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!” (John 19:26–27)
Has anyone ever done more for mothers than Jesus?
Not only did he, as God, come and dwell among us, as man, to live and die to make wives and mothers coheirs with their husbands of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). Not only did he pour out his Spirit to empower Christian mothers as they fulfill the highest calling in the world.
Not only did he treat women differently than the rabbis of his generation, who wouldn’t speak to women in public. To his disciples’ amazement (John 4:27), he talked with the Samaritan woman, with Mary Magdalene, with the Syrophoenician woman, with his dearly loved friends Mary and Martha, setting in motion a healing of sins against women. As John Piper has said, “Wherever Christianity has become deeply rooted, the treatment of women has improved manifestly.”
Yet to those glories, Jesus added this particular honor to mothers even as he hung from nails in agony, staked to the cross. In the very midst of being publicly tortured to death, he paused to honor his mother.
He Beholds Her
First, he saw her. What horror did he see on the face of his mother as she looked upon her crucified son? And not only did he behold her, but he gave his attention to her, and his words — in one of only seven recorded sayings from the cross — made provision for her after his death. And not just any provision, but he entrusted her to “the disciple whom he loved.”
Have more sanctifying words ever been uttered over the institution of motherhood than these from the tree at Calvary? The God who himself took on our human flesh, and took up residence in a woman’s womb for nine months, nursed at her breasts, heard the Scriptures from her mouth, and learned the fundamentals of human life under her care — the very life of Christ testifies to the sanctity of motherhood.
And then, here at his death, he goes even further.
Even Through Agony
The pain at the cross in his own physical body alone would have been enough to occupy his full consciousness without excuse. It would have been no sin to bear the agony in silence. Then, more than that, came the utter anguish of his soul as he drew near to the precipice of sensing separation from his eternal Father. Such suffering of soul was the soul of his sufferings, with attendant sweat drops, like blood, in the garden.
Beyond this unspeakable agony came the taunts and jeers. The snake’s venom spewed from the mouths of his own kinsmen — not just his own nation, but their leaders: chief priests and elders, scribes and Pharisees.
“He saved others; he cannot save himself . . . . Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. . . .” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. (Matthew 27:42–44)
And yet in the midst of such unequaled duress and rejection — as his own people stand against him unjustly and as he prepares to meet his own Father, not this time as a beloved Son wrapped in filial affection, but as sin itself crushed by omnipotent, holy wrath — he has the wherewithal to consider her. To honor his mother.
He Honors Her
More than thirty years before, the angel Gabriel had greeted her, “O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28). He had indeed been with her these three decades, and what a striking fulfillment now, even as he died. Still, he was with her.
Especially in the last three years, she had thought the great angelic promises were being realized:
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:32–33)
Long ago, she had asked, in faith, “How will this be?” Now, did her eyes look to heaven and ask again, How will this be? How will he reign over Jacob’s house forever, with no end to his kingdom, as he dies here under the hand of Caesar?
How often had she remembered the words “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37)? Did she have it in her to recall this even as her firstborn son was publicly crucified before her very eyes? Would it come to her mind as she tried to sleep that night, or as she lingered in horror and grief all day Saturday, which must have seemed like the longest day in history?
He Echoes Her
She had said to the angel, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). And so, like mother, like son. In the garden, Mary’s son found his own way of echoing the words of his mother and expressing her submission: “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Her legacy of glad submission and heartfelt obedience had become his. First, at age 12, “he went down with [his parents] and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them” (Luke 2:51). Then, as a man, “he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Now, she watched as “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Soon she would learn that “by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). But not yet.
Standing there at the cross, did she remember the words of Simeon that must have haunted her for all her son’s life? “A sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). A sword will pierce me “also” — meaning, my son will be pierced?
He Cares for Her
Under God, she had raised the man who was God. And even now in his greatest agony, even as he writhes in this dehumanizing, extended execution, his soul does not curve inward to nurse his pain, but opens outward to the one who nursed him.
Here the greatest victim ever of other people’s sin retreats not to himself and his suffering. He does not sulk or pout. He is not consumed with his own trauma, but looks beyond himself to make provision for this woman. His mother. The woman who so humbly and diligently and ordinarily served the very Son of heaven in the earthiest of ways, from his conception and birth, to his utter humiliation and execution. God became human through her — not just through her womb, but through decades of guidance, nurture, and prayer.
So, in the moments before he breathes his last, Jesus turns to his beloved disciple to ensure his mother will have his tangible care even after he is gone. Never was Jesus more human, and never was he more divine, than at this moment, in this place, at this time, when he spoke three simple words: “Behold, your mother!”