John 19:26-27 records the third time that Jesus spoke from the cross. John writes, “When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son!,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother!’ From that time on, the disciple took her into his home.”
One Sunday morning many years ago I was asked to make this announcement about a former pastor of the congregation: “Pastor Ted, who many of you remember from when he served here many years ago, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Your prayers are appreciated.” After church Charlie, one of the men of the congregation, said to me, “Pastor Ted will show people how to die.” It was the greatest compliment I ever heard about a previous pastor.
Helping people prepare to die is one of the main things we are supposed to do as pastors. We do that by our preaching, by our teaching, and I hope also by the lives we live. Pastor Ted must have not only ‘talked the talk,’ as they say, but he must have also ‘walked the walk,’ because all those years later Charlie remembered him as a man of faith who would be able to be a witness to that faith even in death. And all Christians, not only pastors, should want to live in such a way as to be that kind of inspiration to others, in life and in death.
And where do we learn how to do that? From Jesus, of course; from his own life and death. We have in the Bible eyewitness accounts of how Jesus died. Charlie said Pastor Ted would show people how to die. Jesus himself, in his last seven words from the cross, shows us how to die.
In the third time that Jesus spoke from the cross we see that he is concerned about his mother, and he is making provisions for her care. This is a common, human concern. I have been with many people who are facing death and I see this almost every time. People are not only sad to leave those who they love, but they are concerned about them. Young fathers and mothers, in the midst of life and their responsibilities for the care of many others, worry about who will carry on those tasks when they are gone. Elderly married couples, leaning on each other as they muddle through their last years together, worry about the one who will be left behind, alone and unable to manage alone without the other to lean on. And even 80 and 90 year old widows and widowers who are no longer responsible for the direct care of anyone, are still worrying about their kids, their neighbors, or other loved ones. Jesus was extraordinary in so many ways, but this third word from the cross expresses a most ordinary concern. This concern is not even uniquely Christian. It is simply a human concern. Human beings care about those they love. We believe, says the catechism, that Jesus is both true God and true man. It is here that we get a touching, personal glimpse into the true humanity of Jesus. As the Son of God, ‘he’s got the whole world in his hands,’ but here he has in mind one particular person– his dear mother.
In each of the first three times that Jesus spoke from the cross we see this concern for other people. In that third time that I just referred to, it is for his family. There is nothing unusual about that. In his first words it is for the spiritual well-being of his enemies, as he prays for their forgiveness. That is not quite as common, but still humanly possible. Jesus calls on all of us to forgive our enemies. And in the second time Jesus speaks as he is dying, he is concerned about the thief on the cross next to him. Here we see the humanity and divinity of Jesus combined as Jesus said something only he could say, promising the man “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Unlike Jesus, we cannot make that promise, but we can tell others of the promise that Jesus has made to them.
That, I believe, is at least in part, what Charlie meant when he said Pastor Ted will show people how to die. Jesus died showing for others his love, and his concern, and his forgiveness; and he died pointing others towards that heavenly home that he came to earth to tell us about.
In his third word from the cross, Jesus shows his concern for the human needs of his mother. In all of his living and in all of his dying words, he should his concern for the eternal salvation of everyone.
Luke 23:34a — Then said Jesus, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Luke 23:43 — And Jesus said unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Philippians 1:21 — For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
The dying prayer of Jesus (Luke 23:46):
Jesus called out with a loud voice,
‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’
When he had said this, he breathed his last.