If Jesus Were a Mother
James C. Denison
This week I saw a “mother’s dictionary,” and thought several of the terms worth passing along this morning:
•Family planning: the art of spacing your children the proper distance apart to keep you on the edge of financial disaster.
•Feedback: the inevitable result when the baby doesn’t appreciate strained carrots.
•Hearsay: what toddlers do when anyone mutters a dirty word.
•Look out: what it’s too late for your child to do by the time your scream it.
•Show off: a child who is more talented than yours.
•Sterilize: what you do to your first baby’s pacifier by boiling it and to your last baby’s pacifier by blowing on it.
On this Mother’s Day, we are grateful for all the ways our mothers love us in spite of ourselves.
As you may know, a woman in Philadelphia named Anna Jarvis began a campaign in 1907 to honor mothers, for the sake of her mother. President Woodrow Wilson made the second Sunday in May an official national holiday in 1914.
And so the holiday is not found in the Bible or on the church calendar. But it is appropriate that we celebrate it on a Sunday. It is interesting that you have come to church for Mother’s Day. Many of you would be here anyway, but most of you see worship as a part of your Mother’s Day observance. Some of you are our guests today as you have come to worship with your mothers. Most of you wouldn’t feel it was truly Mother’s Day without such worship.
Our sentiment is more correct theologically than we may know. We are all familiar with God as our Father. Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father, which art in heaven.” But the original readers of Scripture were very familiar with the fact that God is our mother as well. When we explore that concept for just a few moments, we will quickly see why it is so transforming and practical for every mother and for every child today.
God our Mother
Isaiah 49 is best understood in the context of the Babylonian captivity, those 70 years five centuries before Christ when God’s people were enslaved in a foreign, pagan land. Our chapter contains one of the Messianic passages of the Old Testament, predicting the coming of a Chosen One who would save and help God’s people.
He will come “in the day of salvation” (v. 8a); he will “restore the land and . . . reassign its desolate inheritances” (v. 8b). He will free the captives (v. 9), feed those who are hungry and thirsty (v. 10), and bring people from the north and the west to the Kingdom of God (v. 12). In short, “the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (v. 13).
But how can this be true in Babylon? How can this be true where you live, in the hurting and fallen world you and I inhabit? Many of us know how to say, “The Lord has forsaken me; the Lord has forgotten me” (v. 14). But he has not: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” (v. 15a). Every mother knows the answer to that question. Even if your mother forgets you, the Lord says, “I will not forget you!” (v. 15b).
In fact, the God of the universe promises, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (v. 16a). “Engraved” in the Hebrew means to tattoo or otherwise fix permanently. God has written your name on the palm of his hand, where he can see it every moment of every day. It is there right now.
In other words, God the Father does for us what a mother does for her children.
He comforts us when we are hurting and lonely: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1); “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13).
He protects and guides us when we are lost or in danger: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11).
Christian readers of the Hebrew Bible understood clearly that God the Spirit does for us what a mother does for her children as well.
The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach, a term which is feminine in nature. We find the word in Genesis 1, where “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). “Hovering” translates a Hebrew word used in Scripture for a hen “hovering” over her chicks or her eggs. At the very beginning of creation, God the Spirit was “mothering” the universe.
The Spirit gives us life. Many people do not know this, but the Bible teaches that our physical life is due to the presence of the Spirit (Job 27:3; Ezekiel 37:14; 39:29). And our eternal life is the result of the Spirit’s work. When we “ask Jesus into our heart,” it is actually the Holy Spirit who comes to dwell in us. We are now the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Spirit regenerates us and makes us the children of God. Using our mothers to give us life, it is actually the Spirit of God who gives us physical and eternal life.
And God the Son acts in our lives as a loving mother as well.
Jesus is our “advocate” in heaven, standing with us no matter what (Hebrews 9:24). As a mother with her child, he is always with us.
He weeps with us when we hurt, as he wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35) and the onlookers said, “See how he loved him!” (v. 36).
He longs to gather us together as his children: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).
As a mother prays for her children, Jesus is praying for us right now (Hebrews 7:25).
We sometimes say that every day is Father’s Day, the day we should worship and thank our Father in heaven. But every day is Mother’s Day as well.
What it means that God is our mother
Now, what does the motherhood of God mean to us on this Mother’s Day? First, to mothers: God knows what you are going through.
They say in counseling classes never to say to a person, “I know how you’re feeling,” because we don’t. But God does. One reason programs like Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPs) are so popular and necessary is they give mothers an opportunity to talk with people who know what it’s really like. Well, God is the mother of every preschooler and every child. He knows what it’s like.
God knows what it is to be rejected by his children. He knows what it is to watch his Son suffer and even die. He knows what it is to love his children beyond words. In fact, the Bible says that God “longs to be gracious to us; he rises to show us compassion” (Isaiah 30:18). He loves your children as much as you do. He grieves when they grieve, and rejoices when they rejoice. He is for you and with you.
What is your greatest challenge as a mother today? You can bring it to God and find his help and hope. God knows what you are going through today.
Second, to those who find Mother’s Day a hard day: God is on your side.
If you are waiting and hoping to be a mother, know that God heard Sarah’s and Hannah’s prayers for a child. He understood their frustration and comforted their pain.
If you do not have a good relationship with your mother, know that God is for you and with you. He forgives and heals. He can bind up the wounds of your heart and give you his peace which passes understanding.
God longs to be gracious to you and rises to show you compassion. Your Father loves you as a mother, unconditionally and forever.
Last, to all of us who are children of mothers: your heavenly Father wants you to honor and respect your earthly mother. His word is clear: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth'” (Ephesians 6:1-3). How will you express your gratitude to your mother today? If she is in heaven, how will you honor her legacy with your life? How will you obey God’s word this morning?
A Spanish proverb said, “An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest.” Or preacher, I would add. George Washington said, “All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual, and physical education I received from her.” Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” He added, “I regard no man as poor who has a godly mother.”
On this Mother’s Day, know that God the Father loves you as a mother. God the Son prays for you as a mother. God the Spirit indwells and guides you as a mother. Turn to him for help and hope, whether you’re a mother or not. Wherever you most need a perfect, omniscient, omnipotent mother in your life today. And know that what you cannot do for your children, he can.
St. Augustine is widely considered the greatest theologian in Christian history after the Apostle Paul. But it wasn’t always that way.
As a young man, he entered a sexual relationship with a woman who fathered his child but never became his wife. Eventually his godly mother Monica arranged for a marriage for his son, but he began living with another woman before the marriage took place. Around this time he uttered the famous phrase, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” But his saintly mother never stopped praying for her wayward son.
Augustine eventually came under the influence of Ambrose, one of the greatest preachers of his century, and made his commitment to Christ as his Lord. According to tradition, it was at his baptism that Augustine and Ambrose created a prayer of praise to God, each producing a line after the other. That prayer is known to history as the Te Deum, from the first two words in Latin.
Hear this prayer of praise, and thank Monica for her prayers. And for the fact that God loves as a mother every child of his. Including the wayward Augustine. Including you.
Here is the Te Deum. Let’s make it our praise to our God today:
You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.
To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you:
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.
You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free
you did not spurn the Virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death,
and opened the kingdom of heaven
to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come, and
be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting.
Save your people, Lord, and bless
Govern and uphold them now and always.
Day by day we bless you.
We praise your name for ever.
Keep us today, Lord, from all sin.
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy.
Lord, show us your love and mercy;
for we put our trust in you.
In you, Lord, is our hope:
and we shall never hope in vain.
Amen and amen.