Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Word of Devotion

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: If you’ve ever read a detailed, medical description of what takes place when someone is crucified, you know that the thing you ultimately die of is asphyxiation. The victims struggle to breathe, and increasingly, every breath is excruciatingly difficult as they pull themselves up and down from their hands nailed to the cross.

Realizing that victims were gasping for air and every word took enormous effort, you would think that they would want to save their breath and not say anything that wasn’t absolutely essential.

Sure enough, as we meditate on the seven words that Jesus spoke from the cross, we realize that each of those words is significant, each one is purposeful, each one is necessary.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, March 26, 2015.

This week Nancy’s been examining the final words of Christ on the cross. It’s part of the series "The Incomparable Christ."

Nancy: The first three words spoken from the cross reveal Christ’s heart for others as He asked God to forgive His enemies and as He offered assurance to the penitent thief at His side.

Today, as we look at the third word, see again that even as He is dying for the sins of the world, His mind is on specific individuals around Him. He’s concerned for their needs above His own needs and His own comfort, and He doesn’t consider it a waste of time or energy or breath to speak to those individuals, to minister to their needs. I’m so glad because still today those words are ministering to us and to our needs.

Let me ask you to turn for this third word to the Gospel of John, chapter 19, verse 23:

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be." This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, "They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots." So the soldiers did these things (vv. 23–24).

Now, before we move on to that next verse and bring Mary the mother of Jesus into the scene, just think about what we just read there. Here’s a group of soldiers who are callous, indifferent; they are utterly self-absorbed, a total lack of concern for anyone other than themselves, seeking their own interests, greedy, oblivious to the needs of others or to the suffering of those who are nearby. That’s the kind of spirit that we just saw represented in those soldiers as they're callously gambling for the garment of Jesus who hangs naked on that cross.

Now we come to verse 25:

But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

So first we see His mother Mary; and then we see, secondly, His mother’s sister. Now commentators think her name was probably Salome. Salome was the mother of two of Jesus’ disciples: James and John. So those two disciples would have been Jesus’ cousins, related to Jesus.

So His mother’s sister is standing there, and then Mary the wife of Clopas, who was also we think the mother of another apostle, and fourth, Mary Magdalene. We know something of her story.

So here we have a courageous, compassionate group that’s gathered at the foot of the cross. All but one of them, as we will see in a moment, are women—of these who were following Christ with love and compassion.

Now, before we get to that other one, just see here for a moment a mother’s heart for her son. Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary of Nazareth, who stayed by the cross—after all the other disciples had fled. She enters into the suffering of her son. She’s a mother. But it’s interesting in this verse that we see she was standing by the cross.

One might have thought that at this point, watching what she was, seeing her son put to death, that she would have been crumpled on the ground, melting down with hysterical, uncontrolled weeping. But that’s not the picture we have here. She was standing by the cross.

You've perhaps seen footage or read descriptions of Israeli funerals The women are weeping, crying out, wailing, mourning. That's not how we see Mary here. "Standing by the cross," is says simply.

As we see her standing there, we’re reminded of how at His birth thirty-three years earlier she “kept and pondered all these things in her heart." She’d been pondering the mysteries of what God had done, of who her Son was, and why God had sent Him to earth. She’d been pondering that for thirty-three years. Don’t you think she was continuing to think, to ponder, to carry these things close in her heart?

Undoubtedly she was at this moment remembering the words of that elderly prophet Simeon when he held her then eight-day-old Son, when she took Him to the temple for His dedication thirty-three years earlier. The Scripture says in Luke 2:

Simeon blessed them and said to his mother, "Behold, this child [your Son, Jesus] is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed. [Wasn’t that what happened at the cross—He was opposed? And Simeon said to Mary] a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (vv. 34–35).

That’s what was happening at this moment to Mary; that prophecy was being fulfilled. The sign: Christ Jesus was being opposed and a sword was piercing through her own soul as well.

Coming back to John 19, verse 26: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby.”

Who was the disciple referred to in the Gospel of John as the disciple whom he loved? Five times—it’s the apostle John. He’s the author of this Gospel. He doesn’t name himself, but he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

When Jesus saw His mother and the apostle John 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 (vv. 25–27).

In his commentary on the life of Christ, Alfred Edersheim says, “Mark His Divine calm of utter self-forgetfulness and His human thoughtfulness for others.” As Christ is dying, He forgets Himself and thinks of others.

Now, we said a moment ago that all the disciples had fled, but John had returned to the cross. There’s no mention of any of the others being there, just John and this small group of women. Jesus looks at His mother, and He addresses her as “woman”—not as “Mother.” “Woman.” It's the same way He addressed her at the wedding in Cana at the beginning of His ministry.

Now, as you’re reading that text, that could sound like a cold way to speak to your mother, but there was no lack of respect here. One thought is that it was in order to keep us from being tempted to exalt this woman beyond what was appropriate. She was a blessed woman, but the temptation of some has been to exalt her above measure, so He didn’t call her Mother.

I think an even more important reason was to indicate that He was establishing a new set of primary relationships that were even thicker than blood, relationships that would be forged at the cross, relationships formed around a mutual relationship with Christ.

Yes, Jesus was Mary’s Son, but even more importantly, He was Mary’s Savior, as she herself had acknowledged in her great Magnificat in Luke chapter 2.

Mary at this point was probably in her late forties. It was likely that Joseph, her husband, had died years earlier, probably before Jesus even began His earthly ministry, and she likely had no means of supporting herself. So Jesus as the firstborn Son was the breadwinner for His family. It was His responsibility to care for His widowed mother.

Now we know from other Scriptures that Mary had at least seven younger children—sons and daughters. These other half-siblings of Jesus were likely living up north in Galilee. We know from the Scripture that His brothers did not believe in Him until after His resurrection. So rather than giving Mary, His mother, over to the care of her unbelieving children, Jesus entrusted her to someone who was even closer than a natural son. He entrusted her to someone who would share her commitment to Christ and would have a mutual love for the Savior . . . to John, one of His closest disciples. Jesus knew that John would love and honor His mother, would protect her, would provide for her, and would meet her needs when He was gone.

Now, out of that account, let me just make five simple observations and take-aways—things that speak to me and to us about our faith.

First of all, I think we see so clearly here God’s care and concern for every area of our lives, including our relationships. Different ones of these words that Jesus spoke from the cross focus on different aspects of Jesus’ nature and His ministry, but this one focuses on His human relationships and responsibilities. It shows His tender, caring heart. After all, had He not just said recently to His disciples, “I will not leave you comfortless”? And He was not going to leave His mother comfortless. Sure, she would have the Holy Spirit, as would His other disciples, but He was going to leave her with a flesh and blood person to care for her, to minister to her, to make sure that her needs were met.

We know that the supreme purpose for Jesus’ death was to save our souls, to save our spirits from the wrath of God, but I want to suggest that Jesus died not just our souls. He was also dying on that cross to redeem everything about this broken, dysfunctional world, to provide for all of our needs that had been occasioned by the Fall—not just the spiritual, though that was certainly the most important, but also, ultimately, for our physical and emotional and relational needs as well.

We have a Savior who cares, who is concerned about every area of our lives. He cared about how His mother was going to be provided for, how her needs would be met. He cares for us, and He died to redeem us from all the losses caused by the Fall, to make sure that ultimately all of our needs would be met. That’s God’s care and concern for every area of our lives.

Then, second, we see that every duty in the will of God is holy or sacred.

Here is Jesus hanging from the cross, doing the most important work in the history of the world—accomplishing the plan of redemption. But in the midst of that, He doesn’t overlook what a lot of people would have considered a relatively insignificant task, namely tending to the needs of His mother. We’re reminded that there are no secular or small responsibilities, that anything God gives us to do matters and is holy when we do it as unto Him.

I have to say that I have a concern today about women that I’ve met who are out there doing ministry of all sorts—leading Bible studies, singing on the praise team, discipling, teaching classes—doing all kinds of service outside their homes while neglecting less glamorous responsibilities, especially those within the walls of their own homes.

You see, in fulfilling those, what some people would consider menial or trivial or non-glamorous responsibilities, as we fulfill those, we glorify God, and we make the gospel believable.

What you are doing for the mate and cleaning the home and making meals for your family and schooling your children and doing those tasks faithfully at your workplace in serving the Lord faithfully wherever He has planted you, those are not insignificant tasks. That's part of the ministry to which He has called us. So every duty in the will of God is sacred.

Then, number three, I want us to see that serving God does not give us freedom to neglect family responsibilities. This is really related to that previous point. Serving God does not give us freedom to neglect family responsibilities.

We could have understood, I think, if Jesus had been so focused on His redemptive ministry and His own anguish and suffering that He might have overlooked His mother at this moment. There was a whole crowd of people to attend to here, not to speak of His own problems. But Jesus didn’t overlook His mother. In the midst of all that was going on at the cross, He tended to her needs. The last human responsibility that He carried out on this earth was to honor His widowed mother, to make provision for her physical and relational needs.

Jesus had spoken during His earthly ministry to some of the Jews in His day who had come up with a loophole that allowed them to avoid fulfilling their responsibility to care for the practical needs of their elderly parents. What they would do is they would designate a certain part of their money as what they called “corban.”

That was a vow term indicating that those resources, that money that had been set aside, was consecrated to God. It belonged to Him, and so it couldn’t be used for personal purposes. So money that might otherwise have been used to care for their parents, they said, “Oh no, that money belongs to God.” It made them sound spiritual. Jesus said, “You’re not spiritual. You’re hypocrites. You’re making the traditions of men more important than the law of God.” What is the law of God? The fifth commandment, to honor your parents (see Ex. 20:12).

We see here the high priority we see throughout Jesus’ life, the high priority He placed on the fifth commandment. From childhood, He had always honored His parents, and here at the cross Jesus sets an example for those of us whose parents are still living. The obligation to honor our parents is not just when we are children but at every age through all of life.

As we read in 1 Timothy chapter 5: “If a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household." That’s before the church jumps in, before the government jumps in, before anybody else jumps in to care for those needs, let the children and grandchildren first learn to show godliness to their own household. "And to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God” (v. 4). Jesus demonstrated the beauty, the importance, the value, the holiness of caring for the practical needs of parents.

Now, that passage in 1 Timothy 5 is clearly referring to financial provision for the needs of parents, but I think, by broader way of application, that we might also consider the importance of emotional, relational needs of our parents—staying connected, providing encouragement and appreciation.

That will look different in different stages of life, depending on what stage they are in and what stage you are in. I'm seeing Patti here who until recently when her elderly mom went home to be with the Lord was commuting to Dallas every week for months (a few days at a time) to care for her dying mother. And she is now ministering to the needs of her widowed father. So it is a different season of life for Patti than it was ten years ago or than it will be ten years from now. It looks different at different seasons.

You may live, as Patti does, far away from your parents and you may not be able to meet their needs personally and directly. But honoring our parents means being tuned to those needs and finding ways to be sure the needs are met, even if we can't be there personally. Isn't that what Jesus illustrates from the cross?

He was not going to be able to personally meet Mary's needs in the days ahead, but He made provision to be sure that her needs would be met.

So we glorify God by honoring our parents and family members and caring for them in ways that are appropriate to that season of life. Serving God doesn’t give us freedom to neglect those responsibilities.

Here’s a fourth observation that I see from this account that took place at the cross, and that is that you can count on Christ to care for you in your time of need.

Mary could, understandably, have been fearful of what lay ahead for her. What was going to happen? Here she is surrounded at the cross by hostile soldiers and religious leaders. Would she be safe? How would her practical needs be met? Who would care for her when she couldn’t care for herself—her emotional needs, her spiritual needs? She was a grieving mother, already widowed, now losing her firstborn Son.

We see that Jesus was aware of her needs and sensitive to them. He made loving, sufficient provision for those needs. That says to me that He cares for your needs, too, and He will meet your needs. He is a compassionate High Priest who cares and provides for His loved ones.

As we look at Mary’s story here, we’re reminded that God may remove one source of provision and comfort, as God had removed Mary’s husband and was about to remove her Son. God sometimes does remove one’s source of provision and comfort, but He will always, always provide what is needed for that next season of life. You can count on Christ to care for you, no matter what your age, what your season of life.

I have single women friends who are concerned about growing old alone and what that’s going to be like and how their needs are going to be met. I have widowed friends who have that same concern. Can I just assure you that Christ will care for you in your time of need. You can count on it, and we see that through His care for Mary here at the cross.

Then, finally, we see that through the cross, Jesus instituted a whole new set of family relationships on earth . . . a new set of relationships that were not based on biology or blood lines, but a family that includes all who have placed their faith in Christ, a family that has Christ at the Head and the center; intimate, deep relationships between one another in this family; a family that’s committed to care for one another and meet each other’s needs.

You see inklings of this family in John’s response where it says that “from that hour, the apostle John took her to his own home.” He brought her into his family. He cared for her. He met her needs. John was not her natural-born son, but this was a new family that was being formed at the cross around Christ.

It’s so sweet to see in my own life how God has brought spiritual family members to meet needs of my life at different seasons. I think of an elderly couple who took me in to live in their home when I was a student out in southern California, years ago.

I think of others couples who stepped up to minister to me in very practical ways when the Lord took my dad home thirty-some years ago when I was grieving that loss. I think of families who have taken me under their wing as a single woman and have provided friendship, encouragement, and counsel.

In fact, just recently I found myself really needing some counsel in some practical financial decisions I was making. I don’t have father or a husband to help me work through those things, and I was sharing that prayer request with a friend who said, “I know someone who has expertise in that area. He loves the Lord, and I think he’d be glad to help you.”

So she connected us, and we were able to talk just last week. This man was just so quick to offer to help. He said he would consider it a privilege. He said in an email, “God has given my wife and me a heart to serve single Christian ladies like yourself, providing ‘covering’ whenever, and however, we can.”

Well, I was so blessed, so encouraged by this practical help from somebody else in my family—somebody I don’t know personally, but know through this email exchange. I wrote to thank him, and I loved his response. He said, “The Lord is so very kind to His children to attend to all the details and provide just what we need when we need it. He is truly awesome in His care and mercy toward us!”

I thought of that email as I saw this exchange between Jesus and Mary and John, and I said, “Yes! God is so kind, so merciful to tend to the details of our lives, and He often does that by means of His people, members of that great spiritual family." So Christ calls us to be His family here on earth—to care for parents, widows, fatherless, to take responsibility for one another, not only those in our immediate physical families, but also those in the wonderful, broader family, the family that we’ll spend eternity in heaven together, that family that was formed by the work that He did for us on the cross.

Leslie: Practical matters are significant to God’s kingdom. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing us how Jesus lovingly attended to details—even while on the cross. That message is part of a series called "The Incomparable Christ."

During the Lenten season, we’ve focused on Jesus. If you got a lot out of today’s message, this entire series is for you. As you listen, your understanding of the gospel story will be enriched. More than that, you’ll be encouraged to know and worship Jesus in a deeper way.

For details on how to listen to "The Incomparable Christ" online, just visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

God has been using The Incomparable Christ and other series on Revive Our Hearts to challenge women with God’s Word each weekday. Nancy’s here with an example.

Nancy: Jennifer is one of those listeners who wrote us. She said, “Your ministry has been an incredible tool in my spiritual walk and a constant source of encouragement and accountability.”

Well, when you donate to help keep Revive Our Hearts on the air, it lets us encourage other women like Jennifer in your community. So if you appreciate the ministry of Revive Our Hearts and you want others to be encouraged by it, would you ask the Lord if He would want you to make a donation to help support the ministry?

This week when you make a donation of any amount, we want to send you a really helpful book by my good friend Elyse Fitzpatrick as our way of saying “thanks.” The book is called Comforts from the Cross. I think you’ll relate to the themes that Elyse writes about and the way that she shares so transparently out of her own journey.

She describes what it feels like to be burdened by her own sin. She writes about the temptation toward idolatry, about filling her time with things that distract her from God’s best, and she writes about grace, forgiveness, freedom, and joy.

This book is a great collection of thirty-one short devotional readings, and I hope you’ll walk through this book with Elyse as she celebrates the gospel one day at a time. Just ask for the book, Comforts from the Cross, when you call us at 1–800–569–5959. The book is yours when you make a donation of any amount. Or you can donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com. And please remember to let us know if you usually listen online, or give us the call letters of the radio station where you listen to Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie: Thousands of people were crucified each year in Rome during the time of Jesus. So the physical suffering He went through wasn’t unheard of, yet Jesus suffered in a far deeper way than anyone else has ever experienced. We’ll consider why tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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