus approached death, he was both enduring great physical torment and suffering from a sense of spiritual desertion, as he drank the cup of God’s wrath. Yet his pitying eye fell on his mother.
It’s hard to imagine the mixture of love and loss with which Mary’s heart throbbed. She had laboured for Jesus’ birth, worried about (Luke 2:48), prayed for and followed him, and supported him through severe opposition.
No doubt, she felt guilt from her shortcomings in dealing with Jesus and her other children. She knew the burden of motherhood, even as it related to the Son of God.
She is the only woman in the world who has ever raised a son who never sinned against her. Although she had sinned against him, he had never talked back, disobeyed or dishonoured her.
I love my children dearly, and you love yours. But they are hardly perfect children! Our love for our children is hindered not only by our sins against them, but by theirs against us. Imagine the love she must have had for this Son.
Now she watches her boy bleed away for the sins of his people. Thirty years earlier, Simeon had told her, ‘A sword will pierce through your own soul also’ (Luke 2:35).
With a glance toward John, his apostle, Jesus spoke to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son’ (John 19:26). To John, he said, ‘Behold your mother’.
Jesus was giving a new son to his mother to replace himself. And he gave her the best son she could expect, the disciple Jesus loved. The fact that John, of all the disciples, was there now, indicates his loyalty and faith.
Jesus’ love toward his own mother proves his love for us, his believing brothers and sisters. He is mindful of our needs, just as he was mindful of his mother’s needs.
Christ here demonstrates three lessons. The first is that the church is God’s family. Mary had other children, but she also needed the spiritual companionship of the family of God.
Jesus had early said that his mother, brother and sister are those who do the will of God (Mark 3:35). In the church, believers treat older men as fathers, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity (1 Timothy 5:1-2). While we must certainly love our earthly families, we have no eternal ties to anyone who isn’t united to Christ by a living faith.
Second, children must care for their mothers. Being born under the law (Galatians 4:4), Jesus was obliged to honour his parents. How perfectly he fulfilled that law, providing for his mother even as he died!
Do we follow Jesus in looking after the interests of our mothers? Or, do we rather see them as servants to make our meals, clean our rooms and drive us everywhere we want? Jesus came to serve Mary, not to be served by her.
Third, mothers must love their children. In the shadow of the cross, Mary could do nothing for her Son. Still, in his darkest moment, she shows the commitment of a caring mother.
Mothers miss the point if they see themselves strictly as disciplinarians and rule-enforcers. Mothers are called to share their hearts with their kids. The swords that pierce your kids’ hearts must pierce yours as well.
Everything that is demanded of mothers Christ supplies. We experience the comfort of his provision through faith and an intimate walk with him. Motherhood can be a great burden, but Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28).
Moreover, what mother can live up to the expectations of motherhood? This, in itself, can produce crippling guilt. But in his death Jesus graciously tells women (and men), ‘You don’t measure up. You can’t measure up. That’s why I died for you!’
Only Christ can measure up to the demands of the law of motherhood. When we take hold of Christ by faith, all our guilt is banished. In God’s eyes, believers are now as innocent as Christ himself!
Jesus grants peace to mothers. A friend of mine wrote about a recent brush with death: ‘I experienced steady peace regarding my own salvation … but … I felt tremendous anxiety about my … family and the sorrow that would transform their lives [if I died] …
‘How can I have such assured faith in Christ’s salvation, and yet doubt his providence? How can I rest my soul entirely upon him, yet think I need to carry my family myself?’
What mother or father hasn’t thought like this? What is going to happen to my children? How will they possibly turn out well considering my own failures and shortcomings?
Yet God accomplished the salvation of his people through the treacherous acts of wicked men. And he can bless our children through even our worst shortcomings. He can raise up children of faith from the stones of the earth (Luke 3:8). He doesn’t need our help.
Mary, John and other believers followed Jesus to Golgotha. Through this experience they came to trust in Jesus for all their needs. For less than perfect mothers and fathers, with less than perfect kids, that’s the only message that can give us real comfort!
The author pastors Covenant Reformed Church of Carbondale, Pennsylvania. He has written three books for children on the Reformed confessions, including his latest: The glory of grace: the story of the Canons of Dort.