It would appear that there were very few at the cross of our Lord who grieved for Him or were in any way sympathetic to Him. ‘This is your hour, and the power of darkness’ is what He had said to the Jewish rulers as He approached His hour of suffering. The scripture, ‘Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none’, Ps. 69. 20, is often quoted of His sufferings on the cross, and it may well be appropriate to do so bearing in mind the words that follow, ‘They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink’. There was one group, however, that did weep for Him, a small huddle of women to whose faithful love the Spirit of God draws our attention. Chief amongst this group was Mary, the mother of our Lord, who also drew from our Lord a cry of pity.
For just over three years our Lord had had the constant company of His twelve disciples and, as His fame spread abroad, He was dogged by crowds of needy people, and of those determined to trap Him or catch Him out. Except when He withdrew to pray privately, it would appear that He was seldom alone. Yet, as He drew closer to the cross, He knew that even His beloved disciples would let Him down. ‘Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone’, John 16. 32; ‘And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered’, Mark 14. 27. Inevitably, His disciples took exception to this. Peter insisted vehemently that he of all the disciples would not let the Lord down, and when our Lord warned him that he would deny him three times, Peter insisted he would not. ‘Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples’, Matt. 26. 33-35. Yet, when the moment in the garden of Gethsemane came when our Lord was arrested by the band of soldiers, ‘they all forsook him and fled’, Mark 14. 50. Admittedly, John, the beloved disciple, having fled from the garden, returned to observe the farce of a trial our Lord had to endure in the High Priest’s house, as did Peter, and John was very evidently there at the cross, for our Lord commended His mother into his care, but Peter had gone by then, as had the other nine. Oh, the misplaced bravado of males. The men have let Him down. But the Holy Spirit draws our attention to a band of women who were there at Calvary. ‘Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene’, John 19. 25. This band of women had not been included at the feast in the upper room, they had not been in the garden of Gethsemane, they were not allowed into the High Priest’s rooms, but they must have heard of our Lord’s arrest and trials and they came to the place of the skull to watch Him there. The disciples’ bravado had failed them. They hid from the authorities out of fear and shame. But oh the loyalty of a mother and the women who stood with her! What devotion she showed her son and Lord there!
The scripture explicitly states, ‘There stood by the cross of Jesus’. The phrase speaks of a physical standing. Different attitudes were seen at that cross. Some merely ‘passed by, wagging their heads’, others, ‘sitting down’, guarded Him there, tossing dice as they did so. But His mother stood, and, again, we stress, stood, in the heat of the day and through the hours of supernatural darkness, hour after agonizing hour, to watch her son. The word ‘stand’, we are told, implies ‘abiding’ (W. E. Vine). Her attitude is surely important, for standing implies respect. One stands in the presence of greatness; when someone enters a room we often stand to greet them; in the presence of royalty one cannot do anything but stand until invited to sit. Mary stood out of respect and deference to our Lord, and the Father in heaven noticed it and the Spirit of God draws our attention to it. There would be no sitting down for her at that place called Calvary. As much as it was possible, she would be with her son all the way.
But we also use the word ‘stand’ to imply loyalty. W. E. Vine says in his entry on the word ‘stand’ that it ‘is suggestive of fidelity and stability’. We say, ‘I’ll stand by you, don’t you worry. I’ll be there for you’. So, when the men have run away from fear and shame, here is a woman who will stand by her son. How difficult it must have been to identify oneself with Him at such a time! Do we think that His enemies around the cross did not despise her, mock her, triumph over her? Do we think she bore no shame in standing by Him at His execution, identifying herself with Him in His shame? Was there no threat to her, or to the other women who stood with her? Yet, dare we say it, nothing seems to have taken her from that place until it was all over, until the beloved disciple took her to his home. The hymn-writer, quoting God Himself in reference to Israel, asks, ‘Can a mother’s tender care cease towards the child she bare?’ Some may very well do so, but Mary did not.
So the band of four women and John stood by the cross out of respect and loyalty to the One who suffered there. Yet Mary had her own sorrow which no one else could bear. At His dedication as a child in the temple, a man called Simeon, ‘blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also)’, Luke 2. 34-35. It may very well have been that she had suffered for Him during His life. The angel may well have said, ‘Blessed art thou above women’, but not everyone would have said that. Was there no slur upon her character when men said to her first-born son, ‘We be not born of fornication’, John 8. 41? Yet there at the cross no doubt she suffered the agonies that only a mother can feel for her child as he suffers. That sword, so prophetically spoken of in His infancy, pierced her soul at Calvary. And surely our Lord, in His intense suffering, felt and knew hers, for, with a word of compassion, He says to her, ‘Woman, behold thy son’, and, turning to John, He said, ‘Behold thy mother’. In His dying hour our Lord knew the depths of agony to which His mother went. Yet, despite the love, the loyalty and the loneliness of a mother who entered into some of His suffering, no mortal being could fully enter into it, nor can we fully enter into it, because none would ever know, or could ever know, the depths to which Christ’s soul went when He felt forsaken of His God, when He who knew no sin was made sin for us, when He went, like that sin-bearing scapegoat of old, into ‘a land not inhabited’, Lev. 16. 22, a place of desperate isolation and distress.
And what of us today? Have we become so familiar with the cross and with the sufferings of our Lord thereupon, that we no longer feel distress at what He suffered in our room and stead? Have we become so matter-of-fact about Calvary that we no longer grieve for the One who suffered there? The hymn-writer says, ‘Thus might I hide my blushing face while His dear cross appears, dissolve my heart in thankfulness and melt my eyes to tears’. Do we? One does not wish to over-emphasize the physical sufferings of our Lord to the extent that some do, becoming mawkish, but they are a very real part of our faith. Should the sight of our Lord upon the cross not deepen our devotion to Him, especially as we are reminded of ‘Him there’ every Lord’s Day morning as we break bread? And are we willing to ‘stand by the cross’ in the sense of identifying ourselves with it and with our Lord upon it. The words of Galatians chapter 6 and verse 14 are often misquoted. Paul does not say, ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the death or our Lord Jesus Christ’. He says, ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Paul deliberately and carefully brings the two words ‘glory’ and ‘cross’ together for they should contradict one another. How is it possible to find glory in a place of shame, or to worship One who died in shame? It has to be so for us. Like Mary of old, let us ‘stand by’ the cross, identify ourselves willingly with it and with the One who died for us upon it, lovingly bearing any shame or reproach that comes with identifying ourselves with Him. ‘The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God’; ‘We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God’, 1 Cor. 1. 18, 23-24. ‘Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast save in the cross of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to His blood’.