Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 28, 2014
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
— Matthew 12:46-50, ESV
Most of you who know me also know my only son, Atticus. You may also know that Atticus is the world’s greatest dog, well-mannered to a tee, master of five languages. What you may not know is that Atticus grew up without a family. He was a gift from my sister and brother-in-law, who owned a family of Boston Terriers. Atticus was taken almost immediately from his mother, father, and sisters and grew up without them or any other access to any canine family. Yet, he turned out spectacular.
This does not work with people. People need people. We need to be part of a family, two families really. We need a family on earth, with parents and possibly siblings. And, we need a spiritual family, the family of God. One is important for a healthy, earthly life. One is essential for heavenly, eternal life. Yet the day often comes when we get caught between the two and must choose one over the other. This text at hand today from Matthew’s Gospel is a tale of trouble and truth between the two families of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Trouble with Jesus’ Earthly Family
Some of you will be surprised to learn about the trouble in Jesus’ family. His earthly step-father, Joseph, and mother, Mary, are considered to be saints. His earthly brothers, at least Jacob (James) and Judas (Jude), became Apostles. Though Joseph passed away before Jesus began His public ministry, we tend to think of this family as being perfect. But, they were far from it.
Matthew and Luke record this event at which Jesus was preaching, and Mark does also with a little background. Apparently, it was inside a synagogue occupied by Jesus, His twelve disciples, and a multitude of others, which probably included the scribes and Pharisees. All kinds of people were inside the synagogue, listening intently to the words that fell from the Word of God.
But where was Jesus’ immediate family? They stood outside, would not go in, and apparently did not care to hear anything Jesus had to say. In actuality, they demanded that Jesus come out to them. If you read the background in Mark 3:21, you learn they had come to take authority over Jesus and have him committed for a psychiatric evaluation. That’s right. According to the verse, His earthly family thought Jesus was “out of His mind.”
The trouble with Jesus’ earthly family is that they did not believe in Jesus, not at this point. They thought His messianic claims, at the time, were insane. They perhaps agreed with the Pharisees that the power He demonstrated was cultic or demonic power. They thought that instead of preaching the gospel in public, He should be locked away in private.
This is not to say that they did not believe in Him later (and in Mary’s mysterious case, even before), they would. This is not to say that Jesus was ever in any way dishonorable towards His parents or disingenuous with His brothers, He wasn’t. It is just to say that even the best family can turn a person away from following God, spreading the gospel, or otherwise doing earthly things for heavenly good.
When Jesus was forced to choose between His earthly family and His heavenly one, look at the one He chose.
The Truth about Jesus’ Heavenly Family
The truth about Jesus’ heavenly family is that they were His true family. He would always have a special bond with Mary and a special relationship with James, Jude, and His other half-siblings. And by grace through faith in their son and brother, they became believers, too.
But the most sacred and special relationship you can have on earth is with your Heavenly family on earth. In the best case scenario, your earthly family members are part of your Heavenly family, too. But in every case with a true child of God, your true Heavenly family consists of your Heavenly Father, your spiritual mother, and your brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s get to know them, as Jesus describes them here.
Jesus called God “My Father.” If you are a Christian, you can call Him Father, too, even Abba, an affection term which essentially means Daddy. Without being in any way disrespectful to the memory of His earthly father, Joseph, Jesus asserted that His greatest allegiance was to His Heavenly Father, Almighty God.
God’s role as your Father is to be the ultimate lover of your soul and the absolute lord of your life. You will never love Him as much as He loves you, but you are to love Him with all of your heart, mind, and strength. You will never be smarter or wiser than Him, so you should trust and obey His word and His will for your life, always. Only those who come to the Father through the Son (ref. John 14:6, etc.) and only those who earnestly seek to do the Father’s will can be members of the Heavenly Family, with God the Father as the Head.
Jesus identified “My mother” in this text, too. Notice “mother” is singular. Notice where Jesus was standing and who He was pointing to when He used the word. Notice the word for synagogue and the word ecclesia are synonyms, used in the New Testament to denote an assembly of people called out and gathered together for the work and worship of God. Notice that the church is your mother, if you are a child of God.
It was the great saint Augustine who said that no one can rightly claim God as Father if they do not cling to the church as mother. A mother gives sanctuary to a child, nurses and nurtures to maturity, and celebrates every milestone of life. A church provides a sanctuary for worship, the word for salvation and discipline, and the sacraments to mark the spiritual passages and sabbaths of life. As a soldier is not one without an army, a football player is not one without a team, a husband is not one without a wife, so a child of God is not one without a mother church. And a mother church, of course, has babies.
A “brother” or “sister” in Christ, according to Christ, is “whoever does the will of My Father.” They come to the Father through Jesus the Son, for this is His will. They are baptized in and commune with the church, for this is His will. Jesus “stretched out His hand toward His disciples,” for true disciples follow the disciplines of God’s word, for this is God’s will.
My first years as a young Christian were spent in a fundamentalist church where everyone called everybody brother or sister. I didn’t like it, for it seemed a little backwards and country to me. I still don’t love it, jaded as I am from years of uncovering hypocrisy from some of the so-called brothers and sisters. But it is a divine truth. The relationships we share with fellow blood-bought Christians is deeper and stronger and more lasting than any relationship we can every share with a mere blood brother or sister. And we should treat one another and love one another with a higher degree than we love the members of our own earthly family. For, that’s what Jesus did.
When forced to go with His earthly family or stay with His heavenly family, Jesus loved them both, but abided with one. That’s the trouble, and the truth, with Jesus’ family.
The Trouble and Truth with Your Family
Allow me to make some application now to those of you with a family and a family. There will be trouble and truth with them both. Like Christ, you are to love them both, but ultimately serve only one.
Honor your earthly family at all costs, except the cost of following Christ. God, in His providence, gave you to them and them to you. Your best friendships, your most earnest prayers, your highest desires for people to come to Christ, should be spent on your earthly family. But know your best witness for Christ may come when you choose the concerns of Christ over the concerns of the family, as Jesus did in this passage of His life.
Your earthly family and your heavenly family on earth will disappoint you. The Father and the Son, along with the Spirit, are three-in-one Perfect. Your earthly parents may abandon one another and even turn their backs on you, as children of divorce have painfully learned. Your brothers and sisters may choose to live like heathens, like all men do who choose not to follow Christ. Your mother church, and the brothers and sisters who inhabit it, can be unfaithful and hypocritical at times. When this happens, and it will, show them the love, forgiveness, and patience that Jesus showed Mary, James and Jude, Peter and James and John, the other disciples, and especially you!
Remember that one day, you and your Heavenly family will be perfect in Heaven. But, you cannot join them, unless you prove on earth to be one who “does the will of my Father in Heaven.” Repent. Believe. Be baptized. Take communion. Publicly worship on the Lord’s Day. Study your Bible regularly. Witness for Christ. Give. Most of all, love. Love your earthly family now, love your heavenly family, forever, and by God’s grace may you never have to choose between the two.