The Family Beneath The Cross

By: Robert Heerspink

Scripture Reading: John 19:25-27

March 29th, 2009

ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE Paul Tournier, a well—known Christian author, speaks in his book Escape from Loneliness of a young woman who moved to Geneva, Switzerland to work for an international welfare organization. She was respected by her colleagues, but only discussed business while in the office. She lived in a one—bedroom apartment, where she met her neighbors daily on the elevator, yet she never got to know anyone. She made no friends. There was no one who cared about her. And every night she would turn on the evening news, just so she could hear the voice of the announcer conclude his broadcast with the words, ". . . and so, we bid you a very pleasant good night!" I wonder whether there are those who are listening to this program with the same deep loneliness that woman felt. Oh, it’s not that you aren’t surrounded by people. But you aren’t personally connected with anyone! In fact, sometimes having a lot of people around us only makes our loneliness worse. I have experienced some of my most miserable times of loneliness when I attended conferences where I didn’t know anyone. I would wander from presentation to presentation and see people everywhere greeting old friends. I would overhear their conversation and laughter. And I would know that none of it was reserved for me. By the end of the conference, I would ache with loneliness. Now, there are those of us who don’t experience loneliness merely during a four day conference in a big city. Loneliness surrounds us every day. Sometimes it seems to us that we are drowning in a sea of loneliness. There are those of us who are tuning in to this program who hunger for even a few moments of personal communication with another living being. Maybe you’ve outlived your family and friends. Maybe you’re kids have moved out of state and hardly ever phone home. Maybe your personal journey has just taken you further and further away from people who you know well. Until now, those old established relationships have pretty much withered and died. And you don’t know how to begin to make new friendships. You try to convince yourself that you don’t really need people. But you know you’re kidding yourself. You DO need people. You crave PEOPLE in your life. AT THE CROSS Now it may surprise you that Jesus understands that need. For Jesus knows we’re just consoling ourselves when we say that if we have a personal relationship with God, that’s enough to sustain us. Yes, the Savior wants a personal relationship with you through faith in him. But he also understands your deep need to relate to other people. In fact, he addressed that very issue as he hung from Calvary. The pain of your loneliness was on his mind at Calvary. From the cross, Jesus was very concerned about creating true community. Come with me to Calvary and see what I mean. A MOTHER’S HURT You see, there was a COMMUNITY of sufferers at Calvary the afternoon that Jesus died. Some, like the thieves crucified with Jesus, were going through physical torture. But there were others for whom the pain was of a very different kind. Jesus’ mother, Mary, was there at Golgotha. And who would question that Mary was in pain that Friday afternoon? Her suffering, of course, had been predicted when Jesus was only a week old. Simeon spoke of the dark side of the birth of her child, when he told Mary: "A sword will piece your own soul, too." Mary must have felt that sword working its way between her ribs for years. She must have winced when the gossip mongers in the village raised questions about Jesus’ paternity. She must have been stung when she saw the way the crowds misunderstood Jesus’ teaching. Her heart must have ached when her own grown children questioned Jesus’ sanity. But through it all, she would have clung to the hope that one day it would all work out for good. One day her son would be vindicated. One day unbelief would turn to belief and everyone would acknowledge Jesus to be whom she knew him to be: The Messiah of Israel. But now on Calvary, the sword that had toyed with Mary all these years is driven home with full force. The sword cuts into her heart. Her son is dying in agony. No more hope of a better tomorrow for his ministry. No more expectations that the storm clouds would break and the sun come out. The angel had said: "He would be great," but where is his greatness now? Her son was dying, blasphemed by his own people, accursed of God. If any life had come crashing down, burned to ashes, it was this life. If you would have seen the face of Mary on Calvary you would have seen it contorted by deep grief. A DISCIPLE’S PAIN There was another sufferer on Golgotha that afternoon. His name was John. John had known Jesus as long as he could remember. After all, John was Jesus’ cousin. Perhaps they had grown up in the same village, played games with each other, and explored the same countryside together. John and Jesus knew each other from their youth. But there is more to John’s pain than just that of watching an old childhood friend die. John is going through a crisis of faith. For John was convinced that Jesus was more than his cousin and friend. John had considered Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah King sent from God who would bring God’s perfect reign to earth. For the sake of that commitment, John had given up everything. He had left behind his family and his business. He had invested three years of his life in the confidence that Jesus was the Savior of the world. But now, that confidence was broken to pieces. Jesus’ quest was ending in defeat. The grand plan was over. The inscription above Jesus’ head read: "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." But it sounded like cruel irony now. The dream had turned into a nightmare. FROM THE CROSS In the midst of all this, Jesus looks down with compassion from his cross. He sees the suffering of these two special persons in his life. Now, that in itself is amazing. After all, you would think that agony would blind Jesus to anything happening on the hillside in front of him. Jesus is draining the cup of divine wrath. If anyone has a right to be preoccupied with his own suffering, it is Jesus. Yet what led Christ to his cross was not merely the evil scheming of wicked men. What led Christ to the cross was love—a love that is always reaching out, always seeking, even from the cross. That’s clear from what Jesus had said from Calvary. Toward those responsible for his death he had said, "Father, forgive them . . ." Toward a dying thief he had said, "Today, you will be with me in Paradise." And now, toward Mary and John, he says, "Woman, here is your son. Son, here is your mother." CHRIST AND THE FAMILY Jesus reaches out from the cross and of all things, he creates a family! That says something about the place of family in God’s eyes. In our world today, there are a lot of pressures that tear at the family. The notion of family is often seen as old—fashioned, out—of—date. Sadly, families are crumbling today at an alarming rate. Today, half of all children in America will at some point in their childhood live in a single parent household. The breakdown of families grieves God’s heart. He sees it as yet another dimension of the loneliness and isolation that sin has birthed in a fallen world. You see, God loves families. Families aren’t biological accidents. Families aren’t mere social constructs that can be discarded when society has deemed them old—fashioned and out—of—date. No, families are important to God! In fact, in Scripture, family is the basic building block of society. Families are so important that Jesus is creating a new family right at Calvary, in the hours before he dies! But wait a minute, you say. Didn’t Mary have a family? Sure she did. After all, Jesus had brothers. Matthew 12:46 tells us "While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him." Mary had other children. Jesus had younger siblings. And although Joseph had died by the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, surely there were other grown children who could have cared for Mary upon Jesus’ death. Jesus didn’t have to put her in the care of John to assure her needs were met. So why did Jesus speak these words at all? SOMETHING NEW IN THE WORLD Why? It’s because Jesus had come into the world to create a new kind of family. In fact, Jesus is literally dying to create a new kind of family. It’s the very reason he came on this mission from God. You see hints of that truth throughout the gospels. At the age of 12, when Jesus stays behind at the temple in Jerusalem rather than starting back home to Nazareth with his parents, he gets a scolding from Mary and Joseph who had spent three days frantic with worry. But the boy Jesus doesn’t seem to be fazed. Instead he responds with a strange question: "Don’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?" Twenty years later, Jesus and his friends are at a wedding feast in Cana. His mother is there too. Mary considers that as Jesus’ mother she can prod her son to address a shortage in the supply of wedding wine. Again, Jesus’ words put an awkward distance between himself and his mother: "Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour has not yet come." This odd talk runs throughout Jesus’ ministry. A woman was once so impressed by Jesus’ teachings that she gushed—"How wonderful to be your mother!" But Jesus corrects her: "Blessed, rather, are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!" About the same time, Jesus was teaching and someone said: "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." Instead of dropping everything he was doing, Jesus replies, ". . . whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother…" Such strange talk! Jesus talks as if his natural family isn’t the last word when it comes to social relationships! And now, from a cross, Jesus explains why that is so. He literally creates a new family beneath the cross—God’s family, of which he is the elder brother. "Woman," Jesus says of Mary. Woman. This is not the way a good Jewish boy typically addressed his mother. Why would Jesus talk this way? Because Mary must no longer define herself first as Jesus’ mother—but first as Jesus’ disciple. She must understand herself to be now in both a new relationship with her Son and in a new relationship with others. For looking down from his cross, Jesus says to Mary of John: "Woman, behold your Son." And he says to John of Mary: "Behold, your mother." THE NEW FAMILY You see, Jesus creates a new family beneath the cross. What happens here is not incidental to the crucifixion story. What happens here is the very reason Jesus has come into the world. Jesus has come to create a new people, his church, which is nothing less than the Family of the Living God. The cross has everything to do with this new community. For at Calvary, Jesus is re—crafting old relationships between God and his people. Old Testament covenant ties with God had run through a specific people—the people of Israel. But those covenant ties have now been fulfilled and transformed—through Jesus Christ. In fact, the night before he died, Jesus broke bread and shared the cup with his disciples to give them a visible sign that a new covenant was now being created through his sacrificial ministry. All who place their trust in Jesus Christ experience reconciliation with the divine that bursts beyond a one—on—one relationship with God. This is a reconciliation that reaches out to form a bond with everyone who shares a common trust in the Savior. Jesus understood that following him meant finding your place within a community of believers. Being his disciple means coming in a community of those who love Jesus Christ. Yes, community—building was the reason for Christ’s coming. The result of Jesus’ words to Mary and John is a family centered in him. "From that hour the disciple took her to his own." Often that’s interpreted to mean that John brought her into his own home. But something deeper is meant here. There is now a bond between Mary and John that’s more intense than between members of a natural family. Mary and John will share a commitment to the same Lord. They now share a common love, a common commitment, a common mission, a common destiny. THE ANSWER TO LONELINESS And here is the answer to the loneliness that afflicts our society today. The walls that isolate us from each other can fall when we are together in the presence of Jesus. When we live within the circle of his love and grace, we are free to be ourselves. We’re free to be honest with Jesus—and honest with others who have discovered, with us, the grace of Christ. We’re part of a community that treats one another as we would treat Jesus. For Christ taught us that what we do the least of these his brothers and sisters we do to him! This means that even our natural families find their place within the church of Christ. Yes, it’s hard for some to believe that being in relationship with Jesus and his church is even more important than being part of a physical family. But it’s true. God wants to take your family and enfold it into his plans. He has an amazing way of nurturing faith from generation to generation through the work of godly parents and grandparents who love Jesus. But sometimes physical families can get in the way of following Jesus. I have a friend in Japan, a Japanese pastor, who told me that the verse in Scripture that led him to publicly confess his Christian faith was Jesus’ words: "He who loves father and mother, sister and brother, more than me is not worthy of me." For this Japanese pastor, his decision to become a Christian was an embarrassment to his family. Even more, it seemed to his family that he was turning his back on his family—repudiating his family ties. Yet my Japanese friend understood that to be part of God’s family through faith in Christ was the most important thing in the world! He understood that the way to true community with God and others lay through Christ and his church. Yes, there is nothing more important than to be part of God’s family. But maybe that offends you. In fact, ironically, it may be that the church is what keeps you from seriously considering the claims of Christ himself! You don’t mind thinking of Jesus. He’s so kind and loving and good! But the church that’s called by his name, that’s another matter. The church is filled up with hypocrites, you say. It’s filled with people who don’t live out their principles. The church is filled with people with all kinds of oddities and peculiarities. Hmm, reminds me a lot of families, doesn’t it? You know, you may pick your friends, but you don’t pick your family. Families contain their share of folk with peculiarities, people with special needs. Families contain their share of people who are hard to love. All families are a bit bizarre if you think about it. Yet people have a deep need for families where they are loved, encouraged, and supported. And that’s just like the church. Very frankly, not everyone in the church is very likeable. The church is filled with all kinds of folks who are at different points in the degree to which they reflect Christ’s love. Some are working hard at it. Others, well, very frankly, don’t take the Christian journey seriously enough. The church is filled with all kinds of people trying to come to grips with their faults and failings. But that’s why I fit right in. And that is why you fit in too. The church is filled with ‘come as you are’ people—imperfect people. People of all personalities and ethnicities who share one thing in common—they know their need for the grace of God, the love of Christ, and the community that Christ’s Spirit is creating. Remember that young lady that Paul Tournier was talking about, at the beginning of this message? Her life began to turn around when she discovered people who in the name of Christ reached into her life, and thought of her not merely as a cog in a big organization—but as a real person. Your life can change too. In your neighborhood there is no doubt a community of believers who take God’s Word seriously and are living out their faith together. You need those folk. They’re the true answer to your loneliness. Pay them a visit. Attend their worship. Introduce yourself. Or talk to someone you know who is a Christian believer. Ask whether you can be introduced to their Christian family. You owe it to yourself to move beyond loneliness, into community with God and his people. For in such community, you realize the purpose of your very being—to live in connection with God and others.

About the Author

Robert Heerspink

Rev. Robert Heerspink is a native of west Michigan. He completed his undergraduate studies at Calvin College and holds the degrees of Master of Divinity and Master of Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. He has also received a Doctor of Ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Bob was ordained a minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church of North America in 1979, and has 26 years of parish experience, having served four churches throughout west Michigan. He was appointed the Director of The Back to God Hour in 2006. Bob has written several resources related to congregational stewardship, including the book, Becoming a Firstfruits Congregation. He is a regular contributor to TODAY, the monthly devotional of The Back to God Hour. Bob is married to Edith (Miedema) and they have three children. His hobbies include reading fictional and historical works, watersports, and occassional golfing.

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