Last Words: “Woman, Behold, Your Son!”

Editor’s Note: Today on the blog we continue a special Easter series: “Last Words.” Join us each weekday leading up to Resurrection Sunday as we reflect on one of Jesus’ statements from the cross in each post. We pray they’ll help you draw near to the One who paid so great a price to purchase your freedom. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

As a Roman soldier hammered iron into her son’s flesh, she felt her body tear also. Her agony mirrored His, and her emotional anguish pierced so deeply it felt physical. She sank to the ground. Her son, her precious son! 

Prophetic words uttered so long ago—those she hadn’t wanted to understand—reverberated in her mind. “A sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35 ESV).

He hung there naked, bloodied, barely recognizable. But she still saw the newborn she’d nursed through long nights, the toddler who’d taken His first steps, the boy about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49), the man who turned water into wine.

Couldn’t there have been another way?

She knew what He must do, but grief was a torrent that threatened to drown her. The brutality her son experienced was too much to comprehend. But then . . . 

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!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26–27 ESV)

Though Jesus gasped for breath, pushing Himself up on his nail-pierced feet to allow His lungs to expand, “His compassions,” as the hymn says, “they fail not.”

In the midst of excruciating pain, Jesus took care of His mother.

Let’s dwell here for a moment. 

A popular Christmas song poses the question “Mary, did you know?” Drama oozes from the lyrics, and the orchestration swells to a climax: “The sleeping child you’re holding is the great, [dramatic pause] I Am!”

The song goes on to list extraordinary things. Did she know He’d walk on water? Did she know He would make the blind see? Rule the nations? Release captives?

Of course Mary knew. From our first glimpse of her on an ordinary day (one that turned out to be anything but ordinary), she heard astonishing truth. I’m sure there were things she didn’t fully understand, but as we find out later, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 ESV).

Mary had months to think about what the angel had said. She would have been familiar with Old Testament prophecies that proclaimed Messiah would make the blind see, the lame walk, set captives free (Isaiah 61). Yes, indeed she knew. She knew her son would be the Messiah.

What Else Did Mary Know? 

Mary knew Jesus would be divine. He would be called “Son of God,” “Son of the Most High.” This was a title reserved One—the God of Israel. 

Likewise, she knew He would be conceived supernaturally. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). And she knew He’d be the King whose reign would last forever (Luke 1:32–33).

At His birth she even more was revealed to Mary about this long awaited Son. 

Jesus would be the Savior! It was His birth announced by angels, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” (Luke 2:11 ESV). About Him league upon league of heavenly warriors sang, “Glory to God in the highest and earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:24 ESV). The exuberant shepherds surely would have made Mary aware of the proclamation. 

A few days later, faithful Simeon, having been promised he would not see death until he had first seen the Christ, rejoiced, “My eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30 ESV).

But from Simeon, Mary also gained the first glimpse that her path would include sorrow. Jesus would be opposed and her heart would break. “A sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35 ESV).

Did those words mean what she thought they might?

Mary watched Jesus grow. Surely she marveled as a caravan of Magi brought Him extravagant gifts. Perhaps she pondered the significance of such treasures—gold, worthy of a king; incense, for a priest; myrrh, a burial spice. Later, when Herod demanded the death of all baby boys, she fled with her family to protect the promised Son.

Mary watched His perfection play out daily. Never did He hit a sibling in anger. Never did He selfishly take someone’s toy. Never did He use His words to hurt or deceive. How humbling to be an imperfect parent of a perfect child. 

“Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), she instructed the servants at the wedding feast. Though His hour had not yet come, she had no doubt He would provide. Mary knew who He was, believed He would help, and turned others’ attention to Him. His was the glory. 

Now, at the cross, she watched as Jesus’ earthly life came to an end. His hour had indeed come. 

What Did Jesus Do?

Mary labored to give Jesus life. Now He bled to give her life. As she experienced the intense suffering of labor to bring joy, so Jesus experienced ultimate suffering that Mary would have ultimate joy.

His suffering was not only for Mary. The promised Son bore the sins of the world and suffered so we would live. He bled and died so we would not. He looked into the cup of the Father’s wrath and drank it all so we would receive the cup of grace.

In His darkest hour, He met the needs of others: the thief hanging beside Him and His own mother.

As He provided for Mary, Jesus honored her, fulfilling the law even at the point of death. Amid the incomprehensible pain of crucifixion and the even greater agony of being separated from the Father, He gave focused attention to her.

“His tender concern for her in the hour of his mortal agony illustrates his true humanity and compassion,” one theologian said.1 He was not some aloof, self-centered god (If He was, He would never have gone to the cross in the first place). He was the Savior, pouring Himself out, serving humanity . . . but also serving Mary. 

What compassion! He knows you and serves you as well.

His provision for Mary was precise. When Jesus laid down His role in the mother/son relationship, He gave her a new son. Mary, a widow in her forties or fifties, would have had little ability to meet her own financial needs. But by saying “this is your son” rather than “this is your caretaker” Jesus provided family. He gave her someone who would not only provide for her, but cherish her.

Jesus took care of Mary. And He takes care of you.

John’s response to Jesus was simple. “From that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:27 ESV). He obeyed Jesus’ instructions and cared for her as He would His own mother. Here we see how the church is to care for one another. Our care for one another flows out of His care for us. 

In the middle of this tender moment, something bigger was happening. Jesus reoriented the family. Natural families are important. But at the cross Jesus hints at what He intends for the Church. When we become believers, we have a spiritual connection forged by Christ. We’re invited to see ourselves in this new family that is to meet the needs and show the tangible compassion we would give to blood relatives. In this beautiful gospel moment, Jesus’ care for Mary equips our compassion for others. 

In the End

They pierced His side, just as they had pierced Mary’s soul.

Jesus’ last act before willingly laying down His life was to take care of Mary in a profoundly personal way. What astonishing love! 

While Jesus satisfied God’s righteous wrath and paid the penalty of sin for all mankind, He tenderly provided for His mother at the same time.

Jesus’ body was broken. Mary’s soul was broken. But it did not end there . . . Grief gave way to exceeding joy, for He rose just as He said.

Did you know the Grounded videocast is airing special Easter episodes all week long? Tune in for powerful stories, meaningful teaching, and Resurrection hope! 

1John H. Sailhamer, Tremper Longman, and David E. Garland, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Abridged Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 365.

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