May 12, 2019
What would Jesus think about Mother’s Day? The brief glimpses provided in Scripture reveal that while Jesus was respectful, courteous, and concerned for His mother’s care, His priority was to do the work of His Father—and although she gave birth to Christ, even Mary was in need of salvation. In this “charcoal sketch,” Alistair Begg surveys the Bible passages that record Jesus’ interactions with His mother. These scenes remind us that, like Jesus, our duty to God must take precedence over everything else, including family loyalty.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 2, and we’ll read from verse 41:
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days, they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
Father, we pray for the help of the Holy Spirit as we turn to each of these passages, that we might have clarity of thought and grace and understanding, and that we might understand ultimately what it means to be members of your family by grace through faith. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
Well, this is the conversation, and the only conversation, that breaks the silence between the birth of Jesus and the commencement of his adult ministry. If you’ve ever wondered, “What is there in that time period as it elapses?”—here you find the answer. The commencement of his ministry is in 3:23: “When he began his ministry, [he] was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph,” and so on. But now we’re told that he was twelve years old when his parents, who were orthodox in their commitment to the law, had gone up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Most of us, if we’ve been brought up in the church, have known this from our Sunday school years. Some of us have heard quite remarkable expositions on this, with punchlines like “So don’t run away and leave your mom and dad at the mall.” And your children have come home saying, “Yes, we found out this morning from the Bible that we’re not supposed to run away from you at the mall.” It’s not a good idea to do that, but that clearly is not the point of Luke chapter 2. And so we need to do a little work to get at it.
Jesus is twelve years old, and he’s missing in action. It’s not an extraneous detail that he’s twelve. Twelve was the significant year, inasmuch as it was the final year of preparation for a Jewish boy before his bar mitzvah, before he became involved in the full life of the synagogue, before he became a son of the commandment. And if you have Jewish friends, then you will know, and you will have participated in that very, very important transitional moment in a young man’s life—a milestone for every Jewish boy, and certainly a milestone here in the story that is recorded for us by Luke.
It is in this context that we find the what I would refer to as a normal maternal reaction. A normal maternal reaction. We know what has happened. They have gone home. If you’ve ever traveled in a big group, you may have made the same mistake of thinking, “He must be in this conveyance or in that conveyance. I’m sure we’re all fine. Let’s go.” And then you go away down the road, and way down, the first time you stop at the motorway exit for a coffee, you realize, “Oh, you don’t have him?” “No, we don’t have him.” “Who has him?” “Apparently nobody has him.” And then back you go. That’s the circumstance here: they’ve gone for a day, they now go back, and after a time of searching, they discover where he is. And mother asks what is not a surprising question: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.”
Now, if that is normal, then surely the response of Jesus is an unusual response. He doesn’t say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I should have told you.” No, he says, “Why were you looking for me?” And then he adds, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” See, there’s a peculiar shift that is taking place here—not just in the transition from twelve-year-old into thirteen and the bar mitzvah but in the whole development of the understanding of his earthly parents in terms of who Jesus is and what Jesus has come to do and what it means that Jesus is the person he is. “Your father and I have been looking for you.” Jesus is essentially saying, “Well, actually, my real Father has me on an assignment. Did you not know that I have to be about my Father’s business,” or “in my Father’s house?” Both work, because the Father’s house, the temple, the place of his activity, is the place where he says “I need to be.” And what is the activity in which the Father is engaged? It is in putting together a company that no one can number from every tribe and nation and people and language and tongue. In other words, the business of the Father is the business of salvation.
And so, in this moment, Jesus is beginning to sound a note—a note which, we’re told here by Luke, Mary and Joseph did not understand. “They did not understand” at that point the things that he was saying to them. The teachers of the law were astonished at his ability not simply to ask good questions but also to engage in conversation. So you can see that this is a very dramatic and significant moment before silence ensues, then, for the next eighteen years. You go forward, and we know nothing until you get to 3:23. Therefore, surely this little incident has to tell us something in terms of Jesus’ interaction with his parents, and particularly with his mother.
“I must,” he says. “I must…” If you want a little Bible study, you can look up “must” and see how many times Jesus uses this divine statement, “I must…” Remember—I’ll give you one to get you started—“And he told the disciples, ‘I must go up to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of cruel men.’” And so he says, “I must be about my Father’s business.”
Now, here is the obvious and essential point: the priority of Jesus is obedience to the Father in the work of salvation. And he is sounding that note even though Mary and Joseph do not understand. He is not being disrespectful. He is obeying the fifth commandment to honor his father and his mother. And you will notice that verse 51 tells us that after this interchange, he went down with them. Having, at the beginning of the section, gone up with them, “he went down with them … and was submissive to them.” So his response was the response of submission. His mother’s response was as again, as before, to treasure up all these things in her heart and say to herself, “My, my! I wonder what all of this means.”
And then you will notice that the development of Jesus in terms of his growth from adolescence into manhood was normal: he “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and [with] man,” so much so that if at the end of this, when they had all finally made it back to their home, if Mary had gone out for her shopping, as it were, and somebody had said to her, “So, how did it go up at the Passover? What’s the latest on Jesus?” she would have had occasion to say, “You wouldn’t believe it, even if I told you.” Because she didn’t believe it. She didn’t understand it. That’s the first section.
Now let’s turn to the passage in John and in chapter 2—once again, a familiar passage; once again, something of a charcoal sketch. You’re going to have to go home and color things in for yourselves.
Now, incidentally, what we’re turning to are the three occasions in the entirety of the Gospels where you have interaction between Jesus and Mary. I didn’t choose these arbitrarily. This is them. There are no more. All right? So in other words, this is the only documentation that we have for inferring anything from the text, asking the question, “I wonder how Jesus would view Mother’s Day?”
So, here we are: the wedding at Cana in Galilee. You know it, again, if you know your Bible. There they were. “Jesus … was invited,” verse 2, “to the wedding,” so were his disciples, and his mother was also present. It would seem that they certainly knew this person; it may even have been a relative. When you read the commentators, they have all kinds of conjecture, most of which you don’t really need to pay much attention to.
But here’s the point of engagement: out of the blue, as it were, “the mother of Jesus”—that is, Mary—“said to him, ‘They have no wine.’” Well, that’s quite an interesting start to a conversation, isn’t it? Now, weddings at this time would go on for sometimes as much as a week. And so the provision that would be made for the hospitality of the guests would be important provision. And it would be a striking embarrassment to run out, and clearly that is what has happened.
You may say to yourself, “I wonder why it is that Mary does not say to Joseph…” Because there’s no indication that Joseph is here. Indeed, when you read the Gospels, it becomes apparent that Joseph must have died fairly early on, because he is never mentioned. He is never present. He never contributes. So I think that’s a fair inference. So, then, who is Mary going to turn to? Well, turn to her boy, turn to Jesus. He’s the obvious go-to person. Perhaps he has been the one that has been sustaining her in the absence of her husband.
“They have no wine.” Well, why do you think Mary does this? This is all conjecture, isn’t it? She does this because now she’s fully grasped who Jesus is and what he’s doing, and she wants him to show his true colors? I don’t think so. That she sees this as a unique opportunity for him to perform a miracle? Well, probably not, because there hasn’t been a miracle yet. The text tells us that this is the first miracle that Jesus performed. So there was no precedent to it. It wasn’t as if she was saying, “Oh, here’s another opportunity for Jesus to do a miracle.” No!
Now, we’re not going to stop on the miraculous transformation of water to wine. The creator of the ends of the earth is able to do this. C. S. Lewis has a lovely little sentence where he says, “The Creator who, year by year, turns water into wine, so to speak, by a natural process, on this occasion speeds up the process and [achieves] the same [result].” It’s a kind of tongue in the cheek, but it’s really quite good.
No, but, so, what is the response of Jesus, verse 4? And Jesus said to her, “Well, let me see what I can do about that, Mother.” No. Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” Wow! “What does this have to do with me?” Is Jesus being discourteous in addressing her in this way? Not for a moment. I’m going to show you in just a moment or two that in the next encounter, which takes place from the cross, he’s using the exact same terminology in addressing his mother. There must be some reason why he says “Woman” rather than “Mother,” right? Because he loved her as his mother. But he addresses her as the “woman.”
I think the answer is this, or at least this is the start of the answer: that Jesus is establishing the distance between them. He says here, “What has this got to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” When you trace that through the Gospels, you realize that Jesus is constantly moving according, if you like, to a divine calendar. He is explaining all along the way that he is moving inexorably towards the day when, prior to his crucifixion, he will take bread, and he will take wine, and he will say to them, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
So all of this, if you like, is somehow or another in the panorama with which we come to a text like this. We don’t come to it in isolation. We don’t come to it in isolation from the rest of the Scriptures. So the rest of the Scriptures enable us to make certain deductions. Earlier on, when Simeon, as an older man, had taken the child Jesus in his arms, you’ll remember, in that great statement he said, “Let your servant now depart in peace, for my eyes have seen my salvation.” And remember, he then says to Mary, he says, “Now, listen; this child is destined for the rising and falling of many in Israel. The thoughts of people’s hearts will be revealed on account of their response to him, and a sword will pierce your soul too.” Now, surely that piercing, in its fatality and in its fullness, is yet to come. But this must have pierced a little: “They’ve run out of wine, Jesus.” “Woman…” “Woman…”
Now, again, try and think this out. She had borne Jesus, nursed Jesus, taught Jesus, but now there’s a distance. What is happening here? Jesus is beginning to make it clear to her that family ties were to take second place to the divine mission—that she is no longer going to operate on a standard mother-son relationship. She is his mother. He is her son. But he is about his Father’s business. He has an hour towards which he is moving. She does not have an inside track. Remember, in the Magnificat she had declared, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The Son is her Savior. He is about the business of the Father. Therefore, Mary, like every other person, must come to him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
You can track all this through by picking up the various pieces in the passage and examining them and following them. For example, the whole issue of wine and the picture of it running out is almost a picture of the moribund nature of Judaism, as those who have formulated and strangulated the covenant purposes of God find themselves dry and empty. That’s why Jesus on the last great day of the feast says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” They were thirsty. They were dried out. The wine was gone. And the prophets had declared that when the messianic age comes, wine will flow in all of its fullness. Jesus looks forward, ultimately, to that day. And we have to keep that in mind.
The water jars, in the same way, were there, we’re told, because the contained water was there for the acts of purification that had to happen again and again and again. Jesus takes that which represented an external purification, transforms it into wine—wine, which ultimately is a picture of the blood of the new covenant which is shed for sinners. All of this and more besides is wrapped up in this.
And then notice in verse … Here is Mary’s final statement in the entire record of the Gospels: “His mother said to the servants: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” Why? Because that is exactly what she must do: whatever Jesus tells her. Because Jesus, her son, is the Lord of Glory.
Now, let’s turn to John chapter 19, if you’re still with me. John 19:23:
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.
And then we have this scene: “But standing by the cross of Jesus”—“Beneath the cross of Jesus, I find a place to stand”—
were his mother … his mother’s sister …, and Mary Magdalene. 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.
There surely can be few scenes in all of history that are more touching than this.
I remember meeting my grandfather from the train in November of 1972. He had come from Glasgow to Yorkshire because my mother had died suddenly at the age of forty-six. And I remember as he walked off the train and came and hugged me, he said over my shoulder, he said, “It’s not right that my child should die before me.” In the normal course of events, in the journey of life, the standard pattern is we age and we die; they follow us: they age, they die. Every so often it goes differently.
And so it is that Mary is confronted by this. She had nursed this wee boy. She had raised this young man. She had listened to his teaching in his adult life. And it is this one who hangs dying on a Roman cross. Jesus has by this time prayed for his executioners: “Forgive them.” He has remained alert to respond to the request of the thief on one side of him, saying to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And now he addresses his concern for his mother: “Woman…” Once again, even in his death, paying attention to the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.”
Now, notice very carefully what he’s doing. He’s not asking his mother to take care of John or to take care of everything. He’s asking John to take care of his mother. Now, let me pause on this. For many of you have come from a Roman Catholic background, and you are at best confused on this issue. There is no suggestion in the Scriptures that Mary is the protector and that Mary is the provider. Rather, the Scriptures provide her as the one who stands in need of it herself. The idea that this presents for us a continuing rule or role for Mary is actually, if you look, without any biblical basis at all. And yet this is the kind of material that we find when we go about our daily routine. This I just picked up from a funeral that I attended some two years ago on the West Side. Here is the prayer that accompanies the story of the internment, etc.:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protections, implored thy help, and sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee I come. Before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.
Quoting a French commentator, D. A. Carson has this wonderful little section where the fellow points out that in the section that we considered in John chapter 2, Mary approaches Jesus as a mother, and she is rebuffed. If she demonstrates the first sign of faith, it must be the faith of a disciple and not a mother. So now here she stands near the cross with other disciples. And once she has assumed that stance—i.e., as a disciple—she may again be assigned a role as mother, but not as mother of Jesus, and certainly not as the mother of the church, but the mother of John.
You see, I think this must be the significance of “Woman.” Again, it is not discourtesy. Jesus is establishing the fact that his dear mother, who gave birth to him, who raised him, who cared for him, who taught him his alphabet, who put on his shoes, who loved him and cared for him, that this mother is a woman who is in need of the salvation that is provided in his atoning death. Jesus is just reminding her that she can’t presume upon her natural maternal ties. If she is to live the life of faith as a believing woman, her blessedness doesn’t lie in her position as his mother but in the blessing of keeping his word. “Woman…”
Then, finally, in Mark chapter 3. Here we have the encounter that never took place. Here we have an interesting little piece. Mark 3:31: “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him.” (“Could you go in and tell Jesus that we’re here?”) “And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”
What is Jesus doing here? Well, once again, he’s seizing this opportunity to teach them. “Your mother and your brothers are here.” “Let me ask you a question: Who’s my mother and my brothers?” They must have just looked back at him. And then, pointing to them, he says, “Here, you want to see my mother and my brothers? You want to see my family? Here’s my family. Here’s my family. You know who it’s made up of? Everyone who does the will of God. That’s my family.”
Now, if your Bible is open and you look up to verse 21, you realize that the family of Jesus—his actual siblings, his mother—did not have an understanding of who he was, and his own brothers did not believe in him until after the resurrection. Look at that verse 21: “And when his family heard it”—that the crowd that was following Jesus was so vast—“they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He[’s] out of his mind.’”
Isn’t that what some of your family have said to you when you became a Christian? “Why couldn’t you just be a normal person like everybody else? I mean, I go to church,” or “I’m a nice person. And you were always a nice person. I brought you up as a nice person. I don’t know what you’re on about. I’m really annoyed with you. We’ve always been a religious family. We’ve always done good things. What do you mean you’re getting baptized? I’m not going there. That’s thoroughly embarrassing. You’re going to stand up there and say those things? You’re crazy. You’re nuts. We’ve got a family here to respect and abide by.”
Well, that’s the kind of thing they were saying about Jesus. They weren’t all coming behind him singing, “He is Lord.” No. No! So is Jesus disavowing his family, once again? Is he saying, “I don’t care about my family”? No. How do we know? Because we just read Luke 2, John 2, and John 19, and that gives us the context. They can’t be ignored. They’re not unimportant. But the fact of the matter is, our duty to God takes precedence over everything else—that family loyalty takes second place.
Now, just allow a statement like that to register in your mind for a moment. Family loyalty. Every day of our lives, we say, “There is nothing more important than family. There’s nobody I love more than my mom. There is nothing…” And all of those things we can say quite unequivocally—until we come right up against this question. How do we explain world mission over the last two hundred years? How do you explain C. T. Studd’s departure from his family? How do you explain Helen Roseveare? How do you explain their willingness to turn their backs on the most precious relationships in all of time for the sake of their heavenly Father, for their desire to be about our Father’s business?
You see, the challenge here is this: Do we belong to the family of God—not institutionally, by signing a form, but transformationally, by being received into his family as his children? “He came to his own; his own received him not. But to as many as received him, to those that believed in his name, he gave the power to become the children of God.” Children of our heavenly Father. Is my relationship to Jesus simply institutional, or supernatural? Is my love for God and his kingdom so clear to me that when push comes to shove, as sometimes it may, it is God and his kingdom that must take precedence over every human relationship?
Here’s what Jesus said—and with this I close. Jesus said,
Do not think that I have come to bring peace [on] the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, … whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
I wonder what Jesus would make of Mother’s Day.
Let’s just pray:
Our God and our Father, we thank you for the Bible, to which we can turn, which comes to instruct, challenge many of our presuppositions, to correct our faulty thinking, to guide us in the paths of righteousness. And on a particular day like this, when we rejoice in the wonder of family relationships, we’re reminded that when we stand before you, we won’t stand as families, we won’t even stand as husband and wife, but we will stand alone. And the only, only possibility of our welcome is that we stand clothed in the righteousness provided in the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ. So use these thoughts, as we go on our way, to help us think out where we stand in relationship to the family of God—what that means, why it matters, and where we fit. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
 See Revelation 7:9.
 Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22 (paraphrased).
 See Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16.
 John 2:3 (ESV).
 F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 72. The quoted text is Bruce’s summary of one of Lewis’s points in Miracles (1947), not Lewis’s own language.
 1 Corinthians 11:25 (ESV). See also Luke 22:20.
 Luke 2:29–30 (paraphrased).
 Luke 2:34–35 (paraphrased).
 Luke 1:47 (ESV).
 John 1:29 (ESV).
 John 7:37 (NIV 1984).
 See Joel 2:24; 3:18; Amos 9:13.
 Kristyn Getty and Keith Getty, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” (2006).
 Luke 23:34 (ESV).
 Luke 23:43 (ESV).
 Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16 (ESV).
 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 173.
 See John 7:5.
 John 1:11–12 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 10:34–40 (ESV).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.