The late American comedian George Carlin had a comedy routine called “Stuff” which he did in the early 80s. I was reminded of this schtick when I started preparing for this message on possessions and greed. Unfortunately, I cannot show the video clip due to the vulgar nature of some of the content so I will read the filtered transcript. Carlin talks about “stuff,” or his possessions, in his bit. He says, “All I want, (or) all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table; everybody's got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there. That's all you need: a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down; you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up (to keep your stuff safe) … Sometimes you gotta move. Why? Because you need more room for your stuff.”
Isn’t this true? We all have or do work hard to acquire things; we save our hard-earned money so we can buy the latest gadgets and gizmos, and once we acquire them, we spend more time and/or money taking care of or protecting our stuff. For example, if you buy a new phone, what is the first thing you usually buy for it? A case and maybe a screen protector to protect your new investment.
Look around the city of Bradenton. Whenever I see new construction around town, it is often for a new car wash, a bank, or a storage unit facility. Or, more specifically, a place to clean stuff, keep money safe, and store excess stuff that people probably don’t need. One of the fastest-growing businesses is storage buildings or container units. When you think about it, it is almost ridiculous that we have so much stuff that we can’t keep all of it in our homes that we have to pay someone a monthly fee to store the stuff we don’t use or have room for.
Carlin did a great job describing how we have allowed possessions to rule our lives. The stuff we own can and does just as easily become idols in our lives as fame, power, and money. Today I will discuss the Biblical view of possessions or our “stuff” and their role in our lives as believers.
Do you own your stuff, or does your stuff own you?
Disclaimer, the point of today is not to beat you up emotionally regarding possessions. I do not intend to bash those with many possessions, nor will I advocate that possessions are evil and idolatrous. I intend to shed light on what the Bible says about allowing possessions to become idols. Before I get much further into this message, I do not want you to tune me out because you believe you don’t have a problem with greed or possessions ruling your life. I want to warn you of the subtle trap greed and possessions can be in our lives if we allow them to remain unchecked and take root in our hearts. Author and Pastor Tim Keller write in his book COUNTERFEIT GODS about the idolatry of greed and possessions, “Greed hides itself so deeply, no one should be confident that it is not a problem for them.” One of the reasons why you may feel as though you are immune to the idolatry of greed and possessions is that you may not have a lot of money thus, you don’t have many possessions. Let me be clear you do not need to be rich or even have many possessions for greed and materialism to become an idol.”
Right now, you need to ask yourself, “Do you find significance, security, and worth in your possessions, or do you find your significance, security, and worth in Christ?” Does your stuff define you? Are you so consumed with what you own, where you live, and what others think of you that you dedicate your life to the gathering, protecting, and hoarding all you have acquired for yourself?
What does the Bible say about possessions?
Let’s dive into the Bible and see what Jesus says regarding riches, possessions, and greed.
Luke 12:13 – 21: Jesus was asked a question about possessions, and he responds first by telling them to be on guard or be aware to guard themselves against greed and not to allow their possessions to define who they are. He then tells a parable about a young rich man who spends his whole life gathering, protecting, and hoarding possessions. George Carlin would say, “He had so much stuff that he tore down the buildings that he kept his stuff in and built bigger and better buildings so he could put more stuff in them and spend his whole life resting and partying.” The problem was that the young man spent his whole life gathering and saving, thus wasting his life because he died at a young age. Verse 15 hits the nail on the head, “Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” In other words, don’t waste your life hoarding, acquiring, and protecting because your life does not depend on your stuff. The young man in the parable is not worried about using his abundance prudently. His intent is not to serve God or to help people. He is not even seeking to live or have a better life in lieu of his possessions. His only concern is self-indulgence. Jesus calls this person a fool because life is uncertain, and no one can guarantee a long life. He was a fool because he thought he had control over his possessions and his future. A little later, he tells his listeners not to waste their life investing in material things; invest in those things of spiritual value.
Matthew 19:16 – 30: In this passage, a young rich man came to Jesus and asked him, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Upon reading this account, one can see that this meeting with Jesus was doomed from the get-go. Why? Because the young ruler was asking what work or good act, HE must do to attain eternal life. He was looking for a good moral act to be his savior, not Jesus. Jesus tells the man that the one work he must do is go and sell all his possessions and give to the poor and follow him; he went away sad because he had many possessions, he wasn’t willing to depart with. Jesus talks about the difficulty of a rich person entering the kingdom of heaven because a person of wealth often seeks significance and security in his possessions and not in Jesus. However, author Warren Weirsbe writes, “Nowhere in the Bible are we taught that a sinner is saved by selling his goods and giving the money away. Jesus never told Nicodemus to do this, or any other sinner whose story is recorded in the Gospels. Jesus knew that this man was covetous; he loved material wealth. By asking him to sell his goods, Jesus was forcing him to examine his own heart and determine his priorities. With all his commendable qualities, the young man still did not truly love God with all of his heart. Possessions were his god. He was unable to obey the command, “Go and sell … come and follow.”
Matthew 6:19 – 21: Lastly, in this account, Jesus informs his listeners not to lay up their treasures in earthly possessions that will decay, go out of style, or consume their time protecting because others want to steal them. In this message, Jesus talks point-blank about the impermanence of earthly possessions. Everything we own or possess will decay, go out of style, and may be lost or stolen. He essentially says, “When you die, you can’t take what you have with you.” Jesus’ warning is contrary to the western mindset. We live in a world and society where there is no such thing as contentment. The world constantly throws discontent at us, so we will always want and desire more. The world tells us we should never be satisfied with what we have, and that we should always want and pursue more.
A proper perspective on possessions
Obviously, we live in a society of materialism, and it remains that we all have stuff and having stuff is not necessarily bad. So, what is the true follower of Jesus’ proper perspective on possessions, greed, and our stuff? The Bible clarifies that if the stuff we own begins to own us, we have a problem.
John 6:26 – 29: Jesus tells us not to waste our time, energy, and resources working to acquire or invest in material things of this world. Instead, we are called to invest in spiritual things. He says to use your time, energy, resources, and possessions for the Kingdom of God.
Acts 2:42 – 47: This is a very famous passage and one that makes for a great sermon or even sermon illustration but, unfortunately, is not practiced. In the ancient Church, there was a practice among believers. They would meet, pray, worship, and live in community together. We also see that in the early church, the believers felt compelled (maybe by the prodding of the Holy Spirit) to sell or share all their possessions so that no need would go unmet in the body of Christ. Those who had a lot shared their “stuff” with those who didn’t. I believe they understood the value of community. If there was a need, the people banded together to meet it. It was as simple as that. What was the result? The Lord blessed them and added to their numbers daily.
Throughout the New Testament, we see the body of Christ getting together to meet the needs of those with needs. Am I suggesting we all sell our possessions and distribute the proceeds throughout this congregation? No, I am not, and I do not believe this passage was put in the Bible as a rule for the church. The author, Luke, put this account into the Bible (under the direction of the Holy Spirit) because he wanted us to see that the early church was not going to be in bondage to anything; they were completely sold out to Jesus, and their earthly possessions did not have dominion over them.
This teaches us that the Church must spend more time meeting the needs of the Body of Christ as an act of worship and less time with programs, meetings, and buildings and categorizing them as worship. Does God want us to sell everything and give to those in need? Maybe. This was a conviction the Spirit placed on the early church, and they faithfully responded to the Spirit because their possessions did not own them. Another question we should ask is, are we willing to part with our possessions if that is what the Spirit is nudging us to do? Think long and hard about that question. How would you respond?
In closing, in his book COUNTERFEIT GODS, Timothy Keller introduces the concept of deep idols (these are below-the-surface idols that are sins in our hearts that affect our basic motivation so much so that they become idols) in our lives. I believe materialism, possessions, and greed are what he calls deep idols. He writes about the effects of deep idols, “(T)he deep idols have to be dealt with at the heart level. There is only one way to change at the heart level and that is through faith in the gospel.” He continues, “The solution to stinginess is the reorientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, how he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to envy someone else’s money. Jesus’ love and salvation confer on you a remarkable status – one that money cannot give you. Money cannot save you from tragedy or give you control in a chaotic world. Only God can do that.”
We must deal with our idols at a heart level. Our hearts reflect who we are. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our only hope of ever having a changed heart.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 73.
In November 20, 2012, a Scientific American article titled "Scientists Probe Human Nature--and Discover We Are Good, After All" It reads, "When it comes down to it—when the chips are down, and the lights are off—are we naturally good? Are we predisposed to act cooperatively, to help others even when it costs us? Or are we, in our hearts, selfish creatures?
This fundamental question about human nature has long provided fodder for discussion. Augustine's doctrine of original sin proclaimed that all people were born broken and selfish, saved only through the power of divine intervention. Hobbes, too, argued that humans were savagely self-centered; however, he held that salvation came not through the divine, but through the social contract of civil law. On the other hand, philosophers such as Rousseau argued that people were born good, instinctively concerned with the welfare of others. More recently, these questions about human nature—selfishness and cooperation, defection and collaboration—have been brought to the public eye by game shows such as Survivor and the UK's Golden Balls, which test the balance between selfishness and cooperation by pitting the strength of interpersonal bonds against the desire for large sums of money.
But even the most compelling televised collisions between selfishness and cooperation provide nothing but anecdotal evidence. And even the most eloquent philosophical arguments mean nothing without empirical data.
A new set of studies provides compelling data allowing us to analyze human nature not through a philosopher's kaleidoscope or a TV producer's camera, but through the clear lens of science. These studies were carried out by a diverse group of researchers from Harvard and Yale—a developmental psychologist with a background in evolutionary game theory, a moral philosopher-turned-psychologist, and a biologist-cum-mathematician—interested in the same essential question: whether our automatic impulse—our first instinct—is to act selfishly or cooperatively."
The article concludes, "Although this evidence does not definitely solve the puzzle of human nature, it does give us evidence we may use to solve this puzzle for ourselves—and our solutions will likely vary according to how we define "human nature." If human nature is something we must be born with, then we may be neither good nor bad, cooperative nor selfish. But if human nature is simply the way we tend to act based on our intuitive and automatic impulses, then it seems that we are an overwhelmingly cooperative species, willing to give for the good of the group even when it comes at our own personal expense."
Are We Good Enough?
Are we good? Or a better question to ask is, Are we good enough for God? This question is philosophical and cannot be answered correctly outside of the Bible for believers. The Old and New Testaments have much to say about human nature, sin, redemption, and forgiveness. However, the Bible does not teach universal goodness, redemption and forgiveness to all people regardless of how they live their lives. Jesus, the disciples, and the Apostle Paul all taught that true forgiveness and redemption are available to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, repented of their sins, and have been made alive through the awakening from death to life by the Holy Spirit. Their teaching counters the widespread belief that God is an all-encompassing, tolerant being who grants salvation to everyone regardless of their faith or lack thereof. There is a general belief that humanity is essentially good and that our core nature is good. But we see in the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles that salvation is not universal and is not for everyone; in fact, there are conditions, and it is only available to those who meet those conditions. Now, before you accuse me of works-based salvation, hear me out. To fully understand the conditions oof redemption and forgiveness, we must realize humanity is sinful and completely depraved.
Romans 3:23 states that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." This simply means we are, at the core, sinful. We are sinners by nature. When Adam and Eve deliberately and willfully disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, the result was a curse on humanity. This is what third century philosopher and Theologian Augustine of Hippo called the doctrine of “Original Sin.” This doctrine means that due to Adam and Eve's disobedience, humanity inherited the nature of sin. Sin is a genetic disorder we all inherit, and there is no human cure for this.
But as we dive deeper into our text for today, Romans 5:12-21, we can better understand God's plan of redemption for humanity.
Vs. 12 - 14: We see that sin was introduced to the world by Adam. Death is introduced to this world. I firmly believe that we can deduce that life was ultimately God's original intent for humanity. Death and sin are incurable and infectious diseases passed down from generation to generation. But death spread to all because all have sinned. And there we have it again, "all have sinned."
To fully understand redemption, we must realize that humanity is not good at the core. If you don't believe this, history has also proven this accurate. We need not look any further than the Holocaust, the despicable acts humanity has committed through war, violence, and crime, etc.. But, at the core, can good and decent humanity commit the evil we see or read about daily? We are, by nature, sinful, selfish, and evil. Yet, the only redeeming quality about us is that we were created by a perfect Creator in His image, ultimately making us redeemable. God found this sinful race worthy of redemption despite who and what we have become. Not because of who we are but because of who He is.
Vs. 15 - 21: "But there is a great difference between Adam's sin and God's gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God's wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ." Death and sin were introduced as a result of the acts of one man, yet humanity is redeemed by the actions of another, namely Jesus Christ, who bore our sins and iniquities in our place. Just a few verses back in Romans 5:8, we read this, "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." How amazing is this? Jesus willingly went to the cross of Calvary and gave up His life, knowing that we were still sinners. Knowing this, I think, was his motivation. Jesus' purpose for going to the cross was not to die for the righteous (because he knew there were none) but for the sinful man.
Can we grasp this together? Unless we acknowledge that we are sinful, we cannot be redeemed. Salvation results from repentance (from our sins) and faith (believing our need for a Savior) in Jesus Christ. If we assume we are perfect, sinless, or exemplary, Jesus Christ died in vain. What makes God so good is that our redemption is not based on our merits. They are established and secured in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
We may hear statements like, "If God is so good, then how come He allows bad things to happen to good people." The problem is that there is no such thing as a good person. The fact that God allows good things to happen at all is a testimony of His grace and mercy.
The beauty of this message is that despite our sinful nature, God still loves us and offers salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It also emphasizes the importance of acknowledging our sins and the need for God's saving grace. It also highlights that God's love and forgiveness are a source of encouragement and hope for believers. Additionally, it emphasizes that it is not helpful to ignore or downplay our sinful nature and the need for salvation but rather to acknowledge and confess our sins.
So if we are saved by grace and sin is conquered at the cross of Calvary, then why do believers struggle with sin? Romans 7:15 – 21 addresses this question (Romans 7:15 – 21). Despite being redeemed by Christ, believers still struggle with sin in our lives. This passage references the Apostle Paul, considered one of the greatest Christian leaders in history, who also struggled with sin, which is comforting to me to know that even the most devout believers struggle with sin. He doesn't tell us what sins he struggles with but informs us that he does, in fact, struggle and does give in to what is wrong. He writes that sin is an ever-present factor in his life and that while he has the freedom not to sin, se still find himself wrestling with sin. Paul suggests that the struggle with sin is a normal part of the Christian experience and that acknowledging our sins, repenting our shortcomings, and relying on God's grace are necessary for growth in the faith.
Paul expresses his internal struggle between his desire to do what is right and his tendency to sin. He says that even though he knows what is right, he still does wrong things. I think we all can relate to and understand this struggle. It is a struggle we all face as we fight the daily battle against our sinful nature, even as believers. Sin is an ever-present factor in every believer's life, and it is something that we must constantly be aware of and guard against ourselves. We have the freedom not to sin, but this is a constant internal battle, and it requires a continuous reliance on n the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and God's grace and forgiveness.
So, Paul tells us why we should pursue holiness despite God's forgiveness for sins.
Hebrews 10:26: "Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins." The author of Hebrews says that if we keep sinning deliberately, we are in danger of harsh judgment and fury. The key word here is deliberately, which means that if we continue to sin with intention or with the mindset that God will forgive us regardless, we are making a mockery of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and putting ourselves in danger of eternal punishment.
Romans 6:1-2 asks, "Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?" Paul emphasizes that we who have died to sin should no longer live in it. Paul is rebuking those who believed they should continue to sin to give God more opportunities to show grace, and forgiveness, which is a preposterous notion. Grace and forgiveness should never be taken lightly, for granted, or as an excuse to continue in sin. Instead, we should strive to live holy and righteous lives, dying to sin and living for God's glory.
As I conclude today, I want to issue a challenge to examine ourselves and reflect on our commitment to God. Here are four specific questions:
It is essential to truly consider these questions and not give a superficial or flippant response. Answers like, I signed a card at an evangelistic outreach or crusade as a kid, I said a prayer at an altar long ago, or I have grown up in the church, so I am good. Won't cut it. I'm not saying that you are not a believer if these things happened in your life. Instead, I am asking and challenging you to determine whether you are living a life-giving, life-changing, and God-glorifying life?
Today's message is one of hope, life, and redemption, emphasizing that despite the struggles with sin, we are free from the bondage of sin, and we are now bondsmen to righteousness and bondsmen to God. It also emphasizes that the goal is to draw closer to God and to understand the incredible grace, mercy, and love that God has for us and that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are his children, and He is our God.
I have performed the wedding ceremonies of dozens and dozens of couples over my nearly thirty years as a pastor. Some were high school sweethearts who chose to get married at a younger age, some decided to wait a little longer and get married later in life, and some were couples who were getting married for a second time. My one requirement for marrying a couple is that they go through pre-marital counseling, either with a professional counselor or me.
When I start counseling, the first question I ask the couple is, "Why do you want to get married?" What do you imagine the response is? I believe everyone answers the question generally the same way, "We love each other, and we want to spend the rest of our lives together." It's rather fun to see their excitement, giddiness, love, and affection for one another.
The wedding day
The excitement and anticipation leading up to the wedding day are stressful and life-giving. But when the wedding day comes, there is love in the air. I watch the groom as he sees his future wife walk down the aisle. I note when the two join hands at the beginning of the ceremony that there is a bond between the two that is unbreakable. I listen as they recite their vows of devotion, commitment, and unfailing love for one another, and in my heart of hearts, I pray they mean every word they repeat. Then, when I tell the husband he may kiss his wife, the congregation often erupts with applause, and the newly married couple exits the ceremony hand in hand, smiling from ear to ear, ready to begin their new life together. There is nothing that can come between them at this moment.
The unfortunate demise
Unfortunately, for some, the love and affection for one another go away; they begin to annoy one another, argue constantly, or shut themselves off when difficulty comes. Some find themselves "falling out of love" with their spouse, or the commitment to their partner is no more. Instead, their affection is for something or someone else, resulting in divorce
Jeremiah 2:1 – 8
We see this happening in the pages of Jeremiah chapter 2. I love the title Dr. Philip Ryken gives to his commentary on Jeremiah chapter 2, "God files for Divorce." It sounds a bit abrasive, but this is what happens in many respects.
Vs. 1 - 3: God remembers the love Israel used to have for Him. They were committed to Him through thick and thin. It was truly a marriage covenant they had. Israel loved God, and they were committed to Him, and they proved this by following God wherever He led, even in the wilderness years. The picture God paints is that Israel was a devoted wife, and God was a faithful husband. He did not fail to keep any of his wedding vows. He loved Israel. Yahweh treated her with honor and respect. God provided for Israel. The Lord protected her and made her holy. Israel was indeed the apple of His eye. She was his beloved wife.
Vs. 4 – 8: The honeymoon is over, and it's time to face the facts. God was not unfaithful to Israel. God did not break up with His people—Israel broke up with Him. They walked out on the marriage. They used to love him, but that's over now. Nothing that God did to provoke this "break up." It was Israel who chose to have affairs with worthless idols. They committed spiritual adultery, and these are grounds for God to divorce his people.
When we read throughout the Bible, Israel had issues with faithfulness to God, but He did not issue remaining faithful to them in their unfaithfulness. So, Israel had an idolatry problem, and this was a problem.
What do you think of when I mention idolatry? How do modern humans view idolatry? We may respond in one of three ways.
What Are Idols?
Exodus 20:4 – 5
Here God introduces us to the sin of idolatry. In this passage, He commands the Israelites not to make any images or statues (whether on earth, below the earth, or in the heavens), nor should they bow down and worship them. So, are idols only statues or images, or are they more? What entails an idol? Are they only things like profit, power, and people? The truth is everything in our lives, and this world has the potential to be an idol! Tim Keller says, "A counterfeit god (idol) is anything so central and essential in your life that, should you lose it, your life would be hardly worth living. An idol has so much controlling position in your heart that you spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought." Professor Tom Shippey writes, "(Idols are when we) take the hearts fondest desires and magnify them to idolatrous proportions."
Is all idolatry wrong?
As Christians, I think we know and believe that God does not tolerate idolatry. We see throughout scripture that God will not take a second seat to anyone or anything; Exodus 20:5 says, "You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. " The problem we have is that we have a lot of idols in our lives and in this world.
What is idol worship?
Whenever we depend on or look to anything more than God for our source of joy, security, and salvation, then it/they have become idols in our lives.
Do believers have idols?
Tim Keller, "Anything can be an idol, and everything has been an idol."
Idols of the Heart
Ezekiel 14:1 - 6
Vs.: 1 – 3: A group of leaders came before the prophet Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord. The Lord informs Ezekiel that these men have erected idols in their hearts. When the Israelites lived in captivity, they had taken a fondness for the foreign gods in the areas where they lived. Therefore, they had placed their affection in their hearts for these gods. The problem was that they did not believe in the one true God; the problem was they also had affection for other gods. But, moreover, they had divided loyalties. Therefore, God tells Ezekiel these men cannot seek him if they have these idols of the heart.
Vs. 4 – 6: God tells them to repent, cast away their idols, and return to the true God. These idols of the heart are dangerous, crafty idols. Why is this so? They are subtle and give people a false sense of significance, security, and fulfillment. So often, believers have taken on idols of the heart, and we may not even recognize them. We need to recognize the idols we have placed in our hearts. Once we have identified them, we need to do as Ezekiel commands the leaders… we need to deal with them by repenting our sins, giving them over to God, and restoring Him as the one true God in our lives.
As I conclude this morning, I invite you to ask yourself do you have idols of the heart in your life? Is there anything taking precedence in your life over God? If so, I want to encourage you not to beat yourself up. There is hope. Even though we may be unfaithful to God by placing idols in our lives, He remains faithful. Romans 5:8 says, "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's condemnation." So, I leave you with these words of encouragement from Dr. Philip Ryken, "Christians sometimes get the idea that being faithful to God's covenant is simply a matter of obeying God's Law. This is because we are legalists at heart. But God never intended our relationship with him to be mere obedience of the will. God wants our hearts as well as our wills."
My hope and prayer are that you will be able to identify idols in your life and seek to replace them with the genuine, fulfilling, and joyful worship of the only one worthy of praise.
 Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 38.
Family is important for me, and I would assume it is for you. I would do anything for family. They are truly God’s gift of grace to me, and I am blessed because God has given to me a wife and children who love God first and foremost and who love me…flaws and all. Today we are going to look at family and what Jesus said about family. It is safe to assume that Jesus was a family man. He loved his mother and siblings, but his family did not extend to flesh and blood. It was large and expanding. His delineation fits our understanding of family, but he also redefines family and expands it beyond mere flesh and blood. Let’s dive in and see what Jesus says.
Mark 3:31 – 32
Jesus’ family is outside of a house, and they ask someone to tell Jesus that they are outside and wanted to speak to him. At this point in his life Jesus is beginning to get some attention from the masses. He has called his 12 disciples, he has been healing the sick, and he has been casting out demons of the possessed. He has preached some sermons that have been controversial and brow raising. The attention he was receiving was not all positive, especially among the religious leaders. There was talk about this Jesus being a crazy man, a demon possessed man, and a false prophet. He was starting to be despised among the leaders and he was becoming the laughingstock in the public’s eyes. So, when his family heard what he was doing they took to a trip to Capernaum and went to the house where he was teaching, and they asked to speak with Jesus. They wanted to talk to him as they were hearing rumors about all the crazy things they heard he was doing and saying. I imagine they were sort of embarrassed by Jesus right now. They may have even started to believe he was a little crazy, and they wanted to stop him before he went too far. Ultimately, I think they wanted to put an end to any further public attention (especially from the religious leaders.) Some Bible teachers have suggested that they may have been trying to protect him because they did not know what he was up to. Yes, Mary did know that Jesus was a special child and God was going to do great things through him, but I don’t think she saw what Jesus was doing at this time as what God had intended. They thought he was mad!
Vs 33 – 35:
When I read this passage, as a parent I cringe a little at the words of Jesus. I try to imagine how I would feel as a parent if I heard my son or daughter say, “Who are my brothers and sister and mother?” then pointing to a group of strangers and saying, “These are my brothers and sister and mother.” This would sting a little if this was the response of my children or wife.
Jesus’ statement may seem a bit confusing and abrasive at first reading, and it may cause you to think about what he is talking about. In fact, what he said was scandalous to all who heard him. Why is this? The family bond was important in Ancient Israel. Families were very connected and long lasting. It was normal for children to live with their parents or very close to their parents. Everything revolved around the family. In many cases the family was a business unit, and they would share everything in common. When the parents got older the children would care for them and provide for them. Once they neared death the children would put their lives on hold and wait for their parents to die so they could prepare and tend to the body of the parent and bury them in the family plot for a proper burial. Loyalty to family was key, not only for the benefit of the family, but also for the benefit of Israel as the people of God. Breaking the family bond was not a good thing to the first century Jew. So, therefore Jesus’ words were scandalous. As with everything, Jesus wasn’t just making an off the cuff remark or flippantly speaking about his family. He had a point and a reason for saying what he said, and it applies to us today (and we will get to that in a moment).
Jesus’ response was not what people, and his family were expecting to hear. This is where we are going to park for a bit and try to understand what Jesus is saying and implying. It is important to establish first that Jesus is not denouncing his family nor is he saying that he was not part of his immediate family. He is not saying family is unimportant. Instead, He is redefining family and expanding the truth of who belongs in his family. Jesus’ response is radical and in one fell swoop he has cut the ties of the traditional family and has given it a new face. Jesus is showing us and his listeners what the true family looks like. His blood relatives probably did not realize it but by them trying to stop him they were going against God’s plan. His family thought he was mad, but God had ordained him to do what he was doing and to go against what Jesus was doing was the same as going against God.
I like what David E. Garland writes, “Life under God is not defined in relationships in a biological family, which is geared for the preservation of the family line, it’s wealth and honor. One’s ultimate devotion is to God alone who is the head of this unique family that consists of all types of people. The only requirement to this family is commitment to God.” Jesus’ redefinition of family is huge because at first one would think his response to his family was heartless and rude. But when we look at what he was saying they were just the opposite, they are words of encouragement to the people in this house because these were men and women who had given up everything to come and follow Him were now part of a God’s extended family. Jesus says that family is not just about blood lines or relations through marriage, He is saying the true family is found in our shared commitments to God and doing His will. He is saying that people who are committed to God have a stronger bond to one another than with our true blood relatives who have no relationship with God. That is certainly a controversial statement today, how much more do you think it was in the first century when family was all that mattered?
The people Jesus was calling his family were those whose allegiance lies in doing God’s will. Doing God’s will simply meant submitting oneself to Him, following him to bring glory to His name, and share the good news of the Kingdom of God. This is our common bond.
Now, let’s go back for a moment and determine, is Jesus saying that families are bad? No, not at all. He is saying that family is much more than we think it is. The bond is still strong, and the rule of the family still applies. Children are still commanded to be respectful to parents, parents are to love our children and not provoke them to wrath. Husbands should honor their wives and love them sacrificially. Wives should mutually honor and love their husbands as well. We are to protect, love, and care for our families… this is biblical. However, our loyalty is to God first and then to family. And in the same regard when we love God fully, we can love our families fully.
If I could sum up Jesus’ words it is, “The body of Christ (the Church… His people) is our family. You are my brothers and sisters.” Unfortunately, sometimes our commitment to Jesus Christ causes unwanted division within our families and for some of us our loyalties must lie in doing God’s will over appeasing family. This may sound radical, but I do believe it is what Jesus is saying. He went against his families wishes himself because they did not understand what God was up to at this point in their lives and He knew he had to do God’s will instead of being loyal to his family.
Eventually, his mother and many of his brothers and sisters came around and grasped what God was doing and this may be the case for some of you. Jesus ultimately was suggesting that a family who is blood related AND bound together by loyalty to Him makes for a strong and impenetrable family. This is the ultimate family. This is my prayer for every family here. I pray that you will be a family who is glued together and kept by faith in Jesus Christ.
So, what is the response today? What are we to do with these words of Jesus?
Is family important? To use one of my favorite Wisconsin quotes, “You Bet!” This radical new concept of Jesus may be controversial today however I pray that we wouldn’t look at it as a negative or heartless response. Instead, I pray that it would enlarge our understanding of family and remind ourselves that we are part of a larger family. We are a part of God’s great family. We are part of a family that is connected by the common love and loyalty to our great and faithful God who in his love and care gave us the ultimate model of what a true family is and how it should function. So may we as a church body continue (or begin) to live as a family joined together by the love, grace, and mercy of God; showing forgiveness, compassion, love, loyalty, and blessings to one another because we are indeed a family. In 2023 may we be a family that is growing both spiritually, numerically, and in faithfulness to God. This is one of the joys of the family oof God, we can invite people in to be part of God’s family and it can be an ever growing family designed to edify one another and bring glory to God.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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