Near the Cross

John 19:25-27.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son!

Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

Often, as the mother of three sons, I have thought about what His mother, Mary, suffered as she watched His torture and death. It’s difficult to put myself in her place. I’m sure the experience aged her in a short time, and that she wanted to die with Him. I have also wondered why Jesus gave John the responsibility of her care when she had other sons of her own. Perhaps because John was young, and Jesus loved him especially. He knew Mary would be cherished in John’s household.

Three Mary’s stood near the cross: His mother, whom we can assume had been widowed by this time; His aunt; and Mary Magdalene, whose life had been transformed by Jesus’ ministry. They had watched, it can be assumed, His progress through the trials, insults, beatings, scourging, and finally His crucifixion. All of these were public events back then, done in the open perhaps to warn anyone else what would happen if they stepped across the line of Roman domination.

When Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple when He was eight days old, Simeon held Jesus in his arms and recognized Who He was: “Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). Mary’s suffering was enough to bring her to her knees, for sure.

It is likely that Mary the wife of Cleophas here was the same as Salome in (Mark 15:40), and that she was ‘the mother of the sons of Zebedee’ (Matthew 27:56). It was this Mary, along with Mary Magdalene, who was among the first to discover that Jesus’ tomb was empty three days later.

In my imagination, I see these three women standing by, weeping, helpless. They must have tried to comfort one another, and especially to comfort His mother, as they watched His life’s blood drip from his body to the ground.

The disciple Jesus loved: John never refers to himself by name, but used this descriptor four times in his gospel: (John 13:2319:2621:721:20).

When Jesus said, “Woman! Behold thy son.” There was no disrespect. In His day, the term was similar to our “Ma’am,” showing great respect. It was clear in His directives to Mary and John that they were to accept the relationship of mother and son. John took Mary home with him that very day, and as far as we know she stayed with him until she died.

Again, the question as to why Jesus designated John to be Mary’s protector, and not one of His own brothers. We have nothing in scripture to clarify, so it is all conjecture. I wonder if it was because His own brothers did not follow Him during His earthly ministry, and did not yet believe in Him. Or perhaps it was because He knew John would certainly outlive His brothers and His mother. We really can’t know for sure, and it’s just as well. What matters is that, in the midst of intense agony, Jesus was thinking not of his own terrible pain. Instead, He was focused on the needs of those He loved. It is quite common for a dying person to turn completely inward in his last hours, focusing on his pain, or on what he has left undone, or whatever memories come to mind at the time. Jesus, though, was consistent in death as He was in life, ministering to those around Him even as He suffered.

Amazing grace.

The Disciple Jesus Loved

John 13:22-25.

Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.

Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom He spake.

He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto Him, Lord, who is it?

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The Apostle John is universally believed to have been the one sitting next to Jesus; he is referred to often as “the disciple Jesus loved.” That doesn’t mean He didn’t love the others. “Loved” is used in a comparative sense. There was an especially tender relationship between Jesus and John, to whom Jesus assigned the care of His mother as He hung on the cross. Perhaps, as we know from other scripture, it was because John was the youngest. Perhaps it was because Jesus knew John’s future, and the incredible suffering he would endure as well as the writing of the final book of the Bible.

John refers to himself in this way four different times:

Here in the upper room (John 13:23

At the cross of Jesus (John 19:26

At the empty tomb (John 20:2

With the risen Jesus at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:20)

Leaning on Jesus’ bosom: It can be hard for us to picture the kinds of relationships that were normal and ordinary in that time and place. Physical affection was not withheld for fear of seeming inappropriate. The leaning that is described here was most likely due to the posture the men took at the table, with John leaning with his back against Jesus’ chest, as perhaps between a father and young son.

Cultural norms differ, and sometimes we are too quick to judge. When I was in Bible college, there were two brothers from a foreign country who also attended my school. As was normal in their culture, they often walked hand in hand as they were in town together. But in that time, in midwestern America, two men holding hands in public was NOT okay. Someone called the school to complain, and the brothers were asked to refrain from holding hands as they walked. They didn’t understand at all, and were hurt and confused. I share this story here to try to cast a different perspective on the relationship Jesus had with John. It was normal in that day and time for such physical closeness to be obvious, and there was nothing in it that was inappropriate.

As John leaned in on Jesus, he noticed that Peter was beckoning to him to ask Jesus who would betray Him. Apparently Peter was not sitting close enough to Jesus to simply ask Him himself without getting the attention of everyone in the room.

And, for the second time in this story, we see Peter trying to take a leading or controlling role. First, he tried to direct Jesus during the foot washing. Now, he is directing John to ask Jesus the question that was on all their minds.

Peter was a natural “take charge” kind of guy. He was impatient, quick to object, wanting to know all that was going on. Once he fully dedicated himself to serving Jesus, there was no stopping him.

John did as Peter directed, and asked Jesus, “Who is going to betray you?”

The Right Hand of Fellowship

Galatians 2:7-10. “But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the Same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship;that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor: the same which I also was forward to do.”

Rather than being critical of Paul, the men he met with in Jerusalem recognized the hand of God on his life to have a ministry to the Gentiles for which he was particularly well-suited. He was enlightened by God after his conversion and had a special understanding of how best to approach the Gentiles with the gospel story.

It was the same mighty hand of God that fitted Peter for a ministry to Israel, beginning on the Day of Pentecost and then through the years of his ministry since then. God gifts those whom He will, and uses them for His purpose.

 James, brother of Jesus;  Cephas (Peter), and John, the Beloved Disciple,  were the leaders. They saw the evidence of God’s grace on Paul’s life, and extended to him and to Barnabas the right hand of fellowship on their mission to the Gentiles, while they themselves would continue in their ministry to the Jews.

Some have foolishly interpreted this passage to mean that there was a gospel to the Jews, and a different gospel to the Gentiles; that Peter was better fitted to preach the Jewish gospel, and Paul the Gentile gospel.

What a totally inconsistent interpretation this is! There is only one gospel, one Lord, one Faith.  It was preached in its full truth by both Peter and Paul, only to different audiences.  For both audiences, it was the message of the crucified, risen, and glorified Savior. For both audiences, the clear call was to repentance, belief, and salvation.

And, said Peter and the rest, don’t forget about the poor; don’t forget to help those in need. Paul stated that he was ready to do that, and it became an extremely important part of the ministry of the early church to take care of those in need.

Sorrowful and Heavy

Matthew 26:37–38. “And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with Me.”

Two things rise to the top of my thinking this morning as I study this passage.  Of course, there are far more than just two matters of importance. We could, indeed, spend hours just on these verses.  They are perhaps some of the most evocative, poignant verses. The words Jesus said to His disciples were so open, so without pretense.

First, He took three with him:  Peter, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee. These three, His “inner circle,” had the privilege of going farther with Him into the garden to watch with Him while He prayed and waited for Judas to do his work.

How amazing it would have been to be chosen to walk so closely with Him at this moment of His great sorrow!

Second, He uttered words that have become very precious to me in my work as a therapist. He said that He was overwhelmed with sorrow; so overwhelmed, in fact, that He felt very close to death.

That’s what depression can feel like. Two scriptures come to mind:

1 Corinthians 10:13

13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

Hebrews 4:15

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Tomorrow, I will tell you why I believe He expressed such deep sorrow.  For today, I just want to think about the fact that Jesus Himself, perfect God-Man, was capable of feeling such heaviness of spirit that He felt He was close to dying right there in the garden.  Don’t you think Satan was tempting Him during those moments?  If Satan could convince Jesus to die by His own hand, then the work of Calvary would not be accomplished.  But Jesus was able to bear the sorrow, the weighed-down spirit, the sense of hopelessness because He went to the Father for the strength He needed to face the next  hours of His earthly life.

Jesus was touched with the feeling our our infirmities, our weaknesses. Depression itself is not sin; however, we can be tempted, in our depression, to sin. We can lose faith; we can feel that God no longer cares for our heartache; we can become so wrapped up in our grief that nothing can penetrate the darkness that surrounds us.

But God.  I love it when the scriptures describe such utter darkness of the soul, followed by the words “But God. . .”

He always has a way of escape for us. He always will give us what we need to find our way out of the darkest places of our hearts.  He, too, has suffered torment.  He is the  Wounded Healer. No one understands like Jesus.

Ye Know Not What ye Ask

Matthew 20:22-23. “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able. And He saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on My right hand, and on My left, is not Mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of My Father.”

Indeed, these two brothers had no idea what they were asking. Jesus’ response to them was clear:  “Only if you are able and willing to follow in My footsteps, to suffer as I will suffer, to endure as I will endure, can you ask such a favor. And you shall. You will endure suffering. But only My Father knows to whom will be granted special places of favor. It is not Mine to decide.”

How eagerly they responded, “Yes!  We are able to follow You in suffering!”

The scriptures and historical accounts tell us that James, who was the first of the twelve to be killed, was beheaded by Herod. His brother John, who was the disciple that Jesus loved, was the writer of the Gospel of John, the epistles of John, and the book of Revelation. Tradition tells us, and many historical writings bear it out, that John was at one point thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil but received no injuries. In his old age, he was exiled to the isle of Patmos. He lived to be 100 years old, which was a very old age in that time.

Do you wonder. . . .if they had known what faced them, would they have been so eager to proclaim their ability to follow in Jesus’ path?  

Are we?




What Wilt Thou?

Matthew 20:20-21. “Then came to Him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping Him, and desiring a certain thing of Him. And He said unto her, “What wilt thou? She saith unto Him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand, and the other on the left, in Thy kingdom.”

Jesus had just told His disciples that He would suffer betrayal, torture, and death in Jerusalem, but that  He would rise again  three days after His death. We aren’t invited into the conversation that must have taken place following this announcement.  Instead, we are shown the picture of a loving mother who is concerned for the future of her sons. I don’t think we should be too quick to condemn her. 

In Matthew 27:56 coupled with Mark 15:40, we learn that the “mother of Zebedee’s children” (James and John) was named Salome. We are told that she worshipped Jesus. The language would indicate that she knelt before Him, acknowledging Him in a reverential way. Then she asked Him for something very special. 

It is at this point that we often tsk-tsk this woman, feeling that she is out of place in seeking special favors for her sons. However, when we look at the same incident in Mark 15, we see clearly that James and John were with her; that, in fact, the request had come through their mother from them. Jesus did not address her again in this incident, but spoke directly to the two disciples, whom He loved.  

Salome received no rebuke from Jesus. i believe that He understood her heart, and felt no anger toward her.  Salome is among the women who stood away from the cross and watched during His crucifixion, women who had followed Him and ministered to Him and the other disciples during His ministry.  Salome was not a greedy helicopter mom. She was simply relaying a request from her sons–who should have known better!

James and John had doubtless hear Jesus’ response to Peter when he had asked about rewards. They had heard that the twelve would be seated on thrones, judging (having authority over) Israel in the Kingdom. It was customary then that an Eastern king would seat his two most important followers on either side of his throne, indicating their place of position and favor. James and John coveted those positions, and apparently felt they had earned the right to request those places next to Jesus. 

Favor always comes with merit. Tomorrow, we’ll see what Jesus’ response was. 

A Few Days Later. . . .

Matthew 17:1. “And after six days, Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart.”

“Peter, James, John–you three come with Me.  I have something to show you.”

“Where are we going, Lord?”

“We’re going up into a high mountain, apart from everyone else for a while.”

“But, Lord, why can’t the others come?”

Jesus paused, looking into the eyes of the three disciples.  Without responding, He turned and continued to walk toward the mountain where He would show these three an unimaginable thing.

A Sorry King

Matthew 14:9-12. “And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.”

Gruesome, isn’t it?  I keep imagining this event, and it must have been horrible, indeed.  All these people, partying with Herod;  reclining on couches around the table, as was customary, drinking and eating, laughing, watching the entertainment.  When Salome made her macabre request of Herod, I don’t know if a silence fell on the crowd or if they cheered and jeered. 

In any event, Herod was sorry. Did you ever wonder about that?  Sorry because he knew John was without fault?  Sorry because he knew John didn’t deserve death?  Or sorry because he feared the consequences?  Indeed, he could have denied Salome’s request; however, there was some little idea of honor in him, because he had vowed with an oath that he would give her whatever she asked. 

You know, it’s really not a good idea to make an open promise like that. 

So he ordered John’s death.  I’m thinking it may have been a relief  to John.  Being in prison back then was no pleasant experience. It would seem that the deed was done quickly, over with quickly. His head was placed on some sort of tray or platter and brought to Salome. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would really have wanted to see a man’s head once it was disconnected from his body.  Apparently, though, our Salome was a tough little cookie.  She simply presented the “gift” to her mother.  At this point, my imagination goes into overdrive. 

What did Herodias do?  Pat John’s head?  Leave it sitting on the table in front of her?  Laugh, mock, get up and do her own little happy dance?  What a pair, Herodias and Salome. 

John’s followers, grieving, took care of his body and took the news of his death to Jesus. 


Herod the Tetrarch

Matthew 14:1-2. “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus. And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist, he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves on him.”

Herod the Tetrarch was the son of the Herod who tried to have Jesus killed when He was born. The title Tetrarch refers to the size of the land over which he ruled, literally one-fourth of the area of Israel.  Herod actually had the title “King,” and he was very jealous of that position.  His realm included Judea, Samaria and Idumea. He was married to a daughter of King Aretas of Arabia, but he lived in open adultery with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. He was in all ways an evil man, and he came to a terrible end that you can read about in Acts 12.

In Matthew 4 we learned that John the Baptist had been imprisoned. In chapter 11, he had sent his friends to Jesus to get some reassurance; in this chapter, we’ll see his end. 

Herod, like his father, was very troubled at the news of Jesus’ preaching and miracles. Anyone who seemed to be a threat to his power was on a long list of people to eliminate. He was not a religious man, but he was obviously very superstitious.  He assumed that Jesus must have been John, risen from death and doing miraculous things. 

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at why Herod had such a guilty conscience. 

Wisdom is Justified of Her Children

Matthew 11:16-19. “But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto  their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced: we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.  But wisdom is justified of her children.”

After Jesus praised John the Baptist, He immediately turned His attention to the unbelief of the generation He walked among.  It was the generation that was privileged to see the King, Jehovah, in the flesh.  What He said to them, in effect, was that they couldn’t be pleased by anything.

You are like children, He said, who are toying with the real things of life but you are just idling away your time. When John came, you were put off by his  ascetic life; you didn’t like it that he fasted and prayed so much.  You though he smelled bad, and you didn’t like his animal skin clothing.  He’s too strict, you said.  He insists that we give up too much. And when he wouldn’t sit down to eat and drink with you, you were offended. You even said he was demon-possessed!

So then I came among you.  I sat down to eat and drink with you, and you accused Me of being a glutton and a drunk.  I showed you truth, and I showed you mercy.  I had dinner with a tax collector, and I had fellowship with sinners.  But you don’t understand, because you have no  heart for grace and mercy.  I was nothing more to you than another man, eating and drinking.  You didn’t like mourning (John) and you didn’t like rejoicing (Me!)

But wisdom is justifed of her children:  Wisdom is an Old Testament name for our Lord. The whole book of Proverbs overflows with the word Wisdom, and the speech Wisdom utters. Read Proverbs 8 with the truth in mind that Wisdom is God, and see if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Those who believed in Him in Matthew were the children of Wisdom. They found no fault, neither in Him nor in John; Wisdom, Jesus, was thereby justified by those who believed in Him