Final Words of a Family Man
April 14, 1991
This is the third saying of Jesus as he hung on the cross. It is sometime between 9 A.M. and 12 noon on Friday in Jerusalem. A motley crowd has gathered at Skull Hill to watch the goings-on.
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ’Dear woman, here is your son.’ And to the disciple, ’Here is your mother.’ From that time on this disciple took her into his home.”
This week I had a real treat. My family went with me as we traveled down to Alabama for my mother’s 70th birthday. We left last Sunday night after the evening service—at about 7:40 P.M.—and drove through the night—through Indiana and Tennessee and got to Alabama early Monday morning not too much the worse for the wear. We spent Monday resting—at least Marlene and I did—but the boys immediately went down to the pier and went fishing. They were not successful for the first several hours until my older brother Andy went down to help them out. He advised them that if you wanted to catch fish it always helps to put some bait on the hooks. Once they did that, the fish really started biting.
My three brothers all came in at one time or the other for my mother’s birthday. My younger brother Ron, who lives in Arkansas, came and went before I got there. My younger brother Alan came up from Florida with his wife D’Ann. And we were staying at my older brother Andy’s house on the Tennessee River.
Yellow Cake With Chocolate Icing
That night we had the big celebration for my Mom. Andy arranged the catering and the kids baked her birthday cake. Concerning their culinary efforts, it could be fairly said that you couldn’t find one like it in a bakery any-where. They baked a yellow cake with chocolate icing and put one of these candles on top of it that you light and blow them out and it comes on again. After the meal we gave Mom her gifts. She sat at the end of the table with tears in her eyes, smiling about everything.
After we had the cake and gave her the gifts, we made a few jokes about her advanced age. We had a great, great time. At the end, my brothers asked me to propose the birthday toast. They chose me because, as Andy noted, among all the brothers I’m the one who can talk the longest with the least preparation.
I spent some time Monday night and Tuesday just watching my mother. I hadn’t seen her in over a year. It’s really something to think about—your mother reaching her 70th birthday. Three-score and ten. That’s the biblical length of life. Anytime someone turns 70 he has to think about how many more years are left. When you’re a kid you never think of your parents growing old. You don’t know how old they are but you think whatever age they are that they’ll be that age forever. When you’re young it’s hard to picture your parents get-ting old. There’s nothing wrong with growing old. That’s the natural course of life. It’s going to happen to all of us if we live long enough. But it’s hard to think about your mother or your father growing old. We don’t really have a category for that when we’re kids.
Silver Threads Among the Gold
I looked at my Mom and saw the gray hair around her temples, her face etched with the passing of the years. When she would reach out her hands there was just a little shakiness. I watched as she would walk from room to room. My mother basically is in good health but she was careful when she walked just to make sure she was okay. I hadn’t really noticed my mother doing that before.
When she took the boys and Andy’s girls shopping on Tuesday, I went with her. We went to the mall so she could spend her money on her grandkids. When we got back to the house, the girls went outside to play while the boys went fishing. I noticed my mother resting on the couch because her feet were hurting. I couldn’t remember my Mom doing that before. She hadn’t been 70 before.
It reminds me of what the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 12. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ’I find no pleasure in them.’” As I studied my Mom I noticed several things about her. I noticed that the two things she seems to fear the most are losing her health and losing the money she has. I noticed that she seems to depend on her children now the way we used to depend on her. I noticed that when she talks about the future it’s always in terms of the past. It’s hard for me to explain unless you know exactly what I mean. She talks about the future in terms of the past.
The Keepers of the House
Ecclesiastes speaks of the days of trouble, before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark and the clouds return after the rain. Solomon goes on to describe the slow deterioration of the body in the declining years of life. The keepers of the house crumble (the arms), the legs grow weary and strong men stoop. The grinders cease because they are few. Those looking through the windows grow dim. The doors to the street are closed and the sounding of grinding fades. Men rise up at the sound of birds because they cannot sleep at night. But all their songs grow faint. They can’t sing anymore. Men are afraid of heights and dangers in the street. Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets.
There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing to feel bad about if you grow old. That’s a normal process of life. But it’s hard to look at your mother and see her growing old right before your eyes. It seems like just yesterday when it would snow, once every ten years in Alabama, we’d get the sled out and Dad would push us down the hill and Mom would be down at the bottom of the hill clapping, cheering for us. The four of us boys were just little kids.
Now Mom is 70 years old. Where have those days gone? Where have all those years gone? It’s hard to believe.
Mary is older now. The years have passed. Jesus has grown up. Mary has grown older too. She might be in her early 50s. Or she might be 55 now. She could even be 60 or 65. She’s not a young girl anymore. She’s not a teenager anymore. She’s long past the childbearing years. She’s past her 20s, past her 30s, past her 40s. She’s a widow now. I think that’s certain. Joseph is gone. Somewhere between the time Jesus was twelve and the time he began his ministry Joseph seems to have dropped off the scene. Mary’s alone now. She’s older now. Her shoulders are stooped a little bit. And there are a few silver threads among the gold. Those carefree days of youth are gone forever.
She stands at the cross with two other women and John the apostle. And on the cross, her first born son. She watched as they beat him. She heard with the ear of a mother the screams, the cries of agony as she watched her son being tortured to death. She couldn’t lift a finger to help him. She heard the swear words of the crowd. The blasphemy. She watched as they walked by and slapped him and beat him and cursed him. And she could do nothing about it.
Jesus’ Last Will and Testament
Only those who have watched a loved one die could even begin to understand what it means for Mary to be at the cross that day. As the hours pass and the agony increases she looks at her son, just a shell of the man he used to be, beaten almost beyond recognition, writhing in pain. And the crowd loving it. And in those hours suddenly the cry comes from the cross, Jesus looking down sees his mother Mary and sees John standing next to her and cries out from the cross, “Woman, Dear Woman, Mother, behold your son.” (speaking of John) and to John, “Behold your mother.” The Bible says that when Jesus said those words from the cross, immediately, from that very hour, John took Mary, the mother of Jesus into his own home.
We wouldn’t understand at first reading the significance of those words. But in Jewish thought the instructions of a dying man were of the same sort as if they were written on a piece of paper. So when Jesus cried out, “Woman, behold your son” and “Son, behold your mother”, it is as if Jesus were writing his own last will and testament and executing it right there. Jesus was saying to his mother, “Mom, I’m leaving you now and I’m not going to be able to take care of you after I’m gone. Mom, there’s nothing else I can do for you. You see John. John will be to you as I was to you. He will be the son you need.” “John, do you see my mother? Take care of her after I’m gone. Do for her what I would do if I were still alive.”
You ask, why in the midst of all his agony would Jesus even say something like this? It is because even though he is dying in terrible, agonizing torture upon the cross, he is fulfilling the most basic responsibility and the most sacred obligation that any son ever had. He is making sure that his mother is cared for.
A Dying Son’s Request
What does the Bible say? He was a Jew. He was raised under the Law. He knew the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother.”
It’s not as if Jesus had a lot of options at this point hanging on the cross. He knew that he would be dead within just a matter of hours. He couldn’t give his mother any money for he had no money to give her. He couldn’t say, “Mom, when I get off this cross I’ll spend some time with you,” because he had no time left to spend. He couldn’t say, “Mother, in a week or two we’ll take a trip together, just the two of us.” He couldn’t do that. All he could do in his dying moments was to fulfill that final obligation to be sure that his mother was taken care of after he was gone.
You say, what is the truth here? The truth is this. Although Jesus was about the business of saving the world he was not too busy to care for his parents.
I draw from this simple story three applications.
1. No one is ever discharged from that sacred obligation.
Our Lord has left the pattern for us to see. Though you be about the business of saving the world, though you be a Christian committed to spreading the gospel to the ends of this earth, you are not now, nor will you ever be, discharged from the sacred obligation to care for your parents. Not now, not tomorrow, not ever. If our Lord Jesus, hanging in agony, remembered his mother at the very end of his life, then so should we. No one here is ever discharged from that sacred and holy obligation.
2. When you can’t do anything else for the people you love, you can at least tell them, “I love you.”
That’s what Jesus was saying on the cross. “Mom, I can’t come down. Mom, they’re going to kill me. Mom, I’m a dead man but I want you to be cared for and before I die I want you to know that I love you.”
3. No matter what you do in this life, you can hardly be considered a success if in your rapid climb to the top you neglect to care for your parents.
Did you hear what I said? No matter what else you do in this life you can hardly be considered a success if in your climb to the top you neglect to care for your parents.
It’s hard to explain this to kids. This is a principle that’s hard to put into words. Yesterday, after the Sparks-A-Rama, Josh and Mark were in the van with us as we drove in from Lombard. Nicholas was in the bus with the other Sparkies. It was sometime between 12 and 12:30 P.M. and as we approached the Harlem exit we were listening to WMBI. A man said, “My wife told me that if we wanted our kids to spend time with us later we had to spend time with them now.” The man went on to say, “My wife also told me that if we wanted our kids to talk with us later we had to talk with them now.”
I thought that sounded good. I turned off the radio and thought I’d try a little experiment and work this out with my boys to see if they agreed with the basic principle. So while we were waiting for the light to change, I turned around to the boys and said, “If we spend time with you now, what will you do for us later?” And from the back came the chorus, “We’ll spend time with you later.” I thought to myself, “Okay, we’ll try it again.” “If we talk with you now what will you do with us later?” “We’ll talk with you later.” I thought I’d go for the big one. “If we give you money now…” There was a little pause and then Mark, the loyal middle son, said, “We’ll give you money, don’t worry.” Then I said, “Okay, if we let you live with us now, when we get older what will you do for us?” And Mark answered, “Oh, you can live with us.” At that point Joshua started laughing and said, “Yeah, we’ll let you live in a one-room apartment all by yourself.” It’s a hard principle to get across.
Worse Than An Unbeliever
Here’s the principle as I understand it. We all know that the Bible says, “Honor your father and mother.” The New Testament says, “Children obey your parents.” I think it’s true that once you leave your home there will be times you will not be able to obey your parents. We all understand that. But there is never a time when it’s okay not to honor your parents. Obey—not always. Honor—always and forever. No one is discharged from that obligation.
If you ever use your Christianity as a reason not to take care of your parents, you’re worse than an unbeliever. If you are a new Christian and your parents have not followed you in the faith, if you use that as a reason not to love them and care for them and honor them, you know nothing of what the Christian faith is all about.
We want to save the world, don’t we? We can save the world, but while we’re saving the world, let’s take the time to do what Jesus did. Don’t ever use your great calling as an excuse to get out of your basic moral obliga-tions. If the Lord Jesus Christ—beaten, bruised and bloody—if he had time for his parents while he was on the way to saving the world, then you have time for yours. That’s a sacred principle of Scripture.
Three Action Steps
What do you do and where do you begin? Let me give you three action steps this morning.
1. If you really want to take this word to heart, go to your parents and tell them you love them.
Some of you ought to make a phone call today. Some of you ought to write a note today. Some of you ought to say “I love you.” You really ought to do it. It’s been too long since you’ve done it. Listen, if you’re too busy to love your parents, you’re too busy. If you’re too busy to honor your parents, you’re too busy. If you’ve filled your life with so much good stuff that you have no time for the people who brought you into this world, you’ve filled your life with a bunch of junk. You need to change what you’re filling your life with. That’s number one—go to your parents and tell them you love them. Do it while you have the chance.
2. If you can’t honor them while they are alive, you can remember them after they die.
This touches many of us whose parents have already died. What do you do then? The Bible never says, “Honor your parents only as long as they are alive.” You are supposed to honor your parents as long as you are alive whether they are alive or not. How do you do that? Remember them. Remember your mother and your father. Isn’t it true that the worst fear we have is that someday we will die and people will forget that we were ever here? One way you honor your parents’ memory is simply by remembering what they have done for you. I am not ashamed to say that when I went to Alabama I thought about my Dad. He’s been dead for 17 years. Some-body at the First Baptist Church who knew my father, looked at me and said, “You’re looking more like your dad all the time.” I can’t imagine a better compliment than that. My Dad’s been gone but I still love him and I honor his memory. Just by remembering who he was and what he did.
3. If you are unable to speak good about your parents, you can honor them by refusing to speak evil of them.
Many of you didn’t have a mother like Mary or a father like Joseph. Your parents weren’t there when you needed them. Perhaps there was a divorce and they left you. Maybe you don’t even know where your father and mother are. Maybe you were abused and hurt by them in the past. You say, “Pastor, I just can’t do what you’re saying.” I accept that. But even if your parents have hurt you, you are not dismissed from the command to honor them. Listen carefully. If you can’t do anything else, there’s one way you can honor your parents even if they hurt you. You can forgive them and refuse to speak evil against them. If you can’t do anything else, you can honor them by refusing to speak evil of the people who brought you into this world.
Where is the gospel in a message like this? My soul, this is the gospel. Jesus said this when he was hanging on the cross. He said this just hours before he died. This is the gospel. Don’t you know what this means? Jesus died as he had lived—thinking of others.
His first word:
“Father, forgive them”
—thinking of his enemies.
His second word:
“Today you will be with me in Paradise”
—thinking of the criminal by his side.
His third word:
“Woman, behold your son”
—thinking of his mother.
Jesus died as he lived—thinking of others.
So we must go from this place committed to live the way he lives and to die the way he died. Thinking not of ourselves, thinking of others.
I say it again, as Jesus hung on the cross, as he is on the way to saving the world he had enough time to take care of his mother. So must we, in life and in death, take enough time to care for those who have cared for us.
One final word. This story certainly teaches us that the church must indeed be a family. But if we are going to talk about the church as a family, that must be more than a slogan. Why? Because the Christian church was founded by a family man. And in the last hours of his life he was thinking not of himself; he was thinking of his family.
Go and in Jesus’ name do likewise. Amen.