The first Good Friday was gruesome. Our Lord endured untold torment and torture. It was also the real black Friday as noon became night and the light of the world was publicly rejected (Matthew 27:45). Interestingly, as he hung on the cross, he didn’t get delirious or slump into unconsciousness; rather, he spoke—seven times! C. H. Spurgeon likened the seven utterances of Christ on the cross to musical notes: “these seven notes make a wondrous scale of music if we do but know how to listen to them!” Thus, the seven sayings were not vain words. Our Lord knew better than to waste his dying breathes.
The seven sayings were not vain words. Our Lord knew better than to waste his dying breathes.
So we must consider what is referred to as the third word of saying from the cross. It isn’t as familiar as “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34), or “It is finished” (John 19:30), but that doesn’t mean it is any less significant. The apostle John records the event for us: “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then 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!’ From that hour the disciple took her into his own household” (John 19:25-27).
The Compassionate and Crucified Christ
As we survey the context of Jesus’ Good Friday utterance, some ironic details emerge. The soldiers who didn’t mind spiking his flesh with nails could not suffer to shred his tunic (John 19:24). They considered it more valuable. As these four male Roman soldiers are gambling over Jesus’ tunic, four Jewish women disciples are groaning with him nearby—a shocking juxtaposition of apathy and empathy! But even more arresting is Jesus’ ardour of affection for his mother, despite his agony, when he utters, “Woman, behold, your son,” and, “behold, your mother!”
Jesus’ ardour of affection for his mother is arresting.
Our modern sensibilities may perceive Jesus’ reference to his mother as ‘woman’ as disrespectful, but that was not the case. A present day equivalent would be ‘madam’ or ‘dear woman’. One might also speculate that in choosing this term, Jesus was subtly alluding to Genesis 3:15, where the woman’s offspring would have his heel bruised. However, it will to suffice say, Jesus wasn’t rubbishing his mother, he was lavishing her with love.
In the moment when a sword had truly pierced through Mary’s soul, as prophesied (Luke 2:35), Jesus was compassionate enough not to leave her exposed and without another son to tend to her. He gave her John and John to her. This Easter season, Jesus’ words and actions here remind us of two compelling truths.
1. Jesus Really Cares About Others, So Should We
One might be forgiven for being self-absorbed in a moment of deep agony. But Jesus was utterly selfless. He understood what his demise would mean for his mother. In all likelihood, Joseph, her husband, was long dead. Joseph would have had neither pension nor life insurance for Mary to claim. Hence, customarily, her soon-to-depart firstborn son would have been her caretaker.
But our Lord was not too heavenly minded for any earthly good. Nor did his suffering numb him to the needs of others. Good Friday provides a sublime picture of care and concern. In this moment, Jesus wasn’t just loving his mother in a salvific sense. He was also loving her very practically, ensuring her security. In a very real sense, what Jesus did for Mary he did for us. His concern for his people was unwavering even at death. To paraphrase a line in an old song, ‘he died our burdens bearing’ and his care shone brightest in his direst moment.
Jesus’ care shone brightest in his direst moment.
Obviously, our Lord doesn’t call us to die redemptively for anyone. We can’t. But he calls us to love each other sacrificially (John 13:34-35). Personal hardships don’t excuse lovelessness. Ways to do this include providing for our families (1 Timothy 5:8), bearing each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), sharing our resources (1 John 3:17), being compassionate (Ephesians 4:32), serving one another (1 Peter 4:10), and comforting one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18), among other things.
In our African culture where women tend to be objectified and abused, Jesus dignified and valued them. Unlike other Jewish rabbis, he gave them unparalleled access and made them his disciples. It’s no surprise that some of these women appear last at the cross and first at his tomb. Jesus didn’t think they were unimportant. Thus, African women can and should also be bold in their love for Christ because he cares deeply about them. Shall Christian men on our continent dare to care less?
2. We Are Family, So Let’s Love One Another
On that first Good Friday, Jesus’ siblings hadn’t yet become his disciples. So when Jesus wanted to guarantee Mary’s provision and protection, he turned to his disciple. In doing so, he reminds us who our truest family is. Disciples of Christ are members of one another (Romans 12:5).
In Africa it’s commonly said that ‘blood is thicker than water’, but here we see that in the household of God, Spirit is thicker than blood. It is not blood that makes us family but the love Christ has wrought in our hearts for one another. Like John and Mary, we belong together because we are one man in Christ (Ephesians 2:15). Jesus promised that the corollary blessing of discipleship is the blessing of family (Luke 18:29; Mark 10:29-30).
Jesus promised that the corollary blessing of discipleship is the blessing of church family.
Believers who are vulnerable because of disease, death or persecution should find a family in the household of faith. Did Jesus not say that in receiving one another we receive him (Matthew 10:40)? Jesus taught that love for God rose above familial love (Matthew 10:41; Luke 14:26). Yet he also knew to honour his old, widowed, and vulnerable mother (Exodus 20:12). He obeyed God fully, not just in the greater matter of our redemption but also in the lesser matter of his familial responsibility.
Similarly, that “from that hour the disciple took her into his own household” shows that John could do no other (John 19:27). His obedience was prompt. His spiritual privilege defined his duties and it clearly extended beyond bloodline. Shall we not renew our obedience to Christ and commitment to each other this Easter season?
Imitate Christ At Easter, And Beyond Good Friday
Jesus’ third saying on the cross reveals his heart of care and concern for us, regarding even our temporal needs. It also challenges us to go on caring for one another as he does. This, however, goes beyond our natural families. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10).