THE MOTHER OF US ALL
Pastor Glenn Pease
Mark Twain said as he read a mistaken account of his death in the newspaper that the report was highly exaggerated. This statement will hold true for much of what is going to be said from pulpits across the land about motherhood. It will be highly exaggerated because it will be unrealistic about the fact that mothers are really not unfallen angels, but they are sinners like the rest of us. Fred Smith put it like this: "Many a minister on Mother's Day allows his emotions to run away with his ethics. Glittering generalities fall from his tongue which, weighed in the balances, are found to be wanting in truth. It is not required of any man that he become a liar for the sake of his mother on Mother's Day."
The facts allow us to choose either alternative of praising mothers or persecuting them. After all, if its the hand that rocks the cradle that rules the world, then mothers had better stop rocking the cradles and take hands off, for their rule is shaking the very foundations. Of course, it is unjust and highly exaggerated to suggest that mothers are the cause of the world's mess. This is no more valid than the reverse exaggeration that deifies motherhood. Motherhood, like every other human subject, stands under both the judgment and mercy of God. It is a source of both good and evil.
Mothers are the source of life, but also of death since it was Eve who sinned and brought death into the world upon all her children. Mothers are the source of so many of our blessings, yet mothers in their ignorance can be a cause for their children to be perverted in many ways. Motherhood did not escape the fall. Listen to the account of king Ahaziah in II Chron. 22:3, "He also walked in the ways in the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counselor in doing wickedly. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.
The mother of Salome compelled her to use her body in a dance to lure Herod into promising her the head of John the Baptist. Here are just two of the many examples of how mothers guide their sons and daughters into the pit of damnation. This did not end with Bible days. You can read daily of mothers neglecting their children, or abandoning them. The world is filled with evidence to smear the name of motherhood. Just one more example comes from Edmund Bergler in his book Money And Emotional Conflicts. He tells about the numerous problems in the world just because of inheritance in relation to parents and children. He writes, "Through the course of the years I have analyzed many neurotics with the 'inheritance complex.' They had mothers who acted as if their sons, daughters, sons and daughters-in-law had no life of their own but were born for the one purpose to please them, to cater to them, and to suit them exclusive of all others.... Said one such victims of his mother's emotional dictatorship, "I have either to postpone my life until my mother dies, or renounce my inheritance."
We could go on and on looking at negative realities, but we are not interested in a down with motherhood campaign. Our aim is to make it perfectly clear that all the bad things you can say about mothers will never alter the fact that we love them, praise them, honor them, and will continue to do so to the end of time. Is this sheer, blind, unreasoning fanaticism? Not at all. It is our awareness that is bad as they can be they are still the best there is. They have the potential for infinite good and love, and examples are numerous of their success. There are Hannahs who dedicate their Samuels even before birth to God's service. There are Eunices who train up their Timothy's in the knowledge of God's word. God could find no better comparison than mothers when He sought to express His tender and compassionate nature. In Isa. 66:13 He says, "As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you." No one calls forth more gratitude and poetry than mothers. Edgar Ellen Poe wrote to his mother:
In the heaven's above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, amid their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of mother.
No amount of negative evidence and change the positive evidence, and so we have in mothers a great paradox. In them we have a class of persons who are a part of this evil world, but who are lifted up and exalted above the world because they are the objects of great love.
There are thousands of stars that shine at night,
Thousands of flowers that make summer bright,
Thousands of dew-drops the morning greet,
Thousands of birds with voices sweet,
Thousands of bees in purple clover,
But only one mother the whole world over.
Jesus had only one literal mother, but He did not limit the concept of motherhood to Mary. He said that whoever does the will of God is His brother, sister and mother. How often do Christian mothers ever think of themselves as mothers of Christ? It sounds fantastic doesn't it? Jesus makes the whole of the body of believers, one big family. Now in our text Paul goes a step further and introduces and even broader concept of motherhood. Paul says that the Jerusalem above is the mother of us all. By all, of course, he means all believers, or all who are of the seed of Abraham. Here is a mother we are hardly aware of, and yet it is a biblical truth of great value. The Fatherhood of God is clear and well known, and that we also have a spiritual mother as the family of God is an obscure idea, for it is ignored and undeveloped in our thinking.
We need both a mother and father for our physical life, but we never consider that we need both also for our spiritual life. If God is our Father, as believers, who then is our mother? Who is this Jerusalem above, which is the mother of us all? It is none other than Christ's own bride the Church. The New Testament is clear on this that the Jerusalem above is the symbol of the Church. In Heb. 12:22 we read, "But you have come to Mt. Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gatherings." The Christian on earth is already a citizen of that heavenly city. Paul says in Phil. 3:20, "Our common wealth is in heaven." Much of the church is already in heaven with Christ the head reigning with Him over the universal kingdom from the throne in the New Jerusalem. We who are here below are equally apart of this heavenly Jerusalem.
As Jerusalem was the center of Judaism, so it is the center of the church, which is the New Israel. That is where our king reigns, and from which we receive our orders as the militant church. This Jerusalem above, which is the mother of us all, is the whole body of Christ on earth and in heaven. This is almost universally acknowledged. Listen to the two great reformers. Luther said, "Wherefore, Jerusalem, our free mother, is the church itself, the spouse of Christ, of whom we all are gendered." Calvin said, "To the church under God, we owe it that we are 'born again'... and from her we obtain the milk and the food by which we are afterward nourished."
This extremely complicated allegorical argument of Paul is filled with fascinating theological implications, but for us now we are only going to concentrate on his statement that the church is the mother of us all. The Bible says that we must be born from above, but we never stop to consider the mother involved in this birth. We never consider that the church is the womb in which the seed of the Holy Spirit becomes fertile and brings forth new life. A child of God can only be born through the womb of the church. The bride of Christ is the mother of us all in that no person can enter the kingdom of God apart from the church. She is the instrument by which the new birth is made possible.
The Holy Spirit impregnated the church at Pentecost, and immediately she gave birth to 3000 children of God. This fantastic fertility and fruitfulness is what Paul is getting at in verse 27. The church is compared to Sarah who was barren, but who by God's grace gave birth to a son. So the line of Abraham through Isaac was to be very fruitful, and even Gentiles by the millions would be born into that family line by the Spirit. All Christians are fruit of the womb of Sarah, who is compared with the church. We see the perfect continuity of the people of God in the Old and New Testaments. The Jerusalem above is the new and the true Israel. The Jews who have not accepted Christ have denied their heritage, for only those in Christ are of the seed of Abraham.
Symbolism is confusing but fascinating, for if the church is mother of us all and we are the church, we are all a part of the concept of motherhood. All of us as Christians are potential mothers, and we can give birth to new life when we are filled with the Spirit. When the church is out of fellowship with God there is no fruitfulness, and new birth do not take place. The success of the church depends upon good motherhood where we give birth and take good care of new children in the kingdom. Honesty compels us to be just as clear on this mother as with our physical mother. The conclusion will also be the same that the church, like mothers, has both good and bad points. But Jesus has no other plan of salvation but that which the church offers to the world.
Everything bad the world can say about the church is usually true, but there is no substitute. As a manuscript from the Middle Ages put it, "The church is something like Noah's Ark. If it weren't for the storm outside you couldn't stand the smell inside." The stench of self-righteousness, pride and hypocrisy, just to name a few of the odors, are abominable to the nostrils of God. The pettiness and inconsistency of believers is a burden to the saints themselves, but the fact remains, there is no alternative. She is the one mother that God uses to bring new people into the kingdom. To seek elsewhere for an answer to man's greatest needs is like jumping off the arch because you don't like the way the animals are behaving. You stick with the Ark or you drown. There is no other choice. There is no other hope of salvation.
Emerson said, "If I should go out of church whenever I hear a false sentiment I could never stay there 5 minutes. But why come out? The street is as false as the church." The church is under attack from without and from within. The evidence against the church is just as valid as that against motherhood, but it is folly to reject motherhood, for there is no other way. We have only one choice, and that is to love and honor the church, and to labor to bring her up to the ideal. Each of us are a part of this mother, and each of us is responsible to make her what God wants her to be. Christ died for the church, not because she was worthy, but because He loved her. We are to live for her and fight for her, not because she is worthy, but also because we love her and her husband, the Lord Jesus Christ.
All of its imperfections do not change the fact that it is the only body on earth, which represents heaven. It is the only group in time with a message from eternity. The Ark was the only vessel of salvation in the flood. If you didn't like the wind blowing through the poorly fitted windows, or the leaks here and there in the side, you could gripe, but you had to stick with the Ark or perish. We can complain about the false and follies of the church, but if this is all we do, and do not also defend, praise and serve her, we will drown in the sea of sin with no other vessel to rescue us. On this day when we honor our physical mothers in spite of all their negatives realties, let us not neglect to love and praise the body and bride of Christ, which is the church, the heavenly Jerusalem, the mother of us all.